Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is "easier" the same thing as "isolated"?

A faithful reader writes in:
It's not easier to bring up children. I would happily relocate to a traditional culture with fewer creature comforts, but where my neighbors would watch the baby if I came down with the flu. But in the absence of those helpful neighbors it's nice to have disposable diapers and electricity.

It raised an interesting point: Have our creature comforts been the cause of our massive alienation? We know that a big problem of living in the modern world is that we all feel so terribly alone and unimportant. So much so that chemists can't keep enough Prozac on the shelf.

Could it be that we have created this situation by making our individual, independent lives easier?

Discuss.

6 comments:

Jeff Culbreath said...

Absolutely. Ran into this problem again yesterday while looking for someone to help me pick up a used freezer. To my astonishment there was not a single able-bodied adult male within a couple of miles whom I knew well enough to ask for help. The solution? Buy a freezer at Home Depot and have it delivered ....

Anonymous said...

You left out my last bit. The answer is no, absolutely not. Cloth diapers, open sewers, and cholera do not make people nicer. If the loss of creature comforts could do it, the former USSR would be paradise.

Intelligence and virtue are required to recreate the social fabric. I observe that the intelligent and virtuous generally enjoy the benefits of both mod cons and community, to such an extent that those of us who are less fortunate rarely even come across them. And when I do come across those happy souls, it's my own sins that get in the way of my joining them. - Karen

HJW said...

But is there something in between open sewers and cholera and the atomized solpsism we currently endure?

I don't think it needs to be a choice between squalor and isolation. But it seems clear that we have created much of our own inner misery.

I don't think an accurate picture of past societies can be made out of the dark satanic mills and slum conditions in 19th century London.

Anonymous said...

You left out the bit about servants. They helped, too. Whether they found it easier or nicer to do so ...

jd said...

Enlightenment liberalism is all about individualism and arrogant and selfish ideas of human rights.

The fact that we can talk about our individual, independent lives is a symptom of this problem!

Note especially the nauseating American value of "rugged individualism."

Eventually you will just end up with Sartre's horrifying conclusion that other people are hell.

Real values can only be lived out in a community. The theologian Stanley Hauerwas makes this clear when he points out that faith is inseparable from a community where living faithfully is possible.

I think you'd find him intriguing, although maybe not agree with everything he says. I realize this is only kind of related to the original topic, but here is a quote.

"I realize that it is odd to think of cynicism as a virtue, but I believe it to be at the heart of the liberal moral project. For in the absence of any agreed-upon goods, we are forced to create our own values. The difficulty is that we do not trust any values we have chose exactly because we have chosen them. So we adopt a cynical stance toward our own and others' projects - that is, we believe we must always preserve our autonomy by being able to step back from our engagements by describing them as self-interested pursuits. That is why we are so hesitant to ask others, and in particular our own children, to make sacrifices for our convictions.
Perhaps in no place is this peculiar set of virtues better exhibited than in education. Thus, the task of education in most liberal societies becomes that of providing information for students to "make up their own minds." The most feared perversion of such education we call indoctrination. It never seems to occur to us that in the name of respecting students' individual desires, we indoctrinate them to believe that their own individual desires should matter. Any education that is worthy is obviously indoctrination. Our inability to acknowledge it as such in the name of respect and love for the student is but a sign of our corruption."


almost reminds me of Chesterton ;-)

Kathleen said...

It started going downhill with the invention of the steam engine. That allowed for centralized factories, where people left home to "go" to work. Before that, cottage industries were done at home.

e.g. St. Thérèse of Lisieux's Mom was the "Foreman" of a lace "factory"----but the "factory" was distributed in the homes of the ladies who worked for her. Mrs. Martin worked at home, as did all her staff. She just collected the lace bits from her employees and sewed them together.

As soon as you had to leave home and go somewhere else to work, then you needed daycare for the kidlets whilst Dad was slaving in the satanic mills and Mom was working as a scullery maid---each for 18 hour days.