In many ways our common practices, those things we do year in and year out, define us as a community or communities. In political stump speeches, national and local candidates ask rhetorical questions like, “What do we stand for as a nation?” and “Are we unified by greed and fear?” Then, depending on the candidate, listeners let those questions soak in or smile absently or yell a response. The candidates are positioning us to come together behind them as a community of supporters connected by ill-defined values that we espouse, but may not actually live.
What we believe, value, say, and do are not always congruent. For the past several months I have been considering which of these things are the most salient in bringing us together in community. I took a course in Introduction to Cultural Anthropology when I was a sophomore in college. In the nearly 50 years since then, I have taken a dozen or more courses that included some content on the origins of community in humans, content that ranged from a whole textbook to a paragraph in one.
The information I received about community boils down to this: community emerged when humans got together for defense and for the hunting and gathering of food. Our early gatherings in community, likely speechless, were otherwise likely not all that dissimilar from the political gatherings of today. Chest beating, posturing, gesturing, gravely grunting, shouting, all done to convey the feelings of urgency and need.