Monday, May 04, 2009

Elsewhere USA

I can't recall the last time, I read a piece of non-fiction and enjoyed it quite as much as I did Elsewhere, USA - How we got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety. The book tackles a plethora of socio-economic themes of the day and uses the archetypal Mr. and Mrs 1959 to contrast against Mr and Mrs 2009 to tell the story.

Dalton Conley offers many interesting and fresh insights based on his analysis of facts that are fairly common knowledge. That he is able to do this chapter after chapter, theme after theme is what makes this book such a wonderful read.

I particularly enjoyed his take on the the current state of love, relationship and marriage. Conley attributes it to the rise of income inequality, the increase in the numbers of financially independent women and economic anxiety. In the chapter titled Polymorphous Perversity he writes :

We have come full circle : At one time we lived in tribes. These devolved into extended kin networks (living with the cousins and grandma, too). That was replaced by the nuclear family. But then this unit also broke down - or, rather devolved, to use a less judgmental term. Now we circulate like electron clouds through the networks of love and human connection. So perhaps it is ironic that in our supermodern - or postmodern - Elsewhere Society, intraviduals end up with love networks that look a lot like those of African villagers.

This is not true just of America but of any society in the world that has access to modern telecommunication technology and where material success is prized much higher than anything else.

At the end of this chapter while comparing the education and enrichment methods adopted by different types of modern parents, Conely says :

The Waldorfians and their kin are trying to effect the Tortoise to the super-soccer mom's Hare, but they are competing in the same achievement decathlon nonetheless.

He refers to the Waldorf approach to schooling which bans almost every aspect of popular culture "
in an effort to protect young ones so their minds can develop naturally and purely". At the opposite end of the education philosophy spectrum, are over-scheduled kids who are made to participate in an endless number of activities by their parents. Being a parent myself who is trying to seek balance for my child, I could not agree with the Hare and Tortoise analogy more.

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