A Virtual Community is Not a Community


Stephen Marche has written an interesting piece in the May Atlantic on how facebook is making us lonely. There is a good deal to comment on here, and I’m not particularly inclined to take yet another shot at Facebook, for while it is symptomatic it is an easy target. The pulling apart of Americans into public and private selves, which is to say not as members of healthy communities, remains a central problem of America’s self-colonization, and if people can’t belong to healthy communities, they can’t be healthy. Marche draws attention to a staggering set of statistics compiled by Ronald Dworkin:

In the face of this social disintegration, we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers. As Ronald Dworkin pointed out in a 2010 paper for the Hoover Institution, in the late ’40s, the United States was home to 2,500 clinical psychologists, 30,000 social workers, and fewer than 500 marriage and family therapists. As of 2010, the country had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches. The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. This raft of psychic servants is helping us through what used to be called regular problems. We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.

Berry has rightly noted that communities and economies are not separate entities, and here we see yet another example of how destroying communities creates enormous economic costs that are absolutely unnecessary were the communities left intact and able to do what they do well: sustain human well-being by sustaining connectedness.

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