Angola and Atomization

Quick excerpt from God of the Rodeo: The Quest for Redemption in Louisiana’s Angola Prison:

Before the rodeo [Terry Hawkins] had graduated out of the fields to the position of fry cook. It was better than being A.D.H.D. (A Dude with a Hoe and a Ditch)–after stirring fried rice or flipping hotcakes on a sove ten feet long, he could grill hamburgers, bag them, and stuff them down his pants to sell in the dorm. Sometimes he snuck out with fried chicken under his shirt and cuts of cheese in his socks. Payment came in cigarettes, the prison’s currency. Later he would stand outside the canteen, and trade a few packs for shampoo or soap or deoderant, or “zoo-zos”–snacks of candy bars or sardines. He knew which guards would allow the stealing, the selling. He made sure to send them plates of fried chicken.

While reading this I thought, “This man has, at least, something to offer his neighbors. He can sell them food, something they’re grateful for. The guy with cheese in his socks and hamburgers in his pants is probably a respected member of his community.”

What do I have to offer my neighbors? I have skills, but they’re only of interest to a corporate employer, my boss. I don’t make anything for sale. I can’t raise a barn or train a horse, and even if I could, my neighbors don’t need these services. Even if I had milk for sale from my personal cow, my neighbors would still prefer to buy their milk at the grocery store.

All of these needs that we used to fill by interacting with our neighbors are now routed through multinational corporations that build their products in immense sweatshops in foreign countries.

I don’t even have to go to the store to buy things if I don’t want to–I can order things online, even groceries.

Beyond the economic, modern prosperity has also eliminated many of the ways (and places) people used to interact. As Lewis Mumford recounts (H/T Wrath of Gnon):

The Bible would have been different without public wells

To sum up the medieval dwelling house, one may say that it was characterized by lack of differentiated space and differentiated function. In the cities, however, this lack of internal differentiation was offset by a completer development of domestic functions in public institutions. Though the house might lack a private bake-oven, there was a public one at the baker’s or the cook-shop. Though it might lack a private bathroom, there was a municipal bath-house. Thought it might lack facilities for isolating and nursing a diseased member, there were numerous public hospitals. … As long as the conditions were rude–when people lived in the open, pissed freely in the garden or the street, bought and sold outdoors, opened their shutters and let in full sunlight–the defects of the house were far less serious than they were under a more refined regime.

Without all of the little, daily things that naturally brought people into contact with each other and knit them into communities, we simply have far fewer reasons to talk. We might think that people could simply make up for these changes by inventing new, leisure-oriented reasons to interact with each other, but so far, they’re struggling:

Americans’ circle of confidants has shrunk dramatically in the past two decades and the number of people who say they have no one with whom to discuss important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at DukeUniversity and the University of Arizona.

“The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be,” said Lynn Smith-Lovin, Robert L. Wilson Professor of Sociology at Duke University and one of the authors of “ Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades.” …

It compared data from 1985 and 2004 and found that the mean number of people with whom Americans can discuss matters important to them dropped by nearly one-third, from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004.

Researchers also found that the number of people who said they had no one with whom to discuss such matters more than doubled, to nearly 25 percent. The survey found that both family and non-family confidants dropped, with the loss greatest in non-family connections.

I don’t know about you, but I just don’t trust most people, and most people have given me no reason to trust them.

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7 thoughts on “Angola and Atomization

  1. Two separate things.

    On one hand, the continued destruction of Western communities and their atomization, until nothing stands between the individual and the state. Two good books on the subject are Michael E. King’s The Slaughter of Cities and de Jouvenel’s On Power.

    On the other hand, the antification of Westerners, their reduction to minor cogs whose only function is some specialty which only makes sense in a vastly scaled system. Alienation from basic realities of life. Farming, building, cooking, fixing-there’s a guy for each of those, just look him up on your phone and pay him.

    It all flows directly from a utilitarian mindset, which itself is the inevitable product of Nietzsche’s “god is dead.” If so, then one’s life has no intrinsic value, and we must optimize for less suffering and more pleasure, which means centralization and scale in every area of existence.

    For a Jew, the solution to each of these is obvious. Religion and Israel. For instance, I live in a community where everyone knows everyone else and takes care of each other, and if I move to a new community, in a couple of months it will be the same thing. Most people here know how to do a dozen different practical things, but if they need to learn new ones, someone will teach them, without the need to go off to school for four years.

    For non-Jews, they have to make teshuvah too, and how that happens is not clear. The Noahide Laws are the only thing that will resist co-option and corruption by the state and para-government (those entities which are not formally part of the state but are actually very much so, like the big foundations, the economic powerhouses, universities, etc.)

    Once you stop being a utilitarian, you stop seeing yourself as primarily a subject of the big system, and then you become free. But to stop being a utilitarian, you have to honestly believe in God and follow Him in everything…

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  2. Whether I missed your overarching point or not, I’m sure technology has a major role in this human interaction change.

    This dramatic reduction in confidants has more to do with the digital age’s technology than some natural shift in human relations. It isn’t about distrust or trust, but about trusting people worthy of trust, to me. When you can Snapchat 50 people or blog to 100 followers, you’re still connected to people. In fact, I’d argue you’re more connected to others now than ever if you’ve built a following on the internet.

    Many communications that used to happen in person are now happening through digital age technology. This, like any other era shift in human history, will have its own set of positive and negative effects. This doesn’t mean we’re less connected than before. In fact, we’re connected to more people than ever usually, but the difference is our digital age relationships tend to be more superficial than similar relationships were in the past.

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  3. Technology may or may not have something to do with it, but mobility certainly does. When you can easily move away from others, you don’t really feel a need to learn about each other. Also, a move does affect kids. I know from experience that for a child a move is not just a break in preferred routine and a loss of friends; the break in friendships can also feel like a rejection. If you move many times, it is compounded to the extent that the child does not wish to make friends, and becomes not just independent and self-reliant, but self-absorbed and isolates himself. One feels like a stranger everywhere.

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  4. Mobility is definitely a blessing and a curse but I think the factors vary in importance depending on where you fall in the food chain.

    A lot of poor folks won’t relocate better because they don’t have the cash to move and/ or the new place doesn’t have their familiar and familia support structure they rely on ( even when their family is dysfunctional as hell) but being mobile most definitely helps people escape poverty as well

    I think mobility is less an issue now for lower class and working class people because they also lack the skill sets to make relocating a viable option

    These days mobility’s hit to tight kinship bonds is probably more of a middle class/ UMC issue.

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