To feel good or to struggle for social justice? BOTH!

By Katherine 7tree

Twin Oaks is well known for the pleasures of its social culture. These pleasures are simultaneously political by design. Things that feel good can also be beneficial for society. Just a few examples: polyamory; home-grown food that’s free of pesticides; working outdoors; sharing resources and therefore having access to many computers; many bikes, many cars, many clothing options free of monetary charge; etc. Words like “pleasure” and “freedom” fit well with Twin Oaks. And I don’t mean freedom in a patriotic way—hence, pairing it with pleasure, and even hedonism at times.

When I was a Twin Oaks member, I had this perception about the diverse political views on the farm . . . that’s a little complicated. I perceived that Twin Oakers were over emphasizing a few of the awesome pleasurable-political areas and under-emphasizing others.

Here’s what I mean:  Take a look at free trade capitalism. This style of economics encourages outsourcing. In media debates on the TPP free trade deal, you hear arguments like “we’ll lose domestic jobs, and we need jobs here in the U.S., therefore the TPP harms us Americans here at home. Therefore we should fight it.” YES. Those things are true. AND: What happens on “the other end”? Are we really only concerned about the American domestic economy, and the security of jobs for our loved ones? We should worry about it, yes. But there seems to be a lack of empathy in forgetting about “the other end” of outsourcing.

(For the sake of writing a short piece, I’m making generalizations. Please take them with a grain of salt,  even on Twin Oaks…)

Free trade deals encourage manufacturing jobs to be located in Bangladesh, China, Mexico, and a wide range of non-U.S. countries. At the end of the article, I’m including a few links on modern enslaved labor and other exploitation. There’s been some mainstream media coverage on this, with specific exposes. My question is: Do we have enough clear statistical information about how widespread different levels of slave-like labor really are in 2016?


I ask because: There are people in my life who think free trade capitalism is pretty fine as-is.  Maybe that’s how I can have friends who read the same articles about exploitation, but who don’t believe the system needs to change. If abuse is the exception, why modify capitalism? That’s the logic.

However, here’s what I believe: There’s a reason we don’t see more and louder outcry about labor exploitation in the manufacturing of iphones, jeans, tooth brushes, etc. It’s not necessarily that exploitation is a rare exception. It’s that if I sit back and believe worker harm is the rare exception, then I don’t have to worry so much. I don’t have to do anything about it or make an attempt to learn more at least.

The takeaway: whatever you believe about the severity of this problem, Twin Oaks Community is a wonderful test site for non-exploitive factory/manufacturing labor. What a gift! Twin Oaks demonstrates a replicable model. It could become popularized.

I started this piece with my perception of pleasure on the commune. Sometimes Twin Oakers are so busy emphasizing political pleasures like delicious organic food or social/cultural pleasures, that they may under-emphasize the non-exploitive nature of manufacturing labor on the farm.

Tofu, hammocks and seeds are produced by workers who can work 4-hour shifts, rather than 16-hour shifts experienced in the “outsourced” jobs, overseas.  This is hugely radical. Twin Oaks has a solid grasp on how its unique labor system operates. The manufacturing of tofu and hammocks gets done in a way that’s smooth and sustainable.


The question is: in what ways do we think and talk about labor? Specifically, how pervasive is the problem of overseas manufacturing harm, as compared with Twin Oaks manufacturing? Maybe free trade capitalist factories cause more widespread harm than it’s comfortable to admit.

Twin Oaks is a LIVING MODEL of a manufacturing alternative—one that could easily be replicated, even on scales to help shift the economic gap between rich and poor.  I hope to see future dialogue about how we can connect our local communes and their pleasurable cultures with the larger globalized economy.

Here are a few links about labor:

To feel good or to struggle for social justice? BOTH!

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