All language, expression, and movement towards goodness is movement towards community. This springs from our nature as human beings. Our free will must therefore be devoted to rebuilding community and restructuring our institutions to support, rather than impede, our movement.
We are defined by our relationships, as these form a two-way feedback system between us and our context. It stands to reason that our deepest, most long-lasting, and most prevalent relationships are what most define us: our community. But as part of that web of relationships, we also affect others in that web. We contribute to the emergent pattern of that community. Touch a strand and the web vibrates. We evolved to function this way. Yet many of us drift through life with only a simulacrum of community at best. We cannot go back in time, nor should we want to. But we can craft our own, new forms of community, that look forward rather than backwards, yet that are true communities that empower and satisfy us holistically rather than isolating us as modern “community-building” technology tends to do.
So we are our relationships, and our primary relationships tend to define us: as an American, as a father, as a teacher, as a friend of certain people. In a way these relationships are simply patterns of behavior and interaction. If we look at the state of relationship in any given moment, then our relationships are simply the feedback loop of our actions in relation to our context. I’ve heard it said that the conversation is the connection. A relationship is not an entity that exists in the past, it exists only in the present moment. What is your relationship right now? The relationship is the feedback the context gives us that allows us to update our actions to more accurately reflect reality.
The reason why any personal change is incomplete without community-based and institutional change is simply that our liberty is bound together. We’re all in a prison where the inmates double as guards. And it is not enough to simply renounce community, because every beautiful thing we pride ourselves on is incomplete without community, or impossible to create in the first place.
Why do anything, really? Goodness only makes sense in relationship to others. Without community, there is nothing to move towards, nothing to fight for. How can we move towards ourselves, if we are only in relation to? What else is there to move towards but community? Community is life itself. Community is the web of relationships that define us and that allow us to make meaningful decisions. Without deep relationships, there is no powerful meaning to be made.
Freedom to move towards makes no sense when there are no relationships that define us, as there is no value we can realistically assign to one choice over the other. Exercising our freedom to move towards goodness creates a positive feedback loop, where freedom as a positive value is reflected back at us, making it a value and choice more readily made by all involved the next time a decision arrives. One decision of affirmation leads to further decisions of affirmation. On the other hand, exercising our freedom to move away from creates a negative feedback loop, which means that no further values are reflected back towards us, because that implies that others are there to reflect them. Without community, there can be no reflected values of goodness. And remember that goodness and badness only make sense in our relationships.
And the movement towards community also implies the free choice to do so in the context of that community. Others must be free, else we cannot be in relationship to them. Any abstract quality we seek exists only in our relationships. Without communal freedom, all we find is coercion, all we can do is move away from rather than accept and affirm. Renunciation is powerful but incomplete. One cannot come into his own fully without moving towards something, not simply moving away from.
I wonder how much of our physiology is currently in some kind of innate exile or outcast mode. In ancient communities, exile was the worst form of punishment conceivable, usually seen as worth than death. I believe it is because we are severed like a tumor from our context. All our relationships which define us, which give us a sense of purpose, are suddenly excised. We have no community to reinforce positive values. We constantly internalize danger. We become overly self-centered, selfish, and worse, manipulative to get what we want and need, prioritizing our own survival above all else.
In Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, or the Hero's Journey, the hero either willingly goes into a state of exile or is thrust into it. In doing so, of course, he undergoes a personal transformation where an old self dies and he steps into a new one. This is a metaphor for life, and a healthy human being never ceases going through these cycles of transformation and deepening of existence. But the journey is incomplete if the hero never returns home and shares his gifts with his community. There must be the return, the moving back towards the goodness implicit in community.
When we only exercise our freedom to move away from, we never internalize the goodness of human relations: language, culture, connection, love, community, belonging, freedom, invitation, service, usefulness. Community is movement together towards and affirmation of values, of all human goodness.
...sees much and knows much