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The Big Answer

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The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace

a book by M. Scott Peck

(our site's book review)

Peck says that our age of rugged individualism is an age in which many people don’t really want any friends. They do not trust intimacy. It’s a liability and vulnerability. People all say they have friends, but they merely mean casual acquaintances. Peck does want friends, however, and he desires a society in which openness and honesty prevails. In looking for such a thing, he was transcending the values his parents had passed on to him. He wasn’t sure that what he was looking for even existed. Then he began to stumble upon “varieties of real community.” He liked these, and has been “creating community” ever since.

Our age of rugged individualism is an age in which many people don’t want friends
Our age of rugged individualism is an age in which many people don’t want friends

Peck advocates starting communities in our neighborhoods (also in our schools, churches, etc.). He says once one has a solid community, then is the time for social action. He also says that being is more important than doing. He then starts into some liberal collectivist clichés when pondering about whom to look for to join with. He says—ever so politically correctly: “If you are white, look for blacks. If you are black, look for whites.” (Etc.) This type of idealism will get one an honorable mention in liberal circles and probably an award from Integrationists Weekly (we made that up), but it won’t get the job done at the neighborhood level. One needs to find people one is truly compatible with regardless of color, sex, or political beliefs. To go out of one’s way to seek the people who will be the most difficult to succeed with, one is crippling the process before it starts.

Peck says: If you are white, look for blacks and if you are black, look for whites
Peck says: If you are white, look for blacks and if you are black, look for whites

A much better idea is to start neighborhood communities based upon optimal compatibility of values and ideals. (To achieve this, see Why Register for an MC?.) People in homeowner associations are forever fighting with, arguing with, disparaging and suing others they are near but incompatible with. People in cities often truly dislike various qualities of nearby communities/neighborhoods of people with very different ethnic, religious or political backgrounds, especially if they’re of a different class. Should they give up their likes and dislikes and become politically correct vegetables? No, they’re better off where they are—in separate neighborhoods where they can enjoy the company of people they’re compatible with without having to put on a phony smile and wince. One only lives once. Peck can do it wincing and grinning if he wishes; we’d rather not. (Public schools today are more segregated than they were 50 years ago. People skirted the integrationists' liberalism and found ways to be with those they were comfortable with, by design, by accident, by urban flight, by neighborhood settlement patterns.)

Peck can form a neighborhood of grimacers if he likes; us? No thanks!
Peck can form a neighborhood of grimacers if he likes; us? No thanks!

One thing that doesn’t work in this book—besides the liberal cliques—is that when he defines community, he seems to vacillate back and forth between neighborhoods and whole urban or suburban sectors. Some of our best community thinkers have stated it plainly and wisely: What works best is if neighborhoods are fairly homogenous and full of compatible neighbors, while towns, communities, cities and multi-neighborhood housing developments should contain a heterogeneous mix. We need to support diversity at the community level, not the neighborhood level. It’s hard enough to get interested in relating to and trusting neighbors if they have a lot in common with us. But get too much diversity right next door, and you set yourself up for isolation, conflict, or—in a word—wincing.

Diversity is exactly what communities need to be healthy and vital and civic, and if diversity refers to a variety of classes, races and ethnic backgrounds in a neighborhood that happen to be compatible with one another, then the same applies there. But what are the chances? Many of us have never even seen a close-knit neighborhood with compatible people. Why diminish our chances of such an environment by throwing liberal barriers into the mix?

So, in summary, to the degree Peck is defining community as neighborhoods (which he sometimes implies), his vision of it is unrealistically idealistic, but to the degree he defines community in terms of actual communities (which he also sometimes implies), his vision makes sense since communities contain at least a few neighborhoods. Mixing the two terms like there’s no difference between such contexts is a mistake. Sensitive, honest people in touch with their real feelings and likes and dislikes know better. Setting oneself up to have to cope with a lot of what one dislikes about others’ behavior is foolish. Perhaps Peck likes everything, everyone, and all characteristics and types and races and classes. But is this from extensive, real relating or is it just an ivory tower liberal wet dream?

An ivory tower
An ivory tower

But Peck is right that communities need to remain inclusive and diversified—as a whole. They need to transcend the we-them dichotomy that so often takes hold and artificially pumps up identity and pseudo-self-esteem by defining we as the good and worthy and they as the bad and unworthy. People who don’t feel very good about themselves because of bad self-talk that they carry with them as a legacy from deficient upbringings can easily fall into this trap of projecting negative qualities onto the not-like-us and thereby making themselves look and feel good by comparison. Of course, it’s a hollow gesture, since self-esteem is in no way increased by this little trick. The only things accomplished are that the focus of attention is shifted from their own shortcomings to those of others and they learn to hate and insult more effectively. (If there is anything on earth that can help people transcend the we-them dichotomy and feel a compassionate sense of unity with all mankind better than the MC movement, we haven’t heard about it. See Why Register for an MC? and The Forest Through The Trees and Why Do We Need Communities?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

We wish Peck well with his Foundation for Community Encouragement enterprise, which he hopes will build community and foster world understanding. If the social engineers would follow his example (local grassroots community action as opposed to one-size-fits-all, Second Wave, massified, political collectivist action), it would be a better world.