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Selfish or Self-Actualized?

The Globe and Mail reports that for the first time in Canadian history, there are more households consisting of singles than families with children. More:

This abundance of choice may lead to a collision of values: Those who live alone, especially if they’re healthy and financially secure in an urban setting, tout its freedoms and opportunities for self-realization.

Others predict solos will regret it later, when they begin craving marriage and children or are left infirm and uncared-for in old age.

Some critics of the new wave of singles look askance at the formation of solo ghettos dominated by careerist “transient twentysomethings” who raise dogs, not children. An article last year in Toronto weekly The Grid asked, “Is Liberty Village family-unfriendly?”

One commenter fired back, “Aren’t we allowed to have neighbourhoods too? You don’t hear us complaining about feeling unwelcome in your ‘family-friendly’ residential neighbourhoods with schools and big houses. A lot of us can’t afford houses in Toronto anyway.”


Andy Rosso, a 37-year-old cameraman, has lived on his own for a decade in Toronto. “It’s not 1975, where if you were 27 and you didn’t have four kids, you were washed up,” he says. “You’re trying to get yourself right before you move onto the next stage of your life.”

While Mr. Rosso isn’t opposed to living with somebody, the second bedroom in his Liberty Village townhouse is occupied by golf clubs for the time being.

“I look at it from the perspective of not wearing pants a lot, which is good,” he jokes about his bachelor pad. “You can do what you want. You’re on your own clock.

“It seems like a selfish thing to say, but it’s indicative of our generation. Is it selfish, or on the road to self-actualization? What’s the difference between the two?”

Well, if 37-year-old cameramen can’t freely walk around in their underpants, then the Pope will have won. But Rosso’s question about whether or not living solo is a sign of selfishness or self-actualization is a good one. The reader who sent me that link adds:

I do believe that the decline of organized religion is connected with other trends mentioned in your posts and comments. I’m thinking of the reduced tendency to join organizations and group efforts generally. Some people mentioned fraternal organizations. I can vouch for the fact that local environmental organizations in my neck of the woods have largely petered out (yes there are still some but a lot fewer). This is in spite of the fact that one would think that the Internet and social media should make it easier to mobilize people (think of the olden days when you had to sit down by a land line with a membership list and make dozens of phone calls). A decline in availability of funds for staff of such organizations is part of the issue, but my no means all of it.

Another example: remember the Occupy movement? What happened to it? Whatever one may think of it, it didn’t have the energy to last more than a few months. Compare this with, say, the civil rights movement, and various peace movements in the 60s-80s (Vietnam, nuclear freeze, Latin America). They were able to keep at it for years.

Note that all of the above examples I have mentioned are more left-wing, you might say… this inability to keep people together is not just affecting traditional religion, marriage, and other institutions. It’s a broad-based phenomenon.

Then there’s your architecture post. The single-occupier condos described in the Globe article are part of the same phenomenon as the McMansions you linked to. Both have replaced the combination of modest homes and vibrant civic spaces. Most of what’s being built are McMansions, shoebox condos, and big box retail. There is a real trend to ‘cocooning’ – sticking with work and entertainment such as video games, hooking up, and the gym. I don’t know what role social media plays in this but maybe it reinforces people’s identification with lifestyle enclaves based upon shared recreational interests. Most of us don’t work together and many of us (I won’t say most because the proportion of the population living solo is not a majority at least yet) don’t live together because we don’t really need each other (i.e. for basic living tasks that used to require co-operation and shared effort).

In such a culture there can be no place for such things as worship or solidarity. There are only clients and service providers.

In terms of social breakdown, I don’t think that we are necessarily going into chaos or increased crime. In fact, many of these indicators have gone down since the 1970s (although they are still above pre-1960s levels). I don’t even think that we are more promiscuous than the 1970s and there’s a case to be made that we may even be less sexually active (at least with actual other people). Those of us who are employed work hard. I think crime may continue to decrease because now there’s cameras everywhere and perpetrators are more likely to be identified and caught.

But there is a kind of ominous tone to all of this nonetheless. It is a kind of technological diminution of our humanity, all of a piece with genetic engineering and reproductive technology. We live by our own preferences, catered to by service providers and are lonelier than ever.

Lots to think about here. Go.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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