Alternatives to Kakistocracy -Government by the Worst

by Pamela Boyce Simms,

co-published on the GEO blog

February 5, 2017

Day 17 of the First 100 Days

The Administration of the 45th President of the United States

We’ve had a front row seat for two weeks to American kakistocracy – government by the worst, most incompetent, and inappropriate persons. We’ve witnessed the new administration’s willful disregard for the Constitution, lack of forethought or regard for the sweeping impact of policy decisions on the population, and the steady, targeted erosion of rights. Americans took to the streets to resist the pathology of self-serving, morally bankrupt oligarchs.

Solution-thinking: Counter fragmentation with collaboration. If a dysfunctional government ignores the needs of its constituents and seeks to normalize discrimination, we respond by affirming our diversity and strengthen our interdependence. If the executive branch is plagued by power-and-control infighting, operates under cover of darkness, and is ruled by impulse, we counterbalance with collaboration, transparency, and wisdom. The task of transforming the collective unconscious so as to give rise to a new kind of government falls to us.

Alternatives: Resistance is a vital “holding action” that saves lives and alleviates suffering. Long term localized resilience-building will get us through the eye of the climate change needle. For environmentalists and

Collaborative, Evolutionary Culture-building

allies, step one is to take our cue from natural living systems which self-organize seamlessly. Step two is to look to the best examples of human ecosystems which are already actively engaged in biomimicry —modeling systems on nature, and biological processes.

Make like a tree: Organic, self-organizing tree intelligence. Oh, would that we could behave like trees, our oldest companions on Earth! Trees are social beings. They speak a sophisticated silent language, communicating complex information via smell, taste and electrical impluse. We’re only just beginning to understand non-human consciousness.

Trees share their food and sometimes nourish competitors. They know the advantages of working together. On its own a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It’s at the mercy of the wind and weather. But together many trees create an ecosystem that moderates weather extremes. In this protected environment trees can live to be very old. To get to this point the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree was only looking out for itself, quite a few would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in large gaps in the tree canopy allowing storms to ravage the community and uproot members. Summer heat would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer.

Every tree therefore is valuable and worth keeping around for as long as possible. That’s why sick individuals are nourished by neighbor trees until they recover. Next time it may be the other way around. The supporting tree may be the one in need of assistance.(The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben, 2016)


Human ecosystem self-organizing: While “collaboration” and “cooperation” have become buzzwords, relatively few Americans —conditioned as we are in a competitive, top-down, hierarchical culture, really know what that looks like over the long haul. Authentic cooperation requires people to change deeply imprinted habit patterns which are continually reinforced by a society that deliberately seeks to divide us. We are called to compassionately heal our schisms. We seek true unity and regenerative wholeness.

While many movements commit intellectually to pursuing wholeness through cooperation, thousands of intentional communities throughout the United States already demonstrate just that. Intentional communities are groups of people who have decided to find ways to live together cooperatively. Irrespective of how diverse a group of people in an intentional community may be, there is a shared allegiance to the baseline value of sustained cooperation.

The Fellowship for Intentional Community and the Point “A” Project which creates urban Income-sharing communities are standard bearers in the intentional community movement. They embrace anyone with the gumption to self-liberate from the corrosive mainstream matrix. Intentional communities offer supportive pathways toward healthy interdependence and ways to thrive in breathing space that takes some distance from the mainstream.

As per Raven, a spokesperson for the Point A Project, “Intentional communities are laboratories for social change. Each one tries something different and sees how it works. That’s why there are five different income-sharing intentional communities clustered together in Louisa County, Virginia for example. Most communities have alt2some type of mission. So, the Virginia communities of Twin Oaks, Acorn, Cambia, LEF, and Sapling have been described as slightly different “flavors” of community —each having a different emphasis, and attracting different folks. The big draws to intentional community are the opportunity to be around a group of like-minded people, and wanting to be part of something bigger than oneself. In community you have support. When things get difficult it’s good not to be alone.  And sharing, even the light sharing that is done in co-housing communities just makes people’s lives easier.”

In Raven’s home community of Ganas, an intentional community on Staten Island in New York City, deep relationship-building as a deliberate process takes center stage. Environmental resilience, social justice, urban communal living, and agroecology, organic or biodynamic farming are some of  the underlying drivers of other communities.

While living in intentional community may be a giant step away from the mainstream for some, we would all be wise to gravitate toward kindred spirits with whom we can navigate the rough waters that lie ahead. If the first 17 days of the new administration foreshadow the next four years in the context of anticipated climate change, we will need to tap deeply into our own inner resilience, and most especially, we’ll need each other.

Faciltating Regional Transition to Resilience

Pamela Boyce Simms,

See: The First 100 Days – We Have Choices 

Movements & Struggles:
Environmental Justice
Institutions & Structures:
Visions & Models:
Economic Sectors:
Practices, Tools & Strategies:
Alternatives to Kakistocracy -Government by the Worst

Communes Model the “Great Transition”

By Pamela Boyce Simms

Intentional communities, especially communes, are the bushwhacking pathfinders for the rest of us social movement folk. Communes in any era are windows into the growing edge of society’s thinking. Communitarians dare to do, live, and demonstrate the deep cooperation that many want, but relatively few have the chops to try.

As a convener of a six-state Mid-Atlantic network of environmentalists it’s my pleasure to spend time visiting friends in intentional communities as I go about my work in the region. Ganas (NY), The Keep (DC), Twin Oaks (VA), and Acorn (VA) are

Acorn Community Farm Sign

favorites. As a former retreatant in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, communitarian life nourishes and challenges me in helpful ways. As a resilience network organizer, I’m inspired by the relocalization of production and work toward self-reliance that communes model.

Like the Fellowship for Intentional Communities (FIC), and the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC), the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) is about secession from the exploitive extractive growth-economy.

Pamela Boyce Simms and Ira Wallace at Acorn

We build local, alternative ways for living together in community that are then supported by broad networks. We seek wholeness through cooperation. Environmentalists working toward the “Great Transition*” embrace anyone with the gumption to self-liberate from the corrosive mainstream matrix, wean their area from fossil fuel dependency, and move toward resilience. We work against the backdrop of climate change, resource depletion, and economic instability.

Wholeness through cooperation is what will get us through the eye of the needle of the Great Transition, the accelerating societal transformation which is in process. Communes already demonstrate just that. Irrespective of how diverse a group of people in a commune may be, they share an allegiance to the baseline value of sustained cooperation. Transition initiatives do not have that luxury.

Unlike intentional communities, Transition organizers deal with scattershot, heterogeneous populations in any given locality with a range of commitment levels to conscious living. As former FIC administrator Laird Schaub asserts, “before Transition initiatives can work, people need to learn how to simply get along. They’re starting from scratch. Transition initiatives die when they don’t get these necessary nutrients fast enough.

While “collaboration” and “cooperation” have become buzzwords, relatively few Americans—conditioned as we are in a competitive, top down, power-and-control culture—know what that looks like in practice. Authentic cooperation requires people to change deeply imprinted habit patterns that are continually reinforced by society.

Laurie Simons, documentary filmmaker and member of the GANAS community in Staten Island, NY, reflects on her personal transformation:

“I am used to being right. However, I’m finding that I’m no longer concerned about being right. I went from feeling threatened if not right, to asking for and welcoming input from others. By listening to others’ perspectives my ‘rightness’ is enriched…People bring ideas that I would never have thought of and I end up with something that is more effective and sensitive.”

Michael Johnson, a founding member of GANAS notes that,

“The community began with the research question, ‘Why is it that communication breaks down and community operations so often revert to top down?’ Over the years we’ve created a culture of cooperation that permeates members all of the time; tapping into the cooperative aspects of their personalities.”

Dinner preparation at The Keep in DC

The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) sees Income sharing communities as the epitome of New Economy principles—compassion in action that can usher in the “next system.” As per GPaul Blundell of the Point A Project, “In intentional community, more of our lives are of common interest. In egalitarian, income-sharing communities, your life IS the economy, and work is recast as cooperative work. So the material and financial aspects of your life and wellbeing are of public interest.”

No one has the movement-hotline to absolute truth. The Mid-Atlantic Transition and intentional communities movement can each learn volumes from the other about environmental resilience-building and cooperative living respectively. To that end, we are purposefully pursuing cross pollination.

The two movements work together to share lessons learned about egalitarian community building. Interchange between the two movements is happening in the zone where their missions overlap. That is, in the space where people summon the grit to live consciously and unplug from the dysfunction of the homogenized American norm. The FIC and FEC have joined the Spokescouncil of Egalitarian Resilience Networks, an “affinity circle” within the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) constellation, to help spark the joint work of the two movements. The Spokescouncil is working to hold a “network of networks” accountable to the basic tenets of egalitarian process.

Accelerating climate change means that incessant “transitioning” is the new norm to which we’ll be adjusting for perpetuity. “Transition” connotes profound transformation. And that transformation begins from within.

Transition initiatives need to dig deep in order to cultivate trust-building, the PBS4scaffolding of long term collaboration.  MATH affirms communes as laboratories —concrete demonstrations—of the cooperative culture that sparks inner transformation.

Waxing strongest when times are toughest, the Transition and intentional communities movements offer wholeness in community as an alternative to demoralizing social fragmentation. True to form, these movements are doing what they do best—working together to overcome challenges. The Transition and intentional communities movements demonstrate that we are never out of options.

We are resilient.

*The Great Transition is a systemic framework for understanding how we might hospice outworn ways of living that no longer serve us and the Earth, and give birth to an emergent, more compassionate and resilient future. A broad spectrum of grassroots, citizen-led, community initiatives sustain the movement toward the Great Transition against the backdrop of climate change, resource depletion, and economic instability. Purposeful groups of friends and neighbors mitigate these converging global crises by engaging their communities in environmental education and actions that increase local self-reliance and resilience. They catalyze relocalization of economies and low carbon lifestyles by innovating, networking, collaborating, and replicating proven strategies, respecting the deep, fractal patterns of nature, and diverse cultures in their localities. “Transitioners” work with deliberation to create a fulfilling and inspiring local way of life that can withstand the shocks of rapidly shifting global systems.

Pamela Boyce Simms, KD2GUF, is a Convener of the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub and an Eco-Buddhist-Quaker environmental activist.

Communes Model the “Great Transition”