Monday, December 23, 2013

A letter to "Ask a Hutterite"

I have had curiosity about communitarian sects for a long time, because
I admire the commitment to the common good demonstrated by them. Sadly
for the world, individualism abounds and the effect is the systematic
destruction of the planet by enterprises and governments seeking wealth
for the wealthy over health for people, life and the planet. Sadly for
the world, establishment of communities which embrace the communitarian
ethic is difficult beyond utility.

The individualist formula doesn't work for me. I have cognitive
disabilities which makes keeping a job in the extremely competitive
employment marketplace difficult. The result is employment instability
and perpetual insecurity. I am troubled by the idea that, not in the
Hutterite world but mostly otherwise, we are each individually exposed
to the raw vicissitudes of nature. While the fate of an individual is
subject to so much randomness, we are expected to somehow manage without
help. I have Social Security Disability, but the amount paid to me is
contingent on the wages I managed to earn in my tortured, unpredictable
work life, and is in no way sufficient. What if I had not worked at all?
What if I had been so learning disabled that I didn't have any social
security wages? Could that be the actual story of so many homeless
persons? Why is it that it is only those able to power up into the
privileged class through the merits of their own accomplishments, like
ducks who survive the blasts of hunters' shotguns, while others fall
around, who are valued and deserving of a decent life? Does it make
sense to expect every person to be perfectly adapted to the world as it
is? Is there even enough room in the privileged class for everyone?

The irony is that, even as I longed for community, before I began to
feel the insecurities of maturity, I doubted I could give up my
prerogatives as an individual. I wanted the chance that white North
American culture offers to learn, travel, meet strangers, achieve, and
perhaps acquire status. I worried too of being captured in a
dysfunctional communalist experiment. I still want to get a degree and
make my personal contribution to knowledge. Now as I struggle to create
meaning in the latter third of my life, I long for the comfort of a
community, of acceptance and embrace.

I would, in simple terms, like to have a life couched in community. As
an atheist, I am keenly aware of the religious framework which makes
your communities possible. I tend to doubt, in the present rich stew of
individualist powers, and without the discipline imposed by "the word of
God", that such communities can survive. The record of communal
experiments favors this conclusion. What would I and my comrades have to
say to each other if someone were to be tempted to follow an
individualist path? That we have a social contract? That we have
committed to the ideal of a shared fate? That they'll never have friends
again? That other individualists will not trust them? That that
individualist opportunity is worth less than the life with the group?
These appeals to self-interest just don't seem to provide the bulwark
necessary to maintain group boundaries. In the world we live in, with
the opportunities it offers, the boundaries of community must be
entirely internalized, and that may take a religious mind, a zealous
mind, a mind not captured by modern objective critical individualistic

My story is not just my story. The quest for the goods and luxuries
bestowed upon the privileged of the west, which is so common in the
world and pits all against all, suits the super rich just fine, because
that hunger for stuff and status keeps so much of humanity enslaved to
their economic system. The Native Americans had to be removed from the
land because they were too independent. Indigenous people today in North
and South America are being killed and marginalized, because they are
not beholden to the global economy and are uncooperative when the miners
want to dig up their land. Many elsewhere in the world are just trying
to eat. But the vision they have is consumerist. So get on board with
consumerist enslavement, or get killed.

My vulnerability is what they demand when they say "People need to be
motivated to work.". But we are all motivated to work if it means eating
and being housed and having dignity! No, that reason is a lie. The real
purpose of that vulnerability is to keep the poor poor, so the rich can
continue to control the economy and manage it for their own wealth. They
know we cannot all be rich. And they who have will do what ever they
need to to keep what they have, no matter what destitution results for
the others. Individualistic personal gain is a promise which, for most
of us, cannot be kept, and it is by hiding this impossibility that the
super-rich endeavor to control us. Only your communitarian societies
have enough force to succeed against the tide of individualism.

The trenchant question of the coming ecological crisis is whether human
beings are capable of self-restraint. Evidence from psychology,
sociology, anthropology, behavioral economics, and so forth indicates
that we are. But these evidences describe individual behavior. Now the
question is whether humanity has the means to restrain itself
collectively - whether as a group we can manage ourselves as a group.
The rate of destruction of the planet and the impending demands of
impoverished peoples to the privileges of abundant food, cars and air
conditioners would predict that there is too much at stake for too many
people for them to join in the reversal of that destruction through
communal self-restraint. My guess is that some people will survive, and
that many, perhaps most, will not. There will death and destruction
across the planet because humanity could not muster its powers of
self-restraint on the level of group interests.

I have never visited a Hutterite community, nor an Amish nor a Menonite.
I am unnerved by the degree of social control and loss of creativity.
But I admire deeply that you would aspire to a common good. The world
needs what you do. You may be among the survivors of the next great