One informal analysis suggests short first names are strongly correlated with higher salaries. They are bad in several ways, and modern glyphs are little better.
Marc Dunkelman Summer Of late, a certain pessimism has come to dominate the American mood. Many of us — of all ages, classes, races, and political persuasions — think our country is headed in the wrong direction.
Our great temptation is to blame politicians, on the theory that Washington is failing a nation in search of answers. But is it possible that we have put the cart before the horse?
Could it be that the nation has changed, and Washington is simply struggling to adapt? Our political system takes for granted a particular understanding of life in America — and especially of American community.
Towns and neighborhoods in the United States are not merely the subdivisions of a central bureaucracy, but rather are robust, thriving, and frequently diverse communities in and of themselves. Our original theory of government was built around the bonds that tie those individual units together — the trust borne in the connections forged between people mutually invested in their shared well-being.
And it should not be lost on us that the character of those relationships represents one of the great anomalies of American life. Our spirit of community is an essential part of what makes the United States exceptional — or at least of what made the United States exceptional.
Over the past few decades, technological, social, cultural, and economic changes have revolutionized the structure of American community. The transformation we are living through is, in many respects, changing American life for the better — but not in every respect.
And whether the long-term effects augur a brighter future or not, one thing has been made clear: Many of our public institutions are failing to adapt. Broadly understood, the developments of the past few decades have served to weaken the ties that once bound local communities together.
In their place, we are, on one hand, now choosing to invest more time and energy in keeping in touch with our closest friends and family members, and, on the other, in trading bits of information with people we do not know very well but who share some single common interest.
As a result, the relationships that stand between our most intimate friendships and our more distant acquaintances — the middle-tier relationships that have long been at the root of American community life — have been left to wither.
By any measure, that transition has empowered us to be more socially discerning.
But the end result has been a social framework that tends to be deep at the expense of being broad, and that is frequently internally cohesive without being particularly diverse. There are myriad advantages to the new architecture of American community.
Among its drawbacks, however, is the threat it now poses to the ability of our politics to solve the problems government needs to address. The new framework has created a political dynamic in which leaders in Washington find it much more difficult to collaborate.
And it threatens to undermine some longstanding assumptions, embraced on both the right and the left, about how to shape effective solutions to the challenges that will face us in the decades to come.
Amid the swirl of news and opinion, a new grounding may help to decipher where we are headed, and why. Imagine, for a moment, a model of the planet Saturn. If the planet itself represents an individual, the surrounding rings comprise his social universe — everyone he knows through the totality of his interactions.
Each ring, depending on its distance from the planet itself, corresponds to the familiarity of each acquaintance.
The inner rings stand in for the relationships that are the most intimate. The rings further out successively represent those that are less and less familiar.
They are the people who would know if he had both a sick dog and a son struggling in algebra. Farther out, the middle rings represent acquaintances who are not quite so intimate, but are regular contacts nonetheless. These rings, for Joe, might begin with members of his extended family, work buddies he meets for lunch now and again, neighbors he knows from community meetings, or fellow parishioners from church.
In essence, the middle rings would comprise the broad spectrum of people with whom Joe is familiar, but not intimate; friendly, but not close. These middle-ring relationships are what Robert Putnam lionized in Bowling Alonethe book he published in exposing what he termed the "collapse" of American community: But the middle rings also comprise more ephemeral relationships.
Moving farther out, they would encompass the relationship Joe has with the tailor who has hemmed his pants since his graduation from middle school, or the waitress at the diner he visits every Sunday afternoon after church.
Many of these relationships might be considered nothing more than transactional. And in many cases, the acquaintances represented by the outer rings are met through a single shared interest, without which Joe would be unlikely to engage with them at all.
This model illuminates an important change in American community life: Over the past several decades, Americans have abandoned the investments that previous generations made in the middle rings. Instead, we have begun to devote more time and energy to the relationships found in the inner and the outer rings.
We are not, as some argue, abandoning community.TAKING CARE: ETHICAL CAREGIVING IN OUR AGING SOCIETY Table of Contents. The President's Council on Bioethics Washington, D.C. The Aging Society. the heartache of watching loved ones sacrifice so much on one's behalf, when all one wants is for them to flourish themselves.
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