Monday, June 27, 2011

Cafeteria Communitarians

Want to chew on something very serious?  Try Matthew Shaffer's piece about how contemporary life, built on a foundation of small "l" liberalism, of which we are all passionate adherents, has resulted in, among many other troubling things, the separation of the generations.  Old people and young people just don't interact very much any more and, it would seem, we both like it better that way.  Except when we don't.

Shaffer rightly sees the particular problem, age segregation, as part of the larger problem presented by liberal modernity itself:
How can this bad (separateness) come of this good (freedom)? The best allegory for this, the dilemma of modernization, is C. S. Lewis’s imagining of Hell, The Great Divorce (the title implying that it is a response to Blake’s Marriage). Lewis envisioned that the damned suffer not a fire, or any physical torment or confinement, but absolute dominion and inalienable rights: the liberty to roam an infinite and borderless land, and to freely and instantaneously build castles wherever they like.Lewis’s damned enjoy this freedom by abandoning locations and acquaintances the moment they become inconvenient. The awkwardness of an exchange with a neighbor we think has slighted us can, in Lewis’s Hell, be evaded by simply moving away. So after a few years’ stay in Hell, each of the damned is thousands of miles away from any other, pacing solitarily in his castle.The political moral is that unchosen obligations, restraints, and dependencies are the things that push people together, despite our irritableness and our inconvenience to each other. Our limitations and inadequacies counter our selfish bent, and become a foundation for community.
As I see it, the only fix for this very real problem (we all know it in our bones), aside from catastrophe and calamity of biblical proportions, is a deliberate choice on one's part to live in community, to live in community with all the attendant costs to include practicing lifelong forbearance toward a neighbor or relative who is otherwise a genuine pain in the...well, you take my point.

Short of that, most of us will remain cafeteria communitarians at best.  That is, we will remain liberals.  Something about modern life is very wrong or missing or lacking and we know it.  We try to fix the problem or fill the void by choosing a community of which to be a part, but only a community of our choosing.  You know, something not too demanding, something built on a very narrow common interest perhaps, a hobby maybe, with affordable dues, and while regular, at least mercifully short meetings.

Better yet, we'll start a Facebook page and call it community.

No comments:

Post a Comment