Kat Kinkade, the anti-guru: her complex but enduring legacy

by Keenan Dakota

From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” Karl Marx

Kat Kinkade, the founder of three successful communal ventures, who re-defined contemporary utopian theory, and who spearheaded the rebirth of a communal movement, improbably spent her waning years living alone in a small house with just her cats and pet rabbits for company.

Kat Kinkade

I first met Kat in 1982, and remained her friend until her death. On December sixth, the day that would have been Kat Kinkade’s ninetieth birthday, I looked her up online. I knew Kat to be a towering intellect and a complicated person, but the Kat Kinkade that I knew, and the legacy that she has left, were not represented in the articles I found. So I want to try here to take a shot at setting the record straight about Kat Kinkade.

In 1967, at the age of 36, Kat Kinkade didn’t merely want to start a commune where she and her daughter could live, she wanted to build a communal movement. After starting Twin Oaks, she founded the magazine, Leaves of Twin Oaks. She edited Communities Magazine and made sure that Twin Oaks kept the magazine afloat by putting in a great deal of money and labor until, many years later, it eventually became self-sustaining. Communities Magazine annually produced a Directory of Communities—the sole reference source for seekers looking for intentional communities. Later, Communities Magazine went online, creating the web site ic.org, still the go-to informational center of the global intentional communities movement.

Kat wrote and published two books, A Walden Two Experiment, and Is it Utopia Yet, about the founding and evolution of Twin Oaks Community. Twin Oaks held the first communities conference a year after getting started. This enduring yearly event (between 100 and 200 participants each non-covid year) has been the birthplace of dozens of additional communal ventures. Kat helped found the network of income-sharing communities, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That organization provided the inspiration, template, and early staff for the much larger, more expansive communal network, the Foundation for Intentional Community.

Kat Kinkade approached her movement building with missionary zeal. Her mission: a society based upon absolute equality. Kat meant to forge a model of society that would manage to defy the central failure of societies world-wide—the gravitational tendency of wealth to concentrate; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. So, how do you know if a society has attained equality?

Equality in a community is a relationship structured so that no member envies another. Simple. [Equality creates]a general feeling of fairness, a logical first step in the pursuit of happiness.

(Kat in “Journal of a Walden Two Commune,” from “Walden House Newsletter,” Aug, 1966, p. 14)

My attitude to every request for special privilege was always the same: “Why you?” In other words, what is there about you that makes you deserve to have more than other people? …

I was known as a hard-nosed egalitarian, and this is one of the reasons people called me “very idealistic.”

(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 46-50)

Kat read the novel, Walden Two, about a fictional utopian society written by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner. She became inspired, and wasted no time gathering a small handful of other idealists who saw this book as a how-to manual for starting an actual utopian community.

Even as those first eight pioneers unloaded their bags from a van in June of 1967, adherents arrived, eager to join, but, over the coming years, the community chose, to Kat’s enduring disappointment, to put new applicants on a wait list, allowing the community to grow only at a modest pace. In a few years, frustrated that her cohorts lacked appropriate enthusiasm for growth, Kat left Twin Oaks and founded East Wind community. Kat Kinkade’s goal was to gather up all of those eager young people seeking community being turned away by Twin Oaks and to quickly grow East Wind to several hundred members. Kat drafted East Wind’s initial policies in order to welcome open membership as a means to spur growth. Kat’s stated ambition was for the community to grow to 1,000 members. Yet, as East Wind stabilized at around fifty or so members, contentiousness escalated. Rather then fostering tolerance, strife from open membership caused the community to change direction, slow growth, and become more selective.

Disappointed yet again, Kat Kinkade left East Wind. Eventually, Kat rejoined Twin Oaks where, twenty years later, as Twin Oaks had a growing wait list, Kat set about starting her third communal experiment, Acorn community, essentially an anti-Twin Oaks, and an anti-East Wind. No longer focused on rapid growth, Acorn would remain small. There would be more commitment to interpersonal connection, less focus on written policy. At Acorn, financial rules would be looser than at Twin Oaks, so people could meet individual needs more easily.

All three communities, Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn continue to thrive today.

Although all founded at different times and having differing premises, among these different communities there are structural commonalities:

–A commitment to financial and political equality among all members—no class divide.

–The structure of the community is a corporation. The corporation owns everything. No individual’s name is on anything—not a house, a plot of land, or even a car—therefore, no one person will control decisions.

–Equity accrues to the community—no draining of communal coffers for personal pay-outs if (when) members leave.

–In case of dissolution of the community, communal assets are not divided up among the members—no temptation to dismember the community once it becomes financially successful.

–Labor is valued equally—no tendency to develop a professional elite. This type of labor ideology also recognizes as valuable work that in other societies is devalued and done by the disempowered—often a racial minority, or women, or immigrants, or children—or all of the above.

–Members accepted on the basis of their ability to work and get along with others—no purchasing membership privileges.

Keenan and Kat

Kat Kinkade and I were, bizarrely, both in the same visitor group at Twin Oaks, applying for membership in 1982. Kat was returning from her stint living “in the wilderness” after leaving East Wind. (The wilderness, in this case, was Boston.) While living at Twin Oaks, Kat did not hold back on expressing her disappointment at the many failures of the community. I was surprised to hear the founder disagreeing with the entire premise of the community that she founded, and where she was living.

Part of my disillusionment came from watching the worst aspects of communism in action. I saw a larger and larger part of the community sitting around on the front steps of the dining hall smoking cigarettes and drinking their wake-up coffee at 11 in the morning, and heard them ridicule as “workaholics” the people who made the money and kept the organization together. There was gross exploitation, but in reverse. The proletariat was exploiting the manager.

Particular personalities are watchdogs to make sure that nobody else gets more than them. I just loathe this trait. So little by little I thought, “This is not merely an ugly trait in a particular individual.” Our rigid equality sanctifies envy. You know what I said when we first started this community back in 1967? I wrote, “Equality in our community is that state in which no one member envies another.

(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 87-89)

It took me about seven years and a fair amount of self-examination, as well as observation of the people I lived with, to discover some unsettling things about my equality theory. People will and do work for the common good…when the Community desperately needs to have a great deal of work done in a hurry, it relies about ninety percent on good will, personal conscience, the labor system, and community feeling…if we’re going to get the other ten percent, we need to add an incentive program of some kind, some method by which added effort gets added reward. I have learned that personal gain is, not a stronger motivation than the good of the Community, but a more reliable one. I no longer preach absolute equality. I live…a rough equality that doesn’t create gross differences or engender severe envy. Give people a little chance to serve themselves on the side, and they will give heartily out of their core efforts for the group.

(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 46-50)

Kat, in her later years, tried to gently moderate the extreme egalitiarianism embodied in Twin Oaks’ policies—the very policies that, years earlier, she had drafted. Kat, as a community planner, created communal labor budgets that allowed people to write music, articles, books and plays—as well as to perform music and plays. Kat was part of a group that re-worked the labor system to allow more individual flexibility (Members who worked more hours each week would gain more freedom from labor constraints.) Kat established a committee that offered labor and money grants to individual members for their personal hobbies or needs. To allow people to travel, Kat created a seniority-based vacation fund. Kat supported the community in creating an income incentive program that allowed a member or groups of members to work “off the system” for money to fund personal and group projects.

However, Twin Oaks was populated by idealists why had been drawn to Kat’s earlier writings about absolute equality—many had not kept up with Kat’s own evolving ideology. Each of Kat’s proposed “liberalizing” policies was approved only over resistance, or allowed only on a temporary, experimental basis. As Kat lost political influence these policies were re-examined, cut back, or canceled completely. Currently at Twin Oaks, every one of these policies that Kat favored has been undone.

Kat Kinkade eventually just wanted to live on her own. In 2005, at the age of 74, she moved into a small house near Twin Oaks, paid for by her daughter. Soon after that Kat was diagnosed with cancer. In 2007, once she began to seriously decline, Kat moved back to Twin Oaks, and died in July of 2008. Her daughter, Josie, a doctor, said that her Mom received Rolls Royce care those final months at Twin Oaks.

Online these days, uninformed critics of communal living refer to Kat Kinkade as a guru—they paint a fearsome picture of her as a domineering presence. Kat provided leadership, but she did not have the traits typically associated with a guru. She started a new community and, once it was on its feet, she left. By this means, Kat ensured that other leaders emerged, overcoming the problem of “founder’s syndrome.” Kat did not feel threatened when members aspired to leadership, rather, she sought out and encouraged leadership in others. Far from being the keeper of the ideological light, Kat was often critical of whatever community she lived in, this granted space for other members to step forward as the public face of the community. Kat actively disliked acolytes. She gave short shrift to anyone who could not engage in a lively intellectual debate—she was pleased by members who could cogently disagree with her.

Being willing to actually change her mind was the key attribute of Kat’s that allowed her to be so effective. Kat believed in honestly looking at her own beliefs—even deeply held beliefs—to see if they held up in the light of new information. Kat believed in trying things out—experimenting—then examining and accepting the results of those experiments. Because Kat Kinkade grounded her actions and policies in reality-based information, what she created endures—three thriving communities and a thriving communal movement. Thank you, Kat.

Kat Kinkade, the anti-guru: her complex but enduring legacy

Come Hell or High Water

by Raven Glomus

The two previous book reviews this week (books on sustainable community and collaborative groups) focused on books written about how to do collaborations (including communes and communities) well.  Today I want to review a book about what not to do.  It’s called Come Hell or High Water and is subtitled “a handbook on collective process gone awry”.  It’s published by AK press–“one of the world’s largest and most productive anarchist publishing houses”–that also publishes a bunch of other interesting books (including adrienne maree brown’s book on Emergent Strategy which I based two blog posts here on).

As the cover illustrates, this is a funny, cynical book that has a bunch of cartoons illustrating some frustrating problems.  It also has a lot of hard won lessons about how all these wonderful processes that we talk about here and which other commune building guides extol can go terribly wrong.  It’s written by a couple of anarchists who believe strongly in “egalitarian collectives” but have seen the pitfalls in the process and have looked at ways that form what the authors term “predictable patterns” that can lead well-meaning groups to things like “hierarchy, mistrust, looking out only for oneself, and sometimes even underhanded scheming.”  

Although this is a modest sized book (and a quick read–127 small pages) Delfina Vannuchi and Richard Singer look carefully at issues like misusing consensus, how not to do power sharing, the difference between politeness and kindness, character assassinations and banning, justice and due process and free speech, and how vagueness can lead to authoritarianism.

I’ve seen reviews of this book that complain that this book is overly ‘pessimistic’.  However, I think that it provides a nice counterbalance to all the books on the wonderful things you can do with group process.  (See my two previous reviews this week.)  The cartoons are also a nice touch that makes the emphasis on problems easier to take.

The authors end the book with a section that they entitle “There’s hope” where they talk about how “Virtually all problems in collectives can be overcome by applying compassion, and by being thorough and even-handed in our thinking.”  Sounds lovely but not easy to do, especially when things are tough.  

Here’s the last paragraph in the book, which is a nice summary of their thinking:

“An egalitarian collective is meant to accept and incorporate differences and heterogeneity.  The task is to create a productive, relatively peaceful community out of all the different and sometimes contradictory personalities that form the group.  No collective will ever be a perfect picture of unity, but it doesn’t have to be.  A working collective is more like a crazy-quilt of disparate styles, all stitched up by a common thread.  Frayed edges and all, that’s what a functional egalitarian collective looks like.”

It’s a nice reminder for people living in or trying to build communes.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:

Aaron Michels

Brenda Thompson

Cathy Loyd

Colby Baez

Heather

Janey Amend-Bombara

Jenn Morgan

Joseph A Klatt

Kai Koru

Kate McGuire

Kathleen Brooks

Lynette Shaw

Magda schonfeld

Michael Hobson

Montana Goodman

Nance & Jack Williford

NorthernSoul Truelove

Oesten Nelson

Peter Chinman

Raines Cohen

Sasha Daucus

Suzi Tortora

Tobin Moore

Twin Oaks

Warren Kunce

William Croft

William Kadish

William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Come Hell or High Water

The Empowerment Manual

by Raven Glomus

Starhawk is a witch and a political activist and a permaculture teacher and the author or co-author of thirteen books.  She has also lived in a collective household in the Bay Area for decades.  In 2011 she wrote The Empowerment Manual, which she subtitles “A Guide for Collaborative Groups”.

Starhawk

I think that this is an incredibly useful book.  While Starhawk points out that there are many different types of what she calls collaborative groups, which are any group of people who are working together for common goals that are decentralized and egalitarian, she definitely includes communities in the mix.  One theme through the book is a fictional story that she tells about “an imaginary cohousing community”.  She uses this story to illustrate many of her points.  Unfortunately, I think the story is one of the weaker point of the book (I think that it’s both hokey and a bit soap opera-ish)  although it does provide useful examples of what she’s talking about sometimes.

The Empowerment Manual has whole chapters on group vision, power and responsibility, communication and trust, “Leadership Roles for Leaderless Groups”, conflict, and, particularly useful, “Dealing with Difficult People”. Information is interspersed with exercises to practice or use what she talks about.  There are two tables of contents, the second labeled “Table of Questions and Exercises”, so you can easily find some of the more useful exercises.

Starhawk ends the book with a chapter focusing on “Groups that Work” so you can see actual examples of successful collaborations.  After looking at three such groups (a cooperative grocery store, the 1999 Seattle blockade, and her own Reclaiming collective) she finishes by listing what she calls ‘Lessons from Success’.  I think that the points that she makes here are so useful for communes and communities that I am going to quote a few paragraphs.  (Italics are in the original.)

Ideals and values are important; they are the guiding force that drives people to organize together and work together.  But groups that survive find ways to balance the ideal with the pragmatic needs of the moment.  They are flexible, rather than rigid, and accepting rather than judgemental.  They value diversity rather than orthodoxy, problem-solving over toeing a party line.

Successful groups balance unity with autonomy.  They have a bias toward freedom and impose the minimal structure necessary.  But they do have structure and often hold a unifying vision and set of core values.

Collaborative groups that last over time reinvent themselves periodically.  They may need to  change their structure, organization and ways of working as they grow and develop.  They are not static, but dynamic, not artifacts, but living organisms.”

I think that, not only anyone who wants to start a community, but anyone who thinks that their community has begun to stagnate, should read this book full of both good ideas and useful processes.

Next, so what could go wrong?  On Friday, a book that looks at that.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:
 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Colby Baez
  • Heather
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Kai Koru
  • Kate McGuire
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • NorthernSoul Truelove
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Twin Oaks
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

The Empowerment Manual

My Hopes for 2021

by Raven Glomus

Welcome to 2021!  The year 2020 is officially over.  One of my commune mates pointed out that nothing really changes as the calendar year rolls over, but there’s a lot of symbolism, especially this past year when so many (mostly not good things) happened all at once.

I will try to focus on commune related things in listing my hopes, but the coronavirus has had a major impact on the communes, and will need to be dealt with.  My first and biggest hope for this year is that, with folks getting vaccinated, we may be able to move somewhat beyond having to deal with the repercussions of the pandemic.  In terms of this happening, I’ve heard everything from late spring, to the summer, to sometime in the fall.  This will mean a lot for the communes.

The only good thing out of all this is that I think that the pandemic has increased interest in communal living.  It’s also made it hard to join communities.  So when some of the pandemic restrictions are lifted, I am very hopeful that many of the communes, which are at low populations now, will be able to bring in some good folks and increase their membership.

I also hope that this encourages some folks to decide to actually create communities.  There’s certainly enough interest in it–maybe with restrictions being lifted, some folks will decide to just do it.  I know that I am often discouraging of people simply starting communities, but if someone is really willing to begin the work (and a lot of this work is outlined on the blog) and reaches out and knows others who are also interested–and especially if they have some communal living experience, goodness knows we need more communes.  And I believe that if 90% of new communes fail, and we want to get at least ten new communes up and running, we’re going to need to start a hundred communes to get there, so I am actually in favor of folks starting communes, particularly if they are willing to do the research and networking they will need to do.

A big, pandemic related, hope for this year is that if the restrictions can be eased on time, there can be the usual August gatherings at Twin Oaks this summer.  I have never been to the Queer Gathering and I was planning to go last year but TO canceled all three gatherings.  My hope for this summer is that the Queer Gathering and the Women’s Gathering and the Communities Conference can all happen again.  I mentioned networking earlier and these are all great networking events.  If they happen (I hope, I hope, I hope they do) I would strongly encourage anyone interested in communal living to attend at least the Communities Conference, and if you identify as queer, the Queer Gathering, and if you identify as a woman, the Women’s Gathering.

Another hope for this year is that the communes continue to look at and figure out how to embrace racial justice, whether that’s by figuring out how to become more diverse or by figuring out how to support communities of color.  For horrible reasons, there was a large upswelling of interest in this over the course of 2020.  My hope is that this wasn’t another political phase but the beginning of some sustained work in all of our communities.

And my final hope for this new year is that folks find fun in all of this.  A lot of 2020 was grim and we have a lot of work to do, building back community membership, creating new communities, and continuing to work on racism (and classism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and creating access for people with disabilities and…) and that we find a way to be joyful and even playful in all this because we will never attract anyone if we are all too damn serious.

What are your hopes for 2021?

My Hopes for 2021

ic.org: A Review

by Raven Glomus

I said that I wanted to review stuff other than books this week.  So far I’ve reviewed an academic article and a deck of cards.  Today I want to look at a website: ic.org, the website of the Foundation for Intentional Communities (aka the FIC).  If you are interested in any type of community, from communes to cohousing, or any aspect of community living, this is an incredible resource.

The first and perhaps most important aspect of the website is the online Communities Directory.  (There is also a print version of The Communities Directory, published by the FIC.)  This is the best known and probably most utilized part of the website, but it is so important to know about, particularly if you are looking to join a community.  You can look up communities by location of country and state or province or you can look up communities by type (including ecovillages, cohousing, communes, co-ops–including student co-ops, and spiritual communities–including Jewish communities and Christian communities).  This is also an important resource if you already have a community and want to list it–particularly if you are looking for folks.

But I also want to point out some of the other resources that they offer–that even frequent users of ic.org (particularly for the Communities Directory) might not know about or think of. 

First of all, since I was reviewing books here a few weeks ago, the website has what used to be called the Communities Bookstore.  They offer all sorts of useful books including two sets of books culled from some of the best articles in Communities magazine: The Wisdom of Communities and The Best of Communities.  (The FIC used to publish Communities magazine until last year.  Unfortunately, they lost a lot of money.  Now the magazine is published by GEN-US –the Global Ecovillage Network – United States.)  Three of the books that I reviewed (the two by Diana Leafe Christian and The Token by Crystal Byrd Farmer) are featured–by links, because they are better purchased directly from the authors and the ic.org folks assist you in doing that.  But they also offer books on ecovillages, group facilitation, a book called The Encyclopedic Guide to American Intentional Communities, and, of course, The Communities Directory.  

Plus, beyond books, they have a section devoted to videos and virtual events.  And, perhaps best of all, they have a couple of pages listing ‘free resources’ that they offer.

They also have a store resource directory that organizes the resources by category, starting with Finding Community, Creating Community, and Living in Community, with several subcategories under each.

Plus,they have a list of classified ads (including from communities actively looking for folks), a list of events, and a section with ways to get more involved.  The Foundation for Intentional Communities that manages all this is still struggling financially, so (particularly if you are a frequent user) perhaps you should become a member and put in a little cash that way, or at least buy some of the books through their online store.  

This website is an amazing resource so if you are even slightly interested in communes or other communities, I think you should take advantage of it–and support the folks who are doing it.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:
 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Colby Baez
  • Heather
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Kai Koru
  • Kate McGuire
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • NorthernSoul Truelove
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Twin Oaks
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

ic.org: A Review

Finding and Creating Community: A Review

by Raven Glomus

Diana Leafe Christian has written two books that are often found on the shelves of many community folks and are very useful for anyone interested in community.  The first, and oldest, is called Creating a Life Together (subtitle Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities); the second is just called Finding Community (How to join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community).

As you might guess, Creating a Life Together is about how to create and build communities, Finding Community is about how to find and join the community that is right for you.  Both books are filled with useful and practical information.  Obviously, if you only want to get or borrow one, whether you want to try to start a community or just join an existing one should determine which book you look at, but if you are just interested in the subject of community, they are both useful.

A warning, however, for commune interested folks.  Diana Leafe Christian is not overly fond of income sharing communities.  In her first book, Creating a Life Together, she devotes all of one very long paragraph to “income-sharing economies”.  She points out that “Relatively few communities do income-sharing…”  In Finding Community, the more recent book, she devotes a whole chapter to Income-Sharing Communes.  Here she starts off by saying that “About ten percent of intentional communities in North America… are income-sharing communes.”  Later in the chapter she asks the question, “Why Are Income-Sharing Communities so Well Known?”  She mentions that “income-sharing communitarians tend to be activists, if not enthusiastic proselytizers, for their radically non-competitive way of life.”  (Doesn’t she sound a bit annoyed?)  But even here, she tries to give good information and points out that income-sharing communities will appeal to people who have a passion for economic justice, want to learn a variety of new skills, and are comfortable with living simply; conversely, they are not likely to appeal to folks that are interested in financial autonomy and independence or who are looking for a greater degree of comfort or amenities.

As I said, the books offer a lot of useful and practical advice.  I will pass along two of my favorite pieces of wisdom.  The first, from Creating a Life Together, is a warning about “‘Magical Thinking’ and the Anti-Business Attitude”.  Her point is that if you are trying to create a community, no matter what you think about our legal system and our corporate culture, you can’t form a community in this society unless you deal with the financial and legal aspects for the way that they are (and really and carefully learn the pieces), and don’t try to pretend that they are the way that we might want them to be.

The other is a quote that I love which she uses for the title of her closing chapter in Finding Community.  She attributes it to Zev Paiss.  “Community–the longest, most expensive, personal growth workshop you will ever take!”  It is true that community is less expensive in income-sharing communities–but sometimes (as she points out in several places) they are even more intense.  This is a good warning for anyone who hasn’t looked carefully at the pros and cons of communal living.  The ideals are great, but the price might well be higher than you might expect.

I’m not saying that you should run out and buy these books, but if you are seriously interested in community, I suspect that you should also have one–or both!–of them on your bookshelf.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:

Aaron Michels

Brenda Thompson

Cathy Loyd

Colby Baez

Heather

Janey Amend-Bombara

Jenn Morgan

Joseph A Klatt

Kai Koru

Kate McGuire

Kathleen Brooks

Lynette Shaw

Magda schonfeld

Michael Hobson

Montana Goodman

Nance & Jack Williford

NorthernSoul Truelove

Oesten Nelson

Peter Chinman

Raines Cohen

Sasha Daucus

Suzi Tortora

Tobin Moore

Twin Oaks

Warren Kunce

William Croft

William Kadish

William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Finding and Creating Community: A Review

When do you dissolve a commune?

I asked this somewhat provocative question on Facebook, but with a real purpose. Unfortunately, many and perhaps most communities that are formed don’t make it. When is is time to pull the plug?

We got a bunch of comments–here’s most of them, including mine (Raven’s) and the reply that I made to someone who I chose to see as not understanding why I wrote this.

When do you dissolve a commune?

If it’s about relationships…

by Raven Glomus

In early September, I had just reprinted on Facebook the piece I wrote here about the importance of relationships. I was looking for something to write the next day and decided to ask it as a question:

I got several comments and here are some of them. I particularly like the last one.

“You build relationships by showing up, even when it’s hard.” Yes, indeed.

If it’s about relationships…

Emergent Community–Part Two

by Raven Glomus

This is the second part of a piece focusing on how adrienne maree brown’s six elements from her book, Emergent Strategy, apply to commune building.  My last piece focused on commune building as Fractal, Interdependent and Decentralized,and Non-Linear and Iterative.  Here I will focus on why we need to build communes to be Adaptive, Resilient and Transformative, and in a way that Creates More Possibilities.

In Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown talks about Intentional Adaptation–that is adaptation with intention.  She refers to this process as “how we change”.  And communities need to be open to change and changing.  A community that can’t change, dies.  But any community that simply goes with whatever changes happen isn’t going to last long either.  The key, as amb puts it, is to have an intention, a goal or end point in mind, and to make sure that any changes, whatever adaptation we do, keeps us moving toward that goal.   And in order to have that goal, a community needs to have a vision–what is it that we want to move toward?  And, as we encounter each place that we need to change, the community needs to ask itself, what changes will move us closer to our vision?  What changes will move us away?  This is an ongoing process, because we will always need to keep changing and we don’t want our vision to be static.  We need to keep dreaming (collectively) of where we want to be and keep updating our vision and our goals as we go through each change.

This is very related to the next element, Resilience, which adrienne maree brown refers to as “how we recover and transform”.  Some of the changes we will encounter may be relatively simple, but sometimes a commune will encounter things that are more challenging and may cause real problems for the community and sometimes within the community.   We may need to do more than adapt, we may need to recover from traumatic disruptions.  We may need to collectively heal.  We may need to change in ways that transform the commune. The question always is, how can we transform the community in ways that are of service to our vision?  In the book, adrienne maree brown talks about the principles of Transformative Justice to keep in mind as we make the changes that we need in order to heal the community. She quotes Shira Hassan, “In order to resist one size fits all justice, we have to resist the idea that every process looks the same.”  I love amb’s advice here: “Relinquish Frankenstein.  You are not  creating people to be with, or work with, some idealized individuals made of perfect parts of personality… Stop trying to make and fix others, and instead be curious about what they have made of themselves.”  Communes aren’t made of perfect folks, they are made of flawed people struggling to build something together.  Again, quoting adrienne maree brown, we need to “Commit to being in each other’s lives, and doing whatever is needed to ensure that in the long term.”  What great community building advice!

Her final element, and I believe perhaps the most important, is that we work toward “Creating More Possibilities.”  This is why I am so happy that there are so many different flavors of communes out there and only wish there were more.  If we see community building as a way to explore social change, we need to acknowledge that we are not trying to build a perfect alternative.  Rather, we are trying to build many different alternatives, with the realization that no one way works for everyone.  Certainly income-sharing communities aren’t the only way to go, but even among communes, there should be differences and there should be support for folks trying even more new things.  There is a reason so many of us love rainbows–all those different colors existing together.  As we create a communities movement, as we support organizations such as the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and the Foundation for Intentional Communities,  we are building the small scale version of the world we want (going back to amb’s Fractal element), one in which there are many different possibilities and we are working to create more.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:

 Aaron Michels

Brenda Thompson

Cathy Loyd

Colby Baez

Heather

Janey Amend-Bombara

Jenn Morgan

Joseph A Klatt

Kai Koru

Kate McGuire

Kathleen Brooks

Lynette Shaw

Magda schonfeld

Michael Hobson

Montana Goodman

Nance & Jack Williford

NorthernSoul Truelove

Oesten Nelson

Peter Chinman

Raines Cohen

Sasha Daucus

Suzi Tortora

Tobin Moore

Twin Oaks

Warren Kunce

William Croft

William Kadish

William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Emergent Community–Part Two

Emergent Community–Part One

by Raven Glomus

I have been reading (and re-reading) adrienne maree brown’s wonderful book, Emergent Strategy.  I have often said that I see intentional communities (especially income-sharing communities) as laboratories for social change.  What adrienne maree brown lays out in her book is that she sees six elements involved in social change (based partly on her reading of Octavia Butler’s ideas in Parable of the Sower).  According to her, change is Fractal, Adaptive, Non-Linear and Iterative, Resilient and Transformative (as in Transformative Justice), Interdependent and Decentralized, and Creates More Possibilities.

I want to look at how these elements apply to the building of communes as well as seeing communes as part of a social change strategy.  In this first part, I’ll focus on three of these elements, seeing commune building as Fractal, Interdependent and Decentralized,and Non-Linear and Iterative.  I will look at the remaining three elements in my next piece.

Let me start with the fractal nature of commune building.  When adrienne maree brown uses the term ‘fractal’, she defines it as “the relationship between small and large.”  She points out that “How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale.”  This is exactly what I mean by communities as social change laboratories.  In building communes, we try to create on a small scale the world that we wish to see.  The end doesn’t justify the means, the means reflects the end goal.  My point about communities as laboratories is that through them we get to test out, on a small scale, what works and doesn’t work for the world that we want to build.  The communes are egalitarian, because we want to build a society based on equality.  We share so much, because we believe that sharing can improve the world.

Interdependent and decentralized is a very apt description of the commune world–including the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.  Communes are not this monolithic entity.  There is no central communal authority.  The communes are each worlds unto themselves, networked together by the relationships between them.  We like having dozens of different flavors of community..  Rather than trying to have one way to build a commune, we have many different communes and each is responsible for itself–and we are also responsible for each other, since we see how we are connected.  It makes accountability tricky, since the ultimate authority resides in the individual community but, because we are connected and interdependent, we also have some leverage with each other.

I used this particular order for the elements (not exactly the order that adrienne maree brown puts them in, although they are in a slightly different order in the two places in the book where she lists them), because I think this is the most useful order for community building.  First you want to think about where you are heading (building something that reflects the world that you want to see) and then realize that what we are building needs to be decentralized and interdependent.  The third element comes in as you build community–the process is non-linear and iterative.  

I think that this may be the most important thing to realize.  It’s not a straight line path at all.  You may plan to build community in a certain way and then you realize that things start falling into place, but hardly in the order you anticipated.  You will soon find out that you can’t control the process.  I love the term ‘emergent strategy’ because emergent phenomena come as they will, not as you want.  Perhaps the most important part to realize is that saying it is iterative is to say that you will find yourself doing the same thing, again and again and again.  And then it happens again.  You may think that you are going in circles, but often it’s more like spirals.  It may seem like you are back in the same place but you are actually a level higher.  If it sounds like it might be frustrating, you are beginning to understand the process of commune building.  As Katarzyna Gajewska pointed out in her post about Community and Techie Fallacy, building a commune is not anything like building a bridge.  You can’t just draft some plans and build it, step by step.  You need to be prepared for some amount of chaos, the whole process through.

In my next post, I will look at the final three elements as pointing out how communities need to be.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Heather Alexander
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Kate Mcguire
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda Schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Emergent Community–Part One