Vulnerability as the Basis for Solidarity

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

At NCR, Millennial editor Robert Christian writes:

This is a dark hour. We cannot escape a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. The gravest threat to the American republic since the Civil War — vividly displayed in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol — has not been fully vanquished. Extreme polarization and enmity undermine the common good and any sense of national unity. Rich special interest groups dominate both major political parties. The Supreme Court is filled with ideologues acting like legislators. Outrageous economic inequality continues unabated. And deaths of despair continue to climb. A lingering sense of precarity is omnipresent for what remains of the middle class, while neither social mobility nor basic security seems attainable for most Americans living in poverty.

At a time of widespread dysfunction, death and despair, what is missing is clear: solidarity. As a society, we lack a sense of responsibility for the common good and the well-being of others. We do not have the sense that we are all in this together. And this is what is needed to rebuild our democracy and challenge a throwaway culture that discards the vulnerable.

But if a pandemic could not engender a recognition that our flourishing depends on the flourishing of others, can anything?

Perhaps not. But perhaps the shared vulnerability we have experienced during the pandemic will reverberate and over time slowly undermine the hyperindividualistic culture that has proved so catastrophic.

For those who are not devoted students of Catholic social teaching or immersed in a communitarian culture, where solidarity is a deliberate choice or organically fostered, a key avenue for embracing solidarity is a recognition of our own vulnerability. When we depend on others, when we see how much their decisions affect our own lives, when we see how quickly our lives can be overturned by events completely out of our hands, we have a new opportunity to rethink our assumptions and remove our blinders.