Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Voting for home

German Sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies proposed about a century ago that the distinction between "Gemainschaft" and "Gesellschaft" was a useful heuristic tool.  Both are untranslatable, but roughly Gemainschaft is a community of like-minded people who feel, ideally, a sense of mutual loyalty, who share beliefs and customs, and who feel a sense of belonging and home (Heim).

Gesellshaft would be more like the people you interact with on a business or professional basis.  It is the people at work, your clients, your suppliers, the Rotary, your country club, the people on the bus, train, or subway.

Modern academics have in some cases used these terms to describe what appears to be a gradual shift from being "nested" somewhere, from belonging somewhere, from there being something important that can be gleaned from where you are from, to a "thrownness", to feeling like a bob going up and down on an endless and unpredictable tide.

I was dreaming last night about being lost somewhere in a generic southern California town.  There were tourist shops and cheap watches, hot dogs, traffic problems, and a continual hustle and bustle.  I felt the unanchored quality of my own life.

By and large, this is not a problem in the small towns of America, the ones who elected Trump.  They are born, live--sometimes leave and come back--and die in the same small place.  They inherit beliefs and habits they pass on to their children.  This is Gemeinschaft.

Southern California--really all of California, which I know well and grew not to care for--is Gesellschaft.  Everybody is hustling for something.  They want money, thrills, fame.  It is not a place for nesting. Your home is an investment, your job a vehicle to wealth.  Everything and everyone has a price.  It is a truism that they are superficial, plastic.  This is because they have nothing else.  Everything else was drowned in the flood of people coming there wanting to forget their past lives and who they once were.

Leftism, as it exists in this country, is an answer to "Verworfenheit".  It is not a system for rectifying wrongs, or for ameliorating poverty and pain.  What it provides is a sense of certainty, a culture that is transferable across widely diverging groups.  It provides stability in a sea of change.  It soothes those aching with confusion about the future, about what is right and wrong, and about who they should be.  It asks of its votaries their core self, but in exchange it offers simple answers which have merely to be downloaded at regular intervals.  Each day, it will tell you who you are and what you believe, and this is a huge relief to people who have no other reference points, who are lost in the flood.

I do not think it overstating the case that this election was a resounding rejection by those who "cling" to traditional moralities based on principles and outcomes, of a creed based on nothing but mutable daily political tasks, ones quite often motivated simply by the need to mobilize hate in order to energize their base and keep them loyal. 

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