Citizens Adrift

Joshua Mitchell in City Journal:

Today, the problem of existential homelessness has become acute. Growing rates of anxiety, loneliness, and suicide offer statistical confirmation. Facebook and Amazon are among the largest and most powerful corporations on the planet, yet the realization is dawning that social media “friends” are poor substitutes for the real thing and that man cannot live by online shopping alone. (See “When Supplements Become Substitutes,” Autumn 2018.) The mobile phone connects us to the world but imprisons us inside ourselves. Human life must be lived at human scale, in the face-to-face relations of everyday life. These flesh-and-blood connections extend from our local neighborhoods to the nation­­—the largest durable community known to man.

Since 1989 and the end of the Cold War, though, we have increasingly tried to build a world without attention to these communities—building it instead around the configuration of what I call “management society and selfie man.” If only populism were the crisis we face. Populism is a political problem. It is something that we can fix—say, by pursuing more beneficial policies for the struggling middle class, or by adjusting trade policy. Homelessness of the existential sort that Tocqueville described is a deeper problem. Tocqueville marveled that American federalism helped address the problem of homelessness by giving citizens “a share in their government.” Yet how can federalism work today if we are so frightened by real-time, everyday dealings with our fellow citizens that we text-message one another to see if it’s okay to talk over the phone?

More here.