What is the nature of "community" in contemporary America? That is one of the questions we've been trying to explore in our reports from cities around the country for our American Futures series. Jim Fallows, in particular, has highlighted our larger themes and the emerging patterns that have surprised us. Here's how he summarized several of those patterns back in October:
- How much more functional American governance can seem at the city, regional, and even state level, compared with zero-sum standoff at the federal level (as described here and here elsewhere).
- How evident the start-up, entrepreneurial, and improvisational outlook is in a wide variety of settings, where you can see its results in the manufacturing, software/services, "social entrepreneurship," and other fields. (E.g. here and here and here.) This is in contrast to stories we've all heard about a paralyzed-seeming America except for the thin layer of financial-engineering specialists or techsters hoping for an IPO.
- How thick the community fabric of America can seem, and how hard people have tried to maintain and enrich it, at a time when we often think about the country as an assemblage of alienated, mutually suspicious strangers. (E.g. here and here.)
I want to elaborate here on the last of these by telling you about a week-long civic event—the Conference on World Affairs—that takes place annually in Boulder, Colorado. Elements of it are, I think, quite amazing.
Some people might infer from its name that the Conference on World Affairs focuses largely on international relations or worldwide problems. It doesn't, even though its schedule always includes a fair number of such panels—this year's list includes, for example, sessions on Ebola, Boko Haram, and Pope Francis. (Which of those things is not like the others?) "World Affairs" is a more accurate name if you take that to connote everything under the sun. In fact, Roger Ebert—the late, great film critic and longtime regular and enthusiastic participant at CWA—dubbed it "the Conference on Everything Conceivable."