Living Energy Farm in Jamaica

(Editor’s Note:  Living Energy Farm is a community in Louisa, Virginia that I often describe as the ecological research station for the communes.  They are investigating ways to live as sustainably as possible and they have been using what they learn to help less privileged folks around the world. Debbie and Alexis are two of the founders of LEF. – Raven)

from Living Energy Farm’s May-June 2021 Newsletter

In May, Debbie’s sister Carrie went to Jamaica to do some work in preparation for expanding our renewable energy projects there. We taught Carrie how to make our solar cookers (see http://conev.org/ISECmanual14.pdf ), and she in turn taught folks in Jamaica how to make them. We received $1000 in funding from the work group at Cal Poly and sent down enough materials to make 10 cookers. The cookers are an adaptation of Insulated Solar Electric Cookers developed at Cal Poly, and we have found them to be the most effective solar cookers on the market. Now that technology has been transplanted, and we are pleased about that! Alexis and ex-intern Onyx will be going down in July to expand that project. We will also be installing our solar powered breadfruit equipment, and helping with the nickel iron battery kits we have been sending down. This is all very exciting for us. (See previous newsletters for more details about the history of our projects in Jamaica. For information about the Cal Poly project, see http://sharedcurriculum.peteschwartz.net/solar-electric-cooking/

Teaching folks how to build the solar cookers in Jamaica

We have been saying for years that a good DC Microgrid can provide modern services without any reliance on coal, nuclear, natural gas, or industrial renewable energy systems. But that’s a hard sell in the U.S. where consumerism reigns and centralized renewable energy promotion dominates. The grandiose vision is that we get a project started in Jamaica than can provide energy services to working class people, and we spread that model far and wide beyond Jamaica. But it is not all clear at this time how realistic that vision might be, how long it might take, or how much money might be necessary. We hope we are improving the lives of some working class people in Jamaica by providing them with durable solar equipment. If the grandiose vision of making the global electrical grid obsolete does not work out in any timely fashion, then we will at least do some useful things along the way.

Solar cooker workshop finale.

Living Energy Farm in Jamaica

Hardwired to Connect

by Raven Glomus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks 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

Vladimir Lenin vs Buckminister Fuller

by Raven Glomus

In this corner…

Nevermind.  I will assume that most of the folks who read this at least have heard of both of these guys.

Lenin became a Marxist in 1889.  He believed strongly in Communism.  What differentiated his way of thinking from Karl Marx’s was that Marx thought that people would spontaneously revolt and form a communist state. Lenin said, instead, that a “network of agents” could agitate and    guide people to create a revolution. He started the Bolshevik Party which eventually seized power in Russia in 1917. He thought that a communist society could be formed this way.  

The Soviet Union could be thought of as an experiment to see if you could create communism from the top down.  We now know the answer to this.  I suppose it might have been a useful experiment, but it involved several million participants, many unwilling.  In most experiments with human subjects, participation is voluntary and there are ethical protocols to protect them.  Hopefully, now that we know the outcome, this particular experiment won’t be repeated.

Vladimir Lenin, Social Scientist

R. Buckminister Fuller was an architect and philosopher who was best known for designing the geodesic dome.  He was expelled from Harvard University during his freshman year, but later received 44 honorary doctoral degrees.  He wrote lots of books.  My favorite quote from him is “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  

In other words, instead of overthrowing a government and trying to impose communism on the population, if you want to create a communist society, you build a model that works first.  And, if you view this as another experiment, try a small scale model that’s completely voluntary.  Twin Oaks might be an example of that.  Unlike the Soviet Union, Twin Oaks is still around.  Everything about it hasn’t worked, but it’s an experiment and we can learn a lot by observing it.  I know that Keenan Dakota doesn’t believe that Communal societies will defeat capitalism but give it time.  We are still trying to build the right model and as we create new communities, we are learning what works and what doesn’t.  Building from the bottom up takes a lot more time (which is why Lenin tried to use a shortcut), but it may be the only way to create something new.

Bucky Fuller, Dome Designer and Philosopher

I want to end with two other quotes from system designers:

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work.” ― John Gall

“The way to build a complex system that works is to build it from very simple systems that work.” ― Kevin Kelly

I think of communes as simple systems that work–at least some of the time.  If we want to create an alternative to this capitalist society, we can’t do it by starting from the top.  We need to do it by building small scale models that may eventually make corporate capitalism obsolete–communes for example (and probably other things as well).  I think that it’s the only way to go and I think Buckminister Fuller wins this round.

Vladimir Lenin vs Buckminister Fuller

The Many Failed Theories of Twin Oaks Community

By Keenan Dakota

[Disclaimer: This is actually an opinion piece by Keenan, not a well-designed experiment with a control group, or statistics, or any math at all. Repeat: this is NOT actual science.]

Twin Oaks was started in 1967 as an experimental community by a group of people inspired by the behaviorist theory in B.F. Skinner’s utopian novel, Walden Two. After fifty plus years of ongoing experimentation, we now have some results to report.

Theory: A society can apply Behaviorism to improve individual members’ function and happiness.

Fail: The very premise that brought the initial group together, that Behaviorism—widely and properly implemented—could remove undesirable human traits was the first failed theory of Twin Oaks. At Twin Oaks, human behavior has proven to be extraordinarily resistant to any generally applied theory or practices—for instance, interpersonal tension and communal drama are enduring problems at Twin Oaks. Kudos to the founders for choosing the survival of the community over clinging to an empirically failed theory.

BF Skinner, influential behaviorist

Theory: A village can raise a child better than a family can.

Fail: In 1973, Twin Oaks began the official child program based on the theory that the whole community would be responsible for raising the children. Part of the rationale was provided by evidence from the mainstream culture with its child abuse, neglect, and enduring cycles of familial dysfunction. Obviously, merely being able to biologically procreate was no qualification for raising children, right? Sounds good in theory, but in practice there are many flaws with a whole community attempting to raise children. (The history of the kibbutz illuminates a similar arc in child-rearing theory—starting communal and evolving toward supporting families .) Twin Oaks, in a fairly short period of time, moved away from communal child-rearing toward emphasizing and strengthening families. These changes included designing living spaces that allowed closer family connection, writing policies that expected parents to be responsible for their children, and giving parents autonomy over how their kids were raised.

Kibbutz babies

Theory: Members of a community become cohesive by living in close proximity to each other.

Fail: Early Twin Oaks designers clustered buildings together, clustered bedrooms together, and skimped on sound insulation between rooms. For decades now, Twin Oaks has been remodeling to try to undo those early mistakes. Twin Oaks has learned that the ability to have privacy is absolutely key to happiness in a communal setting. Specifically, acoustic separation is a key component of successful community living.

Theory: A strong community comes from a sense of connection to all of the members of the community.

Fail: close emotional connection tends to happen among small subgroups in a community, not collectively among all members of the community. The community is stronger when there are many subgroups that have tight emotional connections. Although, over the years here at Twin Oaks, many attempts have been made to build cohesion among the entire community, these attempts have met with, at best, modest success. What has been more successful has been encouraging cohesion among small groups. Some small groups are living groups, some are work groups, and, of course, families are close-knit small groups. It turns out that strong families, because of their enduring commitment to the well-being of the community, are a foundational component for a robust and enduring community.

Capitalism?

Theory: Communal societies will defeat capitalism.

Fail: To operate outside of capitalism entirely requires being almost totally self-sufficient: Twin Oaks is successful due to operating several thriving businesses. In the communal movement, only very small groups of people have managed to be so self-sufficient that they can be said to operate outside of the capitalist system. Rather, it turns out that collective living is a very effective way to out-compete mainstream businesses. Communities can offer lower prices on products due to cost-cutting on labor. Communities have a skilled work force with higher quality control due to the workers owning the businesses. Additionally, communal businesses are surprisingly nimble; if one communal business shrinks, or fails, workers can—the very next day—start working in a different business at the community.

I refer here again to the kibbutz movement which has been thriving for well over 100 years. In its heyday, about two percent of Israel’s population lived on a kibbutz—capitalists were not quaking in their boots in Israel. Even today, the kibbutzim run many large corporations in Israel.

However, a significant component of communal businesses is the creation of very empowered workers—since the workers also own the business. In a community business, workers are involved in every business decision. In addition to tremendous work flexibility, communal businesses do not build consciously shoddy products, nor have unsafe working conditions, nor run unethical businesses. If communes were to become a huge movement, empowered communal workers would provide a bulwark against the worst practices of mainstream capitalist corporations. So that’s good.

But overturn Capitalism as a theory? No.

Some theories that have worked:

Twin Oaks has managed to survive and thrive through the years by being nimble in shuffling through a lot of ideas quickly (and/or eventually) —discarding bad ideas that don’t work.

Here are some theories that Twin Oakers adopted which actually worked from the outset.

Theory: People thrive when citizens are equal.

Success: Twin Oaks’ commitment to equality from day one has proven to be a successful and enduring theory. Every part of Twin Oaks’ culture has been structured to create and perpetuate a society where the citizens are equal. A cost of this commitment to equality is significant constraints on some aspects of personal liberty. Economic equality requires constraints on individual members accumulating wealth. Political equality limits members’ ability to accumulate political power. Work equality (that is that no category of labor is valued as more vital than any other work) limits the tendency of a professional elite from developing. Overall human equality, means there is no discrimination against any category of people. (Admittedly, the lack of a lower class does make it a bit harder to keep the place clean, as the lower class in almost every society does most of the cleaning.)

Theory: Widely distributing power among the membership creates a strong decision-making culture.

Success: “Light as a feather! stiff as a board!”—ever done that? If every member takes on some little bit of responsibility, then the community thrives. At Twin Oaks, power (decision-making) is widely distributed. Some people could plausibly point out that collective decision-making is problematic because there are so many things that the community is routinely failing to manage well, or at all. But in the mainstream corporations fail all of the time. Additionally, mainstream corporations sometimes commit horrific evil.

The point is that, collectively, the community has continued to thrive in spite of having untrained amateurs in charge throughout the community.

It turns out that many people like having a little bit of power, or, let’s call it “agency.” Since power is something that needs to exist, Twin Oaks has wisely decided to spread power throughout the community so that the need for the exercise of power does not contribute to the growth of evil.

A couple of Twin Oakers laying cable

Theory: A well-functioning society does not need specialists.

Success: We are all dilettantes here at Twin Oaks. The knowledge needed to run a major corporation, or fix plumbing, apparently does not require years of study or apprenticeship. Any training that anyone needs is now available on Youtube. But even before the advent of Youtube, Twin Oaks built buildings, dug foundations, fixed cars, met government regulations, developed new products, filed corporate taxes—all without formal training in those skills.

It turns out that people like a diversity of work. Many members like the challenge of pursuing an entirely new career, or developing a new skill. Opening up to a diversity of work allows members the opportunity to explore personal interests. This makes people happier. Also, the community is more robust from having a deep bench of people who can work in any given work area.

Theory: Children are important.

Success: Twin Oaks has always put a significant amount of the community’s labor resources toward raising children. Twin Oaks is an exceptionally child-focused community. The result is that Twin Oaks raises healthy, happy children who later become healthy, happy—and accomplished—adults. Prospective members who are considering having children choose to live at Twin Oaks. Prospective members who don’t want to have children, but like to be around children are drawn to Twin Oaks. Also, the presence of children in the community—including adults who grew up in the community speak to the enduring stability of Twin Oaks.

Ironically, or, perhaps, predictably, due to the amount of communal resources that go to raising children, Twin Oaks has set an upper limit on the number of children who live at Twin Oaks. Consequently, Twin Oaks tends not to tout our child focus online because the community is rarely open to more families with children moving to the community. Twin Oaks also keeps the child thing on the down low because we do want to raise happy, healthy children, not children who might suffer from the burden of representing the community or the communal movement, so we attempt to shield them from that cultural pressure.

Twin Oaks children

Theory: Behavior is changed by policy.

Success: Policy is the one tool that the community uses that routinely alters members’ behavior. Policy determines how much work people do. The community establishes non-violence as a core value, and thus the community is largely free of any violence. Policy determines what decisions need to go through communal process. Policy determines what does and does not qualify as sick time. Members are remarkably respectful of policy decisions. Policy turns out to be the most effective tool for altering the behavior of people collectively. Especially policy that members have a hand in crafting.

Through policy, community culture is created. To date we have created an enduring culture where members can comfortably and productively live their entire lives. Elders are cared for. Children are raised to be healthy and to recognize their own agency. Members feel equal and empowered.

But are people happier here, living in community? We don’t have clear evidence. The hope contained in the initial focus on Behaviorism was to create empirically happier people. In spite of the initial motivation of the community’s founders, and many, many attempts by various groups within the community, Twin Oaks has not yet found a theory that can effectively or routinely make individuals happy, feel fulfilled, eat well, defeat addictions, not be jealous, or be disciplined in attaining personal goals.

…so our collective experiment continues…

We will keep you posted on our results.

The Many Failed Theories of Twin Oaks Community

BIPOC IC Fund

It’s Martin Luther King day in the US and I don’t want this to be lost amidst the pandemic, the storming of the Capitol, the inauguration, etc. Racial injustice is still a major problem in the US (and world) and most communities (especially the communes) are overwhelmingly white.

The Foundation for Intentional Communities decided that something needed to be done about it and this past summer decided to put money into creating change. In November they sent out this email:

None of these links work because these are photocopies of the letter, but if you are interested in exploring this more, here is a link that does work and you can find out more info and ways to donate.

If you believe that communal living has something to offer the world (as I do) then here is a way to make it more accessible to the people who are usually left out of the process.

There have also been several attempts to support the creation of income-sharing communities led by folks of color, but as of the moment, I don’t know that any of these has actually started. It’s very hard to start communes in general and when there’s folks from a less privileged group trying to start it, it seems nearly impossible. Still, I want to credit the FIC for forming a fund to at least remove some of the financial barriers, both to starting communities and to joining communities. I truly hope that this results in more alternatives opening up in the communities movement for Black and Indigenous folks and other People of Color.

— Raven

BIPOC IC Fund

Biting the Hand

by Raven Glomus

I often refer to Living Energy Farm as the research arm of the Virginia communes.  They have had some difficulty becoming a commune themselves (although they seem to be making some progress lately) but they know more than anyplace else that I know of about alternative technologies and ways to deal with climate realities.  They periodically publish a newsletter about all that they are up to and it is almost always worth reading from beginning to end.

A Biogas Digester from the August, September, October 2020 LEF Newsletter

Their most recent newsletter contained a section that I would like to reprint in full:

***

Ending the Use of Facebook

It has been clear for a while that the management of Facebook has reactionary leanings. It has become clear more recently that Facebook is using its very powerful platform to try to strangle alternative news media outlets while advancing racist organizations. A story about that issue is here  https://www.democracynow.org/2020/10/29/ari_berman_mother_jones_facebook_censorship

Living Energy Farm will be deleting our Facebook accounts shortly. Please communicate with us through other means. 

***

I never wanted to be on Facebook.  I was persuaded to help out with the Commune Life Facebook page, especially when I realized it was reaching many more folks than this blog.  This blog averages around 150 views per day, which doesn’t sound too bad, but the vast majority of them, day after day, are the same three posts:  “How to Start a Commune”, “Four Steps to Building a Commune”, and “So You Want to Start a Community”.  I get that people are interested in creating communities, but it’s frustrating to write stuff three times a week and see interest in the single digits–if that.  (Of course, I had forgotten that this blog has 110 ‘followers’, so there’s 110 people that see new material each day.)

On Facebook it’s different.  The statistics can fluctuate wildly, from fifty folks to over five hundred, depending on how the piece is written and how controversial the subject is–and whether there are animals in the pictures or, perhaps, dumpstered food, both of which get a lot of interest.  

One of my goals has been to reach folks that have never heard of income-sharing communities and may not have even realized that it’s something that’s possible, and Facebook is a way to do that.  Plus, there are other useful features (our community uses Facebook messenger to communicate with one another and we have to make a special effort to reach the one person that doesn’t use Facebook) and Facebook also owns Instagram which makes it easy to post in both places.

I don’t like Facebook.  I don’t like that we use a big corporate entity for our communication.  I don’t like their politics or their policies. (I can see why Living Energy Farm would want to leave them.)  I don’t like that they own Instagram and WhatsApp (which international visitors have used to communicate with me–and even one of my old communards used it when we discovered that for some reason our phones would often not be able to text each other).

But, right now, I am using Facebook (and I plan to reference this post on Facebook tomorrow) because I do want to reach people that I couldn’t otherwise reach.  I hate it but it’s useful and my priority is communication.  I want the world to know about communes, so I use Facebook, day after day after day.

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

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:
 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Colby Baez
  • Heather
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Kai Koru
  • Kate McGuire
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • NorthernSoul Truelove
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Twin Oaks
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Biting the Hand

Feeding the HONK! activists

We dumpstered enough food to feed an entire festival. Here is how.

I am lucky enough to live at Glomus Commune with Theresa and Rachael and Telos and Sophia, all of whom are sitting together in the video. But there are also other communards who get involved the dumpster diving and the Honk! festival–Anande, who also lives here, and Jules, from Twin Oaks, are especially prominent in the video. It’s a way that we take our communal values out into the world. – Raven

Feeding the HONK! activists

Emergent Community–Part Two

by Raven Glomus

This is the second part of a piece focusing on how adrienne maree brown’s six elements from her book, Emergent Strategy, apply to commune building.  My last piece focused on commune building as Fractal, Interdependent and Decentralized,and Non-Linear and Iterative.  Here I will focus on why we need to build communes to be Adaptive, Resilient and Transformative, and in a way that Creates More Possibilities.

In Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown talks about Intentional Adaptation–that is adaptation with intention.  She refers to this process as “how we change”.  And communities need to be open to change and changing.  A community that can’t change, dies.  But any community that simply goes with whatever changes happen isn’t going to last long either.  The key, as amb puts it, is to have an intention, a goal or end point in mind, and to make sure that any changes, whatever adaptation we do, keeps us moving toward that goal.   And in order to have that goal, a community needs to have a vision–what is it that we want to move toward?  And, as we encounter each place that we need to change, the community needs to ask itself, what changes will move us closer to our vision?  What changes will move us away?  This is an ongoing process, because we will always need to keep changing and we don’t want our vision to be static.  We need to keep dreaming (collectively) of where we want to be and keep updating our vision and our goals as we go through each change.

This is very related to the next element, Resilience, which adrienne maree brown refers to as “how we recover and transform”.  Some of the changes we will encounter may be relatively simple, but sometimes a commune will encounter things that are more challenging and may cause real problems for the community and sometimes within the community.   We may need to do more than adapt, we may need to recover from traumatic disruptions.  We may need to collectively heal.  We may need to change in ways that transform the commune. The question always is, how can we transform the community in ways that are of service to our vision?  In the book, adrienne maree brown talks about the principles of Transformative Justice to keep in mind as we make the changes that we need in order to heal the community. She quotes Shira Hassan, “In order to resist one size fits all justice, we have to resist the idea that every process looks the same.”  I love amb’s advice here: “Relinquish Frankenstein.  You are not  creating people to be with, or work with, some idealized individuals made of perfect parts of personality… Stop trying to make and fix others, and instead be curious about what they have made of themselves.”  Communes aren’t made of perfect folks, they are made of flawed people struggling to build something together.  Again, quoting adrienne maree brown, we need to “Commit to being in each other’s lives, and doing whatever is needed to ensure that in the long term.”  What great community building advice!

Her final element, and I believe perhaps the most important, is that we work toward “Creating More Possibilities.”  This is why I am so happy that there are so many different flavors of communes out there and only wish there were more.  If we see community building as a way to explore social change, we need to acknowledge that we are not trying to build a perfect alternative.  Rather, we are trying to build many different alternatives, with the realization that no one way works for everyone.  Certainly income-sharing communities aren’t the only way to go, but even among communes, there should be differences and there should be support for folks trying even more new things.  There is a reason so many of us love rainbows–all those different colors existing together.  As we create a communities movement, as we support organizations such as the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and the Foundation for Intentional Communities,  we are building the small scale version of the world we want (going back to amb’s Fractal element), one in which there are many different possibilities and we are working to create more.

____________________________________________________________________________

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! 

Emergent Community–Part Two

Emergent Community–Part One

by Raven Glomus

I have been reading (and re-reading) adrienne maree brown’s wonderful book, Emergent Strategy.  I have often said that I see intentional communities (especially income-sharing communities) as laboratories for social change.  What adrienne maree brown lays out in her book is that she sees six elements involved in social change (based partly on her reading of Octavia Butler’s ideas in Parable of the Sower).  According to her, change is Fractal, Adaptive, Non-Linear and Iterative, Resilient and Transformative (as in Transformative Justice), Interdependent and Decentralized, and Creates More Possibilities.

I want to look at how these elements apply to the building of communes as well as seeing communes as part of a social change strategy.  In this first part, I’ll focus on three of these elements, seeing commune building as Fractal, Interdependent and Decentralized,and Non-Linear and Iterative.  I will look at the remaining three elements in my next piece.

Let me start with the fractal nature of commune building.  When adrienne maree brown uses the term ‘fractal’, she defines it as “the relationship between small and large.”  She points out that “How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale.”  This is exactly what I mean by communities as social change laboratories.  In building communes, we try to create on a small scale the world that we wish to see.  The end doesn’t justify the means, the means reflects the end goal.  My point about communities as laboratories is that through them we get to test out, on a small scale, what works and doesn’t work for the world that we want to build.  The communes are egalitarian, because we want to build a society based on equality.  We share so much, because we believe that sharing can improve the world.

Interdependent and decentralized is a very apt description of the commune world–including the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.  Communes are not this monolithic entity.  There is no central communal authority.  The communes are each worlds unto themselves, networked together by the relationships between them.  We like having dozens of different flavors of community..  Rather than trying to have one way to build a commune, we have many different communes and each is responsible for itself–and we are also responsible for each other, since we see how we are connected.  It makes accountability tricky, since the ultimate authority resides in the individual community but, because we are connected and interdependent, we also have some leverage with each other.

I used this particular order for the elements (not exactly the order that adrienne maree brown puts them in, although they are in a slightly different order in the two places in the book where she lists them), because I think this is the most useful order for community building.  First you want to think about where you are heading (building something that reflects the world that you want to see) and then realize that what we are building needs to be decentralized and interdependent.  The third element comes in as you build community–the process is non-linear and iterative.  

I think that this may be the most important thing to realize.  It’s not a straight line path at all.  You may plan to build community in a certain way and then you realize that things start falling into place, but hardly in the order you anticipated.  You will soon find out that you can’t control the process.  I love the term ‘emergent strategy’ because emergent phenomena come as they will, not as you want.  Perhaps the most important part to realize is that saying it is iterative is to say that you will find yourself doing the same thing, again and again and again.  And then it happens again.  You may think that you are going in circles, but often it’s more like spirals.  It may seem like you are back in the same place but you are actually a level higher.  If it sounds like it might be frustrating, you are beginning to understand the process of commune building.  As Katarzyna Gajewska pointed out in her post about Community and Techie Fallacy, building a commune is not anything like building a bridge.  You can’t just draft some plans and build it, step by step.  You need to be prepared for some amount of chaos, the whole process through.

In my next post, I will look at the final three elements as pointing out how communities need to be.

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Thanks! 

Emergent Community–Part One

Filters

In early August, Theresa wrote a Facebook post wondering about how we could make the communes more accessible to more people–and also mentioned that the communes filter out people. That’s not a bad thing, but maybe we need to change the filters:

You can see that it got a lot of comments. The first few are personal responses, mostly pretty much on target.

Then Allen Butcher (at first responding as ‘The Fellowship of Intentioneers’) joined the discussion and it soon became a three way triolog between him, Zamin Danty, and me, Raven (sometimes posting as Commune Life). The following thread quickly becomes very long, technical, ideological, and perhaps nitpicking, as we focus on the differences between ‘communalism’, communism, and anarchism and which are best, and even appropriate, for describing what we do in egalitarian communities. If you are bored by long-winded political discussions, you may want to end reading here. On the other hand, if you are a commune theory buff and the nitty gritty of how income sharing relates to political movements, read on.

Filters