The prescience of Hannah Arendt includes her conclusion, largely based on studying the totalitarian regimes of Stalin and Hitler, that public cohesion capable of standing up to institutional power - whether that power be held by the government, corporations, or the church - is undermined when the stability and orderliness of people’s lives are undermined. It’s a point updated by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. The more fractured our communities, the easier it becomes for organized, established institutions to direct the course of society. Protests against this are only the beginning of a long, hard march against the subsequent injustices that develop, and that march is made more difficult by the fact we adapt so convincingly to horrible conditions, and often consider it a matter of pride to do so.
Where exactly is the point where adaptation ceases to be functional? How long will hungry people starve before they demand their bread? How undrinkable must the water be, how poisoned the air or land, before a community can challenge those making it so?
These are no longer questions that are best decided by individuals, as much as we prize the freedom to construct our own lives.
These are some of the severe social and psychological consequences of “bubble decisions”. Our adaptability contributes to the problem, but so does our mobility. Think about how many people you know who no longer live in the region where they grew up. I personally have both prized and taken advantage of my mobility for over 30 years, and immigration lore in the U.S., where so many came from oppression into opportunity, is planted deep in the historical and cultural psyche. But such stories have another side to them: the devastating effect on community they can create in their wake. If people continually move around their roots never go deep enough to effectively oppose the unjust laws, violations of human rights, or degradation of the environment. True, some of that activism can be retained via the connectivity of the internet, but the realness of place - its “non-bubble reality” - requires swimming in a much deeper current.
It’s well past the time when the ways we de-stabilize our lives and those of others through excessive adaptability and mobility are put under the microscope. Increasingly, such decisions are made without choice, based on survival and blameless to those who pursue them Nonetheless, their impact is still felt. If that impact is to be addressed, it needs to be done via finding new ways to create community cohesion in contemporary times. This is a huge but worthy task: one I suspect will end up creating a social fabric both similar to but uniquely different from the communities we’ve constructed in the past.