The Big Disconnect


A few weeks ago I read and enjoyed The Big Disconnect. So it was good to catch the interview with the author on Tuesday morning – well done by both parties, by the way.

Following the trail that led to our present hyperindividualism is fascinating enough. But I’d like to see (and hear) Giles Slade spend more time on why we are no longer the way we were.

I suspect the answer is that there is/was no money in it. After all, how do you make money out of people simply enjoying being together?

There are hints in the book: “Competitive and financial values intruded into all aspects of human interaction, and, oddly, we became poorer for it. … As we adapted, we learned how to compete better and how to cooperate and to commit to each other less.” (pp. 176–77)

Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation made it very clear that insisting on what is thought of as a free market economy actually requires the breakdown of society. And the champions of this economic policy – come on down, Margaret Thatcher – have even maintained that “there is no such thing as society.”

related: the etymology of conversation

the text above was left as a comment on the CBC website, where embedded links, curly quotes, and italics are removed

from The Big Disconnect:

Abstract and secular systems like the “corporation,” the “labor union,” and the “stock exchange” appeared in the nineteenth century. These systems have since “provided a great deal of security . . . which was absent in pre-modern” times, but, nonetheless, “trust in abstract systems is not psychologically rewarding in the way in which trust in persons is.” Gradually secular organizations replaced religion as the primary means of organizing and stabilizing human relationships across time. Increasingly, too, these relationships were monetized and hence subject to free-market competition. The phrase “caveat emptor” had ushered in the modern era for American capitalism after the Laidlaw v. Organ decision in 1817, but by the 1860s, market competition had accelerated so that “the basic problem of legal thinkers after the Civil War was how to articulate a conception of property that could accommodate the tremendous expansion in the variety of forms of ownership spawned by a dynamic industrial society.”

Competitive and financial values intruded into all aspects of human interaction, and, oddly, we became poorer for it. As we became mobile, economic beings tied to a series of productive cities, we lost our closest trusting relationships with kin, religion, and tradition. Because they were tied to distant communities, these relationships were inadequate to support our forebears in the wider, urban horizon to which they migrated. The relationships of hearth and home were simply too cumbersome to transport or sustain over long distances, although we quickly invented new technologies—the photograph, the telephone, and the voice recording—to attempt such sustenance. Very quickly our primary relationships with kith and kin were displaced by new, less satisfying, more abstract, and more transitory relationships formed in the urban crucible. As we adapted, we learned how to compete better and how to cooperate and to commit to each other less.

Giles Slade: The Big Disconnect (pp. 176–77)

see also – by clicking the link to Google Books:


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