The Great Affluence Fallacy

In 18th-century America, colonial society and Native American society sat side by side. The former was buddingly commercial; the latter was communal and tribal. As time went by, the settlers from Europe noticed something: No Indians were defecting to join colonial society, but many whites were defecting to live in the Native American one. Even as late as 1782, the pattern was still going strong. The native cultures were more communal.

If colonial culture was relatively atomized, imagine American culture of today. As we’ve gotten richer, we’ve used wealth to buy space: bigger homes, bigger yards, separate bedrooms, private cars, autonomous lifestyles. Each individual choice makes sense, but the overall atomizing trajectory sometimes seems to backfire. According to the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression by as much as eight times the rate as people in poor countries.

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Every generation faces the challenge of how to reconcile freedom and community. But [possibly no] generation has faced it as acutely as millennials. Millennials are oriented around neighborhood hospitality, rather than national identity or the borderless digital world. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy … a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements. It wouldn’t [be a surprise] if the big change in the coming decades were this: an end to the apotheosis of freedom; more people making the modern equivalent of the Native American leap.

Read more from David Brooks at the NYTimes

“When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.” – Ben Franklin

Maybe we’re on the cusp of some great cracking. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy, I get the sense a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements. It wouldn’t surprise me if the big change in the coming decades were this: an end to the apotheosis of freedom; more people making the modern equivalent of the Native American leap.

Tribe: a new book by Sebastian Junger

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