Abundant Community

“There’s a growing movement of people with a different vision for their local communities. They know that real satisfaction and the good life cannot be provided by corporations, institutions, or systems. No number of great executives, central offices, technical innovations, or long-range plans can produce what a community can produce. People are discovering that satisfying possibilities for their lives are in the neighborhood, not in the marketplace.


“In many nations, local people have come together to pursue a common calling. They are groups of local people who have the courage to discover their own way — to create a culture made by their own vision. It is a handmade, homemade vision. And wherever we look, it is a culture that starts the same way, with an awakening:

“FIRST, we see the abundance that we have — individually, as neighbors, and in this place of ours.
“SECOND, we know that the power of what we have grows from creating new connections and relationships among and between what we have.
“THIRD, we know that these connections are no accident. They happen when we individually or collectively act to make the connections — they don’t just happen by themselves.


“We also know that these three steps, which awaken us to our abundance, not our scarcities, can often be undermined by great corporate, governmental, professional, and academic institutions. By their nature as systems, they say to us, ‘You are inadequate, incompetent, problematic, or broken. We will fix you. Go back to sleep.


“It is our calling as citizens to ignore the voices that create dependency, for we are called to find our own way — not to follow their way.


“Most all of us live in a democracy, a politics that gives us the freedom to create our vision and the power to make that vision come true. We strive to be citizens — people with the vision and the power to creat our own way, a culture of community capacity, connection, and care.”

The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block (p.1)


“In a consumer society, these (basic) functions are removed from family and community and and provided by the marketplace; they are designed to be purchased. We now depend on systems to provide our basic functions. For example:
~ We expect the school, coaches, agencies, and sitters to raise our children. We deliver our children in the morning and pick them up later in the day. Same-day service, just like the laundry.
~ We expect doctors to keep us healthy. We believe in better living though chemistry. We think that youth, a flat stomach, a strong heart, even sexual desire are all purchasable.
~ We want social workers and institutions to take care of the vulnerable. Retirement homes are a growth industry marketing aging as the ‘golden years’ best spent in a resort-like environment with other old people.


“What this means is that the space that the family and community were designed to fill has been sold and is now empty.


“There is widespread recognition that the lost community has to be refound. You see the signs everywhere. Urban design focuses on community connections. Community builders and organizers exist in every city and town. Our intent is to move the conversation about community forward and remind ourselves what citizens can do to bring satisfaction into modern life.”


The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block (p.10)



From Care to Professional Services 
(the disintegration of community competence)

Systems and “institutions can offer only service — not care — for care is the freely given commitment from the heart of one to another; it cannot be purchased. As neighbors, we care for each other. We care for our children. We care for our elders. We care for the most vulnerable among us. It is this care that is the basic power of a community of citizens. Care cannot be provided, managed, or purchased from systems.” (p.4)

“There are four stages in the transition from community and family competence toward professionalization and communal incompetence:

~ What was a condition of being human is converted into a problem to be solved. I no longer die of old age or natural causes; I die from a particular disease that could have been either prevented with a better lifestyle or cured by better technology.
~ Care becomes commodified, then reduced into a curriculum so that it can be categorized, taught, and then certified.
~ What is personal becomes a private converation with the professional. My troubles are now kept secret from the family or community. Knowledge of my troubles has shifted from community to professional.
~ The management mindset takes over. Providing efficient, consistent, and predictable services becomes a matter of aggregating the deficiencies of the people in the target market.” (p. 37)

Abundant Community 

“Health, safety, environment, economy, food, children, and care are the seven responsibilitieis of an abundant community and its citizens. They are the necessities that only we can fulfill. And when we fail, no institution or government can succeed. Because we (the people) are the vertiable foundation of the society.”

The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block

Consumerism is All-Encompassing
“It is not simply an economic system; in a fundamental way, it defines how we relate to our world. That is why it can be considered an ecology. It has become a cultural as well as economic system. It impacts how we relate to each other, it shapes our relationship with food, work, music, ritual, religion — all elements of culture. And for this ecological system ot work, we have to willingly participate in the effort to purchase what matters, and we must persist at it, despite the lack of results.”


Living by the Rules of Consumerism

I.E. if you want a satisfied life, THESE are the rules that you gotta BREAK!


“Consumer society originates in the belief that the good life is defined by what we produce and what we consume. It rests on the belief that it is our production and consumption that create life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is why, when we were attacked by terrorists on 9/11, the answer was to go shopping.

The consumer culture has made a connection between consumerism, capitalism, and democracy. If we value democracy, we must be capitalists, and if we want capitalism, we must grow our purchasing power and expand our appetite for more. The mandate to go shopping implies that our very way of life is profoundly dependent on the success of the marketplace. As if our freedom from terrorism, the ultimate threat to our democracy and way of life, is dependent on what we purchase.

“The consumer mandate is a cycle designed to maximize not the quality of life, but production and consumption. All the more perfect to consume what you have produced…

“This means that if we wish prosperity and peace of mind for our family and our country, we must believe that we are dependent on producing and consuming. The measures of our success or failure are limited to production and consumption.

We want to know:
How do you make a living?
Where do you spend your money?
What movie did you see last night?

“The same goes for our societal performance measures. The national capacity to make a living is measured by the gross national product. Our national willingness to consume is measured by new housing starts and retail sales. The daily diary of these indicators is chronicled by the stock market. When the market goes way up or down, this is the lead story. The ultimate threat of Osama bin Laden is to reduce our power to consume, which then threatens our way of life, our freedom, and even our religion.”


“To succeed in this consumerist world, most of us are destined to live a system life — by definition, a managed life. There is an irrevocable link between a consumer society and a system-oriented society.

“On the supply side, the goods, service, and marketing power needed for consumerism cannot be provided by handmade products or a local economy. Nor can the service economy grow if human services are provided by the care of family and neighbors. Local businesses, and neighborhood or family care, cannot be monetized at the scale needed for the consumer society to ‘prosper.’

“We therefore discount and make tangential the gifts, hospitality, and associational activity inherent to a vibrant community. We devalue the capacities of the family and neighborhood to provide their own satisfaction through their kindness, generosity, and comfort toward each other.

“The good life is sold on the value and importance of large systems to amass the resources to create demand and to provide low-cost comodified products and services. We call this ‘progress’. Large systems are an integral part of our version of the free market. What we call the free market would be more rightly named the ‘controlled market’ or the ‘colonized market’. A FREE MARKET IS ACTUALLY THE LOCAL GATHERING PLACE WHERE LOCAL PRODUCERS SELL THEIR PRODUCTS.

“This means that most of us spend our days working in a systrem, in all the managed landscape described (previously), to build our capacity to consume. We work during the week so that on nights and weekends we can go shopping.”


“The invasion of work and the system way into our lives extends beyond simply hours at a workplace. We talk about all of the labor-saving devices and all of the  technology that increases productivity, yet ‘work and more work is the accepted way of doing things’ for Americans today, says Jeffrey Kaplan. So the productivity increase has accrued purely to the benefit of the system, in spite of the ever-growing ability of non-people to produce stuff.

“This is an indication of the power of the consumer culture. Despite the increases in productivity, we work more, and the work has increasingly invaded community and family space… I am on call day and night no matter where I am… You see people talking into thin air in public places. Something that used to be associated with being out of touch with reality is now commonplace and a sign of importance.

“When we are not working, home becomes a center for entertainment purchased from others. In our leisure time, we search for what we can purchase to amuse ourselves. When we find moments to be apart from the work, or system, we seek to be entertained, which means spending more time in a world designed and managed by others. We rotate between functioning as an employee, a consumer, and a spectator. (my question is “when are we human?”)

“Living by these rules means you have become an active participant in the culture of a consumer society. You are helping to create it and are being created by it at the same time.

“These rules apply not just to the well-off and the middle class. Poor people are just as caught in the consumer society and are just as unfulfilled as the wealthy. They aspire to the same ends. They just plat it out on the streets instead of the golf course. Consumerism does not discriminate on the basis of class or economic well-being.” (pp. 46-49)

The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block

Privatizing the Public Interest

“The public space in most aspects of our lives is increasingly delivered into the hands of the private sector. Education, health care, and schooling have been repeatedly turned over to private management. Recently, even soldiering has been privatized. The conduct of the Iraq war, and now the war in Afghanistan, was made possible by contracting with what are essentially private armies.

“The argument for privatizing the public interest is always economic efficiency, unmindful of the loss to community. Care for the whole has been sold to the highest bidder; in the case of public lands, the airwaves, and the air we breathe, it has been virtually given away.

“What drives the growth of privatization is the appetite of large production and capital systems to find new unsaturated markets. As the traditional domestic markets for goods and service mature, the private sector turns its eyes to the lartge budgets in government, education, and health care.

“These markets are softed up for the private sector by discrediting their competence. We have seen a thirty-year assault on government, with the subtext being that the rpivate sector does it better. The same goes for education, where hard selling of the supposed failure of the education system has justified commercial ownership of charter schools and public schools.

“Health care is the other large market that has opened up for the private sector. The selling proposition that a private health care is cost and outcome effective has turned out to be a myth. The United States pays a 40 percent premium for health care and barely ranks in the top 10 percent in outcome measures of infant mortality and adult diseases. (Gerald F Anderson, Peter S Hussey, Bianca K Frogner, and Hugh R Waters, “Health Spending in the United States and the Rest of the Industrialized Worlld,” Health Affairs, July / August 2005; 24 [4]: 903-14)

“Government, education, and health care, at one point guardians of the public interest, have encouraged the privatization of their responsibilities. This has nothing to do with politics or which party is in power. It does have to do with the shrinking of the self-governing capacity of citizens.” (p. 52)

Abundant Communities by John McKnight and Peter Block

“We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy so that we can consume all that our machines can produce.”

“On a large scale, Jeffrey Kaplan writes about how our modern predicament is a result of having been sold dissatisfaction and the fact that no matter how much we have, we need more.

“By 2005 per capita household spending (in inflaction-adjusted dollars) was twelve times what it had been in 1929, while per capita spending for durable goods — the big stuff  such as cars and appliances — was thirty-two times higher. Meanwhile, by 2000 the average married couple with children was working almost 500 more hours than in 1979. And according to reports by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2004 and 2005, over 40 percent of American families spend more than they earn. The average household carries $18,654 in debt, not including home-martgage debt, and the ratio of household debt to income is at record levels, having roughly doubled over the last two decades. We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce. (Kaplan, The Gospel of Consumption)

“Note that these figures predate the financial crisis of 2008-2009. The burden of this debt has many effects, one being that it invluences our children’s  decision making. College-age people are now driven by debt and resume anxiety. They feel they have to get into the striving market to make good on their parents’ investment and pay off their debt. So higher education and private schooling become participants in our economic bondage.”

Abundant Community (pp.53-54)

Loss of the Capacity for Thought and Surprise

“Another price we pay for living in a consumer world is that we end of purchasing experiences rather than activiely producing them. We have become spectators. In the consumer ecology, you substitute purchasing something for the experience and satisfaction of creating.

“Being a spectator — electrified, constantly distracted — means that we no longer require thoughts of our own. Instead of thinking our own thoughts, we rent or purchase the thoughts of others. Every time we  watch television, we let someone else decide what we are thinking about. Do this long enough and the mind becomes colonized. The implications for democracy are obvious.

“Over time, we lose the competence to have a new thought and with it the experience of adventure or surprise. My wish for safety in the world, yielding sovereignty to my boss, living to another’s way, affects my capacity to be open to an experience or thought that I have not had before. How often do you hear people comment on what a unique experience it is to have time to think?

“This is true even in places of higher learning. A professor friend was having lunch with his dean. The dean said that he had been reading the anonymous student feedback forms about the professor and noticed one thing different about the student evaluations this professor had received. When asked what was unique about the professor’s course, the dean said, the students answered that they had engaged in ‘thinking’. None of the other faculty member evaluations said that.

“The dean leaned forward, looked around to make sure no one was listening, and asked, ‘How do you get them to think?’ Thought, even higher education, has becoem the exception, a rarity.

“What are the students doing if they are not thinking? Consuming. If you are a professor in a college classroom, you are in a room not of learners but of young people just sitting there as total consumers. They do not show up to learn; they show up for a resume that will get them a good enough job to pay off their educational debt and prvide enough extra for a good consumer life.

“Instead of valuing education, they are consumers interested in information. Information. Information is the booby prize in education. The culture of the university is no longer a place for education; it is a terminal to pass through in order to get somewhere. It is a high-level vocational education. It is a credential. It has replaced the creation of learning with the consumption of instruction.”

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  1. Core Values | Life Work Portfolio of Ron Irvine

    […] “Consumer society originates in the belief that the good life is defined by what we produce and what we consume. It rests on the belief that it is our production and consumption that create life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is why, when we were attacked by terrorists on 9/11, the answer was to go shopping.” For more, go here: https://ronirvine.wordpress.com/abundant-community/ […]


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