Enjoy the holidays. We’ll be back in the new year.
Enjoy the holidays. We’ll be back in the new year.
Over the last month this country has been going through a spate of revelations about men in power (including elected officials, Hollywood celebrities, captains of industry, spiritual leaders, you name it) being accused of having abused their positions of influence to pressure women into sexual relations. It’s pretty disgusting.
As an older white guy, I have a number of thoughts about this.
I. Tip of the Iceberg
As bad as the revelations have been so far—which are terrible—you can be sure that the total scope of what’s happened is much worse than we know today. Most abuse never gets reported, or is hushed up when it does.
One of the more pathetic excuses being offered by Roy Moore and his apologists is that they do not find the allegations against him to be credible because the incidents happened almost four decades ago. Surely, they argue, occurrences that bad would have been reported right away. Huh? If they knew anything about the psychology of abuse, they’d appreciate how hard it is for the victim to come forward. There is no correlation between delay and authenticity.
On the positive side, each time a woman finds the courage to tell her horror story it gets a bit easier for other victims to speak up as well. Though I am not at all happy that abuse occurs, I think we need to shine a spotlight on it if we’re going to make any significant cultural change. In this current surge of revelations, a number of brave women have been doing the hard work of speaking up, and that should be celebrated and supported.
II. A Person’s Right to Their Sexuality
After more than 60 years on this planet I’ve come to understand that the breadth of human sexual orientation and turn-on is incredibly varied and complex. While I believe that, in the ideal, everyone should have the freedom to express sexual desire (to extend an invitation) whenever they want, I think that’s incredibly dangerous unless there is a concomitant commitment to responding respectfully when invitations are declined. If you can’t hear “no,” don’t ask the question.
While I’m generally fine with individuals exploring auto-eroticism to their heart’s content*, if you’re wanting to interact sexually with others then you need their willing participation (for more about coercion see Point III below). As easy as it is to write that, however, there are a number of complications that need to be recognized.
Sexual abuse is mainly the misuse of power to gain sexual favors. If the power imbalance among potential partners is too great, how can you be sure you have consent (as opposed to acquiesence)?
Let me lay out four versions of this:
• If the age differential is too great
I know an intentional community that developed a guideline for teenagers that they needed to be within two years of each other for sexual contact to be acceptable (above and beyond mutual consent). For adults I’ve heard it proposed that sexual contact be considered inappropriate unless the younger person is at least six years older than half the age of the older one.
Frankly, I don’t know where the line is with respect to age differential, but there is one, and it’s a dynamic to be reckoned with.
• If there is an implied threat to safety, or possible retribution (say loss of a job, or a withheld promotion)
Suppose the invitation comes from a bodybuilder who is known to be prone to anger. Or from your boss, and you need the job, or covet a special assignment. Even though you want to say “no,” you might hesitate.
And it can be even worse than that. If the person grew up in an abusive family (perhaps where the father beat his wife and kids), they may be sensitized to the danger of a male losing his temper, and may overreact to a raised voice because it triggers bad memories. I’m not saying it’s the man’s responsibility to know that ahead of time, but you can commit to paying attention to how your words and tone are landing, and making appropriate adjustments.
• If the invitation comes from a guardian or protector
If you receive a sexual invitation from your father, your minister, a police officer, or district attorney (shades of Roy Moore)—someone you’ve been taught to expect safety from, it can be very tricky ground to navigate.
• If the invitee does not have the capacity to give informed consent
It’s inappropriate to have sexual relations with partners who are not able to respond thoughtfully to a sexual invitation due to incapacitation (think of Bill Cosby), or who do not have the cognitive ability to understand what’s being asked.
For all of these reasons, it’s important to develop clear norms about what kinds of sexual invitation are appropriate to extend.
* Even with masturbation there should be limits. I believe it’s abusive, for instance, if you’re pressuring others to watch (a la Louis CK). Also, I’m aware of an instance where a man tried to heighten his pleasure through near-strangulation and failed to stop in time. His accidental death left an incredible mess for others to clean up. The standard, I believe, should be sensitivity to how your self-focused act may place others in an awkward or compromised situation.
III. A Person’s Right to Freedom from Coercion
If a sexual invitation places the recipient in a dilemma—where they don’t feel safe to decline, or they anticipate having to pay a price for “no”—that’s abuse. It is not enough that the powerful person did not mean to be coercive. It is incumbent on them to look ahead of the curve, at how their invitation may be hard for the recipient to handle.
In essence, the more power you have, the more circumspect you should be about extending sexual invitations, or even being available for sexual liaisons invited by the person with less power (because of the potential for the dynamic being misunderstood by observers if, say, the secretary seduces the boss, or the student their instructor).
IV. What’s a Reasonable Strategy to Get from Where We Are to Where We Want to Be?
If we envision a world in which men and women and are equally powerful, does it make sense to flip privilege—where we preferentially support women being more aggressive than men—in order to close the gap more quickly? And if so, for how long?
Sandra Day O’Connor had to wrestle with this question when, as a Supreme Court Justice, she had to lay out guidance in support of affirmative action as a legally defensible tactic in the battle to eradicate racial inequality. She chose 20 years.
While I have no idea how long it will take to dismantle male privilege (or even if it’s possible in this day of alt-right Neanderthal politics and throwback gender roles), I am sympathetic to the argument that women deserve to be treated better then men, at least for a while, in order to counterbalance the negative impact of a lifetime of disadvantage.
In the world of intentional communities, where I have spent most of my adult life, there is an important distinction between groups that have a spiritual focus, and ones that do not. Among secular groups there is a strong commitment to creating feminist culture (by which I mean gender blind, not pro-female). However, spiritual groups can be all over the map when it comes to gender: anything from Old Testament patriarchy to New Age there-is-the-divine-in-all-of-us.
As my experience is rooted in the secular side, my work is slanted toward creating feminist culture. As an older, college-educated, Protestant, heterosexual, able-bodied, articulate white man, I am oozing with privilege, which means I’m susceptible to misunderstanding (or being oblivious to) how the field is slanted in my direction. As someone who has been active in the Communities Movement I’ve always understood that my privilege was going to be scrutinized under a microscope.
I’m OK with that. I don’t want to be the recipient of unearned advantages, and I’d like to help develop models of appropriate male behavior—even though I’m still in the process of figuring out what those are.
by Rachel Kadish
East Brook Community Farm is a farm-based intentional community located in the western Catskill Mountains of New York. Founded 2.5 years ago, East Brook runs a successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, with 15 member families this year.
We all live together in an 1884 seven bedroom farmhouse. We are blessed with plentiful infrastructure, including a large barn and several smaller structures. We farm produce, eggs, and meat while regenerating the health of the land through no-till, permaculture, and holistic management practices. We equally strive to regenerate culture through such practices as nonviolent communication and meditation.
The East Brook and several hillside springs run through our gorgeous 92-acre property. The water in our house, in the garden, and for our animals comes directly from these springs.
In addition to our CSA, we sell our produce at local farmers markets and at our farmstand. We have also planted ~100 fruit and nut trees throughout the property, which will begin to bear over the next few years and expand our offerings.
Sarah founded East Brook Community Farm after a years-long journey of searching for land and fellow community members. She has been connected with the FEC since 2012, when she interned at Living Energy Farm and visited Twin Oaks. She brings over a decade of regenerative farming experience, infectious optimism and drive, and a dedication to personal growth work.
Monica has lived at East Brook for just over 1 year, after years of developing interest in joining a farm-based intentional community. This year, she has managed the chickens and ducks and significantly upped our scything game. She brings passion and skill for animal care, dedication to reduced fossil fuel use, and a keen sense of observation to everything she does, from helping with the cows to innoculating mushroom logs.
Shua (EX-East Wind, EX-Twin Oaks, EX-Cambia) has lived at East Brook since April. He’s been instrumental in the creation of a healthy, heart-centered culture here. He also provides key support in the garden and throughout the farm/community, from handling correspondence to repairing the farm truck.
Rachael has lived at East Brook since March, when she arrived as Garden Intern. She is thrilled to be co-managing the garden in 2018. She brings 3 seasons of farming experience and a passion for building equitable community. Maximus, currently an intern at Cambia, will be joining East Brook in the spring. He is committed to strengthening the FEC network and exploring East Brook’s place within it.
Our precious baby cows want to let you know that if you’re interested in connecting with us, you can reach out to email@example.com. And that you can peruse our website at http://eastbrookfarm.com/. Moo!
Dear Twin Oaks:
Corb here… I’m an ex-member (circa ’79-84), former farmer, EC wizard, cook, meta and papa (Leah was born in Morningstar in ’82). I was a planner when my partner, Linda announced she and Leah were leaving. So I left, but part of me has never been the same. TO has significantly shaped how I run one of the most envied teams of engineers at UVa Medical Center. As I get ready to say goodbye to over 30 years at UVa, I’m determined to return to community.
This Spring, as I was caring for my 89 yr. old Mom who got a new hip, it dawned on me that here I am…
…surely there must be others who resemble at least some of the above and are willing to pitch-in to build an intergenerational, elder-friendly community with the goal of becoming an FEC community?
I’m writing to propose that Twin Oaks and “Full Circle Community”, (which Aurora DeMarco, TO member Jeli’s Mom, and I are founding), jointly purchase the Purcell property with the intent to:
– allocate some land for the expansion of T.O.
– allocate the rest of the land for “Full Circle”.
Full Circle can likely afford the property ourselves, but we understand that TO has interest in acquiring at least a buffer beyond the graveyard (perhaps more) and thus we hope to purchase the land in a mutually beneficial manner, with a deeded division.
The ~100 acre tract in question was logged last winter. It is adjacent to T.O., and drew several Twin Oakers’ interest in acquiring it. After a community meeting, the Planners reportedly did a survey of the community that found significant support for acquiring at least part of the property using a combination of donations and TO’s resources.
A group of members (Keenan, McCune, Trout, Paxus, Puma for Planners) and I have been meeting regularly most of 2017 to sort out the many facets of this opportunity. We hope to come to terms on a property boundary before any purchase takes place, and execute a contract to legally divide the tract as agreed, upon purchase.
Map #1 – How the adjacent properties nestle…
The aerial above shows a proposed pond site, the “Emu neighbors” and accurately depicts Tupelo in-line with the northernmost border of Purcell/Full-Circle. The county’s hand-drawn rendering on the next map doesn’t pretend to reflect accurate placement of TO’s existing buildings.
Yellow, brown & blue dashes mark 3 possible borders between T.O and “Full-Circle” Communities.
Green shading = most level, Orange = next-most level, Burgundy = medium sloping
Blue proposed pond = ~3 ac.
Light blue ovals = possible construction sites. Larger = community site, smaller= 1-3 unit home sites.
The second map shows 3 possibilities for future boundaries between Twin Oaks and Full Circle, who is flexible about how much land Twin Oaks may choose to buy.
Here is a Twin Oaks member’s synopsis of the three scenarios for TO acquiring part of the land:
There are, of course other possibilities, including “do nothing” and “buy it all”.
So that we are moving forward in a way that continues to be consistent with the desires of the community, and in order to narrow down to realistic possibilities, we are asking for
community comment at this time. Your thoughts will help this process along to a
reasonable conclusion. Clarifying questions are welcome, as this paper has skipped over many specifics that you might be interested in knowing.
A Recent “Help Wanted” sign seen in the area:
Wanted: Fun-loving, hard-working people, experienced with group/community governance, ideally current or former F.E.C. members with at least modest funding, who are interested in pursuing land acquisition adjacent to Twin Oaks with the purpose of building, governing, serving and sharing per a variant on the following: (Here’s one vision… far from cast in stone!)
– Ourselves, including our elderly – supporting aging in place as long as possible.
– Our land, including sustainably providing food, energy, recreation and wildlife.
– Our residents and staff who provide the care for the above.
Sharing and caring feels good; growing old, in isolation and pain doesn’t. Living in balance with Nature is essential to survival. A caring and ecologically sensitive community that’s accessible to people of all ages and economic backgrounds sounds like more than a mission statement, it sounds like home.
I hope to build upon the best we’ve learned in community as we prepare to accommodate those that we’ll all become: our elders. If you are interested, please contact Aurora Demarco and Corb Ardrey at: Corb@Virginia.edu.
There are over 23 (non T.O.) people eagerly waiting to read the next installment of the Full Circle update… let’s give them something to talk about!
– Corb Ardrey
Milo McTavish has gone to the other side. He was an extraordinary man.
Over the life of this blog, I have written about him several times. About his work as a wandering electrician and his taste for highland Scotch whiskey. He was part of the crew which started the Karass Inn. And there are several tales we are not allowed to tell about this old friend.
What is well known about him is that he helped out the communities movement a whole bunch in a number of places. I worked occasionally as his travel agent, getting him from worthy project to ambitious startup. He went to Missouri, Colorado, Virginia, Vermont and New York on his nomadic crafts person adventure. Never by plane, mostly by train. He preferred to do things right, but he could always work within the budgets of these sometimes struggling entities. This versatility was a big part of why he was so valuable. All he would ask for, besides our regular room and board was Scotch whiskey.
As important as his work was, Milo will be remembered for his slightly larger than life character. He was a wild card – “a disrupter” long before that term was popular. Cantankerous and boisterous, he always had a story (often of Kenya where he came of age or Her Majesties Merchant Navy) and time to listen to yours. He was also an excellent teacher and shared his skills with numerous communards, some of whom required a fair bit of patience to train. He was a hard-partying, proud pagan. Milo had loud opinions about many a thing and had no fear in telling you how uninformed you were on almost any subject where he knew more than you, which was likely most topics.
Milo was a missionary. He rescued a failing health food coop in Norfolk and managed it with his then-wife Susan. They ran it together for 5 years. He canvassed for the Rain Forest Action Network and CalPIRG. He even worked with the Dolphin Research Lab in Florida. He had been a cop and occasionally on the other side of the law. He complained loudly about what he called “the 3 monos of the world”: Monoculture, Monotheism, and Monogamy.
Milo was often the life of the party. And with his passing, some of that party is gone as well.
But Milo would not want us mourning his passing, he would want us to party harder. There will be one this weekend (12/16) in Norfolk and next weekend (12/23) at the Pizza Stone in Chester, Vermont to remember him. Contact me if you want more details on these events.
[Milo’s family of choice is trying to get in touch with Milo’s Scotish family to inform them of his passing. If you have any leads on this, please contact me by email (paxus at twin oaks dot org) or comment on this blog post.]
All pictures from Rejoice
By Caroline Midden
Greetings, Communards! It’s Caroline from The Midden in Columbus, OH, on a visitor period to Compersia in DC. I’ve been here 11 days, and have been participating in the labor system, exploring the city on foot and by car, wrangling children, and connecting with various other visitors– Sitali, Telos, Mary, and Beaux. Telos arrived a couple days ago, and he and I have been job searching, updating resumes, cooking, and just connecting in general. Yay!
When I first arrived, the house was nearly empty. Peaches, Courtney (and Telos) all went up to the HONK! Festival in Boston along with some other communards, Maximus Cambia and Paxus Twin Oaks. The children were staying elsewhere. Kathryn and her visiting mother Mary took a trip to Dolly Sods for a weekend adventure. GPaul was on a month-long trip to the west coast. I found myself nearly alone after having survived a particularly challenging yoga class, when Jenny emerged in the backyard in a snazzy dress and makeup. She had a date later in the evening, and so we decided to go out to dinner beforehand to talk about membership. I donned a dress and some glitter and we walked to Thip Khao, a Laotian restaurant. The verdict: DELICIOUS. En route we encountered these fantastical huge mushrooms.
While it was just me and Jenny in the house we got to have a couple really good conversations about patriarchy, alpha men and white male privilege in the communities movement, and the damaging and lasting effects that this stuff can have on women. Even when we try to dismantle these systems in an intentional way, we’re so indoctrinated by society that it’s easy to reproduce this shit in our communities without even realizing. Patriarchy isn’t a just a women’s problem, or just a men’s problem. It’s a multilayered system full of subtleties.
Top takeaways: as a woman you’ll often find yourself on the losing end of any proposition. You may not even realize there was a power dynamic until it’s too late. You may end up with more work to do, or you have have surrendered your self-determination into the hands of a man (who may or may not even want to be The Decider!) Don’t beat yourself up about it when you do finally realize. Take notice of how it went down, and look for early warning signs next time. Because there will always be a next time. Refine your ability to notice the nuance, inquire within about your own internalized patriarchy, and choose your actions carefully. There’s no one right way to subvert the patriarchy. Outright refusal to be complicit, gentle on-on-one conversations, banding together to build power together, dancing about it, smashing about it… Creativity counts.
But enough about patriarchy. How about cats?! There are 3 hammocks hanging in the back yard. (Twin Oaks hammocks, obviously.) One night I went out to hang and this lil fluffer joined me for some cuddles. I’m allergic, but really couldn’t resist. A nice moment of decompression after some deep emotional work.
Compersians often appear to be in to costumes from my perspective from under a cape, but I’m told that in fact, there’s a desire to increase costume time. Courtney has been rocking the Wookie costume for a couple days now. I’ve suggested they start an adult costume closet, so they can combine forces and always have ridiculous things to wear. Like Commie Clothes, but Commie Costumes.
Courtney and I had a couple substantial conversations during my time here, one in particular stood out, and included Telos and Kathryn. The conversation was about a phrase we have all heard said by a number of community members, “We want to be an ambitious commune.” At first blush, this struck a number of us oddly. Like, is this Ableism in action? Or is it some domineering work ethic, similar to the one white people imposed on black people in this country for centuries? Why would it be a good thing to be ambitious? Wasn’t Hitler ambitious? So we dug in a little more and expanded and modified the idea. What if it’s not the communards being individually ambitious, but the COMMUNE itself? If the community hones in on it’s ideals and dreams and pursues them relentlessly, can’t that be a good way to be ambitious? For the good of the whole, and not as a competitive individualistic pursuit? More people living communally is a good thing. Let’s pursue that together, with gusto. This is obviously a conversation that has a lot more room to evolve, but this conversation appeared to be a second draft of what it means to “be an ambitious commune.”
On Thursday night, Peaches came home from visiting family in Maine with new ideas for building a swinging bed from the rafters in the living room. (Not gonna happen.) On Friday, GPaul came home from a grand train adventure across the country. The children were clearly happy to have their jungle gym back. (Not pictured: Solomon and his awesome new mohawk.) There’s a new 20-foot shipping container for bike storage, and it’s full of bikes. Which is great! Except we lost the key. So that’s a thing… Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of antics and mayhem from this thriving young urban commune we call Compersia.
The DC Chapter of Point A is moving rapidly towards the birth of the first commune. As we approach the moment of our launch we’re hammering out the foundational mechanics for our group. And arguably the most foundational, most essential policies are for membership and expulsion: how people are included and excluded. Thinking about expulsion is not a fun topic and many democratic and collective groups don’t really think about it. Some (like Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany, apparently) seem to get on just fine for years. For other groups, not having thought much about expulsion eventually causes a conflict to blow up into an explosive crisis and, with an unfortunate frequency, destroy the group.
A community is a web of relationships, and a healthy community reinforces and weaves those relationships thicker and tighter. The complexity and strength of this web is the source of the value and power behind a vibrant community: it brings meaning to our lives, it enriches us socially, and it gives us access to support and assistance when we need it. It can include our closest allies, collaborators, audience, and friends. But it’s the very importance of our community that makes it that much more painful when an assault or serious breach of trust occurs within it. The bigger we are, as it were, the harder we fall.
When a member of our community hurts us or breaks our trust, it is common and reasonable to want them to leave and never come back. Maybe we fear that they’ll hurt us again, or maybe seeing them reminds us of the pain they’ve caused us, or maybe we feel like they’ve broken their side of the social compact and so don’t deserve membership any more. However, in a deep and vibrant community, and especially one with any history, ostracizing a member is messy because inevitably important relationships exist between other members and the perpetrator of the offense, relationships which are not destroyed by the offense. If the aftermath of a serious offense is not handled with sensitivity and care to all sides, it is all too easy for the community to divide into camps and begin to attack itself. If the perpetrator is ostracized and their remaining relationships are not honored, then damage can cascade through the web that is the community. That damage can cause other members to lose their faith in the community’s ability or desire to care for them and frequently results in an exodus of people from all sides of a conflict.
Additionally, although ostracism is sometimes appropriate, it often has the same problem as the throw away society that it resembles: it assumes that there’s an “away” where you can throw people where they won’t do harm (much like we assume there’s an “away” where we can throw trash where it won’t do harm). That’s not always true and if we don’t deal with the root cause of the offense and the perpetrator has not taken on the project of self-reflection and change we want them to then we might just be passing our problem on down the line to the next community they end up in. Similarly, this “throw away justice” assumes that the person who has committed the offense is no longer of value. They are trash and not worth saving.
In light of all this serious thought about the process of expulsion is of obvious value. Especially knowing that often when an offense occurs emotions run high, people are in pain, and quick and skillful action is necessary to prevent harm from spiraling out of control. It can be difficult or even impossible to conceive of, design, and execute such a response if it has not been discussed by the community in advance. When we design such a process, then, there are a few deep questions we need to consider. If we choose to not just get rid of people whenever they harm someone, how do we respond to offenses in a way that takes care of the whole community and leaves us stronger and better people on the other side? When and why is the work to do that beyond our ability and how can we tell? If it is beyond our ability… what do we do then?
from Paxus and Maximus:
By Aurora DeMarco
Sexual assault is a major component of patriarchy.
We are also learning that this problem is not limited to women, but too many men as well are victims of sexual assault. While consent culture is strongly promoted in FEC communities, within the communities movement the problem of power over sexual dynamics so ingrained in us by dominant culture sadly rears its ugly head.
What should communities do when someone abuses another? How can we live our values of restorative justice when we are faced with this issue? How do we make our communities safe? The Federation of Egalitarian Communities uses a method called Self-Examination RESponse (SERES). This process is aimed at helping the perpetrated feel heard and attempts to address their concerns, so that they can feel safe once again in their community.
Ideally it is also used to help the perpetrator understand and remedy their abusive behavior. Part of the problem is that dominant culture does not teach us to how apologize in a way that shows true understanding of the harm that is done. Too often an apology comes off as a deflection and can further make the perpetrated feel gaslighted. More work needs to be done to educate people on how to move beyond simply saying “I am sorry.” We must train ourselves to make apologies that heal the situation. Luckily there are resources available that can guide us. See this: How To Apologize For Sexual Harassment (Hint: It Takes More Than ‘Sorry’).
It is no wonder that communities have trouble navigating these waters when we rarely see good models of taking responsibility when our actions are abusive. Commune Life Blog will be exploring these issues more in depth to encourage a discussion that goes beyond blame and punishment but holds perpetrators accountable while simultaneously helping to get to a healing place for all parties involved.