Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Sunsets and Community

In the bus, today, out of the corner of my eye I was a little startled to find an unusually bloody, stunning sunset covering most of the sky.

Besides being generally impressive to look at, sunsets seem to create a very particular atmosphere. Lately I've wondered what stands behind this, and if there are any generally accepted theories on the matter. My rash pop-psych suggestion is that the twilight of the sky leads to a kind of twilight of the mind, where you're suddenly both more secure and more questioning - more open, in a word, to whatever may come.

What came was a flashback to Shabbat evening meals in the Kibbutz. People from different families gathered together in the dining room, singing Shabbat songs and psalms. I remember the rabbi being particularly into this. It's a beautiful, mellow memory, and would usually take place when the sky was similarly lighted.

The reason this would require openness is that, the sweetness of this memory notwithstanding, it has been years since I've entertained the notion of community as anything beyond an enormous evil.

Community, to me, means conformity, hasty hurtful judgement, mob mentality, dissolution of the self. I'm not even seriously reconsidering this assessment, but it seems to me I've ignored some of the other things community is.

I've always gotten stuck on community pretending to be love, because I don't like lies in general, and like that specific one even less. Community is a partnership of convenience. That's all it has been and probably all it can be. A community cannot be a family, but what can it be?

Perhaps just a collection of moving human moments. A sunset isn't love either, and doesn't "mean" anything, but that doesn't lead me to disdain it. You don't need to justify enjoying things. What you need to justify is moral convictions.

It's the moral convictions attached to the concept of community that disturb me. Conformity, tribalism, jingoism, even a kind of enthusiastic obedience - in short, the collectivist idea that the group is more important than the sum of the individuals that make it up.

But this doesn't have to be the only way of setting up a community. What's wrong with the idea of an ideologically neutralized community of convenience? A place where people live together for the sake of company and nothing else? I suppose small agricultural settlements are technically like this, but my understanding is these places aren't usually very communal in character. People keep to themselves unless they feel they share an ideology with their surroundings.

I don't know exactly about Islam, but it seems that one of the major things that have kept Judaism and Christianity alive even after the secularization of the political and professional world is the synagogue/church which implies a community - one that even many fervently secular people are eager to take part in. It seems a lot of people feel comfortable refraining from thinking too hard about the religious ideology they're purporting to follow, because what they're really after is the community that comes as a major unexpected perk, as it were.

So what we need is a new religion. A more sympathetic one, with less absolutism. One that recognizes our spiritual, emotional needs and doesn't promulgate any far-reaching moral assertions.

Why do we always have to mix spirituality and politics? The only ideology a community needs is that which involves the way the members deal with one another - whatever can neutralize the dangers that a community represents. A community needs to consider the emotional and spiritual welfare of its members. Otherwise it just needs to enjoy itself.

Community is positive in enjoyment and in action; it is repugnant in thought and in feeling.

1 comment:

  1. I've noticed a common theme running through many of your blogs: the conflict between the need to maintain total intellectual independence and the need to connect with others.

    To some extent, there needs to be a bit of give and take between these two goals. It's impossible to be 100% independent and individualistic and, at the same time, accommodate the needs of others. Sometimes, one will need to compromise, whether on the mundane level of letting the other person have the TV remote control sometimes or at a deeper level, e.g., your girlfiend wants the two of you to celebrate a religious rite that you don't connect to. And if you want to be connected to a cummunity, for the spiritual and emotional reasons you mention, you have to accept that sometimes (quite often) you won't agree 100% with everything expressed by that community. You may even find that they seem to be trying to get you to conform the opinions expressed by the majority in that group. The key is in finding a community in which you agree with enough of the base attitudes, so that these conflicts will be minimized, but they can never be avoided completely. Not unless you want to live on a desert island in pure, perfect, individual integrity.