It is discouraging to read of how individualism accelerated by urban distancing is also infecting China (“Even in time when everything is for sale, human connections will always be priceless,” by Wan Lixin, March 8, Shanghai Daily).
I also have a wealth of personal experience denoting how dramatically things have changed in my own lifetime, from my childhood and youth when practically everyone in neighborhoods used to know one another — and where we even had some common neighborhood rituals, like 4th of July fireworks and the roasting of marsh mellows over fires lit to consume fallen leaves in the autumn — and where it was expected that you would acknowledge the smiles or waves of even strangers you encountered on the street, to today when people you encounter walking or in elevators wear that same expression of non-seeing Wan described so well.
While rural communities, such as where I lived in NW Iowa for 9 years following my retirement, such openness towards others and friendliness to strangers remains intact. But on the downtown streets of Portland, Oregon, it is actually hard to catch the eye of many people whom you encounter.
Sociologists and pol itical scientists in the US have observed how people are increasingly sorting themselves into like-minded communities, through their on-line communities, the media they follow, the clubs or associations they join, and even in the neighborhoods in which they choose to live. This is a key factor contributing to the political and ideological divisiveness that is such a troubling — and seemingly growing — phenomenon in the US today.
As Wan has observed, when people lose those essential social links to each other (we are, after all, a social species down to the molecules of our shared DNA), not only are other things lost, but other ties society needs to function begin to fray.
Wan concludes his article by observing, “But with a little initiative, we can catalyze real change.” I would welcome his further thoughts on the kinds of initiatives he had in mind, both of individual and of collective action. Personally, I am stymied as to what real options exist here.
My beloved country seems to resemble a horrific landscape where a huge landslide is steadily building speed and, as it rushes further down the mountainside, not only gathers momentum but its growing mass becomes ever more destructive.
Portland, Oregon, the United States