When some people learn about Local Electors, their initial response is, “But I don’t want to meet with my community.” Since “community” is an abstract term for nearly all Americans, this is an understandable reaction. Today, we may live in a “community,” but we have no reason to meet with our neighbors. We are a nation of rugged individualists—we enjoy being independent and we can fend for ourselves. We have no responsibility to anyone but ourselves and our family—and this is liberating. Dealing with a “community” would be a hassle, a burden, and I don’t want to do it—so the thinking goes.
Life as a rugged individualist is the polar opposite of the lives our ancestors led. Throughout human history, and up until relatively recently, our ancestors lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers. Everything they did, they did together—with either the entire group or members of the group. The group was the basic unit of life, and individuals could not live without it. If someone strayed from the group, they could be killed by wild beasts or starve to death. The group was their life—their identity was defined by their group, and the relationships they had within the group made life worth living. Our ancestors had none of the modern conveniences that we have today, but you can bet they didn’t lack for happiness. Whatever their struggles may have been, they had each other—and that is what made life grand.
Over the last few centuries, technologies were developed that led us down the path to where we are today. Weapons were created that allowed us to kill the beasts that threatened us. Farming allowed us to settle and become more self-sufficient. Transportation improvements allowed us to become more mobile and easily move away from one another. Organizations such as government, military, and business were developed and allowed us to identify less with our group and more with these organizations. Birth control allowed men and women to have sex without needing to stay together.
Society incrementally became more complex and our recent ancestors came to need each other less and less.
Each succeeding generation was born into a world slightly different from the one their parents were born into, and being the highly adaptable beings that they were, they accepted that world in as normal, often without even knowing how things had been before. They never questioned how life had changed and evolved over the decades, centuries, and millennia. But if we take a step back now, we can see that we have drifted enormously from how we once lived.
Today, most of us commute to work alone and then spend our day on the job. We get to know our coworkers—talking about work issues mostly, and sometimes perhaps our personal lives, and we might attend work functions or gatherings with coworkers after work to let off steam. Since we spend so much time with coworkers, for many of us or friends consist largely of coworkers. But these friendships tend to be primarily work relationships—somewhat shallow and professional. We are lucky to have one or two really good friends at work. And since the work environment is characterized by unequal relationships, becoming friends with many coworkers can be uncomfortable. And with 71 percent of American workers disliking their job (according to a recent Gallup poll), negative feelings about work make it a poor environment for finding good friends. In addition, coworkers tend to come from different parts of town, so we generally only see them at work. And they are transient—moving elsewhere within the organization, or to another organization entirely. When a coworker friend moves on, as they so often do, the relationship tends to fade.
On evenings and weekends we are often busy with personal matters we must tend to—running errands, spending time with the family and relaxing—probably watching television. For some, this may fill the remainder of their time. Others may also belong to one or more organizations, participating in activities, working toward causes or working to improve themselves. This can be a good way to make friends, but the people we meet tend to come from different parts of town, we see them infrequently, and the time we spend together tends to be short. These friendships therefore also tend to be weak, and when one of you quits the organization, the relationship tends to fade.
Our closest relationships tend to be with those we live with—family, roommates, and perhaps a pet. Our extended family and old friends supplement these relationships, but they are often too far away to see often. We tend to rely heavily on these few relationships, sometimes so much so that it can strain the relationship. We need more than just them.
It is common for people to talk about the great friends they had while in school and how they miss them. Those were the good old days. Hanging out and doing things with friends was very satisfying and fulfilling. Those friends anchored us to the world and made us feel like we belonged. They made life grand.
For most Americans, this is the life of the rugged individualist. Other than those we live with, the connections we have with others tend to be weak and fleeting. We are disconnected from the people around us, which can cause us to feel lonely and adrift. We are a society of social vagabonds. The effect of this can be that it causes us to draw inward, making it increasingly difficult for us to make connections with others, and even degrading our ability to understand others and to interact with them effectively.
Political scientist Robert Putnam does an excellent job of describing our condition in his book Bowling Alone. It is the story of how Americans have become increasingly disconnected from one another, and how social structures of all types have disintegrated. We have a tendency to think that others must be better connected than we are, but this book makes it clear that disconnect is very widespread. It is really quite shocking.
Could it be that, since we live in an “advanced” society—a “developed” nation—we don’t need community?
One of our most powerful needs is for social interaction. We need friends—good friends, close friends. Without friends we feel lonely and depressed. These feelings are our brains urging us to go out and find some friends. We seem to be born with the expectation that we will have friends, and there is little in life that is more satisfying than hanging out with friends and just talking. We crave friends and meaningful social interaction, much like we crave food and sex. People who live in social isolation are prone to all sorts of illness and tend to live shorter lives, while those with lots of great friends and plenty of social interaction tend to be the healthiest and live the longest.
But where should we find friends?
Some people are social butterflies. They participate in all sorts of activities, throw parties, and people flock to them—wanting to be their friend. But these lucky people are unusual. For most of us, we may go out and meet people, but the relationships rarely go beyond mere acquaintance—“friends-lite.” Finding good close friends in our fragmented, disconnected society can be very difficult, and even frustrating. It shouldn’t be this way!
The most natural place to find friends is right outside your door. That’s the way it’s been since the beginning of time. The closer someone lives to us the easier it is to maintain a close relationship with them. But since we can live two doors down from someone without their ever speaking to us, we can’t rely on ourselves or others to take the initiative. We need something to bring us together, something to make us need one other—to even force us together, on a regular basis. When we were kids in school, we were forced together with other kids on a regular basis, and friendships naturally developed. Community-based government would work much the same way, throughout our lives.
It is important to note that most kids would probably not go to school if given a choice. Most would tell you that it would be much more liberating if they could go outside and do their own thing or stay in and watch television. We accept that kids need to go to school so they become responsible, productive members of society, so we force them to attend school. Our tendencies as adults are much as they were as kids. If given the choice, some of us would choose to not participate in a community as part of a system of Local Electors.
But as adults, we need something that will bring us together with our neighbors and put us in a situation where we can connect and interact with them—if for no other reason than so we can become friends. And we need something that will compel us to be responsible, to be part of society, to be contributing members of it (beyond just work, which we do primarily for ourselves)—much like we did when we were kids. If we realize the benefits collectively and encourage each other to participate, we will all benefit by having more good friends, and we will govern ourselves more effectively in the process.
The environment we live in may have changed over recent centuries and millennia, but we are no different than our ancestors. We need community now just as surely as they needed community then. Building strong and healthy communities is the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our country.
If a system of Local Electors makes sense, and if we so clearly need community, why do we resist?
Part of the reason is that we have found substitutes for social interaction and made them a core part of our lives. For instance, we spend enormous amounts of time watching television. We sit alone in empty rooms watching television and being entertained as we watch others interact socially. We laugh with them, cry with them, and even come to identify with the people on these programs—as if they were our friends. This pseudo-world makes it easier to have few real friends. It gives a false sense that we, and others, have more friends than we do, and it gives false perceptions of what the real world is really like. This and other solitary pseudo social activities are forms of social masturbation—they feel good, but they accomplish nothing—and they prevents us from getting out and engaging with real people.
We have also grown accustomed to lite friendships, in that we see some people occasionally and we call them friends, but there is not much to the relationships. We participate in one-off activities where we get together with people once and never see them again. These interactions are certainly better than nothing, but they leave us feeling unfulfilled.
We also resist because we don’t know our neighbors, and we feel the disconnect between us. Meeting with a bunch of strangers can be scary. In fact, surveys have shown that attending a party with a bunch of strangers is something many people fear worse than death. And since the world we live in is characterized by relationships that usually go nowhere, we naturally assume that will continue to be the case. It is much easier to stay with what is familiar and comfortable, and to fear the unknown.
Ironically, the people who are most disconnected and who need a community of friends the most are likely to be the ones who resist the most. These people are stuck and they can’t imagine anything else.
It is important to realize that everyone is in the same situation and feeling the same way. When a group of strangers meets for the first time, everyone is always on their best behavior. Everyone wants to get along and to be accepted. Think of the people in your community as friends you haven’t met yet. They need you, just as you need them. The first few times you meet with your community will be an opportunity—everyone will be eager to make a connection. If you recognize this, you could find yourself with a lot of friends, and quickly!
Progressing from where we are now to community-based government will not be an easy change. Our biggest hurdle will be inertia—the temptation to maintain the status quo because we are familiar and comfortable with it. We will need those who are most comfortable interacting with others to bring the rest of us along. We need them to smile and to take our hand—tugging a little when necessary—and lead us into our community. And the rest of us need to realize that this is difficult for all of us, and to accept each other with a smile. It will take some getting used to.
Community is what you make of it. Just as we must give ourselves in a love relationship in order for the relationship to flourish and to get what we need and desire, we can also benefit by giving ourselves to our community. By giving ourselves to our community, we can develop great friendships and respect and influence within the community. The more you give, the more you will receive.
Participating in a community will seem like a hassle or a burden at times, but nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. We appreciate most the things that we work hardest to achieve. By being a productive member of our community and taking responsibility for its success, we can build many solid friendships and a government that works for us—and we can be proud of what we accomplish together.
The idea that Americans prefer to be rugged individualists is a myth. We have become rugged individualists not because we prefer to be, but because society has evolved in such a way that has led us to be. Today we are stuck in a rugged individualist rut. Self-sufficiency is a good thing. When we are self-sufficient—taking full responsibility for supporting ourselves and those who depend on us—we become strong and self-confident, which makes us happy. By being self-sufficient we can achieve great things and become successful. But there is no reason why self-sufficiency and success should cause us to isolate ourselves from our community. Success is best when it is shared.
We should think of the disconnected lives we lead as unnatural. What we are missing is community—we need a community so that we can find good friends who live close to us. We need to belong to something larger than ourselves. We need to work together to improve the world around us. Once we have shifted back to being part of a community, life without it will be unthinkable.
Going back to the way our ancestors lived is neither possible nor desirable. We have elevated ourselves to a much higher plane than they existed on. We have achieved so many amazing things, and we have built a society where human potential is literally as high as the stars. It is exciting to think of the wondrous possibilities the future holds. But there is no denying that we are not so different from our ancestors, and that only by understanding and embracing our true nature will we be able to find true success in this world.
Our challenge is to find a better balance between what we are—beings who naturally exist in a community—and who we are—members of a large, complex, and dynamic society. We believe a system of Local Electors is a big step in that direction. Organizing ourselves into community-based self-government should enable us to fit into our world much better than we do now, and it will surely enable us to create an even brighter future. We need you to join us.
“What a curious phenomenon it is that you can get men to die for the liberty of the world who will not make the little sacrifice that is needed to free themselves from their own individual bondage.” – Bruce Barton