Introducing Social Fabric

A newsletter telling the stories of people weaving communities together

Cross-posted at Deregulator.net. Updated, July 27, 2021

You’ve heard of the Big Sort? I’m ready to make the Big Pivot.

A focus on issues more uplifting than legislation and politics. More productive issues, I hope.

Why?

Exhaustion. The political environment wasn’t what I expected when I decided (last year) to strike out on my own. I thought once Donald Trump lost the election, he’d concede and recede. He’s done neither. He’s now talking about being “reinstated.” 

Check, please

I also thought after vaccinations became widely available and life started approaching normal, the audience I’ve addressed over three decades of journalistic spade work — politically engaged, motivated by policy debates, curious about how laws and regulations affect people — would reboot. They’d want to know about proposals that expand opportunity and human flourishing. Along with those that don’t.

I misread the room. Today’s political energy is concentrated in the culture wars: Critical Race Theory versus Dr. Seuss. These issues matter, but that’s not where my energy resides. Most of the culture war discussion boils down to exhorting the various tribes rather than finding the truth and showing why we should care.

Guess what? If you aren’t extremely online, you probably don’t care. I’m inviting you to join this pixelated pick-up game.

Deregulator’s audience is loyal, engaged, and not growing. I love you guys, but there aren’t enough of you. Aside from developing an election reform beat (which has become exasperating and repetitive), I haven’t matriculated the ball down the field. 

I could keep pushing that rock up the hill. If I were 10 years younger, I probably would.

Instead, I see a new opportunity. I hope you’ll come along. Most people aren’t invested in clickbait politics. They’re tired of hating each other, a friend recently told me. I believe it. 

Let’s reset: I want to tell different stories, promoting the people and organizations — especially less-prominent ones — strengthening our social fabric.

Four strings of joy

My main passion, aside from family, writing, and learning, is the Raleigh Uke Jam. Odd, perhaps, because I’m not a skillful player or singer. But the community surrounding our ragtag band of strummers has changed my outlook on the world.

I’ve written about the Uke Jam. It’s an informal, generous, and delightful group. It’s hyper-local and self-funded. It's an example of the community-level cultural and social capital options that pop up everywhere If you look for them. … Or if you choose to start one or nurture one that needs help.

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Local newspapers and TV stations covered these groups all the time when outlets had the personnel. You still see the occasional feature, but not often and perhaps not from my perspective.

I hope to fill a small portion of that gap in this newsletter:

Social Fabric

My friend Virginia Postrel’s excellent new book The Fabric of Civilization inspired the title.

What’s the idea?

I’ll tell stories about the interaction of social capital and civil society seen through my interests — including Americana music, pets, family gatherings, random neighborhood or regional events. It’s what I know. It won’t be exhaustive. Thankfully, there’s too much for one person in one place to cover. 

It also won’t be all-ukulele, all-the-time. But there’ll be some!

Social scientist Robert Putnam lamented a collapse of civic culture in his 1995 essay and 2000 book Bowling Alone. Putnam’s later work offered a bit more hope. Francis Fukayama offered a constructive perspective in his paper for the International Monetary Fund (later a book) titled, ahem, Social Capital and Civil Society. Writers as diverse as James Fallows and Arthur Brooks — along with Virginia and my friends John Hood and John Trump, among others — have told aspects of these stories.

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Much of the action is happening quietly, each affecting maybe a handful of people. I want to tell those stories, of the folks behind the scenes who make these networks function. Tiny networks. I’ll discuss some of the big events, too, perhaps from a different perspective:

  • The volunteer coordinators at hospitals and nursing homes who reach out to musicians and other entertainers to perform for cancer patients, residents, or their loved ones. 

  • The hundreds who volunteer at music festivals to feed the artists, help disabled people get to their seating area, provide directions, etc.

  • The people who assemble and coordinate these platoons of volunteers.

  • The vendors who offer their wares at farmers’ markets and craft fairs and music festivals.

I’ll dabble in wonkery alongside storytelling when it fits. After all, public policies can either strengthen these networks or cause them to fray. The newsletter will examine the consequences of these public acts. (I won’t overlook the contributions of Burke, Tocqueville, and Hayek.)

Social Fabric will be personal. I aspire to be entertaining, uplifting, and challenging. I hope it’ll attract readers who would appreciate discovering good things happening that may not get attention because they don’t fit in sound bites and aren’t suited for hot takes.

I hope you’ll learn about community building, and opportunities to build community, in person and virtually. Many of the stories will come from the Triangle and nearby. Others won’t. I welcome stories you’d like to share. I may ask you to share them on the site. Or I’ll share them, too — so long as I won’t need a travel budget to do them justice. I can’t tap a corporate expense account, only my own pocket.

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What happens next?

My energies are shifting to this newsletter. It is my main outlet.

How to reach me: 4stringsofjoy@gmail.com 

I also have a new Twitter handle: @CivilSocietyGuy 

If you followed me @Deregulator, you’ll move to the new one seamlessly (so Twitter promises …).

My publication plans

A Monday preview of the week’s main story, plus anything interesting that came over the virtual transom (behind the paywall). A midweek centerpiece feature (for everyone, easily shareable). An end-of-week podcast (also free). I might include a calendar of events. I’ll encourage recommendations.

Most weeks you'll learn about a person, a group, an event strengthening our social fabric. Other times I’ll write essays discussing themes or trends … or policies. 

Bonus posts? AMAs? Open threads? To be determined.

Over time, it will evolve. There’ll be a YouTube channel and dedicated social media feeds. 

What about Deregulator?

It’ll stick around but I won’t update it often, unless some unrelated policy issue provides an itch I need to scratch on that platform. Those posts will be available to anyone.

What about Deregulator’s paid subscribers?

I’ll make good. I’ll transfer you to the Social Capital list. If you’re getting all Deregulator’s free stuff, you’ll get all the free stuff on Social Capital. If you’re a paid subscriber (bless you), I’ll honor your subscription for its duration. Month-to-month paid folks who want to stick around will need to renew when your month ends. Yearly subscribers will have their full 12-month term honored. I’ll plan some contests and freebies to show my thanks to the paid subscribers.

If you recently signed up for Deregulator, I hope you’ll stick around. #TeamCivilSociety/SocialFabric needs all the volunteers we can find.

If you’ve been getting Deregulator for free and want to become a paid subscriber to Social Fabric, YAY! You can sign up any time. 

If you’re a paid subscriber and want to give a free (or paid) subscription to a friend, go for it, and thanks!

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Let’s build some community! See you Monday!

— Rick