Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Absence and Presence of Care

I know I wrote about this just a month ago, but i received a note that someone else wanted the library's copy of the book, so I jumped back to it this morning, in hopes I could finish it, or at least read parts of it before returning. We are, I believe, at a precarious point in time when, as political scientist, Joan Tronto hints in her new book, Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality, and Justice, where the dominant ideology that has swallowed up the power centers of our world is colliding with our well-being and that of the planet we live on. That ideology is neoliberalism, which she defines as clearly as any I have encountered:

     As an ideological position, neoliberalism has several tenets. The first is the assumption that the market is the institution that is most able to resolve disputes, allocate resources, and permit individuals "choice." Second, freedom comes to be defined solely as the capacity to exercise choice. From these two premises follows a third, that societies work best when they allow rational actors to make choices in the market; anything that interferes with such choice reduces people's freedom and is harmful to them and society. Thus, under the banner of "choice," neoliberals seek to restrict all forms of government activity that might interfere with the 'free market." We live in an age in which capitalism has not only taken a new form, neoliberalism, but in which this form of economic existence has come to function as an all-encompassing ideology. Neoliberal capital believes itself to be definitive of all forms of human relationships and of all ways of properly understanding human life. Neoliberalism is not only a description of economic life, it is also an ethical system that posits only personal responsibility matters. pp.37-38

She juxtaposes this view with her own.

       Once we recognize the extent of carting as part of human life, it becomes impossible to think politically about freedom, equality, and justice for all unless we also make provisions for all types of caring -- from the intimate care of our kin to clearing away our waste. To Pursue democracy while at the same time taking seriously how central care is for all human life requires a fundamental rethinking of questions about how we organize our lives, individually and collectively. Democratic theory has not yet finished its work if everyone is expected to work and to be citizens, but some are left with disproportionate caring duties. pp.27-28

This central concept of care is perhaps one compelling reason why I have been so drawn to the remarkable vision evoked in The Earth Charter,

 whose first principle is:

                   Respect and CARE for the Community of Life.

Just perhaps, this singular word must be the foundation for any sustainable future. If so, how do we nurture it to full flourishing? Therein, lies the rub. The neoliberal position seems antithetical to it, so might we more fully and forcefully challenge the neoliberal myth and build a society that respects and cares for the community of life. The Earth Charter offers us a possible glimpse at a path forward, and Joan Tronto goes deeper into this notion of care for any wishing to reflect more deeply on its role in our life.