What Doesn’t Work: The Totally Utopia Community

by Raven

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.

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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.

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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.

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What Doesn’t Work: The Totally Utopia Community

Feminist Think Tank: Past and Future

from The Leaves of Twin Oaks, Spring 2017

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The Feminist Think Tank (FTT) group at Twin Oaks began in fall of 2015 in response to concerns about inter-community boundary-crossing issues. It’s gone through some changes since then and has recently re-formed. Originally, our process team was tasked with looking at the sexual assault and harassment response policy and organized a focus group meeting of women to help guide the process. This group continued to meet and ended up discussing all sorts of feminist issues at twin oaks, gradually inviting some gender-non-conforming folks and men to attend every other meeting. Over time, the group became more focused on events and activism in the community.

In our first year, we accomplished many things:

  • movie showing
  • play reading
  • two consent workshops
  • feminist dance party
  • feminist creek walk
  • reviving monthly women’s tea for female visitors
  • two men’s meetings
  • women’s (and mixed) tool-using workshops
  • introducing the values oreo to the visitor program
  • supporting racial justice at the Women’s Gathering
  • supporting the “visiting our visions” program
  • supporting the zine discussion group
  • publishing an article in geez magazine about living and working together in community despite having differing individual philosophies of feminism
  • sparking conversations with other communards
  • ftt e-mail list to share additional resources, articles, etc
  • bringing together folks from different social circles
  • helping to increase focus on the bylaws on a community-wide scale

As with many regular meetings at Twin Oaks, the original group dwindled in attendance over time due to a variety of reasons (people leaving the community, scheduling conflicts, general attrition, interpersonal conflicts, political differences, etc) and so we decided to revamp the group this past fall 2016. The new incarnation of FTT now meets every two weeks and is open to anyone of any gender who:

  1. Acknowledges the patriarchy exists
  2. Identifies as a feminist or feminist ally, and
  3. Recognizes that patriarchy is at play at Twin Oaks and wants to do something about it

Since re-forming the group, we’ve organized another two consent workshops prior to the 2017 New Year’s Eve party, designed and distributed fingerbooks about consent expectations for the New Year’s Eve party, had several folks participate in the Women’s March on Washington, and have continued to discuss our sexual assault and harassment response policy.

Ideas we have for the future include a consent tea party, consent fingerbook for Validation Day, increasing men’s support around the Women’s Gathering, more feminism 101 programming and educational opportunities, better bridging of issues between Twin Oaks and the outside world, doing more outside activism in order to gain connections and resources, re-inserting Twin Oaks into radical circles, dealing with the perception gap between how men and women see feminism at twin oaks, a feminist discussion group, and more. While Twin Oaks is certainly less sexist than mainstream society, we’re definitely “not utopia yet” and need to continuously strive to improve our culture at twin oaks and the world at large.

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Feminist Think Tank: Past and Future

ESCAPE THE GOLDEN HANDCUFFS

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.     Albert Einstein

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.     Audre Lorde

Aurora1The world has changed so much since I was 20.  I am not only speaking about the internet and gay marriage, which are good things, but rather how it seems harder to find your way socially and economically.  The road to economic security far more bumpy. Alienation is rampant. Workplaces are often dehumanizing and many people hate their jobs. There are many causes of this breakdown in our culture, environmental degradation, wealth inequality, a weakened  labor movement, unbridled capitalism, systemic systems of oppression, government cutback of social services, unsustainable and consumer driven lifestyles.  My generation (I graduated high school in 1981) did not do enough to build communal spirit and tackle key problems.  We gave greed and materialism a pass.

I was lucky enough to be part of a generation that had access to higher education that was affordable. Unlike many of today’s graduates, I did not graduate from college in huge debt. I could choose meaningful work even if it did not pay well. I could travel and choose to live alternatively. Currently, student debt is crippling and thus limits choices after graduation.  From the get go, you have to make money to pay off your school debt.  This is the beginning of the golden handcuffs that force people to work for money rather than to have meaningful occupations.

Aurora5

 

I am not surprised when I meet people in their 20’s (which I do quite frequently since I have a 24 year old daughter) that they are frustrated with their lack of prospects and are often not sure what to do with their lives.  Given my generation’s failure to usher in a world with better prospects, I hesitate to give advice.  Nonetheless, this is what I think: Pursue paths that teach you how to think and live differently. If you can learn one thing, it would be how to radically share resources.  This solves many problems including alienation and economic instability.  Millennials are already choosing to live communally out of necessity.

Egalitarian income sharing communities are models for radical sharing and living in non-hierarchical ways that offer a way of life that gets us away from competition and the scarcity mentality and instead offers a way to learn skills that build cooperative culture.

 

Aurora4a

No one really knows how life will change as the planet heats up, but we do know that we cannot and will not be living in the same unsustainable way we live now. At the very least, we can predict that we will be living with scarcer resources and less mobility.  People will have to work together and share more.  In the future it will be helpful for people to know how to grow their own food and conserve water  People simply cannot be so wasteful.  Conservation and community building will be the key to your happiness.  It will be important to learn to live simply and by that I mean learning to be happy with what you have and getting out of the more is better mentality. Learning to find joy in connecting with others, sitting around having good conversations and working side by side will be the best way forward.

What are the tools for building this way of life?  This is a complicated question that is explored in  Maikwe Ludwig’s upcoming book “Together Resilient” (soon to be released).

 

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College is no longer the only way forward.  I am not even sure it is the best way forward.  (A comical perspective on this assumption.)  Sadly our education system with its emphasis on test scores and competition does not emphasize cooperative culture skills.or the skills needed for a post climate-change world.  Many people leave college having never really learned the skills required for building community the heart of which is cultivating a sense of interdependence and problem solving.  I am not saying everyone should abandon college aspirations, but I do want to offer another way for those who can’t afford or are not drawn to academia.  The life lessons one learns when building and living in community are lessons that are transportable and don’t leave you in a mountain of debt. For more information on income sharing egalitarian communities check out the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.

 

Aurora DeMarco lives and works as a member of Ganas, an intentional community in New York City.  She is also looking to join an FEC community down in Louisa Virginia.  She is 54 years old and a mother of two daughters.

ESCAPE THE GOLDEN HANDCUFFS

Commune Dads Episode 05: Teenage Communards

from Commune Dads, March 22, 2017

Guest commune adolescents Rowan and Evan join adder and Keegan for this lighthearted discussion about the lives of teenagers on a commune and what comes next. They share the unique educational opportunities presented to them, such as classes on pyrotechnics, sign language, and and film studies. In addition, Rowan and Evan point to gaps in their experience living outside the mainstream and there plans to round out their academic and cultural education.

Mentions:

 

Commune Dads Episode 05: Teenage Communards

Laboratories or Modules?

I’ve talked, both on this blog and on my personal blog, about communities as being laboratories for social change.  In communes we get to try out stuff to see what works and doesn’t work.

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Of course, that begs the question of what to do with what works.

I’ve been thinking very hard about three quotations, the first two of which are very similar.

John Gall said this (which is known among system thinkers as Gall’s Law): “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

Kevin Kelly has been saying something very similar: “The only way to make a complex system that works is to begin with a simple system that works.  Attempts to instantly install highly complex organization …without growing it, inevitably lead to failure. … Complexity is created, then, by assembling it incrementally from simple modules that can operate independently.”

Finally, add to these quotes one by Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

This is exactly what we are doing in the egalitarian, income sharing communities–building a new model of a way to live that is sustainable, fair, and fun.  And when you look at the Gall and Kelly quotes, it’s clear that the only way to do this is start small, like at a communal level.  (An example of how not to do this is to take over a large country and try to install a communal system from the top down.  Lenin tried it.  It didn’t work.)

So how do we get from a few little communes to social change?  I’ve already talked a bit about this in my piece on networking.

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But the first step is to grow the movement.  If there are forty communes on the planet now (my complete guesstimate from my piece last week), how could we grow that to eighty (effectively doubling it)?  Why aren’t there more communes?

The problem isn’t that it’s hard to start a commune.  New communities start all the time.  The problem is getting communes to succeed.  As I also said last week, I know of one relatively new commune that is already gone and another two that have basically merged into one (because both weren’t doing well).  I also know of several other communities that are struggling and may or may not make it.

There are three reasons for this.  One, it’s hard to start anything and make it succeed.  The survival rate for communities is similar to the survival rate for new businesses.  Two, this is social change and there’s a reason social change is hard–if it worked it would change society, and there are a lot of vested interests that don’t want that. It’s an uphill battle to build a commune. And, importantly, three is that many folks who try to start communities don’t know what’s really involved. As someone I heard say, they pay attention to the ‘hardware’ (the buildings and land and physical systems–even solar panels and crops) and not to the ‘software’ (the relationships between the people in the community).  And they are surprised when the commune doesn’t work.

All this being said, if we want real change, we are going to have to build a lot more communes.  At this point, we know a lot of what works and doesn’t work.  (If you are thinking of starting a community, I’d suggest you click on the section here on Creating Community and read the articles there.  There’s a lot of wisdom there from people who have done it.)  And I believe that if 90% of new communes will still fail, we are going to need to start a hundred more communes, to get our next ten.

And I think that this is something worth doing, since I believe that egalitarian, income sharing communities are one of the modules for building a new world.

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Laboratories or Modules?

A Year of Communes

by Raven

This is the one year anniversary of this blog.  It means that we’ve had a full year of articles, photoessays, and reprints, all centering on life in egalitarian, income-sharing communities.

Part of the point of this blog was to show some of the variety that exists among the communes, from Twin Oaks, which has almost a hundred people and is going to be fifty years old this year, to Compersia, which is small and just celebrated its first anniversary.

https://paxus.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/twin-oaks-community-sign.jpg?w=660
Someone recently said to me, “Egalitarian, income-sharing communities.  How many are there?  Eight?”  I’ve counted more like eighteen–world-wide–and I feel like that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I know of thirteen US communes, two Canadian ones, as well as one in Spain, one in Germany, and one in Australia–and I keep hearing stories of other ones.

She then said, “So what? Maybe twenty, forty communities world-wide?”  This is true, but the communes are at the far end of the communities movement.  There are thousands of communities of various kinds in the US alone, and perhaps tens of thousands world wide.  But we represent what is possible, the radical end of the sharing and equality spectrum for communities.  The fact that a community has been able to do this with a lot of people for fifty years and going strong, and the fact that there are a bunch of communities doing this with new communities still emerging is important.  Not every community needs to look like this (and it’s okay that only a small percentage do) and, of course, not everyone wants to or should live in a community, but we are showing the world what is actually possible.

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Unfortunately, not all of the eighteen communities that I’ve identified have been featured in Commune Life.  We’ve reached out to all the ones that we know about but sometimes we don’t get replies, or we get responses that they are too busy or they’ll send something “soon” (which probably means eventually).  Communal living, especially in the smaller, newer communes, is really busy and often folks don’t have the time or energy to contribute to this blog.

I am very grateful for all the folks who have taken the time and contributed with articles and pictures.

Also, part of the difficulty of community building is that is doesn’t always work.  At least one community that was featured here (Quercus) is completely gone and another one has moved and took over the land of a different, dying community.  I’m hoping that we can have their stories in here soon.  It’s important to look at what doesn’t work as well as what works.

On Wednesday, we’re going to feature photos from all the communities that have contributed to Commune Life.  I love the fact that we have so many different pictures of communal living.

Finally, Commune Life is also about the projects and organizations that support life on the communes, from the Federation of Egalitarian Communities to the Point A project.  I think it’s important to emphasize that you can find out more about any community or project or communal subject (from aging to the Transition Movement) by clicking on the three lines in the top right hand corner of this blog.  We want this blog to be a useful tool for anyone interested in any aspect of communal living.

I think the most important thing to note is that there’s real people doing communal living.  It’s not some pie in the sky fantasy, but an ongoing endeavor of many people around the world.  On this blog now is a year’s worth of stuff to prove it.
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A Year of Communes