The Surprising Reason Why Americans Are So Lonely, and Why Future Prosperity Means Socializing with Your Neighbors | Vision | AlterNet

Access to endless amounts of cheap energy made us rich, and wrecked our climate, and it also made us the first people on earth who had no practical need of our neighbors.

In the halcyon days of the final economic booms, everyone on your cul de sac could have died overnight from some mysterious plague, and while you might have been sad, you wouldn’t have been inconvenienced. Our economy, unlike any that came before it, is designed to work without the input of your neighbors.

This is just silly. First, in many measurable and significant to the likes of you and me ways, the environment is better than it has been in years. The article uses the word “climate” instead of “environment,” and maybe they are referring only to climate change, but I’m relatively sanguine about our climate as well (that’s another post).

But to say that there has never before been an economy that worked without the input of your neighbors is either wrong or misleading. If you consider “economy” to mean “how we get along,” and believe that they really mean what they say, then consider the hunter-gatherer, or the solitary farmer alone on the prairie. They had no neighbors, and were completely independent of all other people.

If you take “economy” to mean “the economic interaction of people,” then the progress achieved over the last few hundred years has simply broadened the definition of “neighbors.”

Finally, if their point is that we must not be so dependent on far-away people, then they need to consider the implications of giving up the current world-wide specialization. There are only a handful of computer operating system designers in the world who are meeting the computing needs of most of the world’s population. I don’t want to have to use a computer designed by a kid who lives down the street, programmed by his sister. Nor do I want to watch their cousin’s home movies.

Over time we have learned to ever-more-efficiently allow people farther and farther apart to meet each others’ economic needs, allowing people better-suited to a given task to meet that need for more and farther-away people.

This is a good thing.


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