The Loss of Community: The Existential Threat
Community is the progenitor of our modern society and will be the first thing to fall when our society disintegrates. It is the lynchpin that keeps our beautiful nation together, and thus, the most important aspect of it. The idea of societal connection through community provides humanity with the very crucial things that they need. Community creates a natural hierarchy or ‘sense of order’ for people, that gives them a modicum of stability in life. Humans crave normalcy, and both community and order play a part in that. Secondly, community gives people that necessary human connection and the feeling that they are a part of something greater. Individualism is great and important to preserve, and tribalism is harmful and denigrating at its apex, but community strikes that crucial balance between the two. The combination of these factors creates a brotherhood between people, something crucial for both humans to live a fulfilled life, but also important for the health of a nation. A nation cannot succeed without a cohesive culture, and ultimately, that culture is cultivated by community. It is when this communal culture erodes, that our society and nation erode. Ultimately, who faces the brunt of the issues from that? Humans.
In our current cultural climate, we are now more polarized than ever. This is reflected no better than in our politics all over the West. Politics is ultimately and has always been a reflection of who we are as a community and the health of our community. That our politics is so polarized, is a symptom of our degrading culture. This is the reason that there are so many more radical politicians in our time. A quick look at the Democratic presidential field in America says a lot about how much support the radical left in the party is getting. The same is true of the political right in Europe, in which far-right candidates are garnering a bit of heat now. Throughout history, if there has ever been one constant, it is that when people feel that their society is under threat, they will look for more radical solutions. You vote for radical politicians because their message is always to tear down the establishment or change it completely. No one supports that unless they think that their community is dying. Anecdotally speaking, the politics of today are a direct indicator that our community is under threat. How exactly? A difficult question with several different answers.
Undoubtedly, the greatest threat to community is our lack of a willingness to communicate with each other. Some of this is fueled by social media and the internet. The world wide web, for all its glory, is a false method of talking to people. As ‘cringe-worthy’ as it sounds to hear older people berate us, saying that no one on the internet is real, it is completely true. This lack of connection to those who are truly in our community means that people are no longer humanized. You can never humanize a person on the internet like you can your next-door neighbour. None of this is helped by social media like Twitter. The essence of social media, that is, to synthesize all your ideas into a few key buzzwords and eye-catching material, has led to a degradation of our discourse. This is because, the more vitriolic and extreme you make your posts, the more ‘clicks’ it will get. Social media leads to actual ideas being drowned out by simple name-calling and petty comments. When you no longer view other people in your national community as fellow men and women, you lose that essence of community that was there in the first place. The internet plays a massive role in that. Secondly, the internet brings out the darkness in us. The mask of anonymity does that; there is a sense of power that comes with a lack of accountability there is on the web, compared to real life. This allows the more fringe and radical aspects of our society to gain a lot of influence. It is always the fringe that denigrates our culture and community, and the internet gives it a voice. Should the internet be regulated even more? Not at all. However, people should take a closer look at themselves before actually using it — and consider whether they could instead be using that time to connect with their community.
The internet is still not the massive issue. Simply said, on a grander scale, our lack of a willingness to communicate with each other is more so a sign that we have lost our common vision, of what we want our national community to be in the future. We have lost the common symbols that we hold dear in our nation. Nowadays, even seen having pride in your nation and its history is questionable, at least, by certain factions in society. Revisionist history has played a part in feeding that narrative. America, by most metrics, the beacon of freedom and prosperity in the world, has now become twisted as a nation of racism and oppression. This kind of revisionism has become a trademark for the increasing divides between people in the West, typically manifested as the divide between conservatives and liberals. These two groups have broadly become representative of two different visions of nationhood — a nation that protects its established norms versus a nation that rejects it. The increased polarization has, of course, led to us view each other not as humans, but as rivals. This has played a massive role in reducing our community to not one of goodwill, but an arena of battling ideology. A community cannot survive like that. With that said, this issue of polarization has only become a problem from the 2000s on, whereas at least anecdotally, the state of community in the West has been declining since the 1960s. This leads me to believe that once again, polarization is again, only part of the massive problem, that is the degradation of our culture.
The true issue lies in a lack of common culture. In our society, we have lost the symbols and ideas that we used to uphold as the foundation of our society. In the past, this used to religion. Religion allowed people to get to together as a community and care for each other. The inherent moral teachings that religion provides are essential to society. A common religion provides a crutch to use as a structure in a community to facilitate its growth and wellbeing. However, as the ages have gone on, the rise of irreligion and immigration of those with different faiths has led to religion being less of a force to keep communities together. Instead of religion, national pride became the next ‘common culture’ that everyone could identify with. Having pride in one’s nation meant that everyone wanted to benefit it, and the way that people would do that is through helping their community. This worked for a less prolonged time, but it still worked. Now, even this national pride has been falling apart, as people start to take a less charitable view of their nation. As people keep on calling their country irreparably flawed and racist to the core, as many western countries are being unfairly characterized as, this image of national pride as a force to keep a community together, slowly starts to dissolve away. And with that slowing being etched away at, what’s next? And that is the issue we face today. We are losing the culture that our community was based on, and this is a key cause of so many of the issues we have today. For example, anti-immigration sentiment comes from the idea that immigrants are spending less and less time assimilating into a national culture, which is, of course, happening because we are losing that national culture in the first place. Then come things like the suicide and the loneliness epidemics. These should not be happening in a world that is theoretically more connected than it ever has been. But the reason these epidemics have gained a foothold is that people are feeling less and less a part of a greater whole — a common culture they can identify with. As such, we as a whole grow lonelier and further isolated.
This lack of a common culture, propagated by community, has far-reaching political effects as well. Aside from the obvious that is political polarization, there is an obvious shift in governmental policy these days, caused by the dissolving national identity. As people have been starting to lose community, they have steadily begun to replace that community with government intervention. This is seen none better than with welfare. Had we had a common culture within our communities, we would have no use for the extensive welfare net we have now. We would simply engage in charity. It is only people could not solve issues by themselves in their own community, that the federal government used to step in. Nowadays, this common community seldom exists, and as a result, people tend to turn to government to fill that gap for them.
It is clear that so much of the wellbeing of the West and its people is dependent on having a community that can sustain itself. That the idea of community has been slowly disappearing is disappointing, and the reasons for it are broad, from the internet to lack of a common national vision. The key issue lies with a lack of a common culture. This common culture is not only the key problem behind our dissolving communities but also so many of our social problems and even the shift in our politics towards favouring government intervention. And at the end, who are the ones that damaged the most by the loss of community? Humans.