There are some words I just want to yank away from people and put on a high shelf until they're big enough to know better.
"Community" is one of them. There've been some particularly egregious violations of this word in my world lately, which is why I'm throwing it in the spotlight (and up on the high shelf), but it's hardly a new problem. Rather than rail against the specific social groups and corporations I've seen rolling this word in the mud, though, I'm going to focus on what they're missing, and why it's important.
When we say "community", we are specifically referring to humanity's:
C1) need to BE SOCIAL — which is not just to co-exist, but to live intertwined with, and rely on, each other;
C2) desire to ACT RATIONALLY, consciously, and with better long-term self-interest than our animal urges would have us do.
I can't stress how important BOTH of those are in order to have a community. If you have social without rational, you just have an animal pack or a mob. If you have rational without social, you have a business or a military or similar, but it's got none of the benefits of working together and mutual support that we look for in communities. There can be many types of communal structure and communal actions, of course, but they all have those two things in common, or they're not "a community" (or "community-oriented", or what have you).
Here are a few things that are NOT COMMUNITY:
1. top-down organization systems where one or a few people are explicitly in charge of everyone else (violates C1: we're not being social and relying on each other just by all obeying the same, epecially the same faceless or distant, authority)
2. "cliques" and social groups where, no matter what rational policies and procedures claim to be used or valued, the reality of inclusion and participation is that you'd better be liked by the handful of people with power, or they will be able to successfully punish or ostracize you (violates C2: this is straight-up pack-animal behavior, driven by fear, greed and isolationism rather than any desire to work together)
3. corporate organizations where the sole reason people are together is to make (or spend) money, and/or where the only thing holding the group together is money (violates C1: if money is the sole thing holding a group together, it's a business, not a community. In a business, the values of social cooperation and gain-for-everyone are often shoved aside in the interest of increasing and protecting money, because without the money there would be no business. In a community, however, if we lose money, we lose it together, and then we work together to help each other get what we need without it.)
4. groups and situations ruled by a "mob mentality", where people who are different or intimidating, or have unpopular habits or opinions, can be turned on and punished / excluded because there's no functioning mechanism to protect them from fear-based reactions (violates C2: rationally, we know that diversity is a strength, and that without fringey people who may make us uncomfortable at times, we'll never make progress…but as animals, violations of the status quo scare us, and we want to respond to perceived threats by pushing people down or out. In a real community though, there are clear rules for what constitutes unacceptable behavior, and — and this is important — clear, preferably multiple, paths for people whose behavior doesn't mesh well to re-integrate. Without those rules and those paths — which cannot be overseen by one or a few people, or you have a case of #1 — every group will inevitably exclude (or kill — no accident that that's how the animals do it; it's efficient) its mentally-ill, its geniuses, its differently-abled, and those in the group who come from different cultures.)
SO, to condense that a bit, the next time someone tries to sell you on their thing by talking about what a great "community" it is, ask yourself:
- Is this a top-down organization where all the rules are coming from one or a few people (especially if those people are not subject to the same rules, or can choose to enforce them or not)? –> NOT A COMMUNITY
- Is this a group where you can be punished or kicked out simply for "getting on the wrong side" of the person or people in charge, and the group as a whole (or its rules and procedures) can't save you if you do? –> NOT A COMMUNITY
- Is this a group that exists mainly for the purpose of making money? –> NOT A COMMUNITY
- Is this a group without rules and procedures in place to protect people who induce a fear-reaction in others, by being different or having uncomfortable ideas? –> NOT A COMMUNITY
I LOVE communities, if you can't tell. I think working together in social groups that use our talents for rational thought, planning, and self-awareness gives humanity a huge force-multiplier, and lets us make amazing leaps forward. But I lament the day that someone figured out how to sell people on investing in groups by calling them "communities", becuase it was a tricky word to begin with, and has now been ridiculously watered-down and appropriated by everyone from office-managers to forum-moderators to event-planners and more. And it makes me seethe with rage, pretty much equally whether the intent was to lure and fake people into participating, or to try and create a community and not have two neurons to rub together to bother figuring out what that actually is, or sticking by it when it gets hard (like when you need to tell your favorite leaders "no", or stand up for people that not everyone likes). I don't see either of those failures as better than the other.
So give me that word back, assholes. I'm putting everyone who misuses the term "community" in the same circle of logical hell, and may they abuse and ostracize each other there for all eternity, and leave the rest of us alone; and until then, you lose your right to say "community" without getting at least metaphorically slapped in the face. (That's right. I've learned how to backhand people with metaphors. Or I will soon enough. :D)