Resilient and Cooperative

by Raven Glomus

It’s book review week again at Commune Life.  Today I want to take the unusual step of reviewing two books that I have only skimmed and partially read because they are connected and one of them was just published.

Both books are by Yana Ludwig (formerly Ma’ikwe Ludwig) although the latest one is co-written with Karen Gimnig.  They are both published by the Foundation for Intentional Community (the FIC, formerly the Fellowship for Intentional Community).  Yana Ludwig lives in the Solidarity Collective, an income-sharing community in Laramie, Wyoming.

The original book that was written is called Together Resilient and is subtitled ‘Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption’.  It talks about the problems we are dealing with as climate change occurs and how we can deal with it.  The author looks at what the Global Ecovillage Network calls the four dimensions of sustainability: worldview, social, economic, and ecological.  (She also mentions Joanna Macy’s “three types of activism”–a model that has been very important to me–Holding Actions, Systems Change, and Worldview Changes.)  Yana Ludwig then goes on to talk about “Community as Experimental Laboratory”, another concept that I have long espoused–she sees communities as places where we can try out and model what we must do to live sustainably.  

As ‘Case Studies’ for the work that she thinks needs to be done, she uses the communities of Dancing Rabbit and Twin Oaks (although she talks about a bunch of other groups, many not residential communities, but some that are, such as the Ecovillage at Ithaca).  As the subtitle of the book says, everything is very related to community living (the subtitle of Chapter 2 is “Community as a Tool to Reduce Carbon Footprints” and Chapter 4 is entitled “Starting a Residential Intentional Community) and there is a section in the book called ‘The Case for Deeper Communalism’ where the author talks about the advantages of income sharing.  She also includes her ‘Spectrums for Intentional Communities’ chart which I think is one of the more useful tools that community seekers and community creators can have.

My biggest complaint about the book is that the author starts relying on a Ken Wilbur color theory where everything evolves toward what he calls ‘yellow’ and the state he calls ‘green’ (the space that many communes and ecocommunities are in) is too extreme.  Yana Ludwig advocates for what she calls ‘hierarchy-lite’.  Her vision of what she calls ‘Sustainable Cooperative Culture’ fits in between ‘Extreme Competitive Culture’ and ‘Extreme Cooperative Culture’.  Somehow I don’t think that being too cooperative is dangerous and feel that this color theory and these spectrums are trying to paint the more radically cooperative elements as extremists and thus justify her approach as more moderate.   Still, I think that it’s a small gripe for a book that pulls in so many useful ideas and approaches.

Throughout the book Yana Ludwig mentions The Cooperative Culture Handbook–which wasn’t actually written until three years later.  It was just published near the end of last year which is why I wanted to get this review out since this book is practically ‘hot off the press’.  

At the beginning of The Cooperative Culture Handbook, the authors talk about how when Yana wrote Together Resilient, “the section on group dynamics and culture kept getting longer” and “After a conversation with her publisher and editor, it was decided that she’d write a second book”.  Yana Ludwig went looking for a writing partner and, after several partners didn’t quite work out, she began working with Karen Gimnig.  This book is the result and it’s subtitled ‘A Social Change Manual to Dismantle Toxic Culture & Build Connection’.

This is basically a book of exercises.  The authors try to balance personal and group work to help folks do the work that they call creating cooperative culture.  They begin each section with an idea that they call a “Culture Key” and then follow each ‘Key’ with two exercises. They emphasize ‘Discernment’, stating clearly that there are no “simple, easy answers”.  They go on to say that no workshop or policy will eliminate conflict and oppression. “If that were so, this would be a much shorter book!”

Most of these exercises look useful.  The book begins with exercises to promote “Skillful Hearing” and ends with exercises designed to look at multiple ideas of how to proceed and to come up with something that is aligned with the group’s collective mission.  The first three ‘Keys’ all come with an exercise drawn from the Imago Dialogue work developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt and there’s a bit more about Imago Dialogue (which apparently is something that Karen Gimnig was very influenced by) in the appendix.  The authors also put diamond symbols in the Contents next to their “favorite general use exercises.”

My only real difficulty that I have with the book (at least from skimming it) is that it again tries to frame certain viewpoints as extreme–this time breaking methods into “Mainstream Culture, Cooperative Culture, and Counter Culture” and saying “we think the pendulum can swing way too far from Mainstream Culture and land us in the pitfalls of Counter Culture.”    As a person who was very much a part of the counterculture of the ‘60s and’70s, I definitely react to this characterization.  Fortunately, they do say in the beginning, as they are talking about all this that they hope “…that you will give yourself and us the grace to set aside pieces that we may have gotten wrong or described badly, or that simply aren’t a fit for you.”  I think that their emphasis on discernment may be their saving grace here.

I’m very glad that I got these two books.  They look very useful for anyone wanting to understand why community is so useful in our current climate catastrophe as well as anyone wanting to build some of the skills needed for group living. If either (or both!) of these two situations describes you, I would definitely recommend these books.


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Resilient and Cooperative

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