For all the political talk about what ails our society and how our “leaders” in Washington can fix it, I think that Peter Lovenheim has identified one real solution that can put everything back into perspective – recapturing the meaning of “neighbor.” He asks this very important question that I’d like to take a stab at answering.
Why is it that in an age of cheap long-distance rates, discount airlines and the Internet, when we can create community anywhere, we often don’t know the people who live next door?
My first guess is that this is a matter of scarce resources (time) becoming spread too thin. Because we can stay connected with our college buddies when they are spread around the country we spend less time getting to know the neighbors who may not share any interests with us. When it was more cost prohibitive to keep regular contact with our old friends we were more likely to reach out to the neighbors where we could afford to build the relationships. In fact, I think that we can safely say that prior to easy travel we had the added incentive to build neighbor relations because there was also a higher chance that we were staying closer to home and so our neighbors were likely to have history or family connections with us.
I would not argue that this is acceptable. In fact, I think that this tendency toward disconnection on the local level feeds into our growing propensity to seek solutions to all our problems on a large scale. The less we identify with our local neighborhood the less likely we are to think about concerns on a local level. The more we think in terms of national problems the more we insist and accept the erosion of liberty that almost universally follows when we try to address concerns (rightly or wrongly) on a national scale.
Does anyone else have perspectives to round out my thinking?