Thursday, 30 December 2010

Harvest, neighbourliness and altruism I generally treat narratives of the decline of neighbouring with cautious respect. Here's a comment responding to a post on the global Irish Central site, raising a valid point about the impact of technology on local social relations, which I don't recall having heard before: 'When I visited Ireland as a child, saving the hay was a community event. The neighbors would pitch in and help each other. The mechanization of farming has removed that shared sense of community gained from helping one's neighbors.' There's no doubt that community involvement in the economically-critical harvest applied in many countries over centuries. We think of Levin over-exerting himself with the serfs, in Anna Karenina. Excluding imaginative aristocrats, most of the participants in such scenes would have experienced intermittent mutual dependence which defined community for them. The basis was necessity neighbouring: individuals had self-interested motivation for co-operating with their neighbour (and coercive religious practices often did the rest). Failure to maximise the harvest, perhaps with too few hands available to bring it in before the weather changed, seriously threatened the chances of the whole village getting through the winter. We might also ask about some of the oppressive social structures under which this sometimes tortuous labour was unavoidable (no apols for sounding momentarily marxist) - who was benefitting most from this skilled, physical, coordinated effort? - and therefore the conditions under which the mutual commitment that we call 'community' arose. By all means we should reflect on the contrasts (and similarities) between local social relations in other societies and those that prevail today. But let's at least recognise that versions of 'community' which may have become scarce and and are now regretted, had their basis in motivations that were not necessarily altruistic, and in economics that were not necessarily inclusive. The contemporary challenge might be expressed thus: how does neighbourliness and sense of community emerge in societies that lack identifiable, manifold mutual dependence?
Juxtaprose 5 'They shout conversations through rooms rather than talking face-to-face, they argue constantly at very anti-social hours (e.g. 3am), they stamp about and slam doors, cupboards etc. Last night my sister came to mine in tears at 12:30am because the chavs had arrived home drunk and proceeded to sing at the top of their voices then have a huge argument. 'Whilst there is clearly a problem with the lifestyles of these people, there seems to be an acoustics problem too. When sitting in my sister's bedroom, you can every single word, perfectly clearly, that the upstair's people are saying, even if they are talking at normal levels. If they have friends round, the noise from their conversation is so high it's unbearable. I have witnessed this myself, it's no exaggeration.' (1). 'It was determined that the noise was coming from a broken fan blade in a basement air conditioning unit that cooled computers that controlled cell phone antennae on the roof of a nearby building. The super of the building said to call the landlord. The landlord said call AT&T. AT&T said lady, we don't have a location within three miles of your address, so it must be Verizon. Verizon said they're our towers but AT&T rents them. AT&T said call AT&T Wireless, separate company. AT&T Wireless said press 1 for a new cell phone press 2 for a new rate plan press 3 to learn more press 4 to repeat the menu and offered no menu options regarding the slow march toward the brink of insanity. My landlord said why don't we just gain access to the basement and turn it off? Their landlord said only the super had the key to the basement. The super's grandson said the super wasn't home.' (2).

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