The Words of the McClellan Family

Individual and Collective

William McClellan
January 1970
The Universal Voice Issue No. 20

Today there is great interest in all kinds of intense group experiences. In this interest we are witnessing the formation of new dimensions and practices of individuality and society -- or perhaps we are seeing the fruition of primordial human destinies. I wish to speak, neither about the new nor the ancient but only the common sense about the present.

The word "commune" brings to mind a group of people who have come together to live what they feel is a truer way of life. They leave the world alone, and want to be left alone in turn. Some believe that their example is helping to change the world.

Most channels of activity in our cultures are so partial, compromised, and confused, that few people can see how to live congruently. People are realizing that meaning is the fruit and nourishment of the transpersonal enterprise. To a great extent, the commune is a logical conclusion in the light of these facts. There is an international current of communal felling, ideals, and practice. For thousands of people it is a positive step in their lives.

Too many communes, I think, limit themselves by an unthinking rejection of the world of the "establishment." Those who ardently are "doing their thing" can easily gather around the communal hearth and agree that the people are finally "getting it together." How can this pipe dream be tested! Many advocate brotherhood and unification but who is yoking himself to the theoretical and practical burdens that must be moved toward the goal? No one should fool himself into believing that a commune founded on a movement of withdrawal and self-preservation has much clout as a force for world betterment.

"Peaceful" types often feel guilty about advocating or judging anything, let alone making a practice of displaying their views. Jesus, the Prince, of Peace, was not known for suppressing his anger. Here we are not complete. Internal change is delusion unless its actuality is known to the world.

I doubt that any single entity can maintain its existence based on the celebration of only its own existence. Historically, we find that communes form around a person, idea or purpose, and succeed on the basis of the scope and strength of the center and the diligence of the members. In order for the members of a commune to center beyond themselves in the group purpose, that group purpose must center beyond itself in universal purpose.

However valuable a group's ethos may be for an individual, without outgoing orientation to large wholes, including the world as a whole at this moment, the group fails. It encourages apathy toward universal purpose.

It cannot nourish creativity and revolution for concrete universality. Therefore, it cannot provide either the setting or the source for the true fulfillment of the individual.

When someone asks if the Re-Education Center is a commune, I say, "No, we are a family and a movement." We live communally, as does any true family, and as with any family, this fact is nearly as incidental to our essence as a description of our house. We have a clear sight of where we have come from, who we are, and where we are going. Our ideas are the highest possible and we make no compromise in our effort to attain them. Our central principle and people are rooted in universal truth: the actualization of love, truth, and beauty for all men, for the whole world.

The effort to contribute ourselves is at once an intense search for self-knowledge. True contribution springs from the depths of each of us. Thus, it is group purpose to discover and nourish the individuality of each member in the most authentic, radical, and complete way possible. Our method is simply the wholehearted contribution of ourselves for the greatest collective value. From a handful of people, in three years we have grown to fifty-five members in two houses.

Mankind is already a family. The fact that we are related is commonly sensed by all men. For years we have been treating the earth as an expendable object, subject to exclusive ownership by particular individuals. Now ecological problems make it clear that we share the air we breathe with all men. We share the very materials of our body with all creation. Here is an example of an ideology built by concrete individuals which pervades the world and affects each of us from without and within. Ecological crisis is just one realm of facts which is making the togetherness of mankind the dominant realization of this era.

Mankind is not a collection of "individuals". Man is this man and that man, born of particular parents, raised in a certain time, in such-and-such a culture. We cannot analyze beyond the facts of love, truth, and beauty in an effort to find the basis of human character on either an individual or social level. In so doing, we are seeking the truth, are we not? The very words we use to think our way to the root of our subject were spoken first between creature and creature. The belonging- together of the individual and the collective was a fact long before thinkers tried to determine which was prior.

The 1960s saw the disintegration of the dialogue. The generation gap came out into the open with the hippies. The distrust of men's ability to reason together was radicalized by non-rational political activism and by the "credibility gap," a phrase which, to my mind, most precisely characterizes the 60's. There is currently great awareness of the value of dialogue, but it is manifest around many smaller centers than on state, national, or international levels. We see the wildfire spread of encounter groups and communes. Talk shows are popular, and there is a resurgence of activity in the area of morality and ethics.

When I say "dialogue," I mean a meaningful give-and-take. This is the garden where truth blooms and where society is rooted. Americans have known the value of dialogue. Our country was founded upon it. Everyone in the world knows that American dialogue has deviated from its original standard of just balance of the individual and the collective.

American pioneers were both individually and collectively minded. They freely and fully bound themselves to group purposes because it was common sense that only by cooperation could their dreams materialize. Today we are struggling with an obsolete ideology of the primacy of the individual, and we have the failures of the 60's before us to provide further excuses for selfishness. It is more comfortable, one can think, "not to hope and not to be disappointed. No effort no failure." The work we see today in the development of group experience is the rediscovery and maturation of the ways of authentic dialogue. The frontiers are psycho-sociological, and the pioneering movement is give-and-take with love and truth.

We do not need a political revolution but a revolution of human character. Truth in groups depend, not upon political structure but upon the character of the members. Thus, we must change ourselves first. Secondly, we must not deny the urge to speak truth to our fellow men. Is this political activity? Social activism? It is the measure of the authenticity of our change, and the chief medium by which we grow. Denial of this dialogue is what alienation is all about. You do not ignore someone you care for.

We are no longer writing the history of any particular country, but that of the world, the history of man. A true history and a true unified world will not homogenize all cultures but will comprehend and complement each with each. The history of unification begins when men speak to each other heart-to-heart.

The Age of Aquarius is not going to deliver to us our dream world. Ideals do not actualize themselves. Sporadic effort -- say, a march here, a demonstration there -- will not bring about our desire. We need to understand the collective as the source and goal of the individual, and the individual as the foundation of truth in the collective. We need to understand basic Principles of give-and-take. We need true, concrete centers with proper orientation to large wholes. It is up to us whether conflict continues to flourish, or whether the restoration of truth will forge peace and unity from and for the hearts of all men. 

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