Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Fracturing society

Someone once said that the basic unit of society used to be the village, then it became the extended family, the nuclear family and finally the individual. Soon, came the prediction, it will be the fragments of the individual. I used to wonder how that could be. How could we fragment ourselves and still be a functioning part of a society. Now I know how: we compartmentalise our lives into work, study, home, friends, alone, sport and so on. No part of our lives intrudes on any other except to the barest degree.

It's sad, in a way. As fragmented individuals, we'll spend more of our time and effort on keeping ourselves fragmented so as not to mix our separate lives together. There will be less time for everyone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Having no boundaries or privacy is not a solution, though.
PPS - Whether new or old, this idea must be held in balance.


littlemissrandom said...

From experience, it's weird when all your worlds combine, but also quite cool.

The most bizzare experience was at my 21st when I had not only my 'coast' friends and my 'Brisbane' friends at the same party, but also a big crew of my 'internet' friends - from a forum that I was involved with at the time. It was like all my fragmented worlds colliding and I totally spun out. I'm sure the alcohol didn't help with that.

I think you're right, I think we are becoming fragmented individuals. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Having lived as part of a village, who see themselves very much as one 'whole' and where community is so important, I see the benefit to it. Even more when you consider the tribal issues.

But then, I've been raised as a western female - taught not only to embrace my independence but to value it and fight for it.

It's one of the reasons women in developing countries face such big challenges - because their culture teaches them to be submissive for the benefit of the community, but human rights and western concepts teach them that they themsevles have intrinsic value and are able to make decisions based on their own individual needs and desires.


John said...

It would be tough to hold things in balance like that. I haven't experienced world-mixing myself, or at least not to a degree that made me spin out. I also haven't been in a true 24-7 community for long enough to notice a difference. My own practical experience is not so broad in this area.

littlemissrandom said...

It's one of the fundamental dichotomies that continually challenges and frustrates but ultimately drives me to understand the developing world and how best to assist it.

On the one hand I really don't like the idea of destroying the communities that these countries are based on, which introducing western concepts will inevitably do. People who have visited poorer nations will all tell you that even though that have much less than us materially, 'spiritually' they are richer than we can imagine. I believe that comes from community. The happiest people I have ever met live in a mud hut in Kenya 60km from then Ugandan border. Nerea, who was my 'mama' while I was in the village, has the most beautiful smile I've ever seen, and her children, whilst shy, are always cheerful. The family attends church and Job, Nerea's husband works by gathering drinking water from the local stream and delivering it on the back of his bicycle. Every time he would ride past me, I would see his white teeth flash in his dark face, and I got the sense that he loved his life.

I'm not sure that Africa can ever be fractured to the point of fragmented individuals. The African philosphy 'ubuntu' means 'I am because we are' or 'People are people through other people'. This pervades all African society, not just Kenya. It's something that we spent a lot of time contemplating during our time there, and something I've taken to heart (and body, having been tattooed with it!).

I think that maybe we have a lot to learn from one another. Perhaps fragmenting African society (and that of all developing nations) is beneficial when you're talking about introducing basic human rights. But maybe the western world could learn much from 'ubuntu', and get back to what it means to be community.

I guess that's the solution to my challenge - it's not just about 'fixing' the developing world (and I really need to stop thinking about it in that way) - or even empowering them to help themselves. But it's also about teaching our society a bit about what it means to be community, that we truly do have something to learn from these people, and that the world might be a better place if we learn from each other.

John said...

Personally I think there's plenty of room in "ubuntu" for human rights and other things we westerners take for granted. The trouble is that it works best when it comes from the top, but it's the people at the bottom that need to push for it.