Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

The Civic, the Commons and the Social

Posted May 1, 2012 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 4 Comments

Say I am walking down a street in a large city and come across a homeless person on the sidewalk, and I ask myself if that could have been my fate.  If I think that I could have been that person—except for different circumstances—then we share a common humanity.  Our differences are basically social.  If I say that I would never become such a person, then I take our social differences—class, race, religion, and so on—as essential. We have nothing in common. 

If we are all commoners, then our social differences are secondary.  If our social identity is absolute, then what we have in common is ignored, or denied.

So here is the dilemma.  We exist together in our separate and conflicting social identities.  No one can deny that.  Still, we exist together.  We cannot deny that either.  On the one hand, the process of socialization gives us our identity.  I am a white, middle class, mid-western (USA) male. Furthermore, my social relationships—husband/wife, parent/child, teacher/student, and so on—make me who I am. But that is true of others too.  One thing we have in common is the fact that each one of us has a particular social life.

This dilemma can be resolved through the civic.  The civic, as I understand it, refers to open and sharing conversations in which participants recognize one another as citizens—as members of the civic.  The civic does not erase the social barriers that separate us, but it allows us to see how others interpret them.  Sometimes, such mutual interpretation can turn our social conflicts into civic disagreements.

Disagreements arise because we live in different social worlds.  If our particular social identity totally defines us, then civic conversations are impossible. Civic conversations become possible only when we recognize our common humanity. At the same time, the full potential of our common humanity remains largely unrealized if we do not step up and participate in the process of constructing and evaluating civic arguments about how to improve our social life.

4 Responses to “The Civic, the Commons and the Social”

  1. Mark says:

    May 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    "The civic does not erase the social barriers that separate us, but it allows us to see how others interpret them." That sounds exactly right.
  2. Civilizing the Economy | The Citizen Shopper says:

    May 15, 2012 at 9:35 am

    [...] recent blog post “The Civic, the Commons and the Social” discusses the idea of the citizen as separate (apart from collective due to a sense of [...]
  3. P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » The Civic, the Commons and the Social says:

    May 17, 2012 at 5:45 am

    [...] Martin Brown’s blog: Say I am walking down a street in a large city and come across a homeless person on the sidewalk, [...]
  4. Civilizing the Economy | RattleBag says:

    June 12, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    [...] recent blog post “The Civic, the Commons and the Social” discusses the idea of the citizen as separate (apart from collective due to a sense of [...]

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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 workingethics.com for more information.

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