The recent spate of shootings in the US has once again raised the prospect of how little social cohesion exists modern life. The random nature of the mindless violence was and is, truly appalling.
More worrisome is the follow-up media coverage which failed to try to understand why this is happening, the lack of public mental health facilities in all countries, and the possible consequences of a highly armed citizenry.
I was reminded of this when watching Michael Apted's amazing film "56 Up". Apted is a gifted British film-maker who has followed the same group of people beginning in 1964 when the object of his study were seven years old. Every seven years, Apted produced another film tracking how well, or how poorly his subject were doing.
Some did extremely well; others, not so much. It's a powerful and deeply psychological view of life in Britain. Yet, the ties that might have bound these people are not there. Some of what has driven them apart can be found in the British class structure. There are mental health issues and poverty. Margaret Thatcher's legacy still seems enormously powerful.
And I wondered if Apted (or an Apted-wannabee) were to begin the same series of films in 2013, would the same type of people be chosen? Apted's original group seemed overly focused on people from the East End of London and there was only one non-white person in the group.
In the end, we knew what made these people unhappy. But what other issues gave them anything in common? Being British clearly was not a unifying element.
The same issue is being raised by the eminent Canadian journalist and scholar, Michael Valpy.
Valpy has been awarded the Atkinson Foundation Scholarship to look at social cohesion in Canada. In an article in the Toronto Star, he writes that in Canada we once assumed much more social cohesion that we do now. We are a more divided country than we once were, claims Valpy. I look forward to his study to look at the causes of this state of being and whether in Canadian's quest for more economic and social independence, there are fewer
reasons to think collectively.
I am more optimistic. I think that the rise of digital democracy will naturally, make us less cohesive and less reliant on traditional sources of authority. While Valpy may lament that change in society, the presence of many more voices in search of some sense of meaning in modern life, is, in fact, a very good thing.
Whether that makes Canadians more prone to isolation and individualizing (aka "American") tendencies will be up to our media. They still need to point out what we have in common, rather than the other trend toward "apathetic helplessness" to quote NPR's first program director Bill Siemering.