The duties owed to the community by its members are similar in nature to that owed by each person to their family, though necessary lesser in scope. What must be held in mind is that the family has priority over the community, not the other way around. If there is a conflict between the two, the family should win out. This will be spoken about in greater depth later in book three, where we discuss prioritisation. The duties owed to the community are one, that of protection, two, that of assistance, and three, emotional support. These duties are reciprocal and are a requirement for the existence of a community.
To Protect Them Physically
The duty of protection is the first duty owed to the community. This duty is based on the community’s primary purpose in promoting the survival of the community members. The duty of protection in the context of the community is one where each member of the community has an obligation to, within the limits of their ability, protect the other members of the community from harm. This obligation is secondary to the duty to protect your family from harm. As such, there is a certain amount of judgement required in the fulfilment of this duty so that you do not unduly risk your family’s wellbeing while protecting those in your community. The duty to protect is an active duty being that it is both a duty to act and refrain from acting. Just as I am duty-bound to save or protect someone from my community where I can, I am also duty-bound to avoid acting in such a way as would be likely to cause harm to come to a member of my community unless necessary to the achievement of the purpose.
The essence of this duty relies on the reciprocal relationship, which is inherent in the community. You are obliged to act to protect your community members as they are compelled to act to protect you. It rests not on altruism but on informed self-interest. If you will, a calculation that the risk to yourself and your family of placing yourself at risk to protect the community is less than the risk you and your family would face if they were attacked and nobody helped them. This calculation is at the core of what motivates communal action. We take part if we recognise that we stand to gain more than we lose by taking part. This gain is the same reason we join communities in the first place. We seek our benefit even if we couch it in more noble terms.
For this reason, if we see a stranger being attacked and do not assist them, we accept that when we are attacked, no one should help us. Just as if we saw a person drowning in the ocean and choose not to help them, we are essentially proclaiming that if we were to drown nobody should help us. The actions we take or do not take are the gospels of our Code. Nobody can force anyone else to assume a duty, but everyone can inspire others by their example and create a better world through small, consistent actions.
To Provide Necessities of Life
Similar to the duty to your family, the duty to your community also extends past the simple prevention of physical attacks to ensure that members of your community have the minimum needs of life met regarding food, clothing, and shelter. This duty refers to the minimum standard required to preserve life, not necessarily one that provides for their comfort or pleasure. This impulse is not to be seen to be based on mere sympathy or compassion; instead, it should be seen to be based on self-interest alone.
If you were to have the means to do so yet chose not to provide someone in desperate need with the necessities of life, would they not be likely or even justified in taking those necessities by force? Consider what we have said so far about the duties to family and the innate survival instinct. If you have what someone needs to survive and will not share it, then they will take it if they can. However, it is not just from fear of force by which you should be compelled to provide the necessities of life to those in your community, it should be as with the duty to protect, be drawn from the truth that the person in need could be you.
Keep in mind when you see a person in need, (to paraphrase and secularise) John Bradford’s famous saying, ‘There but by the caprice of fortune go you’. If you walk by and do not help when you could have, you set the standard for yourself and those you love. By not helping, you say to the world, ‘Just as I have not helped a fellow citizen in need so to do not help me when I am in need’.
This duty is not to be understood as an invocation to beggar yourself through charity, or as Peter Singer suggests in A Life You Can Save, ‘an obligation without limits on location and relationship’. But, rather a specific duty to take what actions you can without harming your family’s welfare or long-term survival chances to ensure that the members of your community do not lack the necessities of life. It is not an obligation on the individual to alleviate the want of everyone in your community. You should see it as the light of a child appearing at your door in a storm. You shelter them for the night and help them find their way home. Or a starving man in the street whom you feed. You help those whom you can, where you can, in the way which you can.
To Provide Emotional Support
As with family, emotional support is vital in protecting the people in your community. Again, this duty does not mean that you are responsible for taking on everyone’s problems or sticking your nose into other people’s business. However, it does mean that you should, in the confines of your personal bubble, be available to those around you. This can take the form of showing care and concern for your workmates, your neighbours, and those who chance places in your path such as on the train or next to you on a plane.
We all need the support of those around us. We all want to be accepted, included, and valued. By taking the time to care for those around you (especially the difficult people), we can actively contribute to our own good and our communities. Building relationships that assist us in the achievement of our purpose and helping to create a better place to live, work, or study.
This mundane part of your duty may seem unimportant compared to the heroic acts of physical defence or the philanthropic act of providing the necessities of life to one who may perish otherwise. However, it is just as important. This element of your duty achieves its effect not through one or two great acts but from a multitude of little actions.
Taking the time to listen to a workmate’s problem or compliment them on a job well done is a small thing. Yet, each one is like a single drop of water in a desert. Each drop alone has but little impact. However, over time, if they continue, those small drops add up. A garden grows where there was only barren dirt, and rain falls where there was none before. By providing emotional support to those around you, you can have a considerable influence.
At first, you may see no effect, but persist and those around you will imitate you and show more care to those around them. The desert of our suburbs and workplaces will flower into real communities.
As you may perceive, there is the potential for there to be conflicts between our duties to our families and our community or between duties to individual members of each. How are we to prioritise between them? How can we reliably determine the individual that will most likely assist us in achieving our purpose at any given time? To do this, we must assign each individual a position in a hierarchical system. By assigning a clear hierarchical position to each duty and individual, it allows for effective and clear prioritisation and forms the basis for the moral calculations in the ethics.