I agree somewhat with one concept presented in several places on this blog with regard to Kemmis and Rand’s two theories: the community fosters individuals, and individuals build the community. However, in order to survive, the individual must often separate him or herself from the community. The two do complement and nurture one another, but ultimately, survival of the individual has to trump survival of the community.
To reiterate, I know that this idea has been explored on the site. I would like to present a specific example to highlight the battle that the individual must face.
A town a few miles from my hometown is in serious financial trouble, and has been as far back as my memory stretches. Among other things, the town is plagued by a disturbing gap between the very wealthy and the horribly poor, and a nearly bankrupt school system.
At the end of nearly every fiscal year, the district falls into a state of panic because not enough capital remains to form a balanced budget. A bizarre, slightly corrupt trend has been established. The local officials present a disheartening budget to the town, noting all of the services that residents will lose, in addition to a probable increase in taxes. Then, in the eleventh hour, a small group mysteriously comes through with the cash. The money never comes from a community effort, or from individuals who live in the town; the safety net is always provided by a group within either the state or county government.
This past year marked a major but arguably inevitable downfall for the town: after years of distributing questionably uncovered funds, the state and county governments did not have the money the town needed to balance their budget. Local news stations publicized the cuts the city would have to make, most of which were unfortunate consequences for the schools: abolishing the pre-k program entirely, reducing kindergarten to a half-day program, firing hundreds of employees, cutting all extra-curricular activities, and more.
The local officials presented a solution to the town: if the teachers and other school-based employees accepted a five-year pay freeze – meaning solely that their salary could not be altered for five years – the vast majority of the horrifying consequences would not occur, because this policy would raise 16.5 million dollars.
90% of the teachers and other employees in the labor union rejected the pay freeze.
As a result, the government had to seek the money elsewhere. A large portion of their final solution affected the police and fire departments, as more layoffs occurred, and pay cuts were implemented. Even despite those efforts, the budget presented in August was depressing, to say the least.
Because I interned at a local news station this past summer, I was able to sit in on interviews with both local officials and members of the labor union. Despite lengthy exposure to both sides of the story, I have not come to a personal conclusion on which group was more justified in their actions. The union members were offended by the proposed pay freeze, and felt that the mayor and superintendent were asking too much of them. Meanwhile, the local officials were frustrated by the overall lack of cooperation from the union, especially since the freeze was partially aimed at ensuring their job security.
The one conclusion that I did reach was that in this situation, the individual need to survive trumped any sort of desire to help the community. Again, I do not approve or disapprove of that choice, but I do believe that if a similar situation occurred elsewhere, the outcome would be more or less the same. We could argue that the union was a community in itself, but regardless, there was a lack of shared values and consensus in the town about the direction they had to pursue. There were too many individual interests at stake.
What also astounded me was that there was no mobilization by the residents to bridge the financial gap. The surrounding towns are far less destitute, and I thought it likely that many people would donate money if they were instructed on how to do so. For instance, I wondered why something like a fundraiser – a telethon, for example – was never executed. The answer is likely that people did not have the time or money. The individuals were too busy providing for themselves and their families to stand up for their town.