love is blind, neighbors ain’t


This anti- and pro-vaccine talk has got me wondering: is the problem here not so much a mistrust of Big Pharma and Big Government, but the fact that Americans stopped giving a shit about their neighbors? I don’t want to turn this into a limp-reasoned graduate thesis on the decaying fabric of American society, but there has to have been some real damage done to our psyche when we stopped knowing the names of the people sleeping fifty feet from us. Our sense of community atrophied, and with it, our collective empathy.

I’m not saying everyone is like this: certainly there are thriving communities in Chapel Hill, and god knows my brother Sean in Astoria knows half his neighborhood through collective playdates. But for most everyone else, the planned communities and large houses and packed subways have inured us to our fellow country and citymen, and when you no longer care about your community, the more likely you’d be to say “I’ve gotta protect myself and my kids – everyone else can fend for themselves.”

Every study on attitudes towards homosexuals reaches the same conclusion: people stop being homophobes when they meet a gay person. Simple exposure to other lifestyles radically eradicates most forms of bigotry. And when we stop knowing who our neighbors are, these resentments build back up.

I don’t have a general theory on this (although I’m sure I could whip something up about Republicans), but I’m interested: do any of you live in a house or an apartment, and not know the names of the people on either side of you? (full disclosure: for many years, definitely guilty as charged)