Size Matters

by Jeff Thomas, International Man:

Recently, Doug Casey commented, in an essay, on the senselessness of giving to organized charities. I take a similar view. So, are we both heartless, having no concern for the well-being of others? Not at all.

Personal generosity is a laudable quality, but giving to a large organized charity is just plain foolish. At best, three-quarters of your donation will be gobbled up by the administration of the charity. If you genuinely wish to be of value to others, your generosity would be more effective on a local level, where you give directly to those who will benefit from it, and you’re more certain of the outcome. The larger the charity organization, the greater the certainty that much, if not all, of your donation will fail to reach those you hoped would benefit.

Similarly, the concept of community is that we surround ourselves with others, as this provides us with a better life. The concept originated before mankind even existed—lions hunting in a pride, monkeys shrieking at the approach of a predator, etc. Humans originally formed tribes for similar reasons. Then, the idea of community expanded as some individuals proved to be better at different tasks. One might have been a more proficient hunter, whilst another constructed a better shelter or made better tools.

This, in turn, developed into the idea of a fixed community, with some buildings being used as dwellings and others as places of business. The more people, the greater the diversity of skills and the greater the choice of whom to seek out, to fulfill tasks.

Hence, we develop the assumption that “bigger is better.” But, at some point, as a community grows larger, we find that depersonalisation occurs. We find that we have little personal relationship with the folks on the other side of town and our willingness to help them diminishes, as we come to realise that the favour is unlikely to be returned.

The effectiveness of “community” is based on the level of voluntary give-and-take.

This concept is reinforced in a situation where we live our entire lives in the same location, increasing the likelihood that we’ll be surrounded by family members, including in-laws and friends and associates with whom we develop symbiotic relationships over a period of years. The longer those relationships exist, the less immediacy we require on a return within the give-and-take.

The logical conclusion of “bigger is better” is city life, in which people come and go frequently and each individual becomes more solitary in his view as to what type of behaviour is most useful to him. The larger the population, the more the sense of “community” dries up.

Although a high-population community can function effectively, it tends to come apart in times of strife. If a riot occurs, your car is more likely to be senselessly burned by someone you don’t know and have never harmed. Likewise, during a food crisis, your neighbour is more likely to shoot you to gain the loaf of bread you’re taking home.  

So, somewhere between city living and “going it alone,” there’s an ideal size for a community, where neighbours are likely to help one another as needed, because they recognise the likelihood of a return on their “social investment.”

In the US, the Amish have arguably been more successful at this than anyone else. Whenever a community exceeds forty or so families, they begin the formation of another church district (community). This assures that each person benefits personally from the assistance of the others, even to the extent that the entire community gets together to raise a barn for a young married couple, without charging them. (At some point in everyone’s life, the favour has either been returned, or will be.)

The English country village has my personal endorsement as the most civilised form of community man has ever created, as it has one of every service that’s needed, but little more. But, although I’m British, I choose not to live in an English village, because they all fall under the aegis of a controlling and impersonal national government, within which I have no meaningful voice. Worse, at least for the present, that national government falls under the control of an even more dictatorial uber-government—the EU.

For a community to have an effective government, it would never grow beyond the level of the town hall—a meeting place in which each resident’s voice has a similar weight. (Even then, it would stand the risk of being more a democracy than a republic.)

But, as soon as a community grows beyond that size, the individual has an ever-decreasing say in managing his own affairs. In addition, he faces decreasing interplay between himself and his fellow citizens, leaving him ever more greatly exposed in those times when mutual respect and assistance may be essential.

Today, we’re approaching a period that will include the greatest level of social, economic and political change that we’ll ever face in our lifetimes. Whilst it will impact us all, the primary objective should be to minimize its impact on us so that we can come out the other side of it as undamaged as possible. (If we prepare ourselves well enough, we may even exit this period in a better position than we now have.)

In such a time, it would be wise to have the option to live in a small community, where we’re known and our involvement is respected. As conditions become more difficult, our voluntary participation in the survival and/or betterment of the community would be the glue that keeps its function ongoing. (And, here, I cannot stress the word, “voluntary” strongly enough. A community that has laws and regulations that demand contribution is a poor choice, regardless of its size.) 

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