A Critique of Industrial Society

Introduction

In this essay we will argue that employment is a key aspect of belonging – however, this is only true in close-knit communities. ‘Belonging’ is impossible in densely populated areas regardless of whether the individual is employed or not, as social cohesion is not possible in areas where everyone is a stranger. Employment in a close-knit community shows that an individual belongs, the individual is working to contribute to the community, their contribution is visible to others. Once a population reaches a certain and nobody knows each other anymore, a sense of duty to others slips away and narcissistic, antisocial behaviour sets in.

§1

For the Marxist, the village (city) symbolises progress whereas the country symbolises a previous stage in development. Marx states as much throughout his writings. For example, in The German Ideology he writes “The contradiction town and country begins with the transition from barbarism to civilisation, from tribe to state, form locality to nation, and runs through the whole history of civilisation to the present day …” (1998, p. 72). This holds true for all materialist thought, whether the thinker is a communists or capitalists. ‘Progress’ is inherently positive for those who see history as linear.

In reality the city symbolises a devolution, the destruction of communal ties and the emergence of what Christopher Lasch referred to as ‘The culture of narcissism’: “the culture of competitive individualism to the extreme of a war of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self” (2018, p. 4). What people like Marx and Kropotkin failed to realise when they were writing their revolutionary tracts (such as The Communist Manifesto or The Conquest of Bread) is that the industrial revolution does not truly represent the possibility of a new social system in which everyone will unite in solidarity and work together for the common good. Once a population expands passed a certain point the communal ties disintegrate, there are too many people in a single area for social cohesion to be possible. The town/village slides from its high-trust status as less and less of the population know each other and communicate on a regular basis.

§2

Take a densely populated area. There are far too many people in one area for a high-trust society to exist (hence the need for all manner of security systems in our homes, CCTV cameras in our streets and such). There are strangers all over the place, there are people from different cultural backgrounds which hold opposing values to other cultural backgrounds within the area, thus cultural cohesion does not exist. In our modern Western societies there is also welfare safety nets that are abused by people who have no desire to work and contribute to other people in their communities. As everyone is a stranger in a densely populated area nobody feels any sense of duty – no sense of responsibility – towards each other.

Anarchist and communists argue that the antisocial behaviour which makes security systems and CCTV necessary is caused purely by the capitalist system. Remove the capitalist system and everyone will all of a sudden become community orientated, nobody will need to compel others to do anything such as work. As Kropotkin writes, “It is of an anarchist-communist society we are about to speak, a society that recognizes the absolute liberty of the individual, that does not admit any authority, and makes use of no compulsion to drive men to work” (2005, p. 128). People will be drawn to work out of their own volition if we somehow make work enjoyable. This is completely utopian and unrealistic. It is foolish to think that a large mass of people are even capable of organising themselves to carry out the necessary tasks needed to keep a society moving. As the sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (along with others who followed the ‘classical elite theory’), large societies will always end up with a small minority wielding control (Marshall, 2007, p. 10). A small, elected (or unelected) group will always take charge of organisation withing the community. Only small, close-knit communities are capable of organising themselves democratically, and existing without hierarchical control structures.

In a small, close-knit community you are compelled to work. In a community where everyone knows each other you are expected to contribute in some way towards the community, to produce products which are needed within that community. If you do not work and contribute you will be punished or even cast out of the community, you will no longer belong. In a densely populated area there is no duty towards one and other, especially in a nation with a welfare state from which people can leech off of. People need to be compelled in some way or another to contribute, and the close-knit community is the most effective way of compelling others to work because to close-knit community is able to monitor the contribution of its members. The closeness of the community also provides the important sense of belonging that people need. People work together and look after one and other when in need. They are involved in each other’s lives, something which is not possible in a highly populated city.

Modern technology has only worsened this situation. As more and more jobs are taken over by automation, more and more people who want to work and contribute to society are going to be left stranded and alienated. As Anthony Giddens argues, gainful employment is important for maintaining our self-esteem, and those without work (who actually want to work) are left bored and idle (2017, p. 283). People who are suited to jobs that are being replaced by automation (a product of the Industrial Revolution) are being left behind by modern society. The belief that these individuals can simply be integrated into modern technological society and trained as ‘computer scientists’ and such is completely baseless, the intellectual elite have crafted this response in an attempt to disguise the contempt they hold for the working-class. The wheel of ‘progress’ will continue to spin so long as the interests of the elites are not threatened.

Conclusion

In this essay we have argued that employment provides a sense of belonging but only in a small, close-knit community. In cities individuals are alienated and individualised, members of a city cannot be relied upon to contribute to the community as they are not intimately involved with each other. In close-knit communities members are compelled to work by the social structure, in cities (especially in nations with a welfare state) there is no assurance that everyone is working together, people can easily take advantage of the people actually working and contributing to the community.

Bibliography

Giddens, A & Sutton, P 2017, Sociology 8th Edition, Polity Press, Italy.

Kropotkin, P (2005), The Conquest of Bread and Other Writings, Cambridge University Press, UK.

Lasch, C 2018, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, W. W. Norton, USA.

Marshall, A. J., Vilfredo Pareto’s Sociology: A Framework of Political Psychology, Ashgate, UK.

Marx, K (1998), The German Ideology, Prometheus Books, USA.

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