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Why Future Prosperity Depends on More Socializing

May 17, 2010

Another pertinent commentary on our social structures

From Common Dreams

by Bill McKibben

The following is excerpted from McKibben’s latest book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet:

<snip>

Borne on cheap oil, our food arrives as if by magic from a great distance (typically, two thousand miles). If you have a credit card and an Internet connection, you can order most of what you need and have it left anonymously at your door. We’ve evolved a neighborless lifestyle; on average an American eats half as many meals with family and friends as she did fifty years ago. On average, we have half as many close friends.

I’ve written extensively, in a book called Deep Economy, about the psychological implications of our hyperindividualism. In short, we’re less happy than we used to be, and no wonder – we are, after all, highly evolved social animals. There aren’t enough iPods on earth to compensate for those missing friendships. But I’m determined to be relentlessly practical – to talk about surviving, not thriving. And so it heartens me that around the world people are starting to purposefully rebuild communities as functioning economic entities, in the hope that they’ll be able to buffer some of the effects of peak oil and climate change.

The Transition Town movement began in England and has spread to North America and Asia; in one city after another, people are building barter networks, expanding community gardens. And they’ve paid equal, or even greater, attention to suburbia; in the developed world, after all, that’s where most people live. Though our sprawl is designed for the car, the sunk costs of those tens of millions of houses mean they’re not going to disappear just because the price of gas rises. They’ll have to change instead. “Suburbia, not as a model for material consumption, but as a legal and social lattice of decentralized and more uniformly distributed production land ownership, has the potential to serve as the foundation for just such a pioneering adaptation,” writes Jeff Vail, a widely read economic theorist who envisions “a Resilient Suburbia.”

From Common Dreams

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