In trying to create communities, it’s important to learn what works and also what doesn’t work. There’s a lot of pieces on this blog from communities that are up and running, many for over ten years, and one for a full fifty. There’s a lot we can learn from them about what works.
We also hope to hear from folks who have tried to start communes that didn’t go anywhere, about why they didn’t work. (One good piece on this is Gil from Cambia’s Lessons on Starting a Community. Other folks who’ve dealt with difficulties in community building have promised to send their learnings.) This is important because difficulties are the reality of commune building, and hopefully, anyone trying to start a commune can learn from them.
The Totally Utopia Community that I describe here is not a real community. However, I am well acquainted with three real communities that are nearly identical to what I describe. The important thing for me is that if I just happen to know three different communities (in three different states) that are so similar to the Totally Utopia Community, I strongly suggest that there are probably dozens more like this. I can’t believe that I just randomly found the only three communities like this.
The folks behind the Totally Utopia Community are a couple that I will call Adam and Eve (no relation to the biblical couple). These are very bright folks, well versed in farming, construction, and all types of eco-sustainability. Adam is especially capable and competent.
I’ve talked a little bit about community hardware and software. Adam and Eve are very good at the hardware. What they have difficulty with is the software–the relationships.
Adam is a charismatic, alpha male. He is good at attracting people. He is also very worried about climate change and is very demanding of himself as well as other people. The problem is that no one outside of he and Eve matches up to what they want. While they don’t have trouble finding people, no one seems good enough–and since no one ever matches up, I suspect that they’re not going to find anyone who will stay–and so they will never create real community.
To a large degree, the Totally Utopia Community, as such, exists in name only. Two people and a rotating cast of interns and extras do not make a community. As I’ve said, I’ve seen this particular community process in action at least three times, so it’s popular, even if it’s not functional.
Lest you think this kind of situation is only restricted to heterosexual couples concerned about climate change, here’s a similar situation only with two gay men creating an agricultural religious community. The ideas are they have are interesting but, as they said, they weren’t perhaps the right people to implement them. I suspect they have similar problems to Adam and Eve.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy solution to the Totally Utopia Community’s problems. It would mean that these folks would need to change their behavior to get anywhere. Some thoughts that I’ve had is that Adam could, perhaps, learn how to be supportive and welcoming to people and, instead of deciding that they aren’t competent enough, try to figure out what they’re good at and how they could help build community. Changing his behavior probably wouldn’t be easy, particularly if he’s scared and feeling urgent about the climate emergency. Or, they could restructure things so that he isn’t in charge, but someone warm and welcoming and with interpersonal skills is running things and Adam can focus on the things that he’s good at, like construction and farming. Or (and I actually suggested this to one of these couples), maybe they should just stop trying to build a community, and have a small family farm where they could work together and wouldn’t have to worry about other people.
When someone tells me that all you need to do to create a commune is, build it and they will come, I think of Adam and Eve. In two of the three communities, I’m talking about, the couple is still out there trying to create the community. I wish them luck but I fear that no community will happen unless something changes.
I put this out here because I think this is a model of how not to build community–and a model that is still being used. For people who wonder why I’m so insistent on starting with getting the people and learning to work together, the Totally Utopia Community is a good example.