Good Neighbours –
The Democracy of Everyday Life in America
By Nancy L. Rosenblum
Princeton University Press – £24.95
Once an individual has extended to another enough consideration to hear him out for a moment, some kind of bond of mutual obligation is established… once this new extended bond is granted, grudgingly or willingly, still further claims for social or material indulgence can be made.
(‘Who Is My Neighbour – Proximity’)
Throughout this book, Nancy Rosenblum endeavours to explore how encounters betwixt a menagerie of neighbours might do much to create an everyday semblance of so-called democracy. A political idiom ”which has been with us since the beginning of American history and is expressed in settler, immigrant, and suburban narratives and in novels, poetry, and popular culture.”
Assuming that the rest of the world do not have neighbours, Good Neighbours – The Democracy of Everyday Life in America, is, as its title might suggest, unequivocally anchored within the Union that is North America. This is absolutely fair enough, but because America is, and has been renowned for being quintessentially isolationist for so long, I’d have thought a (new) book that addresses its global neighbours would have been a little more humbling.
If not appropriate, given recent developments in the US.
Reason being, President elect, Donald Trump’s administration will undoubtedly initiate an increasingly inward political posture, that if nothing else, will do much to alienate its (global) neighbours; be they within the close proximity of Mexico and Canada, or further afield, say Europe.
That Trump, and a great many of his supporters want to literally build a wall along America’s entire border with Mexico (and have Mexico ”pay for it”) is a dangerous and degrading example of said alienation.
After all, did the Berlin Wall not teach us anything?
In the seventh chapter ‘Betrayal,’ under the sub-heading ‘World without Walls,’ Rosenblum writes: ”Mistrust suffuses the atmosphere. The sounds we make, people who visit, our children’s friends, our comings and goings, even our jokes, can be insinuating, potential evidence of political disloyalty, or infraction of some rule, just a bad attitude. ”When a guest comes to the apartment it is everyone’s business, a mini-event, a source of gossip and argument. Neighbours may make themselves blind and mute; like residents in violent inner cities, they are ”frozen in place.””
Although ”frozen in pace,” isn’t exactly how I’d describe the so-called neighbourly behaviour of citizens amid America’s ”violent inner cities” since last Tuesday’s (disastrous) election result. Yesterday’s street riots in Portland, Oregon by Democrats, and the pending Klu Klux Klan Rally in North Carolina by Republicans (in celebration of Trump’s victory), being just a couple of examples of the country’s ever increasing division. A division, heart-breakingly brought to bear during Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of that great American city, New Orleans.
Much to Rosenblum’s credit though, this is more than aptly and honestly addressed in the chapter, ‘Disaster,’ where she writes: ”When survivors and onlookers speak of ”Katrina” they are referring to the storm as a personified agent […] but not just that. Too much hubris, error, indifference, political infighting, and malfeasance were apparent to attribute the disaster to the hurricane alone. Victims, certainly, do not forget officials who disavow responsibility, transfer blame, offer no apology, shield themselves with lawyers – political decisions before and responses afterwards are made by men and women, not brute nature.
Disasters are said to be the great equaliser, but demographics are part of the autopsy of disaster. Politics and social environment are risk factors in every catastrophe, and the victims ”are primarily social outcasts – the elderly, the poor, and the isolated… invisible people.””
No matter how you look at it, this book will, to a certain degree, trigger many a sociological in-depth-debate. A debate that will unquestionably continue to remain resoundingly global – for many, many, years to come.