The Major Change: From Community to Science


Picture I took a hiatus from writing about it, but soon I’m going to start finishing up my summary of “The Quest for Community”, the seminal book by Robert Nisbet on community.   

I took a couple months off to digest what I’d read so far.  It really is a groundbreaking book and I highly recommend it.  Community, even though we need it to be healthy and live a good life, is a difficult thing in modern times.

Modern life is a struggle between individualism, billed as freedom, and community, billed as repression.  Is this true? Of course not, but that is the spin we here with mainstream propaganda.

Imagine trying to ride a horse, with no skills, no direction, no training, no purpose, and no control.  Just hop on and hold on for dear life.  This is a good metaphor for pure individualism and for where we’re at as a society.  Sure you’re “free” as an “individual” but there is no logos, no order, to what’s happening.

Pure individualism is pure will, and the problem with pure will is that it can kill you if it’s not restrained.  

On the other hand, pure community could go too far the other direction and give you no freedom.  

So there has to be a balance between the two. I’ve been exploring the relationship between the two the last few years and it’s clearer and clearer to me that:

Individualism, as such, does not exist in isolation but rather true individualism can only form and exist in community, because it is in communities in which individualism is born, grows and flourishes through:

  • Cooperation– The ability to partner with others to accomplish a goal. 
  • Agency– The ability to actually do things in the world.
  • Roles– Your relationship to other people and what you are responsible for. 
  • Character– Your character is formed in community. 

Some great examples:

  • A true judo player can only form in a dojo.
  • A real estate investor can only invest and make deals with a seller and other team members like lawyers and bankers.
  • A father can’t exist without children, or mothers, or vice versa.  Same for a brother or sister. 
  • A nation can’t exist without citizens.
  • A business owner can’t exist without customers.
  • A quarterback can’t exist without a receiver and a team.
  • A chess player can’t exist without opponents, rules, and the historical game of chess.

What Has Happened

Over time, standards of community and church morphed and changed into individual desires for self-fulfillment, personal gratification, self-actualization, and psychological development.  These desires were based on a relatively modern view about the plasticity and pliability of human nature, and the impermanence of institutions of communities (families, nations, churches, states, villages, cities, places of work and socialization).  

Though these desires for freedom at times came out of a legitimate desire to be free of oppressive forms of community, they ended up not liberating people, but rather casting people adrift in a sea of ever-shifting values based primarily on consumption.  

People over history went from standards of home and community to standards of psychology and behaviorism (scientific control of human behavior), which turned out just to be another form of control.  Science replaced community, as science was seized upon by the powerful.  The major difference is that the older communal forms of control were based on action and reason whereas the new forms of control, through marketing, advertising, and stimulus-response conditioning are based on reaction.

Once marketing, advertising, and propaganda merged with behavioral science, we all became rats in a science experiment, so to speak.  When we removed community there was no hope for the least advantaged, because community was the only stability that the poor had to find a footing in life through cooperation, agency, character, and roles.  

This is one reason the modern poor in society have such a hard time making it out of poverty.  It’s less about IQ or intelligence as it is about the lack of stability in society and the lack of community pushing the disadvantaged towards an improved lot in life.  The poor are essentially treated like rats in a cage, with those at the top of society pulling the levers of stimulus and response through:

  • Debt, credit cards, high-interest loans.
  • Fast food and junk food.
  • Slickly marketed consumer products.
  • Sexual desire, limitless pornography, and dating applications.  
  • Self-defeating amorphous political quests.
  • Promotion of victimhood as identity, as a strategy for political control and the diminishment of agency.  

Do poor people want to suffer more from high debt, poor diets, diabetes, obesity, broken homes and families, addictions, extremist ideologies, and learned helplessness? Of course not, but this is the modern form of anti-community except for those who can break free from it, and some do.  

The theologian CS Lewis called this dichotomy decades ago the:

“Conditioners and the Conditioned”  

The powerful of society are the conditioners who use science to condition others into acting the way they want.

In this sense, one can easily see how those who are easily manipulated, and we all are from time to time, could be caught up in the rush to self-defeating “individualism” whether it’s in the attempt of buying a consumer identity, getting in to debt, sexual license, food choices, or various other rejections of the stabilizing forces of community.  Ironically enough, when we reject community, we become even less able to handle the modern world.  

Sure, the wealthy conditioners can do it, because they have teams of lawyers, doctors, psychologists, maids, assistants, and entertainments to help manage the HR meetings, the complicated jargon of PC, the despair of meaninglessness, and numb the mind and spirit from a reliance solely on a scientific rationalist existence.  

It’s not all negative out there.  I actually think things have gotten better in some ways, as the internet has allowed many people to break free from the matrix.

I really do feel like we should work hard to build culture back up, to build community back up. I think it can be done and I see positive movements all around where people are stepping out of the “matrix”.  So let’s press on for a more positive and constructive individualism.  

A Navy Seal writer and Podcaster I really like, Jocko Willink has a great line I like:

“If you’re helping them, you’re hurting them.”  

I couldn’t agree more.  When someone can help themselves, they should.  But community is a non-negotiable. We can’t live and we can’t be human without it.  


And remember…there’s never been a better day than TODAY to make it happen!
Read Next: The Quest for Community- The Call to Public Health
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