A Theoretical Vision of Community Essay

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Introduction and overview of a theoretical vision of community

The following document outlines the defense of my theoretical vision of community. It will address the extent to the vision is informed by my particular beliefs and understandings regarding the nature in which a society can more efficiently function. It will also delve into some of the perspectives of communitarian vision in relationship to this particular theoretical vision, and will look into areas of human personality and agency as mechanism for the success and failure of past and future visions of community.

The document will also address some of the more intricate theories of knowledge and moral truths, as well as the details of logistics as to how such a community will function in a democratic fashion. Priorities on rights and morals within the community will be addressed, as well as the general systems of social welfare. The concept of equality will be introduced as a force within this envisioned community, and will be analyzed in terms of its meaning within this vision of community. This vision of community will base itself mainly on Conservativism and the visions of group behavior and community from such philosophers as Allen Bloom, Alasdair MacIntyre and Russell Arben Fox.

My particular theoretical view of community is quite simple to state, and yet very difficult to enact. It is a view that believes that the human experience is not sustainable if one only works towards individual liberties. It is important to understand the web of relationships to which we all belong. These webs can consists of our relationship to the environment and the earth, our relationship to our local and global community and our relationship to our families, friends and other social networks. By understanding the complex webs of existence that determine the human condition, we can begin to conceptualize a community that is sustainable.

Currently we are functioning within a paradigm of an unsustainable collective reality. My vision of community perceives of a group collective whose members dedicate a minimal amount of attention, energy, and resources to projects that uplift the collective. This brings up one of the other principle understandings in my envisioned group. It is that the exclusive pursuit of individual interests, rights and freedoms places an enormous burden on the social and physical environment. Individual rights and freedoms can only work within the greater paradigm of the collective reality that encases it.

And so, my vision recognizes the need for human rights and the existence of human agency, while at the same time it recognizes the existence of the human collective. In this sense, my vision gives equal rights to the collective experience as to the individual experience. When considering the state of institutions and organizations in America, one must reconsider the notion of community and morality within a group paradigm. I envision a theoretical community based on much of the resurgence of communitarian ideas. Disturbing trends towards crime and social disorder, as well as an all-prevailing attitude that gives emphasis towards self-affirmation and self-interest. Communitarian ideas focus on restoring integrity in human community efforts and institutions, especially in the administrative and localized realms.

Within communitarian studies, one can begin to perceive a renewed interest in a community that fights for basic ideals regarding the human individual character, integrity, and the virtues and values which manifest themselves in the public sphere.

My vision of community calls for the embodiment of communitarian ideals and policy approaches which begin at the micro-level of the human individual experience, branching out to the macro-level of cultural and institutional development. The basis of the vision involves a union of individuals committed to becoming the change that they wish to see in the world. This involves the education of good personal conduct and personal responsibility, a notion that has unfortunately seeped out of the basic frame of reference of many individuals of our modern time.

This theoretical vision of community is based on a more Conservative approach to the philosophical notion of morality and human decision-making, as well as the functioning of society as a unit. An important aspect of this theoretical vision for society is an idea that as individuals can work as communities that assert moral standards for conduct, we can reduce a reliance on costly government programs. In an economic sense, there is an underlying moral standard for conduct as well, as the individual may think more towards empowering a group of people instead of his own personal interests for gain.

In this sense, the theoretical vision for a community is an optimistic take on the nature of the human being as a capable individual for decision-making, given the right education and values. It is true that humans tend to act in selfish ways, but through the creation of community there can be a mental shift whereby the individual can begin to open in awareness. This opening in awareness comes from the direct experience of the benefits involved in creating a society based on cooperation of common goals for the common good. This can only be ingrained into the mind of the individual through the actual experience and practice of living in a community that strives for the common good.

Similarly, the modern 21st century society has inspired the mind to search for individual and immediate satisfaction. The communitarian approach considers itself to be the essential optimistic view that has animated Americans throughout our history.[1] I agree that communitarian policy has brought forth positive change in the creation of social and community awareness, as well as the creation of social action that works towards reversing the trends of self-interest alone.

If I had to adhere to one particular form of Communitariansism, it would be the Ideological approach to social wellbeing. This approach bases itself on a perceived observation of deteriorating social networks, and an attempt to correct that deterioration by increasing social capital. In my vision of community social capital can be increased by observing what Robert Putnam calls the collective value of all social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other.

To directly quote The Responsive Communitarian Platform:

    Many social goals . . . require partnership between public and private groups. Though government should not seek to replace local communities, it may need to empower them by strategies of support, including revenue sharing and technical assistance. There is a great need for study and experimentation with creative use of the structures of civil society, and public-private cooperation, especially where the delivery of health, educational and social services are concerned.

The role of the human individual: agency and personality in the community vision

The Communitarian approach focuses mainly on the advocating of social capital and the furtherance of the community through an agreement on particular values and morality choices. In my vision of community, this is also one of the strongest aims for the collective. And yet, within that collective import, my vision also holds space for the acknowledgement of human free will, personality or agency. If one creates an ideological or theoretical vision based only on an awareness of the social collective, one misses the duality that exists between the individual and the group as a paradigm of human existence.

It is important to understand that human agency is still the motivating force behind all collective vision. Without the personality of the individual, groups would merely consist of collective drones marching to the beat of the loudest drummer.

The collective vision of social capital resurgence can only function against the greater backdrop of human individual change and awareness. And so, the basis of this paradigm of collective change is one that acknowledges the need for individual education and the evolution of self. The great irony is that many libertarians or freedom and rights advocates believe themselves to be free, when actually they are merely working within a different paradigm that limits the development of the individual.

Allan David Bloom notices this irony in his groundbreaking work The Closing of the American Mind. The most successful tyranny, he states, is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside. (p. 249)

Blooms ideas on human agency and social control are based on preserving certain philosophical truths for later generations. His book is a critique of the contemporary university, and yet we can find within in it the even greater critique of American society. He believes that modern liberal philosophy was responsible for the crisis, stating that the notion that a just society could be based upon self-interest alone, coupled by the emergence of relativism in American thought had led to this crisis.

This belief embodies the heart of my vision for a communitarian-based social reality. Here we can clearly see how while the recognition of self-interest, personality and human agency exist and are important, it is through the creation of a solid commitment to the well-being of the whole that the human agency of action can be stimulated to put energy and effort into that ideal. And so, the vision entails a training of the human agency, an education of the individualism and self-interest that, if left unchecked can lead to the social crisis and the void of spirit that we find in America today.

In his critique on American universities, Bloom discusses this void of spirit. As it now stands, students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing. (p. 67)

Bloom discussed how the failure of contemporary education has lead the modern human being to be stunted in the development of self. Modern life in America offers us all the promises of material gain and monetary success, yet these are small mundane offerings being misrepresented as success. The search for commercial gain as the most highly valued element of the human life has poisoned the human soul. I am therefore in full agreement with Bloom that the individual must be educated to search for philosophic truths and self-awareness. In this sense, a huge part of the community vision involves the commitment in each and every individual towards the search for higher truths beyond self-interest and material gain.

Macintyre and a theory of morality

My theoretical vision of community resonates with the writings of Alasdair Macintyre and his belief that the best theory so far for understanding human morality is the tradition of Thomistic Aristotelianism. Macintyre worked within the tradition of virtue ethics, which states that the most effective way of determining human morality is to actually look into the habits, virtues and knowledge surrounding how one actually lives their life.

I am attracted to this particular understanding of moral reason because it resonates with my belief that it is more important to be and do, than to merely come up with lofty ideals that remain in ones speech and not in behavior. This approach is so elegant in that it focuses on how to make the most out of an entire human life.

Many other theories focus on specific issues such as gay rights, abortion, womens rights and religious debate, but in my vision of community, these issues are merely symptoms of the greater problem. It is more important for each human being to focus on their own good judgment than on the issues that society is debating upon. By focusing on good judgments, meaning honesty, not creating ill will, working to have good speech towards others, non-violence, etc., one creates good character for oneself.

The underlying morality of my community, therefore, is not based on anything that any one agency or institution decides upon, but is wholly based on the virtues of life that enable good behavior to emanate naturally from individuals committed to integrity. MacIntyre, who bases himself on the Aristotelian idea of an ethical teleology, believes that right and wrong are more important than the formal rules that attempt to encourage them.

MacIntyre emphasizes the need for a community of individuals committed to the highest good. These individuals must be engaged actively in the practice of what he calls goods of excellence rather than any commitment to some exterior moral agent. This, once again, fully parallels my own understanding of an ideal community, whereby the proof is in the pudding of individual action, not within the individual need for rights.

Universal morality and truth

My vision of community is based on the belief that there is in fact a universal objective moral or truth. At the same time, I am not claiming that I myself can outline what those universals are, nor can I explicitly define a notion of moral truth, but as the saying goes, I know it when I see it. Truth is an experience whereby ones witnesses and experiences.

When I speak of morality and value systems throughout this document, it is important to mention that I am not referring to any hard-coded set of rules to be used indiscriminately by force, but am referring to the instilling of values within the individual that actually allow them to become more free. Freedom, in this sense, refers to becoming a more peaceful, aware human being.

A part of this peaceful nature entails not harming others, or oneself. And so, when I refer to the education of youth, it does not mean an indoctrination of a group of people, but more an opening of the mind, so as one becomes less and less focused on the individual success, and more and more focuses on the good of all beings. In this sense, I do adhere to the existence of truth as a human universal. This human universal is that we are all looking to lead a life which reduces human suffering, and increases a peaceful existence. The tactics and recommendations provided herein are merely stepping stones to reach that greater freedom.

Tradition and traditional values

The role of tradition in this vision of community is only tradition-based if that particular tradition works in adherence to the ideals on community up-lifting and the advancement of virtue. Only traditions have the capacity to inspire a community to move forward should be given precedence. Traditions, no matter what ethnic or racial background they come from, are only valuable if they are steeped in the wisdom of the collective reality. This means that traditions that are self-centered or and driven by greed should be avoided. Traditions that work towards special interests of a few very powerful should be ignored.

This means that if one were to analyze the current American government or economy, one could determine that much of the tradition of the capitalist society is based on the search for individual material gain. In this sense, the tradition of laissez faire economics and capitalism may be a tradition that could be remedied.

On the other hand, there are many American traditions which are based on the spirit of community which should be given space for growth. The value of family and friendship networks, the emphasis placed on spiritual and religious adherence, and the feeling of patriotism towards the country (not government), could be considered as positive traditions. And so, tradition plays a role in my vision of a community inasmuch as the tradition can prove to play a correlating role within the greater scope of the vision.

In another sense, my vision of community does take a more conservative approach to ethical matters, and in this sense, may be considered to be steeped in traditional values. Such values include the notion of family, parenting and education. In order to instill a sense of values and morality into the human individual, it is important to start with the new generations. In this way, it is the responsibility of parents to instill certain values of moral education and integrity into their children. This is done by setting an example, not through words alone, but through actions.

I believe that most children today are being given an education by teachers or from the mass media. This is an unfortunate fact. The examples that parents are giving it one of the mass consumer, obsessed with acquiring the next technological advancement, or purchasing the latest designer clothes. Most parents are products of the individual-based society.

They are so focuses on themselves, that they forget to remind their children of the importance of the greater social reality. Other parents who are less selfish are under huge societal pressures to make enough money to keep up with the current standards of living. These parents, while they may have the desire to educate their children in a good way, simply do not have the time and flexibility to attend to their moral and educational duties. Once again, children are left to be educated by under-paid, over-worked teachers and even worse, the mass media.

In my vision of community, workplaces play a crucial role in reestablishing some of the more traditional values involving family life and parenting. Parents, particularly those with young children, need to be given the opportunity for more flexible work schedules. For the sake of the upcoming generations, parents need to be present at the educating forces in the childs life. Programs such as paid and unpaid parental leave, flextime, shared jobs, opportunities to work at home, and for parents to participate as volunteers and managers in child-care centers, are an integral part of the more traditional vision of family and child education.

Furthermore, there needs to be a shift in the collective conscious on how we value parenting. Child raising needs to be given new precedence as one of the most important things that a human being can ever endeavor to attempt. Also, continuing with an adherence to traditional values, it is important that human individual have support with the raising of children. It has been consistently shown that single parent households often have a more difficult time in raising children. This is not to place a moral judgment on single parents, but is just to say that women or men who are left to be single parents should be given more social support due to the sheer lack of resources that they have.

Schools represent one of the main areas where the establishment of good morals can be ensued. Because the American family has become so weak, the capacity for parents to provide proper education has been greatly impaired. Schools now play the major role in the character formation of the next generation. Therefore, in the envisioned community, not only do parents and communities play a role in proper education, but also educational institutions would recognize the incredible role that they play in shaping the moral education and value system of students.

Tolerance, equality and the creation of peaceful idealism

How can a school teach value systems without getting involved in religious issues on morality? Once again, we can come back to the principals discussed earlier in the document, on universal truth. I feel that no one in the community would argue with an organization that teaches us to work for the dignity of all human beings. Nor would anyone be inclined to argue with the teaching of equality, respect and tolerance. Human equality is the highest virtue of this perceived theoretical society.

All persons should be treated as equals, and the discrimination of any human being is unacceptable. Of course, these are lofty ideals but we must have some sort of ideal that we can try to work towards. In this sense, we must create an arsenal of peaceful idealism. Peaceful ideals include a peaceful resolution to conflicts. Violence, in any form, should be avoided. Basics such as lying, stealing and killing are universals to be avoided. One could also state that a democratic government which fosters participation from all citizens could be considered as one that works toward peaceful idealism. Totalitarianism and authoritarianism are not.

Equal pay for women and men, as well as equal pay for all ethnic groups is another part of peaceful idealism. Much in the same, this ideal can be applied to globalization as well. With the onslaught of the widely spreading mass media and rapid forms of travel and communication, we must also extend our idea of the collective to include the global collective. These same ideals, because they are not religious or culturally or even politically based, can be applied to any group of people.

The nature and scope of democracy

Like Robert Putnam, I believe that social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy. The political setup of society today is a false democracy. The perceived democracy of American society today is actually the an oligarchy of a few very influential, powerful, wealthy corporations.

In my envisioned community, there would be much more local participation in politics. Ordered liberty, rather than unchecked, unlimited individual and corporate license would be obtained not through force, but through the cultivation of education which is based on shared values. These shared values are not limited to any particular culture, but are universal values that assure a respect for one anothers rights. In the same, the democracy is based on policies that are accepted as legitimate by the social reality, not policies that are imposed through force. Any political policy that works through force will only be successful at masking the problem.

The government of my community would be a real democracy, representative and participant democracy that was responsive to the needs and realities of all community members, regardless of race, gender or religious background. This can be done by creating ways to make citizens of the community feel that they actually have a voice within the decision making process, whether by direct vote or by fostering programs for wellbeing and education.

An important part of a democracy is the diffusion of information to the population of citizens. Government needs to be transparent. Similarly, corporations and governments alike must modify their practices to reduce the role of private money, special interests and corruption. Voting is another method for keeping the community constituents involved in the decision making process, but it is not the only method. Being involved in non-political activities such as community volunteering and relief efforts, or social work and fundraising is another way to affect change on the community and be responsible members of society. Economic responsibilities include paying ones taxes to enjoy social works.

Justice

In the words of Bloom:

The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside. (Closing of the American Mind, 249)

Law may prescribe that the male nipples be made equal to the female ones, but they still will not give milk. (Closing of the American Mind, 131)

The following quotes embody my vision of the creation of collective community in regard to its attitude towards justice. Law and justice systems are only affective inasmuch as they are working towards the truth, or the embodiment of the human universals and peace principals. The justice system of this theoretical society must therefore work towards correcting behavior through education and persuasion.

Most methods of the current justice system involve either coercion or through the fear of punishment. This simply masks deeper hidden social ills. What we end up with is a nation full of costly prisons and uneducated human beings, rather than programs which foster education and reasoned judgment.  The realm of justice lies not in unrestrained individual freedoms, nor in harsh governmental control, but in the balance between the two: the communitarian social space.
Social justice is one such area of understanding in the community space. This involves the notion of reciprocity. All members of society feels that it is indebted to the collective, just as the collective society feels that it is indebted to its members. In order for social justice to exist, all members must feel a responsibility towards the community effort.

Individual rights and responsibilities towards the collective

My vision of community gives priority to the good for the collective over the rights of the individual, only if the collective good is something that has been agreed upon by the social reality. This means, the good has been determined by individuals that are clearly searching for higher truths and values in their lives. These values are based on the uplifting of others as a social collective. This approach embodies the need for balance between the rights of the individual (which it also recognizes) and the responsibility that the individual has towards the collective.

This means, if the individual is given a plethora of rights, then there must be an exact correlation of strong responsibilities at hand. In this sense, the age-old saying, To whom much is given, much is required, rings true. If I am committed to ensuring the best for the collective, and I am responsible for looking out for the social well-being, the certainly I am an individual that can enjoy many rights. On the contrary, if I am a self-centered individual, only looking out for my own material gain, my rights need to be limited, as I am certainly likely to do grave harm to the social collective.

My vision of rights and the collective good is based on a belief that contemporary society has been too liberal in bestowing rights and individual autonomy. This has come at the price of individual and social responsibility. That said, there are many rights that all individual should have. This includes basic human rights like the right to good healthcare, education, a safe living environment, and basic employment.

These are rights that all human beings are entitled to. It is of utmost importance to mention that my vision of community, while placing much emphasis on the collective good, does, in no way, place disregard on human rights. I am of the firm belief that the more and more one works towards collective responsibility, the more one can enjoy the rights and freedoms that one is entitles to. Simply bestowing rights to uneducated, self-interested human beings is no freedom at all. Rights and freedoms are only freedoms according to how each and every individual uses them.

And so, all individuals in my theoretical vision of community should enjoy a clean environment, public education and works programs, as well as equality under the law. And in this sense, the community or society works at maintaining the delicate balance between individual rights and the collective enjoyment of agreeing upon certain individual limitations.

Many critics of a more conservative, non-liberal approach to the philosophy of community cite the First Amendment as an important right. I believe that the First Amendment is an incredibly important right, but that also we should consider the rights of the victims of such a right. Take for example an extremely racist, sexist person. If they have complete freedom to speak their minds, they are doing so at the cost of the wellbeing of others.

In a sense, their freedom is incurring on the freedom of the victim of their words. Imagine that that individual is a member of a college campus, and that his words spark an onslaught of sexist and racist behavior on campus. In this case, a college-wide program educating individuals on the benefits, logic and rationale behind having a more tolerant mind state would be helpful to the community by promoting inter-group understanding.

This is an example of how we can work to create awareness, understanding and tolerance as morals and values of the highest level, without sacrificing the First Amendment. This can occur because there are some universals of truth that all humans can live by. And so, we should have complete freedom in all sense, if and only if, that freedom does not cause harm to another being within the collective. This is an aspect of the human universals that have been discussed in his document, and is the cornerstone of the greater vision of my view of a theoretical community.

Social welfare

I believe that the government should not be the sole institution to provide social welfare programs. This involves caring for the sick and elderly, the homeless, the poor and for new immigrants. I believe that we should work as a community to address these problems on a local level, and that government should only intervene if our social systems (as small collectives) fail. Big government programs have proven time and again to be costly and inadequate at meeting the needs of specific local levels.

 In the case where it is absolutely necessary, nationwide programs could be established. But once again, I believe it to be much more effective to work to affect change on a micro-level first. This means that social welfare should be attended to by families first. By educating people more and more, there will be less need for the national government to have to intervene.

This is a positive step in actually giving individuals more freedom of choice in their lives. By giving the national government power to create social welfare programs, we are actually taking more and more power out of the hands of the local constituent communities. Social goals regarding welfare can be achieved through a partnership between local groups and institutions. A creative use of structures of both civil and private society could be used to create health, education, and social care systems that empower individuals at a local level.

Community and excellence of character

Russell Arben Fox speaks of a communal authority in his essay, Activity and Communal Authority: Localist Lessons from Puritan and Confucian Communities. While not very fashionable in todays modern Western society, Fox urges us to look at some of the lessons we can gain from the communal spirit and the goals of excellence of character in both Puritan and Confucian communities.

Both cultures work at understanding human arrangements based on ideals of behavior that work towards a moral character or a universal worldview for correct behavior. As we move more and more towards a more relativistic globalized macro culture, we are losing the role of the overarching harmony that must exist within the global melting pot. We are so focused on relativism and cultural differences that we attempt to function as a collective within a chaotic collective mindset. The notion of harmony in Foxs work is a pivotal part of my own idea of peaceful idealism and human universals.

And while I do not agree with either Confucian nor Puritan communities on their ideas of authority, I do believe that contemporary society could learn very valuable insights into their ideas on boundedness, interconnection and harmony. The, Confucian understanding of communal harmony could be easily applied to the justification of the new trend towards localism in the face of mass globalization. Confucian and Puritan understandings are an attempt at arriving at some of the universals that have been discussed through the paper. My vision of community is contingent upon the notion of excellence of character, and it is within this paradigm that all other aspects of society fall into place.

But how can we arrive at this Confucian harmony, this excellence of character for the greater social whole? Excellence of character is based on a human dignity and the respect for all beings. I believe that by instilling this value into humans, we can arrive at a responsive community that will be the best form of human organization possible. Self-inquiry is a huge part of the process, and in this sense, human agency is very important to maintain social wellbeing, but at the same time, shared deliberation among the people is also pivotal.

My vision of peaceful idealism and human universals may seem utopian. But how can we being to make a better world if we do not first create an ideal or an utopia with which to work towards? This cannot be achieved through authoritarianism and coercion, but through genuine conviction of change within the individual. My vision may seem utopian, but quite frankly, I believe that it is the only hope for a movement towards peace and wellbeing in the world. The global community, on both a global and local level, must work towards programs that deal with the pressing problems that threaten our lives as human beings.

More and more we are plagued by war, environmental degradation, social and political unrest and technological breakdown. It is my belief that through the education of collective responsibility, individuals may actually begin to heal some of the great psychological, emotional, social and physical stresses that they are under. And so, the theoretical vision of community is one that is based on a renewed commitment to the social space, a renewed commitment to human rights and equality, and a new commitment to discovery and healthy intellectual debate on human truths and universals. Within this healthy debate, we can hope to achieve a greater understanding of not only the human individual experience, but also the collective one.







Resources

 




Bloom, Allan. 1987. Closing of the American Mind, New York: Simon & Schuster.




Fox, Russell Arben. Activity and Communal Authority: Localist Lessons from Puritan and Confucian Communities. Friends University




MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981, 2nd edn. 1984.




MacIntyre, Alasdair. The MacIntyre Reader. (Knight, Kelvin (ed.)) Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998.




Putnam, Robert. Communitarianism, National Public Radio, February 5, 2001.




Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, 143.

[1] The Communitarian Network, Responsive Communitarian Platform Text. http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/platformtext.html

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