The Importance of the Right Allies–Serenity Community

by Paxus Calta

from Your Passport to Complaining

When the nation was exploding in protests over the murder of George Floyd, some skeptics, perhaps tired of the nations inability to hold Trump for any of his many crimes, said “these protests won’t change anything”.  They were wrong.

Viewers of mainstream news could be forgiven for thinking the big effects were removal of confederate statues and the confederate symbol from the flag of Mississippi and NASCAR races.  And i fear the biggest effect of the Trump presidency is that many news sources now focus more on telling us what we will get upset about, rather than what is actually important.  

The Floyd uprising changed policing in America.

However this short list misses most critical reforms and changes, many of which took place shortly after Floyd was murdered.  Some terrible laws were cancelled, including A 50 in New York which protected criminal bad cops by hiding their disciplinary records and complaints filed against them.  Colorado stripped cops of qualified immunity. LA cut over $150 million from the police budget and redirected it to other community services.  Over a dozen police chiefs were forced to resign, including in large cities like Atlanta, Tucson, Richmond and Louisville.  Police chiefs almost never resign suddenly or are fired.  Letitia James, the Attorney General of NY State made history by being the first AG to sue their own police department for use of excessive force.  At one point, i started to track all the things which had actually changed because of this uprising, it ended up being overwhelming by it and i quit.

Serenity Community – circa summer 2021

The communes also changed.  There were disruptive internal protests at these intentional communities about systemic racism and there was a lot of education of white communards about how despite their best intentions they were maintaining racist systems.  And in part because of these internal  protests POC members of communes started more seriously considering options which had only been discussed before.  Importantly, a number of BIPOC community members realized there was a need for a  BIPOC led income sharing community near the cluster of communes in Louisa county.  And so Serenity Community was born.  

OG Serenity

While Serenity (taken for the name for the starship in the Firefly TV series) is still forming, it is already making good things happen.  One of the things we are especially excited about is that Serenity has taken on the difficult task of dispersing scholarship (discount) tickets for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks who need economic assistance to come to QuinkFair.  Recently, has also agreed to take on the granting of scholarship tickets to other economically disadvantaged participants.  

And while they have been actively dispersing scholarship tickets, there are still more people who want to come to this event than can afford it. If you could help grow these scholarship funds it would be quite helpful.  If you are on Facebook, you can donate at this fundraiser or you can venmo 541-505-0803, be sure to include a note “QuinkFair Scholarships”

George Floyds death forced America to admit it had a systemic racism problem and while these important changes are to be lauded, we know the real work lies in front of us, but i am glad and excited to have the talented and energetic Serenity folks help in crafting a more fair and equitable world.

The Importance of the Right Allies–Serenity Community

Dealing with Debt

by Raven Glomus

Last week I talked about how the older communes didn’t seem to have thought about the fact that most people don’t stay forever in communities and that you wouldn’t want it to be hard to leave an income sharing community–and the problems that caused, and how the newer communes created Exit Agreements to deal with that.  This week I want to talk about another issue that the older communes didn’t want to deal with: Debt. 

In my made up story to illustrate the need for exit agreements, I said that the homeless man had no money but no debt.  That would be an unusual situation.  Actually, a lot of folks come to the communes with a little money and a lot of debt.  Twin Oaks’ solution to this is to say that folks either have to not pay the debt (ie, default on it or declare bankruptcy) or not move into the community.  At one of the newer communities, at least in one case, the solution was to actually pay off all of the debt for one of the members.

This is a more expensive solution and probably wouldn’t work in one of the larger communities.  It also probably wouldn’t work if the community had a lot of folks with lots of debts.  But it does illustrate a more radical solution to the debt problem.

The problem is that our current society runs on debt.  Student loans alone constitute an enormous amount of debt. It turns out that this past year, US students owed nearly $1.6 trillion in debt.  Furthermore, nearly 12 million student loan borrowers were in either loan deferment, loan forbearance, or loan default. 

And then there is credit card debt.  The outstanding total US personal debt, most of which was credit card debt, reached $998.4 billion in July 2021.  There was a $5,525 average balance on credit cards over this year.  Once you are in debt, it’s hard to get out of it.  Defaulting on loans when you enter a commune is one solution (and it makes sense as a way of just getting out of an horrible system), but when you figure a lot of communards are going to leave the commune at some point, starting over could be very difficult with bill collectors on your back.

Again, I realize that simply paying off debt for every member with it probably wouldn’t work in the long run.  But, just like the new communes needed to come up with new policies to deal with folks leaving, such as Exit Agreements, we need to figure out more possible solutions to folks in debt–because there’s a lot of them out there and, if communities are going to offer real alternatives, dealing with debt is something, especially for those who are trying to start new communities and find folks, that is going to have to be built into the new community’s policies.

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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
Paxus Calta
Peter Chinman
Raines Cohen
Sasha Daucus
Suzi Tortora
Tobin Moore
Warren Kunce
William Croft
William Kadish
William Scarborough

Thanks! 
Dealing with Debt

What do you do for a living?

Theresa (aka teiresiaskadish) lives at Glomus Commune–and also on the internet. She has made dozens of TikTok videos–many of which have had hundreds of thousands of views (the one below has had 108K views according to TikTok). I intend to publish a bunch of these, that are at least somewhat related to communal living, over the next bunch of Wednesdays. I particularly like this one where Theresa replies to someone who asked her what she did for a living. It’s a great response that reflects the reality of living in community.

@teiresiaskadish

Answer to @deecy123 – My living is living with others and caring about their lives is my work #community #commune #empathy #work #emotionallabor

♬ Harmonium – Bruitages
What do you do for a living?

Exit Agreements

by Raven Glomus

This is in many ways a follow-up to what I wrote last week about ‘Turnover’.  A problem is that many of the early communities, and especially the communes, didn’t anticipate turnover.  The idea was that people would join the communities and want to live there forever (or, at least, for the rest of their lives).   Many people who join communities will say just that–and a few actually do stay at one of the communes for the rest of their lives.  Most, however, at some point, will move on, or at least want to move on.

Here is where this becomes a particular problem for the income sharing communities.

As an illustration, I sometimes tell the made up story of two folks that join a commune at about the same time.  Let’s call them Alpha and Beta.  Alpha happens to be a “trust fund baby” with a million dollar endowment in the bank and Beta is a homeless man with no money (and, let’s say, no debt).  But they are both skilled, likable people and are both accepted into the community.  Since this is an income sharing community, Alpha is not allowed to access any of their wealth for the time that they live there and both Alpha and Beta are (at least in theory) treated equally and have equal access to all of the community’s resources.  (This is one of the points of being an ‘egalitarian community’.)

Let’s go on to say that, each for very personal reasons, decide to leave the community at about the same time, say five years later.  Alpha goes back to their inherited wealth.  They can certainly leave the community anytime they want, no problem.  Beta would return to his previous situation with no money, no job, and no resources.  In practice, it is doubtful that he will leave at all, in spite of how dissatisfied with the community he is, since he has nothing outside the community to build a new life with.

One way to build a new life…

I saw this actually occur at Twin Oaks, at Acorn, and at Ganas (which isn’t an income sharing community, but pays its workers enough to live decently, but not really enough to save up money).  I met several folks who were quite dissatisfied with the community (which can happen anywhere–nothing works for anyone).  I asked them why they didn’t leave and they told me that they didn’t have enough money to start a new life.  They felt very stuck in their situation but unable to leave.

This is a really bad scenario, not only for the dissatisfied members, but for the community.  I can’t imagine many better ways to destroy community morale, than to fill it up with disgruntled people who don’t feel like they can leave.

As I’ve said, this is a problem in many of the older communes.  Most of the newer income-sharing communities have realized that many, if not most, of their folks will leave at some point and plan for it.  One of the chief tools to deal with this issue is something most of the communities call ‘Exit Agreements’.  

We talked about this at Cotyledon and I think that this was part of what helped us to end well.  I know that this was a major item of discussion at Compersia when it was running.  And we are carefully implementing this at Glomus Commune, partly having learned from the mistakes of older communities.

At Glomus,there are three parts to our Exit Agreements: a Privilege and Need Assessment, a section on Exit Savings, and a section on Exit Requests.  The Privilege and Need Assessment is something that each of us writes up about our background, our current amount of wealth and access to resources, and where we would be financially if we left the community and what we think we might need to do okay if we did.

Exit Savings was originally individually determined, but in our current financial situation (and we now have seven income sharing members) we collectively decided to give everyone $20 a month (regardless of their financial situation) except for two folks who have a lot less financial security than the rest of us and we decided to give $50 a month to them.  I think that the idea of monthly savings is useful since this represents a kind of ‘equity’ or ‘compensation’ for a person’s time and work for the community.  Thus, someone who lives here for six years will get significantly more than a person who is only here for six months.  It’s true that for some folks, this money doesn’t make much difference. (I worked in the mainstream for decades before coming to community and I have quite a bit of money saved–I will probably donate the money that I get upon leaving to a worthy cause.)  It was decided that everyone (regardless of their circumstances) would get some money saved so we would all be in similar circumstances, but that there would be folks who would get more because they might truly need it.

Exit Requests are things (usually besides money) that we might need or ask of the community so that we can transition well.  I did not ask for much in my exit agreement (often folks ask for a car since many people need one to start a new life, but I don’t drive), however, I am currently thinking of asking that Glomus use its van to help move me to my next location, because moving in the past has literally cost me thousands of dollars.  Folks that I have talked with about this said that it sounded reasonable and they felt the community would gladly accommodate me on this.

There are probably many ways to structure exit agreements, but the point is to have them, to anticipate people leaving, and to support these folks who have done work to make the community work–not to mention, to avoid having a commune full of unhappy people.

Yes! Happy people!

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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
  • Paxus Calta
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Exit Agreements

Turnover

by Raven Glomus

I’m surprised that I haven’t written on this before.  In fact, I don’t think that we’ve published anything directly about it on this blog.  (And WordPress informs me that this is our 700th post!)

Very often, when I talk about my communal experiences, I talk about Common Threads, the income-sharing community that I helped start in the 1990s, and how much I have learned since then.  One thing I share with folks that are talking about starting a community is how often we thought that we were failing because every year of Common Threads’ five year existence, we had a somewhat different crew of folks.  Our core (Susan, Robert, and I) remained the same, but people kept moving in and out.  We couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t hold onto members.

Since that time, I’ve lived in three or four co-op houses, a couple of different communes, and one large, complicated community.  I’ve also visited a bunch of communities and keep decent tabs on several.  All of them experienced (and, if they are still around, still experience) regular significant changes in their membership.  As they say in the computer world, “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

How it works is that many folks think that they would like to live in a commune or some other type of community.  However, when they actually try living in one, they often find it’s not what they expected.  Other folks may know what they want but find that a particular community doesn’t meet their needs (after they’ve tried it for a while) and decide to move on.  Still other people live happily in a community for quite some time and then they change.  They decide that they want to do something that they can’t do in the community or it no longer meets their needs.  Whatever the reason, the majority of folks who join a community decide to leave at some point.  (There certainly those who join long lasting communities that live in them until they die.  That’s really just a different way of leaving.)

The result is that almost any community has people regularly leaving.  If they are good at recruitment, they will also have new folks coming in and, hopefully, the number coming in balances the number leaving, in which case the community is more or less stable.  All this is to say that turnover is just a part of community living.

Many of the newer communities have started to plan for their members leaving at some point and design exit agreements (which I plan to write about in the near future).

A different kind of turnover

Right now, many communities are still recovering from the pandemic where they lost a lot of folks and had problems and concerns about bringing in new folks, with the result that they have fairly low membership.  Now they are actively seeking folks.  

I knew that both Twin Oaks and Acorn were looking for people, but I was surprised when Paxus published an article on doing a Meet the Communities at the next Quink Fest.  There were eight Louisa County communities listed—-nine if you consider Magnolia separate from Living Energy Farm–and they are all looking for people. (For those unfamiliar with Virginia geography,  Louisa County includes Louisa, Mineral, and Cuckoo.) All in all, there are sixteen communities listed as presenting at this event–plus the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (representing the secular income-sharing communities of North America) and the Foundation for Intentional Community (which includes over a thousand communities, most of them in North America or Europe).

If you are interested in joining a community, this is exciting news.  Take a look at Paxus’ piece.  This might be the time to make turnover work in your favor.

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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
  • Paxus Calta
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Turnover

Communal Living–Real and Otherwise

by Raven Glomus

The New Yorker just ran an article on “Communal Living”.  Unfortunately, almost all of the places that they referenced seemed like high-end situations and not what I usually think of as the usual intentional communities, let alone communes.  

The article features a place called Treehouse that looks a lot more luxurious than most of the communities I know of.  It and most of the other places they reference seem to be of the new ‘co-living’ ilk.  I am very skeptical of co-living experiments.  While it seemed like many of the people benefited from living at Treehouse, it also seemed to be a high end, somewhat profit making venture–which was true of most of the situations mentioned in the article.

I fear that this is just another case of capitalism trying to figure out how to make money from people’s loneliness.  There was a mention of the communes of the sixties in the article.  I always point out Twin Oaks as an example of a commune that has not disappeared, has not sold out, as an example of bottom up, voluntary communism that works and has worked there for 54 years and continues to work.

Sky Blue, former Twin Oaker and community consultant, has a webpage and I want to add this quote from a post that he wrote that highlights the difference between “co-living” experiments and more ground up built communities.(I have previously published three different pieces from Sky.  I really feel in line with what he writes.)

“I think there’s a place for developer driven intentional communities. But I think the kind of community I want to be part of has to come from a group.

“This is where I look more to distinctive communities like The Farm, Twin Oaks, Dancing Rabbit, Earthaven, Arcosanti, Lost Valley, Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, TLC Farm, Songaia, Mount Madonna, Lama Foundation, Ganas, Sirius, Ithaca Ecovillage. I could go on. They all have unique, fascinating stories of a group coming together with a common vision.”

I also would add East Wind, Acorn, Sandhill, Red Earth Farms, the LA Ecovillage, the Tennessee queer communities,  and, of course, Glomus Commune.  And if you want to look beyond the US, Kommune Niederkaufungen, Christiania, ZEGG, Tamera, Damanhur, and Gaviotas, and, of course, the original kibbutzim.  For many of these, as Sky says, “one way or another a committed and passionate group comes together to do the impossible and succeeds.”  These are not all income sharing communities by any means, but they are very organic and alternative.

I am glad that co-living and these other ventures exist because people need alternatives and for many folks these are closer to what they have than the more organic communities–hopefully, for others, these ventures are a stepping stone, only a first taste of what is possible.  Maybe, for a few, these could be the first steps on a path that will lead them to real communal living.

The folks at Treehouse from the New Yorker article

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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! 

Communal Living–Real and Otherwise

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

By Sky Blue Peacewithinchaos@Gmail.Com | 

Twin Oaks’ business warehouse

I want to talk about money. Not because it’s a fun topic. But because there’s so much to say. 

Along with purpose and relationships, I see money is one of the big three broad overarching issues that intentional communities need to deal with, and that define what kind of community people are looking for.

There are a number of facets to the money conversation, particularly for forming communities. Where is the money going to come from to buy property? How individualized or collectivized will finances be? Will there be a community business or will people be responsible for finding income sources themselves?

But there are some deeper issues. We’ve got a lot of baggage wrapped up around money. Security, privacy, autonomy are some big trigger points. But we also tend to have our sense of self-worth invested, so to speak, in our relationship to money, which is highly influenced by our class background. When looking at financial questions for a forming community, I think each of us needs to examine our own relationship to money and be transparent about what we see. If we can’t do that, that’s a red flag. If we can, seeing whether there is alignment in our core beliefs and desires about money will help determine if we can agree on a financial model for the community.

There’s no easy answer to the question of where the money will come from to start a community. That is, unless you do have an easy answer, though nothing is without complications. 

You might have someone in your group who has a lot of money, maybe from inheritance. This can work well if you can navigate the potential power imbalance and make sure your legal framework and financial agreements are solid. You might also be able to find an angel investor or donor, though again, there’s potential for a power imbalance and this needs to be approached very thoughtfully.

Or, you might take the approach of finding enough people who have enough income and assets to be able to get a bank loan. This tends to work well for cohousing communities where people own their own homes, and works less well for more collectively oriented kinds of community. The problem being that people who’ve chosen a more conventional lifestyle that has provided that kind of money tend to want a more conventional kind of community and don’t necessarily want to support people who haven’t chosen financially lucrative life paths. 

A lot of people have forwarded the idea that there are a lot of boomers with money who need care, and millennials without money who can provide care, who all want community, and can’t we put them together? The central, oversimplified problem is that boomers have control issues and millennials have commitment issues. There are no easy answers.

As someone trying to help start a community, this is certainly a question that’s on my mind, but it’s not where I’m starting. Where I’m starting is trying to find a group of people who have enough alignment (we want similar things and have similar ideologies) and affinity (we like each other) that we are committed to doing something together, and then we figure out what makes sense. This would involve doing an inventory of the assets, liabilities, and income (actual or potential) of the group. This would require a high degree of vulnerability, which I think is crucial in itself. More on that later. 

One of the obvious first steps would be to have a founding core group move in together for a trial period. This would serve as a test of our alignment and affinity. It could also help meet what should be one of the key benefits of living in community: It’s cheaper. Living in community should enable resource sharing, which should make it possible to live well with less money, which should make it possible to build assets to take the next step.

There are other potential avenues to financing a new community. The place to start might be creating a community business, rather than buying property. There’s also the possibility of having something mission driven and looking for grant funding, though my understanding is that foundations mostly don’t want to fund land acquisition. The exception to that being the strong interest these days in land justice and funding BIPOC communities. Another strategy is to search for property with existing infrastructure that’s being sold at low cost because it’s not well suited for anything other than it’s original, now-unviable purpose (e.g. small college campuses). 

As far as financial models go, broadly speaking the spectrum is from expense sharing to income sharing. Expense sharing is what the vast majority of groups do. There are certain expenses that have to be covered, a mortgage, taxes, insurance, infrastructure maintenance, and the members pay to help cover those expenses, equally or based on use. Other expenses might get included as well, like food or cleaning supplies, or if the group decides to have other shared facilities, like a workshop or tool library. Members are individually responsible for being able to cover their share with little to no community support in generating income.

Income sharing approaches this from the opposite direction. It assumes all expenses, community and individual, are shared and the group figures out how it will collectively meet it’s income needs. There are pros and cons to both models, and it’s a spectrum, not an either or. There’s lots of ways to structure this. But to get creative, I think we need to take a deep dive.

There is a particular belief embedded in modern capitalism, which is that we deserve whatever access to wealth and income we have, and this is experienced very differently depending on your class background. I think this is wrong and damaging. It ignores the legacies of slavery, genocide, imperialism, and colonialism that have established the systems of financing and private property that run the world. It also serves to disconnect and isolate us from each other, makes us feel a false sense of pride or shame about our situation, and exacerbates a sense of scarcity and competition. And all of this reinforces the system by removing any sense of choice or possibility. 

I’m an anti-capitalist. I believe capitalism is fundamentally unsustainable. The core mechanic of capitalism is the investing of capital to create more capital which is invested to create more capital, etc. The generation of capital is based on the extraction of resources and the exploitation of labor. So it only works as long as there are always more resources to extract and more labor to exploit. 

I also think capitalism inherently trends towards the consolidation of wealth and political power, making it fundamentally unjust. Can you make rules to make it just and sustainable? Maybe, but there will be a perpetual power struggle with forces trying to undo those rules who, because of the trend towards consolidation, will always tend to have the upper hand. 

But I recognize that capitalism is the only game in town, so we better know how to play it. I recognize that within the existing system people have very real needs and concerns, particularly parents with children, and older people regarding their care as they age and die. I recognize that we are heavily socialized by capitalism and can’t simply ignore or condemn needs and desires that may be coming from that socialization, or from very real individual circumstances. 

So, the question is, can we lay it all out on the table and face it together? Can we create a system based on sharing and mutual support that buffers us from the effects of capitalism without compromising our ability to impact the world? Can we recognize that there’s nothing fair or just about the financial system and address the entitlement or sense of being undeserving that can creep in? Can we allow for differing needs? Can we approach whatever level of shared financial responsibility we have together and not just leave it up to individuals? Can we foster our relationships such that we don’t necessarily need to have our financial contributions be equal?

Obviously I’m coming from a particular place with this. Most of my intentional community experience is in an income-sharing, egalitarian community that holds the ideal “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” Over the decades, the understanding of egalitarianism at Twin Oaks seems to have evolved from “everyone should have the same” to “everyone should have the same access.” It also holds that all labor is valued equally, whether it’s cooking, cleaning, childcare, or working in one of the community’s businesses. Twin Oaks is part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. To be a member of the FEC a community must, among other things, “hold its land, labor, income and other resources in common,” and “assume responsibility for the needs of its members, receiving the products of their labor and distributing these and all other goods equally, or according to need.”

In starting a new community, in addition to doing the personal work of looking at our issues around money and sharing that with each other, I think we need to identify our design principles. For me, I would adopt something like the two FEC principles above, though I think they can be interpreted with more flexibility than FEC communities have tended to. I want our economic system to explicitly and actively seek to undermine capitalism. I also don’t think we should assume people will live in the community forever and want people to be able to create financial security for themselves in their old age. People also need to have enough flexibility and autonomy to address personal situations if the community is unable to offer support, for example with caring for an infirmed or dying relative. I want there to be transparency and care for each other at the heart of our financial model. 

Is there a financial model that can accommodate all this? Probably not without some compromise, but I believe that if we’re willing to do the work we can figure it out. 

But it’ll take work. These conversations can be incredibly triggering. And this is why I think vulnerability is so important. Vulnerability is the basis for intimacy, which is the basis for trust, which is essential for sharing, which is what community is all about. These are the conversations I’m excited to have with a group of people committed to taking everything we know about intentional community and taking the next step in what intentional community can be in the world today. 

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

Hardwired to Connect

by Raven Glomus

There’s a lovely old article where someone interviewed Amy Banks, an instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  She points out that “Neuroscience is confirming that our nervous systems want us to connect with other human beings.”  She says, “We are, literally, hardwired to connect.”

What does this mean for communal living?  I have written that I believe that humans (along with our close cousins, chimpanzees and bonobos) are tribal animals.  We are meant to live in groups and nuclear families (not to mention loads of folks living in couples or by themselves) are modern aberrations. I’ve also pointed out that communities (especially small communities) are built by relationships.  If we are truly wired for connection, then this all makes sense.  We are built to be with one another, even if we live in a society that is bent on keeping us apart.

And this is why communal living is so satisfying and also why it’s so hard.  Communal living is a contradiction to capitalism.  If we got our needs for connection met, we wouldn’t need so much stuff–and the system would collapse.  We are literally schooled to be individuals, trained to think of ourselves first, and we are influenced to see life as a zero-sum situation where if others get stuff, we don’t.  This makes sharing scary.

One of the things that I have found intriguing is understanding why chimpanzees (which are basically a hierarchical, competitive, violent species) and bonobos (a much more egalitarian, much less violent, and generally cooperative species) are so different.  One theory is that there were changes on one side of the Zaire River that made food abundant there and scarce on the other side.  The bonobos developed on the side with abundance and the chimpanzees on the side with scarcity.

Here’s the thing.  I believe that sharing creates abundance.  If you see things through a zero-sum lens, then you ignore that desire for connection.  Fear gets in the way.  Isolation becomes a way of life and, as Dr Banks points out, isolation leads to trauma.  She says that “we downplay the importance of love and connection in a culture based on the success of ‘the rugged individual.’”

To the degree that we are able to move through the fear and the training in individualism and begin to share more and more, the more we will find abundance and the world becomes a less scary place.  Dr Amy Banks ends the interview by stating: “If we can teach our children how to connect, and we can teach our mothers and fathers and caregivers to raise connected children, we can foster the positive change that is emerging throughout the world.”  I would add that we can also foster connected adults, when we are able to work through our stuff and share.

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Thanks! 

Hardwired to Connect

WHY HAVING A SENSE OF SHARED PURPOSE IS IMPORTANT

by Sky Blue

Every community has a purpose. Sometimes it’s stated, sometimes not. And even if the community has a stated purpose, its actual purpose might be something different. And its purpose tends to evolve over time, intentionally or not.

Many communities are founded around a vision or ideology. For others the founding purpose is more simple, say, to be a close community of good neighbors. Either way, the founding and building of the community is an exciting time that brings people together, cultivates relationships, and in itself provides a sense of purpose. 

At some point, successful communities achieve a certain level of stability and security, and the driving purpose of building the community falls away. In the absence of some other larger purpose at play, as communities become established, they have a tendency to default into maintenance mode. Even if there is a larger stated purpose, it tends to fall into the background. People start focusing less on the imminent shared project of building their community and more on living their own lives. 

Now, you could ask, what’s wrong with this? Isn’t this kinda the point? Aren’t we trying to create places where people are able to just live their lives in communities that are based on a different set of values?

On some level yes, but this can’t be it. I mean, it can, but it tends to create some problems.

Also, to be clear, I’m making massive generalizations here. I’m certainly not saying this is true for all communities, but I do think it’s true to some degree for most communities, at least most secular communities. Religious communities, like the Amish, Bruderhof, and Hutterites have large networks of large communities that all together dwarf the secular intentional communities movement and don’t run into a lot of these problems. I think there’s a lot to be learned there.

So, what are the problems? 

New people joining an established community tend to be attracted to the fact that it’s established, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. Starting a new community certainly isn’t for everyone. The problem is the tendency to start taking the community for granted. It’s difficult to comprehend what it took to get the community to where it is if you didn’t live through it. There isn’t the same motivation to give it your all in the way that creating a community takes. Maintaining a community simply doesn’t take as much work.

But maintenance is deceptive. On a physical level, infrastructure degrades slowly enough that it’s hard to perceive. And whenever you joined the community, that’s what’s normal for you. You don’t see how much things might have changed over the years. The tendency is for standards to slip as things get more run down, and this can become a feedback loop.

On a social level, relationships also require maintenance. But if you don’t have a big project drawing you all together you’re not going to have as much reason to do that work, and the sense of intimacy and cohesiveness will also tend to degrade slowly over time in ways that are hard to perceive, especially for new people.

In the absence of a clear sense of shared purpose groups start getting into what I call lowest-common-denominator politics. If we’re not trying to do something together, other than just maintain things, the tendency is to have a more divergent set of reasons for living in the community. This can create very different, potentially conflicting priorities. As time goes on, the only thing the group can really agree on is the status quo, even if no one is particularly happy with the status quo. And the group doesn’t even really talk about it because they know they won’t agree. So people start focusing more on changing things in little ways to suit themselves, seek to meet their needs in more individualistic ways, make little decisions bigger deals than they need to be, and are more prone to engaging in petty drama. 

There’s also a moral imperative to not rest in simply maintaining a community. The world is burning. Business as usual is killing us. Simply doing more of the same, even if it’s a lot better than what’s happening in the mainstream, is not going to turn things around. There’s also the fact that it is a privilege to live in an intentional community. At this point in the world, any privilege we have is coming at the expense of an increasing number of other humans and non-humans. Not working to address oppression, injustice, and climate change is simply not a morally defensible position at this point in time.

So, why is having a shared purpose important?

When I say shared purpose, I don’t just mean something abstract. It may start there, as a vision statement, but it needs to get more specific. Mission statements take that a step further. But what’s the project? What are the specific goals and objectives? What are we actually trying to accomplish together? 

Humans are very narrative-based creatures. We always have a story in our minds about what’s going on right now, in our lives, in the world. Having a sense of meaning is a basic human need, and we will always make things mean something. It’s what motivates us. We need to have some sense of why it is we do what we do, why we get out of bed in the morning. 

We will also always have problems. Partly this is just the uncertain, uncontrollable nature of life. But it’s also because of our need for narrative. What are the struggles that define us and give us a sense of purpose? 

The question becomes, what story are we choosing? What are we choosing to make things mean? What problems are we taking on? 

It’s entirely possible to exist without any of this being anything particularly inspiring, but if it isn’t, then people aren’t likely to be particularly inspired. They’re less likely to want to extend themselves and put in effort beyond what is required. Having a shared purpose flips this. It creates an inspiring context that will be more motivating for people to engage and invest themselves. It will create deeper bonds. It will bring out creativity and innovation. It encourages us to look for collective solutions to individual problems and needs.

On a mundane level, having a shared purpose creates a context for our collective actions and decision-making. It makes lots of decisions easier because everyone has a shared sense of how they fit into the larger picture. It also gives us more motivation to work out conflicts and issues. 

Having a shared purpose can also help satisfy the moral imperative. But to do that, I don’t think the shared purpose can be just anything. Specifically, I think the shared purpose needs to involve building and leveraging collective capacity to correct injustice, decrease the harm we’re doing to others and the planet, extend the privileges that we have to others (to the extent they are sustainable, and give them up where they are not), and work towards cooperative governance, equity, and local resilience, not just on our particular piece of property, but in our local areas. 

Of course, building, maintaining, and developing communities has to be fun too. I know I can sound very doom and gloom. But I think we have to be willing to face the tragedy and crisis in order to really have the depth of joy and satisfaction that living in community has to offer. Even if it’s hard work with huge implications, getting to do it together, with people you enjoy and care about, building a vibrant culture is what makes it all possible and worthwhile.

So, for established communities that might be stuck in various ruts, how do they get out of this? There’s not an easy answer. Institutional self-evaluation does not tend to be a strong suit of mostly communities. Which is kind of ironic, because it seems like that should be a core aspect to being intentional as a community. 

There are lots of processes groups can engage in, and lots of people groups can hire to help them run these processes (myself included, though I promise this isn’t just an elaborate sales pitch). But there has to be a critical mass of people who want to come together to do this work, who recognize that even though it feels overwhelming and impossible and will be intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually challenging, it’s worth it. And there has to be a sub-critical mass of people who are checked out or actively opposed to doing this work. Because fundamentally this is about coming together. The process has to reflect the outcome or any result won’t really be a shared purpose and you’ll be in the same place you started. For many groups I think the reality is that they are simply unlikely to be able to take this on short of some kind of crisis that forces them, and this is part of why we need people trying to start new communities. Groups that do want to do this kind of work probably won’t know they do until some number of people in them are brave, vulnerable, compassionate, adamant, and persistent enough to start the conversation.

Because on some basic level, that’s how this happens. Through conversations happening in caring relationships. 

For me, as someone interested in helping start a community, the question is, can we foster the relationships and design the DNA of the community to be ongoingly self-reflective, to keep renewing it’s sense of shared purpose, and to keep showing up for each other and the world. I don’t know, but I’m excited to try.

WHY HAVING A SENSE OF SHARED PURPOSE IS IMPORTANT

If Only There Was A Twin Oaks On The West Coast

From IN COMMUNITY

By Sky Blue (Peacewithinchaos@Gmail.Com)

 

If I had a dime for every time someone said, “if only there was a Twin Oaks on the west coast…” well, I’d maybe only have ten bucks, but it’s been frequent enough that if it existed I’m sure it would be popular. For reference, I was a member at Twin Oaks for 14 years, and have been in its orbit for 22. Check out the photos.

There are lots of great intentional communities on the west coast. So, what does Twin Oaks have that communities on the west coast don’t? 

Twin Oaks is a 100 person, rural, income-sharing community. I’m not aware of any communities on the west coast that have those characteristics. But so what? Why does that matter?

Having no buy-in, and community businesses that provide most of the community’s income, Twin Oaks is one of the few non-religious communities that you can theoretically join with nothing but the clothes on your back and not need to find a job. This combined with a high degree of resource sharing means that the amount of money the community needs per person is relatively low, around $7500 per person per year. Labor quota at Twin Oaks is 42 hrs/wk, but the average member only has to spend about 15 – 20 hrs/wk working in the community businesses. The rest of your quota goes towards things you’d normally have to do on top of a 40 hr work week but don’t get paid for.

This has a number of benefits.

In many other communities you have to do anywhere from 5 to 20 hours a week for the community (there’s often an inverse relationship between how much you have to pay to live in a community and how many hours you have to do) on top of needing to figure out how to provide for yourself financially. This is especially challenging in rural areas.

The pervasive money-stress and vulnerability that exists in mainstream capitalism is mitigated by the collective responsibility the community takes for its financial needs. 

It also means more time for, among other things, care work. Childcare, eldercare, and caring for sick, injured, or struggling members all count towards your labor quota. Sick hours can be taken as needed. There’s about 4 weeks of free labor credits built in (basically paid vacation), with the ability to work extra and bank more. There are also hours budgeted for organizing community holidays, local relations, and movement support. 

Taking collective responsibility for the needs of its members makes it possible for Twin Oaks to be one of the most integrated intergenerational communities I’ve ever seen. Many babies have been born there, and many elders and others have passed away. People spend a lot more time socializing with non-age peers. Kids get to have lots of adults of different ages in their lives. No one has yet been born there and died there, but it could easily happen. Twin Oaks is an intergenerational community not only in the demographics of its members, but also in that it was designed to have a stable population and outlive its founders, which it has done.

The economics of the community also support a high degree of self-sufficiency. At its peak the community produces about 60% of its own food through gardens, herbs, orchards, chickens, and cows. It has a communal woodshop, auto/bike/machine shop, maintenance barn, a fleet of shared vehicles, and does the vast majority of its own building and maintenance. It maintains public offices and an internal computer network, including a large media library. There are also amenities like a music room, a pond and sauna, book library, and various multi-purpose spaces that can be signed out by anyone. It maintains 7 residence buildings, a large clothing library, a robust food system with a dining hall and small kitchens, and provides for all health, mental health, and dental needs.

There is no money exchanged internally. Working quota gives you equal access to the resource-sharing systems of the community, which everyone helps manage, and is paid for by the businesses the community runs. 

There are certainly trade offs with income-sharing. You give up a degree of autonomy and control, which can be very emotionally challenging for people. If you need to be able to do whatever you want with your stuff whenever you want, it’s not a good model. Collective finances can be complicated. But trying to have an economically involved community based on individualized finances can also be complicated. Treating the whole community as a collective operation can also allow for some degree of specialization, potentially freeing you up from things you might not like doing, like accounting or auto maintenance or cooking, and you get to do a bunch of those things if you do like them. But no one is stuck doing the same thing for 40 hours a week if they don’t want to. And you get the satisfaction of having the majority of your time going towards activities where you see immediate, direct benefit, both for yourself and others. 

Another thing that Twin Oaks has going for it is it’s size. Typically around 80 – 90 adults and 15 – 17 kids, with anywhere from 10 – 20 guests and visitors (pandemics notwithstanding), it’s large enough to maintain a robust social-culture. Support and activity groups are easy to organize, and it’s not hard to get people to show up for parties and gatherings. It can certainly be too insular at times, but it also allows for a level of cohesion that’s hard to maintain in communities where people are more dispersed, particularly because of the need to work outside jobs. 

There are also things about Twin Oaks that would be hard for a lot of people. All residences are shared. You get your own room, but personal space is minimized. But it doesn’t have to be this way. That’s just the choice Twin Oaks made. Things are fairly dirty, cluttered, and broken, but again, that’s a choice. Twin Oaks has also made choices around its businesses that have led to the community being relatively poor. The community could decide to put a little more time into income production, and make some different operational choices, and have more money without losing much of its flexibility around labor.

There’s also plenty of petty drama, gossip, and interpersonal conflict. To some extent this is just people being people and it happens in any organization. It’s exacerbated by being so intertwined as a community. You have 80 or 90 adults sharing a checkbook, working together, and living in shared residences. It’s like being married. There’s just more fodder for shit to happen. But there are also things that could be done to reduce it. Again, it’s a choice.

Another major challenge that Twin Oaks is not alone in facing is what the worker co-op movement has referred to as ownership culture. It’s very easy for people to relate to the institution of Twin Oaks as being separate from them, and feel disempowered, disengaged, and/or entitled. I think the combination of size and centralization make it harder to foster a culture of responsibility, commitment, and intimacy. Having the critical mass of people is nice, but better use of small affinity groups might help.

But in the end, it works. It’s one of the few working examples of how an anti-capitalist society could work. Iit has huge benefits and it would be great if there were more communities like it all over. And after 54 years Twin Oaks has probably found most of the pitfalls of this kind of system, which means there’s a lot to learn from.

If Only There Was A Twin Oaks On The West Coast