Palaces For The People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, And The Decline Of Civic Life, by Eric Klinenberg
This book was immensely disappointing. There are certainly cases to be made about the importance of having safe social spaces where people of various backgrounds can meet and develop some sense of worthwhile social cohesion. To recognize the humanity and essential worth of others, including those we might not deliberately seek out, is something that a good social space allows us to do in a way that also preserves moral decency. The author, as might be imagined, struggles mightily with having the right standards when it comes to social space. Indeed, although both he and I are at least in favor of better social spaces on a theoretical level, our purposes for supporting these spaces and our justifications for them and our religious and political worldviews are entirely antithetical. And it was ultimately the author’s political worldview that sank this book for me, as is so often the case. Where the author makes a case for low-cost measures by which communities can be more unified through worthwhile common spaces, including multi-generational playgrounds, urban farms, libraries, and so on, there is some room for agreement, but too much of this book is spent with the author talking about rubbish and seeking expensive means to support moral decadence, and that is not something I will stand for.
Coming in at just over 200 pages, this book is thankfully not too long because it was barely tolerable to read as short as it was. The author begins with an introduction on the concept of social infrastructure and what it means and what it does. After that comes a discussion of the importance of people having a place to gather (1) and safe spaces to be themselves (2) and get to know others. The author then looks at the importance of places like libraries that allow others to learn together (3) with those they may not know otherwise and the importance of healthy bonds with others as well as with the land (4). The author talks about the need that societies, particularly those as divided as ours is, to have common ground for people to meet on that is comfortable to everyone (5), and frets about the imaginary horrors of global warming and catastrophic climate change (6), and talks about the shallowness of the goals of Facebook and other social media corporate titans (who are themselves too leftist in their own biased interpretations of rules and political behavior) to encourage such places online.
The author’s book is written consistently with a tone of panic that reflects those among the left who bemoan the nation’s divide and think that massive expenditures in social infrastructure will automatically make the country more fond to the sort of leftism that the author supports, having noted with approval the greater degree of liberalism in the past when there was a higher degree of public swimming pools and bath houses for various sorts of immoral connection that are increasingly rare except online at present. Indeed, the authors fails to note that in the past, expenditures on social infrastructure (like libraries) was meant as a way to help people of various immigrant assimilate into the American culture and to become loyal and productive citizens. Those who seek to use social infrastructure to create immoral counterpublic spaces demonstrate by virtue of their corrupt behavior that they do not deserve to have public money spent on their desire to feel safe, but should rather be relegated to marginal spaces that reflect their own moral isolation unless they repent. The author’s catastrophic fears about global warming and climate change and his obvious preference for leftwing places demonstrates that his desire for social infrastructure is a way to pander to the undeserving poor and marginal sources that make up the population that still, for some reason, supports the corrupt Democratic party of the contemporary United States. That is pandering that is best unrewarded with government largess.