I’ve been reading Thomas Fleming’s extended essay on the requirements of morality and why provincialism should trump any call to universalism (“Save my family” trumps “Save the world”), The Morality of Everyday Life: Rediscovering an Ancient Alternative to the Liberal Tradition. It’s an interesting read. I’ll review it when I’m done.
He quotes Gabriel Marcel, from Man Against Mass Society (1952):
Whenever the technocratic attitude of mind gains strength, so will this evil of depersonalization…. The real problem is that of knowing to what degree an administrative machine can be informed with spiritual values; and it is very hard not to feel very pessimistic when dealing with this problem. There seems to be a change of a positive solution only in the case in which what looks from the outside like a mere administrative machine in reality conceals a structure of a quite different sort … something of limited size … a small team of men of good will who have intimate links with each other.
So very post-modern. Fleming continues the point that Marcel made half a century ago:
Single workers appear to experience the most dehumanization; married workers, the least. Having children is an additional asset. Married workers, with a network of friends and family to whom they can turn for moral support, are less likely to give way to job-related stress….. Early man lived in small, kin-centered communities in which all the members were personally known to one another, and we, his descendants, still need the comfort of stable marriages and familiar faces, especially if we are to face the rigors of this urban and cosmopolitan world. [pp. 92]
We are indeed wired for small communities. That 150 (Dunbar’s number for the upper limit of the number of real relationships we can maintain at any one time, generally) keeps coming up, as does the modern limit, 40-60. We aren’t wired to care about the wide world. We are wired to care about the world around us, the people we know. In a way, even if we see it on the evening news, events that don’t occur to us or to people that we know don’t really exist for us. They’re simply stories.
Still, it’s interesting that Marcel had the idea of communities of practice back then.[You can read more about Mr Marcel at the Gabriel Marcel Society site.]