Are Communes Cults?

by Raven East Brook 

A few weeks ago, Twin Oaks communard Keenan went on to Reddit and said that he lived in a commune in Virginia and invited folks to ask him anything. He got over nine thousand comments.

Many of the comments were very good questions.  However, a number of people asked if Twin Oaks was a cult and several commenters insisted that it was. And the more that Keenan said it wasn’t, the more that they decided that meant it was.

Of course, a good question is, what is a cult?

This was a cult.

Merriam Webster defines a cult as: “great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book)” and “a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion”.

First and foremost, there is no great leader at Twin Oaks or any of the other communes; no one is the object of “great devotion”.  There is a reason we call ourselves “egalitarian” communities. There is no one in charge. About the only thing that everyone agrees to at Twin Oaks is that sharing is a good thing and I doubt that many people there would say that they are “devoted” to sharing. 

There is also this notion that people are trapped in cults; that they are not allowed to leave. We are definitely not cults by this definition. People leave Twin Oaks and the other communes all the time.

A third way that cults are talked about is claiming that everyone is required to believe the same thing. As I said above, about the only thing that everyone believes in, in the communes, is sharing and I am not even sure that everyone believes in that. On any other subject, I am sure that if you talked with ten communards, you’d get twelve different opinions–at least. 

This is Twin Oaks. Not a cult. Really.

I suspect that what these commenters mean by cult is that we are different. We’re weird. I am not disputing that. In a capitalist, individualistic society, where people are encouraged to get what they can for themselves, and maybe a few loved ones, doing this radical amount of sharing, and working on being as equal as we can be, is very different. 

The idea that we could share everything is very threatening to some people. They want to say that it would never work, but it’s been working at Twin Oaks for more than fifty years and it is still working. So they dismiss it as a cult. 

I am not claiming that this level of sharing will work for everyone or that this is something everyone should do.  I am just saying that this is a real option and it can work. 

We are not creating cults at the communes, we are creating culture. 

____________________________________________________________________________

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
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen 
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Are Communes Cults?

Children, Families, and Single Parents

by Raven East Brook 

A couple of weeks ago, I put a post here about how communities deal with abusive members and entitled it, “Misbehaving”.  The title was intended to be provocative and to illustrate it, I searched for images of folks misbehaving. I found a couple of pictures of kids acting out and used them to illustrate the piece. I thought that they might add some humor to my post. 

Someone in my community pointed out that these weren’t appropriate and I also got feedback in the form of comments when it went up on Facebook.   I want to apologize and say clearly here that children are seldom, if ever, the cause of real problems in community. The issues I was pointing out all involved abusive adults. 

A family at Twin Oaks

Unfortunately, children, who bring so much to communities, are often not accepted into income-sharing communities, particularly if the communities are stressed out. Families and single parents have a harder time getting into communes and often staying in communes than people without children. 

This is truly unfortunate and something that we need to change. While I can understand the issues on both sides, we can’t simply reject folks with kids. 

A family at East Wind

I want to say here that I was part of a commune in the 1990s that helped raise two children, who are now lovely adults. I also know how much energy it took. There were usually five or six adults in the community and, although this wasn’t supposed to be the focus of our commune, parenting issues took up a lot of our time. (We actually did communal parenting, which I suspect few communities do.)  I often wonder how my parents did it with two adults and five children, when we could barely deal with two kids when there were five adults. 

I think that this is incredibly important work. If we are going to claim to be a real alternative to this dysfunctional society, we are going to need to figure out how we can support parents and families. We are going to need to take on the responsibilities involved in raising children. Communes and communities need to open their doors to families and single parents.

It does take a village to raise a child. We need to be those villages. 

Another child at Twin Oaks

____________________________________________________________________________

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
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Children, Families, and Single Parents

Misbehaving

by Raven East Brook

There is a dilemma that seems to happen often in communities, particularly the older communities, but it could happen in a newer commune after it’s been around a while.

Let’s take a guy, who I will call Aaron (only because it’s first in the alphabet).  Aaron has been with the community for a while and has done a lot and is well regarded, but Aaron has a problem.  Maybe it’s alcohol or drugs, maybe it’s just testosterone or anger management. Every so often Aaron says something that’s really inappropriate, perhaps it’s a statement that’s racist, or misogynist, or transphobic, or maybe just plain cruel.  The community knows this happens but many folks are fond of Aaron for one reason or another. Newer members are outraged and want to have Aaron kicked out but other members feel like they want to give Aaron another chance.

Or maybe it’s Barbara, who suffers from PTSD.  Again, she has been around a while and has folks that really care for her.  But occasionally she becomes triggered and screams at someone, or is abusive, or even throws something at someone.  Again the community is divided.

The dilemma is how much misbehavior to tolerate.  How much do we believe that people can change or that we don’t just “throw away” people?  How much do we believe in forgiveness and compassion and rehabilitation? And what are the rights of the victims?

Often the older members that misbehave are tolerated and newer members become disgusted and leave.  On the other hand, tossing out anyone who doesn’t behave the way we would like can be a formula for a very turbulent community where no one knows if they might say the wrong thing and be asked to leave next.

And who sets up the standards for behavior?  Who gets to decide what’s tolerated or not? A lot of things can seem obvious to outsiders but it becomes a lot more painful when someone that you care about is the person that misbehaves.  And how much do you take into account that they are dealing with an addiction or something like PTSD?

What do we do about Aaron and Barbara?  Do we treat them differently because they have different problems (and different genders)?  Do we follow some rigid rule? Do we only give x number of chances? Or do we decide everything on a “case by case” basis?

I am sure that some folks will have clear, simple answers for what the communities should do with Aaron and Barbara, but it’s not easy when you actually live in one of these situations.  These are questions that tear apart communities and result in accusations being thrown around. I don’t think that there are easy answers but I applaud the communes for struggling with these issues and caring about all the people involved.  Who knew that caring about people could be so difficult?

____________________________________________________________________________

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
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Misbehaving

Quebec Community Bike Tour

A Rural Peninsula in Quebec is a Hidden Gem of the Communities Movement

by Thumbs 

Gaspésie Quebec is the Olympic Peninsula of the East Coast; a mountainous peninsula, with a rugged coastline, spotted with small towns fueled by fishing and logging, with a vibrant indigenous culture, all woven together with bicycle friendly roads.  However, as a couple of community hummingbirds what we were most allured by was the growing intentional community network around this vibrant peninsula. The best part is that they are all connected by one of the most popular scenic bicycle touring routes in Quebec.  We packed our paniers, clipped in and started pedaling a 700km tour of ravishing natural beauty and inspiring community projects.

1
My partner’s annotation of the elevation map of the Gaspésie captures the intensity of the trip

We started our tour at Hameau 18 (Hamlet 18) on the shores of the St. Laurence in Cap-au-Renard.  When we rolled in it felt like walking into a story book of community life.  The pizza oven was radiating heat into the outdoor kitchen, where people were bustling back and forth from the summer gazebo with its reciprocating living roof and full round timber frame.  The pizza was still cooking so in a baffled state of awe we kept walking towards a couple performing acroyoga with the backdrop of a setting sun. The scene enraptured our gaze for only a moment though, because we were eagerly handed a glass of freshly brewed raspberry juice and invited to take a couple mallet swings at the newly minted blacksmith forge.  Once we sat down for pizza, I felt at peace to feel so at home, yet so in awe. 

Hameau 18 is a manifestation of a community dream I’ve heard many groups aspire to, but few actually create such a vibrant example of.  It’s the dream of synergizing community life and sustainable business incubator. It started 12 years ago with 5 friends buying a lease for the land.  Through a Kickstarter and low interest loans from friends, they paid off the mortgage and sold it to a Cooperative each member now owns a share in. The 55 hectares they own are convenient for a Cooperative CSA a couple of the members run, fertile enough for a 10 acre farm, along a major road to support a local roaster cafe, near the ocean to support an algae farming business, and a short commute to town for a local doctor to live.  Each of the members is tenaciously self-driven (most building their own house as well as running their own business) and loves the rugged life of coastal Gaspésie (average temperature 0 C) yet wouldn’t go it alone.

The way Hameau 18 is navigating personal homes is a telling example for the challenges of negotiating personal autonomy and community support.  As a natural builder I was enthralled with each of the homes there, because they were a colorful mix of techniques yet each was functional to the high bar their climate demands (I saw straw bale with reclaimed windows, reciprocating living roofs with children running on top, locally milled log cabin, and platform mounted four season family yurt).  This extraordinary level of innovation and competence came at the cost of high out of pocket expenses for each member, and long build times due partially to limited help. Members must personally finance the building of their home, and there isn’t a culture of “barn raising” a member’s home, so they must also budget for the time and energy it will take them to build on their own.  After it is built, the Hameau 18 Cooperative will buy it back from them over the course of years until it becomes cooperatively owned asset. Some members are interested in creating zero interest loans for members to help kickstart their home building process, but for now taking on the task of building your dream home is equal parts liberating and daunting. 

2
Preparing for lift off at the cafe that a couple of Hameau 18 members run 

With our bicycle trailer packed and my French lesson audiobook playing we hit the road for the daunting next 220 km of our ride.  Collectively I’ve enjoyed a few thousand kilometers on bicycle tour often crossing large mountain ranges, yet the Gaspésie route boasts a mere 533m as the highest point in 700km of riding, so I wasn’t quivering at the challenge.  However, what my always sunny perspective had overlooked was that this 100-year-old road isn’t graded like a typical highway, but instead hugs the cliffs of the coastline with unforgiving linearity.  My beloved travel partner captured the intensity of these days best by circling sections of the elevation map where we appeared to be either climbing straight up a cliff side, or in free fall. Luckily the drivers in Gaspésie were the most respectful ones I’ve ever experienced, often stopping traffic to wait for the right time to pass and giving us honks and fist pumps when we were wavering most on the vertical climbs. 

3
This 17% grade hill is the closest we came to free fall!

Our next stop wasn’t at a community, but at the second home of a pair of community builders on sabbatical.  In exchange for not telling you who they are or what community they are associated with I can share more honest stories from the frontier of community founding.  

After spending years starting a community, they were taking a year off, without commitments to return.  Right off the bat this struck me as a profoundly humble move, which should be built into the community start-up guide.  Founder syndrome sounds terribly clinical yet is such a multi-dimensional challenge for communities it’s hard to cure it with protocols.  This sabbatical was a surefire technique to let the vision of the community grow its own identity separate from the vision of a few founders.  By stepping away from all meetings and voting influence right as the community was becoming a self-sustaining organism, these founders were essentially parents trusting their kid would find its way and be more resilient without their tutelage.

What I learned from them was that in starting a community you can lose yourself.  Starting a community isn’t compatible with also pursuing a highly specialized independent life.  Instead, a founder must immerse themselves in the myriad of head, heart and hand skills for building the foundation of community and let wither personal projects unrelated to the vision.  Yet there is also another phase, after a community has built a strong foundation in which another wave of equally passionate, but potentially more specialized communards can flourish. Once the community has systems to sustain itself, members can have free time to pursue their individual passions or integrate their passions into the community.  It’s like a baby who in the first years of life is simply growing, and figuring out how to stay alive, but later in life one has the necessities of life figured out and can integrate more unique passions into their daily life. My hypothesis is that the length of this baby phase is directly related to the degree of income, resource, and responsibility sharing, with fully interdependent communes spending the longest time in diapers. 

Fast forward through a boat trip, island hike, Gannet colony, and we arrive at the only commune in Quebec, Le Manoir!  We rolled in just as the Beat Rave (Anglo-French pun) was beginning, which is like entering a movie theatre during the climax of the story arch. Nachos came pouring out of the oven, home brewed beer and fresh cocktails served generously, and we danced swing until our bodies reminded us of the 90km straight into headwind we’d bike all day and we collapsed in our tent.

Le Manoir is a like a sapling whose tap root is just reaching the aquifer, it has had enough member turnover, by laws tested in the real world, and steady flow of profitable community business that I think it’s going to become a sustaining community for at least the next decade.  Its founders Audrey and Arielle traveled communes around the US for a couple years and integrated what they learned into the culture and economy of Quebec. With only 6 adult members, they are at the fledgling stages of their community vision to create a Twin Oaks size community, but they are currently doubling the size of their main house (le manoir) and have endless potential on their expansive property.

4
Preparing Calendula flowers for drying at Le Manoir

Like Hameau 18 they are comprised of economically self-sustaining individuals, but Le Manoir shares the income of every members endeavor and has a community labor quota for some businesses (including the farm and herbal apothecary).  With 40hrs a week of community labor required, communal lunches and dinners, and one common house it feels familiar to some other FEC communities. Seeing this framework for community flourish in another country gave me hope that the trials and tribulations we each face in building our communities aren’t just to serve ourselves but can be part of an international community movement which doesn’t homogenize but creates a baseline each culture can customize.  We left Le Manoir with the peace of mind that we’d return or see them at our favorite communities in the States again.

Oh, dear Gaspésie you have stolen my heart, and taken my life vision in a whole new direction.  With huge swaths of uninhabited natured, skirted with pockets of small towns where the next generation of intentional communities are taking root you are balancing at the sweet spot between wild lands and culture hubs.  I hear that your frigid winters, when the snow is stacked so high the first floor of houses become igloos, is an even more astonishing time of the year. So, I’ll see you again this Winter, and we will see where the story goes next.

____________________________________________________________________________

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

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks! 

 

Quebec Community Bike Tour

Communes are not The Answer

I realized after I wrote the post What If We’re All Doomed, that someone might think that I was claiming that communes are the solution to climate change. Let me be clear. Communes are not the solution to anything. There is no solution! There is no one answer to everything!

There is no one solution to anything that I know of.  People who are looking for The Answer are part of the problem as far as I am concerned. 

the-answer-logo-web1
I also don’t believe that everyone should live in a commune. Or any type of community. Some of my closest friends live by themselves. 

I do hope that no one believes that the purpose of this blog is to persuade you to live in a commune.  Not unless it’s something that you were considering anyway but didn’t think it was possible. Or that you never even thought of and get excited now that you know about it.

jumbo-e1558413096306
from ic.org where there are hundreds of communities listed 

The purpose of this blog is to let people know that communal living is possible and that there are people doing it and doing it successfully. 

Some of my activist friends have been talking about the Overton Window and how pushing the limits of what is possible changes public discourse.  I think that pointing out the possibility of income sharing communities makes various other cooperative ventures seem less wild.

download
I want a future that holds more possibilities, not less. I want there to be a wild spectrum of ways in which people can live, people can work, and people can create. And I want communes to be part of the base of this,  supporting people in becoming more of who they want to be. 

That’s not the answer, it’s just part of the vision.

____________________________________________________________________________

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

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks! 

Communes are not The Answer