I do a lot of research into the historic European rural settlement of one particular District in Ontario, Canada. I am aware of the lifespan of a lot of people, who lived lives without indoor plumbing, central heating, or easily accessed medical care. After spending more than twenty years exploring their lives, I believe that they lived as long as any of us do today, so long as they survived their childhood. Childhood is a dangerous time in a human’s life span, particularly the first year of life.
What I notice most about this population, who enjoyed for the most part long and happy lives, is: 1. that they formed supportive communities and 2. everyone worked at physical labour their whole life through. In the District of my research it is a given that they created adequate, if not extravagant, food and clothing and shelter.
They did not spend very much of their time fussing over their weight, their hair, their muscles, their vehicles, their home decor, or other superfluous accoutrements of life. Their time was spent surviving the harsh environment and the hubris of powerful men (e.g. World War 1, the Great Depression).
The people and communities were not perfect. Some people did bad things, the community responded to maintain its integrity. The Churches and Schools were central points in these communities, and later organizations such as the Women’s Institute contributed to the richness and stability of life.
This is my heritage, the communities that supported the lives that brought me into this world.
Now to the point of my simple thesis. The population today seems unable to coalesce into small supportive communities, which are the backbone of sustainable human social structures. What I see around me are people focusing not on survival and support, but on bits of mimicry made appealing by those who seek a profit at any cost. The social environment is bombarded with messages of competition and “success”, messages of magic bullets that will provide happiness and comfort, images of communities that are appealing and vacuous.
Real communities form from within as a result of function. Dysfunctional communities form from without, and are almost invariably unidimensional. The dysfunctional community seldom coalesces in a geographically confined space. Instead it forms around wealth, status, personal interests (e.g. Weight Loss, Wine Tasting), and a myriad of other single-focus points, which create unidimensional groupings of people with intermittent contact and very limited social support.
And this is getting more extreme as time goes by, more controlled by big business. I take as an example Facebook, which now can demand proof of identity for membership. One cannot participate in many online discussions without a Facebook account. We all know how easy it is to eradicate a voice in an online social setting, block, ban, delete… all of it invisible to other people. This is not a supportive or socially functional human environment, it does not create healthy communities, in my opinion.
I find myself living in a social world that is endlessly anxious; anxious to purchase the next great item that will make them happy; anxious to answer that ever present cell phone call or text message; anxious to measure every step taken on their FitBit, so that they can be counted up for success or failure at the end of the day, or week, or month; anxious to look young, or thin, or affluent, or, well the list is long.
In my opinion human social structures have devolved to the point where the majority of people no longer know what constitutes a healthy community, perhaps devolved to the point where people no longer know that there is such a thing as a healthy community.
There are pockets though, where small healthy social structures are flourishing, like weeds in a concrete jungle. They are invisible to those who are addicted to modern anxieties. They are ignored by business, who cannot accumulate wealth at their expense. As long as the earth supports human life, I think these small healthy communities will continue to create themselves. Trees can grow in Brooklyn.
Wednesday mornings can be intense!
Date: 7:00 AM EST Wednesday 20 January 2016
Condition: Mainly Clear
Pressure: 102.6 kPa
Visibility: 24 km
Wind: WNW 17 km/h
Wind Chill: -21
“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.” A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
1896 – 1972