Sunday, September 7, 2014

Community and Immunity

"Community" is from the Latin words "cum munio" which means "fortify together". The main action involves not the coming together but rather the fortification [also translated defense or supply]. In other words, community is meaningful [only?] in the undertaking of tasks that an essential organism cannot perform adequately without outside assistance.

The opposite of community is "immunity" from the Latin "in munio" which means "fortify from within". Again the emphasis is on fortification; however, in this case the essential organism looks within [not outside] itself for strength and well-being. In fact, a healthy immune system resists outside interference as potentially detrimental. When the immune system fails, sickness or death soon follows.

It would appear that discrete and thoughtful participation in one's community is wise for those tasks whose result is a shared desire and whose accomplishment by a single individual is unlikely, impossible or duplication of effort. However, indiscriminate participation in communal activity due to an unwillingness to "look within" for answers and solutions to one's questions and problems is an almost certain guarantee of individual decline and communal failure.


  1. Given the etymological help from Chaerephon, are we becoming more or less immune to community?

    Why are community and equality so frequently linked?
    What are psychological costs and benefits of community-mindedness?
    What "takes a village"?

    Be I had to look it up: Chaerephon was a beloved friend of Socrates. (It's good to have him still around.)

    In the bonds of good discussion,


  2. I'm not sure your first question, Mike, is a problem, because "fortify together" is not, in fact, the correct etymology of community. The Latin munis means "gift," not "fortify." So the true root of the word is a gift held in common, not a common defensiveness. This rather dramatically changes the terms of the discussion, since it removes the notion of threat from the picture. Rather, it raises the question of what "gifts" we might be holding in common, including, perhaps, the very notion of commonality itself.

    Brad Anderson

  3. I apologize for not having the savvy in this format to italicize appropriately.

    Not a Latin scholar, but after having done a word study, I toss in my two-bits: Might the Latin adjective munis be better translated “ready to oblige”; munusculum be translated “small gift”; munus, “office, duty, function” – with hints of taxation; munio, “to build a wall,” to fortify”?

    Put all together, the feel of our word “community” is that of duties and obligations that we give to each other in order to share a secure and prosperous environment.

    Along these lines, immunity would be freedom from duties and sharing in common cause.

    While looking at today’s online The New Yorker, I came across an editor’s description of the contents of an article by Amanda Schaffer, in which she laments the growing numbers of parents not vaccinating their young children for childhood diseases. The editor blurbed that the resistance to vaccination could be “a failure to appreciate our profound connectedness and mutual responsibility.” Schaffer offered that “we think of our bodies as inherently disconnected from other bodies.”

    What say ye?

  4. Make sure we have our immunity to fortify our community.

  5. There are of course levels of community; like an onion many reside one within another, but then like bubbles with semipermeable walls many include members from multiple, sometimes very disparate groups, each group trying to form greater inclusion and cohesion. So talking about community and building it gets complicated because depending on which community one is focusing on, building one community may very well result in weakening another or even destroying another. So the question of which communities are most important, good or evil, comes into play.

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  7. I hesitate to etymologically sidetrack this discussion, but fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

    The closest word to "community" I find directly in Latin is "communitas" [communis + tas"] Joint possession or use, participation, partnership, sharing. 2. Social relationship, fellowship, social ties,. b organized society. 3. community of natureor quality, kinship. 4. obligingness. [Oxford Latin Dictionary, p. 369-70.]

    "Communis" [con + munis , <*mei "exchange"; Skt.: mdyate] = Belonging to, concerning, or shared by each of two persons, parties, etc., joint, common. 2. Occupying the middle position, neutral, having the qualities of both sides b. impartial. 3. shared, possessed, used, etc. by all in a particular group, common, general. [p. 370.]

    Thus "Immunis:" [from in- + munis] = exempt from tribute or taxes (of people or states); free of taxes (of landholdings.) [p. 839.]

    The confusion may come from "moenia" [Skt.: Minot=Build] = 1. the defensive walls of a a town; 2. an area enclosed by walls; a fortified town or city. [p. 1125.] Note Virgil:
    "dividimus muros et moenia pandimus urbis.
    accingunt omnes operi pedibusque rotarum
    subiciunt lapsus, et stuppea vincula collo
    intendunt; scandit fatalis machina muros
    feta armis." Aeneid 2:234-8

    "Communio" is a homonym in Latin:

    "Communio(1)" [con + munio] = surround (a place) with fortifications, fortify, (sometimes) build and fortify.

    "Communio(1)" [con + munis] = mutual participation (in rights, ownership, etc.), association, sharing. 2. possession of common qualities, kinship, association. 3. an amalgamation, association, union. [369.]

    Caveat: I cannot prove that historically the cognate of community did in fact evolve into the English "community:" that is a question for the OED.

    P.S.: Communio is the ecclesiastical Latin for "communion" the intimate relationship human beings can have with their Savior and their fellow human beings through the sacrament of the Eucharist. In contemporary Roman Catholic Theology, that union is comparable in intimacy to that of the marital union (see John F. Kipley, "Sex and the Marriage Covenant." 1995; 2005.


    1. The last entry should read: "Communio(2)" [con + munis] etc.

      Pardon my mistake.

  8. P.P.S. "*mei" "exchange" is the Oxford Latin (and other) Dictionary convention to represent the Indo-European root the philologists hypothesized.

  9. And so, friends: What questions ought to be asked and pondered as we gather on Tuesday, October 14? Brent's question, what communities within the larger community ought to prosper or not? has my attention.

  10. The love of money is primarily the love of the means to accumulate. I own 3 guitars and 2 amps, and could easily justify additions and would be sorely tempted to purchase accordingly, if funds allowed. My thirst for things is not easily quenched. However, I don’t like indebtedness in my accounts and disrespect my government for its unwillingness to balance a budget.

    I would like to live long enough to see how Western labor, en masse, handles the coming, relative austerity dictated by global competition. And how much longer democratic politicians will pledge the American dream when American workers are just part of a global work force, most of whom will find themselves eventually competing against the non-human work force. Yes, capitalism incentivizes and fills the shelves, but discards “the help” so blithely – and depends on excessive accumulation to keep it somewhat humming.

    Whatever resolve we might have to fight off the love of what money will accumulate, we are overwhelmed by sales pitches recommending yet another purchase to meet an ever-expanding set of felt needs -- within a system that depends on unnecessary purchasing to keep so many of us employed.

    Yet when machines and robots do most of the work, even fight our wars, by what cheap thrills will the rulers distract us? Will it be long before the NFL is on every night of the week, before no medications are illegal, and a casino is within walking distance? Oh, what Huxley could see with a 1932 lens!

    I pine for the days before free-agency in baseball (loyalty to the team), for the decades when corporations considered taxation a part of community obligations, when blue-collar workers could count on a union to help secure a living wage – and yes, when America produced nearly half the world’s goods. ;-)

    Though I’m a selfish person -- who nonetheless admires the communalist -- “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” sounds like the kingdom of God to me. Marana tha.

    What opportunity the Church will have to preach contentment -- in plenty or want.