What's Wrong With Our Society?
In the days following the tragedy at Columbine High School, most caring and compassionate persons have been asking themselves and each other; "What's wrong with our society?"
Some well-meaning persons have offered up a long list of red herrings..."It's that awful music" "It's the violence in movies and video games" "It's all the godlessness". These are all mistaken.
Every time there is a tragedy, every time we are forced to confront senseless criminal behavior, alienated young people, the prevalence of divorce, the absurdly high suicide rate, people rush to point the finger of blame at their own favorite bogey-man. We all know that these things are not the real problem, that we are choosing scapegoats in order to prevent us from admitting to ourselves what the real problem is.
Many of us have an intuitive understanding of the true nature of the problem, but it is so terrifying to contemplate that we shove awareness of it away, deep into our sub-conscious. No, the problem isn't music, or movies, or video games. The problem isn't moral decadence or lack of faith in God. The problem isn't even the easy availability of weapons, or a liberal-wimpy justice system.
The underlying cause of most of our social ills, the suicides, the rampant crime, the divorce, the alienated youth - all of it - is in fact THE WAY OUR LIVES ARE ORGANIZED.
Yes that's right, the real problem is that we live in an industrialized, corporate, consumerist society that is inherently, structurally, antagonistic to genuine community - and that is what we lack. Industrialized, corporate, consumerist societies like ours demand 'efficiencies' that disrupt and separate family, discourage multi-generational living, and consign genuine community to a quaint tribal custom.
We have an excellent public school system, and it is important that people be well-educated. But, consider how little you see of your children each day (or parents, if you are under eighteen). Our society demands ever-increasing levels of training and education, and this means a minimum of eight hours a day of schooling, from age six to eighteen, and then another three to six years of college. How is it possible for parents and children to really know each other as well as they should, with so much time spent apart during these critical years? And even if you wanted to spend more of that time with your child, would your working life permit it? (By the way, the idea of "quality time" is a good one, but anyone who buys the idea that the AMOUNT of time is irrelevant is probably letting psycho-pop massage a guilty conscience). In order to live "comfortably", most families find it necessary for both parents to work. So who would be home with the kids, then? The grandparents? No, no, we have shipped them off to the retirement homes. The modern 'nuclear' family consists of Mom, Dad, and the kids - there's no place for grandparents in this picture. So, we have coined phrases like "the golden years" and "retirement", but these are just a cover for what's really going on - the rounding up of persons who are no longer productive workers, and getting them the hell out of the way, so that the process of getting richer can continue unhampered by the aging.
Our industrialized, corporate, consumerist society works best when people are separated as much as possible by their function. That means, the kids go to school, the parents work, and the elderly go to nursing homes, and overlap is avoided wherever possible. And guess what that does? It makes us all strangers to each other. The children know nothing of their parent's work, they never get to see mom or dad live out their ethics and morals in the daily grind, they never see them in any role but that of a parent. The parents know nothing of their children's life at school, they don't see them interacting (or failing to) with the other children, they know nothing of the challenges of their daily lives, and they aren't there to help them anyway. After work, the parents are tired, and want to relax or pursue hobbies, or go out drinking, or go to bingo. Many of these leisure pursuits are adult-oriented, so forget bringing the children. It's actually a relief when the children develop a circle of friends their own age and subsequently refuse any offers of shared activity with their parents. Why would they want to do these things with their parents anyway? Who do they know better, their parents or their peers? Who do they spend more time with? The separation of leisure pursuits by age group is marketed at us continuously, and we eat it up like pigs at a trough.
And just who are these people living next door to you, anyway? Do you know anything about them? Ever do anything with them socially? Ever wondered why small towns have such low crime rates, per capita? One reason is, everyone knows each other. That makes it so much harder to hide the criminal pursuits, the mental instability, the family abuse. And it makes it so much easier for people to help each other, to intervene, to monitor people who cannot monitor themselves.
Once upon a time, people were born into a community, were raised in it, and died in it, and so did their neighbors. This made it possible for genuine community to develop. But our industrialized, corporate, consumerist society doesn't want you to live that way. You need to be an easily interchangeable cog in the corporate machine. You need to be able and willing to move half-way across the continent at the drop of a hat if the company asks you to. Working at the same company all your life might provide some stability and some community. But our society demands that entire companies, entire communities be prepared to close down and move somewhere else, or get re- trained and spread across the globe, as easily as one piece of Lego is replaced for another. If you refuse, well, you can be replaced by workers in Mexico, or India, or Guatemala.
Myktychyn condemned Maritimers as being unwilling to move to where the work is, he believes that proves them to be lazy and dependent on hand-outs. On another forum, an expat from the Maritimes, now living in the US, told us that those of his friends who remained in his home town were lazy and ambitionless.
Well, I say HOORAH! for those who have chosen to remain in their communities despite adverse conditions and lower financial prospects. I think they are to be commended for honoring their commitments to others in their community, both personal commitments to individuals and the broader commitment implied by membership in a community.
The ones whose integrity I would instead question are those with considerable professional skill, and those with considerable capital resources (including owners of businesses and industries) who have left their communities in search of greater wealth and professional status elsewhere.
I do not condemn persons whose situations are genuinely desperate, and who must leave their community or face starvation and/or political persecution and possible death. However, no one in North America is facing these kinds of problems at the moment.
To be fair, I can't really blame the people who have left their communities in pursuit of greater wealth. They are merely a symptom of an illness that permeates our society. A society which has replaced human relationships with the pursuit of wealth and goods. A society in which no one really knows each other, in which neighbors change yearly, in which you never really get a chance to know people well enough to know if you can really trust or depend on them - if it is really safe to let your kids play in their yard or let them coach your kid's hockey team. People live surrounded by strangers and think that's normal! which allows the criminal element to prey on them and everyone else in the area. Family members are strewn across the continent. Grandparents don't get to know the grandchildren, or help to raise them. Young couples have no immediate family close by and no real friends. The pressures of childcare and employment mount and mount and there is no relief. Eventually there is separation and divorce.
People live lives full of shallow, superficial relationships and commitments. Divorce? Why not? The same attitude that says chase the bigger salary say why not chase a more attractive mate? Or one with a better investment portfolio? How many parents have enough commitment to their children that they would forego that transfer and salary bonus to keep their children in the same neighborhood with their friends. Especially important during those adolescent years. So the children grow up thinking superficial relationships are normal, and with no real interpersonal skills.
And if some day, one of their children grows so despondent over their inability to forge meaningful connectedness with their peers that they take the parents gun from under the bed (which the parents need to protect themselves from their neighbors because they are strangers) and put a bullet into someone else's child or themselves, the parents will blame the music they listened to, the movies they watched or the video-games they played. Anything except the quality of their relationships. After all, didn't they provide the kids with everything they ever needed - GAP clothing and a cellular phone?
Yes, I have been suspicious of Yuppies moving into my neighborhood. I expect them to leave again within about 3 years and I am usually correct. I sometimes warned my kids not to get too close to theirs, because loss experiences are so difficult for children to cope with. Most of the time, it wouldn't have been possible for my kids to grow close to theirs anyway, as the parents generally shuffled their kids off into "activities", so that they wouldn't get in the way of the parents working 50-60 hour weeks and pursuing their own hobbies. They paid other people to give their children time and attention so they wouldn't have to.
I can't really condemn these parents, because they may not even have known any better, which is sad. I'm sure they believed they were doing the right thing by their children - pursuing wealth and material goods - to give their kids "the good life". The strange thing is, they frequently seem so unhappy, and their family lives seem filled with strife. No doubt, many of these people were dragged from community to community by their own parents, who were themselves following this ideal, and never got the chance to form deep meaningful relationships with anyone.
Having never experienced this, they may not even know what they are missing. Perhaps others were seduced by the siren call of consumerism from all around them, and left a stable family and community to pursue wealth and "opportunity" somewhere far away. They may have become very prosperous there and felt no real need of companionship. So they end up sitting alone in an apartment surrounded by the finest audio equipment and a theatre screen TV, strangely drawn to chatrooms and message boards. Maybe they leave the TV going all the time that they are home, not understanding that it is the sight and sound of other people that they are drawn to, that they crave. Because people DO crave companionship, friendship, family and community, and will attempt to create some facsimile of these things wherever they go.
No, I'm not interested in more money. I'm not interested in a tax cut/rebate thank you very much. I do have goals and dreams for my family and for my community, but they have NOTHING to do with greater wealth.
What I would like to see is greater social stability. I would like to see people living in the same community where they were raised, surrounded by friends and neighbors that they grew up with.
I don't advocate a return to the past. I don't advocate a religiously based social conformity - I'm not interested in living in an Amish or Hutterite community.
I advocate moving forward. However, by what path will we move forward? Will we pursue the path of financial self-interest at all costs, the path currently laid out by the neo-cons? A path that values the pursuit of wealth and goods to such a degree that it condemns persons who choose to honor their commitments by staying in their neighborhood? A path that advocates giving companies even more inducement to move around in pursuit of the biggest tax break instead of making a commitment to the communities where they operate?
THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN THE PURSUIT OF WEALTH AND GOODS