Counterfeit Communities

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9 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    To agree on the primacy of the individual is really to agree on a very small thing. It leaves much still in doubt.

    In particular, I reject the idea that because I would wherever possible banish compulsion from social relationships, I am somehow the enemy of community. Does a community become more authentic at the point of a gun? I can’t even take the claim seriously.

    There is, of course, no position of perfect autonomy. But there certainly are better and worse positions, and often, we can move from worse to better. So let’s.Report

  2. I think I’d add to Jason’s point that the strength of community and traditions inherently relies upon the voluntariness of those participating therein. A tradition or community kept alive by virtue of the force of law, or by virtue of a community’s lack of knowledge and understanding of the outside world, or, relatedly, by the simple fact that members of the community don’t even have the ability to choose an alternative tradition or community, is an inherently weak tradition or community. Moreover, it is a tradition or community that relies upon the objectification if its weakest members, ie, those least capable of accessing, much less choosing, an alternative tradition. The wealthiest and/or most powerful will almost always have the opportunity to choose an alternative community or tradition, no matter what strictures may be in place. Meanwhile, the wealthiest and/or most powerful who nonetheless choose to remain – and only the wealthiest and/or most powerful who remain – within the tradition or community retain the ability to ensure that the weak will remain. Equally important, it is the wealthiest and most powerful – and only the wealthiest and most powerful – who will have the authority to alter those traditions or the community or to create new traditions that must be obeyed (and also who may obey them).

    Take, for instance, the concept of “peasant food.” Such food is indubitably the outcome of tradition, and there is certainly something special about making it and eating it as a result, especially because of the skills that were required to develop it in the first place. But was it more sentimentally special when it was eaten almost exclusively by actual peasants because it was what they had to eat, or now, for the people who eat it and cook it even though they could eat or cook something else? Does it matter that the very tradition of “peasant food” comes in part from the way in which the rich and powerful of the Middle Ages created a “tradition” in which they were entitled to the choicest, most tender (and thus easily prepared) cuts of meat?

    I think my point is that, no matter what your moral grounding, it is an ironclad law that society will be structured based upon the decisionmaking of individuals. The ideological question is whether we should leave decisions about creating and enforcing traditions to elite individuals or to the aggregate decisionmaking of all individuals (which, I jump to add, is different from the decisionmaking of a majority of individuals).Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    “But what makes a community “authentic” in liberal and libertarian eyes?”

    Part of the problem is that “community” in the post-internet age means something completely different than “community” in the 50’s.

    I think that we all have lovely daydreams of the endless summer afternoons of the 50’s… mom’s baking a pie, we’re tossing a football around or having a tea party, kids just come over to the back yard to play, everybody knows everybody from school or church.

    Is this community more “authentic” than what we have going on now where we’ve got as many atheists sleeping in on Sunday as Christians sleeping in on Sunday and where the only people you know on your block are the folks in the house on the one side or in the house on the other?

    There’s a lot less segregation today than in the 50’s, mind. There’s a lot more home ownership. There are a lot more chicks in the workforce. And kids don’t go outside anymore because what if they’re abducted by a serial killer in a windowless van?

    What about the community here at OG? Is that “authentic”? It’s opt-in, open to most… I’d say it’s the most “authentic” out of all three examples of community.

    And yet I can see how someone might say that that has nothing to do with what “community” means.

    Perhaps I’d be helped by examples of close-enough-to-ideal communities.

    Point to an ideal Liberal community. What do you have? San Francisco? Queens? The 50’s?

    What would be an ideal Libertarian community? A township of 5,000 in Idaho? Austin? Somalia?Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      @Jaybird, “Part of the problem is that “community” in the post-internet age means something completely different than “community” in the 50’s”

      I would posit that a community (as word describing an object/concept) is much the same as it ever was, and that the problem, post-internet, is not so much that the idea of traditional communities has evolved but that we invoke the word “community” to describe phenomena that are completely new and different.

      Any definition of community must include an idea of immediacy and co-presence between its members. And of being “stuck” together to some degree, which I think get’s at the heart part of the Deneen/Blond sentiment. The sentiment being, or at least a partial aspect of it, that in a culture of hyper-liberalization, in both the market and society, we’ve done away with the “stuck” together mentality. If there’s a problem in my neighborhood, I’ll move away. Problem at work, I’ll change jobs. Problem in the marriage–divorce, and so on. That’s not to say that the new degree of liberty is fully negative, but rather when taken to such a degree, hyper-liberty seems to erode most feelings of social responsibility and community. And so you have libertarians saying leave me alone, or liberals trying to recapture a sense of community by rallying around exotic ideals of social justice, economic equality, environmental stewardship, etc. that float around the ether.

      Communities can be disastrous. Why engage with the “mob” next door when I can escape to a “community” of my choice online? As a result, we have the idea that good walls make good neighbors. And yet it seems like it is precisely this new freedom to opt-in and out that has had the opposite effect of degrading the local/civic/social sphere. The explosion in communication technology combined with hyper-liberalism, while great tools for grass-roots mobilization, seem to corrode actual living, breathing, geographic communities.

      The heavy emphasis upon the state as universal panacea by liberals, while misplaced, at least seems to implicitly recognize the void left by hyper-liberalization.Report

  4. Avatar Tim Ellis says:

    It’s difficult to define a community as “authentic” or “counterfeit,” but I do feel that a certain level of abstraction is necessary for modern society, and this is not a bad thing by any means. Indeed, a certain level of disconnect from the community enables us the liberty of viewing the community for what it is – just as it would be difficult to understand an aquarium if we fish had never lived outside its four walls.

    There is also the matter of time efficiency. To make modern society possible, one certainly does not have the time to forge the depth of connection that would have been possible in the past. The trade off is the breadth of opportunity afforded our newly enlarged and abstracted (through both market and state) communities.

    In a very real way, the story of human progress can be told as a story of specialization. The greater the degree to which each individual member of a community is free to focus on his or her passions and talents, rather than being forced to generalize and provide for every need, the greater the gains to the community at large in terms of progress, and the greater the gains of liberty to the individual members.Report

  5. A wise person said recently that ‘tradition is innovation that succeeds’.Report

  6. Avatar Endevour to Persevere says:

    My attempt at answering Jaybird would be to say that authentic communities are those that come about naturally. The community of my street, my aunts & uncles, my college, etc are communities that I did not choose. They were people who were nearby and shared similar interests, we were thrown together in the course of our lives rather than groups we have specially chosen from an array of options.

    Synthetic communities that are hand picked are hollow and has no emotional weight. When you are thrown together real bonds form rather than the weak bonds of choice and exit.Report