Orion's picture

    Bowling Alone in 2022

    There is a very famous conservative book called Quest for Community. Written during the 1950s by Berkeley academic Robert Nisbet, the book makes an assessment about why fascism and communism happened. Totalitarianism addressed the longing that all human beings have for community. As modern industrialism shook up the bonds that humans developed slowly over thousands of years, anxiety and fear settled in and dictators offered a relief.

    Sound like our modern world? A big warning about this was made about this during the early 2000s, in the book Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam.

    I found an article recently, The Nocturnals, about a class of Americans who live completely by night. They've worked alone or worked night shifts for some time, avoiding people as much as possible. Bowling Alone is cited in the article:

    In his book Bowling Alone, the political scientist Robert Putnam argued that this urban boom initially spurred a flourishing of connection. But, in his view, the late 1960s and early ’70s saw those bonds begin to break down, as urban sprawl and new technologies led people to spend more time alone, watching television or driving. 

    The article goes on to add:

    In 2017, once and future U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned of a dangerous “loneliness epidemic.” As he wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.” In recent years, commentators have implicated loneliness in a wide swath of society’s ailments, including steep suicide rates and the opioid crisis. Twenty-first-century American culture is now often associated with profound isolation.

    Bowling Alone basically postulates that urbanization failed. Conservatives tend to be people who avoid the urban center for whatever reason, and hince the book was heavily popular on the right. It is cited in the reprint edition of Quest for Community. Seeing it cited in The Atlantic probably isn't a total surprise but it at least was for me. The liberal class, when conservatism was dominated in the nation, was largely powered by people operating outside of mainstream social norms. The opposite is true now.

    Somehow, during the process of the years following the housing crunch, conservatives rejected their intellectuals and therefore rejected their own philosophy in exchange for Trumpism. The process started before Trump himself even got started running for office. George Will and Jonah Goldberg defected. Joe Biden was elected on a promise of "a return to normalcy," an appeal quite a bit different than "hope and change." 

    Whoever realizes the idea, the isolation of modern America is a choice that the society made some time ago. Unlike when it was pointed out by conservatives, progressives have actual ideas like tearing down the highways that literally separate Americans from one another. Remote work, which both puts people in isolation and also forces them to interact with their co-workers, has forced people to face how isolated they truly may have become.


    Stuff that doesn't make sense - most suburbs have much greater concentration of people than existed in the 30s, plus people stuck out in the sticks or dust bowls didn't have the cars and gas money to get somewhere. Tell me conservatives in Texas aren't flying to Cancun and other Carribean sites at record pace, as well as the nearby beaches. Southwest Airlines launched in the early 70s, revolutionizing cheap travel. 

    Also from 1989-1992, *billions* got the right to travel, to get passports, to speak and work and vacation freely. Soviet Union/East Europe plus the Chinese opening. Add that the great decrease in poverty, expanded economies, people's ability to afford to go places with increased discretionary income. While much of those statistics can be explained by just China with it's 1.4billion getting higher incomes, still there's been an explosion of access.

    Also with more and more kids going to college, intermingling and making new friends/colleagues has never been higher (pre-covid at least). So why does this post sound like we're living in some post-nuclear blown out ghetto? As Rihanna said, "shut up and drive" (no offense). $20 of gas and you can be far away. (yes, gas mileage increased more than gas prices for all the complaints, and car prices increase lower than inflation)

    Didn't ring true to me either. So much coverage I read of the real estate market points to people CHOOSING to move away from urban areas to suburban ones with more space, driving up prices to the max. They are NOT lonely, just the opposite, they want more space to pursue a balanced life with time for hobbies and don't want to commute to a job every day at the office, they want to work from home, been spoiled by remote work, just will not do 9-5.

    And personal anecdotals back that up: my bestie right now has a millennial kid, big shot programmer just married, they were living in Queens, have decided to buy a house in Vermont and get the hell out of there for more space and fresh air.

    Sure some youngins, Gen Z, are finally repopulating NYC a bit. Remains to be seen whether that will grow as they figure out getting around means taking the horrific subway and nobody is working in those huge office towers, even though the Mayor is lecturing everyone that they got to start changing out of their sweats and jammies, get dressed in business clothes and join the rat race in the cubical on floor 22 again. Where you gossip at the water cooler rather than on the internet.

    Orion: just my take: I suspect you are projecting the loneliness and alienation thing too much onto the larger population because you see it among friends and acquaintances and then you go cherry-picking for articles that confirm your bias. When this contingent is a minority, not society's big problem. I see a ton of articles that balance those, how about people want a more relaxed life away from constant daily urban sturm and drang that comes from living too close to others with not enough space to think. Where you see "community", they see sickness and getting dragged into warped values and lifestyles, stuck dealing with people that make them unhappy and miserable.

    Edit to add: my mentally disabled brother in the surburban-like far edge of Milwaukee takes the city bus twice a week to his bowling club which he and they are very happy about, it's been revived since Covid restrictions died down. He is constant evidence how you don't really need a car in such areas. He has a license but doesn't drive. A van picks him up for two days per week of work and he walks and takes the bus to all kinds of social activities. (Never been happier since his parents/my parents are gone, who were over protective and kept him in too much.)

    P.S. I have been pretty convinced now after reading on trends during Covid that a more spread out population is in the cards for the foreseeable future, that that is so much the overwhelming trend in the U.S,.that I have become interested in reading about how that's going to affect the need to go green or lose the planet. Traditionally, environmentalist arguments were that people will need to be stacked up in apartment buildings like in Tokyo and take mass transit to cut down on the use of energy and more efficiently deliver all kinds of services. Well it looks to me like Americans are just going to refuse to do that! They want a piece of land and a personal vehicle (to socialize at will not on demand) and don't want to live on top of each other fighting and giving each other diseases.(and being targets for a madman's bombs and artillery.)

    Study after study after study over decades has shown: the most stressful thing is having your daily life routines dictated by others against your will. Very bad for human health. "Community" is not all its cracked up to be, not if the "community" is always in your face and is not your choice.

    Latest Comments