Archives for posts with tag: community

Basically, there are two meta-rules.

According to the first, if you follow the precepts – to the letter – you get ‘there’.
According to the second, avoiding the forbidden sets the stage for things going your way.

Unfortunately, things are not as simple as they look at first sight.
The first meta-rule deals with individuals. Getting ‘there’ is each individual’s job. They have to do what they are supposed to and failing to fulfill any item banishes the unworthy from the cherished ‘prize’.
The second one is even ‘trickier’. While its precepts must be followed, again, by the individual followers, the ‘spoils’ belong more to the community rather than to the individual. On top of that, they are not ‘certain’! Following the rule only ‘sets the stage’. Disobeying the rule makes it certain that the goal will never be reached while following it only ‘opens the door’. Makes it possible for each of the community members to search for their individual paths towards their particular goals.

Do I need to remember you that both these rules exist only in our heads?
As figments of our imaginations?
And that the difference between the two can be observed at the practical level?

The first rule can never be fulfilled. Nobody can follow it to its ultimate consequence. No matter how hard any of us might try. It would be like measuring with infinite precision. Something will always happen. Go wrong. Throw us back to where we have started.
The second one also leads to disappointment. Some members of the community will inevitably attempt to cut corners. Take the easy way out … Hence the rule needs policing. You’ve certainly witnessed at least on occasion when ‘bad (money) has driven out good’… at least temporarily! Furthermore, some members of the community – while faithfully sticking to the rule, will still fail to get ‘there’. Set their aims too high, didn’t have what it takes… or simply had lots and lots of bad luck! But regardless of the why’s, not getting there still generates disappointment. Usually directed at the rule… and creates a lot of doubt towards the weltanschauung based on the rule…

Which way out?
How to choose?

Would it be helpful to notice that, historically speaking, the communities which have followed the second rule, primum non nocere, have fared decently while those who had attempted to prescribe, and impose, a ‘recipe for happiness’ have invariably failed?
‘Don’t do anything, upon another, which you wouldn’t welcome when done upon you’ versus ‘treat all the others exactly as you would like to be treated yourself’?


In the beginning was the word

– How did you manage to mess things up so thoroughly?
– By allowing too much coherence to slip away. After we – well, some of us, already had a fair understanding about how things worked. About how we got there in the first place.
– Would you care to elaborate?
– Things went on more or less linearly up to when we had learned to speak. That was when it had all started. When we had realized what a start was.
And that was it.
Speaking to each other allowed us to access the second level of consciousness. Self awareness.
Speaking to ourselves – a.k.a. ‘thinking’, gave us the illusion of ‘knowing’.
‘Knowing’ led to ‘knowing better’ and ‘knowing better’ gave birth to arrogance.
For a while, this process had been kept in check by the harsh reality. People, like all living organisms, have certain needs. Basic needs. Food, shelter… During most of our evolution, getting enough food and shelter consumed most of our resources. And time. Only a very small number of people had enough spare time. And energy left for thinking. And only a very small percentage of this already small number of people used their minds to think about anything else but how to preserve their privileged status. Which status was the source of their ‘spare time’ in the first time…
Slowly but surely, those having something else in their minds besides their selfish self interest have come up with a thing called ‘technology’. By carefully, and considerately, watching those who worked, the selfish thinkers have noticed that from time to time and from craftsperson to craftperson there could be noticed small differences in how things were done. Hence the concept of ‘how things are done’. With the natural sequel of ‘let’s do things in a better way’.
Technology made it possible for workers to be more productive. Communities as a whole became more productive. Hence increased the possibility for more people to have spare time for thinking.
Some communities made good use of this new possibility while others failed to do so. Usually for reasons depending on the ‘general conditions’ and not at all imputable to the communities themselves.
Unfortunately, technology also had two less fortunate consequences.
By freeing more and more people from want, it also freed them from ‘religion’.
Until that moment, people who were ‘excluded’ from society – who did not partake in ‘religion’, could not survive on their own for any significant length of time. After the advent of technology, reclusion no longer meant almost instant death.
Technology also produced ‘hard science’. A corpus of knowledge about how nature works. Which knowledge can be summarized as a collection of natural laws.
No longer depending as much on their contemporaries and cognizant of those natural laws, some of the thinkers – whose numbers had been constantly swelled by the continuously improved technology, have reached the conclusion that through thinking a human might, given enough time and resources, understand basically everything.
Some of those had become dictators. Others had become consultants.
Both categories extremely confident in their own knowledge. Arrogant, even.
This is how we messed things up. This bad.

Equality has become ‘the’ thing.
But things are not that simple. Not simple enough to be explained/solved in such a trivial manner.
Equality is a theoretical concept. It doesn’t exist, as such, in nature. Nor in practice.
Two ‘objects’/issues/items are declared, by us, to be equal if the differences between them are smaller than a threshold. Instated, again, by us. Mathematics – a theoretical field by excellence, being the only domain where the difference between two equal ‘objects’ is exactly zero.
On the other hand, societies where people consider themselves to be equal fare better than those where the differences between people are ‘manifest’.
Hence ‘equality’ must be important, right?
‘Societies where people consider themselves to be equal’…
The key word here is “consider”, not “equal “.
In this situation, equality is not only a concept but also a value.

The fact that a functional majority of the people living in those societies consider themselves to be equal creates a certain ‘environment’. A situation where those people actually complement each-other. A society which works as an organism. Not as a shoal of fish nor as a simple herd. A society which works a community.

A single parent can raise children. But two parents do it a lot easier. And, in most cases, better.
A single parent can adopt children. But no single parent, man or woman, is able to give birth to a child without being helped by a member of the ‘opposite sex’.
Societies where people consider men and women to be equal fare a lot better than those entertaining other beliefs. Which doesn’t negate the fact that men and women complement each-other. In a lot more situations than those in which they merely reproduce themselves.
Economies where the market is free fare a lot better than those where the economic decisions are made in a centralized manner. The communist camp – where the economies were run by the party, had crumbled under their own weight. Which strongly suggests that no matter how skilled it may be, a central planner will never be able to balance such a complicated process as a whole society/economy. Monopolistic situations, where decision making became too concentrated, invariably ended up in a pile of mess. Another proof that no decision maker, no matter how skilled/well intended, was ever capable of managing, by itself, a really complicated situation.
What is the real difference between a free market and one where decision making is concentrated in an unsustainably small number of hands? Or heads?
Economic agents are equal? Suppliers are equal among themselves, buyers are equal among themselves and suppliers are equal with buyers?
Or suppliers complement each-other in adequately supplying the market while buyers and suppliers complement each-other in maintaining the market afloat?
Which brings us back to where we have started.
Where people who complement each-other have reached the conclusion they’d better consider their complements as equals. And treat each-other as such.

Social cohesion is a key concept in modern sociology.
There are many definitions – most of which complement each other, and the gist of them is ‘glue’.

…the glue that bonds society together…

Do you actually perceive modern society as being glued? Bonded? Together?!?

As an engineer – MSc in Mechanical Engineering, Bucharest Politechnica University 1986 – I’m primarily interested in ‘consequences’. ‘Causes’ come second. A close second but still second. Because it’s ‘consequences’ we have to face/endure directly, not ’causes’.
Whenever I feel bad, really bad, I begin by stopping everything that I was doing. To have enough time to determine the proper cause for my malaise. Identifying/dealing with causes ‘on the go’ – usually by having faith in what I already know, without realizing that it was exactly that which had led me to where I am now – is not such a good option.

Very few societies (countries, nations) continue to behave coherently. Many of them – most of them, actually, used to. Until very recently.
Yet most of my ‘recent’ colleagues – B in Sociology, Bucharest University 2009, continue to discuss about ‘cohesion’.

Communities continue to be cohesive. And, as a consequence, continue to behave coherently.
The easiest answer is ‘by definition’.
That’s how you recognize a community. A group of people who act coherently because they are ‘bound together’ by ‘social cohesion’. How that happened to be? Some other time!

Societies, on the other hand, no longer are.
Nations, which used to be whole, are now ‘fractured’. Not entirely, but they certainly behave a lot less coherently than, say, 50 years ago.
OK, this is not the first time that something like this had happened….

Civil wars are nothing new.
None of them had been ‘civil’ though. Which makes ‘civil war‘ an oxymoron
Something so ‘impossible’ that we haven’t coined a proper word for it. Something so horrible that we speak about it using an ‘impossible’ name in order to properly mark its utter impropriety.

What is new is the amount of knowledge we currently have about the whole matter. About the inner workings of our collective psyche.
How we use that knowledge, what we have understood from learning it, the manner in which we allow that information to shape our actions … that’s another matter!

Whose consequences are in the making.
There are no other ‘makers’ but us.
Also, there are no other people to bear the consequences of what we’re doing now.

‘On the face of it’, it makes perfect sense.

But why bother?

If I’m on the ‘right’ side, why would I make it easier for the other guy?
If on the ‘wrong’ side, why not just switch sides? Why would I bother to straighten the tree? Against the wishes of those who have a lot to lose in the process?

From the other side of the looking glass, things are a lot simpler.

‘Fiat justitia, ruat caelum’ is a warning, not a behest.

‘Make sure that justice is served, unless you want the heavens to fall on your shoulders’ is what any open minded reader of history makes of this ancient adage…

The fact that we concentrate our attention on what justice means for each of us is a measure of our individualism.
Of our nearsightedness…

Our respective individualities, each and everyone of them, have grown into what they are now in a social context.
None of us can exist for long, let alone protect and develop their individuality, in solitude.

We need the others.
We, each and everyone of us, need to belong. To a community.

To a functional community!
To a community where each individual is cherished.
Where each individual can develop its potential.

Where each individual has the opportunity and the tools to develop their potential.
For his own good, in concert with the main interest of entire community.

Things remaining as they should be.

Us toiling here, on the surface of the Earth.
The heavens perched safely up there.

Justice must be served if things are to remain as we, each and all of us, need them to be.

Ordinary people are aware of their own self, have an identity and are driven by goals.
The ‘fulfilled’ ones have developed an understanding, belong to a community and are driven by compassion.
The really ‘lucky’ have found meaning.

And peace.
Those who are still driven try to spread it.

Culture is to human communities what DNA is to biological species.

It transports vital information from one generation to the other. Hence providing a venue for survival.
Furthermore, both culture and DNA can change in time. Hence providing a venue for evolution.

The difference between culture and DNA being, of course, the fact that culture is way more fluid than DNA.
DNA changes only once for each generation – what you get at birth is what you’re taking to the grave, while culture is in constant flux.
No individual organism has anything to say about their genetic information but almost every human is capable of learning almost anything.

Now for the historical part.

Stage one.

Veneration of the elders. The elders were the depositories of the common knowledge. Hence everybody took good care of the ‘data bases’.

Stage two.

Somebody learned to write.
Elders were no longer indispensable. More and more information could be ‘warehoused’ in alternative ways.
A structure was needed to manage the new ways of dealing with the vital information.

Stage three.

The state is born.
At first the structures which insured that culture was passed from one generation to another had been rather empiric: kingdoms, monasteries, etc.
Soon after the Enlightenment things had become more rational. Cultured people became nations and the academic scholars gave us the state. As the structure charged to make sure that culture and people stay together. Hence providing for the nation’s survival.

States who had been in constant contact – read rivalry, kept each-other fit. Or else.
States ‘removed’ from reality – geographically, by becoming too powerful to care or both, had experienced a natural decay. The people at the top of the food chain had forgotten about those at the bottom and those at the bottom had lost faith in their leadership.

States too weak to survive – for various reasons, have succumbed while those too powerful for their own sake have eventually imploded.

Psychology to the rescue.

Culture is more fluid than DNA for a reason.
DNA follows exclusively the laws of nature while culture is heavily influenced by us.
We, men, are the measure of all things.
All life heavily transforms the place it inhabits.
So do we, humans. Only we do it willingly. On purpose, that is.

Now, that we have amassed so much information – about life in general and about how we relate, as agents, to the entire process, we have reached a reckoning moment. What next?

Are we going to choose the path of the cuckoo or that shown to us by Hokule-a?

Covid-19 is a good eye opener.

While socially distancing to save our asses, we have the opportunity to use our brains.
And understand how many people contribute, ‘under the radar’, to our well being. To us leading a civilized life.
As civilized as we, as a community, have been able to put together.

This morning I realized how much we owe to the garbage collectors.
To those who clean up our cities.
To the people who make it so that we, the socially distanced, may continue to entertain the illusion of leading a normal life.

A transformation so drastic that somebody needs to have been at both ends of the process in order to accept that what came out was the same thing as what went in.

The Universe has already went through Metamorphosis 0.1 and 1.0.
The ‘Big Bang’ and the apparition of life.

We’re witnessing Metamorphosis 2.0.
Awareness’ coming of age.

Individuals becoming aware not only of their own awareness but also of their place in the order of things.
Communities becoming aware that each of their individuals are paramount. That ‘no one left behind’ is the only thing that keeps the community together.
Individuals understanding that each of them is equally important yet none of them indispensable.

Individuals and communities alike opening their minds to the fact that none of them might exist without the other.

And no, this is no joke! Alas…

Populism is scientific because its ‘adepts’ have a very rational behavior and use scientific tools to increase the appeal of their public messages.
And, on the other hand, populism is scientific because its advent is perfectly explainable given what we currently know. About our society, about our brains, about our psychology….

Let me start from the beginning.
In Thomas Kuhn’s terms, the last 60 or so years have witnessed a tremendous paradigm shift.
Science has replaced religion as the main paradigm and ‘religion’ has been demoted to  ‘religions’.

Science becoming the main paradigm means that we have grown confident about our knowledge. We might be aware that we don’t know everything yet but we continue to believe that we’re able to learn everything. That if we are diligent enough we’ll sometimes be able to look under every rock that is.
This attitude has led us to search for ‘perfection’. ‘Efficiency’ has displaced ‘redemption’. We have ceased our quest for salvation and are now obsessed with ‘buy low, sell high’. In other words, ‘make the most of it but strain yourself as little as possible’.

Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

A lot of sense… mainly when you no longer perceive the guy next to you as being a full-fledged member of your community. Your religious community, that is. Of your church.

You see, ever since Emil Durkheim, the sociologists have been aware that religion was not so much a story about the making of the world as a ‘common ground’. The ‘common core’ shared by the members of a given community. Which ‘common core’ makes it possible for those who share it to have respect. For themselves and for the other faithful members of the community. By sharing that common core, the individuals find their bearings in the ‘wide, wide world’ and, thus, know how to behave relative to their ‘neighbors’. With enough mutual respect among the individual members that the community is able to function. To survive, that is.

We no longer have that kind of community.
Our primary allegiance is no longer towards ‘church’. Most of us consider themselves primarily as members of a nation – something governed more by formal laws than by public sentiment, and only secondarily – if at all, as members of a ‘religious’ community.

Now, putting two and two together, it’s very simple to understand that in the given circumstances ‘populism’ was inevitable, right?

Too many of the would be leaders have no qualms about how they get what they want.
‘Buy low, sell high’ is the current mantra, remember? Accepted by all of us. Buyers, sellers, by-standards…
Too many members of the general public are willing to accept promises which are in line with their own expectations, even if those promises being put in practice means a lot of misery for OTHERS. Who cares about those others, anyway? They are not members of OUR ‘church’!

I’ll let you decide how sustainable is such a situation. I was going to use ‘community’ instead of ‘situation’ but it would have been horribly wrong. We no longer live in communities. We only happen to live in the same place.

For how long?

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