small networks

Small networks

“To live in community, wherever, that’s the only thing that matters”
(Plinio Martini, “Not Beginning and Not Ending”, Zurich, 1974)


In the industrialised countries, a form of living and cohabitation has developed over the last hundred years, which is becoming increasingly problematic for both individuals and society: the more or less isolated life in small families.

Historically, the small family was one of the prerequisites for economic expansion: it allowed the individual to develop the mobility that is adapted to a differentiated and at the same time intertwined industrial society; mobility both in the hierarchy of the working world (“ascender”) and in space (movements to the economic centres).

In earlier epochs, in the old farming villages and small towns, but also in the workers’ settlements of the 19th and 20th centuries, there were still intensive and stable social relationships in the immediate surroundings. The individual was embedded (but also included) in a network of solidarity (but also social control). The industrial society has destroyed this way of life. The social advancer – ideal first of the bourgeois class, then of society as a whole – had to destroy this solidarity. Separation was the price he paid for social and spatial mobility. The prize was paid above all by the members of his family, his wife, children and parents. They lost the experience area, the diversity and security, the “warmth” of the old family.

Encapsulation – Spin-off

The destroyed settlement structure of our conurbations is a reflection of the inhibited social contacts: individuals react to the lack of nest warmth, to the complicated, unmanageable economic and social conditions and dependencies by isolating themselves. A detailed investigation by the US National Committee Against Mental Illness provides us with a worrying insight into the alarmingly high number of “socially disabled”. The group of the sick and injured, disabled and drug addicts account for at least 20% of the total US population, i. e. about 40 million people.

In Europe, where the living conditions have remained clearer and the industrial society is more likely to be relegated, the comparative figures are likely to be lower. But here too, however, social problems are increasing faster than economic productivity. The notion of the classical national economy, according to which the growing productive power of the industrial society will ultimately automatically improve the lot of the poorer classes and marginalized groups, is no longer tenable – not least in view of the foreseeable limits to economic growth.

Nevertheless, the economic expansion continues unabated. It is – still – the declared goal of all governments. In modern countries, more than 90% of the labour force today work as “employed persons”, who are largely excluded from business decisions. Two-thirds of the population live in rented apartments and usually have no way of expressing and enforcing their housing requirements. This concentration of power in a “society of organisations” means that the individual loses sight and self-confidence.

In this reference network, the small family proves to be such a weak network that the individual human being falls into emptiness with every deviation from the norm of the performance society – such as the elderly, the sick, Debile, socially weakened or injured, young people with behavioural disorders – and must be taken care of by the state welfare system. The result: the problem of overburdening the state grows with the number of people who fall victim to expansion. Like a cancer, this process of exclusion from the human community is growing in a bureaucratically managed world. (…)


However, the so-called “healthy people” also suffer from the “catch-as-catch-can” of our performance-oriented society. A hierarchical performance-based society contains a multitude of frightening elements that burden our human relationships. For example, everyone is at risk of losing their performance. This modern primordial fear also shapes the behaviour of the small family; the threat to existence of the father is expressed, for example, in his authoritarian attitude. But other, novel dangers also frighten today’s people: the insane armaments potential, the millions of people who are starving while food and goods production is steadily increasing, the plundering and destruction of the environment by the consumer society, the almost total dependence on opaque economic powers, the refined division of labor, which has always left us far behind in our efforts to reduce the risk of human error.