Saturday, November 3, 2012

Loneliness and Marriage

This column in the UK Telegraph notes there has been a huge increase in the number of people living alone. It isn't just more single young people, either.

As the ONS makes clear, the largest increase in solitary living is down to the 45-64 age group. Almost two and a half million Britons in that age category have no one with whom to share their home, an increase of more than 800,000 households since the mid-Nineties. Even allowing for the increase in total population size, that’s still a noticeable change, and they don’t all enjoy the experience.

In US terms, that would be an increase of around four million people living alone. Many might choose it, of course. Many more would not.

Much of this blog is about what leads to actual happiness or flourishing, rather than simply measuring welfare as GDP or material standards of living. And this is a sign of social deterioration. Loneliness is not part of flourishing, and it deserves far more attention than it gets in general public discussion. Gross National Loneliness is as important as GDP once you have a threshold of acceptable material living standards, as I've argued before.

Marriage, the author argues here, is the most important bulwark against loneliness, and the government should promote it.

Michael Howard deployed a powerful phrase in defence of his criminal justice policy: prison works. It’s time we used a similar phrase, in defence of social justice: marriage “works” too. It works for most people and definitely for civic society, yet we find it hard to say this, and shy away from its political implications. What started as a desire not to judge “lifestyle choices” has bred a generation living in lonely, quiet despair. Loneliness is a much harder political issue to tackle than, say, house-building, but – if we believe in “society” at all – hardly one of lesser significance.

Socially conservative? Yes. But then it's often the most vulnerable who are left worst off by declining social ties. More choice for some often has consequences. A libertarian or highly liberal approach to relationships and families leaves a lot of shattered lives. Liberal neutrality often produces meaninglessness and emptiness.


What a week: Sandy blows down certainties

It's only now, on Saturday morning, that I can think about blogs rather than hurricanes.

G and I have been comparatively lucky. Our windows rattled a little but the direct impact of the storm on the area immediately around us was not too bad. We lost power in midtown Manhattan around 8pm on Monday. We just stayed in the next day, rather than walk down many, many flights of stairs (and back up, of course) while wind advisories were still in force outside. Manhattan is filled with sidewalk sheds and scaffolding that you don't want to be under in high winds.

The loss of electricity itself was not a major blow. We ran our iPhones and iPads a few minutes an hour, and that prolonged the batteries. We could read by flashlight.

Instead, the problem in a highrise is water. It has to be pumped up to the water tank, and that takes electricity. So water to wash, cook, clean and flush the toilet was gone. We had filled the bath, and that got us through Tuesday, but things started to feel grimy. And it got cold outside. Water is the basic, elementary need.

We managed to get to another place in Queens that had power. It was a three hour trek by disrupted and crowded bus and walking on Wednesday. But we have been deeply fortunate- warm and comfortable since.

It's funny how this can give you a new appreciation of the most basic services - light, water, heat, connectivity.

And of course, we've had a very easy time compared to so many: the flood victims, the people who have lost their homes or even loved ones, the small businesses that have lost their assets, the stranded and dispossessed and lonely. We have watched the problems on Staten Island with horror. The Jersey Shore is clearly devastated.

Even living a few more days without a shower or hot coffee downtown would have been that much harder. It must be so hard to be in a remote suburb where power may not be restored for another few weeks.

The local news is dominated by gas lines that stretch two or three miles, and increasing local frustration at relief efforts. The region is going to feel scarred by this experience for a long time. 9/11 was worse, much worse, including the loss of life and the psychological shock. But the low level privation is more widespread throughout the region this time.

We will move back to Manhattan tomorrow, when power is back on. We hope the fuel shortages do not start disrupting the supply chain, and also that there won't be an outbreak of older diseases like cholera now in areas have had no way to keep clean and had fetid floodwater standing for many days.

Was it just the storm of the century, a once-off, or a sign of more fundamental change? That's the big question.

A small, warm, dry apartment and a hot cup of coffee seems more attractive this morning than the grandest beachfront property.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Getting ready for Hurricane Sandy

Irene last year turned out to be less bad than expected in the city. But we're still being careful about Sandy. We're fully stocked up with water and food. And we're also ready with rum to make hurricane cocktails!