Community is something that we are continually seeking in our country yet, perhaps even unbeknownst to ourselves, making it more difficult to achieve because of the way we are doing it.
Consider the historical notion of a community. Geography played a big part in defining one’s community because it was not all that easy to go to the next town that was twenty miles away. It was certainly not something that you would do on a daily basis like some of us do for our daily commutes. Therefore, your community was defined by the people who lived in close proximity to you.
Neighbors can be very different though. You happen to live on the same street in the same town, but you might not have very much in common. You actually might be diametrically opposed on just about every major issue of the day. There is nothing unusual about geographical neighbors being very different. Just look at Tim Taylor and Wilson Wilson.
Still, even in the face of these differences, there is a genuine human desire for community. We see that everywhere. People like to come together and join with other people for a common purpose. When you are geographically restricted, you might not agree with everything your neighbor believes or says, but you are going to work together with him to accomplish a particular task that will benefit the community at large. If two guys want to start a basketball league, they might set aside their different political ideologies to get on the court and make it happen because they want to create a community of basketball players and interact with people who share that specific interest.
In a small town without the luxury of being able to go to a different one, there is no one else around to work with, so if you don’t come together with people may not see eye to eye with you on every issue all the time, you are going to get nothing done when you are constrained by geography. Deeper than that, you are not going to fulfill that human longing for community, and that is contrary to nature itself.
You may remember the series of articles I wrote on Russell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles, and his eighth principle stressed the importance of voluntary community. Voluntary community in the past tended to be limited by geography and a recognition that it was for a specific purpose that may or may not be done with our perfect ideological allies.
Now we are going to fast-forward to 2019. It is really easy to connect and find like-minded people. Even this website is an exercise in that practice. Our contributors are spread out around the United States. We have come together for a like purpose, and I would contend that we have some type of community here even though it is not at all geographical. It would be a lot harder for me to find like-minded people to build this project in my home state of Vermont given our political sentiments. We took advantage of the tools at our disposal to make this happen.
This is a wonderful thing. It is great to be able to connect on projects like this one, but the fact that we can do this does present a challenge to the building of community.
I don’t necessarily need to interact with my geographical neighbor anymore to fulfill my human desire for community. Because of that, I don’t need to work with people who don’t see everything exactly the same way I do. I never have to develop the type of skill set that has allowed humanity to live in geographical communities since the beginning of time.
There were always some nonnegotiable issues, some things that are never worth compromising on. That said, is it any surprise that we see a rise in political polarization given the ease at which we can find whatever community we want? We are able to isolate ourselves and like-minded communities while somewhat fulfilling our desire for socialization. We build political bubbles because it is easy.
This is a legitimate challenge to the development of communities. They are built no matter what, but the way they are being built, purely ideologically instead of ideologically with the practical constraints of geography, presents unheard-of challenges that we need to deal with. As conservatives, we need to care about the types of communities that are built and how to make them successful.