The paradox of the mercantile culture we label “capitalism,” or probably more descriptively and truthfully for most of us, consumerism, is in its “false” interconnectedness. At the level of production, at the level of industrialized processes, people are parts of the machinery of the economic system that serves that process. In that sense, we are in a certain relationship with the things around us.
But just as the money transaction has abstracted relationships, so has production and “work.” We are mediated by abstracting elements of the production/consumption economy.
So, we are connected to the machinery, yet detached from those others who are connected as well. The same is true of all social institutions: they mediate personal experience and abstract our ways of being together. The farther from the one-to-one experience of the human biological organism, the more “abstract” our lives and our minds.
Abstraction leads to apathetic responses regarding the horrors of napalm, of drone strikes, of killing children. Just one of the glorious ways we become “unattached” to our moral sense.
We are needful of our systems as they are our only avenue to subsistence. We do not know how to live without them. Vast numbers of us would starve if left to our own devices. It would be somewhat like the failed colony at Roanoke (1585).
Needful of abstract systems (containing people); Needless of actual relationships with people (complicating). People operate systems, but ANYONE will do.
As Dan Bern sings in “New American Language” (YouTube),
I said maybe I love everyone
She said that’s the same as lovin’ no one
I said ok, I guess, whatever
Warner Berthoff, in his book on Melville, writes,
Of the equivocal forms of life this “civilization” appears to generate, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America remains the classic analysis; it remains, also, the classic prophecy of the consequences of such patterns of existence for the human person, when the older instinct of community atrophies and the enfranchised individual is conditioned by the common impulse of a whole society to figure as a single separate one, a free unit. Not only does American life, Tocqueville wrote, “make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely with the solitude of his own heart.” (19)
We are the loneliest, most selfish, saddest, most violent country the world has ever known.
Okay, I guess, whatever.