Politics Involves Clash of Villagers and Vagabonds
Vineyard Gazette, Winter, 2003
except the occasional hermit or pariah, belongs to a community.
But there are many kinds of communities. Some - such as those
of year round islanders - are tightly focused in a single place.
Others - such as those of new arrivals who spend a week or two
on island then fly off to another home far away - have almost
no spatial focus.
social scientists distinguish "tightly knit" as opposed
to "loosely knit" communities - ends of a spectrum
with many varieties in between. I like to use the term "villagers"
for those who live in tightly knit communities and "vagabonds"
for those who live in loosely knit ones.
the perspective of the individual, both kinds of communities
provide similarly for human social needs - for affirmation,
affection and standing. But from the perspective of a physical
place, their impact could not be more different.
spend most of their time in one place. They live there intensely.
Because they know most everyone in their neighborhood, they
accommodate to each other. Villagers become deeply attached
to their neighborhoods and are hugely affected by change to
it. Belonging to a place summons commitment. Villagers know
that a kindness given will engender - at some later date - a
kindness received. The same holds true for an injury.
may care equally as much for the members of their communities,
but that caring has nothing to do with a single physical place.
Their lives are spread out. They meet and commune at events
- the theater, an opera, an artist's opening exhibit - that
occur in many disparate places. They are mobile. If they don't
like what's happening in one of their neighborhoods, they sell
and move on. They eschew one concert to attend a different one.
They resign one exclusive club to join another. Unlike villagers,
specific places are not particularly special for vagabonds.
Rather, they are interchangeable.
of the recent heat on our island has been caused by a clash
between those who hold radically different concepts of community
- between villagers and vagabonds. Villagers inhabit places
charged with meaning. Vagabonds inhabit places - if inhabit
is the proper word for it - that are relatively devoid of emotional
this sorting into differing communities correlates with wealth.
Some villagers stay put because they don't have the wealth to
manage multiple homes and the costs of getting between them.
Others consciously commit themselves to a place because they
value the emotional enrichment they receive in return.
vagabonds are often wealthy, they're accustomed to imposing
their tastes and values on others. Because they inhabit many
places, they're not constrained by local culture, mores and
values. Vagabonds don't accommodate. They sue.
have a potent weapon - their seemingly unlimited wealth. But
in their struggles with villagers, they also have a glaring
weakness - they don't really care if they stay or leave. They
want to prevail, of course - to stamp their feet and win - because
they're used to stamping their feet and winning. But if they
meet with steadfast resistance from a unified local community
they move on. That's what they do. They move on.
recent memory, we have the Wallaces and their scheme for minimansions
on property near Edgartown Great Pond. Their wealth and their
determination once seemed insurmountable. But now, thanks to
a combination of committed island residents, conservation organizations
and two families of means - one of them with a long record of
attachment to the island - this land is occupied by a large
traditional farm, conservation acreage and a few homes. The
Wallaces were fought to a standstill by impassioned resistance.
can happen again.
villagers need to remember our greatest strength. This place
means something to us. We don't move on. We live here.