Posted by: dacalu | 22 October 2012

Building Community

In the last post, I began talking about the importance of community and how I believe we’ve gone astray in our pursuit of individual entitlements.  Here I turn to questions of what makes communities and what makes communities healthy.

As I look at the people around me, as I listen to their complaints, I see purposelessness, loneliness, and confusion.  Community can help.  Really.  Community can provide a sense of fellowship and direction.  None of us is really capable of living well alone.  We need others.

Communities do not exist on their own, however.  We’ve wandered into a strange philosophy that acts as though churches, states, and corporations were not made up of individuals – as though they had their own independent moral rules and made choices by themselves.  It isn’t so.  We make up the communities to which we belong.  We shape and steer them.  No, it’s not easy or simple, but I don’t think there are magical entities, angels or demons who are added to the mix.  The angels and demons exist inside each one of us.  Bad organizations are made up of bad people – mostly apathetic and intentionally ignorant people who want some good for themselves and don’t notice that it might be bad for others.  Good organizations are made up of good people – who make sacrifices to see that everyone benefits.

There is a cliché, common because it is true.  “What you feed grows and what you starve dies.”  We should feed good communities and starve bad ones.  How do we do this?

 

1) Participation.  Communities require people to identify with them, to join in common activities and speak up for them. (Common Identity and Common Action)

2) Money.  Whether you call it taxing or tithing or offering, communities operate because wealth is put into them.  Some of this wealth is social capital and some is goods, but much is just plain old money.  Just as a bankrupt individual exercises no choice and no agency with money, so a bankrupt organization is not and does not when it has no money.  Like individuals, groups learn how to make good choices by exercising choice and then reflecting on it.  (Common Wealth)

3) Advocacy.  The will of organizations is made up of the will of people.  Historically, this will has been expressed indirectly through taxes and rebellions.  Luckily, we live in an age when we can advocate with our voices in an effective and direct manner.  We elect representatives and vote on propositions. (Common Will)

4) Ministers.  Notably this word comes from the Latin for “lesser.”  Magisters decide; ministers carry out their will.  Any large organization will support people financially so that they can do things on behalf of the group.  They often take the title bureaucrat or civil servant.  Once the group starts doing heavy lifting, they need people who can devote their time to overseeing the common action, common wealth, and common will.

 

We each want things that only we all can do.  We want common culture, communication, trade, common law, predictability, safety, and a hundred other common goods.  We want nice things.  We get those things from the communities we participate in but only when we invest in them.

That means compromise.  That means letting go of personal ownership – not all personal ownership, just some.  It means giving up individual priorities sometimes for the sake of common actions.  It means giving up private wealth for the sake of common wealth.  It means giving up some privacy for the sake of influencing others with your opinions.  It means trusting others to work for the community and not just for themselves.

Our world, but the U.S. in particular lives in constant fear that someone is going to take advantage of us.  This fear is encouraged by people who, for reasons completely foreign to me, want you to see US as THEM.  They want you to view the state (or the church…) as some other entity that’s trying to take advantage of you.

It’s a philosophy that kills communities. No one is willing to give up the common goods (in the country that means roads, education, regulated trade, military, communications, …  In the church it means tradition, consistency, support…).  At the same time, they begin to believe that everyone else is gaming the system, so why shouldn’t they.  First they see ministers primarily as tools to get their will.  They elect representatives who cannot think for themselves and cannot compromise.  Second, they start to see the government as a tool for accomplishing personal goals. They refuse to give money to anything but projects they support.  This means the community cannot do what it was supposed to.  It can’t achieve a common will.  It cannot use common resources to achieve common goals.  Consequently, the community sickens and dies. (It’s called “the tragedy of the commons.”)

We need things that can only be achieved by coordinated action.  We can set up balanced control of that resource or allow a few people – blessed by God or chance – to take control.  If they do, they can dictate terms. The point of the community is that WE exist as an entity.  WE have priorities.  WE give up some private rights so that no one of us can take away all the rights of the others.  There is a loosening of the ego and a willingness to compromise that means each of us gets some of what we want – even though none us can have all of what we want.

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