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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • 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

Communal Cooperation

by Raven Cotyledon

I have sometimes described some of the communes as a combination of a housing co-op and a worker co-op.  There are certainly elements of both in the Virginia communes. In fact, if you buy Twin Oaks tofu you will see that Twin Oaks Community Foods describes itself as “A Worker-Owned Cooperative!”

 

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Twin Oaks Tofu label 

I have lived in three different Boston area co-op houses. Co-op houses (also known as collective houses–especially in NYC where there is something very different called cooperative apartments which are more like condos) are great, but communes involve even more sharing.  In fact, you could say that communes are an even more cooperative form of cooperative. 

Communes cooperate in almost every way I can think of.  Income-sharing, in particular, involves a lot of cooperation between the people who are doing it.  We cooperate in sharing the work of maintaining and cleaning where we live, in feeding each other, in planning together, and in supporting one another.  We care for each other in many ways and we depend on each other. 

Many co-ops are organized around the Seven Cooperative Principles, adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance. I believe that in many ways, communes meet or exceed all of these principles.

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First, a voluntary and open membership. Voluntary, absolutely. Communes are not cults. No one will keep you there.  Open is a little more tricky. Communes, like co-op houses, involve living together. A consumer co-op is easy. Anyone should be able to join. Cooperative businesses have to be a little more selective–not everyone can do every job. Living together means you have to be able to live in your home with each person, so co-op houses and communes need to be more selective still. That said, there is a large push for diversity in the communes. Membership decisions are made about the ability to get along, not about a person’s race or religion or sexual orientation. 

Democratic member control–phrased in early documents as “One man, one vote.” Here the communes do a lot better than that.  They are even more democratic. First, they are open to all genders–not even just men and women, but trans folks, genderqueer, non-binary, two-spirit, and more.  And most communes don’t vote. The majority use consensus, which I believe is more democratic and more cooperative than voting. 

Members economic participation is next, called distribution of surplus in the older documents. This is where income-sharing communities really exceed and excel. Everyone in a commune shares in the economic surplus which is distributed as equally as possible. All the members of a commune get to participate economically as much as they want. 

The fourth principle is “Autonomy and Independence” which is absolutely part of the commune scene. This is the problem that the FEC faces. No one is in charge in the communes. This is the “Egalitarian” part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. 

 The fifth principle of the Cooperative Principles is “Education, Training and Information”.  This is as needed in the communes as it is in the co-ops. One of the biggest requests in the FEC budget is for one type of training or another. 

The sixth principle is “Cooperation among Cooperatives” and this is as desirable and sought after in the communes as it is with the co-ops.  In fact, this could be the very purpose of the FEC. 

Finally, “Concern for Community” seems almost too self evident in the communes whose very nature is about building community. 

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All this is not to knock co-ops, but to point out that if you have done co-ops, especially co-op houses, and you want even more cooperation, maybe you should look at the communes.

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

Deep gratitude to all of our 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! 

 

Communal Cooperation

Thinking about Needs

by Raven Cotyledon

This may seem a bit off topic, but I think it’s very important. For people who want to start communities or folks who want to know why they can’t keep people in their commune, I believe that no one will be interested in a community or stay in one if their needs aren’t being met.

I have my own blog, which I have mentioned before, and which is now being neglected while I focus on Commune Life and commune building in New York City. I have thought about the concept of needs for a long time and, just a bit more than ten years ago, I wrote a post that inaugurated a series that lasted four months and involved something like forty-five posts, all focused on human needs.

I began by using, as a framework, psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs. Even though Max-Neef made his list in opposition to Maslow’s Hierarchy, I saw the two lists as compatible and created my own list, combining them, listing categories beginning with physiological/subsistence needs and finishing off with artistic and creativity needs, identity needs, and freedom needs. I followed this with forty-three posts, each talking, in some detail, about what might be needed to meet each of forty-three needs. I think this all is important to try to think about what the needs of each person in community might be and how to meet these needs. As I said in my wrap up post, these were all real needs and did not include things the advertisers claim you need.  There is no human need for SUVs or McMansions.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy

Since then I have encountered two other ways of looking at needs that I think are worth mentioning, from the perspectives of Nonviolent Communication and Permaculture.

One of the concepts in Nonviolent Communication (aka Compassionate Communication or NVC) is the difference between needs and strategies. An example is that I come from Boston and live in New York City. Most of the people I love are still in Boston. If something happened to one of them, I might have a real need to get up to Boston. (A need not on any of the lists, but a need just the same.) If I came to you and said that I needed to borrow your car, that would not actually be a need. It’s a strategy. I could get to Boston by bus, train, ship, plane, biking, walking, hitchhiking, and on and on.  There usually dozens, if not hundreds of strategies to meet a need. When needs seem to be in conflict, NVC claims that it’s often really about conflicting strategies.

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Where Maslow and NVC look at needs from a psychological and often individual perspective, Permaculture looks at them from a system perspective. In permaculture, they look at “elements” in a system, which could be plants in a garden or people in a commune.   Each ‘element’ has both needs and products or behaviors or yields or, I would say, gifts. The system part goes beyond the individual needs to looking at how one person’s gifts can meet another person’s needs, and with things in right relationship, the whole community can meet everyone’s needs. I love thinking about how person A’s needs can be met by person B’s gifts, and person B’s needs can be met by person C’s gifts, and then person C’s needs can be met by person A’s gifts. (This is oversimplified, but hopefully you get the idea.)

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Needs and gifts of a chicken

Maybe someday, the communes will figure out, not only how we can each meet other member’s needs, but we can do so effortlessly. Truly then we would have something that could transform this society.

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

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:

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

Communards
● Tobin Moore
● Kai Koru
● Jenn Morgan
● Jonathan Thaler
● Nance & Jack Williford
● Julia Evans
● William Croft
● Aaron Michels
● Cathy Loyd
● Laurel Baez
● Magda schonfeld
● Michael Hobson
● William Kadish
● Em Stiles
● Laurel Baez
● Lynette Shaw

Thanks!

Thinking about Needs

The Story

by Raven Cotyledon

There isn’t going to be a lot of new information in this post. Rather, I would like to look at the context that surrounds this information. I am going to call this context, “The Story”.

I will start off with a story that I am concerned about and is prevalent in this culture. It was popularized by Margaret Thatcher and goes by the acronym, TINA.  TINA stands for There Is No Alternative. It’s a story that keeps the status quo in place. Things may be awful, but if you believe that there is no alternative, there isn’t much that you can do.

The intentional communities movement, and especially the communes, have a very different story to tell. It is a story about creating many, many alternatives.

And I often start telling the story by talking about Twin Oaks. Twin Oaks is  contradiction to many of the stories that are told to support TINA. All the communes from the sixties failed and are long gone. Communism just doesn’t work.  A dictator (or small oligarchy) will always arise and use any communal situation for his (or their) benefit.

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Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary picture 

Twin Oaks is a commune that started in the sixties, has run for fifty-two years, has over a hundred people living there (including children), and is going strong. It is a small communist society, voluntary and built from the ground up, that functions pretty well. No dictator or oligarchy has emerged in those fifty-two years and, given how independent minded most of the Twin Oaks members are, if anyone tried, they would probably be thrown out.

But one commune doesn’t prove anything. The next thing that I talk about in my story is this blog.  Not because I manage it and write so much for it, but because of the massive amount of information here about communes around the US and around the world. We have articles about communes in Virginia and Missouri, but also in New York City, Washington, DC, Portland, Oregon, and Laramie, Wyoming , and rural communes in Quebec, New York state, Washington state, British Columbia, and Alaska. And beyond North America, we have stories about  Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany  and Las Indias in Spain, and the kibbutzim in Israel, which were not only the predecessors of the commune movement but are still being reinvented.  I have heard of more, and will publish whatever I find. Twin Oaks is not a single exception but part of what may be a worldwide phenomenon.

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Las Indias 

The Story expands from there. It’s not that I expect everyone to live on a commune, but that the communes are the far end of dozens of alternatives. There is a large world of communities to explore if you go over to the Fellowship for Intentional Communities website, ic.org–including cooperative and collective houses, ecovillages and cohousing projects, and, of course, communes. Beyond that is the world of cooperative businesses, alternative agriculture, soft technology, ecological design, sharing projects, and new ways of communicating, building relationships, and dealing with conflict. The Story that we are telling is not that there are no alternatives, but that there is an abundance of alternatives, the world is overflowing with alternatives.

As I have said, communities are laboratories for social change where we see what works and what doesn’t. This blog is important because it documents what is happening in the far end of those experiments. This is the new story, the story of the world we are building, one commune at a time.

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

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

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

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • William Kadish
  • Em Stiles
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw

Thanks!

 

The Story

Maximus

by Raven Cotyledon

I first met Maximus because I was part of the Point A team trying to build communes in East Coast cities.  I wanted to do something in the Boston area (where I have lived most of my life), so when we were able to do a talk at MIT, and I sent out stuff to all the local co-ops, I was excited that we got a fair attendance from them.  I was hoping a co-op in the Boston area would be interested in becoming a commune. A woman in one of the local co-ops said she thought that she knew someone who might be interested in income-sharing. It was Maximus, and he was starting a co-op in Binghamton, NY. Since then, Maximus has lived at the Cambia community in Louisa, VA, and East Brook Community Farm in Walton, NY.

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Maximus

Maximus is a graduate student at Binghamton University studying evolutionary biology.  His focus is on communal living and his passion is making videos about it. He recently made a video about me and I am returning the favor here by making a blog post about him.

I stopped managing Commune Life about the middle of February last year and it drifted for a while until Maximus decided to take it over last summer. But Maximus had bigger plans for Commune Life than just the blog. He started a YouTube channel and a Facebook page and got people to help him build a social media presence as well as an Instagram site.  He also decided to create a Patreon page to help fund all this.

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I agreed to post once a month on the blog and was the only one who posted on it until I decided to return to managing the Commune Life blog in January.  Meanwhile Maximus had turned Commune Life into a small empire. Since I returned to the blog, Maximus and I have been working together on Commune Life, with me focusing solely on the blog, and Maximus working with others to keep the whole Commune Life entity going.

Recently, Maximus began putting the posts from the Commune Life blog up on our Facebook page which has driven up traffic on the blog. He has been strongly encouraging others to make videos and has gotten Rejoice and Julia to create them, giving some diversity of views of the communes.

Maximus and I were also recently down at Twin Oaks, mostly because we are on an FEC financial team together, but Maximus took the opportunity to create a video about the latest Twin Oaks hammocks product. Hopefully that will be up on the Commune Life YouTube channel soon.

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Maximus in front of the Twin Oaks dining hall

I have been saying that the communes are a force for social change. Maximus is documenting the process in great detail. Thank you, Maximus, for the amazing work that you are doing.

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

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

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

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

Maximus

Small Percentages

by Raven Cotyledon

I wanted to entitle this post “Communes are Only a Very Small Percentage of Communities, and Communities are Only a Very Small Percentage of the Ways People Live,” but I figured that title was way too long to fit.

High and low rates of interest on the white background

In the nineteen-eighties, I was involved with a radical group and lived in a house with a bunch of folks including a woman also involved with this group. She said that one of the purposes of being so radical was not to expect that everyone would be radical but that we would push the dialogue left, helping moderates become liberal and liberals become progressive.

I do not expect everyone to live in a commune or even some form of community, but I want as many people as possible to know that communes and communities exist. I realize how small a percentage of the population lives in communities, let alone communes, but I think that everyone can learn important things about sharing, in fact radical sharing, from the communes.

Diana Leafe Christian, in her book Finding Community, briefly complains about how well known the communes are, given how small a percentage they make up of the communities movement. She says, “The first reason for this prominence, I think, is because income-sharing communitarians tend to be activists, if not enthusiastic proselytizers, for their radically non-competitive way of life.  For them, having a close-knit and intimate group (in the smaller communes), pooling incomes, taking care of each other financially, and being on a level playing field with fellow members financially is a form of political activism, and they’re proud of it.”
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Well, it’s true. I don’t think communards actually proselytize, but many of us (myself included) see living this way as a challenge to our competitive, capitalist society. I don’t expect everyone to do it but I want it known that it’s possible.  That’s the reason for this blog. That’s the reason that I talk with people, go to events (like the panel on sharing in communities that I was on Thursday, 2/7), and help start things like the meetup group in Manhattan on Communes and Communities that I am a co-organizer for.

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In a time when life in this society is only becoming more stressful, when inequality is increasing, and when people are feeling more and more isolated, our tiny number of communities, point to a different way.  And while I doubt we will ever include a large or even medium percentage of the population, I certainly want to grow our movement. I see us as the seed for something bigger. And I hope that this blog helps water that seed.

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

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

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

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

Small Percentages

Warts and All

by Raven Cotyledon

I sometimes worry that this blog sounds too much like “Rah, rah, communes!”  I don’t want anyone to think that the communes are perfect or that we are trying to claim that the communes are perfect.

Far from it.  The communes are filled with people and since there aren’t any perfect people, there aren’t any perfect communes. It’s true that many of the communes have high aspirations but even if the people in them managed to perfect themselves, the boundaries between the communes and the rest of society are very porous, with folks leaving and new folks coming in all the time.

Almost any ill that you can find in society, you can find in the communes.  I have hung around at various communities long enough to see the problems and bad behaviors fairly close up.

 

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Diagram of a wart

I occasionally think about writing this and even giving some of the gory details so this blog doesn’t sound too idealistic and to balance things out, but I generally don’t because, first, it would make me very unpopular at what ever commune I talked about, second, because folks who are threatened by the very existence of our communes would publicize these incidents as a way to destroy our communities,  and third, none of these are anything that you can’t find in some corner of any city, or for that matter, almost any rural town.

So, if the communes share all the problems the rest of the society has, why put all the work into creating them?

My answer is that they are also doing some things that you can’t find anywhere else. For example, Twin Oaks does have their fair share of problems and even pass out a booklet saying that they are not utopia, but they also have nearly a hundred people who live communally and share way more than you will find almost anywhere else, and they have been doing it for over fifty years, and contrary to many people’s expectations, there is no dictator or group of people that run everything.

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Charlie Chaplin as the Great Dictator

I say this because I saw something where someone commented on an article about Twin Oaks that any arrangement like that ‘invariably’ ended up with a small group running everything–and, honestly, Twin Oaks is a communist society, and the mainstream wants you to believe that a communist culture has to end up in a dictatorship. I can tell you that no one there would allow it.

I single out Twin Oaks because they are the oldest and biggest of the communes, but every one of the communes is an experiment, trying to live a different and better way. Some work (at least in the sense they last) and some fail, but each is a valiant effort and we can learn from each failure and each success about what is possible. And given the very fallible people they are filled with and the society that they are surrounded by, they struggle with all the problems you can name.

But I prize each of them, warts and all, because they point the way to another future. Another world is possible, and we are carving the way.

world

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

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

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

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

Warts and All