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Making Community

Why This Was Written.

If we consider that we as a people could soon face a climate-related collapse of our economic infrastructure, how might we avert this outcome? Or, failing that, be able to continue on while maintaining a civil society? It can be seen that the root of the crisis lies in our behavior, our individual and social behavior – which is a cultural problem. Yet, because each of us lives our lives embedded in our culture, we live and think within the domain we have inherited. If our current ways of thinking are much the basis for our crisis, we must make every effort to think again, and differently. To preserve ourselves and build a better way of life, we must reexamine our culture to rebuild the kind of community where one can lead a more positive, sustainable lifestyle.

Social Psychology

It is well known that one of our basic human motivations is the pursuit of personal validation and enhanced status in our community. Much of this striving for status takes place unconsciously in our daily lives: in workplace politics and even among family and friends. In the larger culture we see such strivings exploited in companies’ marketing efforts, such as (“Buy our big car”), and in the development of government policies (“Higher Profits, More Jobs”). Each of us has developed the patterns of behavior and thought which shape our lives and strivings within the socioeconomic system where we live.

Above all, most people want to avoid having their lifestyle and status jeopardized. Understandably then we see that people will align themselves with the commonly-held ideas which also support their views and ambitions – and anything differing from these conceptions suggests some risk to them. Nevertheless, in light of the crisis we are facing, we must look-for and find a way to move forward positively, even under the difficulty of challenging our own deeply rooted ideas.

Challenging Commonly-Held Notions

It’s safe to say that our main economic engines here in the United States are driven by the “profit motive.” This institutionalized motive has developed in cultural alignment with our individual motivation for personal well-being and community status. The pursuit of profit, as conventionally implemented, wheels around numerical dollar gains and dollar costs, while the outcomes of business gains and costs have a direct impact on individuals’ wealth, power, and status. Most importantly as related to our current environmental crisis, within the pursuit of profits and increasing profits, costs must be reduced – and so costs are shifted into the public space where they need not be accounted for. Production costs are routinely reduced by dumping pollutants into the environment as expeditiously as possible. We now suffer from the results of the careless dumping of CO2 into the world’s air.

Property

In formal economic society today it does not matter at all whether profit-making results from the production of pencils or rockets, nor what harmful environmental damage may be done, as profit-making is the sole means and ends. And it is here we need look to see the machinery of the separation of our formal economic motivations from the daily living of life. Because profit-made wealth and social status are closely related to personal ownership of property (assets), here again we see the alienation of the interests of our biological and social lives away from the formal processes and structures of the larger community.

Virtually all of the legal forms and daily procedures building our modern society are based upon the assumption that material property “belongs to” or is firmly “attached” to a person. In this structure the individual becomes identified with property, and his or her status in the community is measured by the dollar value of the properties held. It is in this way that our human motivations for personal validation and social status are directed into a motivation to acquire more property.

It is something of an amusing paradox that our “rational economics” arises from our emotional aspirations, as yet just a little reflection should reveal that there is not much behind our accepted ideas characterizing “property.” For instance, we cannot physically swallow our properties and thereby increase our person-hood! We can try to advertise our status by living in a bigger house, or driving a flashy car, or in what we wear – but most people, at some level, understand that this is just display and not the actual measure of personal merit and status. In fact, the value we individually give to such things are very much determined by the community where we live: physical status symbols are social symbols and are not the “thing” itself.

Wait! Property dollar exchange value is not the value of the thing? So where do we find the value of “things”? We can see that property “ownership”, and even property definition is embodied within our social customs, norms, laws, and legal enforcement – this and nothing more. Note that this is not an argument that formal connections between people and properties are a “bad” thing – we just need to understand that our current concepts of “property” and “property ownership” do not arise from innate human nature, they are instead a social construct. Our community where we live is the origin and protector of property – and all economic relations should flow from this realization.

Economic Transactions And The Money Illusion

In the study of economics the term “money illusion”, or “price illusion” is understood as the internal mental operations wherein the value of something is constructed in terms of nominal money spent, as opposed to being derived from more concrete terms. Economists, however, do not explore the mental operations which differentiate the “real value” of things from incidental nominal values, though the mechanism for determination of nominal value is generally held to be that as calculated in the marketplace. Oddly, little work has been done to connect daily life with economic notions of “real value”.

We have seen that the profit motive as carried-out by industry is translated numerically into “profits” and “costs”, where monetary gains then contribute to our pursuit of personal wealth and status. Importantly, we also know that any mechanism for generation of profits depends on the accomplishment of market sales at a determined price point (whether for goods or services), while price of sale strongly implies the “value” as seen by the customer.

Practically, throughout our lives and even throughout recorded history, many of our social interactions revolve around the exchange of things. We must recognize also that with each transaction something born-of and composed of human life itself is transferred. Therefore this exchange is an extremely critical point. It is precisely here that the motivations of the people participating in the exchange within the context of their community are brought together such that the relative values given objects of human life are expressed. The most important thing for our focus now is this nexus, “the transaction”.

Community Transactions

Although transactions take place within the context of their community, economic transactions are conventionally “community-value free” and are simply the nominal money-value exchange between the parties involved at that point in time. Within this constricted box, the results, positive or negative, do not carry any meaning outside of the numeric accounting. But we have also seen that the ownership and value of goods and properties exist, and necessarily must exist within the context of the life of the community. Seeing this paradox we begin to envision how we might free our lives away from participation in the drastically abstract and artificially limiting economic definition of transactions.

Even though we find ourselves embedded within the mechanisms which prevent us from a rational perception of the “value” of sustainable practices and behaviors, we now seek something contrary to these limits placed upon ourselves. Given the focus outlined above, in order to build a better and more sustainable community we must embody the value of our common life-interests within the transactions themselves.

Thus, the most basic economic behaviors will have to be performed while rooted in an authentic understanding of the “common good”, the community good, as informed and guided by the circumstances of the transaction for the individual and the community in which the transaction takes place.

Community Transactions And Sustainability

We see that the intentional application of each individuals’ comprehension of the entirety of individual and community-derived value judgments as applied within each individual transaction may be the best way to bring about practical understanding and realization of the actual value of goods and services within community. However, (and this is most important) we also need to understand that the “actual” value of  goods and services cannot be determined completely and immediately by the participants “in-the-act” of any particular transaction. Rather, authentic assessments of value can only come about through community-life experience while engaged in the ongoing living/transacting-process. Transactions performed as rooted in an internal understanding of a “common good” and guided by transparent knowledge of the circumstances and consequences of the transaction provide the synthesis which empirically verifies the value-nature of transactional relationships in the evolution of the sustainable community culture.  Thus we find that “Community-transactions” give rise to the “real” value of things through extension of individuals’ Community-transactions into the ongoing evolving experience of the community which then informs the value-determinative nature of the Community-transactions themselves.

In this way the social nature of every transaction gives rise to a sustainable social dynamic: knowledge of the values resolved during Community-transactions will derive actual validity through the positive and negative life-experience of the community as related to the ongoing exchanges over time. And now we see how a community engaged in community-transactions will bring economic activity into alignment with a sustainable way of living.

Craftspeople And Teams

People who undertake a sustainable way of living in trust with each other can properly be termed “Friends”, and the transactions themselves will resemble a form of “sharing”. Members of this form of community will be able to realize their true being by engaging in the creation and sharing of the material, artistic, and spiritual “things” of the community as the things of living life. Craftspeople inherently understand something of what we have been saying – they identify themselves directly with their work and products, taking responsibility for those products.

In the very same way larger enterprises in our Community-transaction communities must identify their own concrete goals and activities with their contribution to the life of the community. Larger enterprises will be constructed of lone artists and teams, where enterprises will resemble long-term projects conducted in genuine connection with all dimensions of the endeavor. Note that this can well proceed without the accumulation of money and material power in the business itself!  Such an arrangement provides contributing individuals and their teams direct and immediate influence in the community, gaining honor and status in their own names – not indirectly under some abstract product brand-name or individually through use of status-symbols and application of money power.

In such a community there will likely be no separation between what is art and what is a material consumable thing, and our notions of individuals’ life-fulfillment through “bucket-list experiences” will vanish. Members of the new communities will be able to realize their true being by engaging in the creation and sharing of the material, artistic, and spiritual “things” of the community – the things of living life. Since the transaction itself is not motivated by greed or the accumulation of profit, it is open and free to a far larger domain of concern. Things such as “copyright” and “patent” will be seen as nonsensical when honor and status are found directly with “common good” as the operational goal. In such a community, without the accumulation of wealth as a measure of social status, we will see hierarchical organizations come to be disfavored and “partner” relationships prevail.  This alone will defuse much of the current tensions inherent in the social order.

Where the welfare of the community is held highly there is little room for the gaining of advantage – and hence little possibility of being cheated. Much freedom is preserved, even enhanced, where any “thing” can be exchanged for any other, at the discretion of those involved. Here we see the emergence of a sense of the “moral” arise from a simple act conducted with responsibility and centered upon the ritual of fellowship in the exchange of goods and services. Within Community-transactions, our desirous seeking after the shimmering mirage of “things” becomes re-visualized into a moral-artistic performance of living life. Through such conduct all members of the community will be elevated, survive, and prosper.

Community Transactions Building Sustainable Communities

Products are the product of humans living in community. This is our definition. Here, now our perspective changes from the abstract and faulty focus on nominal values with its dependence upon regulations, laws, and such into a mode of maintaining the dynamics of sustainable community. In a community of Community-transaction, something born-of and composed of human life and community life is engaged immediately and authentically. Here in our sustainable community the ritual of the hand-shake will mean more than anything written on paper, and each Community-transaction can be seen as a kind of communion. If this can be realized, we see then that each transaction has something artistic or sacred to it and thereby will be instrumental in the sustainability and prosperity of the community. The processes and customs lived-out by individuals and teams in this environment will inherently involve active participation in the day-to-day functioning, decision-making, and operation of the community as it moves forward.

As sustainable communities prosper, with Friends finding authentic joy in living, naturally this will attract new members. As more people engage in Community-transactions, the positive results for all participants will generate an overall positive life-experience, and hence a desire and tendency to continue to behave in this way. With the growing preference for mutual-good/common-good exchanges, we can see a large-scale move into a society-wide preference for such exchanges, ultimately resulting in a sustainable civilization. Evangelical efforts should not be necessary as such, but information-sharing with the wider world community would spread the news of a new way of living, where we find the same sort of joy people find in the pot-luck supper, in the pleasurable act of faith where each of us brings something different to the common table. Joyful celebration of life together should be more than enough for all.

Further Readings:

Chris Hedges. Zero Point Of Systemic Collapse https://countercurrents.org/hedges190310.htm

“Future Primal” Louis G. Herman New World Library, 2013

Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments 1846, Translated by David F Senson, Lillian Marvin Swenson, and Walter Lowrie in “A Kierkegaard Anthology” Princeton University Press, Edited by Robert Bretall. 1946.

Michal Marder. Sustainable Perspectivalism – Who sustains whom?  in “Values in Sustainable Development”, edited by Jack Appleton.  Routeledge, 2014.

Robert M. Pirsig. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values,  William Morrow and Company, 1974.

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