A Laying On of Hands

One of my favorite things to advocate for in terms of the promotion of a healthy environment and good nutrition is the formation of community. Or, put differently, the loss of community in the modern way of life appears to be intimately linked to the destruction of the environment and the deterioration of public health.

We began to lose community in the process of trying to create it. In building suburbs we created lifestyles based on long, isolating, gas-guzzling commutes that eroded our personal time making social interaction and exercise harder to come by. Beyond that, we designed our suburbs without sidewalks, town centers, or public play spaces, effectively isolating our children from one another and putting them and their caretakers back in the car in order to grocery shop or go to the park. Of course, once you’re in the car, the likelihood of each person on a particular street going to a different park or grocery store increases, decreasing the casual everyday interactions between neighbors that do so much to foster community. The time and energy required to prepare meals of whole foods from local sources was also squeezed out by the distribution of our lives across a greater geography and our increasing desire for “down time” and instant gratification.

And isolation breeds isolation. Once disconnected from our neighbors and surrounding community, we are more likely to tell ourselves that video tennis is a reasonable substitute for actually going to play tennis, forgetting that going to play tennis may involve taking a walk, running into the neighbors, getting substantively more exercise and valuable vitamin D, and interacting with our children and the environment.

And infrastructure breeds infrastructure. Once we are tied to our cars for all of our activities we need an increasingly large number of roads, increasing in size, to handle our increasing numbers and increasingly large cars. Retreating to our houses necessitates larger and larger houses, filled with more and more things, to fill the void left by the absence of regular social interaction and the necessary chores of a conscious lifestyle. Consumption itself becomes a hobby. Instead of community centers, our houses become show pieces, museums to ourselves with all the accouterments of a modern lifestyle, televisions, stereos, Jacuzzi tubs, and little evidence of actual interaction with the world at large.

I suggest that the formation and fostering of community in and of itself is an act of subversion, or at least a tangible protest of the current status quo. I believe that community is one antidote to deteriorating pubic health, eroded social services, environmental decline and climate change, and the propagation of an unhealthy and unsustainable popular monoculture. And it’s easy. And it’s free. (original post June 8, 2015)