Best of Bweinh! — I Love This Bar

July 26, 2007, 12:30 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Steve  | No Comments

Originally published on May 24, 2007.

This post fulfills a promise I made on May 12, 2004.

I talked to a few million people a few years ago. It was on the radio, the Rush Limbaugh Show, actually, and I had called to argue with the host about the meaning of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. He thought the author was interested in some ludicrous governmental solution to the problem of decreased activity in civil society, such as bowling leagues, voluntary associations, and churches.

I told him I thought it was much more of a (small-r) republican book, calling for a return to the America de Tocqueville wrote about, the one where people banded together in churches and associations and did good for each other, meeting their needs for social interaction at the same time they benefited the community.

I was right, and he said so.

But regardless of what Putnam meant, the problem remains. Voluntary social and charitable associations like the Lions Club, the Masons, and the American Legion continue to get grayer and grayer. Many old-line denominational churches have seen dramatic dropoffs in attendance, possibly because much of their ‘ministry’ consisted only in providing a place for ancients to meet, greet, and eat.

As Rush and I agreed, the Internet and cell phones (not to mention the iPod) are making it easier and easier to live a totally compartmentalized life, where interaction with others can be carefully limited and even planned, taking place on one’s own terms rather than as part of the collision and chaos of real life.

There are some exceptions in the culture at large. Certain churches, which combine a real and worshipful devotion for God with a desire to live in authentic community and engage the outside world, have grown and grown in attendance as secular groups have faltered.

And people still go to bars.

Toby Keith had a hit in 2003 with I Love This Bar, a song about a place with ‘winners,’ ‘losers,’ ‘bikers,’ ‘suckers,’ ‘broken-hearted fools’ and ‘yuppies’ — all identified in only the first two verses!

The chorus reads like a sociological case study, although written on a 3rd-grade level:
I love this bar. It’s my kind of place.
Just walkin’ through the front door puts a big smile on my face.
It ain’t too far. Come as you are.
Hmm, hmm, hmm, I love this bar.

Keith’s bar is precisely HALF of what America wants and needs from its civil organizations. A place where everyone is safe and accepted, where lines of class and race are ignored, where anyone can legitimately feel at home. But the feeling of community in even the most congenial neighborhood tavern exists because of the desire for profit. And although the bonds forged over a Heineken may be no less strong than those forged on a Habitat for Humanity site, it’s important to remember the other half of our civil society, the selfless half.

Humans are social creatures, but proper civil society should and must harness that sociability to benefit more than just ourselves. The occasional spaghetti dinner to benefit a cancer patient is something. But in comparison to a sadly shriveling organization like the Shriners, who have devoted themselves to the care of sick children, it seems not nearly enough.

Tocqueville his own self wrote, “Two things in America are astonishing: the changeableness of most human behavior and the strange stability of certain principles. Men are constantly on the move, but the spirit of humanity seems almost unmoved.”

Perhaps the problem with America is not that we no longer engage in the typical and stable principles of civil and social behavior, but that we seem unable to do so anymore without alcohol — depressant, social lubricant and lowerer of inhibitions. Even a bar as wonderful as the one in Toby Keith’s imagination can never replicate real, authentic community.


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