Building Community

Today I came across a very interesting article about the town of Marinaleda in Andalusia, Spain.  Reading and reflecting on this article inspired me to write down some thoughts that I have been carrying around for a little while.  –JGM

Small groups of committed, responsible folk can build working communities. It seems to me, as I contemplate the last century, that what is going on in “the world” broadly speaking is not the creation of some vast, stable regime. People are used to speaking of communism and capitalism as “empires” expanding to engulf the entire world, with capitalism (i.e. the global market and its biggest actors, multinationals and governments and their syndicates) winning.

But to me the real story seems to be that we tried to build empires too big in the last century, and that they are all falling apart now. The big communist collapse came first, but the big capitalist collapse is coming. For some people, it is already here (as their business becomes impossible, requiring debt and other obligations that nobody is capable of pretending to service).

Looking forward to something that is not decay and death (i.e. to something more optimistic than what I regard as the inevitable collapse of national and global markets in their current form), I think the future belongs to communities like Marinaleda. Ideology is not important the way older generations used to think. Communism, capitalism, socialism, democracy, the ‘free’ market, etc., are all bad when they exist in states too large (with too many players, too little responsibility, too little human dignity, too much corporate power and not enough individual power). A smaller state will be better. (One example of this is Singapore, which is a small authoritarian regime that performs much better than large authoritarian counterparts.) Its evils will be more manageable, and its goods more accessible to more people (as opposed to the goods of large states, which inevitably wind up largely in the hands of oligarchs).

If the -ism serves a large country, it inevitably serves an oligarchy, who use it to exert immoral control over their fellow citizens. Capitalism is no more inherently good for your average peon at the bottom of the pile than communism (or any other -ism we might invent). There is nothing particularly ennobling (or salvific in any sense) about spending your entire life in bondage (debt bondage or political bondage) to powers that owe you nothing, that care nothing for your individual integrity, that exist primarily to facilitate and empower agencies to which you possess no direct access.

Too often, I think, we spend time wondering how to fix the system: in the US, how to clean up Wall Street, so that we can all set up shop there and make a nice little bundle that won’t blow away when we need it to buy something like retirement. The painful truth I see is that there is no such thing as fixing the Street, if by that we mean creating an individual space for each American (let alone each global citizen) there. The Street is not my street. It does not love me. It does not need me, except as raw material to make other people, people with power I lack, rich. I am a sheep on the Street, a sheep among wolves. If I become a wolf there, to avoid being eaten, then the price is eating others (sheep such as I used to be). I don’t like being either the sheep or the wolf. I would prefer to join something like Marinaleda, a community in which we all shoulder a certain responsibility with certain rewards (and demerits for those who renege on their duty–demerits that don’t include golden parachutes for professional pirates who pretend to be pillars of polite society). I don’t particularly care if my community identifies itself as capitalist, socialist, Marxist, Buddhist, Christian, pagan, humanist, Confucian, etc. ad nauseam. What I care about is that it be small enough to admit me as a responsible agent.

I am sick of being cannon fodder in communities like Wall Street. I want to belong to a tribe where individual people matter.

About kalekotxakur

Joseph Gresham Miller grew up in the southern United States, where his parents provided a well-stocked library and a large garden in lieu of school. As a young man, he left the States for two years to live in northern Spain, where he worked as an LDS Mormon missionary (basically an unpaid intern in corporate sales). After this adventure he went to school for more than a decade to acquire a doctorate in classical studies. Along the way, he met a very nice girl in Latin class, and they had two boys. Today, he and his family live in the mountain West. While his wife works full-time in academia, he adjuncts at local universities, writes, and takes care of the kids. He is interested in finding practical applications for more or less defunct ancient philosophies (especially Cynicism, Skepticism, and Stoicism) in modern life.

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