A buzzing swarm of “I’s,” or: any Friday night on Third Avenue in the Thirties

What we call morality began in the mores, the life-conserving customs, of the village. When these primary bonds dissolve, when the intimate visible community ceases to be a watchful, identifiable, deeply concerned group [emphasis added], then the “We” becomes a buzzing swarm of “I’s,” and secondary ties and allegiances become too feeble to halt the disintegration of the urban community.

Lewis Mumford, from 1961’s The City in History. A profoundly conservative viewpoint, to be sure, but for all that one that identifiably bears some resemblance to what I can see around me.

Not that I’m at all exempting myself from this: I’m as bad, surely as high-maintenance and self-important as anyone else in this crypto- or crapto-Darwinian scrum we dignify with the tag of “neighborhood.” Hard to see a way out, either: the valuations inscribed in our market economy, the local architectonic microstructure, and especially the ways these things dock with our own homegrown psychopathologies all seem to conspire against it.

I’m not happy about it, but I don’t have the foggiest idea what to do about any of it. Except “leave,” maybe – but that’s a cop-out, and not any kind of an answer.

One response to “A buzzing swarm of “I’s,” or: any Friday night on Third Avenue in the Thirties”

  1. robertogreco says :

    Thanks for this. I had some similar thoughts while commuting on my bike almost a year ago, but have been unable to articulate it so well.

    As for solutions, I’m not sure either, but one major step (at least out West) would be to get people out of the steel cocoons that are their cars or, too often, “light-trucks.” It’s a lot harder to ignore others without that buffer. And without a car it’s much harder to return to your neighborhood without becoming engaged with fellow residents.

    I know it sounds cliche, but quality neighborhood schools, libraries, and community centers might also help focus some people on their immediate community.

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