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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Emergent Community–Part One

Interpersonal conflict

Communal living isn’t for everyone. There are some definite trade-offs that need to be made. Theresa put this very personal piece on Facebook toward the end of August:

I appreciate her honesty but, unfortunately, it only received three comments, unfortunately. Here they are:

We talk a lot about sharing in the communes. We don’t talk as much about conflict and emotional processing but that’s also an important part of community living, and something many people are not prepared for.

Interpersonal conflict

My Commune Life Goals

by Raven Glomus

In searching for something to write for Facebook, I got a little nostalgic. In this post from our FB page, I give some of the history of this blog, as well as my reasons for working on Commune Life, both this blog and the Facebook page.

As you can see, I called for responses (including from other members of the Commune Life team) and I got a few comments. The first was from Theresa who explains why she is involved with the Commune Life work:

Because this is a picture of the content on our Facebook page, that link won’t work. Here is a link to our patreon page that will: https://www.patreon.com/communelife

We also got a lovely comment from Cathy Loyd, followed by a comment from someone who has been following us from Saudi Arabia, who wanted to know something.

I responded with some of my story:

And Zamin K Danty responded with some of his:

My Commune Life Goals

Low Ebb for the Communes

by Raven Glomus

The Federation of Egalitarian Communities (otherwise known as the FEC) is a network that tries to keep the communes connected with each other.  We have a once a month call where the delegates from various communes talk with each other.  Last month, on the call, someone joked that the FEC currently was five folks, the same five folks (representing four communities) that had been on the call for several months.  (Fortunately, this month, we had six folks on the call, including someone from a west coast community that hadn’t been on the call in several months.)

We generally have an assembly for the FEC every year (although, due to the pandemic, it may not happen this year).  I was looking at the essay I wrote for the assembly that was held in December, 2018 ( published in January, 2019 ).  I am struck by the number of attending communities that are now no longer with the FEC.  Part of it was the demise of the three urban communes that were part of the FEC.  But while the urban communes spectacularly fell apart, it feels like there are many rural communes that are just fading away.  

I think that Oran Mor, where the assembly was held, is now down to one member and her family.  Sadder to me is that Sandhill, which had been an income sharing community since 1974 and was one of the founding members of the FEC, is also down to two families and my understanding is that they are no longer income sharing.  Ionia, in Alaska, is still around, but they no longer seem interested in the FEC.  There are a few other rural communes that are still ongoing but, since they are in sparse to no contact with the FEC, it’s hard to tell what condition they are in.

The pandemic, of course, figures into this, but so does the regular boom and bust cycle of commune building.  It seems like 2018 was the end of a boom cycle and we seem to be in a bust cycle now–with the pandemic on top of that.  Twin Oaks, the biggest and longest running of the secular communes, is at their lowest membership in many years and, with the pandemic, they aren’t able to bring in a lot of new members.

Still, the term “low ebb” comes from a discussion about the tides, and describes the point where things are farthest out.  What happens next is that the tide begins coming back in.  Similarly, I have chosen to use low ebb in the title just because I think things will begin changing soon.  

In spite of how it feels, the pandemic won’t last forever.  The 2018 Assembly was not a happy occasion.  Things were very difficult at both East Wind and Acorn Community.  A year later, both East Wind and Acorn were on the upswing, while it was Twin Oaks that was having difficulties–and just before the pandemic hit, they started getting some new folks in.  Here at Glomus Commune (formerly East Brook) we are having a very good year this year in spite of the pandemic.  We have four income sharing members (the FEC now requires a community to have five in order to be a full member community) and I think that we might well have six income sharing members by the end of the year.

Finally, I think that in the long run, the pandemic may well benefit the communes.  This seems true economically: Acorn’s seed business is booming and I also think that some of Twin Oaks and East Wind’s businesses have actually done better because of panic buying.  More importantly, the FIC (Foundation for Intentional Community–the larger communities organization) reported a “sharp uptick” in searches for communities following the onset of the pandemic.  People have been realizing the benefits of communal living and I would not be surprised if membership in the communes grows as the pandemic ebbs, and I also think people who have been thinking of starting a commune or community may well decide to just do it once they can.

I would like us to find a way of moving beyond the boom and bust scenario and figure out how to stabilize the communes, but for now, I think that it’s important to build and maintain what we have and look hopefully at the future.

Low Ebb for the Communes

Talking and doing

This is sort of a follow up to my Facebook post asking How Communist are the Communes? I didn’t want to keep harping on Communism, but I realized that I had one more thing that I wanted to say and wanted to ask. Here is my stories and rather pointed questions.

I got a bunch of interesting responses:

Thank you, Cara–such a good place to end. In building community, shouldn’t the point be about improving life?

Of course, I should ask this of you, my blog readers, whoever you are. Why are you reading this?

Talking and doing

Glomus

Several months ago, we made a decision here to keep the farm business called East Brook Community Farm, but to change the name of the community to Glomus Commune. Of course, we got lots of folks asking us what Glomus means. Recently, Theresa put out a Facebook post explaining what the glomus fungi was and why we chose it as the name for our community:

And, there were pictures! Here are the two mushrooms on our communal property that Theresa was talking about.

But the glomus fungi doesn’t produce mushrooms. Instead, as Theresa said, it creates an arbuscule which it uses to exchange nutrients with a plant. So Theresa also included this close up of an arbuscule.

I love what Theresa wrote that both describes the relationship of the fungi to the plant and what we are trying to achieve in our commune: “Intimate, foundational, layers upon layers, sharing very different lives in the very same space.”

Glomus

How Communist are the Communes?

On Friday, I posted a Facebook post here that Theresa wrote about accessibility and filters. In the midst of it, I, Raven, got into a back and forth about terms like “Communism” and “Anarchism”.

So I created a Facebook post about the relationship of communism to the communes:

There were a bunch of comments. Here are some of the more relevant ones:

Finally, I like this short wrap up comment:

How Communist are the Communes?

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