The Dependent Life

 Posted by on 27 June 2008 at 12:20 pm  Ethics
Jun 272008

Some months ago, I needed to photocopy Stanley Milgram’s “The Perils of Obedience,” a popular article on his famous experiments on authority published in the December 1973 issue of Harpers. (Note to self: blog about that soon!) As I was doing that, I noticed the following quote, excerpted from Philip Slater’s book The Pursuit of Loneliness, in the “wraparound” section. I was so struck by its evil that I photocopied the page, in the hopes of blogging it. I forgot about it — until I found the photocopied page a few days ago while cleaning out my desk. So, at long last, here it is for your reading displeasure:

It is easy to produce examples of the many ways in which Americans attempt to minimize, circumvent, or deny the interdependence upon which all human societies are based. We seek a private house, a private means of transportation, a private garden, a private laundry, self-service stores, and do-it-yourself skills of every kind. An enormous technology seems to have set itself the task of making it unnecessary for one human being ever to ask anything of another in the course of going about his daily business. Even within the family Americans are unique in their feeling that each member should have a separate room, and even a separate television, and car, when economically possible. We seek more and more privacy, and feel more and more alienated and lonely when we get it.

Oh how evil of us crass Americans to wish to live lives of our own, pursuing our own goals and dreams, while allowing others to do the same!

Then again, I suspect that Slater is speaking the truth — about himself. The values that he pursued probably didn’t have any meaning for him, so he longed for some human connection to fill the bottomless void inside himself.


So once again, Ayn Rand’s comment about civilization and privacy comes to mind:

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

Notably, Philip Slater couldn’t have written that trash in the kind of society he advocates. He’d be too occupied with the elevating tasks of an “interdependent” life, such as waiting in bread lines for daily rations and working nights to support irresponsible relatives.

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