Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Ours is probably unique in being the era where cooperation is the least required

Thereby leading to alienation and social atomization. I think it's almost impossible to be totally, completely, isolated in a way that allows you to not have to cooperate with anyone in order to survive, but we're approaching the limit of the possible. The reason why cooperation was required in the past is that life was much more precarious and unstable, and people had to work together just to ensure basic survival. If you're part of a small community that's kind of isolated you will probably have to work with other members of the community in an intensive way to ensure that you have enough food, effective shelter, clothes, the works. The cost of having social life atomized instead of being more collective and cooperative is probably really high. Notice that I'm not saying the price of individuality or individualism. I think that there can be collective and cooperative societies where a high degree of individuality and uniqueness can exist. Atomized society, where everything is set up for the individual's convenience, where if you have the money you can experience no meaningful social contact with folks, outside of work, is something else. We have cars that are used by one person because mass transit is seen as being too constrictive. Fast food restaurants where we can drive through because cooking at home is more work, and we don't want that. Tract housing that duplicates resources on a huge scale, cutting housing up into absurd little lots because living in an apartment is restrictive, mini malls that you can't walk to or even take a bus to but need a car to shop at, suburbs that extend far out there that are a mess of bad planning and general inefficiency constructed to replicate the feel of a small town, albeit one that's endless. None of this makes much sense if you look at it from the point of view of basic restrictions that could occur during downturns. Oil prices are getting higher in the United States and truckers are protesting, demanding that the gas tax be lifted, but their protest wouldn't be necessary if it was freight trains that we used and not invidualized diesel big rigs to to transport things. Instead of a national mass transit system we have an extensive highway system. I've ridden Amtrak lately and probably won't repeat it in the near future---because passenger trains share the same track as the remaining freight trains and any time a freight train goes by the Amtrak train has to go to a siding and wait until its past. None of it makes sense.

Cooperation and a more cooperative society cuts costs way down, which besides being good in general means that there's more money left over to do other things. But the idea of the triumphant individual, beating everything and succeeding by his or her pure will-to-power, prevents us from realizing it. You can be a triumphant individual while engaging in cooperation and benefiting from collective aspects of social life, you don't need a society that's hostile to any sort of mutual help or cooperation in order to feel that you've accomplished something.

Society will no doubt swing back from all of what we have now, if for no other reason than that resources are running out and competition and general financial malfeasance is deep sixing the country's economic system, requiring a rethinking of how we're living in order for us to survive on some half-way decent level.

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