Friday, May 26, 2017

What communities are you a part of?

From a pretty interesting profile of Secretary of Defense James Mattis in The New Yorker by Dexter Filkins, a passage that might be worth considering: 
When I asked what worried him most in his new position, I expected him to say ISIS or Russia or the defense budget. Instead, he said, “The lack of political unity in America. The lack of a fundamental friendliness. It seems like an awful lot of people in America and around the world feel spiritually and personally alienated, whether it be from organized religion or from local community school districts or from their governments. 
“I come out of the tight-knit Marine Corps, but I’ve lived on college campuses for three and a half years,” he went on. “Go back to Ben Franklin—his descriptions about how the Iroquois Nations lived and worked together. Compare that to America today. I think that, when you look at veterans coming out of the wars, they’re more and more just slapped in the face by that isolation, and they’re used to something better. They think it’s P.T.S.D.—which it can be—but it’s really about alienation. If you lose any sense of being part of something bigger, then why should you care about your fellow-man?”
I don't know about spiritual alienation, but I think unemployment leads to personal alienation, especially if one is cut off from their professional community. I don't often talk about this stuff, but I wonder if society is more atomized, and people are less likely to be a part of communities outside of their families and their work. If that's the case and work is taken away from folks, it's not surprising that people feel alienated. (I wonder if that's what happens to people who leave graduate school?)

So over this long weekend, I guess I have a question for everyone: what real life communities are you a part of? I'll go first: my family, my extended family, my kids' school, our church, my professional community and other friends as well. You? 

26 comments:

  1. Please allow me to indulge as to why we are in the present situation. Things worked fine for all during Dubya period despite all those lies and deceit not with standing. All hell broke loose When Obama stepped in with complete shut down of any meaningful solution because our flawless leaders in both the senate and house took a vow not to cooperate with him. And now we have charlatan who used all the deceit and deception and by every measure looks like Russian plant in the white house! Sorry Gen. Mattis, you are an intelligent man and you did not see this coming? I am deeply dismayed and our generations will be fine but I worry the future as to what it is going to bring. Every action has opposite reaction and need I say more?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are many other places on the Internet to diagnose the woes of our nation.

      Delete
  2. You ask what communities we're part of then say not to mention the "woes of our nation"? The lack of community is a real woe for the nation, CJ. I wonder if adding masses of unassimilated (and unassimilatable) people from multiple hostile sources will help us feel more like a single nation--i mean, community? Or this depersonalized, atomized, depersonalized, degenerate lifestyle, surrounded by aliens?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are many other places on the Internet to inveigh against immigration.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    3. You mean like the Germans, the Italians, the Irish, the Polish...

      Delete
  3. I can't believe how James Mattis is held up as a paragon of virtue after his involvement in Theranos. He served as a member of their board of directors until around December of 2016, well after Elizabeth Holmes was exposed as a fraud, and used his connections to bring Theranos a good deal of support from the Pentagon. This raises serious questions about Mattis's integrity, but the issue was almost completely ignored outside of the scientific community. I would have voted against his confirmation if I was a senator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are a number of places where Mattis has not covered himself in glory; that NYer article covers a few.

      Delete
    2. The fear of voting against Mattis might have been that Trump would choose someone less capable for SecDef, and it doesn't seem like an unfounded fear.

      Delete
    3. I don't think he goes around tooting his own horn about his superior moral virtue, but there's been no shortage of others to do that for him. I'm just surprised Theranos was a complete non-issue during his confirmation, when it was a big one among scientists.

      Delete
    4. Hap - you're probably right; I wouldn't be surprised if Trump's opponents knew about Theranos, but feared the consequences of forcing him to come up with a second choice!

      Delete
  4. Of course family and friends are a big part of my community. I also volunteer at my local dog park to help clean up and keep the park looking nice. I am involved with church and the men's group at my church. We do fund raisers for local charities and events like a chili cook-off. My athletic hobby is doing triathlons, so I do about 6-7 races every summer and that is a community of athletes and gym friends. I also am a big geek and have friends who play D&D and also have Dr. Who watch parties. These are the communities where I focus my energy.

    Now, I have to mention this and try not to get political but, I work in academia. I will say that is where I have lost a lot of my sense of community. I am conservative and no one I work with knows it. Mainly because I want to keep my job. When coworkers join in on political bashing, I usually walk away or respond with I don't think we should talk about politics at work. So, I have lost the work community to some extent, I don't judge them and go on my way. It has worked for almost 10 years now, so I don't think much about it.

    I keep pretty busy with my volunteering, church, and athletic communities. I think having outside interests really helps build that feeling of belonging. I think many people have lost the sense of community.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. re: politics/work, I really try not to juggle fire and gasoline at the same time, you know?

      Delete
    2. Our hallway used to discuss politics, and it didn't work badly - we were a little boisterous but I think people respected each other and so it wasn't so bad. The party ended when one of our less sane ex-employees (not on our hallway) started yelling political catchphrases at the arch-conservative person in the parking lot.

      We've probably lost something by not being able to discuss politics sanely - mushrooms and mold tend to do really nice in the dark, but I'm not sure that that politics does so. (Problem is, I'm not good at discussing politics sanely other than with effort and after detachment - I respond emotionally and take a while to relax to a more detached state, and that's not good for sane discussions.)

      I do things with my church - at this point, they are my main secondary community. Parents at preschool or martial arts are nice, because we have something in common, but I don't know that I have permanent connections to any of them. A few people at work are important. I miss going to local section meetings, because I think of chemistry as one of my communities and miss being around chemists outside work. (I can't go to as many meetings with children at home, and I needed to do stuff for church, so I couldn't do local section as much.)

      I think the way we work now makes it more difficult for people to form and interact in communities, and if the transient labor phenomenon succeeds, people will have a more difficult time making communities and interacting sanely with others.

      Delete
    3. I think you're right that we may have lost something; it's hard to know if people were more likely or less likely to talk politics at work in the past.

      Delete
    4. People don't talk about sex/relationships or religion at work at work but religion is corporate, but a different, more limited, corpus, while or sex/relationships are pretty individual, though people are people. Everyone at a workplace shares a common nation or dependence on one, and if we can't talk about it without leaving blood on the floor we're probably not likely to do well.

      I think people are generally not engaging as much with people with different political views (New Yorker article about presidential debates), so I would guess (WAG) that people are engaging with each other less at work unless they know that the work community is politically monolithic because political discussions have a decent chance of ending spectacularly.

      Delete
    5. "decent chance of ending spectacularly"

      The best wording of anything I have seen all day.

      Delete
  5. I would agree with your thesis that unemployment leads to alienation. To further develop on what you said, the message that I often get is that successful professionals are mobile - i.e. willing and able to move for work. In fact, in highly specialized fields, this is pretty much the only way to stay in your field over your career (excepting life science fields that have "hub" cities with several options). That can be a whole lot of starting over to become part of a community. And if one moves for a job and that job disappears before having established a new community, this is going to lead to isolation and other ills.

    Also, to build on what you said about leaving grad school, there are a lot of goodbyes inherent in the process, from college to grad school and beyond. People come and go a lot through the process and for me, it's hard to move on or see others move on, even when it's better for me (or them).

    On a personal note, I do not have children, and being 'older' (late 30s), it would seem to me as an outsider (if you will) that this makes it a bit harder to establish a community or even find some friends.

    Speaking for myself, I've already moved more than I would like to, so I'm forced to consider changing careers should something happen to my present employment. I really just want to find a home and community. I really do think it's good for mental health. Feeling isolated is the stuff of mental ills (notably depression). We humans are not meant to be isolated.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Having just come out of the grad school community, I'm interested in what others are saying about this too. I think my village has a community, but I'm not part of it (nor am I especially looking to join, though I'm sure they're nice people). In that newfound time outside of work, I'm largely spending time with people I knew BGS (Before Grad School), and new people involved in the scientific community. By scientific community, I mean those who are organizing events, getting involved in business, etc. It's not a close-knit community, and lots of people in it will profess to being lonely, but it's probably more worthwhile on a personal impact level than going down the pub with the same mates every night.

    I do miss the time when you're a little kid, and when you see another little kid you just run over to them and say "what's your name", and then bam, you're automatically friends. That was a pretty good time for friendship!

    ReplyDelete
  7. You are absolutely right about unemployment being akin to a loss of community. For me, the emotional impact of a lengthy unemployment was much worse than the financial hardship (although between a working spouse and unemployment benefits the financial impact was fairly limited relative to to others). And the loss is so sudden, it is like an ostracisation. Even after gaining employment again, I think it took years to reach a point where the pain was subdued enough to forget (mostly). Coupled with the guilt of not being able to provide for the family, worry about if/when you actually would find employment again (this was in 2009/2010 and the environment then was brutal), it was quite a toll.

    I think what is worse is that I, and perhaps others, withdraw from other communities at the same time, like we are ashamed of our wounds and want to hide, It is counterproductive but perhaps natural to not to want to expose our weaknesses.

    Having said that, I did gain a community of people who went through the same, to whom I'm eternally grateful. We helped each other out with leads, introductions and moral support.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm pleased to report of a non-antagonistic, productive conversation with someone of the opposite political persuasion. He and I both agreed that social isolation is one of the most urgent unaddressed issues in the US today. And the inability to talk through differences.

    As an unemployed chemist one major source of isolation is my professional organization: it and C & E N, spends much, much more time broadcasting and celebrating the success of the few than the predicament of unemployed colleagues.

    You have to improvise a network where you can find it: for me, it's random people over this site, an amazing needle-in-the hay professional connection from a largely forgotten corner of the US, and political/spiritual groups.

    If you look at life as black-or-white and ignore partial commonalities, then it's easy to become isolated.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My wife was "reduced in force" in 2011 and, due to a serious physical disability, was unable to find another job. For the 5 years that it took us to get her approved for disability retirement (long story, not the focus of this answer), what kept her from depression and isolation was me (primarily), our church, and our families. Although I am still employed, I see retirement on the distant horizon, so I actively cultivate activities and hobbies I can share with my wife and with friends: gardening, photography, book clubs, church, church choir, and so forth. When retirement finally does come, I want to have plenty of activities and a strong community to keep me involved so that I don't become an isolated, grumpy old man with nothing to do but yell at the kids as they walk down the street. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have to wait till the kids walk on your lawn before you are allowed to yell at them. Another good hobby is driving around and yelling out the posted gas prices as you see them.

      Delete
  10. This is an anecdote, but it seems to me that most of the generally unhappy people I know are the ones who rely on their co-workers for their primary community. The happier folks have good relationships at work, but stronger ones outside of it, usually built on something else (religion, hobbies, etc.).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Grad School SurvivorMay 30, 2017 at 3:28 PM

      I've definitely seen this in graduate school as well. The people who ONLY spend time with their coworkers (including sharing a house with them) become maladjusted bunches of nerves with alarming alacrity. Conversely, those who cultivate their communities outside the department are much more resilient and, most importantly, are able to keep their graduate careers and project goals in perspective. There is this pervasive, toxic view that one has to sacrifice everything in graduate school, especially that unnecessary "social stuff", and I think that this is the biggest mistake a student can make.

      Delete
    2. I fully agree - I didn't make friends with anyone outside my department in grad school, and this is something I regret. Ideas like "if you don't succeed in a chemistry PhD program, you're worthless and you might as well kill yourself" sound ridiculous to anyone outside academia, but perfectly reasonable to someone surrounded by other grad students.

      Delete