We often over-romanticize the past. However, there is one aspect that I believe we over-demonize and that is, in a small town, everybody knew everybody’s business. Now while this is surely irksome and had it’s problems I think we often forget that there were a lot of positives too.
When you’re part of a tight nit community like that, it’s easier to stay within a value system. It’s far more difficult to lie, cheat, and steal when you have an entire community keeping an eye on you. Some would argue that this is an oppressive system trying to keep you down. And, of course, this was true in certain places. Human beings are, naturally, imperfect beings and not all value systems are moral and just. The negative look upon interracial marriage would be a prime example.
However, I would argue in most cases, it was a net positive as it would help you and your neighbors alike to overcome temptations. Which, overall, would strengthen the community by strengthening individuals and their families. Which is what the founders envisioned.
Then there is the matter of hardships. The benefit of having this small town where everybody knows everybody is when things go to hell in a hand basket. The news travels fast. The community would then band together to help you and your family in your time of need. A need that they would understand well, having personal knowledge of the situation. Not some number on a screen like we have now.
For better and for worse, these communities were very good at ostracizing those who didn’t fit in their value system. This is a double edged sword as it could be both to the benefit and detriment to a community. Cutting off those who brought harm to the community was a good disincentive and a way to keep the community healthy. The obvious problem is stagnation as you risk leaving out new ideas that would help the community learn and grow.
So, in this day in age, where a large group of Americans, mostly in big cities, don’t know and don’t care who their neighbors are. Maybe a look to the past could actually be exactly what we need.