Saturday, February 21, 2009

Individuals and Communities

One of my odd observations in life is that when a society (and its education system) concentrates on developing strong individuals, the society ends up with strong communities.

Conversely, efforts that focus on developing the community at the expense of the individual often ends up diminishing the individual people and consequently results in a feeble community with widespread oppression and poverty.

This is not an absolute, but a trend.

I believe that there is merit to my observation because self awareness is endowed at the human level. Humans are self aware. The city is not.

Much of Western history has been defined by Plato's observation that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 5 + 5 = 10. 10 is greater than 5.

This observation plays out in some case. For example a working car has greater economic value than a pile of parts on the garage floor. However, this principle is not true for all objects. For example, were I to drive my car head first into your car, we would find that the sum of our two vehicle (the wreck) is not only worth less than the value of the two cars. It is a net negative value.

There are cases where the part is worth more than the whole. A new motor might be worth more than a rusted out Chevy Vega. Placing the new motor in the rusted out car diminishes the value of the motor.

The mathematics is not linear. There is complex interplay between individuals and their communities; however, concentrating on developing emotionally strong individuals who have strong reasoning skills and sound moral character does wonders in improving society.

It is a shame that the public education system fails to do this.
Abstract Fractals © Michael Shake

1 comment:

Reach Upward said...

Interesting. Stanley Kurtz has documented the ways different cultures choose to organize family structures. He has taken particular note of cultures where the family -- the community -- takes on a higher identity than the individual. He has found this to be the case particularly in societies that favor polygamy and/or parallel-cousin marriage. The needs of the individual are subsumed by those of the group.

Kurtz notes that while these types of family structures do produce a very satisfying sense of belonging, such a society "has a deep-lying bias toward in-group solidarity, the negative face of which manifests itself in a series of powerful mechanisms for preventing, coercing, or punishing those who would break with or undermine the in-group and its customs."

The strong cohesiveness of such communities tends to create a deeply ingrained us-vs-them mentality at the same time that it demands individual sacrifice for the goals of the group. The results are often institutionalized poverty and enmity with the world outside of the group.