Monday, December 03, 2012

What's Their Motivation?

We shouldn't be surprised that the loss of a physical structure to community (the compartamentalization of life that finds its culmination in the suburbs) results in the loss of formal structure as well.

James Howard Kunstler's latest, Homeless:

In fact, the heart of our economic predicament is that the American economy came to be based on the construction of ever more suburban stuff, the financing of which, especially the houses, became the fodder for an episode of epic swindles that has left our banking system a hollowed out shell of accounting fraud. In short, we built even more stuff with no future, and ruined our society in the process. How tragic is that?

The behavioral habits, practices, and consequences of being stuck in that living arrangement may end up being at least as problematic as the physical residue of it. It has left the people in a network of alienation, anxiety, and misery that defeats exactly the mentality needed to break free of it. For the truth is we're faced with a massive necessary re-ordering of daily life in this country, and there is no vision or will to get on with job.

Among the tribulations of this living arrangement is the utter loss of connection between place and purpose often expressed in the phrase "loss of community," which is a little too abstract to me and fails to convey the tragedy of individuals living with no sense of purpose -- and by that I mean duties, obligations, and responsibilities to other human beings.

Obviously, the whole idea of a single-family house by definition dictates a certain disposition of things. It will lack the dimension and social relations of a household composed of multiple generations plus non-family members, helpers, employees, servants. And it should also be obvious that the single-generation, single-family house is a product of mid-20th century industrial dynamism that made even factory worker wage slaves rich by historical standards - Tom Wolfe pointed out years ago that the average GM assembly line drone enjoyed more sheer physical luxury at home than Louis XIV.

Tom Storck has an essay looking at Adam Smith on self-interest: The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker

Was Smith merely reporting (or writing down his own perceptions) the behavior of others in his place and time, and then generalizing and ascribing this motivation as being basic to human behavior? Can we expect economic actors to be motivated by something other than self-interest? Charity, civic friendship (or civic fraternity) and social, or legal, justice (or solidarity)? Let us not forge the destruction of the bonds of a local community and of other associations like the guilds. When one has been raised without being trained to love others, what should one expect, other than the pursuit of self-interest? Natural affections can only encompass so many people, but even love of the group can only cover so many. If the group is too big, then it is only natural and reasonable that people will start making distinctions within that group in the order of love in accordance to proximity, affinity, shared history, reciprocity, and so on.

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