Communal Consciousness

In its simplest form the philosophical basis for Karl Marx and of communism is that the prime mover of society is economic imperatives. In other words a population tied to the land is an agrarian society because farming demands a certain type of society. It is a fairly reasonable hypothesis.

Economic imperatives change over time and for example the economic imperative that made the social convention of marriage a necessity - a man working the fields and a woman caring for the home, has ended. Marriage is no longer a financial necessity. Men and women have moved to an equal income, child rearing is no longer a necessity and so on. Marriage, as it has existed for the last few hundred years, is not appropriate and a new sort of relationship that is sustainable in a communal society must emerge.

The economic imperatives of the limits of growth tell us the emerging society must be sustainable and there has been considerable discussion about sustainable growth. Sustainable growth has come to mean the production of something in a manner that protects the supply over time. Examples are sustainable forestry practices, limiting fishing to preserve fish stocks, city planning to preserve green space, medical knowledge to slow child birth and limit population.

The discussion of sustainable growth has focused to a large extent on how to manage production. The message has been that changes in price (a higher cost for fish), in laws - forcing buildings to go up and not out, (only apartments available for residences) in the availability of birth control, (less children) and similar situations will force the general populace to change habits and expectations. To some extent this has been successful. The emphasis has been on things – practices, price, laws, pills – forcing people to change.

There is however, an equal need for ongoing discussion of sustainable relationships and a sustainable social structure. People change things, not the other way round. Sustainability is how people live in a way that is respectful of Nature and carefully considers the long term. We change as we learn to live in a way that can be sustained economically and socially. We change in our interactions with each other; in creating a sustainable communal society by changing attitudes, emotions, relationships, connections, and sexuality.

Here is a story about two attitudes, one confrontational and adversarial, and the other interdependent and consensual.
Sheila’s husband had strong views about planting. A windbreak had been planted down one side of the property. Unfortunately, it shaded plantings in a neighbor’s garden incensing the neighbor. A creeping plant in another part of the garden started encroaching on a second neighbor’s property and angry words were exchanged. Sheila did not take her husbands ideas too seriously until she heard the neighbors angrily protesting what her husband had done. The neighborhood was no longer a pleasant place to live.
She brought this unhappy state of affairs to her husband’s attention but, to her dismay, he blamed the neighbors and was vehement in believing it was his property and he had the right to plant as he wished.

Events took a turn for the worse when a neighbor accused her husband of growing a noxious week in his garden and threatened to report this to the Department of the Environment.

Sheila was feeling distraught about the bad feelings, especially so as she found herself being held in part responsible for her husband’s actions. She telephoned a neighbor’s wife and asked if she could meet with her to talk about what could be done. The neighbor agreed to meet for coffee. Sheila told her husband what she had done that evening and he told her to keep out of his business. Sheila was beginning to feel worried about her marriage.

Sheila and the neighbor’s wife met the following day. There seemed to be little they could do about the situation but the neighbor was a practical person and she suggested the wives meet and try to exert some pressure on their husbands.
Four of the wives met and after much discussion they decided to ask a local nursery grower to give his expert opinion on the plantings. They also agreed to ask their husbands to listen to what the nursery grower had to say and work out something based on his recommendations.

Sheila’s husband was extremely upset about this and accused her of “Going to the other side”. Sheila protested saying that she could not live with the present feelings and “for her” would he try to do something about it. He agreed, “as he wanted to save the marriage”. Sheila was shocked to hear that things had gone so far that the marriage was in danger of falling apart.

The men and the nursery grower met. The nursery grower was of the opinion there were noxious weeds, that the neighbor had the right to dig out the creeping plant but could do nothing about the shade trees even though he would have recommend against the planting.

Sheila’s husband dug out the noxious weeds. He did nothing else and claimed the nursery grower supported him. The neighbors remained angry and feelings hardened.
Sheila found herself in a period of re-assessment. She understood and appreciated her neighbor’s concerns and remained friendly with one of the wives. She was unhappy that her husband did not seem to care that he had alienated the neighbors. She could not ignore her neighbors as her husband did and as time passed she came to believe her husband wrong in stubbornly clinging to his rights as a property owner.

Sheila had many arguments with her husband and, as it was obvious the marriage was deteriorating, spent more time talking with her friends. Her friends sympathized with her and encouraged her to seek counseling with her husband.
The husband would not hear about counseling and became incensed with the suggestion that his attitude regarding an amicable settlement could be improved. He accused her of interfering with his rights as a property holder and “it was none of her business”. She told him he seemed more concerned about his property than he was about her. The home was now a battleground of simmering discontent sometimes verging on outright hostility.

In the Winter, Sheila went to counseling and the more she listened to words such as ‘self-esteem’ and ‘personal responsibility’ the more she came to accept she could no longer live with a man who was dismissive of her feelings and needs. She started looking for work in her profession in a nearby city and spent less time in her home. Finally, she separated from her husband and moved into her own place some fifty kilometers away from her husband.

Her husband stayed on the property for another couple of years and then sold it and left for another location. Although he never mentioned it, he had become too isolated and lonely and of course received no support from his neighbors.

The story is not an unusual one and in different forms occurs every day. The process of disillusionment and the search for authentic identity continues in many hearts. With Sheila the process took almost two years to complete and as she emerged from the shadow of her husband she found she had acquired a strengthened sense of personal autonomy and an increased willingness to listen to the opinion of others, neighbors and friends. She had become a stronger person and at the same time more open to others.

The story illustrates some of the attitudes needed for community. The position of the neighbors was vitally important. Although they may not have thought about it that way, this was a small community and the ability to bring harmony into relationships is a high priority. To insist on individual rights in the face of hostility from the community, such as the husband did, is a sure sign of a breakdown in relationships. This does not automatically mean meek compliance with every dictate from a community and a loss of individuality. The individual has the right and indeed, the obligation, to state his position and defend his interests. Here, the husband in effect said he would do as he pleased and did not care what others thought. A better way is to state desires and ask how they could be met in community. Insisting on ‘rights’ denies the emotions of people involved and they will usually strike back.

Sheila learned from the experience, the husband did not. Were the husband to engage with the community he would have to face his own belligerence and the root causes behind it. Perhaps he felt insecure about trusting people and moved to an unhealthy reliance on material possessions. We will never know. The point is that engaging with community inevitably leads to questioning about personal thought patterns. Far from losing a sense of self the ‘person’ becomes clearer in community; petty traits are subjected to scrutiny and if without merit discarded in favor of the ‘real self’.

Sheila’s husband was a strong, purposeful person. He has some very good ideas and some that needed further investigation. His good ideas were very attractive to Sheila and initially gave impetus to her life and learning. Those perhaps were part of the reasons for marrying him. The other side of the coin was that the husband pursued his ideas in the face of disbelief or scepticism by his neighbors. It is one thing to have strong beliefs – it is something else to impose those beliefs or the product of those beliefs on someone else. Stubbornness is rewarded if it meets with public success – it becomes a burden if there is not the flexibility to seek alternate routes.

Sheila’s comment that he “was more concerned about his property than he was about her” reflects her husband’s lack of clarity about the meaning of his life. He put his faith in ‘things’ (property) rather than human connection and hoped he could retain both with his marriage to Sheila. If he were more aware of community he would realize that people matter more than things. He deliberately snubbed the community and paid the price. His attitude is shared by many and for those with strong feelings of ownership the idea of community comes as a poor second to personal acquisitions.
The decline in a willingness to be part of a community affects everyone. Individually it is not of much significance but on a mass scale the social capital, the civic-mind, the enhancement of the public good, is seriously eroded. There are grave consequences to this erosion of social capital; neglected education, unsafe neighborhoods, drug culture, desperate poverty, and submissive attitudes to autocracy.

This loss of community documented by Robert D. Putnam in Bowling Alone attributes this to generation change (the present generation being less civic minded than the previous), television, urban sprawl, and the pressures of time and money. The extent of the loss of social capital, however, is apparent in every major city in North America. Call it the blight of the inner core, the loss of public values, or nimbyism, at its base is an avoidance of a sense of community, or responsibility, for our fellow humans.
The idea of community and what it means to belong to a community has fallen into serious decline. A few hundred years ago the village was the community. Ease of travel and mobility of employment has lead to a loss of emotional connection except for immediate family and close friends. There are those flashes of community in meeting with old friends or in weekend retreats. The words, “It takes a whole village to raise a child” are easily spoken without considering whether we, individually, play our part in the making of a ‘whole village’.

The hunger that Geoph Kozeny and his compatriots are seeking is an ongoing sense of belonging to a community. It is not a quick ‘flash in the pan’ but a real and tangible feeling that you are ‘cared for’ by more than an immediate family. It is the excitement of human connection on a deep level where honesty and trust is a given. It is a feeling of completeness in knowing you have a place in the world as you are, and not in meeting some unattainable goal.