Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Contradictory desires for Community and Autonomy


Francis Fukuyama in his book "The Great Disruption" writes:

"Contemporary Americans, and contemporary Europeans as well, seek contradictory goals. They are increasingly distrustful of any authority, political or moral, that would constrain their freedom of choice, but they also want a sense of community and the good things that flow from community, like mutual recognition, participation, belonging, and identity. Community has to be found elsewhere, in smaller and more flexible groups and organisations where loyalties and memberships can be overlapping, and where entry and exit entail relatively low costs. People might thus be able to reconcile their contradictory desires for community and autonomy. But in this bargain, the community they get is smaller and weaker than most that have existed in the past. Each community shares less with neighboring ones, and the ones to which they belong have relatively little hold. The circle of people they can trust is necessarily narrower. The essence of the shift in values that is at the center of the Great Disruption is, then, the rise of moral individualism and the consequent miniaturization of community".

1. Does this hypothesis seem to be borne out by the facts?

2. Does the description of the fractured, miniaturized and weakened community that allows members easy entry and exit, apply to the Home Education community?

3. If so, does this have significantly negative consequences or is the balance all positive?

4. What do you imagine the future holds with regard to how the community at large will structure itself?


Anonymous said...

Sorry for rushing this, but I couldn't resist a peak at your blog before going to work!

I think his initial premise seems dodgy to me. The goal of autonomy is not incompatible with the desire for community; and community does not necessarily mean seeking power within a unified, constrained mass. The HE community seems to clearly demonstrate that one can respect the autonomy of others and yet benefit from a community, full of differences, that one can trust.

Will think more about this.

watson said...

My first thoughts are similar. Also maybe community actually enhances the chances of autonomy in the same way that having a steadfast, commited family enhances a child's chances of autonomy and his confidence in unconditional acceptance? Insecure, fragile communities/families are surely more likely to expect conformity out of fear - fear of a dying way of life, fear of change, fear of being left behind and forgotten - in this respect maybe Fukuyama has something, but maybe fails to see that the weak/fragile/dying communities are the old geographical ones not new belief/principle/lifestyle type ones. I think he goes wrong when he assumes that smaller means weaker - I guess it depends what you are trying to achieve. not sure I agree that 'Each community shares less with neighboring ones, and the ones to which they belong have relatively little hold' either. Surely a community to which you belong out of, for example, commitment to home education and belief in certain priciples has more hold than one to which you belong simply because of where your house is? I'm reminded of this each time we move and take our 'community' with us rather than starting again with new school etc. Doesn't prevent us becoming members of a new geographical community as well though. Also if people are freely choosing communities which are easy to enter and exit AND they are seeking autonomy then surely it stands to reason that autonomy respecting communities will flourish while those exerting pressure to conform will die out anyway? Sorry - not very lucid.

Carlotta said...

Extremely lucid, the pair of you!
And I thoroughly agree. I think his first assertion is incorrect. It is actually entirely possible to achieve a satisfying and life-enhancing win-win solution in the situation of wanting to realise one's autonomy and also wanting to enjoy the benefits of vibrant community living.

These new kinds of communities, smaller though they may be, are facilitated by the internet and easy travel,and are, as a result of being predicated upon considered conviction rather than imposed faith, are strong and vigourous and deeply meaningful.

I also think that since the truth is out there, and is unitary, even if imperfectly apprehended, that consensus is likely to emerge between initially apparently opposed kinds of community. Eg: as people come to realise the truth of the efficacy of uncoerced learning, and eventually perceive the ease with which this can now, in the Information Age, be put into effect, more and more people will see the sense of the idea of respecting the choices that children make with regards to their education.

Also, because we in the HE community tend to believe in the efficacy of uncoerced learning, we will do our best not to coerce others into accepting our point of view, (given that others behave well towards us that is, of course!.) We will behave with due respect towards members of other communities. We believe deeply in the power of rational argument to change minds. This is not a weak, but a thoroughly sensible, humane and ethical position which applies not just to members of the HE community but to all humans who do not go on the heavy handed offensive against us.

Perhaps Fukuyama assumes, as do many people, that moral and epistemological individualism, (seemingly a fact of life, btw, so we might as well get used to it), equates to irrational egotism and non-altruistic behaviour. The fractious world that he sort of implies will happen as a result of the miniaturization of communities may simply not arise, given that people realise the efficacy of moral behaviour and given that the people within a meaningfully satisfying community are likely to be less aggravated and vengeful towards everyone as a general rule.

Also, (and will shut up soon), I think those members who do treat the HE community lightly in some way, are less likely to be treated well within it. I have found that as a general rule, those who care for others within the community, who take their commitments there seriously, they are the ones who thrive and derive the most from it. Others of a more egotistical bent, who are more interested in protecting their own interests, rather than achieving a win-win solution, tend either to get ostracised or punished in some other more subtle sort of way.