Why Do We Need Communities?
an article by our site
Is this man more likely to survive as an individual fighting "heroically" or as part of a cooperating, fire-wielding group? Group/clan living facilitated human survival and evolution.
A community is a social unit of any size that shares common values, or that is situated in a given geographical area (communities of place). It is a group of people who are connected by durable relations that go beyond immediate family ties, and who mutually define that relationship as important to their social identity and practice. Although communities are usually small, community may also refer to large groups, such as national communities, international communities, and virtual communities. For our purposes, we'll ignore national and international communities, but include virtual communities. More community articles.
An online community builds weak network connections between people, not true bonds, and it allows users to be anonymous, so it is not true community, but for some people in nonfunctional IRL communities it is better than nothing, and it has the advantage of allowing those in a specific cybercommunity to be selective about who they let in, while geographical communities are randomly populated, so you take pot luck. However, since cybercommunity people can be anonymous or misrepresent themselves or even have nefarious intent, people tend to treat those they communicate with in a more superficial manner, since misplaced trust can backfire bigtime.
The big exception here is with IRL friends who also relate with each other online. These people get the same amount of respect and trust online and offline, and one could say that their online community has a strong FOUNDATION. Such cybercommunities enhance their IRL communities. There are people that go online to find friends, but they find that cyberrelationships are often hollow and nonfulfilling, so they often stay lonely regardless of how many cyberfriends they accumulate. See Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?. Let's face it—there are limits to the potentials of texting and posting and "liking" and "friending." Cybercommunities are useful but they fail when people attempt to replace IRL communities with online social networking.
True community contains deep respect and true listening for the needs of the other people in the community, reflecting a deep yearning in every human for compassionate understanding from one's fellows. Cybercommunity will help support and extend true IRL friendship and true IRL community, but will rarely generate true IRL friendship or true IRL community.
How Social Isolation Is Killing Us, by Dhruv Khullar, on Dec. 22, 2016, in the New York Times, says that "A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart. Increasingly, however, research confirms our deepest intuition: Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s up to all of us — doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities — to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed." He gives statistics that show how twice as many people feel lonely as they did in the 1980s, and Facebook did not exist then. Perhaps one can conclude that Facebook IS helping us to become lonelier. This website—and MCs—are the obvious cure.
In our past, we needed communities for survival. These communities took the form of clans or tribes from the caveman era to the present (the only real community for millions of people today is their clan or tribe). The difference, as civilizations rose and fell, is that there were many new forms added beyond the clan or tribe, such as the village, which could be from one to several communities, the town, which would contain even more communities, and the cities and megacities, which would contain dozens or hundreds of communities in the same general area. There were—and are—kingdoms, but there aren't as many now as there were centuries ago. These had one royal community for the aristocracy concentrated in palaces or castles, and many peasant communities surrounding the palace, ostensibly under the protection of the aristocracy's knights or guards, for which the peasants got taxed. And of course there were also rural communities where farms were farther apart than homes in towns. Temporary communities such as wagon trains existed for settlers, and mining ("boom towns") communities were often temporary as well, though not always.
The heroic independence and pioneering spirit of families did NOT mean they traveled westward in isolated wagons rather than the temporary communities called wagon trains (for safety smart settlers traveled in wagon TRAINS)
There are communities of need or identity, such as disabled persons, or frail aged people, and you can call residents of a nursing home a community of need. Communities of intent include many types of intentional communities (MCs are the most socially evolved intentional community type, but don't take our word for it: see for yourself). According to Wikipedia, an intentional community is a planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and often follow an alternative lifestyle. They typically share responsibilities and resources. Intentional communities include collective households, cohousing communities, ecovillages, communes, survivalist retreats, kibbutzim, ashrams, and housing cooperatives.
Cohousing playground next to Common House
So are communities still for survival? Yes and no. Some are mostly for convenience, like in many cities. Some cluster around important resources like arable land, water, sea or lake access, railroad access, shopping access, and mineral deposits—this latter is often but not always the temporary variety of community. Some resource-based communities are for survival, like a desert community in the Sahara clustered around an oasis with a watering hole.
People are arguably the most important resource in a community. Everyone needs friends, and most parents need childcare help—whether they realize it or not. But we also need doctors, plumbers, mail carriers, electricians, car repair people, salespeople and waitresses and waiters to wait on us, and hundreds of other people who are specialized in various professions so they'll be valuable to us when we happen to need them. We purchase their services in the spirit of capitalism.
If you pretend to have a well-functioning community based in cyberspace, we say what Henry David Thoreau said: "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." —Henry David Thoreau, one of our foremost American writers (he was a critic of technological development when it pulled people away from natural living and toward materialism).
'If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.' —Henry David Thoreau
Cyberspace is indeed where castles are built in the air. So what, then, is the needed foundation in Thoreau's famous quote? An IRL community. And if you're enough of a cyber-addict to have begun wondering if IRL communities have been rendered obsolete by cybercommunities, read on:
As mentioned, cybercommunities are useful but they fail when people attempt to replace IRL communities with online social networking. If a person is sure their cybercommunity is functioning wonderfully and is filling community and relationship needs just fine even though they've never even met these "friends" IRL, it reflects on the person's standards, morals, expectations, judgment, and wisdom.
Facebook is all about self-presenting. We present ourselves as active, happy, and as winners, regardless of the facts. We want to be popular, so we show a side of ourselves that others will want to meet, to know, to “friend,” and to like. But how much of who we really are is lost when we aim for so much indirect self acceptance (like in The Adjusted American), following the other-directed (like in The Lonely Crowd) motivations of craving peer acceptance?
Isn’t REAL communication telling others how we REALLY feel, rather than presenting ourselves as how we expect others want us to be? Loneliness is all but guaranteed if we present a false picture of ourselves. But for REAL friends (mostly acquired IRL), we share REAL feelings (hopefully) and end up less lonely in the process. Facebook can and does support real self-presenting and false self-presenting as well. But how many people—especially young people still developing identities—can resist the temptation to present the filtered, sanitized version of themselves so that they are popular online? Young people want to be popular and are pretty hesitant to risk this indirect self-acceptance by revealing the full truth of who they are, which, because of their age and/or neuroses or both, they're neither sure about nor secure about anyway.
As you can see, cybercommunities can stand alone when used for the purposes for which they are intended to be used: communicating with others who have common interests. But communities they aren't. Many Facebook addicts try to make cybercommunity be more than it is and when it feels hollow, they get desperate and obsessive and spend enormous amounts of time in a frustrating pursuit of acquiring more "friends" or better "friends" and yet they find that no quantity of such superficial relationship efforts leads to satisfaction or meaning, so they try even harder and become even more obsessive and addicted, trying to squeeze blood from a stone, or building castles in the air but omitting the foundations, as it were.
Trying to squeeze blood from a stone
Let's see: I'll walk around the neighborhood knocking on doors and asking people if they'd like to be my friend, and since this seems desperate and pathetic, they say no thank you, and we know as they are answering why they refused—I seem desperate and pathetic! Or I could go to my church and find out that no one at Holy Cow Church lives anywhere near me. Or I could put an ad in the local paper and get lurkers, skanks, hookers, con men and predators. Or I could peruse my workplace but I soon find out they all live too far away. After a few such experiences I can see why online social networking became so much more attractive than offline social networking. We all escape to online social networks to engage in virtual reality relationships, virtual reality gaming, virtual sexuality, and a virtual life. It's as if we all want to be anywhere but where we are and with anyone but those we live with or live next door to. The decline of community is an established sociological fact. See Bowling Alone.
Facebook encourages false-self actualization, not real self-actualization; and connections, not bonds
Okay, let us take a deep, insightful look at what we've just learned. Randomly populated neighborhoods and communities have an unappealing selection of people to try to be friends with, so we're very attracted to the quick fix of cybercommunity. We are likely to find one or two people in our IRL community we like a little or at least they're fun to go to the pool hall with even if they're not very likable—and they do not live nearby. I'm frustrated about the lack of choices about relationships so I tend to gravitate toward something much easier and more convenient for relationship pursuing: my TV, where I can vicariously live through others' relationships. And then for communication with real people, I cyber-relate. But just how "real" are these "real people"? As discussed, some are simply phonies, others part phony, and a few are real. But which ones? Unless I meet them IRL, I'll never know. An unspoken agreement forms: I won't notice their lies and exaggerations and pretenses if they won't notice mine. MOST people put their best foot forward online, hoping their "friends" never learn that their other foot has just stepped in a little present that their neighbor's dog left them!
MOST people put their best foot forward online, hoping their 'friends' never learn that their other foot has just stepped in a little present that their neighbor's dog left them!
So IRL community is better than online community, but if we check out your neighborhood, we find that the people pickins are slim. As mentioned, as far as being a place to find friends goes, that dog don't hunt.
So IRL community is better than online community, but if we check out your neighborhood, we find that the people pickins are slim; as far as being a place to find friends goes, that dog don't hunt
By now, you're having a simple but meaningful insight about IRL community. It's not only the best type of community. It is also a vital type of community for civic health and human happiness as you'll see here: Building a Community of Citizens: Civil Society in the 21st Century and The Responsive Communitarian Platform. And yet we've demonstrated that your IRL community sucks. What gives? And what's the insight? IRL community is great, best, and needed, granted, but not THAT IRL community. Not yours. Not mine. They suck. So then, WHAT IRL community? There's an old saying: "If you want a thing done well, do it yourself." Random chance, pot luck, the luck of the draw—this is the community planning strategy at work in your current situation. And relative to your community needs, your friendship needs, your relationship needs, your family's needs, this strategy flat-out sucks. But you want it not to suck. You need it not to suck. You may as well face it: If you want your community planning strategy to be good, you're going to have to do it yourself!
And we are not talking about city planning and how things are zoned and what buildings get to be here and what ones there and what housing developments can fit with what infrastructure and road and utilities expansions. It isn't the buildings or houses or their locations that are the issue. It's the one thing nobody plans: what people go where. But planning such a thing is not possible, you say. Tell that to the thousands of intentional communities that dot the American landscape.
Three things are necessary to make such a community happen. Locate a database of people who want to be in one. Communicate with this database and find people you'd like to be in your community with. Decide where you'd like to live, choosing whatever place is most convenient to as many people as possible keeping their current jobs, and move there. Hint: the ideal situation is all members living in the same city and moving to a microcommunity together but people keeping their same jobs. Here are some web pages that explore this in more depth: Home Relocation to Form Microcommunities (MCs) and MCs—Frequently Asked Questions.
MC with Japanese Garden
A summary of current sociological knowledge on the subject could be stated thusly: without community, family life suffers, because isolated families cannot and do not bear the burden of filling all the needs of their members. And, without IRL community, democracy cannot last long since healthy civic society is the core of true democratic life, so we need to take to heart that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty since IRL-community-based healthy civic society is the glue that holds all this together. And, optimizing human, social, ecological, and natural capital at the local level is ultimately what the healthy communities movement is all about. And, local grassroots community action is effective while social engineering via politics is not—people are responsible for their lives, not the government. And, without a bottom-up approach in which social problems are addressed by the citizenry of communities, the society will continue a downward slide into Haves and Have-nots, empowered and disempowered, and more sexism, racism, crime, family problems, etc. It has even turned out that empowering healthy civic society in problem nations is the key to addressing their problems, much more than giving them foreign aid money. See The Rise of Global Civil Society: Building Communities and Nations from the Bottom Up.
But let's look at the most obvious reason of all—often overlooked in community discussions. What are communities for? Creating citizens by having families and nurturing them and instilling good values and ethics and a sense of responsibility. All of this must be done in an IRL community. And yet, social dysfunction statistics demonstrate that neither the nurturing nor the instilling of good values and ethics is working very well. Kids are absorbing bad values from the media and from online influences including cybercommunities. Parents constantly get barraged with bad parenting examples from movies and TV, and most practice a combination of these ideas and those they got from the parenting they received when they were young—and none of these influences teach the best and most effective parenting methods. Hardly any media bestows good parenting advice on parents and most parents don't bother to watch such things when they are on. All this points to our needing less media and fewer cybercommunities and stronger and more effective IRL communities.
Our society is full of dysfunctional relationships in families and in communities, between spouses, lovers and friends, and between kids and parents. (See for yourself in the MC-Related Research section of the MC Articles section of the Articles page.) Parents work and have little time to nurture their kids. Communities exist only physically, but not as viable social groupings. Neighborhoods are groups of strangers putting up with other strangers.
Not that people want it that way. They'd prefer their true friends were close and convenient so they didn't end up in front of the boob tube so often but instead enjoyed relating with real people. There's nothing wrong with their current neighbors—they're fine. But the internet has taught us that there are millions of friends choices available at a click of a button, friends we're very compatible with, and this is more satisfying than forced relationships with incompatible neighbors who happen to live next door, all so you can do your token part for supporting IRL community. Ironically, the internet spoiled us. But in undermining IRL community it undermined not just community but the health of our civic society and of our democracy and even of our families and of our character. Think of these five things not as a collection or aggregate but as a system. Neglect some of these and the system starts manifesting symptoms—exactly the situation the U.S. is in today.
Neighbors are nearby people we are stuck with, not friends we have chosen
No amount of patting ourselves on the back and assuring ourselves that our country and our communities and our families and our relationships are doing just fine will alter the fact that no—they are not. See MC-Related Research in the MC Articles section of the Articles page. And replacing IRL communities with online social networking is starting to make matters much worse. We need IRL community strengthening and family strengthening and parenting strengthening and relationship strengthening. The citizens we are producing have weak character that does not support a healthy civic society or strong community or a vibrant democracy. Insecure, self-absorbed cyber-addicts are abandoning responsibility for community and democracy and instead are just looking out for number one. This is cultural suicide. And yet the IRL community strengthening and family strengthening and parenting strengthening and relationship strengthening America so urgently needs can all be done simultaneously via the MC movement.
In answering our question Why Do We Need IRL Communities?, we need to get back to basics and take a long hard look at ourselves. Are we really being vigilant about our democracy and freedom and communities and families or are we just hoping the politicians will do that for us? (But underneath we guiltily know that civic society doesn't work that way—our civic and community responsibilities cannot be assigned away like one hires a maid to clean our house.) But, back to basics:
- Q: Are we an intelligent species? A: Smart is as smart does. Looking at the world situation and the dysfunctionality everywhere in citizenship, parenting, nurturing, relationships, education, politics, and community, we'd have to answer this one with one word: barely. (We have lots of knowledge and yet we persist in acting like a bunch of baboons bungling around the jungle throwing bananas at one another! But—wait—baboons have a lot more sense than that!)
- Q: Do we know how to raise kids? A: A few do, but most don't and most don't even try to learn—they're too busy on Facebook or watching sports. So the answer is: As a species, we have all the scientifically proven knowledge and expertise we need on the subject, but it's in the hands of the few who cared enough to learn it, while the rest of us limp by making all the same mistakes our parents made with us. (Here we score the exact same as the baboons: they also tend to raise their young the same as they were raised. But wait, humans have language and speech and can learn and pass on learned social improvements to their young. And yet we don't. Curiouser and curiouser . . .)
- Q: We humans design and build wonderful complex devices like jets, cars, and iPhones. Each of these gets EXACTLY what it needs as it is being built and tested—it's the optimal technological environment. And when you notice the huge amount of resources (money, time, materials, labor, etc.) we pour into these devices, it is very clear that we place an extremely high value on these things so they'll be highly functional and not defective. On the other hand, human families and communities are not designed in such a way that they reliably and effectively fill the needs of the people in them as they are being nurtured (except for MCs). Obviously we value jets, cars, and iPhones a lot more highly than we do children. As you can see when reading this website, we know exactly how to design families and communities so that they produce optimal nurturing for children and adults alike. And yet for some reason our culture has all this knowledge at its disposal but it never acts on what it knows. Why is that? A: Neither our media nor our schools cooperate to make sure that no one gets out of high school without knowing the basics of forming successful families and communities that work well, so people get the idea that it just isn't very important. But can we really look at the shape American communities and families and character and civic society are in and buy this "isn't very important" nonsense?
Face it, if you're not beating your kids, you're a rotten parent!
- Q: How much longer will we continue to allow religious fundamentalists to confuse our culture (including our schools and media) about childraising, advising all who will listen that they should throw away their parenting books and use harsh authoritarian discipline on their kids like it advises we do in the Bible? And the media and schools and parents DO listen to these misguided folks, so most people spank their children, in spite of the proven science that warns what a terrible idea that is. (The Bible says to use harsh authoritarian discipline: Prov 23:13: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die." Prov 23:14: "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell [Shoel].") A: Since most people spank their children, they obviously DID take the advice of the fundamentalists, and their parenting books are now either decorating a landfill or—a page at a time—at the bottom of a birdcage catching all the bird feces. See Good News and Bad News. Face it, if you're not beating your kids, you're a rotten parent!
Ret's see—P.E.T. pages go undel Petey, Unconditional Palenting goes undel Tweetie, and Awale Palenting goes undel Jojo
We have IRL communities that are not succeeding in their job of supporting civic health and democracy and we have cybercommunity that is working well to connect people with similar interests but poorly to build true bonds that real community needs. So let's quit trying to get cyber to replace IRL and connections to replace bonds. It reflects poorly on our wisdom and our judgment and our social planning. We can do better. And for inspiration, let's look at some uncomfortable facts:
- Parents are often too busy with work to have time for childcare so they pay someone to do it
- Around 13% of childcare centers are judged to be doing good childcare
- A similarly low percentage of stay-at-home parents are judged to be doing good childcare
- Most family child care homes and babysitters and nannies are also weak at childcare (12% of family child care homes are doing good childcare)
- We know what good childcare is like and what it looks like but the childcare field doesn't pay enough to attract and hold many competant caregivers
- The problem with paying for caregiving is that, like the song Money Can't Buy Me Love says, and like visiting a prostitute to get love, no amount of money can generate love in a human, and the most important characteristic of a caregiver is that they really love the kids (or elders) they care for—it is what inspires growth, security, happiness, and self-actualization the most, as Maslow told us way back in 1962 with Toward a Psychology of Being
- Of course, if we really do value cars, jets, and iPhones more than children, then we mostly just care if they're safe and fed and have a roof over their heads; however, if we deeply value children and wish for love to inspire them to be secure, happy, self-actualized, autonomous people, we want to make sure that those who care for our children really do love them
- Childcare of the very highest quality is—for most people—either unavailable or way too expensive
- Similarly, elder care of the very highest quality is—for most people—either unavailable or way too expensive
- Children are often not that happy with the catch-as-catch-can care they get from any of the sources above, including stay-at-home parents—many parents did not get much love in their childhoods so they find that they have little love to give their kids, so they "make up for it" with bribes like computers, TVs, iPhones, etc.
- Existing IRL communities are mostly irrelevant to the issues raised above, except for being the places parents go to try to find good, affordable childcare and elder care (but what they find is rarely good or affordable)
- All or most of the following require a parental (usually) chauffeur: taking kids to preschool or childcare centers or playdates and even some family child care homes—parents usually consider walking too dangerous since they have no trust in their local community; all this driving adds more pollution to the environment
- Parents and adolescents usually use cars to get to their friends, adding more pollution to the environment
The problem with paying for caregiving is that, like the song Money Can't Buy Me Love says, and like visiting a prostitute to get love, no amount of money can generate love in a human
If we truly value our kids, our elders, and the air we breathe, we're looking at the above facts with sadness and guilt and perhaps even hopelessness, and yet we all do the best that we can—right? If we consider all of the above to be inevitable and unavoidable, then yes. But in truth it is neither inevitable nor unavoidable. We are NOT doing the best that we can, folks. We are doing the best that we're USED TO DOING! As incredible as it sounds, every one of the above issues can be solved easily and you'll save money doing it, but most importantly, your kids and elders will get FREE care and nurtured much better than ever before (and you'll know exactly what you're doing—for once). And you'll save time, see your friends more often, and you'll cease polluting the environment since none of the fixes for the above facts require cars at all!
You now know why you very much NEED an Enhanced IRL Community! Communities used to address at least some of the above issues, but now they are just places to stick houses and to park, with civic health, democracy, and our air quality all considered unavoidable collateral damage from our alienated lifestyles. Embarrassing as it is, the reason for all these bad choices is that we just didn't think it through. But—not to worry—decades of research on the matter has put us in a position to not only clearly think it through, but also come out with a clear solution to the stated dilemmas, one which—as soon as you hear it—will seem rather obvious.
Even though decent IRL community is mostly just a memory of great grandparents and mentioned in history and sociology books, you can have a community much better than even they had and save lots of money doing it. But before you hear the details, do yourself a favor and read, first The Forest Through The Trees, then MCs—Frequently Asked Questions, then Good News and Bad News. Still willing to submit your family to an inadequate, unfulfilling, expensive, polluting lifestyle? Reread the novel. Are you starting to realize what you and your family and your community and your world are missing?!