So for my Masters Degree, I’m taking a class on Interagency Operations. Despite the title, it seems to be less about government agencies and more about how humans interact in groups. I learned quite a bit from “Bureaucracy” by James Q. Wilson. I’m learning a little less from “Bowling Alone” by Putnam, but the basic theme is clear:
US citizens are becoming less and less socially involved. We interact less. We join groups less. We help each other less.
That’s not really a surprise. I remember when I was a kid, we used to run across everyone’s lawns as we played War, Cowboys/Indians, Spies, etc. We didn’t hang out on anyone else’s lawn, but if it was in the way, we went across it. Now it seems as if everyone wants privacy fences around their property. I found my best friend by just going out and wandering around in a young-boy-attracting drainage ditch, and he was out there poking around, too. I think that would be less likely to happen today.
It’s not the internet, although that doesn’t help. People form groups across lines of interest that ignore geography. I have friends from blogging that I will never, ever meet…or have only met once.
It’s not TV and video games, although that may have helped, because people see entertainment with the home as more cost effective and apparently more rewarding than going out and interacting with people.
I submit to you, however, that it was the Progressives, and especially Political Correctness that poisoned societal interactions and is in the process of killing US society. I know, I know: you’re thinking, “Nathan, is there anything you can’t blame on progressives/liberals/Democrats?” There may be some truth to that, and I realize I tend to do that or I wouldn’t have put those words into your mouth, er fingers.
But it seems to me that the penalty for social mis-steps is far, far higher than ever before. It seems to me that it is too easy to sue someone for doing something you don’t like, it is too easy to ruin the life of someone who says something you don’t like.
Right now, teachers can’t hug students. In today’s society, men are increasingly not allowed to be alone with children. I assume that a male coach for a high school girls’ sports team is becoming less and less acceptable. Men are assumed to be predators. Whites are assumed to be racist.
And worst of all, there is more and more protection for jerks. It used to be, if someone was being an ass, you could give them a poke in the nose. Nowadays that would get you thrown in jail and sued.
So instead of a polite society where everyone is assumed to be honorable and trustworthy until they demonstrate differently, instead of a polite society where problems are dealt with immediately and appropriately and settled between adults* at the lowest level, we have socially-protected classes (who can say and do almost anything without fear of reprisal) and socially-detested classes (who must fear employment and legal reprisals for expressing opinions), and almost all disputes being resolved only through the involvement of authorities.
I think people are more and more afraid of interacting with fellow humans because the penalties for minor social mis-steps mean loss of income or loss of freedom (being thrown in jail), rather than having the worst be a short, sharp reminder of civility from which you can heal.
Or maybe I’m trying to combine too many different ideas into one post. But I don’t think it is an unrelated phenomenon that as the actual legal rules are enacted to protect and encourage the Perpetually Offended, social interaction goes down.
*remember, punishment works best when meted immediately after the misdeed.