So I read something in Wired, in the Ideas Bank section. The little essay type thing is called ‘It is in our nature to be good citizens‘ and was written by Paul J Zak.
In it he basically talks about an experiment he conducts in the Western world and in Papua New Guinea on some of the most isolated people in the world.
Zak was basically trying to find out if Oxytocin was produced in tribes which didn’t really have contact with the rest of the world. Now, Oxytocin which Wired called the ‘moral molecule’ makes people more willing to be kind to strangers. Apparently there are 5% of people who don’t release it.
These people are generally less generous and some of them even show some traits of a psychopath. But this isn’t the point I want to bring up, the point is that the tribes people or highlanders did produce Oxytocin which kind of suggests to community spirit is ingrained in our very being.
When Zak arrived at the village everyone made him feel welcome, someone willingly translated, he was welcomed into homes and even after he left the village chief, who had just got email, contacted him.
It’s not really a surprise that they have such a strong community. I’m guessing their wellbeing depends on how well they get along with each other, every person probably plays a pivotal role. There everyone knows each other.
Whereas in my block of flats I don’t know anyone. Well that’s a lie. I know the guys next door, but that’s only because my mum worked with one of them before they moved here.
We all live near each other, in the same building, we all shop in the same places, walk down the same roads, we breathe the same air and have probably stepped in each others footsteps. Yet this is done without our knowing, we can walk past each other without realising that we live in the same block of flats.
Where is the community in that?
Community is not something I’ve experienced first hand since I was a kid. I lived in a block of flats, a different one, and we all knew each other. We used to jump from flat to flat mucking about just being kids. We all held joint bonfire nights and did Halloween together.
Then everyone started moving away until eventually I did too. The neighbourhood I ended up in was alright, but nobody interacted with each other, in fact we weren’t on the best terms with one of our next door neighbours.
I’m one of those people who would have really loved going to street parties, where tables were dragged out into the middle of the street and everyone gathered together to celebrate the Queen’s coronation or something. We don’t ever have anything like that anymore. Even with William and Kate’s wedding most of them were another excuse for everybody to go out and get drunk.
Actually, community seems to be yet another thing that has been transferred online. Facebook and Twitter are all the rage, it’s where everyone ‘gathers’. It’s ok that you don’t hang out with everyone because you can catch up with them online.
But does that mean it actually exists? Can something that was already kind of abstract exist virtually?
Recently I’ve come across quite a few people who have the same interests as me. But we all came across each other online. I have no qualms in saying that we all met through Harry Potter.
In our excitement of the Pottermore announcement we all flocked to the same Pottermore Facebook page, we all became regular posters on the page and eventually ended up in a couple of Facebook groups together so that we wouldn’t annoy the other people. We’ve all managed to get to know each other, many are from different countries yet outside of Harry Potter we all seem to have the same interests. We talk regularly and like any other ‘community’ some arguments break out.
Overall it’s nice to talk to them, to be in those groups, they’re all lovely people but does it count as a community? We’ve never actually met. We don’t know what each of our local areas look like, we don’t know the schools and stuff that we all attended.
I think it does. I’ve grown up without the community spirit but I kind of feel it on Facebook. But I wish I felt it in real life too, there’s something more authentic about it.
I have seen evidence of it, but only after disaster strikes. It happened in America after Hurricane Katrina, from what I saw everybody helped everybody out, it happened, to a lesser scale, in London this year after the riots. People stood up to the rioters, they didn’t let them go any further and in the aftermath they all came out and cleared up the mess. But it’s not a permanent thing and you can go for years without feeling it.
There’s also the fact that when the Haiti earthquake happened, when the tsunami happened in Thailand, when the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan the whole of the developed world rushed to their aid. Britain and France and later the rest of Europe and America went to help the Libyan rebels.
I guess in that sense there is a community. Perhaps the only reason I don’t feel it in real life is because instead of the tight-knit communities we have a global one. When a country has money problems we intervene, when a country is struck down we offer a helping hand, when a country is in turmoil we do all we can to calm, but in the end we know that there is a limit to the help we can offer and yet we’re all looking over the garden fence keeping an eye on what our neighbours are doing.
Everything is global now, so I guess it should be no big surprise that community is too. My biggest wish, though, is that it would appear in times of prosperity as well as times of need.