What does it mean to live in community? Like everything, it has its pros and cons. In this first episode of Raíces, Víctor Iguacel and Ana Amrein delve into the personal and systemic dynamics of living together.
Although he has spent part of his life living in other places, he was born and raised in a Pyrenean village whose fighting spirit remains ingrained in those who have lived there. Someone once said that a person's true homeland is his or her childhood. Victor and others of his generation decided to pack their bags and return to theirs, where they live today, developing Empenta Artieda, a pioneering project that faces depopulation from municipalism and self-management.
Ana: What is your relationship with Artieda and how would you describe it?
Víctor: Artieda is a big part of my life, it is my family, a group of friends, my uncles and aunts, or chosen family, it is my history and all of theirs too. It is a pillar or a very important component of my life, of who I am, after all, it is not just a town or a place of residence.
Ana: I understand that you have traveled a lot, why did you decide to come back?
Victor: That's a very good question, I guess it's because there is something in the town that we haven't found in other places.
The fact of having been abroad and having known other places, in the end you decide for the town as the place to build your life project or to live, moves what a priori would be a decision to let yourself be carried away by your life situation to a decision to live in the town. It is a conscious decision and for a large part of my generation it is also a conscious decision, that speaks of the possibilities of personal development that the town offers. In my specific case, I have come because I believe that the town of Artieda offers conditions to develop projects, including my own life project that I have not found elsewhere, and I am not saying that they do not exist.
Ana: This makes me think a little bit about what you were saying before about the extended family, doesn't it, it seems to be a concept that I have only really known and been able to live in the villages, because in the city this extended family thing rarely happens. What does community mean to you?
Victor: Precisely, when we are talking about that extended family, without blood ties, the word community came to my mind, which can be a synonym of the word family. Community is a group of people who have common interests and who have a bond of affinity, associated with empathy with the other. The desire for the welfare of others, which represents the values of the community very well and basically replicates the same dynamics that occur in any family. Any father or mother supports their child, has a relationship of synergy with their child, their child supports them and their parents support them back, and the same between siblings, between grandchildren and grandparents. Well, the same thing happens in a village, some people support each other, take care of each other and worry about each other. Evolutionarily it is something that is there, it is the herd or the tribe, whatever you want to call it. Within social psychology, it is natural that what we do in the family, we can do in the same way in the community.
Ana: Besides, you are a psychologist, do you think it is natural that it can be extended, because what I saw in Artieda seems to me to be really exceptional.
Victor: Yes, it seems natural to me, but there is also an important societal component. That is to say, we live in the society and in the value system in which we live, which is certainly not designed to favor this type of relationship.
When you study social psychology or even sociology, there are collectivist societies and individualist societies, practically 80%, 90% of the planet in relation to the states where we live are individualist societies. There is also a whole system of values behind this that leads us to develop our lives and to satisfy our vital needs in the most individual way, perhaps in the history of mankind we have never been such an individualistic species until now.
So for me, if there is a natural trait that leads us to develop this life in community, but it is absolutely nullified by norm. That is to say, the fact that it is natural within our species does not mean that it is normal, understood as the norm within our society, far from it. So the village, which is a small community that lives together, that favors that part that is within and is proper to our nature.
Ana: If you could illustrate, making a comparison between other places where you have lived and Artieda, within this framework of community that we are talking about: What are the biggest differences you see?
Victor: Well, for example, you depend on your baker and your baker depends on you, he earns his living with the money that the bread costs and you feed yourself with his bread, which shows that it is an absolutely interdependent action, but you don't know anything about your baker's life, you don't know if he needs more and he doesn't know if you think his bread is bland or if you think it has improved in the last month.
That being interdependent on people, but not having a relationship with them, not having a personal relationship, but simply satisfying each other's mercantile needs exclusively, is for me the difference. Right now, if the baker's bread is bland, I can tell him or I know who my neighbor from the house across the street is, on whom perhaps I do not depend so much, but we do live together in the same space and if we have a problem with the boiler, to give you an example with the internet that perhaps we were having now, it depends on me that the neighbor's internet goes well and on my neighbor that my internet goes well, and at the same time that we depend on each other, we know each other personally and that is the difference, personal relationships, they transcend the exclusively functional, so to speak.
Ana: I love it. Could you go a little deeper into the issue of your neighbor's internet going well depends on you, because that is not known in the city.
Victor: In Artieda we had poor quality internet and in view of the fact that in the medium and long term they were going to make the investment to bring fiber to the town. So we decided that while it was coming, we could pay for the technology ourselves and bring internet to the town. In short, in a very basic way we made our own internet network inside the village to connect all the houses together, we made an internet mesh inside the village and we brought the internet with bandwidth from another village and we made our Artieda WiFi, as we have called the village internet.
Now we have the whole village connected to each other and that is where we are all dependent on each other, because for example now I am talking to you through quality internet, the internet is going through my neighbor's house and vice versa. Maybe it is not a definitive situation, but it is until the development of the network is finished and these companies that have the capacity to do something more definitive can solve it. We are making do and the truth is that it is a very good solution that has changed life in the town, with a lot of ingenuity, a little bit of budget and effort as well.
Ana: That is a great example of the pros of living in community and the kind of community you have in Artieda. What do you value most about living in community?
Victor: Well, it also has its negative things, I don't want to say that all community life is positive. If every day I get home from work at 8 o'clock and one day I get home at 9 o'clock, the whole town will know that I got home from work at 9 o'clock and it is impossible to keep a secret. The problem is that you have to learn to live with that and there's also the positive, it's like you assume that you don't have as much intimacy as you have in a city where all your actions are camouflaged with the masses or in a more individual urban environment. But you also assume that this is an essential part of taking care of yourself.
At the end of the day it is like living with a partner, with your family, it has its negative and positive things, for example: you can't play the music loud because your roommate, your family doesn't feel like listening to music at that moment and in case you can't cook for yourself today, someone else will cook for you, this way you have a great support.
Because if you simply rely on a couple or a single-parent family, a small family, at the end of the day you have fewer possibilities of hobbies, interests, someone will fit in with what you need in life. However, if you play with a lot of people, that is the power of the community as opposed to other smaller systems of organization. That for me is the most positive thing, that I always have someone to turn to for any kind of thing in life.
Ana: That's nice, a support network is spectacular. And how did you learn to balance the pros and cons?
Víctor: I've always been very versatile, to be honest. An example that illustrates that process of change very well was when I returned to live in the village. After having traveled so much, coming back was not something sudden, I came back progressively. At that time I was with a girl with whom I had just started a short time ago and having to give explanations, to present the girl, in all the spaces, to everyone, was not easy to assimilate. That's why my friend gave me wise advice: "Look Victor, if you are going to live here, you assume that it is a natural part of life that you are with one person, with two or three, it should not stop being natural and it is either you adapt your environment to your way of being and make them understand you and accept you or you will have to adapt to what your environment expects from you, or leave, one of two things".
So I gave the advice a lot of thought and it was like okay, if I am going to be here, I have to learn to let people see who I am, why I do things when I do them, what motivations I have, if I get angry with someone, have some conflict that person and the rest of the people are able to understand the motivations for being part of that conflict.
It requires dedication to community life. That is to say, when I have a conflict I cannot isolate myself from that person and say look, I have a conflict with you. You have to learn to express yourself emotionally more and make yourself understood. That empathy I was talking about before, you have to collaborate with people so that they are empathetic with you and that they understand your personal situation and accept it, that is the question of how to live in community.
Ana: Yes. It seems to me that you are talking about a quantum leap in the evolution of individuals and collective intelligence. Because chatting with many colleagues or many colleagues. Well, you usually meet someone you don't like, it's a little bit like what happens with Twitter. With all these algorithms that they are putting in technology, in the end you end up reading and listening to people who share your current opinion, so that you gradually reaffirm yourself in this trend and you become more rigid because you have created an environment that is only related to you.
So what you are saying makes me think about how important it is to always be in contact with people who have different visions and perceptions of reality, because this way you can also become more flexible, finding this common ground. Because for example, when you have a person in front of you that you don't like, this neighbor that you don't like, how do you develop this relationship so that it is the best possible for both parties?
Víctor: It seems to me that one of the most transcendental issues that rurality has and which is little talked about or which for my taste has not been analyzed enough, has not been given the social or psychosocial relevance it has, what it means to live in an environment where you have to apply a series of social resources that are not necessary for life in the individuality of the city, although it sounds as antagonistic.
In answer to the question, how do you resolve these conflicts? Well, you have to apologize many times, much more than what we are used to doing, and also have a little more flexibility when it comes to accepting other opinions. There are things that I accept from people in my town and also when I get along with rural people from other towns, I think I function in the same way that people in a city would not accept. I behave socially in different ways, on the one hand I learn to accept things with which I do not agree and ask for forgiveness.
Another important reflection, which was an interesting debate, is how people are more tolerant of negative attitudes or hurtful attitudes that generate more damage in some way in the towns than in the cities. In towns, things are tolerated that are not well tolerated in the city. It is not that in more individualistic environments certain attitudes are not tolerated, it is that those attitudes are marginalized, but those comments still exist and are there. A bit like what you were saying about the Twitter algorithm.
There are bars, spaces where all kinds of attitudes are tolerated. Right now we live in a society in which, depending on the environment in which you move, you can be in the 15th century or you can be in the 23rd century, and perhaps the people are in the 19th or 20th century. The most collective, integrating societies, regardless of whether we are in the 19th century or the 20th century and we have not reached the 21st century, but we all move forward as a block. So it seems to me that when you are tolerating these types of attitudes, you are not tolerating perce and letting them exist ad infinitum, perhaps you are using different strategies to make these attitudes disappear. And that is where you are making visible day by day that with other different attitudes or with other types of comments, you can achieve the same thing and you are making visible and you are not marginalizing the person who uses those expressions.
Ana: Interesting what you are commenting on, because we are talking about a regenerative society in all senses, which includes this diversity and works in an ecosystem accepting both the big tree and the worm, which will function and nurture and on which we all depend, the collective welfare. Thank you for sharing it and thinking about the future, how do you see the future of the peoples? I mean, let's think 50 years from now, what do you imagine?
Víctor: I think there will be a mixture between this essence that for me the towns have at a social, psycho-socioeconomic level, this essence of collectivity, of the community that the towns represent and the urban in the less abstract and not in the more material, I think that we are at a material level, a society that is more and more urban. We are no longer peasants working with tools that only fifty years ago, or in some villages only twenty years ago, had not changed since the Neolithic period, that is, in the last 20, 50, 100 years.
We are a materially urban society, hence the importance of doing it collectively, reinforcing precisely that sense of community and surely we are going to stop being that agricultural peasant community that shared bread mills, irrigation ditches, did neighborly work and where mothers breastfed the children of other families. We are going to become a community in which we share internet networks, housing cooperatives, but we will keep that same essence. We are going to survive, but to the material living conditions in 50 years, who knows what they will be.
Ana: And the relationship between the urban and the rural in 50 years?
Víctor: Recently on Twitter, a guy posted something that I think can condition the urban-rural relationship right now. The rural environment economically occupies the role of the primary sector in producing the food that society consumes. We are reaching a point where more and more agriculture and livestock farming is being done; in reality I would not call it livestock farming, but rather laboratory meat, the cellular cultivation of meat protein or artificial meat. So, little by little, processes are being increasingly optimized and we are beginning to see the difference in the prices of animal protein produced in laboratories and that produced in the field. This may mean a historic change in the relationship between rural and urban areas.
The urban population will continue to need the rural population and the rural environment in order to have a space in which to develop personally, beyond the labor aspect. As far as the economic relationship is concerned, I would not really know what to say, what I do believe is that collective self-consumption will increase in rural areas, speaking of raw materials, but within the relationship between the urban and the rural, I believe that the urban at the level of the primary sector will be less dependent on the rural.
Ana: Interesting, because when you were saying that people from the urban world are going to need the rural environment and you have even doubted whether they will need people from the rural environment, which I see as a clear yes, then: how can we begin to nurture this relationship between people from the urban world and the rural?
Victor: For example, the rural project seems to me to be a good initiative, because it makes it available to people who want to cross this gap that sometimes exists between rural and urban areas. On a social, general and individual level, it seems to me that it can be useful for many people and that it can also respond to the need that exists to get closer to the people.
The village and the rural environment have regained a space that had been lost or that had been "caricatured" in the media and communication channels, it has regained part of that space or maybe it has never had it, I don't know.
The town exists and has opened a space within the public opinion and suddenly people feel like approaching the town, although sometimes it is difficult, symbolically. It is really easy to take the car, -we don't have a bus in many villages-, but it is as easy as taking the car and approaching a village. But to approach a town socially, to understand how it works, to get to know the people is more complicated, but it is still possible. Anybody who goes to a village and wants to invest a little time, as you have done, immediately realizes that the people of the village have more time, have the capacity to give or offer more of that time, so that other people can get closer to their lives, that's why I think we should also get to know the people of the village.
Ana: What do you recommend us to get closer to the people?
Víctor: To approach with curiosity, with questions, but also with the desire to answer, to have those questions returned to you. So I think that as soon as you can contribute something, people will always contribute, it is more interesting that we can both interact and share, the key is to be willing and that communication is bidirectional.
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