3.a.9 – What happened to our community?

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March 13, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti


What happened to our community?

Today we know that mankind has lived for at least 97% of its existence in tribal villages, as presumably did many of our ancestors hominids; then we have always been social animals that naturally form communities. In this framework, with community we mean a group of individuals who not only share the same territory but live near each other, leading a life together, continually interacting among themselves.
We also know that a great village, with the growth of its population over time, could subdivide into several villages that, maintaining good-neighborly contacts between them, formed alliances for both military and commercial purposes;, it can be then observed the transition from a population united in a single village, i.e. a small community with very strong ties of kinship and friendship within it, and with a well precise cultural identity (linguistic, religious, etc.), to a population with the same cultural identification and making part of a single political entity (the federation of villages) that however, is divided into different communities.
The relations of kinship between members of different villages are generally less tight or can even not exist at all, the meetings are necessarily incidental and friendships much more difficult to cultivate; some members may be strangers to one another and therefore there is no doubt that these are separate communities, although belonging to the same society, politically and culturally united; we’ll then keep separate the concepts of community and society, as the population of a human society, also in the tribal world, do not live always together, but is generally divided into different communities.
One feature that is found both in the tribal and in the agricultural community, is a complex internal organization with a rigid hierarchy based on family clan or other subgroups (peasants, artisans and merchants; the elderly, adults, young people and children; male and females, etc.); a second characteristic that we can observe in the communities is their self-sufficiency, namely their independence from each other.
In small modern towns, composed of a few thousand inhabitants, we find some typical aspects of human communities: all members are known personally, the reputation of the individual is often extended to his family and is well known to all, as rumors run fast; living closely together, it is formed a sort of public opinion that notes and judges everyone, revealing to be often too intrusive and oppressive; there is a considerable cultural uniformity; in case of  necessity, it is manifested with a great collective solidarity.
Small countries, however, are no longer self-sufficient, being now closely bound to the rest of society from an economic and political point of view. The concept of society can still be identified with the nation from a political point of view, but from the economic point of view it is necessary to extend it at least to the whole Western world, if not throughout the globe. Today we talk of global economy and no one is surprised to find in a lost village a variety of products manufactured in China, Japan and the United States, perhaps with materials coming from Africa, India or South America.
In large modern cities there are even more profound changes: given the large concentration of people, local resources are insufficient and economic dependence by the outside becomes total. The large number of citizens makes impossible to know everyone personally, but also the neighbor may be a perfect stranger, personal contacts are limited to the family, colleagues at work and a small group of friends from childhood, from school, the gymnasium and from work again. In a society of strangers, no one is interested in the private life of the others, no one loses time to judge the others and we are totally free from the oppressive dependence of the opinion of the community; who moves from a small town in the province to a big city, is often taken by an exhilarating sense of freedom. Who moves from the big city to small town remains impressed by its quiet, by the absence of traffic and by the fact of not feeling alone, everyone knows you and greets you, the citizen has finally found a community, because obviously the city is not. In large metropolis, contacts with our friends are frequent, but we need to find them and find a pretext to meet: an evening at the cinema, a pizza, a discotheque, a football game; these activities also exist in communities, but are not needed to meet, indeed, the problem may be to avoid meeting.
The most striking difference between the metropolitan and the country life is to live alongside a multitude of strangers who remain so. Considering that for our nature we are profoundly social animals, it is legitimate to ask why we do not make friends with neighbors to form a community; the answer is that to live together is necessary to carry out joint activities and not just live nearby. In a tribal village is inevitable to carry out activities with the neighbors as well as in a small country people are forced to go to the same bar, the same parish, the same square and the same shops; similarly, if we work in the country, the colleagues and customers will almost always belong to the community.
In a metropolis, the neighbor who lives upstairs speaks our language, wears the same type of cloths and shows our own cultural identity, but is a stranger with whom we do not make any activity and with whom we do not go to the same places, just as if he was a member of a distant village ally of our tribe; therefore we treat him exactly as such, formally saying hello the rare times that we meet on the street.
With our friends, even if they live far away, the relationship is quite different: informal relations, expressions of affection, cooperation in fun activities and games conducted in leisure time. In some respects this relationship is similar to that which we would have with the members of our ideal village, but with some significant differences:
– with our friends we are by definition always on good terms, while in villages there is also deep resentment and terrible rivalry
– our friends do not all know each other, something that would be impossible in a village.
With colleagues from work, if we are part of a large company we develop a relation very similar to that of natural village: like in a tribe we are in a condition of necessary and inevitable coexistence and we will divide into small groups of friends in perennial rivalry between them, there are often grudges and solidarity in the same environment and everyone knows everyone just like in tribal life, but this happens only in a company with dozens of employees and the relationship ends at the end of work. Normally at work we do not consider ourselves, rightly, a community of colleagues.
Our nature brings us then to rebuild somehow our natural social environment, but this is limited to the workplace or fragmented in different circles of friends; from this we can deduce that to belong to a community is one of our profound psychological need, is a necessity which is a value still existing, although in obvious crisis.
 Even more than the family, our social village lost many of its functions: it has no political role, is no longer a self-sufficient economic unit, is no longer capable of affecting our lives, whether for good or bad, often is not able to offer even a hierarchy to climb, leaving us in an inevitable state of social subordination. The community has been supplanted in many of its functions from what we call societies, and in cities has lost its identity and its social role, it is an almost completely disappeared value, extremely vulnerable, to be protected with particular attention, like the endangered species.


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