Civil society

Snowden’s experience and the community of association

After thirty years leading associations, I appreciate how de Tocqueville, in the late eighteenth century defined associations as one of the unusual manifestations of the American experience. And I continue to seek explanations of why a voluntary coming together of like-minded individuals remains relevant and even critical. In David Brooks column on “The Solitary Leaker” in the New York Times on June 13, 2013, yet one more perspective emerged.

“Though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.

If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

This lens makes you more likely to share the distinct strands of libertarianism that are blossoming in this fragmenting age: the deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that hierarchies and organizations are suspect, the fervent devotion to transparency, the assumption that individual preference should be supreme.”

Brooks then concludes, as he has often in the past, “For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures.”

This has been true for centuries: civic institutions build trust. And AIGA, as a community of designers, plays just that role in providing both an ecosystem for a profession and an ethosystem, a means of expressing ethical expectations of each other and encouraging participation in the community, under those rules.


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