Hong Kong Apartment Building
The increased density of urban living will only work to benefit human society if human beings learn to cooperate and consider their effect on their surroundings. These qualities are increasingly seen as un-American, as people in the U.S. retreat into the scope of their electronic devices. American politics, and politics elsewhere, reflect this trend. The Greek debacle within the E.U. is a current example of a neighboring nation, committed to contracts of cooperation, defaulting loudly and proudly.
The 2008 financial collapse in the U.S. accelerated the 'me first' culture here. The mishandling of the crisis by government for the sake of banks and Wall Street fostered a nationwide sense of abandonment by social systems. Liberals, like President Obama, worsened the situation subsequently. By taking the stance that individuals who defaulted on their mortgages are entitled to keep their homes after not making payments, politicians sent a message that fiscal and social responsibility get you absolutely no consideration. In other words, you may as well be a financial deadbeat.
The same messages are now being given concerning the problems of tens of thousands of mentally ill vagrants who wander our city streets nationwide. Rather than developing a system of residential mental health treatment and addiction treatment, government is trying to convince the public that homelessness, insanity and publicly practiced addiction are valid individual life choices. This is a nifty way for politicians to save tax dollars for other uses, like corruption and nepotism. It absolves the increasingly self-centered public from any organized social obligation to the dozing addicts on cardboard boxes in urban alleys.
I experience daily annoyance at antisocial behaviors in my urban environment. Dog owners do not curb their dogs or pick up after them. Dog owners leave unattended dogs to wail and bark all day long on back porches. People routinely discard trash as they walk along sidewalks or idle in cars at stop lights. Young people push past elderly and disabled people to board busses and subway cars in order to take seats that are designated for elderly and disabled passengers. They use their earplugs and mobile screens to pretend they do not notice the weary or disabled swaying on their feet in the aisles. Cars speed through or stop on crosswalks with pedestrians in them. I could go on.
The occasional eruptions of violence by the disenfranchised are greeted with shock and dismay in the media. This is just plain hypocrisy. Everyone knows that this country's culture is deteriorating and has been for some time now. The descent into vulgar disrespect for intelligent rationality in favor of religion, crime and/or hedonism has been exploited and promoted by the same media which bemoan its inevitable results.
The divide-and-conquer tactics of the Republican Party in favor of big business after the 911 terror were a blatant attempt to de-socialize the U.S. population. These tactics have worked very well because the Reagan Era had laid the financial and political groundwork for these tactics. By privatizing and dismantling institutions for social services, like mental institutions and detox centers, the Republicans have been slowly implementing an Ayn-Rand agenda. Dick Cheney and Alan Greenspan were prime architects of this agenda. They were both acolytes of Rand in their formative years.
There are elements in U.S. society which are poised to exploit the culture of 'me first'. Corporate and investor elites have found the cultural shift a bonanza. They have all but destroyed unions and their pension systems. They have turned the remaining unions, many of them governmental, into allies against the general working population. They have turned law enforcement into a militarized tool against anticipated revolution. This has dampened rational, nonviolent protest in the U.S.. Here in Boston, after the Marathon bombing in 2013, de facto martial law was declared with no due process before or after.
You needn't be a conspiracy theorist to believe your own eyes and ears in the public space. People are texting in their cars next to you every day at stop lights. They are cutting lines wherever you go. They are looking down at their phones, not up at your eyes. These are your neighbors. What will they do when something disastrous happens in your neighborhood? How easy will it be to motivate them to work together to fix a problem or to get government to intervene? We have gone far beyond Frost's "good fences make good neighbors" observation on country life of the 19th and 20th centuries. Our urban fences are now plasterboard walls and fences which demarcate narrow driveways. Earplugs and video screens will not save us from real harm or real disasters. Social engagement and cooperation may.