Collapse of the Family and Intimate Community

Another Harari summary

From earliest times, it seems, people lived in family groups and communities were related by family ties. The agricultural revolution did not break those ties, they glued the smaller groups into clans and tribes. Families took care of you in sickness or in old age. In societies like these, neighbors and friends took care of each other and the communities supported each other by ties of mutual obligation. Relatively little was bought or sold in markets - usually less than 10% of people's needs.

Kings, emperors and the like could do larger scale public works like road building, war fighting, and perhaps major irrigation works. There were insufficient surpluses in the economy to maintain schools, hospitals, or large police forces. Most justice was administered by clan and family. Governments had the quality of a Mafia style protection racket - if you pay up they won't kill you and will protect you from the king of the protection racket next door.

Those without family were almost totally helpless.

The industrial revolution now has changed all that. Families and communities resisted, but state power mostly has triumphed. The market and the state have won most of the battles.

The state and the market promoted a powerful weapon against community and family: individualism. Individuals were freed of the power of family and community. State and market would provide rights, protection, education, justice, jobs, and health care.

The joke is that individualists are portrayed as fighters against the state, but in fact individualism is the most important invention of the state and market against the family. Individuals have been freed from family and community, but now are much more vulnerable to state and market. Market and state shape more and more of our even our romantic and sexual expectations and consequences. More and more community and family are replaced by groups from the state (nationalism) or the market (job, sports team, or consumer tribe).

Are we better for it or not? It's a two edged sword.


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