Difference, Community, and Sustainability

Lee Flier lflier at mindspring.com
Tue Mar 23 11:39:16 EST 1999

Unleesh wrote:

>It seems to me that there are some elements in mainstream American society
>that really get in the way of sustainable community ...
>...and a main one is intolerance of difference, exceptionality ... i really
>think it's a big deal that just wanting to control one's appearance, for
>example, is such a big deal ... if you have different colored hair, or like
>dress differently, or if you're gay, or if you're pagan, people make it
>really hard for you to get along or fit in and thusly you have to reach
>outside your "community" (snicker) to other "communities" (snicker) for
>who are different there, and thus maintain phone, car, and email relations
>across local channels ... if I could be myself locally, find companions
>locally ... but realistically, amongst all these monster trucks and
>Xtian moralistic judgemental mediocre fools? *sigh* ... these technologies
>perhaps are bandaid solutions to social problems which need to be faced
>on ...
>...if there were widespread celebration of diversity, I could see
>gardens, regular weekly block parties, and car poolings, etc ... i could
>safe bicycling and public transpo ... but i don't trust enough, and thus
>reach out to those who seem to share something in common that they're
>different ...
>... anyone else had any similar thoughts or troubles?

Well, I live in an "international" neighborhood of Atlanta.  There are 12
different countries represented on my street alone.  Because this
neighborhood is known for that kind of diversity, anyone who moves here
knows it's that kind of place and tends to be a tolerant sort.  We all get
along well for the most part, have the occasional block party, and if we
aren't best friends we pretty much "live and let live."  I like that,

HOWEVER... as a model of a future America (or anyplace else) I'm not sure at
all if this is going to work, or even SHOULD be considered a goal.  Not that
neighborhoods like mine shouldn't exist, for those who want to live in them.
But people like us (who "celebrate" diversity) need to recognize ourselves
as a small minority and that's OK.  For the most part it's hardwired into us
humans to be tribal - that is, most people want to live amongst those of
their own kind, who behave in much the same ways they do, speak the same
language, have the same types of religious beliefs.  And we tend to defend
our "turf" against those who are different.

The current trend toward "celebrating diversity" is really a recent
phenomenon and has only arisen because, in modern society, people have
suddenly been forced to form a common culture where they really have none.
In fact, America in particular tries to pretend as if different cultures do
not exist - we are all one "happy family" with equal access to McDonald's
and Wal Mart.  Yet deep inside, most people know better and cling fiercely
to their own.  In order to prevent violence from erupting on a regular basis
(which it often does anyway in urban environments), the more enlightened,
educated types have preached the gospel of "celebrating diversity".

While I applaud the attitude of tolerance among people who wish to pursue
it, I don't think the attitude of tribalism is going to go away, or should.
When too much intermingling among cultures happens, what results is a lack
of any culture - as we see in America.  Why shouldn't people who wish to, be
able to feel secure in their communities, with people who they can count on
to behave more or less as they do?  This really rankles most liberal types
who view this as intolerance or racism, but I am not advocating for example
that all of America become white and Christian.  However, I don't object to
the idea of a white Christian community, so long as they leave all the
others alone who are different.  We don't have to associate with each other
much, but let cultural boundaries persist between communities.  We don't
have have to like each other, so long as we are not violent toward each

Just to illustrate, you know, Atlanta was the cradle of the Civil Rights
movement, and Martin Luther King is still a venerated figure here.   And
Atlanta has probably made more progress in the area of "race relations" than
any city in the U.S.  There is a very large successful black middle class.
The mayor is black, as is the police chief and most other important public
officials.  AND YET.... MLK's "dream" of a color-blind society has not
happened.  Successful black people do not move into the affluent white
neighborhoods - instead, they have created affluent black neighborhoods.
This is not because they particularly hate whites or anything.  It's just
that when people walk down the street they would like to meet other
"familiars", people who speak in a similar way, who "get" their jokes, who
probably go to the same churches, who share a common background.  And when
you get right down to it, there's nothing at all wrong with that.

Unfortunately the "politically correct" crowd is doing its level best right
now to stop such subcultural communities from happening, through such
insidious measures as quotas, forced bussing, etc.  We tend to make a racial
issue of it because, historically, minorities have had inferior economic
status to the majority.  However, in the opinion of some of the black
leaders around here, it is NOT the key to black economic success, for blacks
to simply hang around with whites more.   Instead, subcultures should have
the opportunity to form their own communities, with their own economies,
housing codes, leadership, etc.  These communities do not need to like each
other, they need simply to be allowed to exist.

In Permaculture design it's very clear that diversity needs to be
considered.  However it's also clear that one can't just throw together
plant and animal species willy-nilly, in the greatest number possible, and
expect it to work.  One has to give each species a space to grow, together
with other species with whom they have a beneficial relationship.  Species
must not be allowed to cross-breed if the resulting cross will weaken the
original species.  I believe the same thing is true of communities, and
cultures, who have differing values.  The result of trying to get them to
"celebrate" each other is that no community ends up being able to fully
exercise and live by the values that made it strong to begin with.


Lee A. Flier
lflier at mindspring.com
Atlanta and Ellijay, Georgia

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