Coppers, Communities, and Uber-Hens

Gerald_G_Police_manFetching my daughter from school this afternoon, I was accosted by a gang of coppers on a quiet side street. What a difference to a story a uniform makes. I’m still not sure what the roadblock was about; they didn’t share that with me, though the lady copper who approached the driver’s window muttered something polite about seatbelts, while she and another chap subtly peered into the car, ostensibly at the kids strapped up in the back. Maybe it was just that, but it was still a very odd feeling to have strangers, no matter how official, at least visually invade our space. It was reminiscent of the feeling of being burgled, the feeling that someone uninvited and unwelcome had contaminated our personal space. It’s not like we were under suspicion of a crime. And what if we had been, but were in fact innocent – an experience my brother (the staunchest of Christian dudes) had as a badly dressed youth whose teen undercut and dark trenchcoat led to his being picked up as a possible burglary suspect. He wasn’t guilty of anything but horrendous personal style, of course, and was let loose in short order, but briefly he was (unlawfully) relieved of his freedom. And that made me think about personal freedoms and how much we do or are willing to sacrifice for social order. I mean, I’m all for law and order, but not at the cost of liberty. So ok, I did not lose my liberty today, so why the theatrics in my head? Something really grated on my nerves and I’m trying to put my finger on it. I don’t mind being breathalysed, for example, for the greater good. But prying into my car, my space – somehow was uber creepy.

My husband and I recently considered joining an eco community. The process made me ponder the nature of healthy community. The intentional community was intended as a return to a village way of life, and since we extol the virtues of, say, raising children in communities, it sounded ideal, for many reasons. I can’t speak for all intentional communities, but this one, at least, was in the process of setting up a very rigid set of rules surrounding life there, supposedly in order to make living together tolerable. However, this would have entailed members giving up a number of freedoms and rights they’re entitled to by law. I don’t say this to knock intentional communities, or this particular one, because I admire the intent and the dedication it takes to belong to one, it just made me wonder if it’s possible to create or return to an ‘ideal’ of village life, coming as we do from an individualist culture used to a great deal of autonomy. Because in villages of yore, individual freedom of choice in reality would have been so-so. You would have had your landowner, to which most villagers would be beholden, and the tolerableness life in any given village must have been very dependent on the dispositions of individual landowners, and the villagers themselves, amongst whom there would also be a hierarchy. Unless you were at the top of that heap, you would not be accustomed to having all your wants or even your needs met. Whereas here, we are attempting to recreate a village where everyone is theoretically autonomous, but also individualistic, where any one presence, being and way of life may not in any way intrude upon another person (your curry-cooking aromas, for example, may not reach the olfactory receptors of another resident), and I’m not sure if that’s possible. I think I’d rather live in suburban hell, with my legal freedoms such as they are, annoying neighbours’ habits notwithstanding, and create a more loosely connected but less beholden community among like-minded individuals.

And speaking of degrees of connectedness, recently, the city I live in became a super-city, where smaller townships which had sprawled until their borders met became officially one big city under the rule of a super-mayor. Ok, he’s actually just called the mayor, but I bet he’d love my soubriquet way better. Anyhoo, initally the super-city idea seemed logical to me, gathering all the chicks under one big wing. But then I began to suspect the uber-hen’s ability to cater sufficiently for the needs of everyone in the coup. Perhaps smaller broods function better after all. The mother hen who has only a few chicks, to continue the pastoral analogy, has to be far more in touch with the needs of those individual chicks than the uber-hen with a bunch of chick factions. Being administered by one central government might have set a fox among the chooks.