Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gemeinschaft and Gessellschaft...still in tension

Gemeinschaft versus Gessellschaft...the two German words that help to define a cultural shift from the small intimate community (Gemeinschaft) of 25-200 people where everyone knows everyone else, where the conduct between people is just that, conduct and contact between real people, usually over the fence, or over a coffee or over a brew...certainly not in the courts, and usually not requiring police or "the community" to make the final decision...
to Gessellschaft, where the numbers are much larger, and the relationships are governed by contract, whether between individuals or between groups, or between an individual and a group. Here the terms, rules, conditions, are abstract, impersonal, and enforced across the community by officials "under contract" for that very function.
There are advantages to each; however, the gains to the second are certainly offset by the significant loss of identity, individualism, eccentricity, and a sense of significance for the individual.
Perhaps, when Neil Diamond's song "I am, I said" reached the airwaves, the "western" culture had already passed far beyond the first stage, leaving the existential cry...where "no one heard, not even the chair"...
And when Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" waved across the radio, the dance floor and the record shop, the same theme was re-incarnated...with "people listening without hearing," and the "words of the prophets are written on the tenement walls" in a valiant attempt to seek and to find meaning in a cultural wasteland...
"I spit out all the butt ends of my days"...and
"in the room the women come and go, talking of Michaelangelo"...from the poet's poet, T. S. Eliot...
And there was W.H. Auden's "Unknown Citizen" written as an obituary, complete with social number, and case notes "when there was peace, he was for peace, and where there was war, he went"..."should anything have been wrong, we certainly should have heard"....
and the literature captures much of the last hundred years in North America and perhaps in Europe, especially in Great Britain, where life is far more public than private...and where public "persona" (mask) is the needed face that everyone puts on to meet the faces that we meet...
Is there any hope that this loss of uniqueness, paralleling a loss of authenticity, and generating a "manufactured ethic" of right and wrong that clearly contravenes the unique circumstances in which the "act" occurred can be overturned with the migration in all directions of people from all lands, especially from small, intimate communities...or will it result in a geo-mosaic of ghetto's?

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