Thursday, October 10, 2013

Among many, and across many domains, much is written about community. We know we need it on some level, so we seek it out. But there is a phenomenon I notice in American life, where people get so far, and then flounder.

If I understand correctly, the fastest growing groups in America are the Amish and the Sephardic Jews. Here is what I think they do, that most Americans don't do- they invest directly in their children. The Amish, obviously, farm. The Sephardic Jews set their men up in small businesses. The young women marry younger, and the men get to be productive at ages most Americans are still being encouraged to be adolescents.

What happens when the average American, whether Christian or some kind of eco-hippie, tries to create community, especially for this crucial age group?


Often very expensive vacations, sometimes vacations with very lovely things to do and learn, but, in the end vacation.

Vacation to go be a missionary. Vacation to go learn how to farm. Vacation to learn permaculture design. All sorts of vacations with all sorts of exciting things for the kids to do. BUT NOT A PRODUCTIVE LIFE! Thou must returnest to thy cubicle, or classroom, or other place of pointlessness, where there is angst and much lack of collaboration.

And the vacations themselves- well, I think I've mentioned before the silliness of sending a bunch of girls down to Jamaica to paint houses, when you could take the same money, send an experienced missionary or two, and pay local men to paint the houses. Local men might actually need to provide for the local children the girls take their precious little pictures with.

To some extent, I do think these little two week jaunts can be helpful, especially if there's real education going on. But I too often see there isn't any real education. There is a lot of feeling. What little is taught is usually directed at keeping the vacation industry going, not in establishing real communities in the world. The real thing is hard work, like childbirth is hard work. I suspect this vacation industry exists because, on the one hand young women have an impulse towards community and motherhood, but on the other hand, they just don't quite want to commit- yet.

The other issue is that the baby boomers have big egos. They've got control of most of the assets, and they continue to scam more out of us, as is made evident by this Obamacare nonsense. In order for Obamacare to work, they need all the young, healthy people to sign up and pay- and all of that money will go to pay for the baby boomers. This kind of behavior destroys community. In order function, a healthy community must be inter-generational, and this includes a healthy dose of capital goods. This isn't just so that people can make money- it is so that the community can perpetuate itself.

Then there is the ego. Until about 100 years ago, the basic form of community existed almost everywhere. But whoever is talking about community is likely to talk about revolution, not about stopping all the nonsense and returning to a stable form of existence.

Paul Wheaton has this spiel about how the really smart people in the permaculture world turn into assholes. He suggests that they discover something works and they light up like christmas trees and try to tell everyone about it. People don't have clue what they are talking about and most say, 'that'll never work.' So, the innovator has fifty thousand conversations like this, goes out and proves it works, still has fifty thousand more conversations like this, and then, finally, turns into an asshole. I think this is true in Christianity too, though we call them hermits, and they don't usually use so much profanity.

There is no collaboration. There are blank faces. No understanding. Recently, the most hopeful and interesting thing I learned about is all the ways you can make diesel. You can even make diesel from plastic. This is fun to learn about, but also pathetic. It has the same flavor of sadness, of no proper division of labor, no meaningful collaboration, as the realization I had that the next big thing I ought to work toward is buying some raw land (after I buy a truck). There is hope in being able to be productive with the land, but there is also the sadness that for all the promises made to me, for all the glowing words, I should not hope for more than a wildness that I can cultivate, probably by myself.

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