Amoral Familism

This is an expression coined by an American Social Scientist, Edward Banfield,whose e-book (published back in 1955) was forwarded to me recently by a friend of mine. This phrase describes a social behaviour entirely conditioned by economic interests of the nuclear family. The book makes certain interesting points about the times we live in. It exposes a stunning truth about people who abandon and abdicate their responsibilities towards the society purely due to self-centric and family centric attitudes. The book is based on the author’s research about a society in a remote Italian village. It’s a place where no one is interested in anything beyond their families. They won’t lend any help to anyone unless they(or their family) have something to gain from it. They don’t take interest in any activity which is meant for the common good of the village. In fact they would be suspicious of guys who show such interests.   The author attributes their backwardness to this attitude. Apparently,  even today this deep-rooted culture is hampering industrial growth in Italy.

This book provoked me into examining my immediate environment and people, which I will share in this post.

Our housing society is a perfect example of  the ethos of amoral familism. The present team of management committee is 4 years old and I’m one of the members. Every year I try my best to bring in new faces to the committee and believe me I never succeeded. Here are a few typical creative excuses given by people when pressed to work in the committee:

– Oh, you guys are doing a great job. Why bring in new people? Rest assured that whatever you guys decide, we will support.(one cannot be more diplomatic than this in evading responsibility!)

-I have problems of my own to look after. Please don’t bother me ( you cannot argue with such guys!)

-I travel a lot. please look for someone else.( A very clever ploy to put an end to the discussion)

– No chance; don’t think I’m idle. I’m a busy man ( as if everybody in the committee is idling otherwise!)

As is to be expected, no one bothered to take any interest in any of  the committee’s decisions as long as the issues were of general nature and not of any consequence to individuals.  But then one fine day all hell broke loose as everyone was up in arms against a decision taken by the management committee to get rid of cell phone towers from our building terrace. They could not be pacified even after we explained that the service providers violated all radiation norms. Why did it become an emotional issue? Because it affected people’s personal convenience. (Several Vodafone clients had to go without cell phone service). Amazingly, the same set of people who didn’t care about the common issues of  the housing colony got worked up the moment their personal convenience was affected!

An even more disgusting example was narrated by a journalist recently. Bombay has experienced high tides in the past one week flooding the adjacent roads. Several passers-by along the Marine Drive area thronged to the sea-side to experience the thrill of  witnessing the rough sea and the big waves in action. And … it turned out to be a misadventure! No, they were not complaining about the fact that they got drenched, which was to be expected anyway. They had their shock of their lives when tons of rubbish, plastic bottles, bottle caps, condoms, chappals,clothes and what have you splashed on the roads and the thronging crowds! Obviously the sea is throwing back with vengence whatever rubbish was thrown into it by the irresponsible citizens! Newspapers reported that 56 tons of debris was collected in just a few days along the Mumbai coast! This speaks volumes(or is it tons!)about the Indian mentality to keep their homes clean at the expense of our surroundings. I guess this is yet another instance of amoral familism.

I’m sure the readers will have their own tales to tell.


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