From the evolutionary science that I’ve understood, it appears that community evolved naturally as a way to protect offspring, and hence the gene pool.
It is literally something that has evolved. The best way I’ve heard it explained is by comparing it to eggs.
Eggs, for birds and reptiles, and like the womb for humans and other mammals, is a way of giving a child the best start in life.
The egg protects, containing enough energy to sustain a creature through the earliest part of it’s life cycle. It also allows the mother animal to go out and forage, fight and otherwise protect the egg, whilst having a large brood.
All these things work to protect the animal through a vulnerable period, as all of it’s bits start to fit together.
With a womb, the mother is made less efficient by the pregnancy. This often requires a social structure to protect the mother, and hence the child. This is normally family, but it’s a fairly natural (horrible, dangerous word that it is) for that to evolve into larger structures. Or at least it proved so for us.
Obviously the benefits increase, possibly geometrically, as the community gets larger. There is more protection from outside elements. There is more knowledge in the community.
Which to me is the key. Starting with a parent or sibling teaching a child, developing into tribal elders teaching all the youth, and eventually blossoming into education systems and knowledge webs, libraries and museums, internets and documentaries.
The key here is that they are something that evolve. They come into being as a reaction to the environment. Does this mean they are created by those external forces? Or that we can create a pressure cooker for community?
Community often stems from something to fight against. Like a feminist community rising to combat patriarchal oppression.
It’s hard to create a unified group without an ‘enemy’.
Which is part of the problem.
An ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality is another dangerous thing. Though entirely justifiable and understandable if you have already been created as an ‘other’.
Can community be created without ‘othering’? Is community possible without exclusion/isolationism?
I hope so. But that’s not the question at hand.
I guess the answer is yes, given the right conditions, and something to fight for, or against.
Common ground. Common unity. You can see these things come together.
At the same time, I believe smaller communities are formed all the time. Friendship, work, play, strangers in the same place. Humans, at their best, have a tendency to pull together.
At their worst those units pulled together will trample on those not part of them.
We must learn a fluidity, a willingness to break as well as make bonds. Make more bonds in more directions.
Not allow mutual exclusivity.
So that we are never part of just one community. But all that we are neighboured with.
For we’re already in the grandest human community, whether we like it or not.
Illustration by Anna-Kaisa.