Vampires, modern living vampires, very often refer to the sum of the interactions between themselves as the “community”, it is a term that has been in use since the beginning and is probably, by far, the most easily and universally recognised descriptor of what we recognise as being the “social” group of modern living vampirism. You may have seen (read) me arguing the point and trading precise definitions with others, of the word “community”. One of the reasons that I feel so strongly about the use of term in our situation is that the basis of the definition is restrictive in its literal meaning and in considering such it becomes even more necessary to examine the prospects for future “community development”. It is a simple fact of life that if a community doesn’t develop, change and grow then the eventual stagnation will become too great for the community structure to resist and the growth will be overtaken by social entropy.
Each community faces unique challenges that are, often times unavoidable but it is how that community faces and rises to those challenges which define it as being a strong or weak community.
I was talking with a person the other day who has visited Detroit and mention was made of the fact that the city was disappointing and that they couldn’t believe the number of abandoned and derelict buildings there, the fact is that with the all but collapse of American car manufacturing it was inevitable that a community based around that industry would suffer with the loss of industry. Think of a mining boom ghost town of the old days, while the gold was coming out of the ground the town was alive, vibrant, full of people and rich in “community” but when the gold ran out and there was nothing to replace it… entropy set in and eventually the community is abandoned.
One image that may be closer to home for everybody exists in the health care sector. When you are in pain or have a health problem you go to a doctor or a hospital. Those people or institutions set to work to isolate the problem assess it and fix it and everybody says thank you. Now think about how many people you know that “hate” dentists. Why do people hate dentists? What have dentists ever done to deserve their hatred? Often people will go to a dentist because they have a toothache but in order to stop the toothache the dentist, often, has to inflict a greater amount of pain, if you go to a dentist for a check up you may be feeling fine when you go in but the dentist finds a problem that needs fixing and all of a sudden someone is ramming horse-scale needles into your mouth before the scream of the drill sets your nerves on edge and they cause more pain by drilling at your teeth, followed quite naturally by the recovery period which is filled with a kind of sickly, burning soreness that can take a couple of days or more to go away. People hate dentists because in order to cure the pain, or potential pain, dentists have to inflict pain. People hate dentists because dentists inflict pain, that’s the general logic. It doesn’t matter that you might not have looked after your own dental hygiene properly, it doesn’t matter about the accident that cracked your tooth and it doesn’t matter about the chap that punched you in the face in the half-time brawl at the football, those reasons pale into insignificance next to the fact that you are being “hurt” by the man in the white smock coat. Being hurt by the dental health community.
Communities are defined by their effect on those within and around them and the development of communities, according to Wenger, McDermott and Snyder  “is their ability to generate enough excitement, relevance and value to attract and engage members”
Yes, the modern living vampire sub-culture may be a sub-culture and it may, at times, attract greater than usual participation and activity but the end result always seems to be a return to hiatus and very little “community development”, if any. If, on the other hand, all of its constituent elements be they artistic, social, charitable, academic and cultural could be forged into a working community development program then the benefits for the whole would be astounding.
The Seven Design Principles
As eschewed by Wenger et al, “The goal of community design is to bring out the community’s own internal direction, character, and energy.”
The principles designed by the authors, simply listed, are:
1. Design for evolution.
2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.
3. Invite different levels of participation.
4. Develop both public and private community spaces.
5. Focus on value.
6. Combine familiarity and excitement.
7. Create a rhythm for the community.
It may be perceived, by different observers that these things are, to one extent or another already appearing to some stage or another but the entire project of community development hinges on not one, two or three of them being in focus at any given time rather that all receive the equal input and effort to bring on the whole rather than trying to keep the “parts” tied together.
The principles can be as flexible or as rigid as required and the developments driven by community needs rather than outside expectations. For example, outside charities are indeed worthy causes and the activities that are directed to that quarter are undoubtedly something to be proud of however, they do not directly benefit the modern vampire community wherein there are many who are in dire need of aid and support. Caring for, and working within, ones own “community” primarily enhances the quality of that community sector and therefore makes the entire community stronger and more stable. When community figures are known and respected for listening to “their” people then they may achieve greater things still.
In a paper delivered to the Shaffer Symposium at the University of Wisconsin in 2001, Dr. J.M. Cavaye observed:
“Community development initiatives clearly need to provide information and services.
However, development agencies need to do more than disseminate information and services. Staff need to also partner communities to help them gain access to services and information. This means training, coaching and working with community groups to help them access appropriate information and help them improve their capacity to navigate the broad array of services available.”
In order to develop, extend and “rethink” it is vital that old and outdated ideas give way to new ideas, concepts and thinking. It has been almost fourteen years now since the first version of the famous Black Veil (http://vampyrium.wordpress.com/the-black-veil-publications/)was written as a guide for the community and in that time there have been great changes indeed, there have been steps forward and there have been setbacks, the fact is that somehow, through it all, the “community” has survived. It has survived because new thoughts kept it growing and for those of us who have been around for ten or more years in this environment it is sometimes difficult to let go of old ideas and old ways. If the newcomers, with their fresh ideas and interpretations, are not nurtured, and their ideas allowed to grow and blossom, then we become an old, archaic and irrelevant icon of the past. Rather than trying to “train” new people to think like us we should be training ourselves to let go of prejudices and preconceptions so we can open the way for another burst of growth and expansion of the global vampire sub-culture.
The demographic of the sub-culture is changing, the people who are coming into the field have different concepts and ideas and while not all have been tried before some have, maybe they have been tried to no avail but that doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Perhaps, at other times, it wasn’t the right time and place for an idea to take root, grow and produce benefits but if we look on at the new ideas, sneer and say, “What do you know, you’ve only been here five minutes?” then we are condemning ourselves to the image of a cynical, crusty and inflexible old grump which will drive the new ideas away… just when we could use them.
Somebody once typed to me, “Community unity is a myth.” Vampires are a myth but here we are and I would imagine the people of north America felt that way too… until the War of Independence.
Man on the moon was a myth, a fantasy, giant squid were a myth, travelling at hypersonic speeds was a myth… if they had stayed that way we wouldn’t have those things and the contributions and spin-off benefits that we have today. Nothing is impossible but it really does depend on a suspension of disbelief, a willingness to engage positively toward a group goal and the flexibility to put prejudices and preconceived ideas aside in favour of hearing and reading the new.
I don’t believe that “Community Unity” is a myth, I never have. I’ve never believed those who say it’s a pipe dream because so many things have, over the centuries, been seen in the same light and have, ultimately, been realised. I think it’s time to realise the truth that the modern real living vampire community can be so much more than it is and it is time to form a sub-culture wide approach to making that happen.
© TB/RVL 2013
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1) Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice. Wenger, McDermott and Snyder, HBSWK Pub. 2002
2) Cavaye J.M. (2001) Rural Community Development: New Challenges and Enduring Dilemmas. The Journal of Regional Policy Analysis Vol 31 No 2 pp 109-124.
The Citizen’s Handbook