John Dunn

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Atomisation: The Social Unit of Subsistence of One

Friday, 23 Nov 2012

Another equalising force is the competitive pressure on wage costs driving down the social unit of subsistence, beyond the point of reproduction, to the single person household. It is accepted that society is becoming increasingly atomised. Largely brought about by the mobilisation of the female labour force, permitting a social unit of subsistence of one across the genders, the single person household is on the rise as the institution of marriage declines. (Note the apartment boom, as dwelling space is rapidly being allocated to a growing army of single workers in need of barrack space near their place of employment).

In the wake of the social atomisation comes a loosening of the ethical, moral and legal pressures for marriage. Being of no economic benefit, marriage, even co-habitation, are being discarded, as the love relationship is destined to be looked back upon as a relatively short-lived Western custom. (Proving the rule are anomalous exceptions such as gay marriage, lesbian impregnation and so forth as former codes of morality cease to have economic purpose). The break down of former moral shibboleths paved the way for the introduction of the birth control pill, in itself a major contributory factor in the rise of the single worker household. Popular culture adjusts and the ‘love song’ features less and less in popular music, itself becoming a quaint aspectof a by-gone age. Sexual relationships are commodity relationships (perhaps always so under capitalism, but now overtly so), as sexual gratification, through pornography, ‘classified ad’ prostitution and meet-for-sex websites, leaves the back street for the high street, shopping mall and the internet.

Neither must we forget the technology-aided, single worker household. Children apart, home maintenance once needed the full time attention of a housewife, demanding a minimum social unit of subsistence of two people.In a couple of generations, the productivity of home maintenance has been transformed by technology to such an extent that women have been ‘freed’ to enter the job market, reducing the social unit of subsistence to one. Labour-saving devices have proved to be, in reality, labour-reallocation devices. Baking, daily shopping and cooking, clothes washing, carpet beating, coal fires, making and mending clothes represent just a few of the daily chores that have all been replaced by supermarkets, processed food, gas and electric ovens, microwaves, freezers, washing machines, tumble dryers, fitted carpets, vacuum cleaners, central heating, mass-retailed clothing, washable fabrics, casual non-ironed attire – disposable not repairable. In the triumph of technology the vernacular is lost in things such as home recipes handed down the generations, regional styles, traditional dress and so forth. Now we eat the same food and wear the same clothes, resulting in the homogeneity of the inner as well as the outer man.

John Dunn.

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