Continuing from the last set of thoughts on community, a particular post made me think about community in a more general sense, specifically in terms of what kind of community do I want, what kind do we want, in line with my sense of the Self as simultaneously individual and shared.
From the outset, my approach isn’t founded on the Cartesian notion of the Self as an isolated subject, with community as creating some sort of external relation on this isolated “I”. For me a basic aspect of being human is being-with, that even when we are alone we experience that aloneness as a deficient mode of being-with. Being-with can take a number of distinct forms, the most basic is everyday being-with-others in whatever setting one is required to be in.
In this everyday situation being-with is mostly experienced in deficient modes, being-against, being-indifferent, ignoring, and perhaps the most insidious, being-against in the guise of being-for. As a result our basic being-with is a less than ideal starting point in terms of building a community where the mode of being-with is fundamentally a being-for those who one is with. On the other hand the Cartesian ‘problem of other minds’ and other solipsistic issues such as the question of what a ‘relation’ between two subjects actually consists in are not relevant. On the other hand, precisely the danger of being ‘lost in others’ is a strong potential. However being an authentic Self can’t consist in being alone, since that is also a deficient mode of being-with, so being authentic has to involve finding an authentic way of being-with others, an authentic community.
I can only speak about community from out of those communities I’ve experienced, but this includes those I was fully involved in and those I was periphery to. The experience in each case is a very different one, of course, but via analogy one can to a degree understand communities one is periphery to in terms of the community or communities one has been a part of.
The community I grew up in, primarily, was the Jesuit community. Since that community is not well understood, particularly here in the U.S., I’ll say a few quick things about it. Contrary to most ‘religious’ communities, being a Jesuit isn’t primarily a matter of having a shared belief-system, the notion of “once a Jesuit always a Jesuit” applies even if one doesn’t believe Jesuit theology, or even in Christianity or theism itself. For this reason, and others, there are some resemblances that are inherent in terms of being able to understand somewhat similar communities modeled as ‘brotherhoods’ that are not simply a matter of a shared belief system but a commitment.
Part of the implication of our average, everyday deficient modes of being with is that building a community is inherently a difficult task. One of the strongest temptations in inauthentic being-with is to desire that others have a fixed image of ‘who we are’ that relieves us of the burden of our own freedom. An authentic community, then, while it may have an ‘image’ to the public, may internally look very different from that public image, because the members are themselves not intending to be reified as that image. For instance in a leather or fetish community members may or may not ‘look the part’ at all times, even though both leather and fetish, as terms, are precisely a manner of dress. Looking the part doesn’t in itself demonstrate authenticity or inauthenticity: I could be dressed the part in order to give others a mental image of myself that in fact hides who I am; conversely I could be dressed the part because that’s how I feel most comfortable and most myself; a third and probably more common situation is that I dress the part when I’m going to be in a situation where I feel comfortable in it because it’s appropriate to the situation. Of course, members publicly representing the community, if it has a public face, or acting as representative of the community to itself, if it is private, are likely to dress the part simply because otherwise they wouldn’t be seen as representative of it. Within an authentic community, though, members are going to be judged as authentically part of the community over the long term by their demonstration of their ongoing commitment to it, not by their conforming to incidental representations.
The difficulty of creating community today is even greater, for the same reason as community is more needed by many people. The acid of rationalism and secularism, which dissolved many communities based on shared belief, is ironically now threatening the scientific community that most promoted it, as their shared praxes have been exposed as predominantly belief based and themselves not rational, and costly compared to knowledge work that doesn’t involve the shared praxes that make the scientific community a community. The same ‘efficiency’ concern has also successfully dissolved communities that were based on shared praxes in terms of labor, other than the few ‘professional’ unions such as the AMA and the Barristers’ association that are financially secure enough to maintain their organizations. The notion of the post-secular society, as a society based on newer thinking that has successfully undermined the dissolving rationalist worldview is still for the most part conceptual. We haven’t seen the emergence of new communities other than a few new fundamentalisms, the re-emergence of a few ethnicist groups, and scattered communities such as the various LGBT, leather, fetish and biker communities that have emerged, merged with others, dissolved, re-emerged and are now (at least in the leather/fetish area) trying to establish a more stable existence as a single recognizable community. There aren’t therefore many models to go on, and cultish, shared belief as a foundation is not a reasonable option for most of us, nor is ethnicism a choice we either can or want to make. Exactly how various communities, or what might better be described as proto-communities, might establish the type of shared praxes that eventually foster the sense of community is difficult to project.
Going back to the notion of commitment, though, I do think that personal commitment will be a necessary component, and with that personal commitment a commitment to be personal. By that I mean a commitment to not predetermine or stick to an initial or early determination of who others are, but to view them as they manifest, which includes how they may grow and change. And as importantly a commitment to allow ourselves to be viewed as we manifest, not as a fixed picture we would like others to have of us, but as we authentically are, including in ways in which we may have grown or changed over time.