Friday, September 16, 2011

Social Corrosion

I mentioned Mark Steyn and Charles Murray a few posts below as views from the right. They argue the welfare state undermines social structures, and damages the crucial cultural features which bring people satisfaction and happiness.

But so do markets. Libertarian ideas can be subject to the same criticism.

I discussed Avner Offer's brilliant book The Challenge of Affluence here, for example. The very innovativeness and buzzing vitality of markets can run well ahead of society's ability to construct norms and institutions to compensate for our blind spots and tendency to focus on the short-term.

And of course the glamor of western consumerism is toxic to most traditional societies which come into contact with it. This is one of the underlying resentments in much of the Muslim world - capitalism undermines the family patriarch and patronage. That of course may often be a good thing. But westernization also undermines many of the settled structures of family, community, vocation and faith that Murray talks about.

So there is no formulaic answer. Cultural structures are important - and are fragile.

Some change is inevitable and will happen in any case, at least unless we bring all science and technology to a halt. But we do have to think about the consequences of large scale change for the daily texture of people's lives. Small-scale change at the level of the kitchen, kin, the daily commute, how we spend our time and what we are proud of is if anything more important than the big forces of history.

Society tends to evolve support structures - social technologies, to use the terminology I talked about here - that are immensely important to making it work, and to making people happy.

No comments:

Post a Comment