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Intro, by Brittany:
The following piece was written by Sunya for her workshop at the 2016 Twin Oaks Women’s Gathering. She’s shy of writing but consented to my introducing her piece here. In our bylaws, Twin Oaks is defined as a striving to eliminate the “attitudes and results of racism,” and all FEC communities are forbidden to discriminate on the basis of race. The following piece shows that opposing racism on paper is not enough, that more is required to truly eliminate the results of racism.
Main writing, by Sunya:
I open my eyes and next to me i see blond hair and facial features that resemble those of the “superior” race. Tight and pointed. I smile with adoration, my heart flutters. I wake, our legs spun together like spaghetti on a fork. This man lies next to me… and then it dawn upon me that I, with tight unkempt curls in what someone with straight hair might call an afro, am lying next to this creature. someone whom society and conditioning has taught me to believe is much closer to perfection then I could ever be. Shit…my heart starts pounding, he is not awake yet , now is my chance to slip away, tidy my hair, flatten my bangs, make sure that I haven’t slept in such a way that accentuates my features. I want to look the least exotic as possible. to be as close to white beauty as i can.
Exotic, there’s a word that is rarely used to describe a white persons appearance. Us on the other hand have heard it a lot, I assume. “oh your, so exotic” or “wow, what an exotic beauty”. although these statements are usually offered as compliments I find them quite off putting. Websters dictionary defines the word exotic as “Very different, strange or unusual”. Even though many people embrace their differences, I assume that no one really wants to be viewed as “strange or unusual”
I come from a white world so when I first visited Twin Oaks I felt completely comfortable. it was only after spending a few months here That I began to feel effected by the lack of color. there were times during a meal when I could look around the table and see that I was the only one with dark eyes. twelve individual sky blue colored irises.
I get this discomfort, both here and in the mainstream when people ask me to take my hair down or if I have let them touch my curls, and they say in a surprised way “oh it’s so soft. The most fucked up about these occasional interactions is that I some how feel better. Like I have been able to prove my whiteness and there for some sick sort of superiority. It’s not the truth. It is what we have been taught. That is why I am doing this workshop today. I want to hear your stories and how you all have experienced being non white in this world. I want to come together and create something that is colorful, strong and undeniably beautiful!
by David de Ugarte, from El Jardin Indiano, Thursday, January 19th, 2017
It would seem that the whole history of technology, with all its social and political challenges, has coalesced to put us within reach of the possibility of developing ourselves and contributing autonomy to our community by taking the leap to producing in common with those close to us.
If we study the productive reality of the last thirty years, the changes turn out to be amazing. Among all of them, the most striking, the most unexpected, the one that most strongly contradicted the idea that the great economic systems of the twentieth century had about themselves, was not that the future would be full of computers, cellphones, and electronic equipment. That idea had already appeared in the ’40s and ’50s in science fiction and popular futurism. Nor was it globalization. The idea of a world united by free trade had been part of the Anglo-Saxon liberal ideal since the Victorian era, and from the foundation of the League of Nations, between the wars, it was part of the declared objectives of the great English-speaking powers.
No, the most shocking thing was the beginning of the end of business gigantism. From the State businesses of the USSR, to shipbuilding and metallurgy in Asturias, from Welsh mining to United Steel or the big automotive companies, the oligarchs that had been the model of “enterprise” for the contemporary industrial world, stopped hiring, collapsed, and fired tens of thousands of workers. It wasn’t just “de-localization”: the new Chinese or Vietnamese plants didn’t grow indefinitely, either. Markets like electronic products expanded year after year, and yet personnel and capital global used were reduced. It was said that the new labor-intensive industries would be services, especially services connected with the new dominant form of capital: finance. But soon, banks and insurers that employed hundreds of thousands of people at the turn of the century started to reduce personnel. Today, the great banks are on track to reduce personnel by 30% over the next decade.
What had happened was, in fact, amazing. Following the Second World War, the United States had become the great provider to the world. When the war ended, US GDP was around half of the global GDP. Benefiting from the European need for reconstruction and from peace treaties that, while not reaching the level of humiliation of Versailles, were openly asymmetrical, big Anglo-Saxon businesses globalized at great speed speed. It was a dream come true for their shareholders. It wasn’t at all strange to economists. At the time, if Marxists, Keynsians, and neoliberals agreed on anything, it was that businesses were able to, and in fact tended to, grow indefinitely. But by the ’50s, it was already obvious that something was going wrong. In the USSR and the countries of the East European, you could always blame the arbitrariness of the political system or the mistakes of the planners. But in the USA, it was different. And yet, it was there, present and invisible, like an elephant in a high-society gala. The first to realize it was a economist called Kenneth Boulding. Boulding noted that American businesses were reaching the limit of their scale, the point at which inefficiencies due to having to manage a larger size were not compensated for by the benefits of being bigger. Looking at the America of his time, he also warned that big businesses would try compensate for their inefficiencies using their weight in the market and in the State. We were under pressure long before “too big to fail” in the crisis of 2008, but he could already tell that Big Businesses would not hesitate to use the power they had as a result of employing tens of thousands of people to get made-to-fit regulations and thinly-veiled monopolies. Business over-scaling, warned Boulding, could end up being a danger to the two main institutions of our society: state and market.
But what came next was even more surprising. Businesses bet on improving their systems and processes. They discovered that information was important—crucial—to avoid entering the phase in which inefficiencies grew exponentially. It also became obvious that a business size that was inefficient for one market became reasonably efficient for a larger market. As a result, they used all their power to promote a branch of technology that had shone only marginally in the great war: information. With this same objective, as soon as the opportunity arose, they pushed governments to reach commercial agreements and, above all, frameworks for the free movement of capital, since the industry that had scaled fastest and had begun to give alarming signs of inefficiency was finance. Meanwhile, the champion in business scale, the USSR and the whole Soviet bloc, collapsed, to the astonishment of the world, in an obvious demonstration that operating life wasn’t infinite.
A true revolution in support of the feasibility of large scales in crisis was implemented in the West. The political result was called “neoliberalism.” It basically consisted of the extension of free-trade agreements, which expanded markets geographically; financial deregulation, which allowed the rise of “financialization,” or extension of markets over time; and a series of rents and monopolies for certain businesses, which were assured by regulations, like the hardening of so-called “intellectual property.”
The technological result was known as the “IT revolution,” which is to say revolution of information technology. But it came with a surprise, following a series of apparent coincidences in the search for ways beyond the limits on efficiency imposed by the rigid hierarchical systems inherited from the previous century. At the end of the ’60s, the structure of networks that connected big university computers, which was financed by defense spending, took a distributed form. This would not have brought about a radical change if a new field, domestic information science, had not evolved towards small, completely autonomous computers, known as “PCs.” The result was the emergence in the ’90s of an immense capacity for distributed and interconnected calculation outside the fabric of business and government: the Internet.
The revolution of scale
The Internet brought profound changes in the division of labor, which overlapped with the ongoing reduction of optimal scales, and changed the social results expected from delocalization, the first trend in globalization.
In the ’90s, when the “end of history” seemed go hand in hand with the consolidation of a new string of industrial technology giants (Microsoft, Apple, etc.), free software, which had been a subculture until then, built the first versions of Linux. Linux is the “steam engine” of the world that is emerging: the first expression of a new way of producing and, at the same time, a tool to transform the productive system. Over the next twenty years, free software would come to be the greatest transfer of knowledge and value in the contemporary era, equivalent to several times all foreign aid to development sent from developed countries to those on the periphery since WWII.
Free software is a universal public good and, in an era in which information infrastructure is a fundamental part of any productive investment, a free form of capital. Free capital drove an even greater reduction in the optimum scale of production. But it also helped make value chains of the physical goods with strong technological component distributed. Globalization and delocalization had broken the links in value creation in thousands of products throughout the world, especially in the less-developed nations of the Pacific basin, but all those chains were re-centralized in the US, and to a lesser extent, in Japan, Germany and other central countries, where big corporations (from Apple to Nike) branded, designed, marketed, and hoarded the benefits of intellectual property. The possibility of free software was key for many of those chains to “insource” in countries like China, and produce all the elements, including those of greater value added.
The immediate result was prodigious economic development, the greatest reduction in extreme poverty in the history of humanity, the greatest increase in real wages in the history of China, and the appearance of new global centers of innovation and production in coastal cities. These cities play by a new set of rules that, not surprisingly, include an extreme relaxation of intellectual property, an accelerated reduction of scales, and production chains systems and assembly systems that allow a formidable increase in scope, which is to say, the variety of things produced.
The Direct Economy
As all these changes were set in motion in Asia, in Europe, the free software model was expanding into a whole spectrum of sectors. Soon, groups would appear that replicate the mode of production based on the commons (“the P2P mode of production“) in all kinds of immaterial content—design, books, music, video—and increasingly, in the world of advanced services—finance, consultancy—and industrial products—drinks, specialized machinery, robots, etc.
But while the “P2P mode of production” is a fascinating path for a transition from capitalism to abundance, its direct impact—how many people live directly from the commons—is relatively small. As in Asia, Europe, and the US, structural change will begin in an intermediate space that is also based on the digital commons: the Direct Economy.
The Direct Economy is all those small groups of friends—and therefore, a basically egalitarian organization—that design a product that generally incorporates software and free knowledge into itself or its process of creation, sell it in advance on a crowdfunding platform (making bank financing or “shareholders” unnecessary), produce it in short runs of a few thousands in a factory, whether in China or on the side of their house, and use the proceeds to improve the design or create a new product.
The Direct Economy is bar owners who invest 10,000 euros in equipment and begin to produce beer 100 liters at a time, or a few tens of thousands of euros and gain capacity to prepare almost 1,500 liters every 12 hours in continuous production—and then go on to bottle and begin distributing nearby and in networks of beer artisanal lovers. And of course, they will have more varieties than the big brewery in their are, higher quality, and a better quality/price ratio.
The Direct Economy is the academy or the high school that installs a MOOC or Moodle to be able offer its students services over the summer, independent app developers, the role-playing bookstore that buys a 3D printer and starts selling their own figurines, or the children’s clothes store that starts designing and producing their own strollers, toys, or maternity bags.
All of them are small-scale producers making things that, until recently, only big businesses or institutions were able to make. All of them have more scope than the scale model. All of them, at some point in the process, use free software and knowledge, which reduces their capital needs even further. All of them take advantage of the Internet to reach providers and customers for low costs—for example, by being able to reach very geographically dispersed niches or find very specialized providers. Most will not have to resort to banks or investors to finance themselves, but rather, will use pre-sale and donation systems on the network to raise money. And some of them use the “commodification” of the manufacturing industry and its flexible production chains for the process.
As for internal organizing, we’re generally looking at models that are much “flatter” and more democratic than conventional businesses. While traditional businesses are autocracies, or at best aristocracies based on hierarchical command and responsibility, the large majority of projects in the Direct Economy are “ad-hocracies,” in which the needs of the moment shape teams and responsibilities. This even happens in cases where big businesses decide to take a gamble on creating a spin-off and competing in a new field. Instead of an org chart, there are task maps. Rather than “participation in management,” there emerges the type of energy that characterizes any group of friends that make something “spontaneously.” If the legal process wasn’t still so arduous, if it didn’t require notaries and endless paperwork, we would say that the natural way to the Direct Economy is worker cooperativism.
But none of this is as important as the broader meaning of the Direct Economy to people’s possibilities in life. In Wage Labor and Capital, one of his more accessible works, Marx explained the trap in the narrative that exalts social mobility and equality of opportunities: wages can’t become capital. Or, rather, couldn’t… and it’s true that it continues to be unable to in a good part of the world and in many branches of industry. But we’re seeing something that is historically shocking—the reduction to zero of the cost of an especially valuable part of capital, which materializes directly knowledge (free software, free designs, etc.). And above all we see, almost day by day, how the optimum size of production, sector by sector, approaches or reaches the community dimension.
The possibility for the real community, the one based on interpersonal relationships and affections, to be an efficient productive unit is something radically new, and its potential to empower is far from having been developed. This means that we are lucky enough to live in a historical moment when it would seem that the whole history of technology, with all its social and political challenges, has coalesced to put us within reach of the possibility of developing ourselves in a new way and contributing autonomy to our community.
Today we have an opportunity that previous generations did not: to transform production into something done, and enjoyed, among peers. We can make work a time that is not walled off from life itself, which capitalism revealingly calls “time off.” That’s the ultimate meaning of producing in common today. That’s the immediate course of every emancipatory action. The starting point.
Twin Oaks has a photo board in the main dining hall. These are some of the current pictures on that board.
I wrote in my piece on Communities of Communities about what was happening in Louisa County, Virginia, and in Rutledge, Missouri. In Louisa there are five income sharing communities (plus a nearby Catholic Worker house) and in Rutledge there are three very different types of communities–and a fourth (different again) community only forty miles away. In both of these areas, the different communities strongly support each other. They flourish not in spite of one another but because of one another. I’ve been at Twin Oaks and watched folks from Acorn, Living Energy Farm, and Cambia come by, and been at
Dancing Rabbit and seen folks from Red Earth Farms and Sandhill hang out. (Not to mention being at Acorn and working with folks from Twin Oaks and Little Flower–the Catholic Worker community.)
But I’m seeing connections growing between communities that aren’t even near one another. I’m currently living at Ganas (not an egalitarian, income sharing community) which has a long history with Twin Oaks. I joke about a conveyor belt between the two communities (300 miles from each other) because so many people go back and forth so often. What’s interesting to me has been watching another ‘conveyor’ belt starting up between Acorn in Virginia and East Wind in Missouri as members of each community began spending serious time in the other one.
Then there’s a Federation of Egalitarian Communities and last year’s Assembly featured a host of starting communities. The FEC exists partly to support and network egalitarian, income sharing communities. Similarly, this blog exists to feature them–not only to make people aware that they exist and how many and diverse they are, but to keep communes aware of each other.
Most importantly, as David from las Indias argued in his post called On Diversity, the greater diversity that we seek is likely to come not so much within communities, but among communities. He talks directly about the need to network our communities.
Going back to Louisa, Twin Oaks has a 100 members. That’s a lot and many members are resistant to growing more. Acorn has thirty members and doesn’t want much more because, as one person put it, they don’t want to become Twin Oaks. But now there’s
three more communities down there, trying to grow and new people are often encouraged to investigate them. Telos has written about why he decided to leave Twin Oaks in order to help build Cambia.
What we are talking about here is not just having a few alternative communities, but slowly creating a movement. As we help create more and more communes (through projects like Point A) and network them, we are creating a real alternative to the situation we are inheriting. With networks of income sharing communities, we are not only talking about a few communities in the US, or even North America (and there are a couple of Canadian communities in dialogue with the FEC), but throughout the world, as we connect with communities in Spain and Germany–and maybe the kibbutzim and other communes throughout the world. There is already a Global Ecovillage Network and the Fellowship of Intentional Communities is busy connecting diverse communities from communes to urban co-op houses to large cohousing projects. Communities matter and as we begin to connect with each other and network together, we are creating that movement.
It’s certainly not the way I think everyone should live, but I do think there are a lot of people who might be interested in living this way if they knew it was possible. Twin Oaks has a waiting list again, and I suspect Acorn and other communities do as well, and that makes me realize that there’s a lot more interest in the communities than there is space in them. The Atlantic magazine just published a piece on people looking at communes because they’re “Seeking an Escape from Trump’s America“. I only think that in these times, the movement is going to grow. As I said in my first piece on this blog, I think that communes are important. I think that it’s equally important to network and grow. This is true social change.
by adder, from Running in ZK, February 9th, 2017
I would like to introduce a brand new podcast hosted by myself (adder) and Keegan. It’s called Commune Dads and is a a discussion-driven podcast about the challenges and joys of parenting on a commune, in our case at Twin Oaks . We share our individual parenting and education values, as well as anecdotes about many of the commune kids.
Naturally, I listened to podcasts during his naps. I was turned on to some pretty good ones (my favorite is probably Slate’s Mom and Dad Are Fighting). At the same time, my best friend here, Keegan, was looking forward to the birth of his child, about six months after mine. Keegan and I regularly have long, productive, funny, emotional, supportive, enjoyable conversations — why not record them? I pitched him the idea and he was all for it. Though it took some time before we got around to it, once both of us had babies whose schedules started to settle, we could plan and record this show. I am glad we have. At its heart, I think this podcast is a way to ensure that, despite our changing and busy lives, my best friend and I still make time for each other.
Pictures by Sunya, from the Twin Oaks Unicorn School (all these are children from Twin Oaks unless they have the name of another commune–like Acorn or Cambia–after theirs)
adder and Colin
Owl Acorn (adult), Francesca, Sylvia, Tallulah, Penny Acorn, and Finley
Sami, Anya, Zadek and Finley
Avni Cambia and Finley
by Pamela Boyce Simms, email@example.com
co-published on the GEO blog
February 5, 2017
Day 17 of the First 100 Days
The Administration of the 45th President of the United States
We’ve had a front row seat for two weeks to American kakistocracy – government by the worst, most incompetent, and inappropriate persons. We’ve witnessed the new administration’s willful disregard for the Constitution, lack of forethought or regard for the sweeping impact of policy decisions on the population, and the steady, targeted erosion of rights. Americans took to the streets to resist the pathology of self-serving, morally bankrupt oligarchs.
Solution-thinking: Counter fragmentation with collaboration. If a dysfunctional government ignores the needs of its constituents and seeks to normalize discrimination, we respond by affirming our diversity and strengthen our interdependence. If the executive branch is plagued by power-and-control infighting, operates under cover of darkness, and is ruled by impulse, we counterbalance with collaboration, transparency, and wisdom. The task of transforming the collective unconscious so as to give rise to a new kind of government falls to us.
Alternatives: Resistance is a vital “holding action” that saves lives and alleviates suffering. Long term localized resilience-building will get us through the eye of the climate change needle. For environmentalists and
Make like a tree: Organic, self-organizing tree intelligence. Oh, would that we could behave like trees, our oldest companions on Earth! Trees are social beings. They speak a sophisticated silent language, communicating complex information via smell, taste and electrical impluse. We’re only just beginning to understand non-human consciousness.
Trees share their food and sometimes nourish competitors. They know the advantages of working together. On its own a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It’s at the mercy of the wind and weather. But together many trees create an ecosystem that moderates weather extremes. In this protected environment trees can live to be very old. To get to this point the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree was only looking out for itself, quite a few would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in large gaps in the tree canopy allowing storms to ravage the community and uproot members. Summer heat would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer.
Every tree therefore is valuable and worth keeping around for as long as possible. That’s why sick individuals are nourished by neighbor trees until they recover. Next time it may be the other way around. The supporting tree may be the one in need of assistance.(The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben, 2016)
Human ecosystem self-organizing: While “collaboration” and “cooperation” have become buzzwords, relatively few Americans —conditioned as we are in a competitive, top-down, hierarchical culture, really know what that looks like over the long haul. Authentic cooperation requires people to change deeply imprinted habit patterns which are continually reinforced by a society that deliberately seeks to divide us. We are called to compassionately heal our schisms. We seek true unity and regenerative wholeness.
While many movements commit intellectually to pursuing wholeness through cooperation, thousands of intentional communities throughout the United States already demonstrate just that. Intentional communities are groups of people who have decided to find ways to live together cooperatively. Irrespective of how diverse a group of people in an intentional community may be, there is a shared allegiance to the baseline value of sustained cooperation.
The Fellowship for Intentional Community and the Point “A” Project which creates urban Income-sharing communities are standard bearers in the intentional community movement. They embrace anyone with the gumption to self-liberate from the corrosive mainstream matrix. Intentional communities offer supportive pathways toward healthy interdependence and ways to thrive in breathing space that takes some distance from the mainstream.
As per Raven, a spokesperson for the Point A Project, “Intentional communities are laboratories for social change. Each one tries something different and sees how it works. That’s why there are five different income-sharing intentional communities clustered together in Louisa County, Virginia for example. Most communities have some type of mission. So, the Virginia communities of Twin Oaks, Acorn, Cambia, LEF, and Sapling have been described as slightly different “flavors” of community —each having a different emphasis, and attracting different folks. The big draws to intentional community are the opportunity to be around a group of like-minded people, and wanting to be part of something bigger than oneself. In community you have support. When things get difficult it’s good not to be alone. And sharing, even the light sharing that is done in co-housing communities just makes people’s lives easier.”
In Raven’s home community of Ganas, an intentional community on Staten Island in New York City, deep relationship-building as a deliberate process takes center stage. Environmental resilience, social justice, urban communal living, and agroecology, organic or biodynamic farming are some of the underlying drivers of other communities.
While living in intentional community may be a giant step away from the mainstream for some, we would all be wise to gravitate toward kindred spirits with whom we can navigate the rough waters that lie ahead. If the first 17 days of the new administration foreshadow the next four years in the context of anticipated climate change, we will need to tap deeply into our own inner resilience, and most especially, we’ll need each other.
Faciltating Regional Transition to Resilience
Pamela Boyce Simms, firstname.lastname@example.org