This Ezra Klein interview with Eric Klinenberg has a lot to say about solidarity in this moment (I write this during the coronavirus pandemic).
We don’t need “social distancing”; we need physical distancing with social solidarity.
Klinenberg - “We need social solidarity, not just social distancing”
Here are my notes from this really interesting and timely podcast.
“Social Autopsy of Disaster” - so many people are living alone and aging alone. This is 20th century phenomenon. Typically, one partner outlives their spouse or gets divorced and never remarries.
In many European countries people who live alone still have rich, social networks available to them by living near to where they were born whereas in the US we tend to move away from home and live alone, increasing stress levels and often feeling lonelier.
Our social media help us keep our distance.
We tend to talk about social issues as ‘problems’ - why are people so disconnected and isolated - whereas there’s this unprecedented change in the ways in which we organize ourselves and settling. We generated enough affluence and a welfare state that allowed older people to become more independent, women entered the labor force, people start to settle on their own. Its an amazing transformation. Today nearly 30% of all households in the US are single person households.
We value individuality in the US. If you are capable and work hard you will achieve success. If you don’t, we blame the victim. We have made a lot of policy choices that put pressure on individuals to take care of themselves and pursue market opportunities wherever they exist. This is in contrast to places that have social security mechanisms that ensure that if they stay where they are they will okay, whereas in the US you put the burden on people to make it on their own. It’s a lot of pressure.
Young people are not settling down and investing in big relationships early in their lives because of the need to complete education, build their career, impress others before having a family later in life. Marriage has moved from being a cornerstone to a capstone. You can only invest in that relationship when all the other pieces are in place.
There is also a biological clock for both men and women. If they put off having children until later it can affect development.
When spouse dies remaining spouse used to move back in with their children. It’s true that not all young people want to take on this task nowadays but it goes both ways. The elderly have an impression of their independence as showing that they are fully capable of living on their own and not as needing help or charity.
The primary advice during this pandemic is to increase our social distancing yet the people who are most vulnerable to illness from isolation are the very ones being asked to quarantine themselves (the elderly). The message of social distancing is ‘off’. Yes, we must maintain physical distance but we won’t get through this if we turn our backs on each other, especially on the most vulnerable. We need to draw and build upon our stock of social solidarity.
Solidarity in sociology recognizes the degree to which we are interdependent. It’s about honoring, strengthening, and sustaining the bonds of interconnection. This runs counter to our notion of rugged individualism in America. It’s about being in it together.
We have depleted the resources of social solidarity since we have gotten so used to acting on our own, when we want for what we want, and not relying upon others, or upon government, or other social services for the things we need. This stands in stark contrast to Japan, South Korea, Germany and the Northern Europe. When you don’t provide social security all the time and then ask people in times of crisis to make sacrifices for the common good, for the community, and pull together… we just don’t have the experience on how to do it.
A pandemic shows us the extent to which our fates are linked. I stay home to protect other people in my community.
How do we prevent from destroying any sense of collective when we are so polarized on what constitutes the facts, themselves?
We must recognize how much of our disaster is from our failure to invest in one another. We are seemingly going to have it worse than other countries and so we’ll need to have a reckoning that should lead to profound social change. How do we reinvest and in what kinds of programs? What kind of public program will we support to get Americans back to work? Rebuild our infrastructure? Echoes of the New Deal.
Coronavirus is like a dry run for Climate Change. It moves faster in the moment but it echoes how we will wish in the future that we’d done more prior to the event when it is fully upon us. We need to ask ourselves now where should our collective resources go? It is more expensive in terms of money and human lives to wait, deny, deflect and spin until it is here.