Anyone who has had a half way serious conversation with me in a bar already knows that I have an “almost” MA in Anthroplogy. I didn’t quite finish as I decided to ditch it and just become a photographer. Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you the story. These same people will also know my pet theory regarding human civilization and you, you lucky people, will get to know it right now. My thesis is that a group of people larger than a certain maximum size will not be able to govern fairly and with a sense of compassion for their fellow members. It is widely held in certain anthropological circles that the downfall of civilization as community came with the advent of agriculture. Agriculture led to the rise of large City-States and these City-States (and everything that comes afterwards) exceed the max size for Community. Now I don’t have a specific number, but basically any group that is so large that each individual member does not have a relationship with every other member exceeds this parameter. The necessary factor is empathy. Each person must feel and know at some level what every other member is facing in terms of survival, acquiring food, shelter and basic human necessities. Each member of the community has a similar burden and face similar challenges. Community insures the survival of each participant. Who has ever let a person they know, a person who they have broken bread with, who has helped care for a loved one, who you have spent an afternoon with in conversation.
Saturday’s Be The Change picnic for homeless families and individuals helped me see the humanity in a group denigrated or at the very least ignored by most of society, and I must admit by myself. Who hasn’t walked pass a homeless person begging for food or money on the street of the subway. This past weekend I got to talk to these people and take their pictures for a whole afternoon. What struck me most was the diversity of the group. They were young, old, single, fathers, mothers, black, white, hispanic and are were beautiful. They were also human and exhibited both the good and the bad potentialities of any person. But mostly the afternoon saw lots of good; talking, dancing, laughing and eating.
I was especially taken aback when many expressed to me how important having their picture taken was for them. “It’s proof of life, that you were here”, one of them told me. “I can take this out years form now and see my family” said another. A couple of times a single father and their child would ask for a second photo to give to the Mom. Wow, pictures are important.
Some of the families reminded me of people I grew up with in 70’s and 80’s Brooklyn. I was reared in an extended family. My mother and her 2 sisters and 1 brother, and their parents all loved in a 6 family apartment building which my aunt eventually bought. It was one giant community, we ate at each others apartments and on Holidays we all squeezed into my grandparents place on the second floor.. Eating Thanksgiving Turkey with arroz con gandules, maduros, salad and about 10 cousins and 2 brothers at one table will always be a favored childhood memory. Everyone looked out for each other. Money was lent back and forth, errands were run on behalf of someone else, things borrowed and returned on a daily basis. It was a veritable ant farm of community. All together there were approximately 18 people in 5 apartments. One of the apartments was rented out to non-family.
Every time I hear of a politician voting against food stamps, or against raising the minimum wage or closing the borders or against gay marriage I shake my head and sigh at the confirmation of my pet theory.