Losing One’s Sense Of Belonging
“We do not meet one another as persons in the several aspects of our total life, but know one another only fractionally, as the man who fixes the car, or as that girl who serves our lunch…The humanistic reality of others does not, cannot, come through.”
– C. Wright Mills, from a speech in 1954
Below is an excerpt of a speech that the sociologist C. Wright Mills delivered in Canada in 1954. The passages have been taken from The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills, ed. by John Summers (Oxford University Press, 2008), pp.90-91.
“…between the state and the economy on the one hand, and the family and the small community on the other, we find no intermediate associations in which we feel secure and with which we feel powerful. There is little live political struggle. Instead, there is administration above, and the political vacuum below.
“The effective units of power are now the huge corporation, the inaccessible government, the grim military establishment. These centers of power have become larger to the extent that they are effective; and to the extent that they are effective, they have become inaccessible to individuals like us, who would shape by discussion the policies of the organizations to which we belong.
“It is because of the ineffectiveness of the smaller human associations, that the classic liberal public has waned, and is in fact being replaced by a mass society. We feel that we do not belong because we are not – not yet at least, and not entirely – mass men.
“We are losing our sense of belonging because we think that the fabulous techniques of mass communication are not enlarging and animating face-to-face public discussion, but are helping to kill it off. These media – radio and mass magazines, television and the movies – as they now generally prevail, increasingly destroy the reasonable and leisurely human interchange of opinion. They do not often enable the listener or the viewer truly to connect his daily life with the larger realities of the world, nor do they often connect with his troubles. On the contrary, they distract and obscure his chance to understand himself or his world, by fastening his attention span upon artificial frenzies.
“We are losing our sense of belonging because more and more we live in metropolitan areas that are not communities in any real sense of the word, but unplanned monstrosities in which as men and women we are segregated into narrowed routines and milieux. We do not meet one another as persons in the several aspects of our total life, but know one another only fractionally, as the man who fixes the car, or as that girl who serves our lunch, or as the woman who takes care of our child at school. Pre-judgment and prejudice flourish when people meet people only in this segmental manner. The humanistic reality of others does not, cannot, come through.
“In this metropolitan society, we develop, in our defense, a blasé manner that reaches deeper than a manner. We do not, accordingly, experience genuine clash of viewpoint. And when we do, we tend to consider it merely rude. We are sunk in our routines, we do not transcend them, even in discussion, much less by action. We do not gain a view of the structure of our community as a whole and of our role within it. Our cities are composed of narrow slots, and we, as the people in these slots, are more and more confined to our own rather narrow ranges. As we reach for each other, we do so only by stereotype. Each is trapped by his confining circle, each is split from easily identifiable groups. It is for people in such narrow milieux that the mass media can create a pseudo-world beyond, and a pseudo-world within themselves as well.”