A draft version of a concept to better understand the Church’s role in American society.
Most everyone in America participates in these four areas of society: family, business, government, and non-profit/church. It is therefore important to name what is the primary driver of these varied mainstays of societies.
Businesses focus on self-interest. The purpose of a business is to turn a profit and provide income for one’s household. While many decisions involve other interests, the primary one is always self: does this make my business or place of work better for me financially? Whether it’s a front yard lemonade stand or a Fortune 500 company, decisions are weighted primarily towards self-interest.
Families focus on communal interest. Families (of one or more) seek their own self-interest, to be sure, but their primary concern is to make the physical areas where they exist better, such as supporting local business, participating in the PTA, requesting government services, picking up litter, or attending a church that makes a neighborhood impact. The community and physical area around a family home is of primary concern to families, even beyond self-interest.
Governments focus on special interests. Local and National governments are elected or appointed by elected people, so the voters hold the most power. However, most forms of government are oriented towards the special interest groups or individuals that can cause the most conflict for that government. Government’s predisposition is to satisfy the powerful so they do not turn the people against the government’s elected leaders. While they provide for the common good and individual needs and their own operating expenses, special interests ultimately receive the most government attention, from localities on up to Washington DC.
Non-profits (church) focus on common interests. The gap between a government beholden to special interests and businesses focused on self interests is filled by non-profits and religious organizations. These entities connect needs with means across communal lines. While non-profits are often ran with best business practices, their interest is beyond the self or even community–often it is towards the entire ecosystem. NGOs and churches (particularly mainline denominations) that span continents have the strongest stated positions on economics and ethics due to their varied perspective and experience.
While there’s certainly examples of families acting in self-interest or businesses helping the common good, the default mode of these four institutions is usually as stated above, for better or for worse.
The chart shows the four interests. The interest that is directly across from each interest is their stabilizing interest: when the two interests are in parity or balance, both sides function properly even when the other two are not. However, the two side interests are the destabilizing interests which, if they are dominant in an entity, can cause the institution to go become unsettled or broken.
The government is stabilized when it seeks the common interests beyond the special interests: when the common good becomes more viable than the particular good. However, it becomes destabilized when its two tempting interests take over
- When the communal interest takes over and some communities (the 1%) get better at expense of the whole
- When the self-interest takes over and the government sells or reduces common interests (this is a fear of privatization with Trump‘s Cabinet)
Non-profits are stabilized when the common interests become valued by the special interests and they work together to create change. It becomes destabilized when its two tempting interests take over:
- When the communal interest takes over and the non-profit idolizes its local community over its world-mindedness (a not in common occurrence simply because non-profits and churches exist within communities, not in a non-corporal sphere).
- When the self-interest takes over and the non-profit is about its own perpetuation rather than solving societal problems (i.e. The Human Rights Campaign has long been deplored by LGBTQ commentators as more about themselves than about strong advocacy)
The family is stabilized when it finds parity of self-interest with communal interest, when what is seen as “good” by the community is in alignment with what is seen as “good” by a family. The family is destabilized when its two tempting interests take over:
- When common interest takes over and the family fixates on what is wrong with the world instead of what they can tangibly fix in their community. This isn’t wrong (participating in global inequality is needed) but it is destabilizing to a family’s sense of community.
- When special interest takes over and the family fixates on “their one thing” at the expense of help towards any other instabilities or needs. A rising tide needs to lift all boats, not just pet projects.
Businesses are stabilized when it finds parity of its self-interest with communal interest, when what it sells is in the communities’ interest. The businesses are destabilized when its two tempting interests take over:
- When common interest takes over in a multi-national corporation. Pleasing all the globe with one corporate cookie-cutter policy is hard to do well without difficulty for a time.
- When special interest takes over and they sell their products only to particular segments of society and deny services or goods to other segments.
This may form a baseline of thinking for future work, so I’m putting it out in draft form to elicit corrections or thoughts about it. Take a few minutes to put a reply below and let me know what you think!