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Community and identity in late modernity: Part One

By Mark Wegierski
web posted August 4, 2008

This is the beginning of a series of articles that will be looking at the problem of community, as well as of the related theoretical conflict of the particular vs. the universal, as it relates to human social/societal relations in the contemporary period, and especially in regard to current and historical European and Western self-identifications. The rise of possible new social identities in the post-1960s context of the new social movements, and of ever-intensifying, consumptionist, consumerist milieux, especially in North America and Western Europe, will also be examined.

One remembers that the guiding slogan of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was “Community, Identity, Stability”. Obviously, Huxley is invoking these terms, which are frequently cherished by traditionalists and such “social conservatives of the Left” as Christopher Lasch, in an ironic sense. Brave New World has indeed turned the meaning of these fine words upside down. Nevertheless, that does not mean that there is not a way in which these words can be authentically cherished and invoked.
 
There appear to be a number of types of communities today which could not have possibly existed before. These have been brought into possible being by electronic media and the consumption culture (see, for example, French New Right theorist Guillaume Faye's idea of "consumer tribes"). Some of these probably contribute to increased social disintegration (e.g., the extreme elements in the rap-music community -- which is also sometimes called, as a whole, "hip-hop nation"), while others are relatively innocuous (e.g., fans of Star Trek). It is incredible to what extent young people are defined today by the music they listen to, or, in some cases, by their favorite television show (which often amounts to an entire "style-of-life"). There is also the well-known example of sports (fan) communities. One main point to be made is that communities based on what is ostensibly "fiction" (e.g. Star Trek) often have a more substantive "reality", i.e., they affect a person's behaviour, lifestyle, values, etc., more than supposedly long-rooted, "genuine" communities like nations and established religions.

In his important book, What's the Matter with Liberalism? (1992) University of Toronto political theorist Ronald Beiner criticized the too-extended use of the term "community" (e.g., to include such phenomena as Sloan Rangers or Sloans, i.e., preppies at Oxford/Cambridge). There might also be uses of the term which are not only innocuous, but also socially negative. One possible impression of a very common approach to communities today is as a rather socially-disintegrative "rainbow-coalition" of various victimological "sectoral" groups, defined almost exclusively in anti-traditional terms. One must be very careful to differentiate among the different types of phenomena being described under the "rainbow” – which range from obviously somatic categories, to rather ephemeral ones, such as “artists” or “students”. (The assumptions about artists and students as sectoral groups today are that they tend to be very left-leaning and inherently anti-traditionalist.)

Though one cannot argue against the fact that nationalism is basically a product of socialization (although presumably reinforced to some extent by some common physical characteristics), i.e., mostly a result of "nurture", some have argued that the complementary differentiations between masculinity and femininity seem very basic and "natural", thus making the project of total gender equality very difficult. Interestingly enough, it is considered by some theorists who cherish Marx today that feminism and gay rights follows as a theoretically-unassailable progression from classic Marxism.

One would perhaps like to look for a "hard edge" in the definition of community, that would allow for affording somewhat less social and cultural importance to some possibly less salubrious or trivial groupings, as well as the ability to understand, for example, that at least some of those who claim to speak for various sectoral groups in North America, are not necessarily strongly representative of their respective community, nor are they necessarily making arguments that will be truly of the greatest help to their respective community.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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