Small talk and the common experience

“The deeper, macro answer of why a closing bookstore is a loss to freedom, is that free-market societies—at times by compensatory instinct, at times by compulsory instruction—have built, alongside the responsive market with its unending appetite for change, smaller institutions where people can exchange ideas, share spaces, be in contact, feel at home, without any particular institutional endorsement from higher authorities. Restaurants, bookstores, cafés—on a grander scale railway stations, on a lesser one chessboards near park benches—are the sinews of civil society. The great German post-Marxist philosopher Jürgen Habermas, as I wrote in my book about the history of eating at restaurants, believed that those intermediate institutions were where the real work of eighteenth-century mind-making got done. Enlightenment happened more often in a café than a classroom. It still does. It’s an idea that’s been given a more empirical, pragmatic life by the American Robert Putnam, whose best work seems to suggest that the smaller instruments of social capital, like volunteer fire departments and amateur opera societies, are among the most robust predictors of success at honest, democratic government. By atomizing our experience to the point of alienation—or, at best, by creating substitutes for common experience (“you might also like…” lists, Twitter exchanges instead of face-to-face conversations)—we lose the common thread of civil life.”

As reported by Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker. The point he makes is a salient one, conversations and exchanges of ideas happen mostly in intimate settings. Creating spaces in which this can happen is crucial if our social existence is to be successful. Small talk, which often becomes the norm of conversation in large group settings, purely because it is difficult to sustain an in-depth conversation whilst “mingling” is the appetiser to the main meal. Unfortunately at such occasions, we are often left hungry.

To read the whole article go here:

About mumurings

mother, lawyer, philosopher, feminist, writer, artist
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