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A new study in the US has found a positive correlation between the number of big-box retail stores in an area and the number of hate groups in that area; the study used Wal-Mart as a proxy for big-box retailers:
The amount of Wal-Mart stores in a county was more statistically significant than other factors commonly regarded as important to hate group participation, such as the unemployment rate, high crime rates and low education, the research found.
"Wal-Mart has clearly done good things in these communities, especially in terms of lowering prices," said Stephan Goetz, a Penn State University professor who also serves as the director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. "But there may be indirect costs that are not as obvious as other effects."It is speculated that the correlation may be due to the fraying of the social ties that exist in areas with smaller, less impersonal, shops. Whether Wal-Mart's owners' politics (generally well on the right of the Republican party) have anything to do with the correlation is unclear.
A review of a new book on changing patterns of recreational drug use in the USA:
...according to several metrics, acid use was at "an historic low: 3.5 percent." By 2003, it was down to 1.9 percent. Why? It wasn't just that LSD had gone out of style, although it had, somewhat. Grim found evidence of a perfect storm of causes for the decline. In 2000, the DEA had arrested a man named William Pickard, thought to be the manufacturer of as much as 95 percent of the available acid in the U.S. The Grateful Dead, whose concerts provided an opportunity for suppliers and users to connect and network, had stopped touring after the 1995 death of Jerry Garcia, and Phish, a jam band that had stepped in to fill the gap, also stopped touring by the end of 2000. The rave scene began to fade away under pressure from authorities who threatened to arrest organizers for drug offenses committed at their events.And then this depressing picture of an atomised, asocial society, which ties in with the bowling-alone mass-alienation idea:
Today's kids aren't smoking much pot because pot is a "social" drug, shared among peers who gather in parking lots and other hangouts; teens have less unstructured time now and tend to socialize online. They still get high, only on prescription drugs pilfered from adults or ordered off the Internet. "There's no social ritual involved," he observes, "just a glass of water and a pill," which "fits well into a solitary afternoon."The rest of the review looks pretty interesting, including the theory that recreational drugs have cycles, in which they become popular, then become lame, and then come back sometime later to a generation who have never witnessed their effects, illustrated by an anecdote about kids regarding Ecstasy as "too hard on your body" and cocaine as "not that bad".
Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat has a beautifully poetic and thought-provoking article about the death of a recluse, found in his Helsinki apartment some three years after his death:
The odd invoice arrived, followed by their reminders, and then not even them.
Direct debit arrangements handled most of the bills, including the maintenance charge on the apartment.
The guy who comes to read the electricity meter didn’t ring the doorbell, because he didn’t need to: the meter is in the basement.
The man lay in the bathroom doorway.
At some point the bathroom lamp gave up the ghost, as they do, and he was left in the dark.
The Times has the poignant story of the death of a 42-year-old loner, whose body was not found until, two months after his death, a neighbour (who did not know him) noticed an odd smell coming from his north London council flat:
For some, the decision to disappear is gradual. It begins with an impulse, a desire to disconnect. It could mean turning the phone off and retreating under the duvet. For most people, it’s a fleeting escape. Family and friends are what keep them tethered. But what happens to those who become untethered? Or let go on purpose? Days, months, even years can pass. They have slipped through the cracks. Despite the presence of CCTV cameras and telecoms technology, which make most of us feel we are constantly monitored, it has become easier for those who live alone to avoid human contact altogether.
The pharmacist said he was always dressed neatly. He described him as “shy and pleasant – nothing mentally ill about him”, and admitted that when he didn’t see him for a while, he just assumed that Smith had moved away.
A few doors down from his flat, at No 168, Andrew’s neighbour, a postman, described Andrew as quiet, tall and thin. They lived near each other for 13 years but had only spoken to say hello when they passed each other coming and going on the stairs. In all the years he lived there, he said, he had seen no friends, ever. Andrew kept to himself.
Confirming the central thrust of Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, a study (pdf) released in the American sociological review today shows that Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than they did 20 years ago. In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them. In 2004, it dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all.Apparently this is due to a number of factors: car-centric post-war urban design and the disappearance of public space where people can meet contribute, though a major factor is the ever-increasing working hours in America, a nation that's increasingly time-poor; making and maintaining friendships, after all, takes time, of which there is less and less. Perhaps someone in America will invent a way of making friends more efficiently? (I suspect that this approach, whilst inventive, may not be entirely satisfactory.) Of course, where America goes, others often follow.
And the readers' comments contain some gems, like this one:
Along with the world hating Americans, we now get told Americans can't stand each other either. Sounds like more Guardian hatred of America to me. Ever been to our churches, Mr Younge? There you'll find how we Amercians not only have the friendship and love of others, but that the Lord loves our company as well. We leave the solitary cheese-eating to others.Oddly enough, this is posted by someone in "Birmingham/gbr", so it could be some Brit taking the piss.
Remember Melanotan, the wonder drug which promised to turn those who took it into a new dominant caste of tanned, chiselled, hyper-attractive übermenschen and überfrauen with superhuman sex drives? Well, it turns out that the drug company shelved it because it did too many things to be marketable, instead using the project to develop different products. The first of which is a "super-aphrodisiac" named PT-141 which produces instant sexual arousal, bypassing the need for time-consuming foreplay, and making sexual fulfilment a possibility for today's overworked wage-slaves and compulsive multitaskers who lack either the time or the attention span to do things the slow, old-fashioned way:
The five-minute meaningful sexual encounter: if ever there was a holy grail for the age of the tight-wired global economy - with its time-strapped labour force and its glut of bright, shiny distractions - that is it. And if ever there was a reason to be wary of the pharmaceutical industry's designs on the market for sexual healing, say critics such as Tiefer, it's the attractiveness of that simple-minded ideal.
Tiefer is just as dubious about PT-141, which, as she sees it, is merely the latest expression of a 'big wish' that 'we could just bypass everything we want to bypass' on our way to sexual happiness, skipping the complicated, often lifelong work of sorting out all the emotional, physical and autobiographical triggers that turn us off and on.
Good things would come of it, to be sure. Marriages would be saved, fun would be had. But sexual Utopia? PT-141 seems just as likely to usher in the age of McNookie: quick, easy couplings low on emotional nutrition. Sex lives tailored to the demands of a jealous office or an impatient spouse. A dark age of erotic self-ignorance tarted up in the bright-coloured packaging of a Happy Meal.Of course, the next step that is needed is a drug that creates meaningful emotional bonding, of the sort that would take months if not years of laborious intimacy, in minutes. Just pop a pill before the speed-dating evening and, by the time the night is over, you will have acquired a soulmate. Think of the productivity gains that such an invention could usher in: no more need for dinner-and-movie dates, romantic weekends away or holidays together could translate into countless billions of extra hours either for productive work or economically beneficial consumption of entertainment products.
A NYTimes piece about the social impact of mobile phones: (via FmH)
In Malaysia, mobile phones are so widespread that Muslim leaders send out S.M.S. reminders to call the faithful to prayer, five times a day. Muslims in other countries -- like Britain -- have begun using a service that tells them the prayer times in Mecca, which means they essentially live in two time zones at once: local time for their professional lives and Saudi time for their spiritual lives. ''They're existing in two countries simultaneously,'' Bell notes.
Of course, living in two places -- even virtually -- means being spread thin. Rich Ling, a sociologist working for Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company, has interviewed thousands of mobile-phone texters, and he has noticed that they actually feel more disconnected from the world around them. Consider it the mobile-age version of Bowling Alone: text-messagers are connected more tightly than ever to their core friends and family but are less likely to engage the civic life around them. ''When you're waiting for the bus and it's late, you could talk to the person next to you. But if you're texting to someone, you won't talk to that stranger,'' he says.
A Spiked article on the epiphenomenon of people putting off "growing up"; from twenty- and thirty-somethings dressing as candy-raver kids, collecting stuffed toys and retro playthings and reliving an idealised second-time-around adolescence at institutions like "School Disco", to "boomerang kids" moving back in with their aging parents.
The reinterpretation of personal commitment as a risk represents a health warning to anyone foolish enough to desire passionate engagement. The equation of love with risk is fuelled by a tendency to accommodate to the problems experienced by adults in their relationships. One pragmatic response to this state of affairs is to declare that the expectations that we have of intimate relationships is unrealistic. 'Be careful, you may get hurt' is a message that reflects the temper of our times. The anxieties that surround relationships have encouraged many adults to avoid or at least to postpone thinking about making a commitment to others.
Meanwhile, those who do move out of home are largely choosing to live alone, rather than in de-facto relationships:
The rise of the singleton appears to be a global phenomenon, impacting on industrial societies throughout the world. Back in 1950, about three per cent of the population of Europe and North America lived alone. Since that time, virtually every industrial country has seen a massive rise in the number of single-person households. In Britain, seven million adults live alone - three times as many as 40 years ago. The 2002 edition of Social Trends estimated that by 2020, one-person households will constitute 40 percent of the total number of households.
(I lived with my parents (in
Ferntree Gully the outer darkness) until my mid-20s, using the money I saved to buy music gear, CDs imported books and other extravagances. Then I fled the suburbs, and (other than a brief stint in a sharehouse), have been living by myself. I have yet to meet anyone I fancy enough to want to live with (let alone buy real estate with). I guess this trend means that I'm not weird, just ahead of the curve.)
Some are saying that "extended adolescence" lasts until one turns 35; though if you're over that age, fear not, as you have another 10 years of "middlescence". (And once the hip GenX "middlescents" reach 45, they'll surely come up with another term for 45-to-55s who spend their lives at play.) And TV shows and movies are idealising being young or young-at-heart; being grown-up (at least in a sincere sense) is unhip.
Though is that really so pathological? Should people move out of home at 18, get married and have children in their early 20s, get a serious job, wear their hair at an appropriate length and spend their money on paying off the 5-bedroom suburban dream home as God/Nature/John Howard intended, rather than on PlayStations and backpacking trips to Thailand and Hello Kitty knickknacks and iPods and CDs and Cooper Minis and futurephones and ironic Dangerfield argyle jumpers? Or is the traditional definition of adulthood itself unnatural, a construct of the Industrial Revolution/the Victorian Era/the Calvinist work ethic?
For the first time in history, more people are living alone, or as single parents, than in traditional families (in the UK). Which means that now, living alone, is the height of normalcy, and living in families (or presumably other shared household arrangements) has become "alternative".
A thought-provoking article: who will notice when you die?
Three weeks before Christmas 1993, Wolfgang Dircks died while watching television. Neighbors in his Berlin apartment complex hardly noticed the absence of the 43-year-old. His rent continued to be paid automatically out of his bank account. Five years later, the money ran out, and the landlord entered Dircks's apartment to inquire. He found Dircks's remains still in front of the tube. The TV guide on his lap was open to December 3, the presumed day of his death. Although the television set had burnt out, the lights on Dircks's Christmas tree were still twinkling away.
Which brings me to something I was speculating about: the possibility of developing new methods of fulfilling fundamental human needs, which evolved in tightly-knit hunter-gatherer societies, in a way that works more economically in a post-communitarian age. Perhaps like the robots that are being developed in Japan to take care of the aging population. Perhaps someone will develop devices (machines, software, or even drugs) to satisfy psychological need such as affection, belonging and social status by entirely synthetic means, allowing people to remain in their cubicles, fitter, happier and more productive.
(Insert topical Morrissey lyric here) The institution of marriage, once nigh-mandatory for all not sworn to religious solitude, is in decline; according to Peter McDonald of the Australian National University, one in four young people today will never marry, mostly out of choice. This is partly because of the trend towards postponement of marriage; however, even counting de facto relationships, long-term coupling is also in decline.
Professor McDonald said coupling trends in Australia had changed drastically but had now settled and were expected to stay put. This allowed the ANU to estimate Australia's future marital make-up. "It's extremely unlikely we'll go back to the extremely early marriages that we had in the '50s and '60s, when women were married as teenagers, which is pretty amazing now," he said. "People just got married, very often, to the first person they went out with. They didn't think about it very much. These days, people often have several partners before they get married."
That probably won't stop our back-to-the-1950s federal politicos; how much do you want to bet that tax breaks towards early marriage (i.e., punitive taxation for single people) or some similar social engineering scheme will be floated in Federal Parliament...
Good absurdist farce premise: dating service bussing unmarried women in to Silicon Valley en masse in search of single male computer geeks with stock options.
"The men here are every mother's dream. They're stable and well-educated, and they are wealthy. Some of them have millions and millions of dollars and no one to spend it on."
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