Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

Making a Difference

by Charles Derber

There are five virtues that inspire my own best efforts to heal the world and myself:

1. Connecting Private and Public Problems

We live in a society that psychologizes everything, a hyper-individualistic and therapeutic culture. I take problems that appear personal and psychological -- greed, egoism, power-seeking, weakened capacity for community and love, and the pursuit of attention -- and show how these problems are as much social as personal. The women's movement proved that the politics that moves people is personal. I have proposed personal politics for responding to the crises of militarism, capitalism, and the environment. If the politics is not in the heart and belly, it is impotent.

2. Moving Beyond Professionalism and Incrementalism

Our intellectual life has degraded into professional over-specialization, academic jargon, and conservative anti-government dogma, lacking transformative vision. My view of the public intellectual's role in society draws me to write jargon-free about major social issues and offer a radical but nondogmatic analysis of the systemic crises of capitalism plaguing our society and world. The capacity to offer a radical vision in simple language invites those around me into a new and lively conversation about ideas that matter. The fact that I bring radicalism without rancor, personal aggression, or professional posturing seems to further open people up rather than shut them down.

3. Offering Visionary Solutions

Too many progressives and radicals offer compelling critiques but no solutions. I am better, myself, at critiques than solutions. But I have tried hard to offer at least glimpses of systemic solutions to our greatest social problems. Even where I fail to be persuasive, people appreciate my desire to open up conversations about "what to do." Critique without alternatives is ultimately debilitating and paralyzing, and people have told me that the serious analysis of solutions is what gives them hope.

4. Walking the Talk

I have been an activist as well as an academic and writer. A few years ago, in a protest that involved many of my students, I got arrested in a crowd for engaging in civil disobedience against a bank that was mistreating its custodians. As I was getting arrested with two of my academic colleagues, the atmosphere was electric. Students later told me that seeing their teachers take the risks of radical action changed their lives. This experience has convinced me that there is nothing more inspiring than walking the walk that embodies one's talk.

5. Inviting Others to the Dance

I reject the idea of expertise in social analysis. I believe in the democracy of ideas and thus always invite those who are interested in my thinking to join me in the inquiry. I do this in my classrooms and in my public conversations. This is not a pose but a reflection of my pleasure in genuine dialogue and my passion to learn from others, respecting that everyone has something to teach. This respect seems crucial to the relationships that make change and pleasure possible.

The power of Tikkun is that it is one of the best magazines in the world practicing all five of these virtues.

Sociologist Charles Derber studies the "big picture" of American culture and global capitalism. His recent books include Greed to Green: Solving Climate Change and Remaking the Economy, The Wilding of America: Money, Mayhem, and the New American Dream, Morality Wars: How Empires, the Born-Again, and the Politically Correct Do Evil in the Name of Good, and The New Feminized Majority: How Democrats Can Change America with Women's Values.

Source Citation: Derber, Charles. 2011. Making a Difference. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.

tags: Politics & Society  
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