Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
John Lennon, Imagine
John Michael Greer wrote, last week, about the failure of social movements and specifically, community initiatives for change. Now, in my mind, what he was writing about was not really community. Certainly not what I am striving for, in any case, but some of the points he made are still applicable, in that he talked about the fact that many people are not willing to “pay” the associated “costs” of community building:
By this I don’t mean money. Communities need regular inputs of time and effort from their members, or they collapse into mass societies of isolated individuals – roughly speaking, what we’ve got now. Communities also need subtler inputs: a sense of commitment, of shared purpose, of emotional connection, of trust. To gain the benefits of living in community, it’s necessary to sacrifice some part of the autonomy that so many Americans nowadays guard so jealously. The same thing is true of those subsets of community already discussed – political parties, for example, or citizens’ organizations, or any other framework for collective action that’s more than a place for people to hang out and participate when they feel like it.
In this he is absolutely correct. But it is only the beginning of the story. While Greer advocates, throughout the post, for community based, political action – whether in the form of participation in political parties, grassroots activism, or simple, community organizations (clubs, lodges, church organizations) – he is using the word “community” in a way that I would apply the word “neighborhood.” Not that he is actually using the wrong word, but that I and others that advocate for a fundamental shift in the way we live have co-opted the word community to mean something more.
I see two problems with this: Greer is suggesting that because there are instances in our past history where grassroots political action groups have been successful, that in fact, the model is successful. Vera and I both commented, trying to point out that for every success, there are a dozen (or more) failures and that this does not a successful model make. And in fact, that a big part of the reason that these sorts of organizations have fallen by the wayside is that the very people that once believed the could make a difference with action groups have since learned that minor modifications of the status quo (the only thing that these kinds of groups have ever succeeded at) are simply not enough.
So why are there no new models existent? Why have community organizations fallen by the wayside without something else rising up to replace them? In that, I think Greer has pointed out some of the biggest culprits, and in the comments section many more came to light: tv and other modern entertainments distract; mobility (home and job) has made it far more difficult to achieve the types of relationships that these groups rely upon, individualism exaggerated by that lack of relationship.
In response to Greer’s article, Sharon Astyk’s wrote a piece suggesting that we simply don’t have the time, anymore. He pointed out in return that 19th century farmers worked much harder, longer hours than we. While I would not dispute that, there is a key missing there, as well. Farmers in that prior era did work far more hours than we do now, but there is also a qualitative difference: where our work, home life, social circles and family relationships are all segregated, for a 19th Century rural farmer, these networks significantly overlapped or were, in fact, all the same circle. As a result, the investment of time in relationship was a lifelong, day to day piece of the whole. Whereas we have to make that investment intentionally, up-front, and using time that is not already “used up” by other activities.
There is yet another piece missing, however. Anyone that has been reading for a while already knows what I am going to talk about. Sharon writes:
I don’t deny that we’re afraid of community. I don’t deny that many of us who try burn out from exhaustion and others just don’t want other people in our lives. I think Greer’s point that we have to be willing to pay the price – to deal with the fact that community doesn’t just mean working together, it means putting in the hours to talk to your boring neighbor and resolving disputes and being the subject of gossip and putting up with people you don’t like much, when it is easier not to.
How are we supposed to build real community in an environment where we “don’t want other people in our lives,” where it is merely accepted as a given when someone talks about “putting up with” their “boring neighbor” and “people you don’t like much”? This is at the core of our civilization adaption toward social neotony. We no longer see people, we only see other.Every single person in this world has positive and negative traits, behaviors, characteristics. It is up to every single one of us to find those characteristics in others that we find attractive, beneficial, humanizing. Because once we have identified and embraced those positive traits, then the negatives merely become one more aspect of a complex being, one more aspect to love and cherish.
Open, honest communication, acceptance and self-and-other awareness. We each need to find these things before we can even begin to build real community. Because a community based on deceit (self or other) on lies, secrets, and lack of acceptance is NOT community. It is merely neighborhood.