Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Lonely Crowd, Second Half

While I don't know if anyone's chomping at the bit to hear about the second part of The Lonely Crowd, it's sad to have, well, a lonely First Half without a Second Half. I'd recommend the book, although I think that you can stop reading in good conscience after the first section.

The Lonely Crowd
has 3 parts: "Character", "Politics", and "Autonomy". While David Riesman captured my attention in "Character", he lost it in "Politics" and then had a hard time getting it back for "Autonomy". Autonomy is what you might expect-- a desirable state where you can form your own opinions, and in some way separate yourself from the dominant mode of conformity. Go figure that this is the shortest chapter-- Riesman admits that developing autonomy can be extremely difficult, and he only gives a few suggestions. Among these are making the workplace "less strenuous emotionally" (gee, does that sound familiar?), letting "avocational counselors" help us direct our leisure time, and letting children develop individualized interests by creating free "stores" for kids stocked with hobby materials. But my favorite suggestion of Riesman's is one to bring back utopian thinking. I believe that as children, we're all utopian thinkers. But somewhere along the way, a lot of us lose that ability. Riesman writes:

However, since we live in a time of disenchantment, such thinking, where it is rational in aim and method and not simply escapism, is not easy. It is easier to concentrate on programs for choosing among lesser evils...Both rich and poor avoid any goals, personal or social, that seem out of step with peer-group aspirations. (305)

Although the book, sadly, seems outdated in parts, the statement about "lesser evils" sounds like it could have been written today. Sometimes I try to visualize the world or life I want to see or have, but I tend to step back mentally because it's too overwhelming or seems impossible. Utopian thinking is intimidating, although if I allowed myself to do it more, maybe I'd be able to get a better idea of where in life I should put my efforts. Riesman would say I've been constrained by "other-direction" without even realizing it. Maybe it's important to know how and why we conform before we can start on the project of realizing our autonomy.


Lanafactrix said...

Hey, I always look forward to your blog posts! Regardless of topic ;)

Ily said...

Yay, thank you! That made me smile :-)

Level Best said...

I wish I had the optimism to DO utopian thinking, but the world perpetually looks upside down to me (I have these fairness and egality things that just aren't being reinforced by what I see). I enjoyed your take on this book!

Ily said...

Thanks! I would think that envisioning things that you aren't currently finding around you is at the heart of utopian thinking (although I know that when you start thinking about the really basic things that are still out of reach, it can get depressing).