On Advertising, Interdependence, and Ayn Rand

Last night our pastor Craig Corley was discussing the need for members of a church to be interdependent and to help each other out. He mentioned that this runs rather contrary to the common American ideal of “rugged individualism”, wherein each person is self-sufficient, and chooses others’ company principally for his own pleasure, rather than to compensate for any shortcoming or need of their own.

Even as a confirmed introvert, I can see that there’s value in community and healthy interdependence. I’ve long been intrigued by the changes in community over the last several decades, and how those changes have affected us. It used to be that having several generations sharing a house was entirely normal — now anything beyond a couple, their kids, and perhaps one widowed parent is atypical. (See Capra’s charming movie You Can’t Take it With You for a fine, if a bit idealized, taste of what this was like.) Neighbors used to come together for barn raisings and other community efforts, but it’s infrequent that we venture out of doors when we’re not on the way to the car now.

There are a number of things that occur to me that have probably contributed to this change. As government has taken on more duties, there’s been less need for individual citizens to become involved in corporate community activities. Ayn Rand makes a very compelling case for the rugged individualist in her novels. The ascendency of mass communication has changed the face of what comprises a community. (I often feel more connection trading Simpsons quotes with people I don’t see very often than I do discussing the state of the neighborhood with the people I live near.) And certainly air conditioning makes the indoors more appealing than the front yard when it’s 100 degrees here in Texas.

One of the most interesting theories I’ve heard is that advertisers deliberately affected this change in response to the post-World War economy. All of these factories which had been devoted to munitions and armaments couldn’t be allowed to go dark, so they switched over to pumping out consumer goods. But after a time, every household — which at this time still often consisted of extended family, borders, and friends — had what they needed or wanted. The market was getting saturated. The marketer’s solution? The American Dream! By putting each family in their own home with their own stuff, they dramatically increased the number of lawnmowers, food processors, etc. they could sell. When we don’t share, we need more stuff!

I don’t know how much truth there is to this theory, but it does seem that the loss of community is unfortunate. We’re personally trying hard to develop it with our friends by making sure that they feel welcome to use and enjoy all that we’ve been blessed with. I’ve also been intrigued by some of the organized community-building efforts, such as cohousing, which combines a lot of the benefits of a more connected lifestyle with most of the advantages of having a place of your own. I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts on these matters as well as we make establishing and maintaining rapport with the people around us a more deliberate part of our lives.