Issue 65 (2013)

Communitarian Observations

I often write about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

I Read

In a piece in the Washington Post on balancing public safety and individual rights when it comes to the mentally ill, James B. Gottstein, who was himseld taken to the hospital by the police during a manic episode and now runs the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights, discusses the merits of using informal mechanisms instead of relying solely on police force:

If the police knock down your door and haul you off and you get upset, you get labeled as ‘ hostile’ and ‘labile.’ If you decide that you’re not going to react to these provocations, you get labeled as having ‘a flat affect.’ If you think something is funny and you laugh to yourself, then they write down ‘responding to internal stimuli,’ ” he said. It’s not that people don’t want help, Gottstein said, but that “the system basically forces things on them that they don’t want.” He thinks it is “entirely possible to create a system where things are voluntary.” Essential are peer counselors – people once similarly diagnosed who might be able to connect with the mentally ill when the professionals can’t. There’s a largely unknown movement trying that approach. But he’s quite sure that’s not what people calling for “greater access to mental health services” these days are talking about.

Read the full article here.

New technologies are making it much easier to track their children. Chips worn on bracelets and smartphone apps enable parents and school administrators to keep tabs on young people’s whereabouts, listen in on their conversations, read their texts and emails, and even monitor their driving behavior. These devices are becoming increasingly popular in America, and privacy advocates see cause for concern. They charge that this surveillance is “dehumanizing” and that children who submit to being tracked by parents and schools will be more willing to accept government surveillance down the road.

Read the rest in The Economist.

A recent New Yorker essay about today’s twentysomethings asks, “What have today’s twentysomethings done to reinvent the kind of life we dream of?” The answer: “they’ve contributed a lot to the structure of online culture; two-thirds of young adults surveyed in a 2011 study said they’d prefer an Internet connection to a car, suggesting a new social order.”

Read the article here.

Few were likely surprised by the immediate and visible presence of religious communities following the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Funerals were held at local churches and President Obama spoke at an interfaith service that included members and clergy of Bahai, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and both mainline and evangelical Protestant congregations. Notably absent was a strong response from the humanist community, perhaps surprising given that “nones” (those without religious affiliation) now make up 20% of the population. Humanists acknowledge that that lack the strength of community that makes organized religions so effective in times of grief. One reason that secular therapist Darrel W. Ray gives for humanism pastoral deficit has been its almost exclusive focus on the individual: “You can’t just be talking about cowboy individualists anymore. We have to get out of this mentality we’ve been in over the past 50 years of just saying how stupid religion is. We have to create our own infrastructure.”

Read the rest in The New York Times.

Read more: SEMI-CHARMED LIFE, The twentysomethings are all rightThe New Yorker.

Upcoming Events

  • Book Launch for Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human-Rights World (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2012) by Amitai Etzioni,

Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 4:00PM – 5:30PM

The Elliott School of International Affairs

Lindner Commons: 1957 E Street, NW, Room 602

For more information, visit

June 27-29, 2013 – University of Milan

SASE is organized into “networks,” one of which is dedicated to communitarianism and is run by José A. Ruiz San Román. Colleagues interested in presenting a paper or author, or organizing a session should promptly contact Professor Román at [email protected]


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Edited by Ashley McKinless