A Theory of Community

 

  1. Human beings are innately social. We live together in groups.

  2. Living together brings a number of benefits: we can protect ourselves, we can pool resources, we can find safety when vulnerable due to illness, we can raise children, we can better shelter ourselves from elements. These things motivate our group life. In part, they are why we live in society rather than apart.

  3. Living together also brings with it a set of challenges, related directly to the benefits:
    • Crime. Fellow group members threaten us (either physically, or our property). How do we protect ourselves?
    • Economy. The place in which we live become a locus of exchange. How do we make it one where we can thrive?
    • Poverty. Differences in how exchange takes place creates some who have too few resources. What do we do about people who have trouble surviving (poverty)?
    • Health. Proximity brings with it increased disease. We depend on others to care for us when vulnerable. How do we care for group members?
    • Education. Our young ones must acquire the norms and habits that we require of one another. How do we create citizens of our group?
    • Environment. The byproducts of life become concentrated (waste, extraction of resources). How can we manage this?

  4. These challenges are not problems to be solved, but conditions to be managed. The possible ways to address them are myriad, require collective actions, and there is not an objectively correct outcome.

  5. Any group of people living together in a place will face such challenges. These are the challenges that come with being a “community.”

  6. These problems, in varying degree, face everyone in the group. Everyone is therefore trying, in their own ways to address them. This is happening throughout the group, always.
One definition of community:
  • The places where, and collective means by which, such opportunities and challenges are collectively addressed.

How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings In Our Communities? Announcing New Conversation Materials

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I am pleased to announce publication today of a brand-new update to the National Issues Forums issue advisory, How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings In Our Communities? The materials are meant to support deliberative conversations in community and other settings, and are free to download.

From the guide:

The tragic attacks in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; Parkland, Florida; and other places have raised concerns among many people across the nation. Such shootings have become more frequent and more deadly in the last decade. Each mass murder has devastating effects on a whole community.

Overall, the United States has become safer in recent years. Yet mass shooters target innocent people indiscriminately, often in places where people should feel safe—movie theaters, shopping centers, schools. Many believe these attacks are nothing short of terrorism. How can we stop mass shootings and ensure that people feel safe in their homes and communities?

This issue advisory presents three options, along with their drawbacks. These are not the only options, and you may think of others.

Option One: Make Mass Killings More Difficult

According to this option: The problem is that we are too vulnerable to gun violence. Communities and homes should be places where people are safe. The tools for carrying out mass shootings are all around. It is too easy for individuals to obtain weapons that are designed to kill a large number of people in a short time.

We cannot stop all violent impulses, but we can and should make it much more difficult for people to act on them. We should restrict the availability of dangerous weapons, identify potentially dangerous people, and prevent them from carrying out their plans.

Option Two: Equip People to Defend Themselves

According to this option: The problem is that most people are not able to defend themselves from the sudden danger posed by mass shootings. There will always be some who are a threat to those around them. We cannot afford to rely on the presence of police to rescue us. We should be prepared for violence and have the means to defend against it. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees this right.

Option Three: Root Out Violence and Hate in Society

According to this option: The problem is that we live in a culture that perpetuates violence and numbs people to its effects. The Internet provides a platform and organizing space for hate groups and domestic terrorists. Violence and criminality are pervasive in movies, television, and video games. Mass murderers gain notoriety through nonstop media portrayals.

This results in a culture in which stories of mass murder circulate and gain momentum—so further shootings become a greater possibility. We must root out and stop the glorification of violence and promotion of hate to break this cycle.

Please let me know if you use these materials and, if you do, what happens.

* * * * *

I serve as executive editor of issue guides at the Kettering Foundation. We develop these nonpartisan materials to support deliberation on difficult public issues, and make them available for publication by the National Issues Forums Institute. The NIF network is comprised of all sorts of organizations who use the guides in their own ways, holding conversations in which people deliberate together about what we ought to do.

1,500 Daily Letters

In early January, 2015, I was at a low point spiritually. As an experiment, I started writing a daily letter to God. Things got better. Life got better. I got better. God got nearer. I have kept up a daily letter every morning ever since. Monday will be my letter number 1,500.

There is nothing remarkable about any one of these letters. Each is just a simple entry in a notebook. Think of it as journaling. But taken together, they add up. They are a practice. This practice, done consistently, has improved my spiritual life in revolutionary ways. This is not an understatement.

Over the past few months, my relationship to my God has deepened and grown. The letters have become love-poems. (I post each one here every morning: https://letters-to-god.com/)

I share all this not to seem special. The opposite: Anyone can do it. All it takes is a start. One step, another step, another step. Pretty soon you’re walking. Pretty soon, you’ve traveled a fair distance.

If you are curious to follow a similar path, I would be interested to learn what you find.

A House Divided: Announcing New Conversation Materials on Political Division

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend is a time that many devote to public acts — serving their broader community, raising their voice about issues, talking together about current events, and more. This year features a shut-down government, a rancorous stalemate in Congress over myriad issues, and uncertainty over the future.

All this at a time when American public life is highly divided and people find it more and more difficult to talk to one another. Not only are there deep disagreements over specific issues, but people increasingly lament division per se. They are concerned about how we as a nation can self-govern.

I am pleased to announce publication today of the most recent National Issues Forums issue guide, A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want?

From our announcement:

New Issue Guide Released: A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want?

Many people are deeply disturbed by the state of American politics today. Trust in our national institutions and in the media has plummeted. Fewer bother to vote or participate in public life. Action on pressing issues is repeatedly kicked down the road. Perhaps most disturbing is that we find it harder and harder to even talk to each other. We often seem instead to shout at one another. There have even been recent acts of political violence. What should we do to get the political system that we want? How should we begin to work together to solve our most urgent problems?

This issue guide presents three options for deliberation, along with their drawbacks. Each option offers advantages as well as risks. If we regulate what people can say online, will we end up silencing voices we need to hear? Should we push politicians to compromise more often even if it means they must bend on their principles? Should we focus more power locally, or would that result in an unmanageable patchwork of conflicting rules governing many important areas of our lives?

Option One: Reduce dangerous, toxic talk.
Option Two: Make fairer rules for politics and follow them.
Option Three: Take control and make decisions closer to home.

Both an issue guide and a shorter issue advisory are available, as well as a video introduction. The advisory is also available in Spanish.

The issue guide is available here at NIF (free download). There is also a video companion to the guide. See the trailer here.

Please let me know if you use these materials and, if you do, what happens.

* * * * *

I serve as executive editor of issue guides at the Kettering Foundation. We develop these nonpartisan materials to support deliberation on difficult public issues, and make them available for publication by the National Issues Forums Institute. The NIF network is comprised of all sorts of organizations who use the guides in their own ways, holding conversations in which people deliberate together about what we ought to do.