by John Borst, Director Communications, District 5550

I’m fascinated with the angst being demonstrated by Rotarians over the simple removal of the navy blue background from Rotary’s iconic wheel logo.

Zygmunt Bauman

Zygmunt Bauman

Little did I suspect that an article on “How the Amish have Survived in America”* would lead to a clue about what this minor change really symbolizes for Rotary and Rotarians. In attempting to explain how the Amish in America and Canada “..have struck cultural compromises that blend aspects of tradition and modernity in ways that have enabled them to maintain their identity…” the author Donald B. Kraybill introduces the reader to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman and his book Liquid Modernity (2000).

He writes:

In his book Liquid Modernity (2000), sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues that modernity has morphed from solid to liquid forms. “Solid” modernity, rooted in social norms and structures, limited human freedom and expression, using stable traditions that affixed people to a particular place or nation-state by invoking God’s blessing of social hierarchies, including human-made rules about race, gender, caste, and class. Solid modernity provided social security through slow-to-change bureaucracies and factories, where employees played specialized roles as components of an assembly line whose only purpose was efficient production. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, new and far less stable forms of modernity began to appear. Transitions from still photos to video, from landline to mobile phones, from a factory-based economy to internet commerce, from manufacturing to service industries, and from paper books to e-books all signal the meltdown. The internet, with its vast virtual universe, exemplifies the weightless, mobile, ephemeral, ever-changing liquidity of twenty-first-century modernity. (Commonweal, March 07, 2014 page 17)

Bye and large Rotarians are conservative men and women, with a progressive sense of community, most of whom would identify with Bauman’s “Solid” world view. Rotary organizationally, whether it admits or not, has very “Solid” roots. Rotarians are members of clubs, not R.I. Where and when elections are held Clubs vote, not Rotarians. Social hierarchies dominate through District, Zone and International levels. At the same time, the Council on Legislation and “slow to change bureaucracy” could be construed as synonymous terms.

Hence, Bauman’s metaphor of liquid modernity juxtaposes increased freedom and mobility with accelerated anxiety in an era of unrestrained consumption. Liquid modernity strips us Books of Baumanof our identity and we search for new clothes, both literally and figuratively, with which to cover ourselves. Identifying with Rotary gives us a form of control and generates security in a world lacking in any solid points of reference.

Very few Rotarians have any real knowledge of the “social norms and structures” of Rotary but they are very aware of the modern “liquid” or fluid world in which they now navigate. So when Rotary without warning, changes the one icon they do and can identify, the Rotary Wheel, their “Solid” suddenly collides with the “Liquid”… and discomfort is created; emotions erupt and the body screams No!

Bauman calls this “liquid fear”. It is hard to pin down, a little bit like how the fear of pedophilia cause mothers and fathers to drive their children to school rather than letting them walk. I doubt RI Central saw it coming. So I’ll give Bauman the last word:

“What has been cut apart cannot be glued back together. Abandon all hope of totality, future as well as past, you who enter the world of fluid modernity.” (Liquid Modernity)

*Commonweal, March 07, 2014 page 17