Where Have All the Joiners Gone?

Photograph: Joel Sartore

CHEAP FOSSIL FUEL has made us what we are. Which is to say: rich, powerful — Look at us! We can make the ice caps melt! The oceans rise! But something else too: cheap fossil fuel has made us the first people on Earth with no need of our neighbors. Think, in the course of an ordinary day, how often you rely on the people who live near you for anything of practical value. Perhaps carpooling your kids to school or soccer. If you live in a rural community, there may be a volunteer fire department, which keeps your insurance affordable. But your food, your fuel, your shelter, your clothes, and your entertainment most likely come from a distance and arrive anonymously at that. A meteorite could fall on your cul-de-sac tomorrow, disappearing your neighbors, and the routines of your daily life wouldn’t change.

Now imagine how different things have been for almost all of human history. Two hundred years ago, if an American wanted to eat a hamburger for dinner, he needed to be able to convince his neighbors to, say, help him build a barn in which to store hay to feed his cows all winter. And to help him harvest his wheat crop. Likely they would have come together to thresh it — there wasn’t a surplus of machinery. A neighbor would have slaughtered the cow and another would have baked the bread, unless it was all done in the family. The same went for what was considered women’s work. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in a wonderful article in the journal Feminist Studies, showed that our notion of the self-sufficient farm family was bunk. There was a lot more to do than just berrying or washing or husking or quilting. Say you needed some homespun woolen cloth: there were eleven separate tasks involved, from herding sheep to dressing the fabric, and, as Ulrich noted, “it would have been an extremely unusual family that commanded the tools, skills, and labor to perform all of these steps at home. . . . What was true of wool was also true of flax,” she said, “for a family might grow its own; have it retted, swingled, and hackled by a flax dresser; bring it home for spinning and reeling; send it out to be woven; and then consign it to the bleach fields or dyer for finishing.”

Some of this exchange might have been paid for, much of it bartered, and a lot of it simply unaccounted for, since the reciprocal hand-lending was inevitable. Douglas Harper, in Changing Works, a poignant account of the dairy farms of northern New York, interviews farmers old enough to recall the time when “we would pitch in and go help. Everyone wasn’t so busy then. Oh, they had time or something.” You can read about it in Wendell Berry novels; if you want to still see it in operation, you may need to visit an Amish farm.

That’s because the advent of cheap fossil fuel, and the prosperity, globalization, and specialization it allowed, changed, well, everything for those who went along (which is to say, everyone but the Amish). You could look at almost any profession — baker to banker — but let’s stick with farming. When you depended on horsepower and human labor, you needed help. When you depended on high-powered machinery, you simply didn’t. Once you had a big combine, you could do it yourself. As one farmer told Harper, all of a sudden “there was no need, no call, really, to go see them. . . . I don’t think anyone has anything against anyone — you just don’t have any need to be there.” And all those machines let farms grow steadily bigger, which had as its logical result a far greater physical distance between the farm families who remained.

We could count this as simply the way of the world except for two problems.

One, of course, is that the era of cheap fossil fuel may be coming to an end, either because we run out or because we take global warming seriously and seriously cut back. Either way, the massive, invisible, industrialized methods we’ve come to rely on for feeding and clothing and fueling our lives may start to break down.

And the other problem is that we may break down. We weren’t designed to be this distant from our neighbors — we descend from apes who spend most of the day grooming each other for the practical purpose of removing lice and for the even more practical purpose of building the deep bonds that give their lives security and meaning. The economic life of Homo sapiens has always been about that kind of contact — until now, until us. Research has shown that when we live on car-filled streets, our number of close friends drops by half. We eat half the meals we used to with friends, family, neighbors. Forget about the flax-swingler; our clothes come through the ether from the mysterious geography of Lands’ End. We don’t need each other anymore, and that’s the saddest thing we’ve done — sadder even than the scourge of climate change, which at least is anonymous and impersonal.

Once we’ve started down this road, it’s hard to turn back; being a neighbor is a skill like any other, and it’s a skill we’ve increasingly lost as we’ve turned into hyperindividuals. Say you need the proverbial cup of sugar: do you turn to the neighbor or turn the car on and drive to the store? One survey found that three-quarters of Americans didn’t have a real relationship with the folks who lived next door. (New upscale houses now routinely come with dual master bedrooms, since even the talent for being a mate seems to be dwindling.) The big question for this century may turn out to be how fast we can relearn the skill of neighborliness.

Take farming again. The local food movement is helping to build demand for small farms. If it continues, we may someday reach the point where we once again have more farmers than prisoners in America — which will be a good thing, if we’re hoping to grow our food with less oil. But if that’s going to happen, it will take more than farmers’ markets — it will take farming communities, with enough small growers in the neighborhood to teach each other what needs doing. One of the best young farmers in my corner of Vermont, Spencer Blackwell, recently graduated from several seasons of growing grain and beans on the Intervale land in Burlington — a kind of incubator for young farmers with a dozen little start-up farms in any given year. “Maybe it was a little bit what it was like in the 1800s, when every other person was a farmer,” he says. “You need to know something — what’s the best time to plant oats as a winter cover crop — and there’s someone right around to tell you.” You can borrow equipment too, which is helpful because, as Blackwell points out, almost everything at the implement dealer is designed for mammoth farms. “I don’t want to grow a thousand acres of broccoli — I want to grow five acres,” he says.

For the rest of us, who aren’t planning to actually till the soil ourselves, relearning neighborliness means joining a CSA or going to the farmers’ market (where shoppers have ten times as many conversations per visit as they do at the Shop ‘n Save).

It means putting solar panels on our roofs and tying them into the grid so that our neighbors can cool their beer with the sunlight that falls on our shingles — and, of course, it means buying that beer from the local brewery. It means buying CDs when the artist is selling them after a concert, and listening to your local public radio station instead of the XM satellite-from-nowhere. It means not just supporting the idea of mass transit but getting on the darned bus sometimes.

It means embracing nonindependence — which to us may seem un-American, but in fact it is just the opposite. Tocqueville, in the greatest clichè of American political science history, called us a nation of joiners. We’ve gotten away from that — become a nation of drive-around-by-ourselfers. But in a world that seems likely to grow a little tougher all around, with weird weather, rising prices, and falling profits, a neighbor is what you’ll need most.

Bill McKibben is an author and environmentalist who in 2014 was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel.’ His 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change, and has appeared in 24 languages; he’s gone on to write a dozen more books. He is a founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, which has organized twenty  thousand rallies around the world in every country save North Korea, spearheaded the resistance to the Keystone Pipeline, and launched the fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement.


  1. Bill McKibben describes our oil-powered isolation well. But he doesn’t mention the computer (and coal) powered neighborliness that allows me to do what I am doing right now, connect with countless strangers all over the world. It’s not the same, this digital neighborliness, bodiless, opportunistic, and inconstant, but maybe it can help us find the other kind again, too. What I learned years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in North Carolina is that neighbors come together when there is need. One small hope that we might take about the future is that as self-sufficiency comes to a close, need will bring neighbors together again. The cup of sugar is waiting.

  2. This article rang very deeply in me. Perhaps one of the deepest concerns I have about my own life and that of the communities around me here in Japan, especially since I moved to this ghost town a year and a half ago and have not met a single local person yet. Most days I exist on the internet when I am not working, otherwise I would have no one to communicate with. It is the very desire to connect through the internet that reveals our need for one another and just how far we have all separated ourselves from the power of a casual greeting or an outreaching hand. Maybe that is why places like Nigeria are considered by the UN to be the “happiest” places in the world, whereas many of the industrialized countries are distinctly sullen.

  3. I live in a rural area. I’ve watched 100’s of families lose their farms. The politicians might cry out for the “family” farmers, but the subsidies go to the big guys. The other day I went to the big city. I was shocked at how many stores where owned by corporations. I grabbed on to the american dream only to watch it go up in a smoke called “economic growth”. I’m tired of the lies.

  4. I was just thinking about this topic the other day! I am actually selling my house so that I can reconnect with society. The time that I don’t spend on yard or going from room to room enjoying my vast expanse of privacy I can now use to participate and interact in the community like I used to when I was younger. Babies who don’t recieve enough interaction with others, especially direct touch, suffer from what is called failure to thrive and suffer mentally as well as physically.I think as a society, we have become that failure to thrive baby and it’s time to get back in ‘touch’ with our fellow humans so that we may continue to grow and thrive.

    Like Jean Cheney, I lived through the aftermath of Hugo. It’s a shame that disaster has to strike before we can take the time for our neighbors.The next couple of years of economic chaos are going to be a golden opportunity for us to show our best side to the world….or our worst.

  5. Excellent piece. The “joiner” notion fits in to that Atlantic article of several years past that noted the causality between our society’s general decline and the decline in bowling leagues.

    Same at the backyard fence. Used to chat all the time with the neighbors. New neighbors arrived. They cocoon, and so we talk a lot less; about the weather, although not climate change.

    I vividly recall my grandparents, northern Wisconsin dairy farmers ekking out a living with 12 cows and 200 acres of rocky, glacial land. No electricity into the early 1950s, no phone, wood stove for heat. Their neighbors were a mile or so away in either direction, and yet everybody knew everybody and cooperated. They all belonged to the Grange. They looked after farms down the road when someone got ill. It didn’t seem noble, either, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

    Ah, but we’ll be there again shortly.

  6. Nonindependence – I love it! I live in a rural area and, because of some life experiences that nearly moved me to the margins of society, I’ve spent some time trying to pay attention to the community that exists around me and reconnect. What I’ve discovered is that community is still there, but it tends to lie dormant until the ground is tended. We have to act (say hello, extend invitations, accept help, join in), we have to pay attention (see our neighbors, learn when to step in, to offer, to share). We have to remember local stories of noninterdepence, think about what made those stories possible and act as if it mattered.

  7. Irony of ironies: as technology “liberates” us to communicate instantly with supposedly anyone on the globe, U.S. society seems to increasing be made of silos. We drive, not walk, and therefore don’t talk with others, we accept gated communities, and yes, we rush about. On my little three block street, the 12 high schoolers attend 8 different high schools. The commons still needs to be touchable, not only digital. So stopping, hearing the quiet, hearing one’s breath, taking in another face and voice and feelings is so precious.

  8. Bill McKibben always makes a lot of sense. The gulf between my childhood in small town, front porch Illinois and most of the rest of my life in air-conditioned Sacramento or other crowded North California environs, was huge. Thankfully, rural Mendocino county has woken up to exactly what McKibben advocates. And it’s spreading…because it has to.

  9. I agree we’ll likely need more help from, and enjoy (or tolerate, as each of us is disposed) greater contact with, our neighbors as the century unfolds, though I can imagine a scenario a bit less starkly drawn than Bill McKibben’s, somewhere between everyone having all the fossil-powered machinery they wanted and needing no help, and noboby having any and thus having to rely on massed muscle power. I have a film clip of my grandfather as a 40-something farmer, standing around a steam tractor–a puffbilly–with his neighbors as they threshed his corn, then theirs. The puffbilly would then move on to the next farm. Upping the capital utilization, economists call it, just as in some neighborhoods each block shares a lawnmower. Back to the future?

  10. These kinds of communities where folks pop in to borrow a cup of sugar do exist. I’m quite certain there aren’t many left but I live in one and couldn’t have gotten through the 12 years I have been in VT without my neighbors.

    A lot of the connection has to do with the planning of this town. The yards are small—.25 to .5 acre lots, the streets are flanked with sidewalks, the houses have porches, there are barns and not too many garages, there is a farmers market on the green and a bakery where people gather. It’s not uncommon to come home to a pie on your porch or even on your kitchen table. You can call a neighbor and have them feed your dog because your sons hockey game went late. When I found out my sister had brain cancer less than 2 weeks ago we came home to lots of hugs, food and flowers on the porch and dinner invites.
    I could go on and on about the value of this kind of community. The shared lawn mowers and snowblowers, the pinch hit babysitting, the carpools, the fire pit gatherings or late night wine and cheese on the porch with baby monitors close by…

    I think our future will be more of these communities as we cannot continue to ramp up all of our work and personal responsibilities without a safety net. And with many of us living away from relatives, who provided those things in the past, the need is still there.
    I feel really lucky.

  11. Terrific piece. Add to the topics below the insane addiction to pointless “reality” television, (some, not all) internet surfing, and you get soul-killing isolation through the lost art of visiting with other human beings. I’m old enough to remember visiting my parent’s friends’ homes just for the heck of it, no big dinner or cocktail party. We’d just pop by for an hour to visit, maybe even on the front porch or through the car window at the curb. I have started two neighborhood groups in previous residences. The energy I expended just to get 20 residences to show up with their fruit salads for a neighborhood picnic was tantamount to bringing someone back from the dead, someone who had already been dead for about ten years. Thank you, McKibben for clear and eloquent examination of this collapse in our society. Keep it up. We may get a heartbeat yet.

  12. I resisted the computer for years. It has become a love/hate relationship. Yes, connections with many both far and near, but I tell you, I have found how immensely important it is to be with people. Now that I’ve realized, being a widow, and isolating too much on ‘puter, I’ve joined groups. Stretch classes with lots of seniors. They call you ‘dear.’ everyone is ‘dear.’ I did not like it. Suzie Orman, in one of her great presentations, had a woman stand up and say her name. Couldn’t hear her. “Louder” chimed in Suzie. Again the name spoken. “Can’t hear!’ asserted Suzie. “Who are you!’ she declared. She then had everyone get up and proclaim their names to all around them.To declare your name with pride and assertion had an electrifying effect! After that, I realized i needed to stand up to each woman who called me ‘dear.’ and ask to be called by my name.Joyce. I called them by their names! I realized how extremely necessary it is to look into eyes, touch a hand, share daily stuff. Are we not dehumanized enough in this society? I could tell psychologically I had become ‘stunted’ by not enough human contact and hearing my name. It is called ‘mirroring’. All the info online, all the chatter cannot give you this. We MUST get back to real interaction.

  13. Well said! Reminds me of my youth on a small farm in S/E Ohio. When my father passed-away and I suddenly became responsible for tillage, planting and harvesting 100 acres of field corn, at age 15. Neighbors pitched in with tractors to plow, disc, plant and later in the fall, harvest that crop which paid the mortgage for another year. I doubt that would happen today.

  14. Another place to learn about traditional life and how it was carried out is to visit a “living history museum”. There are many of these across the country, places like Conner Prairie in Indiana, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, and Howell Farm in New Jersey. These are just a few of the many such outdoor museums that attempt to preserve old ways of meeting humans’ daily needs and living within a traditional community. Not all of us know an Amish farmer, but all of us can patronize one of these great learning institutions designed for ‘everyfamily’ with the intention of preserving old, valuable ways of living. I predict that the coming change will bring an end to the theme park and a new day of respect and importance for the living history museum, the one place where such know-how if being actively preserved!

  15. I’m lucky to spend some time in both rural and city areas each week. I’ve found that folks in the rural areas definitely tend towards more of a community atmosphere. They walk down the gravel roads with their dogs, drop in unannounced to say hello and generally offer a helping hand faster than those in the city. However, there is still a very “independent ego” that permeates through most everyone I know regardless of whether they are in the city or country.

    The interesting thing to me is that folks actually think that they are “indepedent” but this I believe is misplaced and illusory. If one stops to consider how absolutely connected and dependent we are on each other we would see that we are less independent now than we were 150 years ago when a family really did know how to survive on their own for the most part. What they couldn’t provide for themselves was provided by a close group of neighbors. Or if you go further back to the Native population they were completely independent as a group with everyone doing “their part” to help the tribe. But now we are dependent on everyone else for almost everything in our life – food, clothes, water, heat, shelter, transportation, etc.

    The difference now is that the people we are dependent on are “invisible”. They are the day labor in the fields picking fruit, they are the seamstress in the factory making a coat, they are the engineers that run coal-fired power plants….they are all distant and unknown thanks to our manipulation of natural resources, mass transportation and world economies. We have lost our connection, respect and appreciation for all those people that we are dependent upon…

    Our ego masterfully pursuades us into believing that we are independent and that we “dont need our neighbor”. So instead of offering sugar we put up fences for privacy, instead of walking to the farm next door to trade produce for meat we drive by ourself to the grocery store…

    Much has been lost now that we no longer see our interconnection with one another. But that can be changed by each of us making a small effort to connect back to the local community…buy local produce at the farmers market, volunteer in the community, start a tool sharing program with neighbors, etc. We dont need to wait until a disaster happens to come together. We need to come together now – in the present moment…

  16. I’m not sure the picture is quite so dismal. No, I don’t have a close, personal relationship with my neighbors, one of whom informed me that a good neighbor is someone you can run to if your house is on fire. Not having had a house fire, and working full time, I’ve only had a few conversations with my neighbors.

    However, when I have needed a hand around the house when I’m sick, someone to watch my dogs when I travel, a sympathetic ear), I have friends. They may not be in the same neighborhood, but they serve the purposes many of the postings refer to.

    I also believe churches have grown into places where people find “neighbors.” They may not need them to harvest food, but people congregate where like-minded people are growing (and sharing) their spirituality.

  17. Part of the journey from here to there will be the revitalization of our existing communities, gradually evolving them to something more worthy of the name. This is going on right now, as books like Bowling Alone, Going Local, and Smart Communities attest. In Los Angeles, I’m part of the Neighborhood Council system, in which I’ve encountered a wide network of people learning how to reconnect and create participative democracy.

    I’ve also started a project to examine the “inner nature” of community — the aspects that distinguish thriving, energized communities from dysfunctional ones. I invite all to visit http://dwigki.wikispaces.com. I welcome comments and contributors.

  18. I think Mike makes a good point that the comment thread has lost. I do not believe the article is trying to make a statement about individuals needing to become more dependent on each other per say, but rather shifting the dependence we share to local places. Biological systems at any level are co-dependent, but the society we have built has made it such that we are dependent on people (and items) so far away that we are vulnerable to a lack of sustainability if the networks we use to communicate collapse. The article therefore focuses on keeping the dependence we already exhibit in impersonal, distant ways, and relocating it so that any small “pocket” society can function independently. Individual people do not need to be independent, but “small” (defined as local, or at least not globalized) communities should be independent so that any one community is not crucial to the survival of another. The sacrifices that will supposedly come from this (a loss of certain goods and services that are rare or extoic to a locale) should be more than made up when we realize the benefits of human interaction most of the thread posters here have mentioned.

  19. This is a great, yet brief, article because of how much focus it puts on the importance of cohesive communities. For a more extensive look at the myriad of benefits that comes from a close knit community Eric Brende’s Better Off is a poignant piece of inspiration. It is a leap from MIT to Machine Free that he does a great job of describing.

  20. Bill, I see this disease of individualism in the organizations I work with. We have no idea of how to work together. Most people think that working together means that everyone does what they are told. What it really means is using everyone skills and experience to there best purpose and highest good. We have no idea how to do that.

    When I tell leaders that I can help them get their people together to happily make decisions and plan projects that they will then happily implement, they look at me like I’m selling snake oil. They simply can’t envision how it could happen.

    We simply do not understand how to live or work together and what’s even sadder, we don’t even believe that it’s possible.

  21. I grew up in south central Idaho. During my early school years we got out for what was called “harvest vacation”. School kids worked picking potatoes. It was about learning how to work, getting the crop in and earning a little money for school clothes. We learned a lot about honor as well. We were on the honor system, reporting how many sacks we had picked. The next morning if the numbers reported and the numbers in the cellar didn’t match we got a lecture from Annie Mackey, the farmer wife that ran the pickers. Technology took away a valuable cultural event.

  22. yay, bill McKibben!!! yes, the line,”your neighbors should be your insurance policy,” came to me a couple of years ago, and people like mr. M.are helping to reinstate Community! i’ll shortly be moving, and i’ve decided to make an effort to get to know the people on my street – going door-to-door if i have to; risking some slamming doors…

  23. While I agree with McKibben on his essential points, I have to point out that this isn’t a city vs. rural dichotomy, as it seems to be implied by many of those who have posted. Some of the most neighborly communities can be found in our vibrant cities. Many neighborhoods of NYC, for example, have high levels of community cohesion, and I challenge anyone to disregard the closeness of Latino neighborhoods across this nation. We are likely describing mainstream suburban and exurban communities but positing them and their past rural counterparts as the only “us” of the U.S. We may be out of touch but “we” is not everyone.

  24. It’s not just the fossil fuels – it’s the structure of the economy. The “global marketplace” has replaced the local marketplace. Cheap energy is a big part of the reason, but advancing technology has been essential also. And advancing technology may permit us to continue creating sources of cheap energy. Greater than the problem of loss of opportunities for bonding is the loss of decentralized control of resources. Back before the global marketplace supplanted self-reliant communities, we had a clear economic stake in local sustainability. No more. And since everything is local somewhere, it’s essential that we deliberately restructure our global economy to return power to genuine local marketplaces. One way to do this is to create a new kind of money that is both strictly local and more valuable than national/global currencies. To read more about this visit the link below.


  25. You can hope that your community will grow more interdependent, or you can pro-actively make it happen.

    (What part of my long comment is giving this website heartburn… more to follow… this is a silly way to have to post something…)

  26. The intentional communities movement (http://www.ic.org) has been re-born lately. Those who dabbled with “hippy communes” of the ’60’s are now getting serious about it. From the mainstream (co-housing developments) to the radically sustainable (ecovillages), people are coming to the realization that re-localization is not just a good idea, it’s a basic law of nature that has been violated only because we are sitting on top of this extraordinary pulse of ancient sunlight.

  27. To that end, EcoRealityCo-op (http://www.EcoReality.org) is seeking new members to forge a new beginning. We are in the process of integrating hundreds of acres of public and private land into a single Permaculture design, where people will live in clustered housing within speaking distance of each other, and grow their own food and produce their own energy.

    We are primarily interested in people who have about half the equity of a typical North American suburban home to invest, but people with less who have outstanding skills are also welcome. Click the “Join” link (http://www.EcoReality.org/wiki/Join) to get on our Advisory Council and email list. It costs nothing.

  28. Have you not read Harvard Professor Robert Putnam’s follow-up study on “Bowling Alone”?

    His conclusion: We’re not joining clubs anymore because of RACIAL and CULTURAL DIVERSITY; that is, the DIVERSITY MOVEMENT has been destroying communities’ natural, collective means to getting along.

    Read my essay about BOWLING ALONE:


  29. Deacon Elurby seems to think that encouraging us to become a more culturally diverse society has somehow destroyed a sense of community. What poppycock. The one year that a did bowl in a bowling league back in the 80’s our team was made up of both blacks and whites. We were great friends. Now I live in a community with a large number of Latinos. We get along. Good grief. Bigotry has no place in a discussion about developing real community!

  30. Attn: Peggy

    It’s NOT MY STUDY that has concluded that the Diversity Movement is ripping apart communities across America. It’s LIBERAL Harvard Professor Putnam’s study (notice that major new media buried his findings after he had published them!), and which study’s conclusion he had publicly admitted to withholding because he didn’t wish to negatively influence public debates about illegal immigration–before the congressional elections! So, you’ve tagged a well-respected, and leftist, college professor as “BIGOTED”. Dear Peggy, you’re an EMOTER; that is, you F-E-E-E-E-L that your personal experiences are proof enough to uphold your views on race and culture, which use of REASON, if effected by you, might cause you to begin THINKING about how racial diversity badly impacts communities’ SENSE OF COMMUNITY. Name-calling is the first “argument” of the uninformed.

  31. Peggy has every right to share about her personal experiences. This is not a court or university debate. I’d blame a lot of other factors before I’d start in on race.

  32. #######

    Attn: Dennis Mitchell

    Peggy wasn’t “sharing” but NAME-CALLING!, couched within her opinion about race and community.

    Again, name-calling is the first “argument” of the uninformed.


  33. #######


    Attn: Dennis Mitchell

    There are two kinds of people in the world, generally: EMOTERS and REASONSERS, where the former falls, generally, in liberals’ political camp, and the latter in conservatives’ poltical camp. Read my articles in here:

    Underlying Psychology of Politics

    To name-call Peggy “EMOTER” isn’t being negative but stating a fact about her opinion, as it is about HOW SHE F-E-E-E-L-S about race and community–based upon her anecdotal, personal experiences.

    I had referenced a HARVARD SOCIAL/CULTURAL/PSYCHOLOGICAL study about how racial diversity badly impacts communities’ sense of social and cultural cohesion.

    Professor Putnam, a leftist, was shocked by his own findings! But was brave enough, eventually, to publish the UNCOMFORTABLE conclusions.


  34. Quote from Deacon Elurby’s previous comment: “There are two kinds of people in the world, generally: EMOTERS and REASONSERS, where the former falls, generally, in liberals’ political camp, and the latter in conservatives’ poltical camp.”

    I’m always suspicious of attempts to force the complexity of the human mind into two separate boxes; I sometimes say with a wink, “there are two kinds of people: those who say there are two kinds of people and those who don’t — I’m one of the latter”. My suspicion grows when the two boxes are claimed to align neatly with other dichotomies, such as male and female or liberal and conservative.

    I think it’s worth hearing Putnam’s own comment on his study:

    “It would be unfortunate if a politically correct progressivism were to deny the reality of the challenge to social solidarity posed by diversity,” he writes in the new report. “It would be equally unfortunate if an ahistorical and ethnocentric conservatism were to deny that addressing that challenge is both feasible and desirable.” (Quote from http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/05/the_downside_of_diversity/)

    One other perspective on this: cultural diversity isn’t a new thing in the US; we’ve dealt with the challenges and blessings of diverse cultures and perspectives throughout our history. The short-term effects are typically those Putnam describes; the longer-term outcomes can definitely be positive (as he also says).

    I recommend reading the full article at the link above for a fuller, and naturally more complex, picture. Also, a recent talk by Putnam is at http://www.ohiocampuscompact.org/cffm/custom/File/Putnam%20E%20Pluribus%20Unum.pdf.

  35. #######

    Attn: Dig on

    Well, finally, someone has checked in with useful information on Professor Putman’s study!

    Thank you!

    As for your being suspicious of anyone pointing out dichotomies, “such as male and female or liberal and conservative,” PLEASE NOTE:

    Duality is the central, underlying foundation of this universe, which duality must ALWAYS be considered when analyzing ANY phenomenon within in it.

    Duh! Doh! Oops!

    Please read my articles in here:


  36. Deacon Elurby, sorry that you find me too emotional. I was merely stating my own experiences. I too, am fairly well educated, have a juris doctor, so please do not be so condescending. Your underlying psychology of politics was fascinating, but couldn’t find the references which verify your Left Brain/Right Brain theory. Perhaps I missed it.

  37. Hi, Peggy:

    There are no references in here because it’s an opinion piece not a research paper:

    Underlying Psychology of Politics

    I’m not breaking new ground there but posing premises and conclusions based upon the unique – and known- characteristics of the left and right hemispheres of the brain

    Applying hemisphericity to politics is new, though, for which theory of “political cross-lateralization,” – a term I had coined in the 1980s – I do take credit.

    Regarding your emotionalism, it is a woman’s nature to be more emotional than men are, while it’s a man’s nature to be more reason-driven ((yes, my statement is a generalization; it’s a stereotype; it’s not politically correct; it’s bigoted; and IT IS TRUE in most cases for women and men)).

    Because FEMINISM has been on the rise for decades while MASCULINISM has been in decline, emotionalism has been increasingly applied to social/cultural/racial/political problems in the West, which declining use of LOGIC-DRIVEN reason for emotion-premised “fixes” has caused increasing social and cultural and racial and political DECAY ((chaos)).

    In other words, because feminism is on the march and masculinism in retreat, Western civilization has been ((is)) in decline.

  38. Hrumph! It’s not proven, but to all intents and purposes I am quite sure that I am a male and yet, inexplicably, I am definitely having an emotional todo over some of the comments here. Most definitely emotional. What is a poor troll to do?

    I say, my dear sir, do you mind passing that flask of testosterone? I fear my reason has done and gone fluttering out of the window and my Y chromosome threatens to let me down. There’s a good lad, yes.

    What’s that you say? I shouldn’t make such unsubstantiated judgements without properly seasoned academic credentials? Wot? Male anger is not an emotion? Dear me, and I did so love those spats with the boys! So, shall we say, “invigorating”! Quite right, though. We men-folk are such level-headed amphibians. I’m certain that scuffle between the husband and wife next door undoubtedly arose due to her flighty nature. And he took the reins of reason, while I sat quietly nursing a cup of tea, as logic dictated. Those women are so emotional when they cry!

    Toodle loo! I’m off to quench this abominable pathos. You just never know when I might turn female. Horrors!

    Next thing you know the whole village will find itself valuing the welfare of all! All reason abandoned! Preemptive consideration! Warping of Myth Detection!

    Shall we return to our discussion of the value of community? Or must we get A WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM HARVARD first?

  39. =====

    Attn: Miguel, et al

    What we’re discussing here is critical to community cohesion and community longevity, as community leaders’/members’ lack of knowledge of the psychology underlying male/female dynamics – and the traditional, biologically engendered sex-roles in community – often causes an otherwise successful community to disintegrate.

    Biology IS, to a great extent, destiny–no matter how hard feminists decry it.

    We see that sex-based biological drive everywhere, and it is not due to environmental influences.

    Here’s a recent example of hereditable sex-based biology driving sex-based behavior:


    Among many reasons, communities die for lack of knowledge of the psychologies underlying intra-communal, male/female relationships.

    Regarding emotion vs. reason, recall that feminist Gloria Steinem had told ABC 20/20 correspondent John Stossel, on national TV: “Logic doesn’t matter!”–in response to Stossel’s program about how girls and boys are born with inherently different drives.

    Miguel, you’re able to have your testosterone (T) production tested, and if inadequate, you may have your doctor prescribe, say, a 5% jar of T-cream, as many post-menopausal women are using each day to bolster their sex drive and their general sense of well-being.


  40. =======

    Attn: Orion Society/Magazine Staff

    You ought to contact the “Fellowship for Intentional Community,” which coordinates/disseminates information about INTENTIONAL COMMUNITIES across America, such as Virginia’s Twin Oaks community, and which contact might provide you with lists of names and addresses of folks who would be interested in your magazine.

    You may contact the main office in Missouri: 1-800-995-8342.

    Fellowship of Intentional Community publishes an excellent quarterly magazine, and sells it national list of U.S. communities.

    – just a thought –

    As for the thread Peggy had started, regarding Professor Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” research, I have to quit it.

    My apologies to anyone who posts a response to my last entry, as I won’t be able to reply.


  41. Thanks for the thought on intentional communities & Orion. There certainly is common ground there, and a number of ICs are members of the Orion Grassroots Network, meaning that they get Orion magazine and a host of other practical services to aid their work and development.

    Membership is open to any organization that works for people and planet. There is info on the 1,200 member groups (speaking of “joiners”) here as well as more info on the benefits of joining:


    Orion Grassroots Network

  42. great article. it could all be down to evolution though…

  43. I live in a rural area. I’ve watched 100’s of families lose their farms. The politicians might cry out for the “family” farmers, but the subsidies go to the big guys. The other day I went to the big city. I was shocked at how many stores where owned by corporations. I grabbed on to the american dream only to watch it go up in a smoke called “economic growth”. I’m tired of the lies.

  44. Re: joining a CSA

    We have been members of two CSAs in NH. While it does, indeed, provide opportunity for conversation, what we have found is that in the time since McKibben describes, we have lost the ability to honestly cooperate. Intrigue, cliques, etc. were alive and well in both CSAs. We agree that they are a very good idea and the cooperation McKibben describes is also a very good idea, it will be necessary to figure out how to get along cooperatively to do so. Perhaps in times past, they had this challenge too once upon a time and figured out how to solve it. Hopefully we can relearn it.

  45. Don’t make work out of it, put your energy into your family.

    Today life presents moving goal posts. The Amish/Mennonites have chosen to tend to the team (family) and the grass (farm) leaving moving goals (consumerism) to others, maybe what they know is how to pass the time instead of spend it.

  46. well said, but there are other things such as computers, texts, various media sources and fast phase life which are replacing something that was natural at one point. people are not aware of it. and the next generation will not even know the difference.

  47. I don’t believe that all farmers have become completely independent. I live on a farm and we often “share” things with our neighbour farmers, whether it be borrowing a bull to help produce calves or to borrow a piece of machinery to help get some fieldwork done. However, this could be because the farms in our area are those “family-farms”.

  48. This article made me realise how much our dependence on oil has changed our daily interactions with other people. I don’t know my neighbours well even after living in the same house for the past 3 years.

  49. Strange! Last night I had a dream that told me to start a website to create a social movement to help us get back to community, neighbors, family and friends. Then I googled the keywords that were in my dream, and I found this website. So maybe I just jump on this band wagon that’s already built. I love your content, and I’m not sure how I can help but we need to bring it to a granular, local level…to our blocks, our neighbors, our homes, and it needs to be simple and easy. Last month I was visiting my mom in Mexico, and we drove by an old friend’s house (mom borrowed many things from them in the past), and without hesitation she said, let’s drop in and say hi. I was very hesitant at first because I’m not used to just “dropping in”, we always call ahead or plan it. We stoped in just the same, and we spent two hours having the most delightful conversation. When we left I felt sad we couldn’t do that more often with any of our friends. Everyone is so “busy” that we’ve forgotten the art and we’ll need something to help us remember who we truly are.

  50. Millie, see my previous comment for some books and links relevant to “getting back to community…” I’d now add the Transition Initiative movement that’s spreading virally; maybe start at http://transitionus.org/

  51. I should have made the reference to my previous comment easier to find: it’s #17 on Page 3.

  52. All of the points that Bill McKibben makes are 100 percent logical and clear. Taking up farming once again and living in a local-set-of-mind is definitely a way to get to “350.” However, it is important to remember that if one fully devotes his/her time to farming, it automatically means that everything else comes second. Yes, it brings families closer. Yes, it creates a sense of neighborliness that is nonexistent right now (for the most part.) But how are we going to advance in technology? Curing diseases that kill millions? If we are toiling our land all day, how are we going to study and research? The reason we got this far in technological advances is that we began to rely on mass farming as a source of nutrition. If we step back now, then we would step back in mostly everything. Living in a local-set-of-mind can change everything.
    Not only that, but perhaps the reason that people no longer “need” a god is that we do not rely on each day’s weather for our sustenance; we do not see the daily importance of nature. In addition to what Bill was proposing about farming re-creating a more livable and friendly world, it would make people more appreciative about nature.

  53. Being encased in steel, glass and plastic how can it not impact our interactions. In many places the center of town, the place for chance meeting has been destroyed by strip malls and instead of walking from store to store people drive. It is often in the chance meetings that real life discussions about events and issues takes place.

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