I have previously written about individualism as a sickness. The data confirms this. The longest running study in the world on what gives people a long and happy life – going on for 70+ years at Harvard – states it quite simply: Friends. Loneliness, in contrast, is as lethal as a pack of smokes a day. Loneliness kills.
The study is framed in a way where deep meaningful bonds are expressed in terms of either having (deep meaningful) friendships or an equally satisfying relation to a significant other. But there is a third possible option here, that would be to state the case in less individualistic terms. I would suggest we add: A deep and meaningful community – or tribe.
The problem, as I see them, with community in the 21st Century (at the very least in Sweden) are several. For one, our society is not really set up for the creation of and reliance on the tribe. ‘Everyone should be self-sufficient’ is the capitalist gospel du jour. This is a structural problem that trickles down into how housing is planned and built and how families and kinships are organised geographically.
A second problem with community is what to gather around. Having opinions/beliefs at the center. Being part of a political organisation means that should you stop agreeing with the creed – then as Heidi Klum says: One day you’re in, the next you’re out. The same goes for religious organisations. Not really convinced about the whole Jesus-thing? Nor feeling entirely down with Allah? You know where the door is, see yourself out. Atheist organisations (like Swedish Humanisterna) certainly fare no better. If you accidentally ‘find faith’ all of a sudden, you’ll be greated with the same enthusiasm that most people reserve for Jehova’s Witnesses knocking unannounced on your door. Your fellow companions want to keep spreading the non-gospel ‘there is no god and Muhammed is his prophet’.
One way to put it is: Dogma is killing fellowship.
The problem is that we seem to think that other people are the one’s who are dogmatic. Certainly not I. I am so super tolerant and open and yada yada. Well, are you really?
The words ‘inclusion’ and ‘tolerance’ house a paradox. It is really ok to speak your mind, be open and to explore things, just as you do it by using your hipster-mindset or environmentalist spectacles or leftist discourse as the starting-point. And don’t venture out to far, lest you start drinking mainstream lager instead of craft IPA, keep on flying in airoplanes or start believing that Jordan Peterson can actually teach humans a thing or two! Inclusion and tolerance inherently means that there is something to be included into. There’s a mainline that dictates what will be (merely) tolerated.
A bunch of people, including myself, is currently pitching ideas to one another about building a sort of post-atheist Monastery on my farm (that has housed Subsecular Arts for 2 summers). But we have the same problems. How clear a dogma should we formulate, and how much will this help or stifle building a real spiritual fellowship? Of course not having any notion whatsoever of why we are there or what we are building (or for whom) would work poorly. Or that is perhaps where we currently are. But at the same time I really want to avoid a harsh dogmatic frame. I believe in the experiment.
The experiment doesn’t start out of thin air. There is some control and thought going into the preparation. But the point of the experiment is to test and try what actually happens when you mix the contents of beaker A and test-tube B, with a splash of powder C, and let it simmer. I believe that if the goal is to create a sense of community, tribe and spiritual fellowship this can be done without having no frame or too much frame.
The issue then is what we are committed to? Dare I say each other? Making a commitment to other people, not because they are wholly in-line with your mode of thinking or believing, but because we need other people, and these are people are willing to be there for you, support you, challenge you and pitch in, in the experiment. Am I the only one that has a sense that that would be revolutionary enough in a world where being interdependent rather than independent is nothing short of a subversive act? And perhaps one of the strongest leaps of faith a human being could possibly take today?