All is One: Only Healthy Communities Can Build
a Sustainable Future
The environment of man – contrary to accepted opinions – is not ’a universe of objects existing in the external world’, but a system of manifold interactions with the living and inorganic elements of the surrounding world, which man falls into to sustain his/her life. The relationship of man to his environment is never direct (as it is e.g. for an animal), but conscious, spiritual. We perceive the world by the logic and system of language, that is a common result of communities, the society. So, our relationship with our environment depends decisively on what we think of ourselves within the framework of social discourse (who we think we are), and what we think about the relationship to the surrounding world. The relationship of a community is also determined by the picture formed by it about itself and on the relationship to the world. There are not any environmental problems, which occurred because someone would have set out with the purpose of contaminating air, or water or to make certain species extinct. These phenomena are rather consequences or externalities of social malfunctions. So, instead of environmental problems we should talk about social problems.
The history of civilization is a history of individualization, man believes to be increasingly independent from nature. However, the domination of nature is only a tool for and a derivative of the effort to dominate other people. Men’s relationship to nature reflects the order in society. Individualism culminates in the modern era, although, in reality, our dependency on nature is not any weaker than at any time in history. People of modern societies relate to each other, as well as to their natural environment functionally (they consider it and each other as resources). As the analytical approach dominates the recognition of the world, the most important rules of both nature and society remain hidden. (Though, there have always been societies existing along with those civilized societies, whose concept of the world has not been such fragmented, and which remained capable of viewing the world as a whole and living in harmony with it).
Destruction of nature, therefore is the result of society’s wrong self-interpretation and operation. The degradation of communities, individualism, the fragmentation of society make people unable to recognize the natural order of the world. According to the principle “all is one” (Hermes Trismegistos), the world is a complex system, the elements and processes of which can only be interpreted in relation with each other. Hence, the rehabilitation of communities and their natural environments is only possible together, according to the rules of nature. The attempt to rehabilitate any of them is set for failure, unless done with this point-of-view.
This realization has many effects regarding the methodology of community development:
a) The community development process should not concentrate on the development of the community only, but must also consider whether the relationship between the local community and its natural environment and local resources is sustainable. If not, a sustainability plan must also be devised.
b) Community decisions are not always correct. It could only be so in the case of healthy communities – and we should ask is community development necessary in that case? Nowadays, when basic knowledge about our environment is lost, communities do not always make the right decisions. During the CD process, laws of nature must also be presented and sustainability examined.
c) The community developer cannot be impartial to values. At the same time, sustainability should not be forced rather presented through community education: lost skills, which are the main reason for degradation, must be re-learnt by people.
d) Because of this, it is questionable whether a community developer can remain an outsider. According to Goethe “You should only give advice in matters you wish to participate.” Even if participation does not mean absolute commitment, follow-up is inevitable.
The necessity of the parallel development of community and its environment is usually evident to the community involved, by instinct. It’s a common experience that the first actual result of the community development process is the rehabilitation (or creation) of an important, local, natural or cultural asset. Often the environmental problem itself brings people together and initiates a spontaneous self-organization (e.g. protest against building over a park). A comprehensive international study of the Countryside and Community Research Unit of the University of Gloucestershire (conducted by Paul Selman) found no occurrences of ’communities at large’ managing their ’local environment (landscapes) at large’, they are rather enthusiastic about specific issues – managing e.g. micro-landscapes and single/limited feature landscapes. Two initiatives in Hungary also sprang from the importance of parallel development.
“Protect the Future” is a Hungarian NGO, whose goals are to preserve natural and cultural diversity, strengthen the sense of responsibility for our environment and to foster creating conditions for a life of a better quality. One of their most important initiative is the Representation of Future Generations (ReFuGe), which assisted the solution of environmental problems in several communities. The protection of common values and the representation of long-term interests has helped the self-organization of communities in most cases. The main profile of “Protect the Future” is neither environmental protection, nor community development. It aims to give answers and provide alternatives in many fields, e.g. animal protection, alternative economic development, globalization, European integration, running a literary and debating society etc.
Another important example of the linked environmental and community development is the “Last Straw” landscape rehabilitation programme. Its goal is to stop and reverse the ecological, economical and social degradation of the Bodrogköz region in Northern Hungary by changing the unsuitable water management and economic system, altogether with the use of the land. The landscape rehabilitation programme aims to solve the problem of retention and regulated spread of water by the rehabilitation of local waterways and supply them with water from the rivers Tisza and Bodrog. The mosaic-like landscape structure, the enrichment of economic systems, e.g. with forestation, lay the foundations of flood-area farming, which can lead to a sustainable economy on the long run. The programme is run by BOKARTISZ, a non-profit organization formed by 12 municipal councils and three Hungarian NGOs. The development of the local ecological system and of the community are of equal importance within the programme.
Immigration adds diversity, but also examples of more community cohesion, to the challenge of social policies, which must search cohesion and equality in societies where the liberal modernity and globalisation has produced a strong uprooting. In this framework, the challenge raised to community development policies is harmonisation of the policies of equality and citizenship construction, with mediation to facilitate dialogue and solidarity co-operation among different social nets, over the base of territorial agreements of collaboration for different communities’ common objectives.
The problem and the debate, then, are about which will be the identity of social policies in societies with multiple identities, when the traditional uniforming function that social services has had no longer makes sense and redistributive policies become more complex. Effectively, it will be necessary to keep and reinforce redistribute and equality of opportunities policies, adapting them to more diversity of habitus, mediating to articulate nets and belonging links, negotiating agreements of coexistence and constructing shared projects in communities of territory.