This is an attempt to put together the essential matters we all have to consider. I was inspired by Francis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order where he goes all the way back to early mankind and limns those elements of human life which perdure not only through history but through the lives of individuals. This blog entry goes under the category Pat’s World View because it is the way I see those elements working out in every situation and time but also under Ramble because there are many anecdotes I draw on to illustrate those processes.
The weakness of this structure is that it is less systematized than, e.g. Fukuyama tripod of strong, stable government, laws and accountability making for a strong nation. The strength lies in application of the elements to the lives of everyday people on the one hand and to the lives of people outside my orbit on the other. The study of history and the social sciences allows the latter.
Mankind has always lived in groups. Family groups variously defined have always given structure to life. The obvious reason for this is that human infants cannot care for themselves fully until after many years of nurturance. Providing that nurture is the job of parents and those connected one way or the other to the infant. Those practicing presentism cannot understand why people don’t just stop having babies so as to reduce world population. Two facts here: it is an instinct designed for reproduction under all conditions and in fact people do stop having babies, witness Russia.
Part of nurture is obtaining food. The ability to obtain food depends on surroundings, i.e geography. Whole peoples migrate to find food and water. This is the beginning of economics. Some one of the group or another group will assist or resist this search and appropriation and leaders emerge to help or hinder. This is the beginning of government.
TRUST – the collagen of the body politic.
but it is not the trust of “I’d trust you with my life” but rather the trust of “I trust you’ll show up for work tomorrow.”
Social cohesion – homeboys, Greek villages transplanted, Mexicans settling into barrios (?)
Trust comes through norms and values. To the extent these are shared we have social cohesion. Isabel Wilkerson tells the stories of three people of the Black migration from South to North in the U.S. The pull to the North was partly due to relatives and community members writing or calling back home to entice others to come. Sometimes it was push, due to sickening social conditions for Blacks in the South, or pull, due to the lure of high wages compared to anything found in the South.
A friend of mine just e-mailed me that the way it worked for Mexicans coming up from Mexico was labor recruiters who would empty a whole town of men, leaving behind only women, kids and old people. The men would all stay together until they made enough money to get their own domiciles and bring their families up to the U.S. That is also how my wife got here: labor recruiters getting Blacks to come to pick cotton. Years later she found that her dad’s first cousin was one of those and he and her dad probably crossed paths without knowing they were first cousins (the recruiter was the son of an ex-slave and his father had walked from Texas to Oklahoma to buy land; that’s why he and my father-in-law did not know each other)’
What emigrants find when they move away from home is a different set of norms and values. They adjust, they try to create new norms or learn the ones they find in place. One way or another, things are not the same. The more different norms and values there are, the trickier it is to find balance and to build a nest in the new place. The term alientation has been used to label this common process and the process has been condemned throughout history, usually by conservatives yearning for the old stability and familiarity and by liberals attempting to stick their fingers in the dike.
With all this, trust dissolves. Rigid protocols have to be set up and adhered to and sanctions provided for those abiding by them and against those violating them. The system of laws and accountability grows ever more complex and difficult to negotiate, leaving only the expert to exert a steadying force.
What I have described here is associated with urbanization. In remote times, a pastoral or agrarian people might have encroached on the territory of folk with a similar economic base. But cities attracted unsettled people with their openness and lack of the traditional sanctions of shunning and ostracism. There were, nevertheless, sanctions. The people in place were not about to let newcomers foul their hard-won nests.
Thus the nostalgia for rural, agrarian, small-town life. While it was never what it was cracked up to be, note the ugly town Carlo Levi describes in Christ Stopped At Eboli, the stresses were different (and, to be fair, southern Italy was the stomping ground of numerous empires and would-be empires).
Returning to basics, we see the family unit persists. The early Christian church had a hard time reconciling the rigorous life-style of Christian commitment to the exigenices of raising and maintaining a family. Over time, the Western church developed a body of work devoted to compromise on this matter. Marriage law in the Roman Catholic church takes up the bulk of church law, or so I’ve read.
The passion that forces us to procreate can be a destructive force to social order. Rigid guard rails keep everyone except the rich and powerful in line. I’ve often wondered if the motivation for people raised with such values for seeking power had to do with the need to freely seek their pleasure. Indulging forbidden pleasures, sometimes of the flesh, sometimes of the mind, even of the soul, is a worthy goal requiring great hypocrisy.
In our current life in a wealthy democracy we can take a businessman as an example, someone to follow around as he navigates the strictures of his life. He must make a profit while staying within legal, ethical and moral guidelines. Many step off the rails or onto the third rail. In the long run, success wipes out most sins and old age takes care of the rest. Yet along the way he must strike a balance. But what if his work force does not share his values? What if his partners do not?