G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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In England, a case made for social capital and democratic backbone provided by the pub:
Charlotte Leslie, the MP for Bristol North West, said pubs resembled a “real world” version of the House of Commons “where there are proper debates about real things”.
“All of us probably enjoy a pint, but why is this debate so important?” she asked. “It is about a bit more than a pint in the pub, although of course that is very important to a lot of us.
“I am sure that I am not the only member present who, wanting to find out what is happening in the constituency, goes first of all to the pub and enjoys a nice pint at the same time,” she said.
“If we are to talk about the big society, we should recognise that the pub is at the heart of it. It is a little-known fact that pubs donate more than £120 million a year to charitable causes.
I’ve mentioned that I’m reading Christopher Lasch. In The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, Lasch has a section on these “third places”. Riffing off of Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Places, Lasch writes of the informal society of the pub:
The inner voice that asks what the guys would think can serve as a powerful agency of what used to be called social control (when this term referred to self-imposed community sanctions rather than to the authority imposed by experts in behavior modification and other alien specialists). For this reason it is no exaggeration, Oldenburg thinks, to say that informal gathering places promote “more decency without proclaiming it than many organizations that publicly claim to be the embodiment of the virtues.”
Lasch, like me, probably over-romanticizes pubs and beer gardens. He mentions that they are mostly “all-male institutions” which does not help them maintain their standing in our modern society. But they certainly provide a social function. I think of my dad who has always been the type of guy who purposely makes himself a stranger in whatever city or town he lives in. He’d always been very critical of the town he eventually settled in (to live with me, my brother, and my mom; long story) until about six years ago when he made friends at an Irish pub in the larger town near my hometown. That pub has live music and it also has what is semi-mockingly deemed “The Table of Knowledge” where plumbers and mechanics and lawyers and real estate agents gather to talk bullshit, gossip, and discuss political issues. None of it is sophisticated. It’s all real talk, but it is an honest dialogue that greases the wheels of civic-minded exchange. Though still cynical by disposition, my dad has “bought in” to this social arrangement.
[It] is double appropriate to emphasize the protopolitical character of the third place and to speculate – even if Oldenburg doesn’t – that the decline of participatory democracy may be directly related to the disappearance of third places. As neighborhood hangouts give way to suburban shopping malls, or, on the other hand, to private cocktail parties, the essentially political art of conversation is replaced by shoptalk or personal gossip. Increasingly, conversation literally has no place in American society. In its absence, how – or, better, where – can political habits be acquired and polished?
The people in this online sphere are very cynical of voting and democracy. This is a function of a lot of factors including our various examples of social alienation.