by Neil Rickert

I’ve been reading “Rich Man, Poor Man” over at the BQO site.  David Sloan Wilson wonders whether communities of the rich are poor in other ways, such as a lack of social cooperation within the community.

I worry that the affluence of modern society is eroding our capacity to cooperate at any scale, small or large. Those of us who can pay with our credit cards don’t need to cooperate, and so we forget how.

It’s an interesting report, and worth reading.  However, I wonder whether Wilson has noticed that our idea of “community” has changed.  For many, the neighborhood is no longer the community.  As a mathematician and computer scientist, I feel more at home in a community of fellow mathematicians and fellow scientists than I do in my neighborhood.  But it’s not just academic communities.  There are sports communities, musical playing communities, and many other communities defined by interests.

I became involved in a music community when my daughter decided she wanted to play the violin, and that was before the time of the Internet.  I suspect that the telephone and the automobile had a lot to do with the forming of these alternative communities.  No doubt the Internet has expanded the possibilities of engagement in alternative communities.  I’m inclined to suspect that there is still plenty of social cooperation within these alternative communities, even if there is less of that cooperative behavior in the neighborhood community.  That might make for an interesting sociological research topic.

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