We all recognize that preservation of social order after any significant disruption, if not the cessation, of industrial civilization on the heels of fossil-fuel depletion and/or environmental collapse will necessitate a reconstituted sense of community – more egalitarian, more intimate, more grounded. In November we talked about the problem of time in some detail. I want to return attention to our time-conception but now in relation to the notion of community, and the challenge of an emergent post-collapse community, specifically.
In that earlier conversation, I wagered that our commonsense notion of time, understood as the strictly unidirectional flow of events moving relentlessly forward from recent past to anticipated future, is a convenient but pernicious construct of modern (civilized) consciousness. It intractably limits attention to a dialectics of progress — achievement, acquisitiveness, advancement — while forcing us to ignore the subtleties of our concrete embodiment, of being-situated in the present and all that it entails.
History, as well as autobiography, is a graphic projection of this inexorable temporal dynamic and the internal sense of time-consciousness to which it apparently gives voice. Reification of an autonomous sense of self – either as passive observer or active agent in a world peopled with entities and other agents – appears as a result of an accretive process springing from our ongoing commitment to this temporal impetus.
In short, the emergence of unidirectional time-consciousness ushers in a systematic objectification of both human and non-human nature, while articulating the historically determinative concepts of causality, agency, individuality, and alterity. Competition, conquest, and culpability are not far behind as key ingredients of personal achievement and nation-building. Life itself becomes a problem to be solved; while the Other emerges as an enemy needing to be conquered. Even the otherness of nature, from which we have forcibly abstracted ourselves, needs to be subdued and controlled.
In such a framework, “community” – from the Latin munus (a gift) and cum (together, among each other): meaning “to give or share among one another” – must be a hard won battle, because in such a competitively-driven agent-focused perspective, sharing or communio must feel more like a ‘giving-up’ or ‘giving-away’ that which one previously possessed as one’s own. In this case, sharing seems destined to wait upon, and expect, a return on its investment, a quid pro quo if you will. Such communion would seem, therefore, to be primarily calculative in nature and intention — an avatar of the collective masquerading as community.
Such intentionality, and its masquerade, lay at the heart of most modern economic and social theories. It is self-seeking and propagandizing at bottom; and it resides comfortably at the core of the American imperial project. We witness it in our nation’s fierce desire to “spread” democracy, our brand of capitalism, and our vision of the future around the globe. Our administration embraces a globalizing hegemonic strategy, and has even covertly utilized the tentacles of virtual communities and social networking to advance its totalizing agenda and promote its imperial vision: Arab Spring? NGO’s in Egypt? Twitter, Facebook, YouTube? You get the picture. But, what is the nature of such global community-building, and what is the objective in sharing our values and our cultural artifacts? What is it we expect in return? Certainly, it is not selfless gift-giving among our foreign comrades in the human community. In reality, the political and economic agenda is not at all covert. We seek our own political and economic interests, expansion of our empire, greater access to global resources (human and natural), untapped markets for our goods, and securing the future of our manifest destiny. And we will “share” it, even if it requires force feeding it down the throats of the global community.
On the other hand, in a world where temporality is not so d-e-l-i-n-e-a-t-e-d, where time does not flow like a river, where individuals are not perceived as isolated agents driven by time’s crucible and by their own uniquely personal histories; in such a world, being human discloses itself in a more primal experience of participation — displaying an openness to the mystery of the present and the gift of presence. Borrowing terminology from the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, Martin Heidegger called this state of openness, gelassenheit or “releasement;” almost a Taoist concept of letting things be, of not managing or forcing things to our will. But, in such a view, our taken-for-granted assumption of ‘time as a river’ driving us intractably forward simply melts away. As the phenomenologist, Maurice Merleau-Ponty reminds us:
This often repeated metaphor is in reality extremely confused… The objective world is too much a plenum for there to be time.
He refers to this plenum as “the thickness of the pre-objective present, in which we find our bodily being, our social being, and the pre-existence of the world.” It is here that the experience of deep temporality emerges; and, in such an experience, the reality of community — of “our social being” — must be a different affair altogether.
The Latin term communio [Greek: κοινωνία] (“sharing in common” or “mutual participation”) – deriving from com (“with”) and unus (“oneness”) – is suggestive of an instinct grounded in the feeling of consubstantiality (being-of-one-substance). In this respect, where a full present (kairos) engages us – as flesh of our flesh, rather than chronos reigning over us and enslaving us to the future — communion and, hence, sharing should be spontaneous, a gift in the original sense of that word, non-calculative at its core.
In the absence of an abstract, objectifying, and calculating rationality, we commune (communicate, share, participate, and live) with our fellow wanderers as simply and serendipitously as nature shares with and participates us – all of a common substance. It is this more primal sense of sharing that may perhaps be recollected in the Christian theological symbolism of ‘taking communion’ where the Eucharist, receiving the body and blood of Christ, provides a remembrance of ‘at-one-ment’ between receiver and giver.
Yet, trying to create community among isolated (economic) subjects and objects merely occupying the same generalized spatiotemporal horizon is largely artificial and built upon the exigencies of commerce and civic life. Moreover, such communion is often achieved by means of the highly touted theme — “enlightened self-interest” – forced into being by the proximity of city walls and political necessity.
I guess what I am suggesting is that a new, post-collapse community, if it is to be meaningful and sustainable (psychically and ecologically), will require a transformation in our internal sense of time-consciousness, a return to and recovery of participatory presence (kairos), and the concomitant loosening of our fixation on chronos and the intractable march of Father Time.
It is here that deep temporality and real community merge, recovering that generative power grounding the present moment, relocating us in closest proximity to one another and to nature — engulfed in its wildness, absorbed in its powerful, pulsating, and cyclical rhythms of periodic return and renewal. And, while our language here may sound romantic, it is only because we have become tin-eared, accustomed to hearing the cold calculations of scientific rationality and ‘objective’ facts of historical narrative. We have become the bloodless, virtual animals they want us to be. We need to break the spell; and internal time-consciousness is at its core. This seems to me to be a singular problematic to address now. Obviously, after such a thorough “civilizing” enculturation to unilinear time-consciousness, it may be rather hard to recollect what deep temporality and real community actually feel like.