Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What is a sense of community?

Okay, this is totally based on my own conjecture.

My conservative relative once complained about the inefficient low-flow toilet in her new home, built after the government began mandating low-flow toilets in all new construction. It was one of the first such homes, and perhaps the low-flow technology wasn't as good as it is now. She wished she could rip it out and put in an old-fashioned toilet. What she should have done is rip it out and put in a newer low-flow toilet, since the newer ones work just fine, but she objected to having to make such a choice.

My impression is that conservatives have a pretty good sense of community. Many are active in their schools, churches, business and fraternal organizations and neighborhoods. They are generous in helping friends who are undergoing difficulties.

But the sense of community doesn't extend beyond sharing with these groups. For instance, it doesn't extend to strangers who depend on shared resources such as water and energy. Conservatives seem less likely to be concerned about whether people beyond their immediate community have enough water, for instance.

It seems like the difference between the conservative sense of community and the liberal one is that a conservative community is heavily weighted toward people conservatives know personally. When it comes to community, liberals are more abstract thinkers.

The conservative view is probably the more natural one. Think back to our primitive origins, when people lived in small groups, and most people personally knew everyone they saw in their daily life, and probably were somewhat familiar with the people the nearest outside community that they might meet with during gatherings to trade resources or find marriage partners. Anyone else was a stranger, the "other."

Unfortunately, we no longer live in such groups. We know nothing about the people two blocks away from us, or many of the people who work in the same building as we do. We're surrounded by strangers. There are two ways to respond to this: the primitive, natural way, which is to exclude strangers from our sense of community; or the adaptive way, which is to extend our sense of community to include people nearby, even though we don't personally know them. (Note: humans are highly adaptable creatures.) Once we've made that adaptation, it's relatively easy to extend the community outwards, to the region, the nation, the world.

Just my thought. Probably horribly over-generalized, but I think there's a grain of truth to it.

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