live animal

I’ve previously mentioned our self-induced engineered lack of community in this world, and I want to tell you about Chad.  I don’t even know his last name, other than he is a one-man band called, “Live Animal.”  Chad and I shared a flight from Indianapolis to Denver.  He is the kind of vagabond that rejects the societal engineering that forces individualism.  He is a communal guy who finds hope in creative community.  He and I shared a two-hour conversation about politics, Dylan, Jesus, Nietzsche and community.  We hardly landed on anything except for individualism is putting a stranglehold on our society.

Individualism isn’t all evil, it’s good to have an individual personality so one can stand on their own two feet.  It is extreme individualism that is killing our culture and harming public morality.  Extreme individualism is inherently selfish, community is inherently selfless.  Individualism leads to excess while community leads to generosity.

These might sound like bold claims but just think about the very simple task of going to the grocery store versus growing your own food.  At the grocery store you can buy one apple and meet your need, but if you lived in a village that grew their own food and you grew an apple tree, you can meet the need of many people in your community.

Here’s another example, and warning, this is going to sound liberal.  Why do you pay taxes?  Probably because you are compelled to by the IRS, but what is the thought behind taxes?  We all contribute to a government that will be for the common good of its citizens. (I know this is idealistic and there is a larger question about whether or not the government is faithfully stewarding the peoples’ resources, but humor me a little, will ya?) So the question I have is would you pay $50 more a year in taxes for our schools to improve?  For many of us that is an easy answer, we would say “absolutely no new taxes.”  I understand this mentality; really I do because I struggle with this.  So now that we have all voted “no” what happens to your local school?  Teachers get pink slipped, class sizes increase, the quality of education begins to diminish, the people with the means pull their kids out and send them to private school, thus reducing school funding.  Then what happens to the culture of the town where this school is going down hill?  Maybe the dropout rate increases, maybe crime and drugs become more prevalent in your community, maybe you start seeing prostitution, maybe the value of your home drops.  There are a lot of maybes in this scenario, but let me ask one more question.  Would you pay $50.00 per year to maintain the value of your home over the long term?

I realize that our government is polarized and seemingly useless right now, but I think our answers to the questions above say something about what we value.  Do we value community or do we value individuality? Do we act in the common good of society, or the common good of the individual.

I am thankful for my conversation with Chad, it went everywhere.  We talked about schools and taxes and even though you might think my senario is far fetched, it is what is playing out in his hometown of Indianapolis.  When we reframe our perspective from, “what is the best for me?” to “what is the best for my community?” then we take a jump from selfish to selfless from an individual perspective to a communal one.

It is interesting to note that Jesus has a solid plan for taking care of the poor.  It is called community.  It is called jubilee.  It is called generosity.  Some people call it love in action or incarnation living.  It is called the church, or the community of redemption…But what happens if that institution too has become individualized?


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  • Irene

    Gee Dave, I don’t know where to begin….. I’ll start with, ” I love you”. Now you know the “but” is coming and indeed it is. But I disagree with your use of the word individualism vs. community. To begin: your definition of “individualism” is very narrow;specifically, it is rooted in egoism, NOT in the true definition of the word which is ” habit or principle of being independent AND self-reliant. It is a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.” I would posit that it is the abrogation of independence and self-reliance which has created the stranglehold on our society. We have given up the Christ-mandated call to care for our neighbors and replaced it with government responsibility for them (at our expense, of course).
    In your example of community leading to generosity you use the argument that the collective good could be served by the allocation of more funds (ostensibly because we, as individuals, don’t care so we need the government to care in lieu of us). That’s a nice “liberal” solution that has been tried ad nausaum and is still failing. But wait. There is a solution! Let’s allow those nasty individualists to volunteer in the schools. Or better yet let’s have the parents of the school kids really play an active part in their child’s education.
    The solution is for each individual to take individual action for the collective good. The solution is not found in the community of government!
    I “get” that you are calling for a society focused on the needs of others. And I am in total agreement. We are called to serve others. My objection is that you have focused on the extreme end of individualism and your tone implies that the antidote to that extreme individualism is government beneficence.
    The cause of Christ can only be served by His people focusing on Him and being obedient to fulfilling the purpose to which they have been called.

    • I love your thoughts and it looks like i did my job of provoking thought…I know that what I wrote might anger some folks. But I wanted to throw it out there. I’ll give you a fuller response later when I have a little more time, thanks for your feedback!

  • M. Borer

    In my opinion, this was well put.

    Imagine that we could all put aside the labels of liberal and conservative, Christian, Jew, and Muslim, and really work together to lift our country up. Imagine that we could stop pointing fingers long enough to pick up tools and build something that lasts.

    Imagining that is what keeps me going when I’m ready to throw up my hands over so much partisan ugliness.