The Shrinking World

The more human density grows, the more space per person shrinks, the more human behavior must contract to avoid conflict with one’s neighbors.

If your neighbor is racist against you, but lives 20 miles away over an unpaved road through the mountains, he is less of a problem in your daily life than if he shares a bathroom with you in a college dorm.

As we rub against our neighbors, each individual contracts to avoid giving offense. More forms of behavior, speech, and by extension, thought, are proscribed. To live in close company is to always be aware of the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of hundreds of others or suffer consequences.

As our personal worlds shrink, so do our professions. The doctor no longer makes his rounds, seeing all manner of coughs and colds, appendixes and broken bones. Instead he has a narrow specialty, chosen while still in school. One wing of a hospital, one floor. Pediatric or geriatric. The farmer no longer builds his house, slaughters his animals, preserves his food, shears his sheep, and weaves his own clothes.

Each job is split off, done over and over–and better–by a single person. The Jack of All trades is master of none and the Jills of One Highly Specialized Sub-Trade quickly put Jack out of business. And thus the worker is alienated from the product of his labor.

An anthill cannot function if the ants are fighting; the Queen will not tolerate the workers attacking each other.

Government desire not citizens’ safety, but taxes.

I am a barbarian and I cannot live here.

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15 thoughts on “The Shrinking World

  1. Have you heard of The Civilizing Process by Norbert Elias? It’s an incredible book about this topic, but very dense and repetitive in its style. Steven Pinker provides an accessible introduction to Elias’ ideas in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

    What we call political correctness is the civilizing process 2.0.

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  2. the more human behavior must contract to avoid conflict with one’s neighbors.
    …….

    No thanks. I’ll go on being an asshole and folks will do whatever they feel best. Which typically is not a damn thing.

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  3. Government desire not citizens’ safety, but taxes

    This strikes me as hard to support given the expressions of, and actual actions of, USG. Indeed the entire regulatory state seems very much focused on “safety”, and almost none on “taxes”.

    In fact they so want you to be “safe” that they are now interpreting away the First Amendment so that mentally weak people never need hear a discouraging word. This has huge negative impacts on business productivity. How much higher would taxes be if discrimination was still legal?

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  4. People are concentrating in and around the cities, and outside in the country more and more space is opening up. Whole counties in France and Italy becoming basically depopulated. Whole villages offered for sale for a few million.

    The problem is largely that we physically have to carry our butts to an office to work. Telecommuting didn’t take off, my boss completely opposes it, and I can even understand why, the whole point of being a manager, at least in his style, is to be a communication bridge between people. Ask IT to run sales stats, then go tell salespeople to sell more. Ask the accountants about the cash-flow then go and tell purchasers to buy less. Far easier for him to do this just walking down the corridor than trying to ring everybody on Skype. The rest of the people do not talk to each other much, but he is definitely spending all his day talking to people. Skype video meetings are all fine for a scheduled, prearranged meetings, but not so efficient at spontaneously talking to people.

    If we could solve telecommuting, as in, make it accepted, change management style or something, we could move out.

    Then there would be two things. Schools and hospitals. Being far from them sucks. Some people can homeschool, we are not that type, both wife and me have a short fuse. But yes setting up a small semi-homeschooling informal classroom at a neighbor who is a better teacher 3 km away works. Up to 14 years old roughly, then things are going to get harder as for example the math to have any chance at going to a STEM college at 18 gonna be hard to do so informally and requires serious teachers.

    But the real trouble is hospitals. I mean, I personally don’t care much if I die, I am willing to risk it. But I would not risk my only child to a 3-hour ambulance ride. Let’s face it, back when people had 6-8 kids, losing one was still a tragedy but life went on. If you have one, life doesn’t really go on afterwards, as your whole identity changes. So this is the trouble – I am absolutely unwilling to have my child live anywhere farther then 10-20km of a good hospital. At least until it becomes cheap and easy to call an ambulance helicopter. Or big drone.

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    • I hear you. Telecommuting often fails because most people don’t really like their jobs nor want to do them, so without some amount of physical oversight or removal of distractions, they’ll just goof off.

      I’ve been thinking about some alternative teaching models for rural kids, and I think even advanced maths are doable if you have access to a good internet connection and a parent or teacher willing to hover over the kids and make sure they actually do the work. You could even hire a tutor to Skype with, for difficult lessons. This assumes a good internet connection, though, which is iffy in rural areas, so I was wondering if something like ham radio would work instead? But math is inherently visual. I think you could discuss philosophy or literature or grammar by radio, but for math you want images.

      Now, something like physics labs is trickier. You just can’t buy a lot of expensive equipment for homeschooling.

      Another possibility at that age is essentially summer camps. Do the subjects the parents or homeschooling consortium are good at during the year, then send the kids to “physics camp” or “math camp” for a couple of months in the summer. It’s expensive, but fun.

      (Incidentally, I attended a STEM college, and the only math I studied in highschool beyond what my mother could teach me just involved buying calculus textbooks and studying them in my spare time.)

      Hospitals, though, are a much more difficult problem. You can’t Skype an IV or a defibrillator. I don’t have many good ideas there.

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  5. Now that I have some time….. your timing is eerie as I have been bitching about North Carolina filling up. More them my general hatred for yankees and how they act like a plague of locus devouring all good things in their path.

    I use to live in a sleepy little town on the inter-coastal water ways. One stop light, 4 stop signs and tourist season for us was them fuckers driving through town on their way to more popular destinations. Now we have 4 stop lights and 2 cheesy junk shops selling bullshit to the terrorists.

    The concerte is creeping causing a constant internal debate; stay and stack more cash for my prosperity or cash out and take them some place that’s still wild and free….. where to go in the South where the damnyankees won’t come and destroy our way of life?

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    • “Sometimes,” he said, “Don’t it feel like the concrete’s closing in?
      “They’re putting bricks up on the horizon…”
      “Sometimes,” he said, “Don’t it feel like technology’s closing in?
      “They’re raising towers on the horizon…”
      Can you see stars from wherever you are? …
      The journey ends when the heart stops beating.

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