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Extending Community

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

San Miguel has a neighborhood feel. Especially for us ex-pats, it's one, not very big community. For me, that and the weather constitute SMA's main charms. Although the food and the culture aren't very far behind in the attractions department. It's good to recognize everyone's face, even if I don't know everyone's name. It's obvious when there is someone new in town, at least in the off season. The Civil List, for all that people like to make fun of it, is a useful community forum with neighbor helping neighbor.

We human beings are social animals. We belong. We join. We identify ourselves with groups.

As a species we survived not because we are very strong or fast or have long claws and teeth, but because we watch out for each other, because we are communal beings.

You can see this communal spirit in the way we come together during a natural disaster, for example, the aftermath of a hurricane. The force of group identity is clear in the way we spend resources and effort to rescue hikers lost on a mountain. This unity is obvious again in our acts of beneficence, our kindness and charity towards each other.

Society is essential. Putting a person in prison, denying him his liberty, is punishment. Putting a prisoner in solitary confinement, denying him society, is extreme punishment.

Anyone who says that it is harder to be alone in a crowd has never really been alone. I was regularly physically isolated on my land in the mountains of northeastern Vermont. I wasn't alone for very long, but a week could go by where I had very little human contact. That was long enough for my mind to start playing tricks on me. The most prevalent of these was mistaking sounds for phonemes of speech, searching the environment for language, wanting to hear a word. Once, up on that mountain, as I was sitting by my pond, I thought I heard someone approaching, walking up the road, a one-lane, dirt "driveway" I had opened up a half-mile through the forest to get to my property. I resisted the urge to turn around and look, thinking, "I've been fooled so many times before, looking only to see no one. I refuse to be fooled again." I maintained this obstinacy until a voice just a few yards behind me gently asked which way the trail continued.

As dogs are most attuned to other dogs and cats to other cats, so we are most attuned to each other. Other people may be our greatest frustration, but they are also our greatest richness. Nothing engages us so, nothing commands our attention like our fellows.

Beyond this species prejudice, human consciousness, objectively, is the world's most mysterious, most interesting phenomenon. The human brain, itself only a part of human consciousness, is by far the most complicated thing we know of. Each of our brains has 90 billion neurons. Each of these neurons connects to multiple other neurons. If it took you one second to count each of these neural connection, it would take you 3 million years to finish counting.

We pity the miser, shut off from the world with his riches. I pity the wealthy or famous who do not know what it is to be liked for themselves. Lottery winners suffer from this state of friendlessness. Surrounded by opportunists feigning friendship, they lose track of their real friends, who gradually drift away.

I like to strike up conversations. I do so with people on the streets. Often, here in Mexico, I get the feeling that, if not the first, I am one of the very few foreigners (gringo is a bad word) many Mexicans have ever spoken with. If they are curious about life back in the States, I most probably tell them, "There is a lot of money, but there is little soul. Too much money hardens your heart. A little bit of alcohol is good. You dance better. But too much is a problem. Too much food is a problem. Too much sex is a problem. Too much money is a problem."

We admire culture because it is a reflection of our common humanity. We identify with athletic or artistic performance because it is a human achievement. We delight in another's good fortune, because we feel collectively. We feel that we are a part of it, that in some way we share in it. It is a good reflection on our group. Our tribe is more likely to survive.

For most of human existence communities existed independently of each other, often in opposition, tribe against tribe, religion against religion, class against class. Today the world has grown much smaller. It is not only the pandemic that has shown us that we are not divided by mountain ranges or oceans, national boundaries or city limits. Instant communication at our fingertips has shrunk distances and the blank places on our maps.

This is important because people are more likely to feel compassionate towards those with whom they are in closer proximity. It has been shown that our heart, and help, goes out more readily to those who are, in physical distance, nearer than to those who are farther away. Closeness stimulates compassion.

Smart phones and social media have brought the reality of racism closer to those of us who have never felt its sting, never felt unsafe because of the color of our skin. Our smaller world brings home anti-black racism to those of us who are not its victims, making us more compassionate to those who are.

You have to be arguing in bad faith or be in a moral panic to suggest that racism exists in the United States to the same degree today, in the same way, unchanged, as it was during slavery or before the Civil Rights movement or Affirmative Action. But it is just as certain that America at large needs to be more concerned with the significant racism that still exists. It may be true that the vast majority of whites are not overtly racist and also be true that we whites, as a whole, have remained racially indifferent, unconcerned with the needs of our black neighbors, living just a few miles or a few blocks away.

I am no expert, but, in terms of the poor, inner-city sub-class of the black community, it seems that school and prison reform are the main needs. Of these, school reform seems the most efficacious; it is easier to influence young children than it is to reform young criminal men. Still, a more compassionate, effective criminal justice system is necessary; having fathers in the home instead of in prison would do much to repair the disintegrated economically-challenged black family.

Certainly, in a country as rich as America, the privileged among us can extend our concept of community to include our neighbors who have been victimized by the cycle of poverty. It seems the time has come again, as at the Civil War, as during the Civil Rights movement, to radically advance the cause of racial justice. With all due respect to youthful protesters in the streets, reform, not revolution, is the best way forward. The failings of our past do not negate America's noble goals nor the progress we have made towards reaching them. Now is a moment, a special moment, to more perfectly realize the ideal of of our founding, to better become the, truly, United States, "with liberty and justice for all."

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Dr David's roots go deep into the black community, as a future article will make perfectly clear. So just chill out, honkeys. And don't be schooling him about revolution, neither, you who've never stepped out of line in your whole life. He has a few things to show you.

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