Charles Hugh Smith: We Desperately Need Shared Values, Connection & Positive Social Roles

We've recently published a series of commentary on addressing the epidemic of disconnection, dissatisfaction and demoralization that society is increasingly suffering from today:

Together, these articles beg the question: In an age of more "prosperity" than the human species has ever experienced, why are so many of us feeling so empty?

And what solutions exist out there to offer us more meaning, connection and purpose in our lives?

Joining us this week is Charles Hugh Smith, who gives a detailed account of the root causes of what's ailing society, as well as the essential ingredients for repairing it.

Our culture is ill.

Our families have been depreciated and demoralized. A lot of people don't get along with their families. They don't have any family connections. Or they see their relatives once every few years or something. 

Of course this is understandable in an economy where we have where people are always moving around. You have to move for your job. Or you have to move for your kids' schools. There's a dozen reasons why you've got to move far away and then lose connection to your family of origin. Distance makes it much more difficult to maintain. But, however it occurs, this loss of sense of family is a core factor plaguing our culture. 

Then there's the erosion of values and faith. Those experiences are primary in their participants' lives. You have got to have faith or value. Something you really value and you're willing to sacrifice for. You find other people in the same boat. You're going to have something that's really exciting and positive. Everyone is going to get positive feedback when they join.

A strong belief in a value system will allow you to congregate around things. Like for artists it's about finding a cheap place to live and sharing your art with other people who are just as excited about doing their art. That's a value system. I will sacrifice everything else to support this. Shared values are the anchors or magnets for social engagement. 

And when people congregate around shared values, there are positive social roles for everyone. In other words, you could be unemployed. You could be at a low point in your family.  You could have a lot of things going wrong in your life. But when you show up for that organizational meeting, people brighten, "Hey, you're here! We need you. Your contribution is important."

It just makes an enormous difference in your outlook on life. Your demoralization goes away -- at least, as long as you're participating in community groups with positive social roles.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Charles Hugh Smith (53m:56s).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Well, i’ll be 60 this year and I remember once upon a time even in NYC public schools we did the pledge of allegiance. We were taught to respect God and Country. We were taught that in order to have a child it requires one papa and one mama. We were also taught that Papa went to work while mama stayed home to take care of the kids until papa came home from work. Boys were taught to honor their parents and to be obediant and most of all to not lie.
Fast forward a few decades after Government put it’s foot in the door. We rarely ever are told to their’s a higher power and we answer to him. Papa made a baby and took off and mama is having to do all the work rearing the child in between all the guys she’s dating. If mama isn’t doing drugs or alcohol the kid is 5 steps ahead of the game.
Then you have the LGBT movement telling kids in their teen years that it’s ok to explore their sexuality before they become repsonbile adults. That it’s normal to have two fathers or two moms. And that it’s ok if you were born a boy but now want to become a girl or vica versa because nature made a mistake and we can fix that. If you are a hyperactive kid, yes, I believe that’s what it was once called and we usually got over it all on our own i.e. we out grew it. Nowadays, we have prescription drugs to fix that.
You see, we have become a society where left is right and up is down. We no longer are taught to worship God or a higher power and to be good to others. Instead, the secular Gov’t has replaced God and it’s laws because they know better.
And you wonder why you hear and read of reports of unstable individuals/kids going into a JHS or HS shooting up their classmates or you read about kids killing their parents over an argument of why the parents didn’t allow the kid to play his XBOX until 11pm?
The tl;dr story…“You Reap What You Sow” !

And you are part of that society. What positive thing did you do today? What connections did you make today? Did you plant a tree? Did you help a neighbor? Did you start a project that involves others? The attitude that looks at the half empty glass and mourns the loss of things is a total cry baby whiny-assed opinion. Get off of the couch, the computer and engage with others. Make something better. Start a movement. Teach someone to read. Plant a pollinator sanctuary and teach your neighbors how to do it. Drive an old lady to the store and help her with her shopping. Mow her lawn. Better yet, plant her yard with beneficial habitat plants. Become a positive force in your tiny sphere.
Having just crossed the 70 mark, I have started a collaborative project and the response, the engagement has been better than I would have predicted. The outcome will be more than imagined…

What good thing happened to you today?

Chris mentioned the Sharing/gifting economy (and Charles E.'s important work) and the point I want to note here is how fun it is to participate in this unrecognized and under-appreciated economy. Yesterday a good friend helped me harvest 40 lbs of lychee from one of our trees–he took 20 lbs to enjoy and give away. Some went to the employees of a small biz that his wife does the bookkepping for, more will go to their neighbors and friends. It’s energizing to share and give away. I love taking care of our trees and sharing their bounty. Every gift of what’s “free” nurtures social networks, good will and joy.

Amen Meredith

Charles, you nailed it when you talked about how far people will go (give away their privacy and freedoms) in the name of convenience. The second big one I’ve observed for years is safety. One freak accident causes knee jerk or opportunistic new laws and regulations to “keep people safe”. While some of these rules are needed, the rest are burdensome and restrictive to all but those with deep pockets.
Meredith, nicely done! Good luck with your venture. We joined a small neighbourhood farmers’ market this year and are enjoying it immensely. After only 5 weeks, we’ve got a number of ‘regulars’ who come buy to chat and buy produce we picked just hours before. It has potential to become a community hub.

Last year we put our place on the market to test buyer interest. Prospective buyers all loved what they saw, but we received only one firm offer, low-balled way below market averages. The property has a woodlot, large garden, small pasture, chicken coop, bee hives, two garden sheds and all the associated paraphernalia to make it happen. The consistent message we received was, " Oh, what a beautiful place, but it seems like a lot of work". Many were concerned with where they would put their riding lawn mower, exercise treadmill and what kind of intenet service was provided.
Now, I’m not saying that the next generation is soft or idealistic or delusional, but I sense there is a cultural gap and expectational divide. It is apparent, to me, that our society has been catered-to for so long due to cheap energy that we have no experience with wont or scarcity or having to wait for something; an absence of things to be grateful for. All my kids experienced killing chickens, canning garden and orchard produce, splitting wood and the warmth of a wood stove at -35C. We limited TV time and found the kids going outside to watch the chickens mate or roamed the woods for entertaiment.
CHS has identified what is missing and offered up traditional solutions to fill the void. However, you can’t put a round peg in a square without cutting off some of the excess. To think community can just happen without a shared struggle or unexpected calamity is questionable. Hardship is the contrast to our current miasma of convenience and sloth. People have to live what they learn and the more we limit those experiences, the less we have to expect of community. The last time I offered up free potatoes, the only response was, “were washed and bagged”?
BTW, Meredith, I’m the same vintage as you. Keep up the cause!

Uncletommy wrote,

The last time I offered up free potatoes, the only response was, "were washed and bagged"?
As we know the populace in general is led by The System into ignorance, and ignorance does not promote gratitude. In my part of the cosmos (Australia) washed potatoes aren't washed because they were never dirty. They're grown in South Australia in sandy soils using industrial agricultural methods, i.e. the roots are fed directly in a matrix of sand by bathing them with soluble salt fertilisers. So the punters have come to expect the convenience but don't know what lies behind it. Would they be grateful if they knew? Or should we tell them about the nutritional deficits developing in their convenient potatoes? Would they be grateful for that knowledge?

I truly appreciate Meredith’s point, but for me the problem is that whatever I’m trying to offer for free has no takers, and no-one is ever really offering to help me either. It’s not that I would have no friends or neighbors, but rather that those relations never involve helping each other or doing productive things together. Instead those relations are almost joint consumerism by e.g. seeing a movie together, going shopping together, eating out together etc. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that on occasion, but it feels rather superficial when all your relations (more or less) revolve around consumptive activities. When I think about it, even things involving my own/spouses parents or siblings go on in the same fashion.
To understand my frustration, here’s a list of things I’ve offered to do for different people (for free) in 2018:

  • Loan power tools (drills etc.)
  • Help reshingle a roof
  • Offer rides to/from town
  • Teach how to drive a car
  • Help running kitchen electrical/plumbing (up to code)
  • Help moving in
  • Help fixing a bathroom
  • Drafting a basic contract
  • Help creating a budget
  • Patch a hole in the wall
  • Offer surplus eggs/garden produce
    And yet out of that entire list I’ve only had one “yes” and that was for offering a ride to town and back. I’m not a professional in any of the activities above (both of my jobs are very white colar/corporate), but I’ve learn how to do all of the above on my own to pretty high standards. None of my friends/neighbors have offered to do anything for me either for that matter, but I’m not looking at this as an “exchange” or anything like that, but simply a gift for which I expect nothing in return. The idea, of course, is to create stronger relationships by helping people out in the hopes that this sort of activity would eventually become more natural/common in my community and hopefully even mutual in the end of the style “hey, I noticed you have a fallen tree in your yard, let me come over and help you saw it up”.
    My working hypothesis, in addition to Charle’s point about governemnt being everywhere/the only relationship you really need, is that the natural trust between people where money is not exchanged has badly erroded. People rather rely on hired experts than their friends and neighbors, and in instances where they can’t afford to pay for experts they rather learn to do it themselves by buying cheap Chinese goods and even risking breaking said goods rather than reling on someone else or hiring an expert they can’t afford. The end result is the dual problem of worsening errosion of social relations and an inefficient self-serving society where the poorer 50%, 75% or 90% are doing everything themselves to get by.

The comments here strongly suggest there is no need for community until the trucks stop running. In other words, Corporate America, Jim Kunstler’s Happy Motoring and the centralized government provide everything we need and want on demand, delivered to our doorstep by van or drone, etc., so why bother “investing” in community?
Trust is an extremely important form of capital, and as noted in the thread, people are willing to trust self-serving authorities over their neighbors. I agree that this won’t change until the authorities are unable to deliver the goodies.
Perhaps the first reaction to the failure of the goodies being delivered will be mass protests: “somebody should do something,” “where’s the government?” etc. It will probably take some time for people to awaken to the fact they’re going to have to make their own arrangements. At that point the value of community and localized trust will manifest.

The commments must come from largely urban dwellers. In the very rural south we’re covered in kudzu and codependency, alota neighbors helping neighbors. Too poor to do otherwise, we’ve lived the medieval south and will feel little change when the “Long Emergency” cometh.

Enjoyable, friendly conversation with many good points. However, it’s hard to believe that neither of you mentioned unionism. So, one is left pondering with this is an oversight or political posture.

Are we not already seeing the reaction. I think you’d agree that most of the time the reaction isn’t against those “above” us but rather those below. Witness the growing use of immigrants (often a uphamism for others) as the “problem” or the narrative of “the forgotten” or the sad statistics from slaverly until now.

Hi Charles,
When The trucks stop comming you may discover that People will radically change, and not for the beter. Putting to much faith in trust can be a dangerous if not fatal mistake. Desperate times create desperate people.
My recommendation is to always to keep yourself protected and not permit yourself to fall and be prey upon by someone you put too much trust in.
Consider that nearly 25% of the US population is on a Psychiatric type drug: anti-depressants, anxiety drugs, Ritalin, etc. That means that 25% of the population is already under stress and had a chemical dependance to function in society. A major crisis and the lack of getting ther meds is going to push them over the edge. This of course does not include people that use non-prescription drugs and the self-medicate using alochol or recreational drugs.
Overall about 55% of the US population takes a prescription drug, everything from Thyroid issues, to heart and hypertensional problems. Will these drugs dependencies will it make them desperate enough to betray your trust in order to secure the drugs they need to survive, or crave?
Then there is everything else. 99% of the population depends on those trucks to survive Will that cold and hungry neighbor or friend really be trust worthy. Even if you have enough resources to feed your friends & neighbors, a single loose lip can result in a hord of hungry & desperate people showing up at our doorstep.
I my opinion real trust can only happen after the crisis runs its course.

“Perhaps the first reaction to the failure of the goodies being delivered will be mass protests”
I doubt it. The first reaction will be Riots, mass looting, arson, and general mayhem. This is what always happens. Unhappy people will resort to obtaining the resources they need. They will also blame anyone that they feel has taken advantage of them or precieved to cause the problem. They will riot, loot, rob, & vandalize anything within reach. Once they run out of resources to to plunder that will spread out adjacent regions within their reach.
I really don’t see that community be enough, unless its well isolated from the bulk of society and they grew up in a community (ie Amish or mennonite).

Stabu wrote:
...the problem is that whatever I'm trying to offer for free has no takers, and no-one is ever really offering to help me either. ... None of my friends/neighbors have offered to do anything for me either for that matter, but I'm not looking at this as an "exchange" or anything like that, but simply a gift for which I expect nothing in return. ... the natural trust between people where money is not exchanged has badly eroded. People rather rely on hired experts than their friends and neighbors, and in instances where they can't afford to pay for experts they rather learn to do it themselves by buying cheap Chinese goods and even risking breaking said goods rather than reling on someone else or hiring an expert they can't afford. The end result is the dual problem of worsening errosion of social relations and an inefficient self-serving society where the poorer 50%, 75% or 90% are doing everything themselves to get by.
Converting to a gift-economy or a trust-economy will require a fundamental mind shift that many of us aren't capable of (yet). Although I've read several works by Charles Eisenstein (including "Sacred Economics" and "The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible") and I ascribe to his theories, putting it into practice is VERY difficult for me. It's difficult to ask for help, even though I'm working all day every day on my 4-acre farm. This level of effort is not sustainable - I can't work this hard forever, but I believe it's important to develop local food systems now, before it's absolutely necessary for survival. Also, if an operation is "for profit" and not a homestead or non-profit, government regulations prohibit using volunteers or giving away food. Seriously! The dept of labor requires that we pay minimum wage or the equivalent in food or lodging, to everyone who "volunteers" on our farm, whether our operation can afford it or not. If we give away food to anyone other than a food pantry or payment-in-kind volunteer/intern, we are not allowed to track/deduct the cost of production. So starting a farm as a business restricts you from many of the community-building opportunities available to individuals or non-profits. (That is, if you choose to follow the rules.) But the real barriers to asking for help from friends and neighbors may stem from a fear of becoming indebted to others. Our culture is so accustomed to being either ruggedly independent or wealthy enough to hire everything out, that we don't understand the social implications of accepting help from others. If you come help me harvest 100 chickens, what do I owe you? If you help plant potatoes, what are the social obligations? How and when must I pay you back? What is fair? If my farm is not profitable, and I cannot pay you, am I violating state law or an unwritten social contract? Since it's difficult to navigate these waters, it's easier to go it alone. There's a better way. I just haven't figured out what it is.

In the presence of [ethnic] diversity, we hunker down. We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us. —Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam It was one of the more irony-laden incidents in the history of celebrity social scientists. While in Sweden to receive a $50,000 academic prize as political science professor of the year, Harvard’s Robert D. Putnam, a former Carter administration official who made his reputation writing about the decline of social trust in America in his bestseller Bowling Alone, confessed to Financial Times columnist John Lloyd that his latest research discovery—that ethnic diversity decreases trust and co-operation in communities—was so explosive that for the last half decade he hadn’t dared announce it “until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity, saying it ‘would have been irresponsible to publish without that.’” In a column headlined “Harvard study paints bleak picture of ethnic diversity,” Lloyd summarized the results of the largest study ever of “civic engagement,” a survey of 26,200 people in 40 American communities: When the data were adjusted for class, income and other factors, they showed that the more people of different races lived in the same community, the greater the loss of trust. ‘They don’t trust the local mayor, they don’t trust the local paper, they don’t trust other people and they don’t trust institutions,’ said Prof Putnam. ‘The only thing there’s more of is protest marches and TV watching.’ Lloyd noted, “Prof Putnam found trust was lowest in Los Angeles, ‘the most diverse human habitation in human history...’” Before Putnam hid his study away, his research had appeared on March 1, 2001 in a Los Angeles Times article entitled “Love Thy Neighbor? Not in L.A.” Reporter Peter Y. Hong recounted, “Those who live in more homogeneous places, such as New Hampshire, Montana or Lewiston, Maine, do more with friends and are more involved in community affairs or politics than residents of more cosmopolitan areas, the study said.” Putnam’s discovery is hardly shocking to anyone who has tried to organize a civic betterment project in a multi-ethnic neighborhood. My wife and I lived for 12 years in Chicago’s Uptown district, which claims to be the most diverse two square miles in America, with about 100 different languages being spoken. She helped launch a neighborhood drive to repair the dilapidated playlot across the street. To get Mayor Daley’s administration to chip in, we needed to raise matching funds and sign up volunteer laborers. This kind of Robert D. Putnam-endorsed good citizenship proved difficult in Uptown, however, precisely because of its remarkable diversity. The most obvious stumbling block was that it’s hard to talk neighbors into donating money or time if they don’t speak the same language as you. Then there’s the fundamental difficulty of making multiculturalism work—namely, multiple cultures. Getting Koreans, Russians, Mexicans, Nigerians, and Assyrians (Christian Iraqis) to agree on how to landscape a park is harder than fostering consensus among people who all grew up with the same mental picture of what a park should look like. For example, Russian women like to sunbathe. But most of the immigrant ladies from more southerly countries stick to the shade, since their cultures discriminate in favor of fairer-skinned women. So do you plant a lot of shade trees or not? The high crime rate didn’t help either. The affluent South Vietnamese merchants from the nearby Little Saigon district showed scant enthusiasm for sending their small children to play in a park that would also be used by large black kids from the local public-housing project. Exotic inter-immigrant hatreds also got in the way. The Eritreans and Ethiopians are both slender, elegant-looking brown people with thin Arab noses, who appear identical to undiscerning American eyes. But their compatriots in the Horn of Africa were fighting a vicious war. Finally, most of the immigrants, with the possible exception of the Eritreans, came from countries where only a chump would trust neighbors he wasn’t related to, much less count on the government for an even break. If the South Vietnamese, for example, had been less clannish and more ready to sacrifice for the national good in 1964-75, they wouldn’t be so proficient at running family-owned restaurants on Argyle Street today. But they might still have their own country. In the end, boring old middle-class, English-speaking, native-born Americans (mostly white, but with some black-white couples) did the bulk of the work. When the ordeal of organizing was over, everybody seemed to give up on trying to bring Uptown together for civic improvement for the rest of the decade.
There's a lot more to chew on in the article. RTWT.

The short version of my favorite Sir Francis Bacon quotes is:
“People prefer to believe what they prefer to be true.”
Look at the press saying that America has been made great again, when:

  1. The US has the lowest life expectancy of the 35 wealthiest nations on the planet (and the highest infant mortality rate), yet it have the highest per capita health care cost.
  2. The US has the highest per capita prison population at 655 people per 100,000. El Salvador is second at 610. England has 141. Russia has 411. Iran has 284.
  3. Our education system is ranked 21st.
    This is just a sampler of US greatness.
    The Peak Prosperity community makes herculean efforts to sift out what’s real from the global information pool and yet, Peak Prosperity’s recommended book list has “The Primal Connection” listed thrid and “The China Study” listed fourth.
    Both books seem to be sincire attempts to sort out healthy nutrition, but the answers are anything but consistent (i.e. no concensus).
    Charles, if you want to try the next level of sacrifice, eliminate the first scoop of ice cream, along with virtually all dairy and animal based food as well as most heavily processed plant based food. It is a real sacrifice, but the benefits seem to be as advertised.
    The two categories of advantages to a WFPB (whole foods plant based) lifestyle are significant indeed. First, it is argued that you can eliminate 70% to 90% of your need for health care. Second, adherents completely stop supporting animal agriculture and animal food manufacturing.
    Depending on who you listen to, animal agriculture and animal food production is either the first or second worst contributor to global environmental degredation, with the global transportation system being the other top contributor.
    So, back to concensus, even if everyone on the planet starts making a serious effort to contribute to the solution, the solutions we work on will not all be the same.
    Finally, there are simply a lot of people who will not roll up their sleves, when the trucks stop rolling. I relaize that every time I see someone riding an electric shopping cart in a retail store. A tiny portion of electric cart riders are ancient or have other understandable issues, but the vast majority have self inflicted health problems, or are just lazy.

Well worth reading in its entirety.
I found the closing relevant to more than just the current diversity arguments
“As the issue of co-operation becomes ever more pressing, the quality of intellectual discourse on the topic declines—as Putnam’s self-censorship revealed—precisely because of a lack of trust due to the mounting political power of “the diverse” to punish frank discussion.”
I think the political power to punish frank discussion severely limits our abiity to address many problems.

In rural Central NY, the neighbors on my street pull together when we get buried in snow. I’ve come home in the evening when we’ve gotten heavy snowfalls, tired from working all day, to find my neighbors across the street have shoveled an opening in my driveway so I can pull my car in. When you’re in your 50s and tired, and expecting to dig 2 or 3 feet of snow just to pull your car out of the road, this is a sweet gift.
And one hand washes the other: I have looked for and jumped on opportunities to repay their kindness in kind, shoveling their driveways when they weren’t home so they’d be able to pull into their driveways when they got home without a problem (although nothing like the 2 or 3 feet of snow they dug out of my driveway after that one storm!). Our neighbor down the street, who owns a snowblower, will come down the street when really bad storms hit, to help those of us who have to shovel, to help us get our driveways opened up.
So there is a definite “pulling together” that happens in our small town when we face a common adversity (winter!!). It is also true that we have all been neighbors for several years, and are cordial with one another.