The historical overview of Social Atomization

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately” –Benjamin Franklin

By any reasonable standard, the median person in the Western world is more socially atomized, or an individual not attached to an identifiable group, or groups, in the larger society, than at any time in recorded history with the possible exception of Pharaoh’s Egypt. Some go so far as to hold this state as a virtue, of a victory of the powers of individualism over collectivism.  The later view can be considered reasonable when viewed in context, and will be explored in a future post.

In the United States, since President Lyndon Johnson’s creation of the Great Society, as expanded by his successors, the biggest single provider to the median working adult is either a large, probably publically traded bureaucratic employer, or one of the various levels of government. Environments where, except for those of us lucky enough to be blessed with a powerful relative, close knit social groups confer minimal advantage, and where such social groups might be seen as threats to the organization.

To give one of many examples, since the advent of cheap rag pulp paper, the “yellow tabloids” of the turn of the 20th century, the act of publicly reading news and ideas, previously a centerpiece of at least weekly cultural activity, has been completely replaced.  Where previously a newspaper was considered to be a valuable information medium to be publicly shared in the local public house, almost every city now has a free newspaper that is not even read.

Transportation, at least outside the noble class, was once difficult and rare. To move away from one’s entire friends and family was considered, at the very least, a rare event in the median person’s lifetime.  Only in the 1840s was the rail transportation system of England cheap and reliable enough to allow for holiday trips to home villages, so there was an incentive to put down roots as soon as possible in a new environment.  The same level of reliable transportation would spread throughout the world slowly, not until the advent of intra-city motorbus transportation was point to point transportation to any decent sized urban area an economically sound proposition.

Where even local politics were considered matters of major local import, if for no other reason than the spoils system of political patronage, now they can be seen as retirement jobs for local minor personages who are looking for a steady pension.  It is not difficult to find surveys showing an inability for most residents of the United States to name their local State legislators, or their federal legislators for that matter.

In the current year, Social Atomization should not be considered a hypothetical, but a baseline fact for anyone interested in the study of social dynamics, strategy, cultural development, or politics. To use the models popularized as recently as the 1980s, such as the direct mail campaigns that financed many political causes and organizations as recently as the 2000s, is to invite failure.