Communities vs. Transactions

My wife and I have different ways of looking at the world. It occurs to me today that the ambiguity of these two ways of looking at relationships is often exploited.

I think my wife’s understanding is typical. In her view, people do things for one another because they care about one another. Unless it is some extraordinary request, you don’t count the cost. If someone doesn’t care about you, or you them, then you are not obligated to do anything for them. In fact, it’s likely you won’t help them because you don’t have the feeling of reciprocity from them.

However, one problem with looking at the world in this way is that beyond a certain threshold, the community model moves into a transactional model. Someone asks for something beyond the normal level of reciprocity of the commons, and then you owe them something extraordinary in return. But, it’s tacit. This is never actually said because the transactional model is a different model of interaction, and it undermines the community model.

There are also some cases where there will never be anything in return. But, sometimes the obligation is created across generations, such as taking care of elderly parents with the hope that, one day, your children might take care of you in a similiar manner. These kinds of commitments gives community longevity, so they last beyond the current participants. But, again, there’s quite a bit of ambiguity, and in many cases, expectations won’t get met.

I start from a different place. I assume every interaction is transactional, and I try, to the degree possible, to be autonomous and self-sufficient. The last part is key.

In the transactional model, you’re in the world of commodities and commerce. While there are relationships built on commerce, they are not relationships of regard or community, they are relationships of convenience. The advantage of being autonomous and self-sufficent is you can live in a world of commerce and not have to count the cost, the same way that you live when you live in the community model, except it doesn’t matter whether people care about you or not.

Except, obviously, it does matter whether people care about you. The difference is that I don’t need that to be the basis for my day-to-day interactions with everyone. There is a small group of people that I interact with the expectations of community. But, outside of that small group, it’s the transactional model.

And, here’s why that’s important. When you go to a subreddit, like antiwork, and you see that a boss asks someone to come in on short notice and be a “team” player. That’s a community argument. But, does the boss care about you? Not at all. The relationship is transactional. Working this kind of ambiguity, given how many people subscribe to the community model, is a path for exploitation. It’s really that simple.

13 thoughts on “Communities vs. Transactions

    1. …starting from there and looking at the ‘state of play’ on the planet presently much of what you have written as a possible chaotic future I see as inevitable, without an unprecedented and abrupt turn in the way the human species is proceeding.
      Personally I already see the political tribes as moot, we are spinning our wheels, like religion there are good intentions and partial truths coming from those ‘distinctions’ but we are all mired in the muck of ‘us and them’. If there ever was a time for our generation and the general population to be a force for good and uniting the planet it should have been when the globe was threatened by the Covid virus. This has not happened, although there has been a huge number of people awakening from the numbing of consumerism and personal gain. It is a fact that to see this change happen will be painful and who wants pain and growth when you could just go back to sleep?
      I actually see the pain, growth and forgiveness that each human needs to experience and work through as a big part of the solution. The forgiveness starts with yourself, I am talking real forgiveness, stopping the ‘whack a mole’ of the things you blame others for or your own shadow….once you have really done that work forgiving others is already done. So back to “I to We’ Older to Elder, I think we have much to learn and remember from the Aboriginal beliefs all over the planet,to see all forms of life as equal to our life form. We are not stewards we are temporary visitors on a living organism we call planet Earth. Gaia.
      “How then will that change the way you think about what you should do?” That is the question I have been asking myself for some time because the scenario you have described I already see as reality and the only changes that will avert it are internal and we are all part of the solution, part of the puzzle we are ‘swimming in clues” at least those of us in the water.

      1. The framework I generally use for problems is you can either: change it, tolerate it or leave it. I don’t think we have much opportunity to change or leave it. So, it’s largely a question of how to get through it as easily as we can. When the bulldozer comes, it’s best to figure out how not to be get run over by it.
        As a practical matter, I’ve a maximum of 60 years left, probably far fewer. I don’t have children. Whether humanity continues as a going concern is not a problem that I think of as mine to solve. I wish future generations luck. But, I don’t have any illusions that I can do much for them, or they’ll have an easier time of getting through life than I did/will. We all are dealt a hand, and we play it as best we can.
        Perhaps this is not taking the responsibility seriously. But, I think responsibility lies where you can make decisions that effect outcomes. I don’t see any path like that, either individually or as part of some kind of mass movement. People, in general, don’t want to give up their convenience and comfort. So, change will happen when it must happen.
        Of course, people like the Unabomber, Christians keen on bringing on the Rapture, and so forth have had the view that making things worse is a catalyst for change. In my view, it’s of a piece with thinking that we can change capitalism for the better, for a more sustainable future. No one has that level of control. There’s a historical dialectic in play, and most of us are merely playing our roles. The idea that we are the main character or have much effect on the story – either individually or as a species – is largely a delusion.
        Yes, I’m available be the the life of your next party. =)

      2. 🙂 I respect your thoughts, you think deeply and consider much. One difference in our thinking is that when the bulldozer appeared out front of my house and started digging up the foreshore I stood in front of it and yelled “what the fuck are you doing” called the people who have rules about these things (thankfully we still have that structure in place:) and had the whole thing shut down. I think that every decision anyone makes affects (produces) an outcome big or small.
        At the outside I am here for another 20 years, I would love to return to this discussion if you ever follow your curiosity and go on an Ayahuasca retreat, it could change nothing or everything….it would be a party for sure. Stay well my friend.

      3. The bulldozer scenario doesn’t happen often. More likely, it’s the wildfire, seawater in the aquifer, CO2 concentrations, and other problems which don’t have a ready source or solution. Then, we’ll make something up instead, like reusing plastic shopping bags, a protest or whatever. There’s a legitimate point that small actions, in aggregate, can effect change. But, there’s a lot of bullshit out there too, virtue signaling but being much ado about nothing. So, hard to know what to do, but in the end, I think being pragmatic about the fact that we don’t have much agency here is at least realistic.

  1. Most of the beauty of our existence is that nothing and no one has a handle on the ‘truth’, we live in an ever evolving now and that now appears to be a result of the larger evolution of the planet, the life forms on it and the known
    universe…..that with my limited knowledge is no doubt an understatement of our situation . Starting from there I see our evolution as human animals

  2. Great, let me try to pull what I learned together, it was over 3 days and I attended 3 keynote speeches and five workshops the theme was “I to We” and it was approached from many different directions that lead to the same path, for me pointing in the direction I was already heading.
    George C. brought up something that you might be familiar with….. “in extremis” he spoke about it in regards to a maritime situation, when you were “in extremis” the wisdom of all on board is needed and respected in order to get through the situation. He felt our situation on the planet at this time is ‘in extremis’ and we need the wisdom and action of those that are awake and aware.
    I am a big picture person and from reading your posts you are also, although with the ability to also be very cognizant of the details.

  3. Ooooh what a juicy subject and coming synchronistically as I attended the closing ceremonies of a three day summit this morning regarding just this subject….how about a third option?……
    “The Summit was Aging to Saging going from I to We.”…the discussions were cutting edge and the Keynote speakers and workshop leaders were talking on another level of how our species is tranisting and evolving through this paradigm shift, this chaos (adolescent at best) Thomas Eddington CEO and advisor to big corporations stated that.
    He was in a panel of five of the most thought provoking men I have ever heard assembled in one place by a man named George Cappannelli who hosts a PBS and NPR series called Ageless living .
    The collective wisdom on these men had me in awe.
    Would you like a discussion about it?because I am sure whatever you have to say will force me to distill what I have just experienced for myself……. perhaps this is a conversation that Terence McKenna would have been a part of….. It would be had to explain to others ‘what it was about’
    this could be an interesting attempt at it.

    1. I’d love to hear your summary of the summit and your thoughts. Shortly after publishing this piece, I read another article that made the argument that the kind of individualism that underpins my thinking here supplants extended community with the state. I believe this is a strong critique. If it comes to a choice between a state enabling individualism, and a large interdependent community, I would prefer the latter. However, it is also undeniable that modern living conditions are not characterized by this kind of community. Perhaps, technology is working in tandem with the state, increasing this kind of isolation/individualism along another vector. I may have to rethink this whole thing. So, appreciate any new directions to take it.

    2. Another critique is that viewing things through a transactional model also means that it is much harder for a relationship to move into a community model, which I suppose is both feature and bug. Probably mostly bug though.

      1. Have been trying to find a start point perhaps this is it.
        It is a quote from a Hopi Elder that was quoted in the Workshop “Bold Men Do not go quietly”
        the assembly of 5 men that I mentioned.
        “The time of the Lone Wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for. ”
        the theme of everything I heard over the three days coming from the various sexes, races and belief systems all came to the same point of agreement….that we find ourselves at a point of “in extremis” the chaos we are in politically, racially,medically the climate the “ecocide” that that our species blindly marches towards calls for a form of spiritual activism far beyond the ‘us and them’ we are swimming in. Dr. Michael Meade described the liminal space we are currently in, standing at the edge of change and evolution some of us looking backwards towards a past and a normal that no longer exists, some of us looking forward afraid to take the first step and some well on their way forward. We can’t afford time fighting, trying to convince those looking back to look forward. We are ‘swimming in clues’ and we cannot convince people unable to enter the water of anything. These are a few of the surface things that were discussed, becoming an Elder, not just Older and “being the change you want to see in the world” all of which can sound like platitudes without meaning and action and forgiveness without judgement , it means change and pain and letting go of your small self, none of which is easy. “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

      2. I was having trouble with that opening. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” must have been the inspiration for that U2 song, “We Are The People.” So, I had to look for more context.[1]

        Taken as a whole, I think the Hopi poem is getting at the notion that we are heading into a chaotic future, one that will likely break down monolithic structures like the modern nation state, and we will be thrown back on the resources of small, local communities. The only people that can lead on the scale of many, small local communities are going to be leaders responding to local problems. There’s not going to be global supply chains, the Federal Government, or some other larger conception of human organization that’s going to save us from what’s stored up in the karmic queue.

        By extension, and personal to my worldview, if the kind of individualism that I was talking about in this post is contingent on there being these larger social support structures, then it’s not something that will survive their collapse. We’ll have to find communities to be part of, where our unique capabilities and perspectives can make a real impact on the capabilities of the community, rather than add to some kind of larger aggregate, however defined.

        If this chaotic future with smaller structures is true, then many of the political questions that people currently argue over are moot. If there is no modern state – whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Liberal, Bloc QuĂ©bĂ©cois, or Green – the locus of power is gone that gives those distinctions meaning.

        And, without those distinctions, without the power of modern mass media creating a shared mindset and values necessary for these nation-spanning and global structures, then there will be a great weirding of humanity, not all of it good, and power will more fully return to local communities. And, when you no longer look to Parliament or the G7, how then will that change the way you think about what you should do?

        And this change, like all change, will be painful. The end of WWII to present has been exceptional in human history. But, then again, all good things – assuming you view the increase of material well-being for significant segments of humanity as good, even if some is on the backs of others – must come to an end. We’ll need to prepare for a future of a radically different world than the one we know, and few people look forward to that kind of change. However, we can be one of them. The choice is ours.

        How’s that for a starting point?


      3. …thank you for your investigative skills in unearthing the context of the quote and the full speech. I have printed it out as well as
        your reply. I agree with what you have written and I will add my thoughts after I have had time to form them. “We can be one of them. The choice is ours” Most of the conference and most of the last few years I have been questioning how to make this choice, what am I asking of myself and how to proceed,
        I am spending more and more time in the middle of the river and although the shore is sometimes tempting, it no longer feels like a place of safety.

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