communities are trade-offs
i was thinking about why some people tend to feel natural in communities and others tend to not, and i decided that the difference comes down to some people experiencing community as something that takes from them, and others experiencing it as something that gives. and this makes sense. a community is kind of like an emotional collective, where people put a bit of themselves in and get this big emotional gift basket out that satisfies a lot of needs.
but if someone doesn’t get something back from the community (or the community requires disproportionate deprivation), they experience community mostly as an act of sacrifice. which is how you end up with apostates of all kinds. to use a somewhat tired example, an atheist experiences their family’s christian community as something that demands that they compromise many aspects of themselves (their intellectual development, a sexual orientation, who knows) in order to get those benefits of belonging (people who’ve known you since you were young, people to make meals when you are sick, people to confide in, etc). whereas that atheist’s grandmother experiences the community in such a reliably positive way that it makes sense that following its rules should be a reflexive duty. it’s worth it.
a community doesn’t have to be circumscribed by something as legible as religion for the dynamic i just described to exist. all that is required is that there be a group of people with some set of rules (however tacit and however benevolent) for membership. subcultures are hugely codified.
so if someone doesn’t tend to fit in with communities, what this really means is that the balance of effort to benefit is repeatedly off in some way. that can because they’re an alien, and almost any belonging requires an unbearable degree of compromise. or it can be because they’re a sociopath (or perhaps merely extremely independent) and don’t value or need whatever it is that communities give. the end result either way is that over time the person categorizes community as ‘not worth it’ or even ‘not important.’
people talk about engineering better communities a lot these days, or lament the loss of more traditional, bygone communities. and these discussions seem to always talk up the benefits of communities, in a way that is almost annoyingly unnecessary because no matter how many embittered suspicions a given person has, the benefits are fairly obvious.
people talk about how important it is to foster community, but few talk about what being in a community requires of people, and whether or not those requirements are worth it or why they stopped being worth it and how to make them worth it again. a community’s rules don’t have to be evil to be costly. maybe you like the people who hang out at the local sports club, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth it to you to spend every evening playing racketball and going for drinks afterwards, and that’s what’s necessary to really belong. but it does make sense that cults are so seductive, because (among other reasons) there’s something really reassuring about having such clear-cut rules to follow in order to achieve belonging, no matter how abusive or ideologically batshit the community ultimately is.