Henk de Vos on the things attacking human community

Human Flourishing Begins with a Healthy Community
Human Flourishing Begins with a Healthy Community

There is, I believe, a need for humans to develop community. When we don’t, we lose a substantial part of ourselves. This is part of a different project — clinical mental health — but I thought I’d share because it factors into religion, politics, and economics.

Although community is a core sociological concept, its precise meaning is often left vague. In this article it is pointed out that it is a social form that has deep connections with human social nature. Human social life and human social history can be seen as unflagging struggles between two contradictory modes of human social nature: reciprocity and status competition. Relative to huntergatherer societies, present society is a social environment that strongly seduces to engage in status competition. But at the same time evidence increases that communal living is strongly associated with wellbeing and health. A large part of human behavior and of societal processes are individual and collective expressions of on the one hand succumbing to the seductions of status competition and one the other hand attempts to build and maintain community. This is not only a big individual challenge, but also a collective one, and therefore an important policy problem. Government policy is predominantly influenced by economic considerations. This leads to policies that strongly rely on the market mechanism as the main source of everything that people value. But the growth of the market makes people less personally interdependent. And it increases mobility and sprawl and therefore is detrimental to long-term relationships and multiplexity. This points to negative effects of policies to further economic development on the conditions for community. It also points to the fact that a considerable part of economic growth is spent on attempts to maintain and reinstall community, such as transport and communication, by way of increasing accessibility. So economic growth is partly used, by way of earning and spending money, to ‘procure’ a certain degree of community that was for free earlier.

You can find the paper here, but I’ve uploaded it here as well. WARNING: PDF

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