The Louisa County Community Cluster

by Raven Glomus

Louisa County is a 511 square mile county in central Virginia with a population of over thirty-three thousand folks.  It is also home to ten communities, including Twin Oaks, the oldest secular income-sharing community in the United States.

I had not realized how many communities there were in the county, until Paxus published his post on Meet the Communities and I counted the communities listed that were in Louisa, Mineral, and Cuckoo (all locations in the county).  There are nine in the table Paxus included and I am adding a tenth that I know of. Here’s my summary of the communities in the county.  (I want to thank Jules from Twin Oaks who went over all the communities with me and knows a lot more about them since they actually live in the county.)

Twin Oaks

Twin Oaks, as I said, is the oldest of the communes, having been established way back  in 1967.  It has a population capacity of 93 adults and 15 children but currently has around seventy members.  It has a lot of industries, from making hammocks to making tofu and from indexing books to growing ornamental flowers to changing the flooring of an auditorium in Charlottesville to managing the Seed Racks portion of Acorn’s seed business .  Right now, given their low population, they are actively seeking new members. They ask interested folks to begin the membership process through their visitor program.

Acorn

Acorn Community has been around for around twenty-eight years now (established in 1993). Traditionally, they kept their numbers low–to around thirty full members.  Recently they began talking about expanding to closer to forty full members, however, there has been some major disagreements among members resulting in a lot of folks leaving and their population has plummeted to currently about fifteen folks.  They have one, very successful business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  They are actively looking for folks now.

Living Energy Farm

Living Energy Farm is a community dedicated to the idea that it is possible to live a fulfilling life without the use of fossil fuels.  Although they started planning the community in 2010, they began living together in 2012.  They originally started with the idea of being an egalitarian, income-sharing community, but they have changed their status with the FEC to being an ‘Ally Community’, mostly to focus on their work of developing sustainable living situations.  I sometimes refer to them as being the research arm of the communes in Virginia. They run Living Energy Lights as a way to make some of their solar energy systems available to the public.  They have done projects to help underdeveloped areas use these systems, like their work in Arizona with the Navajo and Hopi reservations and in Jamaica.  They are currently looking for both volunteers and members.

Magnolia House

Magnolia House is a house in the town area of Louisa that Living Energy Farm owns and has retrofitted it to be “off-grid.”  In his table of communities, Paxus lists it as an ‘LEF Affiliate’.  My understanding is that the people who are living there would like it to become a community in its own right.  Unfortunately, beyond this I have little information and no pictures–I have never seen the place and know little about it other than what I have heard.

Cambia

Cambia is a quirky, creative little commune with a high degree of playfulness and whimsy.  Founded in 2015, they see themselves as trying “to create human habitat that emulates the beauty and complexity of living systems.”  They run an educational program that they call “Rustling Roots” and do a variety of work for other communities and outside programs.  I’m not clear whether they are currently looking for folks or not, but they do write a bit about visiting and joining them on their website.

Little Flower

Little Flower describe themselves as a small Catholic Worker homestead.My understanding is that it is primarily a couple who grow food, practice radical hospitality, and engage in political activism.  They welcome visitors.

Community of Peace

Community of Peace describes itself as “an ecumenical Christ-centered community of welcome, sung prayer, dialogue, and solidarity” and claims to be inspired by the Taize Community in France.  I know little about this community, other than it’s in Louisa, it was listed on Paxus’ table of communities that might be coming to the Meet the Communities at the Quink Fest, and what I could get from the website.  Honestly, it looks like the efforts of one person at this point.  It’s not clear whether the community is looking for members right now but the website talks about what they do and how to connect with Brother Stephan Andre.

The Cuckoo Compound

The Cuckoo Compound is in a village that is part of Mineral, Virginia, and is actually called Cuckoo.  They say that they are “a loose collective that anticipates hosting lowkey events like potlucks, craft nights, and shows!”  I know of some of the folks there and they seem pretty cool but I’m not sure that they are looking for new members.  They look like they have some fun events there, though.

Serenity Community for Justice and Peace

The Serenity Community is one of the newest, forming communities in Louisa.  It’s an ambitious project to start a BIPOC led community and, as far as I know, they do not even have land yet. They do have support from the other communities around them.  I am hoping to have more about them on this blog as the community develops and I, personally, am hoping to become more involved with them.  I don’t think they have a membership process yet but, particularly if you are a person of color who has been disappointed in how BIPOC folks have been treated in most communities, you can probably contact them through their Facebook page.  (Also, for those interested in understanding the experience of BIPOC folks in community, the Foundation for Intentional Communities is sponsoring a panel on Zoom called BIPOC Members Speak: A Conversation About Community. Follow the link for more information.)

Bakers Branch

I have been hearing about these folks for years but have little information about them other than they are an association of ex Twin Oakers and others that have formed a land trust on a road halfway between Twin Oaks and Acorn.  I doubt that they are looking for new folks (they were not even listed in Paxus’ Meet the Communities event) but I just think that it’s good to know that they’re there, one more part of the conglomeration of communities in Louisa County.

The Louisa County Community Cluster

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

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!

____________________________________________________________________________

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

Conflict in Community

by Raven Glomus

Let me start by admitting that I am a conflict avoider.  I’m scared of conflict and would rather that it didn’t happen.  But the reality is it does happen, and often, and it needs to be dealt with or it can destroy a community.

A community that I helped build in the nineteen-nineties fell apart and it was partly due to ongoing and poorly dealt with conflict.  Years later, I was talking with one of the folks I built the community with and he said to me, “Didn’t you see all the conflicts happening?”

I said, “Yes, I did but I thought that if I ignored them, they would go away.”  Here’s the first thing you need to know about dealing with conflict: ignoring it or denying that it’s happening, doesn’t work and often makes things worse.  

A better way of putting this is that the first thing you need to do to deal with conflict in community is to point it out (if no one is talking about it) and say that it needs to be addressed by the group.  Even if it seems like a private thing between two people, if they are not able to resolve it, it will affect the whole community.

I don’t have all the answers about how to deal with conflict.  I know that there are numerous seminars on how to make conflict a constructive force.  I haven’t taken any of them.  I just know that I’ve learned a few things in the years since that first community collapsed and I will share what I’ve learned here in case other folks in community can benefit.

The first, again, is to point out and address the conflict as a group.  The second is something that folks need to do, hopefully before conflict happens.

What I’ve seen is that groups where members have made serious commitments to each other, do better when conflict arises.  Ganas, which is not an egalitarian community but I lived in and has an interesting approach to conflict, almost attracts conflict.  More than occasionally in the morning meetings that I attended, arguments erupted and were encouraged.  I’m not saying this approach works, but what was most interesting is that often folks that were literally screaming at each other in the meeting were later working together. Ganas has been doing this for more than forty years and it is still continuing on.  I am convinced that the reason that they survive is that the core group has made long-term commitments to each other that holds them together in spite of serious disagreements.

At Glomus Commune, where I now live, we have gone through some fairly strong disagreements, particularly during the height of COVID, where folks had very different ideas about how to keep the community safe.  What was impressive to me was to see people who argued intensively during meetings, getting close with each other afterwards and making it clear that they really cared about each other even if they disagreed.

A third thing that can be useful in situations of conflict is getting a mediator involved.  If the situation is simply between two people in the community, if there is someone else in the community, skilled in mediation, they can be very helpful.  If the situation involves more people or there is no one skilled within the group, bringing in an outside mediator may be what’s required.  I know that after that first community collapsed, one of the people I lived with suggested that if we had brought in a mediator, the community might have survived.

I’m sure that there are more useful tools for dealing with communal conflicts and, if you know of some, I’d love to hear about it, but I wanted to at least put out what I know in the hopes that it might help some other communities that find themselves in conflict and at a loss for what to do.

Conflict in Community

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

____________________________________________________________________________

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.

____________________________________________________________________________

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! 

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