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Commentary: People Need People

By Tom Dodge

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-869094.mp3

Dallas, TX –

INTRO: Some people are joiners, some are not. And then there's commentator Tom Dodge.

COMMENTARY: The other day I got a telephone call from the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, as I suspected, desperate for membership. I passed but actually I'm indifferent to hunters doing what they do. I'm just not one of them, except in the grocery store. There I may be found each week, scouting for sales, reloading, maybe stalking the wild celery.

Although the NRA is considered a political lobby group, I believe it has a fundamental fraternal appeal, especially to men. This part I like. Friends, maybe family, getting together in the countryside, cooking, sharing food and drink, talking, shooting. I didn't join, but the call reminded me that fraternal organizations, once an important part of American life, are disappearing. Young people are cyber-connected, and are not continuing their fathers' tradition by joining them as they once did.

Freemasonry is another example. It's the oldest fraternal group, over the past 50 years its membership has dwindled from four million to hardly more than a million. It was once an important part of American society. Nine Masons signed the Declaration of Independence, 42 have been Supreme Court justices. 14 have been presidents, George Washington being the first and Gerald Ford the last. Also shrinking are military organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars. For 110 years the VFW has been a haven for combat veterans and, especially in rural areas, a gathering place and a site for picnics, holiday celebrations, and school events. But now, not very many new members are coming in. Of its 1.6 million members, 495,000 are 82 or older and only 10 percent are under 50. When I used to drop in from time to time there was always a band of World War II dudes and sometimes their wives at the bar. It was a comfortable place where they could burn down Camels, drink, and just scuttlebutt about politics, their grandchildren or, less often, how they saw Patton once, or MacArthur, and how they didn't look like they did in pictures.

My Uncle Wayne, a Navy man, did the scuttlebutt thing once a month at Fleet Reserve meetings. He never missed, even when he was away from home. He was also a Mason and a Shriner. He bristled at criticism of Masonry's WASPy restrictions, pointing out the orphan's homes they funded, hospitals for children of all races, and other charities. We went over to Whitney one day to visit a distant relative we had never met. When we sat down at the kitchen table the relative said, "I see you're a traveling man." Later I asked about that and Uncle Wayne said he gave him the secret handshake. It's about connecting with people you trust and who trust you, he said.

The alienation of today's America is more threatening to our survival, I believe, than any number of terrorists, or socialists, or atheists. People without loving family and close friends have little left to lose. Technology is killing the Masons. And the VFW. And the NRA. Where's the face in Facebook?

Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.