Monday, December 21, 2009

Alienation, Culture, and the Welfare State

This is a sad story from Londonstani of the Abu Muqawama blog. Basically, the concentration of immigrants in the low-income housing projects alienated many of them from England as a state and a nation. The norms in the projects appeared to be the most hedonistic of Western cultural stereotypes.

If the immigrants could live in a less hedonistic environment, perhaps they would be less alienated from England, France, and the other European countries. This is the sad consequence of the welfare housing system we have in the West. Fortunately for the US, we have less of it now after the general welfare reform of the '90s, when new urban planning theories dictated the dispersal of low-income housing in the urban area. Not sure the situation in Europe nor their urban planning theories. It is certainly sad because the urban planners in the 50s and 60s pinned such high hopes on these high-rise low-income housing projects, yet they have caught their residents in a feedback loop of poverty and self-destructive behaviors.

That the immigrants had little choice in British housing appear to be the result of their welfare system. Hopefully Londonstani's video will spark a British version of the welfare reform.

One issue I want to touch on is the cultural alienation in the immigrant community. Many people smarter than I have written on the subject of alienation, and perhaps have already said what I'm saying.

As Londonstani hinted in his article, Western Culture(tm) is the combination of two seemingly antagonistic ideas: "People Obey Rules", and "You Can Do Anything". People in the less developed countries have a universal vision of the West, and that is a place where things work. People obey laws. Trains run on time (mostly). Drivers don't run red lights (mostly). Bureaucracies work like they're supposed to. You don't need to pay bribes.

Yet it is also a place you can do anything, as Hollywood relentlessly reinforces with an endless stream of movies and music videos.

It is a jarring combination. Even native Westerners sometime cannot handle this combination. Communism is but one ideology exploiting and trying to solve this alienation problem. You can see it in the proliferation of ethnic and religious groups on college campuses, and in the teenage angst literature. For many, it marks a retreat into more fundamentalist communities, where (at least) you can meet like-minded individuals who are against the mindless hedonism marketed by Hollywood.

This is a problem faced by many parents in the West: How to raise children who can lead a meaningful, productive existence? Children who have a chance to reproduce and enjoy parenthood themselves? [Hedonism is not conducive toward species propagation, mostly.]

In the age of the super-empowered individual, though, this issue is also a national security threat. For all the calls for Islamic enlightenment, the West should own up to its own role in the alienation process, and work on this cultural contradiction. I know that sex sells, but shouldn't horny teenager-hood be a transitional stage, rather than the human aspiration?

[I guess you can trace the age of empowerment to gunpowder and the printing press, but only now is it upon us, the age of free, online Anarchist Cookbooks.]

This is a recent article that also talks about alienation and the gangster culture, in the Latin American context

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