On Natural Community

In Epicurean discourse we often get into discussions of minimalism from the perspective of natural and necessary desires: minimalism not for the sake of frugality and simplicity, but for the sake of having a deep conviction of what is and what isn’t necessary.

The natural measure of wealth is that which corresponds to our natural and necessary desires.

Thus, in our discussions of autarchy we talk about the natural measure of wealth, and during Pride month I discussed the natural measure of Pride (many people are forced into a healthy re-assessment of their self-worth as a result of bigotry and mistreatment). In a naturalist evaluation of equality, which is a term so misused and confusing, I argued that our shared, natural limitations and needs provide the basis for a REAL, experienced equality and that, because all mortals have a universal need to feed, when we gather around the tables we can experience true communal equality.

The contributors of the Las Indias blog, a bilingual virtual community dedicated to cooperative ethics which proclaims itself proudly Epicurean, has been steadily making the case for natural community. In a recent piece, David the Ugarte makes the case for the Epicurean communal model:

Indianos takes part in an Epicurean communitarian tradition: the community is a «society» of friends. From the Epicurean point of view friendship (fraternity) and knowledge are the central goals of community itself. So, you will accept and look for people you can become friend of. But you also will put (an)other condition to them: to share basic common contexts in order to be able (to) learn together. Consequently, community is something that happens (within) a cultural and philosophical common ground, not just a set of rules open to everybody.

The link to Epicurean communitarian tradition leads to another blog entry on community and happiness. At the core of Las Indias’ communitarian doctrine we find Adlerian theories on natural community (which is smaller in scale and based on REAL interpersonal relations), as opposed to non-natural or Platonic community: artificial ideological constructs and narratives that people use to weave their identities but that do not constitute real communities or translate into real interpersonal relations. Nation-building is the prime example. There are many other imagined communities based on political strategy and ideology that also fit the Platonic definition of being artificial communities.

Notice, also, how communities of friends evolve naturally and organically. It is easier to become friends with our friends’ friends because there is already some familiarity. A recent 20-year-long study proves that happiness (and sadness) spread like a contagion, which means that even at very subtle levels we mirror behavioral and psychological patterns in our social environment. Herd instincts exist in all social entities, whether we’re aware, whether we accept this or not. The fact that the term “contagious” is used in the study, places social relations within the framework of nature, not culture.

The idea of Epicurean friendship and intimacy is that we should be invested in the happiness, self-overcoming and moral betterment of our friends (and they in ours). In light of recent research, it makes perfect sense why this is so important: unlike with patriotic narratives and imaginary communities, in natural communities the happiness of our friends has a direct, tangible, measurable effect on our own long-term wellbeing.

Recent research on isolation demonstrates how it feels cold in the body, and how it’s a health risk factor that shortens one’s life span on par with obesity and smoking. People need to feel both productive and loved. If and when they don’t, their bodies and minds begin decaying. In other words, community is both natural and necessary, and (as with wealth, pride, etc.) people need at least a natural measure of community in their lives.

What to do? The wisdom tradition of the Scandinavians says it well in stanzas 43-44 of the Havamal. Call up your good and true friends and see them frequently, blend your mind with theirs, befriend their friends, never betray them, and honor them with gifts:

To his friend a man should bear him as friend,
to him and a friend of his;
but let him beware that he be not the friend
of one who is friend to his foe.

Do you have a friend whom you trust well,
from whom you crave good?
Share your mind with him, exchange gifts with him,
make efforts to find him often.

Further Reading:

Review of the Book of Community

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Author: hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.