...in terms of perspective. That is, lots of interpretations are possible, between two posts which caught my eye this morning. These two links made me think about what appears to be a return of a more traditional society, of which I have yet to come to terms with. However my concern is not for the reason that some may think. Rather, I fear that elements of traditionalism suggest economic regression - even if it would not appear that way to some. And admittedly I'm not quite ready for any regressions: after all I grew up in a time frame when it seemed as though the march towards modernity could only continue. I also touched on these thoughts in a recent post, and wondered what these social (and economic) changes could mean.
First, as to the contested point which was made by Jared Diamond in his most recent book. What are we to make of the idea that in traditional societies, people are more likely to kill strangers? While the author's context was lifted from earlier traditional societies, one cannot help but think about other possible correlations. Indeed, for anyone who has lived for some time in a limited economic environment, the premise can be a bit unsettling.
Only think of the civilizing effects of economic life that Adam Smith spoke of, for instance. Studies have shown that people are suspicious and less trusting of others, when they live where economic activity is either discouraged or otherwise inadequate. My own experience in such an environment for a full decade, was an apt reminder, how precious a full range of economic options really is. Recently in a search for regional economic connections, I confronted the "Don't Tread On Me" banner over and over again. Those years of living in an economically deprived area came back to me, in a flood of memories. How to think about the banner, and the reactionary tone which it carries?
But then, there is the appeal to morality which Miles Kimball reminded me of in his above linked post, which gives the banner further meaning. Jonathan Haidt made excellent points as to what Tea Partiers really wanted, and the karma element is one that most anyone can relate to. When modernity moves into directions which are widely perceived as unethical, I agree with such sentiment. Certainly, the definition of unethical differs from one person to the next. When some forms of "progress" mean taking too many chances with human lives, I tend to agree it has gone too far.
What concerns me is that too much which is positive and rewarding about economic life, could get shut down in a return to traditionalism. Everyone relies on connections which go well beyond family and one's own personal circle. But without a full range of economic choices and possibilities, the connections we count on to augment our personal and social realities, don't really happen. As important as our inner circles are, they can only support us to a limited extent, in terms of how we aspire to live in the world. Where I have an issue with "Don't tread on me" sentiments, is the isolation they can imply.
Even so, there are far better ways to represent freedom and democracy than going to other nations and trying to tell anyone how to live their lives. Fortunately, the digital age means being able to provide examples of evolving productive systems, without forcing them on anyone else. This is where I agree with those who want less government, in that local systems need to be able to find their own means for prosperity. It's just that I believe national governments still have important roles to play, and the differences between local and national roles need to be better defined.
P.S. Some readers may be interested in the page that I added at the top right of the blog, "Could Intentional Marketplaces Work For Everyone?" As I worked on that page, it struck me that in spite of what anyone is led to believe about freedom or limiting governments, planning of every kind conceivable is going to continue happening just the same. That being the case, why not work towards intentional marketplaces which actually work for the citizens, who are expected to be responsible for it all.