Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Whither Solidarity?

Is solidarity a thing of the past? by Kurt Cobb (EB)

In Bottleneck Catton explains that the late 19th century French sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that the division of labor in society which resulted in heightened interdependence among humans also led inevitably to greater solidarity. Catton counters with the views of American sociologist E. A. Ross who believed that that same interdependence was leading to far more vulnerability among humans to predatory behavior from other humans. Catton leans toward Ross's view for a very important reason: Humans now labor in narrow occupational niches within our highly complex society in the same way that species occupy ecological niches in nature. This specialization leads to competition within each niche for the limited number of positions available.

Consequently, the harder the economic times, the more intense the competition for the reduced number of positions within each niche. This leads to anxiety among those already holding a job since they are often not skilled enough to find work in other niches. The employee often asks himself or herself, "What could I possibly do if I were no longer able to do this kind of work?" Naturally, this concern also creates anxiety among those who are unemployed and seeking jobs within a particular niche.

I wasn't expecting Mr. Cobb to adopt Catton's analysis, though he may be making use of it as one explanation of our present situation. I don't think interdependence is, in se, the problem. It and (over-)specialization accompany wage slavery and a highly developed "capitalistic" system. It's not just economic competition that affects solidarity, but the lack of rootedness and the size of the "communities" that are involved. So Catton's analysis may be useful in looking at one factor, but it is incomplete. While those in France, for example, may be better able to unite for a common interest because of a social safety net which alleviates the risk of reprisals, aren't they stuck in a capitalistic paradigm? While seeking their economic good they, at the same time, cling to their form of political economy, from which they derive their government benefits. How can they wholly reform the system? It seems to me that such a thorough reform would be necessary if it is to be sustainable and to induce humane communities. Otherwise, we are stuck with wealth pumps and centralization and all that entails, as Damien Perrotin notes.

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