at home everywhere and nowhere
October 2, 2010, 5:55 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: ,

Is there a generational shift happening as our institutions surge and upend and fall apart and a new generation watches?  Will they drop the baggage of ideas that haven’t worked or cling to traditionalism?

Here is a look back at the shift from the greatest WWII generation to their children the boomers from the seminal sociology book The Lonely Crowd written in the 1960s.  It describes a shift from inner directed personality to outer affected personality.  Inner directed is suitably calm in a rapidly changing social milieu and made people who could draw on inner resources to adapt to any place they found themselves in.  Outer affected personality came later in response to a much more public world of popular psychology, sales, American positivism. And according to this review, the later of the two personality types became more genuine in their relations and more rooted in the world from mid century on.

And now, in the new millennium – for the past generation or so – we have global capitalism which re-uproots us.  So the first generation was shallow and flexible, the next rooted and perhaps parocial.  And the next?  It seems there could be a third way in which there is flexibility and worldliness and a commitment to place.

The Lonely Crowd was part of a stream of writing on tendencies in American “social character” that flourished between the 1940s and 1980s, peaking in the 50s and early 60s. It described a shift in the way Americans followed society’s prescriptions, from a 19th-century “inner-direction”—behavior internalized at an early age from parents and other elders—to a mid-20th-century “other-direction,” flexibly responsive to “peer groups” and the media. Key metaphors were the “gyroscope” of inner-direction versus the “radar” of other-direction. (During World War II, Riesman had been a lawyer for Sperry Gyroscope, makers of gyroscopic bombsights.) Inner-direction provided moral stability in a rapidly developing society. Unlike “tradition-directed” people, dependent on external rules in older, more static societies, inner-directed people could carry their precepts anywhere. But other-direction was more suited to a bureaucratic age of sales, services, and “human relations.” /…/ Finally, one phrase from The Lonely Crowd, perhaps its most memorable, really does apply to global capitalism, especially its threat to personal rootedness and sense of place. Other-directed people, said Riesman et al., were “at home everywhere and nowhere.” They forged bonds quickly but not deeply. That is why the lonely crowd was lonely and one more reason the book is still worth thinking about today.

‘The Lonely Crowd,’ at 60, Is Still Timely By Rupert Wilkinson


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