Departments

Community

Community is the best thing to have, the worst thing to be had by. The wish for community is at its worst a kind of wish for death – a wish to be submerged in the group, to be assigned a place, to be enfolded by a web of explicit rules and expectations, to be known in full – to be finished. But community, when it is good, is not a kind of group, but something that can be said of a group; an adjective, not a noun; like marital bliss or individual excellence, it exists only relatively – it can exist only where and because each manifestation is unique.

Community is not in itself a bad thing; but if it is powerful for good, it is also simply powerful, and being powerful can be dangerous. Of course, we are all inescapably part of the anonymous community of commerce, law, and arms. Even the hermit relies on the general peace to preserve him from abuse.

Community is worthy and strengthening in moderation, but in excess addictive and thereby limiting. Everything worth doing in life is in some part defiance of community – even if it is only the widening of a community; for the more closely a community is jointed, the less room it has. Here, as elsewhere in life, the pleasure of security loses the profit of change.

A role in a community is a cell, and cella continuata dulcescit. The stronger the community, the more it will hypnotize itself into identifying you with your role: remembering what fits, forgetting or classifying as aberration or as peccadillo what does not. Strong as you are, given time, the expectations of others will turn your life into a story; turn your words and your thoughts into your lines; turn your taste to your image; turn your face to your symbol. This happens to the famous in the world at large; but in a close and closed community it is worse. Even virtual communities demand from you a declaration of personality, with fields for nicknames, statistics, lists of favorites (modest lists, more concealing than revealing). This is not an awkward imitation of community: real communities are more awkward and confining than anything which human beings could bear to consciously make.

It can be comforting – it is certainly convenient – to allow yourself to be shaped in this way; and it is to some degree inevitable – even the hermit must look like a hermit, if he does not want nomads or hikers to try to rescue him. But to surrender to this force is not to live as befits the equipment and the powers of a human being.

There is no honor in demolishing communities, but there is only good in building them if you do not immure yourself. Keep more than one community; and if one community tries to claim you for itself, shouts or whispers that every other is a lie – you are mine only, mine to judge, mine to keep, mine to make and re-make – then leave it. It is death in life.