There is much talk these days about the disintegration of "community," and no wonder: One in two marriages break up, leaving disillusioned children of divorce suspicious of intimate commitment. Industry's growth tears people out of lifelong neighborhoods. High mobility and downsizing move us like nomads. Yet Internet chat rooms are standing-room-only. We yearn for a place of belonging.
Douglas Coupland poignantly voices this yearning in the novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. "All looks with strangers," says the main character, "became the unspoken question, 'Are you the stranger who will rescue me?' Starved for affection, terrified of abandonment, I began to wonder if sex was really an excuse to look deeply into another human being's eyes."
We desperately need and long for deep connectedness with others. But we seem to be complete failures at finding it. In reality, I think we resist it. Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1852 novel The Blithedale Romance illuminates a very good reason why.
The story is based upon Hawthorne's experience in an intentional community. As the character Miles Coverdale leaves behind the "false and cruel principles" of the world and begins life at Blithedale, he imagines life together as "something that shall have the notes of wild-birds twittering through it, or a strain like the wind-anthems in the woods." The group goes downhill from there, slowly unraveling in mutual disappointment and ungrace as the dark side of each communal member emerges.
Hawthorne didn't even last a year at the real-life utopian farm, whose downfall lay in its vision as "a society of liberal, intelligent, and cultivated persons, whose relations with each other would permit a more wholesome and simple life than can be led amidst the pressures of our competitive institutions."