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Fr. 497

March 21, 2014

The final issue to be raised in relation to the problem as worded is precisely that of what is to be done about it. If we grant, with the question, that community and the very notion thereof are to be abandoned, this leaves open the question what is to happen then. In the face of modernity’s implacable march ever onward, are those groups and individuals belonging to such communities committed to:

1.) withdrawing from modern society so as to leave modernity and globalization behind?

2.) engaging the entities responsible for modernity and globalization with the aim of securing greater protections for their increasingly marginalized, traditional ways of life?

3.) targeting the processes responsible for modernity and globalization so as to reduce the untoward effect of these by getting at the root of the problem?

4.) promoting a new form of global citizenship, a cosmopolitanism to which each belongs independently of any particularity that he or she might have?


From a purely practical point of view, 1.) seems an extravagant response to the problem in the sense that few are calling for it and fewer would be prepared to undertake everything necessary to carry such a withdrawal out. Moreover, insofar as such communities have already withdrawn from society to an extent with little in the way of progress in face of increasing “globalization”, it is hard to see how complete withdrawal from society would reverse those trends.

A similar critical perspective might be brought to bear on 4.). For the latter hardly seems the sort of procedure for which most citizens are clamoring. Although belonging has taken on increasingly global shapes and surpassed the scope and logic of mere locality, there seems to remain an exclusionary moment in belonging as well. More simply, it is not clear that we can find a human fulfillment in belonging to a group to which all others belong. Perhaps, there is here a parallel with the notion of universal love current in contemporary ethics, according to which citizens might better motivate themselves to act for the betterment of all by extending their circle of caring so as to cover the entire human race rather than their near circles of relatives, friends and acquaintances. So, 4.) might be said to posit a notion of universal belonging and identification. Yet it is not evident that belonging can work on this model. Indeed, universal love itself encounters numerous difficulties at the level of emotional capacities and language-based formation of attachment. In similar fashion, we can ask whether universal belonging exceeds our emotional capacities or makes of belonging a mere triviality.

This leaves 2.) and 3.), which center on a single strategy realized to different ends. Whereas 3.) seeks to reverse the processes at work in globalization perceived to be antagonistic towards community, 2.) instead proposes to engage with those same processes so as to limit their scope and secure some realm insulated, at least to some extent, from these processes. It is not clear that one or the other strategy has the advantage over the other. If 3.) seems to come out ahead in that it targets the underlying causes to restore certain aspects of pre-global life, it carries with it the disadvantage of being perhaps overly ambitious and optimistic concerning our ability to revert to earlier forms of life. Conversely, 2.) carries with it the advantage of adapting current forms of community and being-together to the realities of a global society but might well give up to much in advance to the presumptions concerning how that global society ought to be organized, in a sort of separate peace with the global situation as is.

As the comments made in the four observations above show, the ninth problem given in the list of 10 philosophical problems for the 21st century (“9. Finding a new basis for social identification.Distant and powerful forces, not answerable to local communities, shape so much of our lives. How can we sustain local communities, communities with which we can identify? Or is the very idea of a local community an outmoded parochial idea suited only to centuries gone by?”) is a fertile one, with many new lands to be opened up and veins to be explored.

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