Monday, June 23, 2008

The American Jungle

meet the neighbors

An article in today’s New York Times asks the question “Why is it that in an age of cheap long-distance rates, discount airlines and the Internet, when we can create community anywhere, we often don’t know the people who live next door?”

The article goes on to explain that today neighbors are estimated to socialize with each other approximately half as much as they did in the 1950’s. The article does not attempt to explain why this is.

Here’s an idea: People are scared of each other, and with good reason.

The article mentions in passing that a few years ago one of his neighbors shot his wife and then shot himself. Their two teenage children were at home. This is in a middle class suburban neighborhood. An estimated 45,513 “intimate partner” homicides occurred in the United States between 1981 and 1998. That’s an average of about 2,700 Americans each year being killed by a spouse or lover. Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, there have been 3,342 Americans killed there in combat. That’s about 660 per year. The war in American living rooms is killing Americans four times as quickly as the war in Iraq.

Sadistic joy killing is not at all uncommon either. (See this post.)

If you know that your neighbor may very possibly murder someone, it might be wise not to visit him too often. “Socializing” through anonymous Internet accounts may be the better way to go – with no names, addresses, phone numbers or photographs involved. At least not real photographs.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

In the 1950’s American minds had not yet been completely poisoned by Darwin’s monkey myth (also known as evolution). People believed that they were not merely apes who, logically, should behave like gorillas. They believed that God had created them, that they had a soul and that God would hold them accountable for their behavior.

There are, thank God, still places like this.

Take for example the neighborhood I live in. People believe in God and they believe that He commanded us to love each other. We celebrate the Sabbath and Jewish holidays together. We don’t gun each other down in family arguments. People are not perfect, but they are human and civilized.

It can be like that everywhere. I have a dream.


The Raz said...

If people lived in fear of their neighbors, as you suggest, then they would most likely not live in their neighborhood. People tend to not move into neighborhoods they deem dangerous. A more likely scenario would give multiple causes for the change such as American’s lack of outdoor activities and hence the rise in obesity. You need to exit your home to interact with neighbors and if you are not outside then your chances of engaging in small talk diminishes. To exacerbate the problem, the U.S. builds its cities emphasizing space and distance, individual plots of land in mind verses the close nit cityscapes. Worse yet, we facilitate this behavior with our roads and highways instead of with mass transit, further encouraging seclusion and disconnect, increasing obesity and exhausting our natural resources.
Now you rightfully point out the increase in internet socializing. But that may not necessarily be bad and may not have any thing to do with a fear of human interaction. The internet affords people the ability to congregate with like minded individuals just as real life social groups once functioned in the previous century. An example is that there was a time when to play video games with a friend meant they had to come over. Now, you just have to plug in a headset, sit on a couch and instantly be talking to and hanging out with your friend that now lives across the country. You are correct that socializing is occurring more indoors but maybe missing the correlation that technology is facilitating this behavior, not out of fear but out of convenience.
Plus, I wouldn’t mock technology to much; you use this exact medium for your Atheist online battle. Without it you would have no blog and the more you spend time socializing here with people like me, the less you are interacting with real life people around you.

As for Jewish communities, they do offer that sense of community that is slipping in today’s neighborhoods. But it is not exclusive to Judaism; it is present in the Amish community, most church communities, small towns and in the worst extreme, small towns with a high KKK membership. There are a lot of factors, key word being LOT, that go into this growing disconnected and it is probably variable across communities depending on economic and demographic factors. You simplified the problem and in the process, missed all the important issues that are at the root of our changing community.

jewish philosopher said...

I would really have to disagree with you. If people are afraid they cannot simply move, because where will they move to that's any better?

Fear by the way is not only fear of murder. Homicide is usually a symptom of a much broader social atmosphere of brutality and selfishness. For each one homicide there may be ten beatings, a hundred thefts and a thousand insults. This creates a climate where it is smarter to avoid people.

Non-Jews who emulate Judaism naturally reap many of the benefits of Judaism.

There are an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 KKK members. Which small town has a high membership?