Intentional communities are a strange creature, they can be only as strong as their weakest link, but in other ways they could be greater than the average or even the sum of their parts. I’m referring to the various ways of decision making / agenda setting in a community. At least in theory, the larger the community the greater range of ideas and knowledge and therefore the greater possibilities for excellence. However, I think it mostly depends on the age of the community both in physical years, and in spirit, and not necessarily the share number of members.
When Cric House was a young community, just like a young child, it was very playful, spontaneous social, optimistic and even adventurous.
It wasn’t very coordinated, organized, or thoughtful, even though many of its members, individually were much more “together”, the “super organism” that it created was clearly young.
We just loved doing shit together. Didn’t matter what it was. We invited tons of wwoofers and interns, and could not even tell the difference between work and play. Everything was fun and exciting. When money was needed we found ways to make money, when work was needed we all got together to make it happen.
But of course this phase didn’t last, Cric house got older and grumpier, lost much vibrancy and adventure. Though its earning potential and resources increased, the willingness of the members to give to the commons had shrunk in both social, monetary, and even artistic ways.
In the same ways that kittens sleep in a pile but older cats just want alone time, the energy of a community can be young and compel its members, regardless of age, to need less personal space or autonomy, and more interaction and group expression.
Cambia community is only 2 years old. Some could say that it hasn’t fully been born yet because we have not had consistent membership. That is completely fair and I can’t argue against that, but still, at Cambia we adopt much more adventurous measures than some of the older communities.
We are currently known for the community that has a boat that won’t float.
Its kinda crazy right? It was a huge project to get it here, to cut the lead keel, to build a deck for it, figure out the solar-electric and water system, and now we are thinking about how we are going to erect a mast and set up a windmill and a zip line from it. So its extra crazy right?
Why does a small struggling community that has so little money, labor, or other resources invest in such a challenging form of housing? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to get a used camper or a single-wide trailer with some water damage for cheap?
Why spend so much work building a pond instead of a doughboy pool with some bleach from the dollar store?
Why build a barn out of live-edge lumber instead of painted OSB? Now that’s really insane. Not just the cost, but the fact that every piece has to be chosen and cut to size. We also didn’t get a bushhog to carve a path into the forest, instead we went with hand-clippers and worked for hours on what a machine would do in a few minutes. furthermore, we continue to have to maintain such paths with the same slow tools that made it.
So the explanation for this insanity has to do with our age again. We are in some kind of teenage phase. It’s a phase where we have to wear our identity externally so to communicate it with the world as well as internalize it more thoroughly.
This is also analogous to cultural development. In small tribal societies, all over the world, it might seem to us as if a disproportionate amount of effort is spend on wearing one’s identity
It is completely natural and maybe even healthy to be in this phase, but when some people from twin oaks community came to visit they were rather bewildered; we were asked “how are you guys able to accomplish so much when you have so little?” a more cynical questions could be: “why are some under-developed cultures wasting so much time on non-pragmatic things?”
So there is one other part to this answer that goes beyond identity expression: in a small community, there is a greater chance of people saying “yes!” to someone’s crazy idea. That craziness could be art, it could be environmentalist ideology, it could be implementing a new ritual, and it could even be a financially risky move.
In older communities there seems to be much more caution and pragmatism. Much more of an institutional memory of all the ways and which things have gone poorly before when people were irresponsible. But there is also something even deeper than that: there are disappointments and grief that simply don’t get worked out, they are old scars that never heal, and they manifest in the unwillingness to rejoice in someone else’s party, because one’s own party didn’t go so well.
So communities end up recapitulating the normal biological processes of aging by turning every injury into chronic muscle tightness around it. With age, flexibility is reduced and tensions increase, certain routine ways of doing things turn into deep grooves of wrinkles, and a general tiredness sets in.
This doesn’t mean death. And even death doesn’t mean death because communities keep on being reborn all the time. And members of community X that may have been grumpy and conservative might become much more liberal and open when they move to community Y after it falls apart.
But I’m not sure this is actually always true, and I’m even less sure that its inevitable. In the same way that tribal cultures and religions can be thousands of years old but maintain elements of inspiration and vibrancy rather than cold pragmatism, there must be a way for communities to be able to pursue this quality. By analogy, There are endless anti-aging products, services, and exercises out there. We need to figure out how to be able to apply these to community to keep it thriving longer.
There was a time when colonizers simply treated land as though its useful when its young but after it has been worked for a few decades it will be depleted of its vitality and new land must be acquired. Everyone of us in the commune world knows a fair bit of what it means to give back to the earth so it can continue to sustain us, I think we ought to start thinking more of community as having similar depletion process if we don’t really know what the process of replenishing would be.
I would love to hear ideas!
I'm writing this section with deep appreciation for anarchy, but with some realizations about its limits, at least in the way we tried implementing it.
in founding cric house (culture rehabilitation internship center) we wanted to create a real experiment in anarchist utopia. we posited, that some people are ready for anarchy because they don't need any external system of authority or incentives. and in general, when you trust people to operate out of their best selves they would rise to the occasion.
I want to talk about the way we failed but not without analogies.
the mud room
why do we have mud rooms and not just muddy entrance to the house? the mudroom is a "liminal space" in anthropological terms. it means its in between places, where both muddy boots and clean socks are welcomed. in the house no muddy boots are allowed, but the mud room enables the transition. if a muddy entrance was allowed it would be continuously extended into the living space until its all muddy and nobody takes off their boots.
I am speaking from experience as I've seen this happen in public spaces in my community. people want to take their boots off but they don't want to step where mud from other boots is on the floor. so they take a step further in to take them off. sometimes, just a line drawn on the ground or a carpet can create that
Meetings are not compulsory, so people attend them at first and one by one find something they would rather do than attend. or they might do other things symultaneously, or move in and out of the meeting, or chat at the same time. after a while people stop coming and only ask "what did you guys discuss at the meeting?" down to "was there anything interesting at the meeting?" down to "did anyone go to the meeting?"
Oh sleeping together, what radical cuteness. I get so nostalgic looking at these pictures. but guess what, it doesn't last. with time, people get more intune with their sleep schedule and some people like to stay up late and some like to get up early, and they end up needing different sleeping spaces. since its anarchy, and no "bedtime"
I wonder if I'm ironically trying to hold on to a favorite part of a song by pausing it when I wish we could just keep loving one another and want to be together to the point, where it doesn't matter what we do, just being together is so fun, that we stay together whereever we go. maybe its just a honeymoon phase and it can't be sustained.
as time goes by relationships solidify and start to form cracks until the community all falls apart. but how?
we aren't bad people, just like communism, we were too optimistic thinking we could be our best acting from our best intentions. but even the completely "rational" players in economic models can act to shrink the economy under certain conditions.
we failed the way many couples fail to grow their love to one another and end up keeping parallel lives. imagine how much harder it is when its way way easier to leave the relationship.
love and intentions are just not enough. there needs to be designations of time, of space, and a forum for investment in relationships. love needs maintenance and maintenance needs a schedule.
in our new community good things will be scheduled, like celebrations, gratitudes, art, intimacy, work, education, snuggles, even orgies if necessary.
there is a basic fallacy here:
we think love is something we feel towards people for who they are. its actually what we feel towards people for what the relationship is. we think the value we experience towards community is the sum (or average) of its members. but its not. not at all. its the square sum of COORDINATED love everyone expresses at the same time.
and so it went, stupidly recapitulating the economic depression so common in communist countries, instead of give what you can and take what you need it became give what you have to and take all you can.
its not hard to hate capitalism, but its not easy to find a successful communist alternative.
we totally failed to keep our social economy growing.
people don't believe in GOD based on his qualities. they believe in god based on the group power of all the believers around them. there will never be a drive-through church or synagogue and certainly not a "special deal on pagan rituals" or "monotheistic prayers are buy one get one free" religions and social psychologists know its the power of the group that creates faith. but communes don't necessarily get that, or they forget and let people do things on their own until it doesn't feel meaningful anymore
like all the unsustainable practices they detest, they too, watch their life giving top soil erode under their feet and wonder why year after year the social fertility goes down until its time to move on.
our society teaches us the individualist ethos, often by means of advertisement. we witness images of people "doing their thing" with such confidence and charisma that we think its possible to be a self-contained meaning generator. but these acts, like the one below, though worth millions of dollars and sale boosting, would be considered really weird or even crazy if we witnessed it real life with the normal background of people just walking by
so you are at a party or online trying to describe yourself to friendly strangers and the only thing you or they can think of is: “so what do you do?” I don’t know if anyone likes this question. in fact, when that question was taken out of a speed dating experiment and other questions were “imposed” on the date such as “why did you break up with you last relationship?” “do you have mental illness in your family?” people liked each other a lot more.
and still, we ask about employment, and there isn’t a much bigger faux-pas than to say you are unemployed. and not looking for work. its worse than saying you are anorexic or manic-depressive. people don’t really know what to say, its like saying you are sexually attracted to goats, just like unemployment nobody really believes there is anything wrong with it, but its just weird. you could say that you are a manager of a telemarketing company, or you trade diamonds, in both cases people can rationally believe that you create either massive public nuisance or have lots of african blood on your hands, but somehow its formally considered an impressive feat; much better than unemployment.
but here is the economic complexity of employment: we live at a time where computers and robots have taken up most jobs, and are taking more and more all the time. unlike the times when lots of work was necessary to sustain farms, build railroads, or mend clothes, there is actually no need anymore for extra labor. it doesn’t actually increase wealth. all it does is increase labor competition. jobs that used to require a highschool diploma now require a bachelor's degree and increasingly will require graduate education to qualify.
this goes against a deeply fundamental ethos of our culture. its incredibly hard to question it, but I want you to consider this analogy: imagine being a viking 1000 years ago, getting around from one Danish Island to another to visit your family would be done with row boats and maybe with bringing a few lambs on the ship for snacks to share. it would make sense to require anyone boarding the ship to contribute a good 8 hours a day of rowing and not allow freeloading. now imagine things had gone this way for a few centuries but then somebody invents the sail, or better yet, the internal combustion engine. what would happen then?
we better believe that for the first few decades everyone will insist: “no freeloaders, you must find a job or you can’t get on this ship!” which would result people spending 8 hours a day pretending to row, giving rowing classes, cleaning the deck, maybe selling detergents for deck cleaning, maybe even working in advertising, marketing, and finances of cleaning detergents for deck cleaning. people working at HR of cleaning staff, providing entertainment and hospitality services offering lamb snacks by waitresses kidnapped from previously pillaged villages at low rates while the rest of the vikings on board work full time trying to compete with each other on who is going to reap the financial benefits of the slave ownership: the owners, leasers, or lawyers that manage their employment practices.
this little satire is not a joke. it is what’s happening these days. we are working bullshit jobs that don’t increase wealth because there is nothing to do, but the rules of free market require us to look busy.
think about agriculture: before industrialization as many as 90% of the people would be working in agriculture, and now its less than 1% and we are overproducing so much that we have to dump produce in the ocean, or turn it into automotive fuel to justify its extent. and those 1% farm workers are some of the lowest paid hardest working people. where did all the wealth go? in the 50’s it took about 3 times as much labor to produce the same amount of goods as it does today. but what’s changed? to people work less? no, they are working more, more than twice infact. how? women started working too! did that increase the GDP? maybe by 30% a lot less than the predicted 100% increase. that’s because we don’t need more labor. its so hard to imagine, but there is economic data to prove it. (and that’s all assuming that the increase in GDP is somehow desireable, which we can discuss elsewhere)
the main tragedy in all this is not in the waist of time, despicable jobs, or even environmental damage in resulting in so much economic activity. (than can happen with very low tech as well) it’s in the loss of love-based labor. mainly, child and elder care; but also crafts, hobbies, home making, gardening, cooking, and all other labors of love that increase a sense of connection and identity.
but I’m not here to impose my romantic luddite vision on the world. I understand that its
subjective but here is the objective part: robots cannot replace parents, but somehow they haven’t freed people to be the parents that their children need them to be. this goes far beyond “time budgeting”. parents who are overworked and uninspired at work, are generally much more stressed, feel that they have unmet personal needs, are under cognitive load so that when they do come home from work they just want to disappear into the TV, which the kids emulate, and don’t even watch the same shows as their parents.
and there you have kids growing up without mentors, without knowing what is it that their parents do for a living, or how they handle themselves as adults. they often feel that their parents don’t really want to be with them in all the measures of electronic of inanimate plastic substitutes for attention. (further readings by Neufeld and Mate)
there is HUGE price we are paying with this lifestyle. the low social support we live in is creating delinquency, depression, crime, and breaks up families. the best lifestyle predictor of marital success is shared positive lesiure time. and the best predictor for criminal tragectory for children is poor parenting. (further reading by Benjamin Karney)
technology should have freed us to be doing labor of love. we should have been playing with our kids, volunteering at orphanages, caring for the elderly, spending time learning to be better listeners to our friends, learn massage and end of life care, we should have been able to invest ourselves in arts and crafts, building our homes, and repairing our sewing machines. what is the point of all this business that produces nothing. all these hotel and restaurnt workers that spend their times looking busy while their establishment sits mostly empty. they are suppose to be at home making food for their children who really love them, not bosses and customers that don’t care about them. (if I sound just like Ted Kazinsky I’m not apologising)
some people tell me I missed the point.
its arbitrary, sure, but just like sport people want the challenge and competition, and if they didn’t have to work, they would find something else to occupy them, and what I’m describing is a world of dolphins or bonobos, not people.
is that true?
I wonder why I often see terrible parents who try their hardest to be good.
that's like asking why disingenuous people who try so hard to be themselves.
its also like asking why would somebody who really want to live like they are super rich. turns out to be in debt.
or how about: we want to live in an infinitely growing economy than why would our natural resources be dwindling?
by this point the answer should be obvious:
its about sustainability.
people who extract beyond the natural rate of replenishment create poverty, and poverty maintains itself by means of economic or social resection.
here is how I could do it to my kid:
lets say I try to be a super parent and offer move love and attention than I truly have. lets say I can really only give 2 hours a day of focused play and another 4 of shared activities like going on walks, or gardening. beyond that I start feeling like I'm neglecting my other needs, or simply getting bored reading the same story over and over.
so what do I do?
I devote 4 ours for focused play and the rest of the day for carrying my kid around while trying to do other things.
and what happens?
a terrible cascade of deteriorated relationship.
I end up not giving enough attention to my kid, and nor am I able to ever fully relax or do other things that I have to. my kid notices that I am not really happy before I even do, he starts acting up, I lose my temper, they become even more demanding of my attention since he really feels that don't really want to be with him, and as a response to his behavior, I start to try to set boundaries.
because I feel so frazzled and can't think strait I end up giving into nags and cries, and immediate substitutes for attention in the form of candy or disney, which only exacerbates the situation in the long run since they are addictive in nature and not satisfying any needs.
so I've made both of us missurable just because I was trying to be a good parent harder than my own natural resources.
how can I be so blind?
how much have I studied natural resource conservation to know that when you extract beyond the means of nature to replenish you create a terrible cascade of events that results in tragic depletion and even eco-system collapse. this happens with range ecology, fisheries, forestry, industrial agriculture, freshwater extraction, and of course with the carbon cycle. so it can also happen to us.
how could I be dissociating my knowledge so sharply? aren't my emotional resources also natural? don't I need to be replenished too?
so in creating a community based on the principle of sustainability, I want to ask if we know anything about social and emotional sustainability. its ok to say no. but we have to learn about it. its kinda ironic that sustainable communities can't seem to sustain themselves.
I just kinda came upon this realization about myself as a parents recently. I wonder how many other things in my life I'm still completely blind to, and I keep bringing this industrial mentality which maybe I don't believe in it , but I completely live in it.
if you were a forest, what kind would you be?
well, do you want to be young, productive, organized, focused, financially valuable and really maximizing your potential?
that's the first picture. and thank you, we are all buying your standardized lumber from your standardized timber so we can fit standard homes and the building standards they require to ensure our standard of living.
I'm not condemning tree farms. do you believe me? I just don't want them to occupy so much land. and I also want to make a plight for a certain kind of love.
I love old oak trees. I love them so deeply that I feel like I'm exploding with spiritual ecstasy when I look at them. it has enormeous value to me. if I was buying property I would value this tree at $60,000. which means I would rather give up a house, big pond, a giant greenhouse, a tractor with backhoe, you name it, stuff of that value, just to be close to such a tree.
love of the essence of another thing.
the oak tree has "oaky" quality to it. and its reflected consistently in its form, leaves, smell, moss, shade pattern, bark, and probably more etherial ways that I can't mention. a mature oak gives such a feeling of vitality and magic that it belongs to what I'm referring to as "essentialist love". I don't love it for its attributes; its not the lumber, its not the shade, its not the shape, that is, you can't replace it with a plastic tree to inspire the same feeling in me.
what's the opposite of essentialist love? lets call it attributional love. the love of attributes. for example, I could say "I love my car because of its acceleration and leather seats" and that means that give me any car with similar attributes for the same price and I should love it too. same with love of your insurance company, cellphone, and usually restaurants. keep the attributes, change the essence and no change in feelings.
so I'm going to posit something unusual here:
we live in a world, and especially a country which is very low on essentialist love.
doesn't the picture above resemble the first tree farm picture?
how do I know this?
as a general rule, the characters in american movies are not lovable in an essentialist kind of way. they might be sexy, acting tough, heroic, or maybe super lucky, but they are superficial characters that you wouldn't learn to love if they weren't in the middle of an action scene. in many foreign films, you can find a blatant disregard to generic plot formula or even coherence, but the protagonist often seem to have depth of personality. it doesn't even have to be good or bad, it simply becomes familiar to you as you watch the film
another way that I know this to be true is from my conversations with people. I've often mentioned in passing how much I love certain people. and I've gotten a response of "Oh, you mean romantically???" when I say no, they respond with "so what do you mean? you are not even really friends with them, why do you love them so much?" or they might ask "what is it about them that you love?" to me, that's a very frustrating question. people are so complex, its like being asked what it is that I love about a favorite song. I can tell you, but you wouldn't get it. and if you did, well then its not essentialist love.
I suppose I really lack in attributional love too. I can't love my family just because of their familial attributes. there are some people in my family that I love and others that I don't. I don't know how some people are able to love all their cousins, nephews, and nieces so indescriminantly, and they don't love any other kids that they meet at the playground.
what does this have to do with community?
I'm perceiving something very scary to me in our society
a society that ignores essential love and focuses on "desired attributes" such as attractiveness, success, politeness, and intelligence is ultimately ignoring what makes people and things deeply lovable.
notice how so many of the people you meet are "nice" at best? people are not even expected to show much personality. its so creepy, when you meet people they ask about your attributes rather than asking things like "when did you have to forgive, though you weren't ready for it?" "what's something that people don't understand about you?" "would you get along with yourself?"
"what's your most unexplained feeling?" instead they ask "whe're you from?" "what do you do for living?"
so that's the bottom line of this post. I think people are not very loving, and not very lovable.
if you try to design the perfect tree you end up with the first picture. you create "convenience" or "perfection" how would you like to be described by your romantic partner as "convenient and perfect" it turns you into a checklist of attributes and removes your soul.
and not surprisingly, that's what people go for on match sites. people describe their attributes like they were nutrition facts on their package. they don't actually express, the way a healthy oak knows to express itself.
I'm not angry,
I just have love reserves that can't find recipients.
have you noticed how ubiquitous it is?
it seems like every new university or public office is trying to look like an airport, which all try to look like spaceships or a space-age factory which is manned by robots. it is marked by conspicuous disregard to people, function, materials, modularity, and nature,
notice how the entrance of the building has no acknowledgment. but the massive random sails that don't serve any function but cost a lot. notice the monolithic appearance, imagine the place while the sun is lower in the sky, how it could roast or at least blind people walking by.
why is this so popular? it feels impossible to tell the particular size of the building without people in the picture. is that why? "this building is so cool it knows who it is and it doesn't give a shit about anyone else"
where is the public outcry against this obnoxious dehumanization and de-naturization they experience.
concrete, steel and glass. abiotic castable materials requiring very high temperatures.
I would feel more comfortable in a world where people exclusively made love to robots and only ate food with red #40 than a world that looked like this. isn't this sickening? are there any long term adverse effects to being exposed to these lifeless monsters? probably not. just like red #40 and sex with robots is probably fine too. its just gross to a small sub set of fanatic nature worshipers that can't appreciate art.
I have no idea if I'm right or if this is even a falsifiable statement but I have a sense of sarcastic nihilism emoted and emitted from these buildings. if post modernism had a musical expression it would probably sound like a set of unrelated pure tones and randomly interrupted static noise. if it had a smell it would be of bleach and volatile organic compounds, and if it had a profession it would be recreational dentistry.
and lord have mercy on these interior designers:
so the basic design principle here is that of a small efficient slaughter house. it is as void of life as possible while still ensuring that it doesn't look like its picture was taken in black and white. so it has some culinarily meaningless bowls of fruit. this is not for people, its for avatars. maybe this is the true meaningful design principle: it is one that makes the image appear digitally generated, to fuse blue-prints and reality, so to dissolve reality or overcome fear of our own living and therefore dying physicality. I think I need to test this hypothesis in mortality salience procedure.
if that was Heavens No! here is the Hell Yes!
one of the least publicly discussed human instinct is evaluating the environment in it's suitability for home. for millions of years we had to hone-in our intuition as to where a good place to settle would be and when we should keep going.
just like the constituents of loveability in other people, we might pursue certain individuals with deep passion, without having the clue as to how to recapitulate desirable tendencies in ourselves.
our homes represent both our atunement to our instincts and our sense of agency in catering to them.
in making a space in nature I ask two questions:
where am I naturally attracted to?
how do I preserve that space rather than be tempted to build something there?
can we make our human settlement enhance rather than diminish life around us?
I suppose we have to share;
share our compost, our shelter, our water, at least our grey water, and maybe break up some fights between densely copasing trees.
we live 120 feet above a large man-made spring fed pond. at one point it was a large lush area and now its highly contained source of water with very minimal edge effect to support life. my pumping water up here and irrigating are we disturbing nature or are we restoring it closer to its original state? I don't know.
I feel that we need to share the water more. even for purely selfish reasons. but then again, could the perception of lush health ecology ever be purely selfish? I suppose,
at least in the case of the love of golf courses.
between architectural anthropocentrism to nature worshiping
making a space for humans in the forest we don't want to stand out or blend in. we aren't contrasting with bright colors nor are we using camo-nets. we don't accept all the trees and terrain as they are nor do we flatten the hilltop to create exactly what we want. like the complex dynamics of two trees growing next to one another we want to take the time to grow along nature maintaining a mutually constituent relationship.
an oak tree has no plan or blueprint for development; but it has certain needs, limitations, and an oaky kind of way in which it does things. (genetics). granted, nothing we would ever build could be as beautiful or artistic as an oak tree; but in a similar vein, we don't have a plan for developing the space. every thing that we do affects the appearance of the space and therefore the next step.