On Communities Now and Then


For thousands of years people lived in communities. It was simply impossible to survive alone. In the community, usually a small group, people helped each other to survive. The rules and regulations were fixed.
When members trespassed a community rule they were confronted by honorable elders and a solution was found to reestablish balance. Even if there was a dispute which led to injury of another person, a way was found to make amendments to the injured. Only the most severe offenses against the community would lead to exile.

In modern communities rules and regulations still remain a vital part of our social structure, likewise, help for survival is granted, especially in European countries with social aid systems. The rules and regulations are more complex now, however. There are entire legal systems dedicated to overseeing these issues.

In ancient communities the members used to feel bad conscience when violating the rules and regulations of their group. The bad conscience was accompanied by the fear of being expelled and exiled. An exiled member would find it very difficult to survive alone. Being expelled was equivalent to being sentenced to death.
Nowadays people are being expelled from society when sent to prison which many times means their (social) death, as well.

Today it is possible to live without active participation in any community life and still receive social aid. The dissociation of material support from human relationships seems dangerous to me. There are reports about people who have been lying dead in their homes for months before being discovered. Why? Since their bank accounts had enough money to keep paying their rent, nobody missed them.

But there are also limitations to what communities can offer: Since our society lives a life alienated from nature the rules made by modern communities lack the strength of the ancient ones. What if a particular community had cruel practices? What if a member wanted to leave because s/he felt that the rules of the community were out of sync with his/her inner truth?

As much as being expelled from community could previously mean being sent to death, in contemporary communities the opposite case, the voluntary breaking out, might be punished by death as well. Such a break out is then considered as treason. Then we hear about brothers or uncles taking revenge on their sisters or nieces who did not agree to an arranged marriage, tragic stories we can read about such cases in the newspaper.

Personally, apart from my own, wonderful, extended family, I have chosen my own “community”, a group of likeminded people who don’t live physically together but whom I stay in constant mental and emotional contact with. I strongly feel a part of this community, at the same time I would meet no external difficulties if I ever decided to quit and move on.


8 responses »

  1. Very interesting post, Carmen. I was not aware that being expelled from a community meant death in the past. One point I did not fully understand was what you said about bad conscience. You link bad conscience to the fear of being expelled by the group or community. Isn’t bad conscience universal, connected to ethics, not just to the reactions of a particular group?

    • I see what you mean. Yes, conscience is connected to ethics; however, ethics are not homogeneous worldwide. What is considered ethical in one society might not be considered the same in another. It depends on the values of the respective group. While it is totally accepted to beat women in one society, the same behavior is considered unethical in another. While one husband beats his wife with “good conscience” in one society, another husband in another culture has bad conscience if he does the exact same thing. Conscience is a fascinating topic and I will dedicate a separate blogpost to it. I will also show what happens when two different sets of ethical values clash.

  2. I don’t think anybody can beat his wife with a good conscience. Maybe some people don’t show their feelings, but they are just acting cool, inside they aren’t.

    • OK, another example, taken from our own culture. When I was small there was the concept of a ‘healthy slap’, that meant that parents could slap their children if they misbehaved. Since such a practise was socially accepted, my father felt no bad conscience when doing it. Now, 35 years later, this has totally changed. Today it is considered a crime to act violently against children. If I slapped my kids I couldn’t do it with good conscience, I would feel bad.

  3. Very very well written Dear Carmen and specially the last para “Personally, apart from my own, ———————, at the same time I would meet no external difficulties if I ever decided to quit and move on.”
    Here I want to add my new insights about our own physical body which is in SYNC with the community as you said above here it is ” our body is community of trillions of cells and why this body is so organised because all cells decided to remain together for their own survival and safety so our body is populated by trillions of residents which follow certain rules and regulations in order to fulfill the highest purpose which is to keep the body fit in turn they all get their personal purposes fulfilled which is to sustain themselves i.e. if the body is active and kicking then each and every cell will be safe and alive and vice versa.

    Thanx for tagging me in this beautiful write up Carmen.

  4. I see what you are trying to say. So the ancient communities were better? But we cannot go back in time, how can we prevent people from dying in heir homes unnoticed?

    • I don’t really have any answer for that. I see this tragic fact as a consequence of the social developments here in Europe over the past 70 years. To name a few:
      1. Rural exodus / Urbanisation
      2. Falling birth rate, especially since late 1960s/ beginning 1970s (due to more effective ways of contraception and abortion) slowly makes old people the biggest group while young and middle aged people who used to take care of elders are becoming fewer and fewer.
      3. Old age is more and more considered “negative”, the trend is to remain eternally young (and probably become immortal one day). Less and less people are interested in the old generation.

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