Gresham’s Law for Communes

by Paxus

There is a little known and not particularly important “law” in economics called Gresham’s Law.  It states that “bad money forces out good money”.  What it is referring to is important for coin collectors and sometimes for treasuries.  For example, in 1965, when they started issuing quarters which had copper cores in them, fairly quickly the all silver quarters disappeared.   Coin collectors and people predicting the increasing value of silver pulled them from the market.

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There is a much more important principle in communes, which is parallel.  Bad communards force out good communards.   Unlike the economic law above, this can be an extremely important and tragic situation.  People who live in income sharing communities, with some regularity ask themselves, “Should I return to the mainstream?” While there are lots of good things about living in communes, the mainstream for different reasons always has some appeal to most communards.  It might be the night life, or the higher disposable income, or the greater privacy, or the social acceptance or a larger dating pool.  (Some of these problems can be solved by living in an urban commune.)

This means when there is a serious conflict between people in a community, many people, at least fleetingly, consider the option of leaving.  For some problematic members, the community is by far the best option.  The mainstream life was perhaps not treating them well, they had limited options, and the commune is satisfying all their needs.  For some talented members, Babylon is offering all kinds of treats and rewards for leaving the commune.  For some small number of especially problematic members, this can means that they can get what they want (the other person leaving) by just digging in and being assholes.

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Communes hate to talk about this.  We are egalitarian, right?  We are all equal, right?  There are no good members and no bad members?

Bullshit.  We are egalitarian, certainly.  People have access to the same resources and people’s work is evaluated the same hour for hour.  But there are definitely “good members” who contribute to the community in lots of different ways: it might be their musical ability, or their ability to facilitate a meeting, or their marketing or plumbing skills.  They might simply make everyone happy when they are around.  There is certainly no “objectively good” member; it is a judgment call.  But talk to anyone who has spent time in a community and ask them if there are members who they were very sad to see leave, and they will confirm this for you because of the loss to the community when they departed.

Similarly, there are “bad” members.  And they can be bad for lots of different reasons.  They can be corrosive to the social fabric of the commune, they can be sexist or intolerant,  they can have under managed mental health problems which bleed out onto the community, or they can be pernicious gossips (something i am accused of occasionally). And they can just be assholes.

Hair-Pulling

 

This does not mean they should not live in the community.  It does not mean they should have any less access to our collective resources.   If we have selected them for membership, knowing these things about them then we have added them to our family and we need to be responsible for our choice.

But this dynamic is something to be aware of.  It is often the case that people come to Twin Oaks, for example, knowing that living at Twin Oaks would be very good for them.  Transformative, healing, giving them the chance that they always deserved.  And the right thing might be to reject them anyway.  Despite many people’s desires, we are not principally therapeutic communities.  And you need not have a mental health problem to benefit from being in one of these communes.  Often times living collectively, if done with an open heart and self-reflection can help cure you of being an asshole.  Because they are pointing it out to you, people are encouraging you to self-correct and play better with others.  [Commune life has not cured me of being a gossip. In fact, i am worse because there are so many strange and amazing people to talk about.]  It does not always work out this way but it can.

Communes need to ask themselves, “Is this person we are considering for membership good for us, collectively?”  If the answer is “no”, then it does not matter how good commune life might be for them, they should live somewhere else.    This does not mean everyone rejected from a community is a “bad person” hardly.  There are all kinds of reasons why it might not work for someone to be in a particular commune.

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But understanding the dynamics of Gresham’s Law of Communes is important to make sure that you don’t lose members who you really want to hold onto because they have other options when the person they are in conflict with might not.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gresham’s Law for Communes

Almost an orgy

by Paxus (also published on Your Passport to Complaining)

Spoiler:  This post has no descriptions of graphic sex.

“Can I kiss you?” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable question.  It was asked across a cuddle pile in the midst of a party up at the conference site where several people were making new romantic connections.

kiss dice in mouth

“I don’t really know you very well.” Was the reply I was slightly surprised to hear.  But then something really powerful and slightly profound happened.  Nothing.

The mood did not change.  No one got embarrassed and felt like they needed to leave.  No one laughed at the rejection or felt sorry for someone.  The party just moved on.

We think and talk a lot about consent culture in the communes.  We do orientations for visitors and guests so they don’t make cultural mistakes around initiating intimacy, which is easy to do if you are just mimicking what you see others doing.   We explore new types of agreements around boundaries.  And the reward for our efforts is we get to take some types of risks, like my friend who got rejected from the make out session.

consent flow

What this does is create comfort and safety.  It makes people feel like their boundaries are going to be respected.  This in turn often helps them to push limits out.  This reveals new possibilities and new connections.

And thus the party drifted right up to the edge of becoming an orgy.   As a funologist, this is something I want to understand.  For when you push aside all the sophomoric jokes and embarrassment about what orgies are, assuming they are done in a healthy consent environment, they are daring and liminal events.  They change peoples lives.

And in this case, the “almost” does not really matter.  Everyone could feel the possibility, we had created the space that was that safe and daring.

 

Almost an orgy

Is there space for me at a commune?

By Paxus Calta-Star

People ask regularly if there are spaces for new members at the income sharing communities.  This is a current update on the space availability of the various communes in the US with ways to contact them and relevant guest/intern/visitor policies linked.  This information changes with time, so it’s best to check with any community you wish to visit before scheduling your trip there.

cambia wodden sign

Cambia (Louisa, VA) Yes, there are spaces.  Cambia is actively promoting its sustainable environmental education program and has space for both interns and new members.  This 2016 intern announcement is also current for 2017 and 2018.

Mimosa (Louisa, VA) This reforming new community (formerly Sapling) is interested in new members but is currently working on completing housing to provide space and thus cannot currently accommodate people for more than short visits.  Feel free to send them an email.

rainbows at LEF
Double Rainbow at LEF

Living Energy Farm  (Louisa, VA) does have space for interns but is not seeking new members at this time.  They have completed their main residence and are working on additional spaces for new members.

in , , on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.   Sarah Rice

Acorn (Mineral, VA) is full.  Acorn is not accepting new visitors interested in membership until spring 2018.  Acorn does have possible internships starting in January 2018.

is it utopia yet
Nope, not yet.

Twin Oaks  (Louisa, VA) is near its population cap, and continues to accept people for membership, currently if you were accepted you could join right away, but there is some chance we will return to a waiting list soon.    Twin Oaks does not currently have intern spots available.

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Skip Burning Man

Twin Oaks also hosts an annual communities conference.  This year it is Sept 1st thru 4th (labor day weekend).  If you are seeking communities, this is a great place to discover a bunch of them at once.  And here are 7 reasons it is a better place to spend your time than Burning Man.

Compersia (Washington DC) has at least one space available in this new, urban, commune located in the Brentwood district of DC.  Compersia has had one intern and might be open to more.

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Ganas houses

Ganas  (Staten Island, NY) is looking for new members.   While technically not an income sharing community over all, Ganas is supportive of the Point A project and the expansion of the communes movement.  There are occasionally job openings at Ganas but right now Ganas is looking for paying members.

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Working the soil at East Wind

East Wind (Tecumseh, MO) is full and has a waiting list, but is still happy to have folks come and visit and like Twin Oaks you can apply for membership and be put on a waiting list.   Because East Wind has a gender imbalance it actually has two waiting lists, one for males and one for females.  There is currently a male waiting list of about half a dozen men.  A woman who was accepted now would be at the top of that waiting list, and after three women are accepted, one of the men can be offered membership from the male waiting list.

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Midden protest art

The Midden (Columbus, OH) is in transition away from being a commune and towards being a NASCO group house in Columbus.

Sandhill Farm (Rutledge, MO) has space for interns and folks looking for a short visit.

Is there space for me at a commune?

Community lifecycle

by Gil Cambia

Intentional communities are a strange creature, they can be only as strong as their weakest link, but in other ways they could be greater than the average or even the sum of their parts. I’m referring to the various ways of decision making / agenda setting in a community. At least in theory, the larger the community the greater range of ideas and knowledge and therefore the greater possibilities for excellence. However, I think it mostly depends on the age of the community both in physical years, and in spirit, and not necessarily the share number of members.

When Cric House was a young community, just like a young child, it was very playful, spontaneous, social, optimistic and even adventurous.

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It wasn’t very coordinated, organized, or thoughtful, even though many of its members, individually were much more “together”, the “super organism” that it created was clearly young.

We just loved doing shit together. Didn’t matter what it was. We invited tons of wwoofers and interns, and could not even tell the difference between work and play. Everything was fun and exciting. When money was needed, we found ways to make money, when work was needed we all got together to make it happen.

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But of course this phase didn’t last, Cric house got older and grumpier, lost much vibrancy and adventure. Though its earning potential and resources increased, the willingness of the members to give to the commons had shrunk in both social, monetary, and even artistic ways.

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In the same ways that kittens sleep in a pile but older cats just want alone time, the energy of a community can be young and compel its members, regardless of age, to need less personal space or autonomy, and more interaction and group expression.

Cambia community is only 2 years old. Some could say that it hasn’t fully been born yet because we have not had consistent membership. That is completely fair and I can’t argue against that, but still, at Cambia we adopt much more adventurous measures than some of the older communities.

We are currently known for the community that has a boat that won’t float.

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It’s kinda crazy, right? It was a huge project to get it here, to cut the lead keel, to build a deck for it, figure out the solar-electric and water system, and now we are thinking about how we are going to erect a mast and set up a windmill and a zip line from it. So it’s extra crazy, right?

Why does a small struggling community that has so little money, labor, or other resources invest in such a challenging form of housing? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to get a used camper or a single-wide trailer with some water damage for cheap?

Why spend so much work building a pond instead of a doughboy pool with some bleach from the dollar store?

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Why build a barn out of live-edge lumber instead of painted OSB? Now that’s really insane. Not just the cost, but the fact that every piece has to be chosen and cut to size. We also didn’t get a bushhog to carve a path into the forest, instead we went with hand-clippers and worked for hours on what a machine would do in a few minutes.   Furthermore, we continue to have to maintain such paths with the same slow tools that made it.

So the explanation for this insanity has to do with our age again. We are in some kind of teenage phase.  It’s a phase where we have to wear our identity externally so to communicate it with the world as well as internalize it more thoroughly.

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This is also analogous to cultural development. In small tribal societies, all over the world, it might seem to us as if a disproportionate amount of effort is spend on wearing one’s identity.

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It is completely natural and maybe even healthy to be in this phase, but when some people from Twin Oaks community came to visit, they were rather bewildered; we were asked “how are you guys able to accomplish so much when you have so little?” a more cynical questions could be: “why are some under-developed cultures wasting so much time on non-pragmatic things?”

So there is one other part to this answer that goes beyond identity expression: in a small community, there is a greater chance of people saying “yes!” to someone’s crazy idea. That craziness could be art, it could be environmentalist ideology, it could be implementing a new ritual, and it could even be a financially risky move.

In older communities there seems to be much more caution and pragmatism. Much more of an institutional memory of all the ways and which things have gone poorly before when people were irresponsible. But there is also something even deeper than that: there are disappointments and grief that simply don’t get worked out, they are old scars that never heal, and they manifest in the unwillingness to rejoice in someone else’s party, because one’s own party didn’t go so well.

So communities end up recapitulating the normal biological processes of aging by turning every injury into chronic muscle tightness around it. With age, flexibility is reduced and tensions increase, certain routine ways of doing things turn into deep grooves of wrinkles, and a general tiredness sets in.

This doesn’t mean death. And even death doesn’t mean death because communities keep on being reborn all the time. And members of community X that may have been grumpy and conservative might become much more liberal and open when they move to community Y after it falls apart.

But I’m not sure this is actually always true, and I’m even less sure that its inevitable. In the same way that tribal cultures and religions can be thousands of years old but maintain elements of inspiration and vibrancy rather than cold pragmatism, there must be a way for communities to be able to pursue this quality. By analogy, there are endless anti-aging products, services, and exercises out there. We need to figure out how to be able to apply these to community to keep it thriving longer.

There was a time when colonizers simply treated land as though its useful when its young but after it has been worked for a few decades it will be depleted of its vitality and new land must be acquired.

Everyone of us in the commune world knows a fair bit of what it means to give back to the earth so it can continue to sustain us. I think we ought to start thinking more of community as having similar depletion process if we don’t really know what the process of replenishing would be.

I would love to hear ideas!

 

 

Community lifecycle

Laboratories or Modules?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Laboratories or Modules?

A Year of Communes

by Raven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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