Anxietization of the Population

I do a lot of research into the historic European rural settlement of one particular District in Ontario, Canada. I am aware of the lifespan of a lot of people, who lived lives without indoor plumbing, central heating, or easily accessed medical care. After spending more than twenty years exploring their lives, I believe that they lived as long as any of us do today, so long as they survived their childhood. Childhood is a dangerous time in a human’s life span, particularly the first year of life.

What I notice most about this population, who enjoyed for the most part long and happy lives, is: 1. that they formed supportive communities and 2. everyone worked at physical labour their whole life through. In the District of my research it is a given that they created adequate, if not extravagant, food and clothing and shelter.

They did not spend very much of their time fussing over their weight, their hair, their muscles, their vehicles, their home decor, or other superfluous accoutrements of life. Their time was spent surviving the harsh environment and the hubris of powerful men (e.g. World War 1, the Great Depression).

The people and communities were not perfect. Some people did bad things, the community responded to maintain its integrity. The Churches and Schools were central points in these communities, and later organizations such as the Women’s Institute contributed to the richness and stability of life.

This is my heritage, the communities that supported the lives that brought me into this world.

Now to the point of my simple thesis. The population today seems unable to coalesce into small supportive communities, which are the backbone of sustainable human social structures. What I see around me are people focusing not on survival and support, but on bits of mimicry made appealing by those who seek a profit at any cost. The social environment is bombarded with messages of competition and “success”, messages of magic bullets that will provide happiness and comfort, images of communities that are appealing and vacuous.

Real communities form from within as a result of function. Dysfunctional communities form from without, and are almost invariably unidimensional. The dysfunctional community seldom coalesces in a geographically confined space. Instead it forms around wealth, status, personal interests (e.g. Weight Loss, Wine Tasting), and a myriad of other single-focus points, which create unidimensional groupings of people with intermittent contact and very limited social support.

And this is getting more extreme as time goes by, more controlled by big business. I take as an example Facebook, which now can demand proof of identity for membership. One cannot participate in many online discussions without a Facebook account. We all know how easy it is to eradicate a voice in an online social setting, block, ban, delete… all of it invisible to other people. This is not a supportive or socially functional human environment, it does not create healthy communities, in my opinion.

I find myself living in a social world that is endlessly anxious; anxious to purchase the next great item that will make them happy; anxious to answer that ever present cell phone call or text message; anxious to measure every step taken on their FitBit, so that they can be counted up for success or failure at the end of the day, or week, or month; anxious to look young, or thin, or affluent, or, well the list is long.

In my opinion human social structures have devolved to the point where the majority of people no longer know what constitutes a healthy community, perhaps devolved to the point where people no longer know that there is such a thing as a healthy community.

There are pockets though, where small healthy social structures are flourishing, like weeds in a concrete jungle. They are invisible to those who are addicted to modern anxieties. They are ignored by business, who cannot accumulate wealth at their expense. As long as the earth supports human life, I think these small healthy communities will continue to create themselves. Trees can grow in Brooklyn.

Wednesday mornings can be intense!

Worldly Distractions

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Quote

“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.” A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith
1896 – 1972

16 Comments

  1. Lots to think about in that post, Maggie! You have awakened the dormant grey matter in my brain! My take on current communities, and the lack of them, is that we are being dominated by our thirst for new technology—which further isolates us. Ironic, isn’t it, that programs like Facebook and Twitter, which were invented supposedly to connect us, force us further into our dream world of screens and tech savvy. But I don’t feel it’s hopeless—nothing is ever hopeless!

  2. Diane, I share your feelings, and agree with your observations about technology. With one exception, although Facebook and Twitter were promoted as a means to connect us, I feel their main purpose was always to cash in on human weaknesses. In other words, they were created for the accumulation of wealth, at our expense, and sold to us as a service. They needed our support to make money, so they appealed to our need to belong. And like you I see them forcing us further into a dream world, a world that they control and profit from.

  3. Steve-Paul Simms

    A very good piece of wrinking, Maggie T. That’s a hybrid of writing and thinking, preferably not in that order.
    I try to utilize social media without becoming its slave. It’s handy for an entertainer to send out information quickly. Also, in among the more superficial connections I’ve made honest-to-goodness re-connections to family and friends I might never have heard from again.
    But the importance of community cannot be overemphasized. You would very much enjoy a book (I mentioned it on Facebook!) called The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks., about continuity on a farm in Cumbria.
    Peace and good health!

  4. Thank you Steve Paul! Facebook does have utility, as you point out. The distant connections it can facilitate are valuable. My maternal family kept up with these distant connections via personal letters, Christmas Cards, and post cards, many of which survive in my family archive. My research has been significantly enhanced by technology through paid online access via the mega-corporation ancestry.xxx, who make a lot of money selling me my rightful heritage. I refer to corporations as who because they are legal entities under the law, with rights and privileges, owning one is like having a child.

    I will look for the book! Perhaps I can find it at Library Ontario, an online digital book lending library, 🙂

  5. TopsyTurvy (Teri)

    An excellent treatise, Maggie, though I have a few points I’d like to comment on.

    1 Real communities also form from within by connection. Often it is by family and extended family caring about each other and gathering in family friends, also. I think this did happen more often some decades back, however.

    2 I do sincerely fear some of the dysfunctional communities that are being created by our ability to now communicate around the world. People with damaging or attacking ideologies can now seek out like-minded individuals and strengthen not only their interest in chaos or harm but their ability to create the same. They also find it easy to ensnare people who don’t think in depth and don’t extrapolate or don’t care to extrapolate where unhealthy actions and thought will eventually lead.

    3 I do, however, see positives in your rather negative view of Facebook. Facebook began with trying to be a home for real people trying to build caring networks with other real people. The fault, unfortunately, is not in the medium but in the dysfunction of some of its users.

    The internet has always had trolls, those who prefer attack and chaos to working together and building. Facebook has attempted to limit the trolls by forcing people to be honest about who they are. They thought they had it figured out and could delete people, potential trolls, based on an algorithm to catch fake names. It didn’t work properly and they ended up having to have people with names like Nikki Twobears prove that they were real people.

    And yes, one way or another Facebook had to find a way for this grand social experiment to pay for itself and even make money. You can’t begrudge them that, everyone has to eat and it would be unfair to vilify them because their experiment proved so popular that it became a major business that makes a great deal of money. You and I should be so lucky.

    But to get back to your discussion of the changing face of communities and how the dysfunctional ones are growing, I’d love to see that portion of your post expanded and perhaps offered to publications like Psychology Today or other magazines that would be interested. I think your ideas are very worthy of both exploration and being offered to the public at large.

  6. Your points on like-minded trolls and evangelical groups using Facebook is very apt Teri.

    We see the roots of Facebook differently I think. It began as means to judge people’s appearance:

    “Zuckerberg wrote the software for the Facemash website when he was in his second year of college. The website was set up as a type of “hot or not” game for Harvard students. The website allowed visitors to compare two student pictures side-by-side and let them choose who was “hot” and who was “not”…..

    That night, Mark Zuckerberg wrote the following blog entries:

    I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10 pm and it’s a Tuesday night? What? The Kirkland dormitory facebook is open on my desktop and some of these people have pretty horrendiedous facebook pics. I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of some farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.”

    Then as it gained in popularity it became “big business”, to make money:

    “Facebook was incorporated in the summer of 2004, and the entrepreneur Sean Parker, who had been informally advising Zuckerberg, became the company’s president. In June 2004, Facebook moved its base of operations to Palo Alto, California. The company dropped ‘The’ from its name after purchasing the domain name facebook.com in 2005 for $200,000.”

    Mother Theresa was concerned about healthy communities in my view, but I personally do not think that Facebook started there, or grew with that intention. It was created by an elite group, for an elite group, then found profitable if marketed to the general public. I do begrudge corporations this kind of mega-profit orientation, as is my right. Harvard students are not known for living at a level of poverty that demands they need to worry about where their next meal comes from.

    I think we need to agree to disagree on this, as it is a matter of perspective. And in the end it doesn’t matter one whit what either of us think, Facebook will carry on its merry way.

    I have little interest in publishing venues Teri, that is why I learned to code and created my own domain and web site, so that I could think and speak freely. I have published in the past, and know only too well that the parameters of the business do not facilitate that freedom. My blog is available to everyone on planet earth who can access a computer or cell phone with data, free of charge, no profit involved, and that is enough for me. My writing is copyrighted.

  7. TopsyTurvy (Teri)

    You have information I wasn’t aware of regarding Facebook. All the same, I can see where a 20-year-old can act in the ways Zuckerberg acted. Heaven knows SS29 is little different from that way of thinking, even now. (I do keep trying to nudge him in a more mature direction, though. 😉 )

    I’m sorry to hear that you’re not interested in writing your thoughts literally for the masses. While it is true that what you’ve said is available to anyone who might pass this way it’s also true that this website is unlikely to be seen by many as it’s not a ‘popular’ venue on the internet.

    I was really hoping you might offer your writing out to larger sites, as I hoped others might learn from your insights. I think they’re important and worthy of being offered to a larger audience.

    I feel I’ve somehow irritated you in suggesting that what you’ve written is worthy of being offered to larger circles. Most people would be proud of that, so I’m not sure why you sound irritated. I’m sorry I’ve caused that reaction, though I don’t understand it at all. 🙁

  8. crochetlady or Lee Ann

    I know that I aggravate people sometimes when text or email is not on my priority list of things to do for the day. I prefer the “real” community to Facebook . I fall behind in my Facebook reads unless I am in hospital. But to support you, Maggie, I was reading an article today that discussed how many friends a person needed. 4 real life friends counts more than the thousands of Facebook friends.people need the face to face contact daily, and that takes work to maintain. The article said that not all friends last forever because you and they change. But we have lost something, except when we join a real live organization , church, The Elks, The Woman’s League – the village comes back. And we are better, individually and as a group. And, TT, I don’t know but I think that Maggie just doesn’t want to deal with the politics that go with getting published. Been there, done that- right Maggie?
    On another note I am asking for some prayers, I am in the hospital due to cellulitis. I hope noe of you are getting hit by the storm that is heading for the eastern seaboard of the US, from DC north. Prayers to you if you are. Thank you

  9. Lee Ann, you are correct, the politics of publishing are not something I want to participate in.

    Sending you prayers Lee Ann, I hope you are comfortable as you fight the infection, that your condition improves quickly and that you are back home with your loved ones!

  10. TopsyTurvy (Teri)

    *sigh* I don’t know. I guess that my interest is always in the edification and betterment of society. I guess I don’t understand not wanting your views to be broadcast further afield, to help others and advance us as a people.

    And I definitely don’t understand why my suggestions annoyed. I’ll replace the word proud, since you dislike it. I would think that you would be happy/glad that someone found so much value in what you said, Maggie, that they wanted the entire world to hear it. That was a compliment, and not one that I give lightly.

    It made me really sad to have my admiration brushed aside like that.

    CL, sorry to hear that your cellulitis is back. Hope you’ll be able to go home again soon.

    I think about adding in face friends, periodically. DH is the only one I have, though he’s a great one. But sometimes you think you’ve found a friend and things just fall apart for reasons you don’t understand.

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