The Great Affluence Fallacy

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times (The Great Affluence Fallacy, August 9, 2016), describes a centuries-old competition between commercial and communal society:

In 18th-century America, colonial society and Native American society sat side by side. The former was buddingly commercial; the latter was communal and tribal. As time went by, the settlers from Europe noticed something: No Indians were defecting to join colonial society, but many whites were defecting to live in the Native American one.

Reflecting on why “thousands of Europeans,” according to contemporary accounts, might have chosen to reject European ways for a more tribal lifestyle, Brooks speculates: “It raises the possibility that our culture is built on some fundamental error about what makes people happy and fulfilled.

Fast forward to today.

Brooks notes: “As we’ve gotten richer, we’ve used wealth to buy space: bigger homes, bigger yards, separate bedrooms, private cars, autonomous lifestyles. Each individual choice makes sense, but the overall atomizing trajectory sometimes seems to backfire. According to the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression by as much as eight times the rate as people in poor countries.

“There might be a Great Affluence Fallacy going on — we want privacy in individual instances, but often this makes life generally worse.” (See The Age of Loneliness for George Monbiot’s thoughts on this.)

Brooks finds hope in a new generation who seek stronger social ties.

Maybe we’re on the cusp of some great cracking. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy, I get the sense a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements.

Co-housing, for instance?

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