In a Facebook group I’m part of, an issue arose as to whether our community was infected with white supremacy. The discussion shifted from the original question to a more fundamental one: what is “our community”? What constitutes community?
We’re not in geographic proximity. We’re not one race. We’re generally pretty liberal, but that’s not a requirement. We share some very broad beliefs, but every topic that comes up raises differences. The one thing we agree on is that we’re all subscribed to this Facebook group.
There are communities interdependent for survival: that would include families, tribal economies, intentional communities, labor unions, dictatorial juntas, etc. That’s not us: I could unsubscribe and it would cost me nothing, in fact save me a half hour a day.
There are communities that define our identity through mutual action: political parties, sports fans, demonstrators, lynch mobs, etc. The Web is great for those of us who define ourselves as “activists” but don’t want to get off our asses.
And there are those defined by their opponents with pejorative intent: I qualify as Old White Man, shoving me into the same elevator with Jeff Bezos, Rush Limbaugh, Warren Buffett, etc. (I don’t mention Trump, as he’s a community in himself.)
Some of us don’t fit. Any tribe I’ve identified with (theatre artists, professors, pagans, Quakers, polyamorists, puppeteers, novelists), I’ve always stood just outside the circle: for me that’s more comfortable. Yet I share our hunger for community. We’re tribal animals, and yet we’re enculturated to prize individuality: I want to be part of things, but no one tells me what to do. A challenging juggle.
One corollary is that we tend to depend on establishing group bonds on the basis of what we’re not. In my long-ago Presbyterian Sunday School days, we learned a few things about what made us Presbyterians, but much more about why we weren’t Catholics or Jews. In neo-pagan circles, it’s hard to pursue a discussion thread that doesn’t spark fireworks about Christian evils. As a Democrat, I can rant—probably for days—on the atrocities of the current administration, but I still haven’t absorbed the specifics of the Green New Deal. This tendency, I think, cripples us.
In the discussion I mentioned at the outset, I opted out of stating any opinion. For me, the issue is whether or not any group promotes practices that have negative effects on others, not whether the group is free of Original Sin. But that’s just me. And it’s fine with me that the group defines itself as a “community” as long as it’s through shared values, not through shared disgruntlements.