The Community of People -- Our Only Real Asset
Homes, money, income, livelihood, health, youth, enjoyment, control and a myriad of other illusory constants in our drastically changing world are neither secure nor are they stable. What we have taken for granted is now slipping away. All that is left is ourselves. We are all in this together.
In this series of essays, I will describe my vision of community in terms of the challenges and obstacles that generally afflict it. My goal is to assist the development of a meaningful alternative to the present non-functioning social structure of the western world.
Ultimately, everything we do is affected in one way or another by its cost. Anything that is consumed has its cost. Even the air we breathe, usually considered free, has a hidden, yet substantial cost. Considering the environmental pollution and the impact it has on our lungs, skin, eyes, and other organs through toxic stress, allergic reaction, and the reduction of brain capacity due to decreased oxygen supply, air costs us quite a lot! Obviously food, clothes, homes, transportation, utilities, entertainment, health and so on have their price.
Although it sometimes sounds too materialistic for idealists to swallow, I feel that every community rises or falls on its economic basis. I do not mean community in this sense to be a group of houses in a complex for in that case the economy of your neighbor does not affect you and even their total bankruptcy will either usher in a new set of neighbors or an empty home for some time. The community I speak of fits more within the traditional village model. Even if the village is small, it still depends on its members for its economic survival. When a village can no longer sustain its members economically, they all leave and the village dies.
Economy is not necessarily tied to money, although one of the greatest problems in the modern world is the paper currency society. Since the monetary instruments are no longer linked to real value goods, it is easy to manipulate paper in the form of impersonal numbers in a computer system. The most solid form of economy is that which is directly linked to real value. For example, when the coins themselves are worth exactly their face value, as they were in the past when gold and silver were the only real tender, inflation, deflation and scores of other modern monetary diseases cannot exist. Also, it becomes harder for larger groups of individuals to accumulate wealth as it is a physical mass rather than a number on a balance sheet.
Naturally, in the past when there were gold and silver coins there was also a lot of poverty and exploitation. I am not suggesting we return to this unjust system.
If you examine the needs within a village and the capacities of each of its members, we see that food is produced and traded for other forms of food, goods or services. Some perform services, some trade goods, some produce items of need. Everyone potentially has a productive work to perform that engages them and brings in the needs of life. The success of the barter system, even amongst people in this modern age, is not difficult to understand. When everyone acts in whatever manner they can to produce what they can there is almost always someone who needs their work.
Thus one could initially conclude that a successful community is one that is based on each person having a part to play in the economic prosperity of the group.
Considering this, if a community were to initially develop in a traditionally organic manner and consume its own production, it would be able to survive in most circumstances. Naturally, one has to factor in the risks associated with the changing climate, increasing ocean levels, or other unexpected natural disturbances that can hinder productivity. To this end another village industry is borne -- disaster preparation.
However, in any working economy whatever is produced has to be consumed. Unless there is a flow, inventory will grow and this will invite bankruptcy. If the community depends on purchases from a nearby store and all its members work elsewhere and bring money in to the village area, one is simply reproducing the usual societal model presently existing and has done nothing to create community. Any group of people coming together simply to live in the same place are missing the essence of community. Granted, it might be nice to live together, but if there is interpersonal friction, as there will be, or a change of economic status such as a loss of work or capacity, as there will be, the reason for living in such a group will evaporate and the people will leave. Convincing someone else to join the “group” and purchase the departing families home may be more difficult that initially imagined and worse, after a short while all the original friends who gathered to make the community will be gone leaving shells of living arrangements behind.
At this moment in time, it might be that the community can find strength and stability in avoiding the external chaos that can occur when people lose their capacity to maintain themselves in a satisfactory manner. In such situations, simply providing a means to escape from economic depression is a marvelous thing.
Neither I, nor anyone, can provide a cookie cutter description of creating community. I can simply discuss some issues and participate in the mature reasoning behind any community development. One has to balance initial enthusiasm with the harsh reality of human motivation. If one is aware of one’s personal and communal limitations, one can move forward in any situation with an optimal potential for success.