Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hatfield/McCoy - Round #2: civic entitlement on steriods

I’m depressed by Wendy Sarkissian’s blog below on fear of the Other, this apparent chasm between the Collaborative-Diverse and the Self-Interested. In the former case we have evidence of sustained neighborhood safety; in the latter case, personal safety.

Is there room for both? Are our recession-weary, increasingly class-segregated, masses regressing into Hatfield/McCoy feuds of neighborhood development? The Collaboratives versus the Inwards?

Today the span of this gulf showed up in an excellent Toronto Star column: Jane Jacobs great ideas have morphed into pettiness.

Say’s columnist Christie Blatchford:

"Where Ms. Jacobs, for instance, was instrumental in stopping a highway which would have torn apart some lovely parts of the old city – the Spadina Expressway – on my street her successors have succeeded in stopping a daycare.

My hunch is Jane Jacobs would be appalled to see how civic engagement has become…civic entitlement, wherein everyone expects to be notified and consulted about every single thing that everyone else is doing."

Have Toronto’s famed Jacobsian-style communities gone mad?

Adam Smith, the father of modern capitalism, believed sympathy for others 
was the glue to civil communities - photo Kim Traynor (Creative Commons)

As if on cue, philosopher Mark Kingwell attacks what he calls The Shout Doctrine. Kingwell believes the real social glue of community is civility and sympathy for others.

In this month’s issue of The Walrus magazine he says:

"Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, persuasively suggested that sympathy, the recognition of shared human vulnerability, is the real glue of social structures. Contractual theories, like the ones popularized a century earlier by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, miss the point. 

We would not make a contract with another, much less hold to it, unless we already recognized the other as an entity worthy of our consideration."

They may not know each other, but Sarkissian, Blatchford and Kingwell tell the same story. We should pay attention.