Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Far Cry From Communities

We have forgotten the community. We think of problems as either being solvable by governments (through public policy and politics) or by the individual (microfinance, ‘grassroots’). We don’t think much about the community, but it is the location and society where most of humanity has its existence. What is a community? Many a debate can be had on this, but I’ll give a practical definition. I mean the people you will reasonably run into at the grocery store or pass on a sidewalk. This is your community. Sure you live in Los Angeles, but the 10,000 or so people in your immediate vicinity have a bigger impact on your life than the 3.8 million others.

Sure you’re an American, but there’s vastly more variation from West LA to East LA than there is between “America” and “Britain.” Your community, not your country and not even your race, is more predictive as to whether you’ll get diabetes, graduate from high school, or get killed by gang violence.

In light of that, how many of us vote in our local elections? We think about changing America or the world, but how many have thought changing the community a valid ambition?

When we think about Global problems, we think of it in terms of governments and individuals. I can’t name you a single village or town in Africa. But I know that Zimbabwe is suffering from Cholera, and that Malawi is dealing with HIV. I know that DRC has unstable governance and that Sudan has a refugee problem. We pass laws and give aid to governments and countries. We don’t care about communities.

Also, I’ve seen pictures of a starving child, or an AIDS patient, but I can’t tell you a thing about the community from which they came. We give microloans to individuals and sponsor individual children. But what about their communities?

But what has been shown to be effective? In banking, much expert opinion is suggesting locally administered financial institutions (not the huge mega-global banks). Centralized administration in education, government and even taxation has been shown to be far less effective than local administration, closer to the community. Why have we ignored so crucial a part of our human experience? Why do we think solutions lie in a single individual (the Republican ideal) or in governments (the Democratic ideal), when we live and work in communities?

I propose we bring back the community. We, as a community, work with others in communities to change the world. Let us remember how we, humans, operate. Let us hear the call of our community, far away and faint, and let think rightly about what kind of creatures we are.

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