This is from Andrew Sullivan:
In America, as Charles Murray has shown in his extraordinary book, Coming Apart, the young and the smart and the talented — the people who would once have formed the core of these small towns — have long since fled to distant colleges and cities. They don’t come back. They would once have been the police chief or the town librarian or the school principal. They once helped make the town a well-run place with a clear identity, where the same families and networks lived together, died together, belonged together. These connections have attenuated … as economics supplants culture, as efficiency erases the individuality of inefficient places, as Amazon rips the heart out of shopping districts, as the smartphone removes us from physical space, and as many more immigrants and their culture alter the feel of a place in ways that disorient those with memories and loyalties.1
I don’t think we can understand the politics of this moment — Brexit, Trump, Le Pen — without noticing this abiding sense of loss. The middling city and small town are going the way of the middle class. Patterns of farming in rural America are being devastated. I loved this English farmer’s account of the changes he is seeing: “The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource.”2
Jobs are vital not simply because of money — but because they give lives meaning, a meaning that now seems so remote people medicate themselves with opiates.3 People are grieving for a lost way of life.4 This is not racist or retrograde or even backward. It is, rather, deeply human. For it is in these places that a deeper identity forms, that Americanness, Britishness, la France profonde, endures. And what we’re seeing right now, across the developed world, is a bid to retain the meaning of a culture and a way of life in the headwinds of faceless, placeless economics.
Place matters. Purpose matters. People matter. “Faceless, placeless economics” is capitalism, a system constructed on, and sustained by, the assumption that money matters most of all; which is why capitalism has always been a bright, shining lie. To paraphrase an itinerant Galilean preacher: man was not made for the economy; the economy was made for man.
1 I could do without Sullivan’s comment about the disruptive influence of immigrants—but that’s a subject for another time.
2 The fact that the phrase “factory farming” even exists is sufficient to indict our entire culture.
3 I am not sure that opiate addiction is directly related to loss of meaning—but again, let’s save that quibble for later.
4 It’s important to recognize that people’s grief is real even if the way of life they are mourning is partly a myth, and even if that way of life was itself rife with injustice.