Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

DISINTEGRITY and How to Treat it

Posted Jan 11, 2012 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

“Disintegrity” affects much of our social, political, and economic life, and until we have a picture of what it looks like, an accurate analysis of what causes it, and a way to find relief from it, our future looks pretty bleak.  It actually takes different forms, can infect almost any conversation, and is sometimes quite resistant to change.  The greatest threat of disintegrity today is that people take it as normal.  So the first step is to recognize its existence.

Disintegrity, like disunity or dishonesty, is primarily a violation of a basic norm; in this case, the norm of integrity.  If integrity is what holds things together, disintegrity separates them.  If integrity represents the integration of all the parts that belong to a larger whole, disintegrity excludes some of the parts, or denies the whole.  It is atomistic rather than holistic.  It has various manifestations; in daily life, in economics, and in politics.  The report from the New Hampshire primary that young people were attracted to Ron Paul’s ideas is particularly disturbing.  Paul’s libertarianism is a classic form of disintegrity that has a long history in Anglo-American thought.

The philosopher who many consider the father of libertarianism, John Locke, had an almost lethal case of disintegrity.  Locke believed that individuals existed alone, not belonging to anything but themselves, and then as individuals they formed a government to protect their individual property—themselves.  For Locke, people do not belong together, but rather get together to protect what belongs to each one of them, and then they assume that whatever they have, they have acquired by themselves.  This is the worst aspect of the libertarian notion of individual freedom, which is infected with disintegrity from top to bottom.

So how can we treat it?  First of all, we can tell the whole story of our nation rather than only the story of property owners.  American prosperity has been just as much the result of slavery, and the exploitation of land and labor, as it has been the result of hard work, ingenuity, and luck.  All these are parts of our nation’s story.

We can also think more critically about our social identity.  We all are located in some time, some place, some tradition, and some family.  Much of what comes our way actually depends on where we are among these many social groups.

There is much more to do, of course, but for now, a third treatment that might work is to shift from thinking like an owner to thinking like a member.  In fact,  the most effective treatment of disintegrity might be to stop identifying with what one owns, and to  start identifying with what one shares—with what we have in common as members of a civic realm.

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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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