Economy vs Community

We were created to live in community. Or, if you prefer, we evolved to live in community. Same deal.

Let’s take the latter first. Major anthropologists have studied just what advantages we homo sapiens had in order to come out on top (arrogantly assuming this is the top).

Some say it was our upright gait which enabled us to see predators above the tall grass. But sloths can climb trees and see more than we can. Some say it was our big brains, but the Neanderthals had bigger brains.

The most credible hypothesis is a cultural one. We developed a culture of cooperation at a higher level than the Neanderthals. In other words, we created community — got that crucial head start — which made us much more effective in all our endeavours — and much more deadly (as the extinct Neanderthals could attest).

There’s always controversy in anthropology, but the hypothesis — that it was the evolution of an enhanced community that made us what we are — is a dominant contender. We literally evolved to live in community.

Regarding what we were created to be — the Abrahamin religions and others are community based. In the Old Testament, God entered into a Covenant with his people — with a community committed to living in his light. In the New Testament, Christ declared the New Covenant, and emphasized explicitly that his followers are to live in loving communion with each other.

The early Christian followers strived to be exactly that — a compassionate community of believers looking after each other as loving parents look after their children. They lived up to that standard with varying degrees of success and failure — because they were mere humans — for centuries. But it remained the standard, and the community remained the focal point of Christian life.

Then along came capitalism and economists. Why do we need compassion? We’ve got the market. The market’s invisible hand will take every greedy individual — let them all be greedy as hell — and free competition will force them to serve the public selflessly. Artificial selflessness — fake selflessness — is easier to manage in an artificial community where everyone’s greedy anyway.

Problem is, it’s a utopian fantasy. Sure — in the economists’ vision of perfect competition — everything gets evened out and nobody gets more than he or she deserves. In real life competition, predators suck up mountains of wealth and those at the bottom get stripped bare. But we’re all supposed to accept that because the fantasy of perfect competition is, well, perfect.

Then it got worse. Globalization took hold. Where there once was a community where some members were fleecing others, now there’s no community at all. Who stitches the shirt on your back? What country does she live in? How many children does she have? You don’t know nor care to know.

The anti-community was born. What tiny remnants we have of actual friends and family — actual community — are all retreating into Facebook. The lonely isolated individuals that economists revere are converging on reality.

To rebuild community is an act of rebellion. To go gab with friends and strangers in a neighbourhood coffee shop — not some big global chain — is an act of rebellion. To patronize local farmers’ markets, as much to get to know each other as to buy, is an act of rebellion. To join a campaign to help the marginalized find their rightful place in the community is an act of rebellion. And to join with like-minded people in all kinds of local organizations, religious or secular, to create Pockets of Grace is an act of rebellion.

Rebel, dammit.

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