Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Community -- Building A Better Future

Community has been the basic human social unit for as long as there have been human beings. We may call community by different names, but at the foundation of all of them is the notion of a group formed and maintained for mutual interest and support. That's really all a community is.

The interests of the community are always in tension with the interests of the individual. That tension can be destructive as well as creative. The upshot, however, is the survival of the community whether or not the individual is so lucky. Often enough, however, communities are unable to survive the pressures on them from outside.

The United States has a deplorable reputation for the the destruction of pre-existing communities, whole cities, and even entire nations so as to be able to impose by main force and command a new community, city or nation more closely aligned with the interests of the United States of America. The destruction of what is in order to create what will be has been a hallmark of the American ethos since long before the establishment of the United States, and it has often been accomplished through extreme levels of violence, brutality and genocide.

Communities, whole cities, and even nations have disappeared under the not-so-gentle ministrations of American authority, only to be remade into something new and more compliant to the will of the USofA.

And yet a few pre-existing communities have managed to survive.

One of them is not far from where I live now: Acoma

Part of Sky City -- Acoma Pueblo, NM
The Sky City portion of the Acoma Pueblo was attacked and largely destroyed in 1598 by Don Juan de Onate in revenge for the natives' daring to defend themselves from Spanish encroachment and control. But as one can plainly see, the Acoma Pueblo people are resilient. They rebuilt the pueblo on the mesa-top, and they have extended communities throughout the region. They survived. Their communities survived despite numerous efforts to destroy them.

So it is with the 19 surviving Indian Pueblos in New Mexico, the remnants of what were once hundreds.

The Pueblo communities that have survived exist in at least two worlds simultaneously (it's probably more than that, but two will do for the purposes of this discussion). They exist in the Modern World as thoroughly as any contemporary community, and they exist in their historical or traditional world at the same time, intertwined with modern trappings.

The traditional community is built on family and clan relationships, and between those relationships and a deep-seated spiritual life that is largely connected with the land and cycles of nature. The community bonds have stayed strong through almost impossible challenges, and that is one reason I think Pueblo communities have survived as well as they have over the centuries.

In the case of Acoma, we're talking at least 800 years, and quite possibly much longer. Acoma's Sky City is reputed to be the "oldest still-inhabited town in North America." The descendants of its founders still live there, or at least they live nearby. Sky City itself has few residents today as most of the Acoma Pueblo people now live on the plain below the mesa or in the scattered cities of the region. The community, however, is not the village on top of the mesa. It never was. The community is the relationships mentioned earlier and the spiritual lives of the Acoma people. The community exists within the people.

Most lasting communities follow much the same pattern of family and clan relationships together with active spiritual lives.

Many intentional communities have tried to develop similar outlooks and relationships, and they have discovered how difficult it is to do intentionally. It may be even more difficult to accomplish spontaneously. And yet it is human nature to form communities of mutual interest and assistance, and sometimes those communities survive.

One of the miracles of Occupy (as well as its precursors) was the spontaneous appearance of hundreds of intentional communities all over the world. Most if not all of the physical aspects of those communities were deliberately -- and often brutally -- destroyed by a bevy of authorities which saw them as threats. But the idea was not destroyed, it was dispersed far and wide; and the people involved in those efforts at forming intentional communities have often maintained their communities without specific locations or encampments. Occupy continues, in other words, as nascent communities of mutual interest and assistance all over the world. The idea survives, and in many respects, the Occupy community survives.

One of Occupy's difficulties, however, has been its rejection of hierarchy and everything that goes with it. Many people are so firmly adapted to and are much more comfortable with hierarchy than they are with the far looser horizontal arrangements of the essentially anarchist Occupy model. Consequently, if the community formation effort inspired by Occupy is to continue over the long term, there will of necessity have to be provisions made for communities more accustomed to and comfortable with hierarchy.

But I don't think that's something that needs to be focused on as much as the necessity for community formation, support and persistence, regardless of the organizational model.

At bottom, community is based on family -- whether it's a family of blood relations or an "intentional" family of like minded and mutually supportive individuals acting in concert; on clan -- again whether clans are inherent in blood-lines or developed through voluntary associations -- and spirituality, which may mean shared interests in and regard for matters beyond ordinary comprehension. The ineffable as it were.

Of course there are plenty of extant communities that have nothing to do with Occupy or any movement to intentional communities; one does not have to start from scratch to form communities, but the individual would do well to become more fully involved in extant communities which best reflect the individual's ideals. Not all communities will welcome all would-be participants however. Rejection is the bane of would-be communitarians.

Rejection can often lead to conflict, and conflict can often interfere with the fourth value of this series: Peace.

[To be continued...]

No comments:

Post a Comment