But back when society was more village-like, for want of a better term, people minded each other more. They knew when you were sick, physically or mentally, and other stuff besides. Nowadays that is less true. One of the prices that may have to be paid for privacy and the dissolution of community is that when you go nuts you are on your own. You face a cliff function with no gradient. One moment everybody’s humoring you. The next moment the SWAT team’s there.
It’s definitely less true. Growing up I knew all the neighbors. We even had neighbors over for dinner, to chat, and would go over there to play. I knew, for instance, about the neighbor next door who’s son had come down with mental illness, probably schizophrenia, though I never heard a diagnosis on that count. He was not a paranoid, I don’t think, and not a problem in the neighborhood. He struggled with it for several years until, unable to take it anymore, he blew a hole in his chest with his dad’s 12 gauge. Needless to say he did not survive.
I was also aware of the mental illness of another neighbor, who through drugs and alcohol, ended up getting hauled off by the police after shooting at Japanese planes he was certain were circling overhead. Somehow back then they managed to pull an armed man out of his attic without the use of a SWAT team too. The police knew of him before the incident, and were trying to convince the realtors that managed that house to evict the family, so they’d become someone else’s problem. Despite the availability of prosecuting him for buying guns illegally, to the best of my knowledge, that never happened. He did not talk to neighbors, except to remind them that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, just in case they weren’t aware, but the neighborhood certainly talked about him.
Today I barely know my neighbors. I know their names, but I don’t know their business, and they don’t know mine. Even as little as 20 years ago we knew our neighbor’s business, because everybody talked to each other. I’m not sure what happened, or what’s been happening, but I am as much a part of the phenomena as anyone else. It’s not like I’ve made an effort to get to know neighbors. Perhaps we put, for some reason, less value on the idea of neighborhood as we used to, at least beyond good school districts and stable housing values. Does moving next to someone mean you should be friends with them? What made that idea go away?