Carol, my life partner, pointed me to an excellent post on John Michael Greer’s blog The Archdruid Report. The post is titled The Costs of Commitment, and it’s not a post about money:
…I don’t mean money. Communities need regular inputs of time and effort from their members, or they collapse into mass societies of isolated individuals — roughly speaking, what we’ve got now [in U.S. society]. Communities also need subtler inputs: a sense of commitment, of shared purpose, of emotional connection, of trust. To gain the benefits of living in community, it’s necessary to sacrifice some part of the autonomy that so many Americans nowadays guard so jealously….
And in fact one of the great weaknesses of today’s Unitarian Universalist congregations is that so many of the people who think of themselves as Unitarian Universalists aren’t willing to sacrifice any of their autonomy to participate in the congregational community. But here, as in so many aspects of life, ya gotta pay to play. Rule number one of congregational community:– if you want a Unitarian Universalist community, you have to give up the much-loved American autonomy that says it’s better to sleep in or go for a walk or play video games on Sunday morning. Then add some volunteer hours on top of that. Otherwise, you’re not part of a community.
And, as Greer points out, many of the people who claim to love-love-love community don’t actually belong to a functional community, and in fact deliberately participate in “communities” that are bound to fail:
I know a fair number of people in activist circles who speak in glowing terms about community; most of them don’t belong to a single community organization. I also know a fair number of people who’ve tried to launch community projects of one kind or another; most of these projects foundered due to a fatal shortage of people willing to commit the time, effort, and emotional energy the project needed to survive. Most, but not all; some believers in community have taken an active role in trying to build or maintain it; some projects have managed to find an audience and build a community, or at least the first rough draft of one. One of the reasons I don’t dismiss the Transition Town movement, though I have serious doubts about some aspects of it, is precisely that many of the people involved in it have committed themselves to it in a meaningful sense, and the movement itself has succeeded in some places in building a critical mass of commitment and energy.
It’s important, I think, to assess the ventures toward community that are under way now or have been tried in the recent past, both the successful ones and the ones that have failed, and try to get some sense of the factors that tip the balance one way or the other. It’s also crucial, though, to recognize that there’s a difference between fantasies of community that provides all the benefits with none of the costs, and the reality of community in which each benefit must be paid for by a corresponding commitment. I suspect the common passion among some peak oil activists for lifeboat communities that just happen to be too expensive ever to get off the ground, which often goes hand in hand with a distinct lack of enthusiasm for participation in real communities of real people that exist right now, is simply one way of evading the difference.
The theoretical and theological grounding for this post will be very familiar to Unitarian Universalists who have studied James Luther Adams’s work on voluntary associations (see, e.g., his collections of essays Voluntary Associations, ed. Ronald Engels, 1986, and/or On Being Human Religiously, ed. Max Stackhouse, 1976). If you read much of Adams, you will discover that he believes voluntary associations — a.k.a. “communities” — are the major line of defense in preventing fascism. This point is also implicit in Greer’s post.
Yet while there’s nothing really new in this post, Greer sums the main point up nicely when he writes: “There’s a difference between fantasies of community that provides all the benefits with none of the costs, and the reality of community in which each benefit must be paid for by a corresponding commitment.” Go read the whole post — it’s worth it. Then come back here and ‘fess up — do you really invest your time, energy, enthusiasm, and yes money, into a real living organized community? (And let’s be honest, “my circle of friends” is not a community, it’s a circle of friends.)