Individual + Villager = Balance

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In Balinese society, on the other hand, we find an entirely different state of affairs. Neither the individual nor the village is concerned to maximize any simple variable. Rather, they would seem to be concerned to maximize something which we may call stability [...]

When they speak as members of the village council, the players by hypothesis are interested in maintaining the steady state of the system - that is, in preventing the maximization of any simple variable the excessive increase of which would produce irreversible change. In their daily life, however, they are still engaged in simple competitive strategies.


[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Bali: The Value System of a Steady State'), p.124-5

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We are villagers.

As members of a village we always have the balance of the village in mind, even if only unconsciously. The steady state of the village - the system of which we are a part - is our ultimate concern, running beneath all individual concerns. We know it must be this way because the village is our ecosystem, and we understand that our continued well-being goes hand in hand with that of our environment. The individual good is always, in the last, housed within the greater good.

Our village is a balanced system, acting as an effective container for all of the various needs of each of its individual members. In a steady system, the maximization of any single variable will lead to an imbalance in the system. In terms of our village, this means that if the needs of a single villager were to be prioritized over the rest, then the harmony of our village would be upset. Thus, the maximization of any single variable (any individual interest) is prevented. Individual concerns are always secondary to communal concerns. The individual is always checked in favour of the village.

So whilst we remain an individual, we must also be a villager; these two roles work to balance each other. Individual concerns must always be balanced by communal concerns.

In our society, which primarily takes its direction from the imperatives of commerce, we have lost our villages, in every sense. With no village to contain us, we have been freed from the shackles of our role as villager. The individual need no longer be restricted, and his concerns and desires can run rampant, unchecked. Viewed from the perspective of village life, our current state of affairs is imbalanced. Yet, if the village is now redundant, then presumably so are the values of the village.

However, we must question how sustainable rampant individualism is. It may be that the role of villager provided us with an important balance, something that all of us who have evolved beyond village life now miss. The communal aspect points us towards something larger than ourselves; invests us in something beyond our own constricting borders. If we decide that this is important, then perhaps it is time to think about how we can rebuild our villages, and regain our balance.

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