Illusions of Community

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In the various media outlets we’ve seen an explosion in terms of sexual misconduct.  The exposure crosses all facets of life, be it in our politics, entertainment, captains of industry, educators, and trusted contributors in society.  The matter, when taken from a 50-thousand foot view, is often less about sex and far more about the role of power and influence – which is expressed in the issues surrounding sexual misconduct, such as predatory behaviors, pressure and bullying, and a sense of entitlement.

The hurt, outrage, and victimization resulting from bad behavior (for whatever the reason) often calls for swift action if not retaliation, just or otherwise.  There are cries for “the community” to band together to send a message.  However, such rallying calls rarely unify a people, but rather fractures a local community, creating a firestorm that seeks to tear down all in its path.  This is not to say there shouldn’t be action to make changes – there absolutely needs to be change – but it should be coming from a wise-mind place versus the purely emotional scream to ACT regardless of its consequence or impact.

In my view, this community based call to action is based on a fundamental flaw. That flaw is in the understanding of what a community must be, for it is very rarely (far too rarely) an actual cohesive and unified unit.

Like much of language, words have multiple meanings and we often confuse one for another as they become synonymized in daily use.  I have written before on how the word Love is often misused and misunderstood – which is not surprising when one considers there are at least 18 definitions of the word “Love”.

The word “Community” shares the same problem. It means too many things to communicate clearly what we really mean.  Here’s a quick list of common definitions when considering the word Community itself:

  • Group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. Synonyms: group, body, set, circle, clique, faction.
  • Particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants. Synonyms: district, region, zone, area, locality, locale, neighborhood.
  • People of a district or country considered collectively in the context of social values and responsibilities; society. Synonyms: public, general public, populace, people, citizenry, population, collective.
  • Group of people living together practicing common ownership. Synonyms: brotherhood, sisterhood, fraternity, sorority, sodality.
  • Feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. “the sense of community that organized religion can provide”.
  • Body of nations or states unified by common interests. g. the European Union
  • Similarity of identity. “writers who shared a community of interests”.

So while we may be a “community”, we are not necessarily a Community.  This is especially true when considering the expectations regarding how people should behave or conduct themselves, which is typically attributed to a shared value system.

The word community (as its too often used in “the kink community”) is an illusion based upon the false assumption that we are in any way unified or truly share a broad base of common traits or values. We have only to look at the factious nature of any political or special interest group to see how great the differences are within any one larger collective social unit.

I have seen this same confusion and factiousness in any number of religious or spiritual paths, and the same holds true for those that like to describe those within the alternative lifestyles as “a community”.  The protestant reformation is a perfect example of how different people within a given collective can be and of the schism that can result.

When there is sufficient disparity or gaps in the choices of what or who we support, or in codes of conduct, values, and goals, then that community becomes divided – and often turns against itself. The resulting smaller micro communities seek to insulate themselves from those it does not agree with, and as a result breaks down communication and cooperative efforts necessary to create broader positive change.  i.e.  Politics.

It would be more accurate to say that within a society there are various locality based communities which share a broad lifestyle and cultural set. Within those, there are special interest group communities that may share a common goal, within which there are many factions which may or may not form various collectives.  Even further, there are micro-communities within these factions, as people tend to cluster or aggregate around common themes given their beliefs, goals, and location.

So what does form a community?  Well, pretty much anything that is a significant contributor or influencer in values and objectives. The key is remembering that each of these contributors unify when looked at on their own, but often competes with the others based on the priority or weight of significance for any given individual within a group.  Example:

  • National/Regional– within the USA there are at least five cultural regions, which I’ve mentioned in my classes & writing on BDSM Etiquette. The differences in US cultural regions have actually been “upgraded” to eleven separate rivaling cultural “nations” (American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America; by Colin Woodard).
  • Localized Population– within the above we also have the difference of views and identity that comes from a change in daily life experiences and perspectives, such as the experiences in rural, ex-urban, suburban, urban and inner-city life.
  • Heritage– within our relative localized populations there is also the identity we carry with us from how we were raised from a heritage perspective. This carries with us key beliefs and values as to behavior and relationships and held quite dear.
  • Spiritual– certainly no less than all the above but within them are our spiritual culture and communities.
  • Personal– now we come to very individualized beliefs from our own internal sense and life experiences including our sense of purpose, role, gender, sexuality, etc.

While the above list is not meant to be hierarchical, it does provide some context in how these above factors might be shifted around according to the influences of any one person.  For example, one’s spiritual identity and community might be at the top or at the bottom of the list of factors, depending on one’s life experiences and choices.  The same is true for any of the list above.

The trending over time has been not an integration across multiple cultural communities but rather a reinforcement of difference. We see examples of this every day play across the news and entertainment industries in the tendency to bifurcate into extreme views.  This is over course partly reflexive – the need to preserve one’s sense of identity.  The other part is subconscious action to eliminate perceived risks to safety, welfare or survival.

It is because of these differences that there are certain truths, as disruptive as they may be to utopian desires or thought purists:  (1) people aggregate around commonality and distrust what is different; (2) any view of difference is often viewed as a hostile element that may infringe upon beliefs or resources; (3) the more inclusive a society often tries to become the more its people will push to maintain their sense of identity; (4) cultural community identity is highly plastic with its elements re-ranked in priority according to each individual or micro-community.

So let me say this plainly: there is NO “kink community”.  It’s an idea, but there is no evidence based on its own behavior.  Even affiliating with the idea of a “kink community” would be alien to some with an alternative lifestyle. One example might be some power exchange folks who don’t consider themselves kinky at all and don’t engage in BDSM play, poly, swinging, etc. This is largely true for any special micro-community such as Kinksters, Littles, Hypno, Furries, Total Power Exchange, etc.  These are not the same animals at all; some worlds and experiences will not be identified with, and that’s natural.

However, as more events and local groups seek to be All-Inclusive and enforce a wide sweeping set of common values and doctrine, the more friction will inevitably arise.  If the kink community were to be the USA, then we MUST acknowledge the differences of our own micro-communities as our version of “cultural nations”.  In the end, a Community (capitalized C) is only such when it is able to bind together and agree upon a core set of values or principles and act in alignment to those priorities.  Until then said group is at best clique, faction, or a regional population.  Again, we may be a part of a kink community (alternative lifestyle based commonality) but we are in no way a Community (with unified values, priorities, goals).

There is a silver lining, although I strongly suspect few will agree.  There is the opportunity for smaller and more intimate groups and events to focus on a core value set community, instead of creating these over ambitious and often factious kink circuses.  Let each community be as they are, and stop trying to force them to abide by a common standard that may be the antithesis of their value set.  From a behavioral perspective, it’s much easier to focus on a smaller group that already has a fairly well defined set of shared values than to try to force a larger group to change their values and beliefs.

I believe we need to work with human nature, not against it.  Or at least acknowledge and accept there will be the presence of competing values and beliefs which cannot, by their nature, all be satisfied. This means that at larger groups, we need to acknowledge there will be friction, tension, and competition.  As individuals, that means when we walk into a larger group with high diversity, we need to calm down and not insist on trying to attain a measure of “fairness”.  I recall the words of Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes “a good compromise leaves everyone mad”.

Fairness is in the eye of the beholder – based on their beliefs, values, and goals.  What one “community” will see as fair, another may see as a potential threat if it’s too divergent from their core.  Acknowledge and respect these differences, manage to the Reality, and let us stop the rather naive and idealistic notion that we are in any way a unified community.

-SV-

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