The families of a rural neighborhood have at least “acquaintance” relationships with each other; and sometimes, especially in the older sections, they continue from the past or develop new organizations to meet needs for other “communal” relationships. Every rural neighborhood is a kind of society, even when, as in many western states, its strictly local “communal” interdependencies seem almost to have reached the vanishing point. But small towns and cities are not only societies; they have so many local “common” functions, private and public, that they become real communities. The American state is a “community,” too since its citizens have common responsibilities for the enactment of legislation, the execution of governmental functions, and the collective discharge of the many other responsibilities that have long impelled humans to call this kind of community a “commonwealth.” Embracing the states and colonial possessions is the Federal Union, the national government, with its constitutionally designated “communal” governmental functions, as well as many others of a non-governmental character. Patriots cherish the “nation” because it is big enough and strong enough, not only to give us dignity and power in “the community of nations,” but also to promote the most far-reaching forms of control, cooperation, and progressiveness among us all at home.
In our democratic society there exist countless other “groups,” largely invisible and not easily bounded — for it must be remembered that where humans mutually affect each other or become even in obscure ways “interdependent,” there we have the social relationships that create actual, though unseen, perhaps unfelt, social groups. The buyer and the seller in any commercial transactions are, for that purpose even if for no other, socially related. Between “original producer” and “ultimate consumer” in most modern commercial transactions — involving the transfer of coal or coffee or watches, or sermons or newspapers, or transportation, or learning — there are often many intermediaries to transport, refine, inspect, wholesale, and retail the commodity or service. In respects to this service, producers, middlemen, and consumers are all interlinked. They constitute a kind of social group stretching imaginary hands and eyes and voices over the wide gulfs of space or time that separate them.
The social environment is composed of men, women, and children, nearly all of whom are found living in groups. These groups are formed for various purposes — defense, cooperative work, sociability, joint worship, and the like. They vary in size from a partnership of two, or a family of four, to cities, nations, and alliances. Some are ephemeral, some last for many centuries, some are voluntary, some are not. The normal adult is a member of many social groups. Into some of these — the family, the state— he was born and nurtured. With others, he allies himself in more or less voluntary ways — churches, political parties, cultural and social groupings. Into still others, he is admitted on approval and after specific preparation — marriage, higher schools, secret societies, exclusive cultural and social sets, labor unions, and corporations. At first, the members of these social groups usually follow rather than lead. Sometimes under direct coercion, more often in response to suggestion, they proceed to adapt themselves to the standards and ways of the groups, to court the approval of the older or stronger members, and to partake of the advantages that such membership makes possible. These processes of socialization can be traced to any family, village, school, fraternal society, church, political party, manual workers’ union, or nation. Social groups are everywhere in modern life and their influences upon us, felt or not, are real, and they shape our worldview and ultimately the ways in which we decide to live our lives.
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