Archive for the 'social fabric' Category

Social ills

February 10, 2012

In reading all the attention being paid to income inequality, unemployment, and moral decay, I start to wonder why no one talks about the role of anxiety and depression in the interplay of forces.  However depression and anxiety get started, they exacerbate a downward spiral, whether through self-medication or producing a child in the hopes the child will provide love that is missing in the parent’s life or through other maladaptive coping skills.  I suspect at this point that depression and anxiety are larger factors in struggling populations than we are giving these factors credit for, and while I strongly agree that medication can make a huge difference in some people once depression and anxiety become large and otherwise intractable, I don’t think medication is the solution, I think instead we need to treat why there is a net outflow of “energy” in the social group, because I think it is some seemingly innocuous small imbalance that begins it, that then gets amplified and begins a complicated chain of events or process, and whose symptoms we then observe in increased poverty, crime, and fractured families.  I remember reading a case study, while I was in college, about how rehousing poor people into housing projects in or near London unintentionally shredded family and other social networks,* and that this then had far-reaching negative subsequent consequences — the population did much work after the rehousing, much to the surprise of the people who thought they were just proving improved places to live.  That’s the kind of innocuous event I would look for in trying to redress the economic and social ills in the U.S. discussed in Charles Murray’s recent book and all the reactions to it.

*I thought I should add that, as I recall it, the (new) housing projects were high-rise apartment houses, rather than the lower-slung sorts of housing that the people were currently living in, and that the rehousing broke up the physical distribution of the family members, disrupting arrangements, for example, of having an aunt or grandmother around the corner who could pitch in to help with childcare or cooking or emergency help — the rehousing paid no attention to reassembling the physical proximity of the extended family members that was the scaffolding to the social safety net, it scrambled the population by rehousing them according to other criteria, I think.

And I certainly don’t think that the housing should not have been improved, only that the housing planners clearly, in retrospect, needed to take into account additional factors in order to realize the improvements without imposing new costs, however unintentionally.


Conservative support

December 31, 2011

I didn’t understand David Brooks’s column today.  I started reading some of the later comments just now, and got some sense of what it meant to some people.

If it’s about how conservatives can be supportive, not just liberals, or moreso than liberals, well, I’m not buying that it’s a particularly helpful way of analyzing who helps who and why.  And if that is the point of the column, we are, as my deceased spouse would have put it, in violent agreement.

But I am tired of help based on a set of emotional motives involving attachments being paraded as altruism.  Especially because it is unreliable and selective.  I guess I think that focus on particular cases in this way keeps us from reforming our ways so we actually include everybody in our help.  In addition to being based on motives that don’t support sufficient generalization of the behavior, our usual approach also allows us to congratulate ourselves on doing only an imitation of what we should be doing, as if we were doing the real thing.


Morale, and morals, in the workplace

August 9, 2011

Two recent stories I was told that seem to me to point to part of what’s wrong with our economic and social fabric:

One was from a woman who manages and clerks in what I guess I could characterize as a high-end home furnishings store, the other from the father of a young adult working in an inexpensive restaurant.

In the first story, the current employee is being required to train her replacement who will be paid 50% more than she has been paid, in the second, the son helped a friend find a job in the same establishment, the friend is being paid 75 cents an hour less, and the son got released from his employment.

The theme in both tellings was how demoralizing for the original employees such treatment has been.

I admit these are only two anecdotes, but they make me wonder about factors that contribute to the weakness of our job market and economy — it seems to me penny wise but pound foolish to treat employees in this way.  A demoralized workforce is not good for even employers who think their short-term advantage lies in such treatment of current employees.  Business owners talk about the need to have good will with respect to their customers in order to sustain their commerce — it seems to me that good will with respect to employees is also necessary to sustaining a business  — bleeding (labor) resources dry (of morale) will leave one eventually without resources, period.