The Fragmentation of Social Life

By now, you know that my husband grew up in India, in a small town called Krishnanagar in West Bengal. It’s situated along the banks of the River Jalangi, maybe a thirty minute drive to the River Ganges and the holy place of Navadwip.

Monkeys roam freely there, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and stray animals, such as cows and dogs, share the narrow roads with humans and their vehicles of choice: bicycles, bicycle rikshaws, motorized rickshaws, motor scooters, buses and the occasional car.

During his childhood, it was less congested than it is now, and there were wild jackals (gone now) and fat, golden frogs (also gone).

There were also bands of Gypsies who would set up temporary camps and sell handicrafts during the day, then dance and sing around bonfires at night, sometimes subsisting on that day’s kill of…bats.

There was nothing remotely comparable to that in my childhood town, as I grew up in Hollywood, where bat-eating was only rumored among certain rock ‘n’ rollers.

Anyway, the Gypsies disappeared in Krishnanagar, sad to say, along with the wild jackal and the golden frog. The world is changing quickly.

When I asked him what he misses most about his hometown, though, my husband said, “I miss that you can drop in on your neighbors, unannounced, and ask if they have any salt…And I miss that we’d then bring over a sample of the dish we’d made with it.”

Everyone looked after one another.

It’s still like that there.

It made me wonder why our lives are so insulated in the West.

According to the Pew Research Center, less than half of American adults even know most or all of their neighbors’ names.

Some say that our sense of community changed in America after the Post-WWII flight from cities to the suburbs. Others say that the introduction of television in the 60’s is responsible  –or that the Internet further isolated us, even as it brought us together.

In his article, The Fragmentation of Social Life, Emeritus Professor D. Stanley Eitzen of Colorado State University suggests that it’s more basic than that. He says that it’s the value we place on excessive individualism in our culture that’s responsible.

“In effect,” he says, “our emphasis on individualism keeps us from becoming obligated to others.”

So, if you don’t ask for any salt, you don’t need to give any salt.

He continues, “The flaw in the individualistic credo is that we cannot go it alone –our fate depends on others…Paradoxically, it is in our individual interest to have a collective interest.”

While individual rights will (and should) remain the bedrock of our civic foundation, we might also benefit from becoming more aware of our interconnectedness –not only with the people next door, but with all life on this blue planet:

The Gypsies, the jackals, and the fat, golden frogs included.


brahmane gavi hastini
suni caiva sva-pake ca
panditah sama-darsinah

The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater.  ~Bhagavad-gita 5.18

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2 Responses to The Fragmentation of Social Life

  1. Alana says:

    This is lovely. I believe whole-heartedly in inter-dependence. The ability to ask for salt when necessary, give it when asked and buy it (or make it) when you have no neighbors to count on. We need each other. And I’ll need to read Stanley Eitzen’s article.

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