Community – The essence of community is collaboration in pursuit of the common good. The opposite of community is the pursuit of self-interest to the detriment of the common good. In community, no one should worry if some folks do better than others materially -so long as everyone in the community has their basic needs covered. The disparity in means of support cannot be so great as to suborn slavery or serfdom (an archaic term – today we call this class of people the ‘working-poor’). Poverty and enslavement, whether physical or economic, exist only as a perversion of Nature. Any constellation of individuals exhibiting such phenomena cannot be a community; no matter which species or how they organize, the arrangement will be lacking in the tools necessary for building vital, sustainable communities. These tools are innate to every species born under the sun. The disparity between what one individual gives/receives in the context of their community association will vary naturally – according to their engagement with their community and their ability to contribute on the one hand; according to their community’s engagement with its members and ability to contribute to their welfare on the other.
There is, however, a minimum support obligation belonging to the state-community. Should the state be remiss here, then all bets are off in terms of building vibrant and lasting communities to support it- and the state-community will fall. The Middle East, Africa, Syria, Myanmar – after millennia, they are still killing one another with gusto – thousands, hundreds of thousands of human souls, many of them children being left to die by their state-communities. It is tempting to call leaders like Bassad an ‘animal,’ but no animal belonging to a community of animals is capable of doing to its own kind what Bassad has no reservations about doing to his. There is no word spoken among humans adequate to describe Bassad – though his name closely resembles an English language slang – no words to express the profound misery and sadness he is responsible for.[i] While he is shooting, bombing and gassing the bejesus out of the ‘enemies’ of the Syrian state-community he presides over, he is destroying the blocks he needs to build and maintain Syria’s vitality and social cohesion. How long do you suppose his regime is going to last? I can’t say for certain; but it is inevitable his regime will fall. It is certain that, between now and that day, a lot more Syrian men, women and children are going to suffer, live out their days in fear, then die.
All of which is as unnecessary and self-defeating as it is criminal. Any society that relies on coercion rather than on a just social contract with its citizens for cohesion is on a spiraling downward to chaos and catastrophe. There can be no other outcome –a coercive society is as likely to be successful engendering engagement and collaboration among its citizens as pharaoh was in making good bricks without straw.
What the Family has to teach us about community
Think of the relation between mother and infant. At that stage of development, the infant is wholly reliant on the mother for its needs; and unbeknownst to the infant, he/she is supplying the mother with the best possible returns – hopes and dreams for their future. And every good mother knows that the selfless dedication they accorded their infant children will someday be returned to them: as they see it being paid forward to their grandchildren, they will remember their own experiences and be filled with joy for both their children and their grandchildren.
That describes how love is transferred from generation to generation in the family, and hints at something equally important and mostly ignored by modern social engineering – that family provides the developmental model for viable, progressive and sustainable societies. Although modern social engineering has decided that the individual, not the family, is the atomic building block of society; the family is no less significant than before; it is only that the ignorance of modern social engineering is greater than before and we are actually buying it – not deliberately; but rather passively as we stand by and watch the family institution being enervated.
That society’s focus should be upon the individual at the expense of the family, is, how can I best say it? – INSANE. Whether anyone likes it or not, the family is properly atomic in its relation to Canadian society. The individual is properly atomic to the family. Until the child-individuals in a family leave their family to begin ones of their own, the parents must function as the interface between the home and the community at large. Parents are the buffer between child and society; one that gradually disappears over time, when the children are ready to be independent; NOT when the child is 3 or 4 years old; not until the child has had the opportunity to learn the skills that will ensure their value both as parents and citizens of the community, when their generation takes over the reins from ours. Continuing to short-circuit child development by taking kids away from the home nest too soon is, by all accounts, socially counter-productive.
Here’s the rub: how can we expect to build cohesive societies of individuals whose first formative experiences were acquired in the context of loosely-knit families? How cohesive do you suppose the Canada of tomorrow, the world of tomorrow, is going to be?
The highest social condition is one where the state and the individual are in full symbiotic cooperation. The lowest condition of the social contract is one where one class or group regards the other class or group as a commodity rather than as members of their community. In that case, the social contract will look something like that between the Morlocks and the Eloi in H.G. Wells’ Time Machine.
What people need, and in what order, Maslow’s Pyramid clearly shows. What the state needs, Maslow’s Pyramid clearly maps to. As Maslow’s levels apply to the state, ‘physiological needs, security, community, self-esteem and self-actualization’ are economic means, internal relations, external relations, sense of self (the national vision), and sense of realization (‘We are Canadians – eh?’). As applied to individuals, I understand Maslow’s levels to mean food/shelter/clothing, a safe environment, a sense of community(mutual acceptance, acknowledgement, support), generally feeling good about oneself and one’s prospects (the general absence of worry) and some sense of accomplishment and gratitude for having had the opportunity to make it so.
Poverty and Community
There is no allowance for poverty in Maslow’s Pyramid; people born into and living in poverty began life at a serious disadvantage with respect to their opportunity for enjoying a safe, healthy and happy life. The conditions which attend upon poverty provide poor mould for citizens to set in. Are we not remiss in our tolerance of poverty? What we need do is to see poverty for the social, democratic and human anathema that it is. Poverty is a cancer upon society. Were our societies to behave in a fashion more reconciled with Nature, money would flow from where it is to where it isn’t. It doesn’t.
Poverty’s existence in Canada means that we are a society afflicted. Poverty’s ubiquity in the world means that we are a species afflicted. Its expansion warns that we are losing containment. If that happens, we are in serious trouble: social cohesion, if not derived naturally from the condition of being a citizen, would need to be imposed by society’s institutions.
The more Canadians that live in poverty, the fewer Canadians enjoy the conditions evocative of cohesion/sense of community and the closer we are to becoming a police state. God bless our police, but their operative is ‘to serve and to protect.’ They are not meant to be zoo-keepers any more than animals are meant to live in cages. If the police end up being all we have left holding us together, we’re lost. Given the consequences, it is far better for wealthy and poor alike, if no one is poor.
Poverty is a Symptom
But poverty is not the only challenge we face; it is a symptom of a deeper problem. The derangement of DNA responsible for making cancer cells out of healthy cells is comparable to the human behavioral pathology that gives rise to poverty. It is the notion of continuous growth/expansion without a counterbalancing retractionary phase. When the context is wealth, individual or national, the inevitable result is the concentration of wealth; implying the bereavement of means for many citizens. When the context is population, ours v. other species, the result is the collapse of the species we rely on followed by our own collapse. Our demands upon Nature have long ago exceeded Nature’s ability to answer in the way we need.
Cancer is a pathology that will grow, grow, grow until it kills its host – trouble is, the cancer dies right along with it. If there is no species above us ion the food chain to keep our numbers in check, we might fool ourselves into believing we are above Nature’s predator-prey cycle. We aren’t – but we’re stupid enough to believe we are. We do not seem to realize that the Earth Mother can handle only so many of us; that she is obliged to regulate our numbers should we become too many – and she will, with or without our cooperation. Should we just keep on expanding foot-loose and fancy-free, we will experience a catastrophic resolution to our over-presence.
Our major cities are tantamount to cancer tumours in the body of the Earth Mother: as we cut, clear, and pave her over, we neuter her ability to provide for us. Each time we replace Nature’s constructions with one of our own, we effectively insert a barrier along the boundary where earth meets sky -compromising the exchange processes in continual operation across that boundary. It is no different than the activities that occur across a cell membrane. We are blocking these exchange processes: the reception of nutrients-the expulsion of waste. The Earth Mother is becoming very sick; but it will not die. It will recover its vitality. It will once again become the ‘life-factory’ it was before it got the cancer – when life, with all of its diversity, burst out forth from everywhere and in waves to meet the sunlight. For us to do right by posterity and by all of the other species the Earth’s spirit engenders, we need only change our perspective; our way of viewing the world/Earth Mother and our place within the larger scheme. We are a species; but we are not the only species. We have become too many, while other species now number too few. If we do not take this simple observation into serious account; if we just keep on doing what we have been doing, we will end up just as surprised (and just as dead) as cancer cells. But we don’t have to behave like cancer cells. We have the capacity to change direction, just as we did when we opted to leave the Garden – only then, we chose poorly.
What to do? What to do…
Essentially, any advance in the quality of human-fashioned communities, whether local or global, will be retrograde with respect to the size of our footprint. Our numbers and behaviors have pushed Mother Nature to the breaking point. We simply cannot continue to expand our footprint. We must engage a counterbalancing, phase of retraction over the next decades if we want to keep going and give the next generation a fighting chance, just as the war generations fought to give our generation a chance.
A few of the changes we might consider and expect to pursue, as humanity reconciles with its own and with Nature:
1. We are the only species I am aware of which actively preys upon and subjugates its own kind – extending this grievously unnatural treatment even to our children. A species capable of predatory behaviour upon its own? How does any living thing come to prey upon itself? What can be more unnatural and out of character? What can be more cancer-like? Hmm? Willful violence(as opposed to the self-defence sort), economic and social marginalization, the modern phenomenon of the ‘working-poor,’ wealth inequality – none of things are features of sustainable, vibrant communities. None of these disparities exist in Nature – they are as much a human concoction as the cities and societies we build.
Hey folks, as much as it pains me to point out the obvious -but doesn’t the fact that we are the only species under the sun to exhibit such behaviour tell you we are likely missing the boat somewhere? Because we are no longer acting according to our own natures, the survival tools we get from Nature are rendered ineffective. The game is changed. We are no longer dealing with the ‘routine, day-to-day’ challenges presented by Nature as we go about the business of living, but rather with Nature’s response specifically to our over-presence.
2. We distinguish ourselves, each of us, one from the other, in any way imaginable. Our differences are not antisocial – but our fixation upon them is.
What we have done in in the name of humanity to promote inclusiveness and to protect minorities from oppression, systemic and otherwise, has resulted in precisely the opposite: in these days, people are getting put through the ringer and losing their careers -because they happen to use a word that someone, somewhere, somehow –takes offense to. Good leaders, good public servants, good police officers, good military folks, good teachers and good ministers – good folks working in positions of public trust –are regular casualties these days. Our politicians are afraid to say how they really think and feel in answer to even the simplest and most direct of questions. It does not help that personality politics is in vogue. Political opponents in their legislative assemblies are not at all interested in helping one another, as Canadians, to find solutions to problems, but rather looking for opportunities to spin everything the other side says into a negative sound-bite. And we voters listen to the politicians…no wonder we are divided. There has never been a human born who has not, at one time or another, said something they know was wrong for them to say –wrong because it was false or not the whole story. Whether to your kid, your parent, your best friend – no matter how meaningful these people are in your life, you have at one time or another said something that had a negative sign in front of its value. You spoke in anger, you got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, you were stressed about something else, thinking about something else, in physical pain – in short, you were likely venting the negatives that you had been accumulating and internalizing. You were not speaking your truth, and you know it. We ‘consume’ negatives along with the positives as a matter of course during our daily routines; but we need to expel the negatives coming in from the outside along with the toxins generated by the mind’s ‘metabolic’ processes. What you say in anger is no more representative of your mind’s ‘home’ state than your excrement is of how you generally smell – at least, let’s hope so. The point is, when you vent, you are really only flushing the toilet. Same when someone vents at you. They are only flushing their toilet. In either case, is it not better to turn your back on it and shut the door behind you? ps – don’t forget to turn on the fan!
3. Our fixation upon differences is in part due to the misapplication of the Human Rights Code.
Non-conformity is diversity. Diversity adds to community’s toolset and therefore its value. Diversity is an operative of Nature. The imposition of uniformity is a feature of human societies only. Other species are as uniform as nature requires; but one class does not cultivate it in another class in order to better rule that other class. As Robert Ardrey would attest, diversity is the best hedge a species can make against its own extinction. We need do nothing for human societies to gain from diversity in the way Nature’s society does, except live it.
What sidewalk ants can teach us – if we could only stop stepping on them:
1. Community Opportunity – when you dump an ice cream cone on the sidewalk, you will soon see the nearest anthill erupt with ants dedicated to one purpose: scooping up the loot. There is no indication that any of the ants remain idle, content to let other ants do it; all ants do it. There isn’t one thought of organizing things in such a way that any of the ants might miss out. That would be most unnatural and anti-antish. What is natural is the behaviour of a community of ants who happen upon a dumped ice cream cone. They’ll all show up to take advantage of an opportunity for a treat. None of the ants appear to think it necessary to set up barriers to keep certain ants away.
2 . The ONLY reason we do not behave as naturally, as true to ourselves, as ants do is that we choose not to. We wish to cultivate a self-image different from how we truly are, as if what we truly are is somehow wrong; that what we think to replace it with is much better. But we cannot change Nature or how Nature has contrived us. We can only change appearances. But appearances are insubstantial – they are mental images existing only between peoples’ ears; they are the fodder and the product of ego. I’m trying to be nice here; the truth is, we are the only species in existence that does not act according to our natures –we are acting according to our ego; and ego represents a small fraction of our natures, representing no larger a portion than the root does of the tree. It is our fixation upon ego that makes all of our problems gain substance and take on lives of their own. Ego invites us to hide behind it; in extreme cases shutting the mind’s door to the world and occupying itself with a world entirely of its own making – therefore the persistence in the ‘deification’ of appearance over reality among human individuals and the societies they build.
Ego is the root of the individual, community, nation, world. All things existing separately have an ego. Ego is what differentiates one thing with a soul from all other things with souls. The modern human preoccupation with individual rights has morphed into preoccupation with the rights of ego, and has hijacked our notion of human rights. With our self-absorption, we do not see that the direction our societies are evolving in is the wrong one – we are effectively driving the wrong way up a one-way street; wondering about the increasing frequency of the problems we run into all the while. Mr. Magoo must have felt the same way. Our preoccupation with the rights of the individual has left no one with rights – in particular those of the lower class, since they will not have the money to defend themselves properly in court.
3. The only opportunity that can come of poverty is the institutionalized absence of opportunity –toss in marginalization, both economic and social, for good measure. When’s the last time any of us sat and had a beer with a homeless person?
[i] I tear up every time I recall the image of the young Jordanian soldier carrying the limp body of a 4 year old Syrian boy away from the beach where the bodies of many Syrian refugees appeared after their boat capsized.