The Fabric of Society

“Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips” – Proverbs 25:19

I caught a preview just today for a new reality show called The Colony. The show’s premise is post-apocalyptic. A group of “survivors” attempt to reform a cohesive society after some catastrophic event. I don’t know if I’ll have time to watch the show, but it seems like an interesting social experiment and I’m curious to know the results (though, I doubt anything manufactured for television will be all that reliable of a representation of reality).

Of course, we don’t have to go all the way to disaster to consider the fabric of society. In Greece a recent financial crisis has lead to riots and protests and massive shut-downs of government (and private) services. How far does this go before the fabric of society unravels?

For that matter, what is the fabric of society? While I’m not able to frame my thoughts in exact sociological terms (I’m a mathematician by trade), it seems that a great deal of what we count on for the functioning of society is relationships. I know who I can trust with what. I know that this neighbor or that, this church member, this friend will come to my aide if I need them – and I would respond in kind.

To be sure, social relationships are not the sum total of orderly society, and recluses can live a perfectly peaceful life in our country. Governance, and the law, provide the firm ground on which men can stand. They give us an understanding of what we can take as fixed, allowing us to build outward from a foundation of sorts. I suppose we need both of these to make society work (surely there are other facets as well).

I point this out today because there have been a number of instances of late that call in to question the firmness of the government’s foundation. They tear at the confidence we can take in “equal protection under the law.” Now, that clause has certainly suffered in our country in times past – and we’ve never been better for it. The same will certainly be true now. If we cannot take confidence in the government to provide a stable framework of laws and defense of rights, the fabric of society becomes a little more frayed.

Most recently, we saw the Department of Justice drop a case against Samir Shabazz of the New Black Panther Party. Really, we can’t count on the DOJ to defend voter rights; to defend the people from intimidation at the polls? The edges are a bit frayed.

Is this the first time in US history that voter intimidation has gone unpunished? By no means. But none of those instances have made us a better country. To look the other way now is to pull on the bare threads at the edges.

State and local budgetary crises have lead to significant reduction in services – including police services. Heck, Oakland California just issued a list of crimes to which police will no longer respond, including “grand theft, burglary, car wrecks, identity theft and vandalism”. Wonder if that will help or hurt the crime rate. (“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” – Matt 24:12.)

For crying out loud, Mel Gibson has apparently lost his mind, and now Larry Hagman is warning of “the collapse of civilization, within 15 to 20 years.” It’s mass hysteria.

All kidding aside, the rhetoric is amping up out there. The Tea Party and other constructionist groups are building steam in hopes of moving toward smaller government, greater individual liberties, and a hope for the future of the next generation. At the same time, liberal groups, such as the NAACP, are pressing hard to save an Obama presidency that appears to be spiraling downward. (He just picked a bad time to be president – this financial crisis is a doozy; and no president looks good with double-digit unemployment numbers … I know, I know, official rate is 9.5% – give it some time.)

Is an angry clash of protesters in the offing? I hope not.

Back to my main point. The fabric that held western civilization together for so long was family, church, and community relationships. These seem to have been worn down by years of progressivism so that we believe the government is what holds society together. Well, the government clearly has a roll (collective, organized defense of individual rights), but holding the whole thing together is too big a job for Uncle Sam. Particularly when representatives are just as willing to take a bribe to look the other way.

So let us strengthen what remains. Let us work to rebuild those old structures in our lives and our societies. The day may well come when we need to trust in our neighbors and friends in a time of trouble. May our feet not slip.

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