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In my experience, many people will call someone a 'free-loader' merely because the supposed 'free-loader' doesn't fill the expectations of the caller.  Often times, those expectations aren't related to what the supposed 'free-loader' is willing/able to do.  Whether due to lack of interest, lack of skill, or it goes against an innate personality characteristic.  Often, the caller doesn't even notice what the 'free-loader' does behind the scenes...in areas that the caller isn't themselves focused on.

For example, I've been on social security in the usa since I was 24, but it was back payed to when I was 21.  I'm 39 now.  Many people hear that and automatically assume that I'm a 'free-loader'.  Their focus is on my inability to maintain even a part time job.  They fail to recognize that there are other ways to give to a community than holding a job that increases the profit margin of the company's owners/investors, and paying taxes.  They fail to see that I return what I'm able to to individuals, rather than to corporations/government.  They fail to notice the little things I do that helps others in big, personal ways for those others...that may not be important at all to the caller. No, all they hear is that I'm on social security, that for reasons unknown to them I can't maintain a regular job, or that I'm at home day-after-day...therefore I'm a 'free-loader' to them.

If you have a 'free-loader', help them find their niche.  Find out what interests them, sometimes they don't even know what interests them, so it will take time to find that.  Find out what skills that they have, and how those specific skills can be used.  Find out how those specific skills can be expanded or altered to better suit the situation at hand, and help that person gain the new skills.  Find out what functions the individual is willing/able to perform, it may turn out to be a bunch of minor functions rather than one major focus.  And when dealing with this person, don't forget to take into account the "nurture" as well as the "nature".  A lot of what you're judging them for is learned behavior, and learned expectations, (meaning not just their learned behavior, but your own as well).
 
Posts: 66
Location: Spokane and near Diamond Lake, WA
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There are primitive cultures that don't even have the concept of "freeloader" -- if someone does no productive activity, nobody cares. This is possible when a society is built on activities that are so enjoyable or meaningful that ordinary people would rather do them than not do them.

The concept of "freeloading" can only exist in the context of a society built on activities that are so unpleasant that nobody will do them without coercion. This coercion can be anything from whippings, to withholding of money without which you're not permitted to live, to social shaming.

In a permaculture system, every plant and animal does its role voluntarily. If the chickens don't scratch in the dirt, you put something in the dirt to make them want to scratch. Calling them "freeloaders" would be ridiculous... so why do we do this with humans?
 
pollinator
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Ran Prieur, do you have on hand where you got the information about cultures with no concept of freeloaders? It just seems to me that could only be possible if the vast majority of people in the society were naturally motivated, and those doing little productive activity were few enough to not make too much difference on the rest of them.

Having lived in an intentional community for the past few years, the issue of people who don't do their fair share comes up frequently. I am all about having the majority of my work be enjoyable, permaculture is one of my passions and I'm living a life that allows me to put much of my energy towards it. However there are always unpleasant activities that need to be done in order to avoid even more unpleasant consequences. Take cleaning the kitchen and washing dishes, few find it to be real enjoyable, but the consequences of having those things not get done are far worse than the work involved in doing them, and the workload is not too bad for each person if it's divided up.

Even enjoyable activities can become a burden if you need to do too much of them, even if you have a means of subsistence that's doing what you love, what if you had to do three times as much of it because two thirds of the people in your society weren't doing much of anything, and then you had a lack of sleep, were rushed and stressed out all the time, then it would quickly become a burden and you'd be real tempted to shout at the slackers to get off their behinds and pull their weight. Since we all need to eat, I don't see how any society could get by if a significant number of them decided to do nothing. I have met plenty of people who don't seem to find any sort of productive work enjoyable, whose only passions seem to be eating, partying etc., and try everything they can to get out of doing actual work. Maybe that's more of a modern phenomenon and the societies you mentioned didn't have people like that, but I really don't see how they (in any significant numbers) would be anything but a drain on any culture.

I believe the ideal in any shared living situation should be for the membership process to screen out the leeches, and select for those who are willing to do the work to maintain whatever style of living they desire and have the self-discipline to carry forward (the sort of self-discipline that so many modern Americans use every excuse to get out of) with that. If you want to eat, you'd better either do work that directly contributes food or do something that's important enough to others that they'll provide you with food.

I also think that while coercion is certainly a factor for modern Americans, most do lots more unpleasant (to themselves and to the Earth) than coercion alone would explain. The average middle-class American could simplify their lifestyle greatly and need much less money to live, yet they keep on the consumerist bandwagon and fall into debt. Blaming the system for everything is often an excuse for a lack of individual action, this series of essays say it much better than I can.


http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/04/alternatives-to-nihilism-part-one-dog.html

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/04/alternatives-to-nihilism-part-two-lead.html

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/04/alternatives-to-nihilism-part-three.html
 
Ran Prieur
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do you have on hand where you got the information about cultures with no concept of freeloaders?



I read it in a review of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. I should also say, I don't think humans are going to permanently return to that level of simplicity, and building a stable complex society in which everyone enjoys everything they do is extremely challenging -- especially starting from where we are now. It might take us another ten thousand years and many more failures. But that is the path before us.

In the short term, it may be necessary to "screen out the leeches", just as a battlefield medic has to let some people die who could be saved with more resources. But in the long term, as system designers, we have to ask why people are behaving as leeches, and create conditions in which almost everyone is productive with no supervision.
 
master pollinator
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Personally I find the Sharing oand  Gift Economies are working pretty well for me.  The key to the Gift Economy is that every gift is just that - a gift.  Nothing is expected in return.  Sharing is subtly different, in Sharing there is the expectation of reciprocation.  The Gift Economy is easier in this sense as long as one remembers it is a Gift - nothing is expected, so one can't be disappointed.  The Sharing Economy includes the possibly of disappointment. 
 
Richard Kastanie
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In the short term, it may be necessary to "screen out the leeches", just as a battlefield medic has to let some people die who could be saved with more resources. But in the long term, as system designers, we have to ask why people are behaving as leeches, and create conditions in which almost everyone is productive with no supervision.



Yes, it does seem that at least certain hunter-gatherer societies have a system like you're describing (the Malaysian aboriginals described in Robert Wolff's book "Original Wisdom" come to mind), although I don't make the sort of broad generalizations such as people like Daniel Quinn do, from what research I have done there's tremendous diversity in tribal societies, e.g. some are pretty warlike and some much mre peaceful.

I agree with you that asking why some people behave as leeches is the right question, I've given much thought to that myself, and it seems to be there's a number of factors involved. One that's more noticeable is physical health, of course if you're not feeling well than you're going to be less motivated, even if it's not something severe enough to be considered real sick. However I don't believe that's the most important factor in the majority of the cases, where many people have all the energy to party in the world, but none to work. There are many aspects of modern society that are negative influences, but the completely deterministic view still doesn't explain why people growing up in the same society end up very different. Society is something that people collectively create, outside forces do influence it but as we see in the tremendous diversity of cultures, people and societies have many ways of being available to them to choose from.

Much of the difference lies in personal responsibility, some people just demand a standard of living that they aren't willing to do the work to provide. I put less and less faith in the idea that building a better contrived system will change people's behavior. I live in an intentional community that's been around almost 40 years, and there are advantages and disadvantages to our way of life, and it depends on who someone is as an individual whether it's a good fit. However even though most people here want to live in an alternative culture, most the alternative culture shares many more mainstream American values that it would ever admit, I've found this in a number of situations, with only rare exceptions of people really walking the talk. Me personally, I'm certainly not perfect myself but I keep practicing and learning new ways of living sustainably, and have never bought into much of American consumerism, and am amazed for how many people "green" is pretty much only an image, and stops when real work is involved. I still have this hope to help improve our collective situation, but others will only listen if they're ready, and the only one I can truly change is myself. If I set an example now, others may listen when their joyride of fossil fuel affluence comes to an end.

Society evolves over time, and no contrived scheme to change it from the ground up will fix everything, in fact if it's imposed on others it will likely backfire majorly and lead to much misery. I'm asking myself more and more what that I can do on a personal and small group scale that will make the most difference no matter what others do. Lets take more control of our own lives rather than waiting for someone else to change things.

P.S. Ran Prieur, I'm not accusing you of not changing your own life or anything else, I don't know what your situation is, I'm responding to the general attitude of apathy toward personal responsibilty that I've seen is so rampant in American culture, both mainstream and alternative.
 
pollinator
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anndelise wrote:
In my experience, many people will call someone a 'free-loader' merely because the supposed 'free-loader' doesn't fill the expectations of the caller.  Often times, those expectations aren't related to what the supposed 'free-loader' is willing/able to do.  Whether due to lack of interest, lack of skill, or it goes against an innate personality characteristic.  Often, the caller doesn't even notice what the 'free-loader' does behind the scenes...in areas that the caller isn't themselves focused on.


perhaps that is a bad term, but there are real ones too.


For example, I've been on social security in the usa since I was 24, but it was back payed to when I was 21.  I'm 39 now.  Many people hear that and automatically assume that I'm a 'free-loader'.



I suspect you would find a way of making yourself useful in a non-monetary system.... if only because you are aware of your limitations. The word job starts to become meaningless and what a person can do is more likely to be seen. This is also why I believe a system where familys contribute rather than individuals, works better. The family has an understanding of it's own members shortfalls and strengths and makes up for those who can do less. By family, I mean a group under the same roof even if they are not all related by blood. I do not think there would be many people living singly.

I was looking at where I live and having an understanding that in a government collapse or natural disaster, there will be difficult people to deal with.... workaholics could be just as much of a problem if they see everyone else as slack. I pulled the first two types of people that might fit off the top of my head just to illustrate. I suspect (on further thought) that all of us might be a problem person at some time or other or for someone else. Acceptance would need to be big and someone with no tolerance for people who are different from them in belief, race, creed, tradition or whatever may be a bigger problem. I have strong beliefs on how people should live and think, but I also have a strong belief that I need to accept others who disagree or have life styles I find really distasteful. However, there are limits where those lifestyles impact others.... and no, I am not going to even try to say where that line is   The loss of a little sleep once in a while when someone parties late should not be a problem for example. I think in any community there grows an understanding of what is acceptable or right and wrong.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Castanea wrote:
I don't make the sort of broad generalizations such as people like Daniel Quinn do, from what research I have done there's tremendous diversity in tribal societies



One of Quinn's biggest points is the diversity in tribal societies.   
 
                            
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hey, Didn't read *everybodies* reply, simply cause there isn't the time. Nothing personal.
Did get the gist of what paul did, his feelings about it, various responses and len's input.

He's dealing with a lot of younger people many, of whom haven't woken up yet. They've been exposed since conception to a system intent on keeping them asleep.
Also, there tends to be a lot of lost folk looking for healing,
and sometimes without the energy -and the awareness that goes along with additional energy- to chip in.

Everyone should work; it's good for the soul.
modern 'English' culture, though, as the old country amish name it, isn't turned towards work,
it's turned towards recreation. Don't like it myself, just me.. 
Always _feel_ better working, though having been sick for a looong time the energy to work came in spurts and fits, and it would tend towards burning out, cause in such happiness to be able to be working again, working, then crashing.

anyway that's not the whole answer, just my answers.
helpful OP.
 
Richard Kastanie
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One of Quinn's biggest points is the diversity in tribal societies.



I guess it's been a while since I read Quinn, so I haven't remembered everything he says. I do still think that grouping everybody into "takers" and "leavers" is quite an oversimplification, and I have other disagreements with him. I do however owe a lot to him still, as I read "Ishmael" first when I was 18, and it got me thinking in ways I had never thought before, such as the idea of looking at a culture by the story it tells itself. When I re-read it later though I did think many of the issues were quite oversimplified.
 
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Chris Fitt wrote:
I agree with that.  I was trying to look at another way.  I worked for three years at a holistic retreat center that was also a community.  I will never be surprised at how little people will do and how much they try to put one over even in "utopia".  I have had enough of wolves in hippie clothing. 



I think most of the time "wolves" is too strong (although not all of the time).  In this case, I think my point is that these are humans in hippie clothing.  And part of being human is that each human is certain that they are "evolved".  Nearly all of them will claim that they would always give back as much as they put in.

My core point:  if you get together with a bunch of folks to plan a community, or a system for a community, creating a dependence on all people being "evolved" might not work as well as creating a dependence on people being human.

technomagus wrote:
I think the only way you could expect to get meals back is if the system of food is set up ahead of time, not out of "good will".
For example, each family (or sufficient size "group") is on a rotation and is expected to cook and provide the food for a period (a day a week, etc). Everyone not cooking is expected to clean up after themselves. This is explained early on and written down where everyone can see, say in the dining area.
If the group that is supposed to provide and cook that period does not, they will very quickly be shamed out of the group as everyone else immediately goes hungry. Same as people cleaning up after themselves. They know the rules and everyone agrees. If you don't agree, you don't participate. Those that don't follow the rules end up getting shamed out.

In your situation, everyone thinks they are getting everything for "free" and they feel they have no obligation to return your "favor". There is no disincentive for not returning the favor, so they slide for as long as the free ride takes them.



Expect.  Shame.  Free.  Rules.  Written down.

All of this contributes to my point:  your system works if all of your participants are noble.  But if even one of your participants is merely human, it falls apart.  You can talk about the collective shaming one into compliance, but what happens when half the group does not comply? 

Here's an even more interesting question:  what if you are the only person that complies and the rest of the group does not care for your rigidity? 

[quote author=anndelise]So basically, YOU came up with a food system that established YOU as filling the food niche, and without the input, discussions, ideas of the others?

Nope. 

Out of 21 meal times available per week, I provided 9.  So I did not fill "the" food niche.  I provided some meals and invited others to my table.

I didn't read all of your post because most of what I read didn't make sense to me.  A lot of stuff stated as fact that was not the case.  I do think that what you are writing is a great example of how complicated things can get.

------

As I read through the rest of this thread, I find the diversity of opinion fascinating.  I like the stories of how each person is wired so differently.  I think that is important.  People are not what we wish them to be when we are designing a system.  Rather, people are .... interesting.  Interesting in very unpredictable ways.


 
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I agree that human nature makes the participants unlikely to reciprocate IF it wasn't made clear in the beginning that you were providing what you believed to be your share of the food.

If expectations are not laid out in the beginning, then people are likely to accept the meals as the gifts of a well-to-do benefactor, beyond the contributions of a normal member.  Few people would stop and question generosity if you didn't explain up front that it wasn't coming from the goodness of your heart, and that there were expectations attached.

As far as washing the dishes, that's what chore charts are for.  I don't know much about the concepts espoused by the intentional community crowd, but if they've abandoned the concept of dividing up chores, no wonder they don't work.

So Paul, what expectations were laid out upfront for community members?  Was it just people getting together with feel-good vibes?  Or was there a meeting where people sat down and talked about expectations of one another and what it meant to be a member of this community, and then the community followed up on those expectations to make sure people were living up to their share?
 
paul wheaton
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From the first post:

Since the community was affiliated with a wilderness college, many of the people that came for meals were part of the wilderness programs.  So as part of my offer, I asked:  people wash their own dishes; people help with the post-meal cleanup (if any); and once a week, people bring in some sort of wild food:  trout, or berries, or camas, or nettles, or squirrel or .... anything that comes from the vast woods that surrounds the property (or the creek that runs through the property)

There were a about nine people, including me.  So for twelve weeks, you would think there would be wild food brought in about a hundred times.  I think wild food was brought in about six times.  A few times I asked what wild food we might see next week, thus reminding people about this part of the arrangement, but I never pressed it.

Many times, some people would not help with the cleanup.  Some of the community tried to remind other community people ("hey!  I'm not your fucking maid man!") - but that often didn't work.    The cook often cleaned up after everyone else.  Although I have to admit that one really decent community member did go the extra mile and persuade the slackers to help more.  So toward the end of the experiment, the cleanup was mostly by the collective group.  But it took one decent person getting angry at the slackers.



The primary point is that when a group of a dozen people are sitting down and planning out how their food will be managed, they assume that all of the participants will be noble.  I have heard from dozens of people throughout my life:  if you provide a community of ten people a meal, you will get ten meals in return - without any further structure.  There is no need to set up an obligation, people are good.

I think this experiment shows many important points.  Good, decent people that desperately want other people to be naturally good and decent will have a hard time accepting the results. 

Two rough conclusions:

1)  Generosity was not reciprocated.  Not even close.

2)  Expectations were not met:  wash your own dishes was at 95%; post cleanup was at about 50%; bring in wild foods was at about 6%.


 
Len Ovens
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paul wheaton wrote:
I think this experiment shows many important points.  Good, decent people that desperately want other people to be naturally good and decent will have a hard time accepting the results. 

Two rough conclusions:

1)  Generosity was not reciprocated.  Not even close.

2)  Expectations were not met:  wash your own dishes was at 95%; post cleanup was at about 50%; bring in wild foods was at about 6%.



Yup. But if you start at the other end. If you provide meals (probably not often) and expect to get nothing in return... you will not only meet your expectations but possibly have somebody else do something in return.... a bonus!
 
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There exists a wonderful tool for understanding social interactions;
The Drama Triangle  devised by Dr Stephen Karpman.
There's lots of info on the web about it.
We take on roles; Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim ( not to be confused with the literal meaning of these words) and play out a continuous movement around the triangle.
Self awareness brings us to a place of seeing where we fit in this triangle and then how we can take responsibility to get out of the 'game.'
Once I saw my behaviours clearly and how I set up to get a certain response then I wanted to learn how to change and so I have been. It's a life long journey this lesson...this changing.
There's a healthier triangle where we learn to Care instead of Rescue, be Authentic and Assertive instead of a Persecutor and to show Vulnerability instead of being a Victim.
Hmmm...that's me 2 cents worth.
 
paul wheaton
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Len wrote:
Yup. But if you start at the other end. If you provide meals (probably not often) and expect to get nothing in return... you will not only meet your expectations but possibly have somebody else do something in return.... a bonus!



Yes! 

And so, I can do all the cooking, all the housework and bring in all of the income for 20 people and just be a loving, generous soul.  And then all of these people will have equal say in how things are run and they will be awesome and noble. 

If my expectations are set to "I am everybody's servant, door mat and punching bag" then I can be nothing other than happy, as nobody will behave lower than my expectations.

Unless, of course, that is their expectation too.  Which I think it would quickly become so.  And when I run out of time and money, then there will be 20 people really angry at me.  Damn.

///////////////////////

Back to reality:  yes, a few of these people did things for the community above and beyond what was required of them.  As did I.  I would say outside of the meals, my contributions to the community were higher than average. 

There was one person that was far more generous than the others.  The same person that provided me with the two meals. 

I think a lot of folks seriously want to believe that the results of this experiment was a fluke.  And for each of those folks, I propose that you duplicate the test. 

I'm not asking that folks say this is the way it will always be.  Or that this system cannot be improved.  But what I am asking is that folks acknowledge that this did happen and that human nature is not what we want it to be. 

Oh, and by the way, talk at the table was riddled with eco talk, permaculture talk, talk about what is wrong with society, buddhism, native american philosophies, events that were less than fair, goodness, decency, namaste, peace, love, hearts, flowers and rainbows.  So, for over three months, I paid for the food, I paid for the cook, I did all of the food shopping and, most importantly, I bit my tongue.  Clearly, actions speak louder than words.


 
Len Ovens
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paul wheaton wrote:
Yes! 

And so, I can do all the cooking, all the housework and bring in all of the income for 20 people and just be a loving, generous soul.  And then all of these people will have equal say in how things are run and they will be awesome and noble. 

If my expectations are set to "I am everybody's servant, door mat and punching bag" then I can be nothing other than happy, as nobody will behave lower than my expectations.



That was my point, pretty much. Also, that was where my "not often" came from. Instead of weekly, I was thinking yearly.... to celebrate something or other (birthdays come to mind). Even in another culture where people tend to want to bring something to any get together at all, weekly was pushing it... and while everyone was willing to bring food, cleanup (aside from ones own serving dish) pretty much demanded disposable plates and flatware.  Not exactly perma-anything.
 
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Forgive me, this post may ramble a bit.  This was a fun thread to read through and inclined me to respond.

I think it comes down to this:  We can relatively easily provide systems for plants and animals that work well for us, because we can pick and choose and direct them.  With people, we don't get to pick and choose so much --we don't even get to pick ourselves.(I'm of the belief that we have far less control over ourselves than we like to believe.  If we set unreasonable standards for ourselves, then we also set unreasonable standards for others.)  For some people, cleaning the kitchen is the hardest thing in the world.  Personal example,  around home, I would let dishes and such pile up.  I was going to clean them eventually -- when they got in my way,.ie, provided me with an incentive to do so.  Eventually someone else would get fed up with the mess and clean it themselves and get mad at me for it -- which from my perspective was just silly.  There was not enough of it to be in their way yet.  Why did they have this obsession with order when it requires so much extra input on their part to maintain it?  My sense of order was plainly not theirs. My solution was to expect them to just accept some chaos.  Theirs was for me to follow their rules of orderliness.  In the long run, the solution that worked best, was to not have 20-30 of every dish/utensil.  If they can't get piled up in the first place, they provide both me with an incentive to clean (need to eat off of *something*), and don't create enough clutter to irritate the neatfreak.  Human permaculture in action.  But this is not necessarily so easy to achieve.  For example, the fewer dishes solution fails when the neatfreak is a dish collector and/or married to one.)  That leaves either one side becoming what the other side wants it to become, perpetual irritation, or to parting of ways.  Unless someone removed from the situation can see another way, possibly -- but this option is often not available to us.

Human systems are difficult because we're part of the system. For our plants and animals, the system depends on our input (with the goal of permaculture being to reduce the need for this input by adapting the needs of everything toeachother as much as possible).  But we have no such *external* position for ordering  ourselves.  We not only have to contend with our own complexity, but that of others, and the complications of those things interacting. Unlike the systems we have more direct control over, we're partly controlled ourselves by the system we're inside of, and we're not always aware of how.

In your food cooking experiment, the situation seems to me to be really too specific to expect a lot out of it.  These people have more or less all come from a society of plenty and convenience. Food is being provided.  Might as well take advantage of it. It's convenient.  As for bringing in food or providing meals in reciprocation:  Well.. being provided food really isn't that big of a deal.  Most of us in this culture have probably never experienced food scarcity.  We were provided meals growing up, and they have no great sacredness about them.  We're also mostly separated from the growing of the food and it's preparation.  It's just food, it's just there, and provided by someone else.  So being provided with a meal?  So what?  Our parents did that for us for years. We get it from fast food joints, too.  It's just a meal.  Bringing in stuff for someone to prepare a meal from?  Man, that's special.  That like, almost never happens. The last time that happened.. it probably lives on to this day as a family legend.    Way too special of a thing to go do (unless one does it as a matter of regular course) merely in exchange for a meal.  Some of them probably think the fact that they showed up for conversation is more than ample reciprocity for the meal.

In your experiment, you mentioned some backlash over not being allowed to access the food outside of mealtimes.  This is, essentially, a very arbitrary rule.  If they ate the food at meal time or another time, there's really no difference (to them) outside of breaking your rule. Most of us are used to having access to food any time we please.  You're a fellow human being.  Any rule you make that is so arbitrary is just asking to be broken. I can make a rule that nobody is allowed to come within 100 feet of me, if I like.  How many people are going to care?  It's a lot like planting a field full of some crop.  Then you say to the bugs:  "Please, stay off my plants."  The bugs pretty much glance at eachother and go "Pffftttt.  Yeah right. Plant a big crop in our home and expect us not to eat it just because you say so?"

Now, these same people will probably not decide to take your car if they notice the keys on the table, and nobody looking.  Cars are valuable possessions in our society, and most of us respect that and don't take it just because we could.

The point here is different values.  You're assigning a particular value to your food providence as well as what seems a fuzzy idea of 'community'.  But to the people being served, well, food probably isn't so special.  Why would they reciprocate or follow silly rules for something so minor?  IF you knew each of them personally to the point that you knew what would incline them to different sorts of reciprocity, then you could design a system around that. But I think this is really too closed of a system to comment on the nature of human generosity.  We're all generous in different ways, and for most of us, in our particular culture, food is no big deal.  Me, I like to make things that I know someone needs. If the chef desired a special cutting board or knife, I'd gladly set about making it.)  My cooking on the other hand, often I would be the only one to find palatable.  Why would I foolishly offer it to someone else, however much they might expect me to? For wildcrafted food, I'd be as likely to bring in wasp larve (I hear it tastes like bacon!) as anything else.  I doubt most people would be able to get past the fact that it's wasp larve, however.  Hence, I would be disinclined to bring anything.

It would work better if you could take a group of people that placed the same kind of value on food as the one doing the giving and see what results from that, or if you found a way to make the system more adaptable to different kinds of generosity.  Being centered around only food and a fuzzy idea of 'community' is very limiting in it's possibilities, particularly when it involves people from a culture so far removed from seeing food as something really special, not to mention who have probably not grown up with any real sense of community. (meaning, they may well have grown up around a lot of people, but the society around them obscures how they're all connected, so we all seem to be individual entities rather than people who really do one way or another rely on eachother).  You can't really expect a quick adaption to group consciousness from a bunch like this.  You should just as well expect to become French just by living there for a few months.

So, I disagree with your conclusions about human generosity (they have more to do with culture and values than humanity in general), but I do agree that a system that takes into account the human element(s) is going to be a much more robust one.
 
pollinator
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Paul talks about this story in his podcast on intentional community: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/310-podcast-037-intentional-community/
 
Suzy Bean
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Paul and Ran Prieur talk about internal/external motivation in this podcast: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/512-podcast-088-ran-prieur/
 
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paul wheaton wrote:My impression is that 90% of the problems in a household with several unrelated adults under the same roof are rooted to the kitchen. 



fwiw, around here we used to say "people relate over porcelain" - ie at the sinks & toilets (kitchens & bathrooms)
 
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All I can say Paul is wow! I can't believe a group of people would band together to chastise you about not giving away your food. The audacity! And what chaps my hide even worse is to read responses here justifying their actions as if it were somehow your fault for not wanting to part with more of your own food - a resource you didn't have to provide at all! I would have been so mad at those guys!

It makes me wonder though, what type of person is more likely to support social welfare... those that do all the taking or those that apparently already support the idea by doing all of the giving.
 
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This is a manifestation of the tragedy of the commons. A bunch of people taking part in what they see as a free resource and depleting it because they're not thinking past their own forks. Workplace breakrooms, public libraries, and most other public spaces in the United States need only be observed to determine how common this is. It is for this reason that most intentionally-constructed entities designed to foster community relations end up with problems. These are not things that can be created without the backing of a culture that instills a sense of deep social responsibility. Communities can't be built; they just happen. The U.S. instills a sense of fierce independence in its people, which isn't without merit, but the capability to involve oneself in a communal social contract without this sort of degradation is not one of them.
 
George Lafayette
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Jonathan Hontz wrote: <snip> ... Communities can't be built; they just happen. <snip>



I dunno if I'd agree with that particular statement, my initial response is that successful communities probably involve [re-]training the participants. It never seems like 'the right people' show up at our door to join our group. I do think there is a selection process where a lot of people show up, the group lets some in, and of those some stay.

Me? I grew up in a nuclear family/nuclear household, and I didn't have the skills to make it in a group.

Around here we joke about an old Buddhist saying - you put a bunch of pebbles in a bag and they rub each other smooth - and we joke about how living communally has rubbed a lot of our rough edges off. Certainly has for me.

If you look around the net (and in real life) you'll see lots of people trying to form a group (or who have recently formed a group) where what they are focused on a is piece of real estate / some buildings /some ideology / some business a group could do; and then they are surprised when they have problems - having never considered the "people ingredient."
 
paul wheaton
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This morning I went to my facebook page and the guy that I caught stealing my food had written on my wall "you're a douche!"

Of course, if I had never shared anything, I suspect that he would have written nothing. Or he would have thought I was a great guy. Or if I had nothing for him to steal.

I think this sort of mentality it very common. Resentment of generosity.

 
steward
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More likely a resentment because you won't pat him on the head like his parents did and tell him that no matter what he does, he still is a good boy. :
 
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need to reduce the time im spending on here right now cus i got homework to do:p
so as a response to the OP and nothing more
when i was younger, my grandparents tried to establish a somewhat similar system with similar results
basically there were enough people in our family that ate there often enough that rather than having one person make everyones meals we tried on about three seperate occasions to assign one night a week to a different person for cooking and preparing the meal, with the little ones coupled with adults on some nights


the first attempt was set up so that one person, every night, with the exceptions of fridays, which were "fend for yourself" nights would cook dinner, set the table, serve dinner, clean up after dinner, wipe the table down and then do the dishes so they were ready for the person the next day
the cook didn't have to prepare a brand new meal and could heat up leftovers and prepare something out of that, but the other responsibilites held
this worked for a while because it was new to everyone and everyone tried to help out but when it began to deterioate(spelling?), it did so rapidly as it was based on one person doing most of the work on thier night

the second attempt came about after some more discussion and concerns being brought up making the new system this
the cook for the night would unload the dishwasher from the night before, prepare a meal, appoint someone to help set the table with him/her serve the meal and then when everyone was done would put the meal away and clean pots/pans and utensils from preparing the meal and start the dishwasher
every person was responsible for wiping down their area of the table and rinsing their dishes and putting them in the dishwasher, this also prevented those who saved thier cups for a few days use from getting frustrated about their cup getting washed after dinner
this system lasted just about as long due to people being tired of making dinner from the previous attempt and began deterioating sooner but took much longer to deterioate as people were still a little more willing to make things work and those that were helping others helped encourage the other to do something that night, the biggest issue was that very few people remembered to wipe down their area after eating, me and one or two other people were about the only ones that remembered this step

the third attempt was pretty much the same system just another attempt as everyone thought it was a decent system, except those that had been main cook the night before and ended up helping another night, they felt it took too much time out of their week
this lasted about half as long because people just sorta gave up on it and other things going on took priority

now it is pretty much my grandma and grandpa switching on and off making a big meal once or twice a week and keeping the fridge stocked with leftovers from these meals
people still take care of thier own dishes when there but thats about it

just figured i would contribute my experience to the thread, maybe it'll help someone whos trying to figure out their own system


reading a post below the reply window... i agree that those who deal with hard times quickly get away from mooching off others, the hardest workers i know are those who have gone without before and will work their ass off for a meal and will not let one scrap of food go to waste due to anyone around them
ie my uncle has gone hungry before and knows the value of a meal, he often eats at my grandparents due to excess food and the foster kids quickly learn when he is around not to waste one bit of food without first offering it to everyone else in the house, he doesn't appreciate it much to say the least:)
 
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I just re-listed to Paul's two parter on intentional communities yesterday, and (twice) heard the 270:1 nobility ratio story. It made me think of a few things.

It reminded me of something my company's major client once said to me once. We were saying we could get the results we were getting because we only hired the best people, and our client said that was a flawed model because the only thing you can ultimately rely on is that people are, on average, only average. It's true if you assume your company is going to grow ever larger, and thus the pool of available "best" people will shrink. If you keep the company small, then you only need to find additional people when existing people move on, and part of what defines "best" for me is that those people will want to stick around and see things through. Sometimes, despite careful recruitment and pretty great conditions, it doesn't work out, and then people have to leave. My company is not a concensus based model.

Now the closest thing I have ever got to "living in community" was living in a couple of different share houses with, at most, three other people. The difference there was every one of those people (including myself) were doing this because financial circumstances meant we had to. Whilst we split rent and utility bills, that was it - we were really just living individual lives under a common roof. I don't remember how cleaning of common areas got done - I think people just cleaned when it seemed like it needed it.

Anyway, it seems like the vast majority of people all over the world tend to fall in love and pair up (even gay folks, who clearly don't feel constrained by religious traditions). I know that my wife and I have all sorts of differences of opinion, and I cope with that because I want to stay with this person for the rest of my life. I have two kids, for whom I also have to compromise, and that number of relationships makes the house a very tense place at times. But I have love to keep me on track, and it's a powerful balancing force. In my experience, the people that don't go down that path (or don't want to) usually have some sort of personality trait that prevents it. For example, I know people who have said they would never get married, because they wouldn't want to have to compromise on how they live their lives. Is that the sort of guy or gal you would want to share a house with?

Of course there are some folks (a lot of them on here, I suspect) that would be driven to this lifestyle possibly even against their natural instincts, due to their (very noble) belief in the importance of reducing their ecological footprint. The problem there (as Paul often demonstrates) is that the more conviction people have, the less it takes to drive a wedge between them. "Normal people" would probably assume that all these eco folks would get along just great, seeing as how they all want to save the world, etc. What the normal people don't realise is that eco guy 1 hates eco girl 2 because she put fucking cardboard in the compost, and eco guy 3 can't believe what an ignorant fuck eco guy 4 is because he thinks that the house should use grey water on the garden instead of huglekultur.



By the way, here's the Monty Python skit that Paul referred to in the podcast



"You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!"
 
Jonathan Hontz
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So it looks like we've effectively answered the core question of this thread, "Are people essentially selfish?" with a decidedly forceful "It really depends."
 
Phil Hawkins
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Jonathan Hontz wrote:So it looks like we've effectively answered the core question of this thread, "Are people essentially selfish?" with a decidedly forceful "It really depends."


That is absolutely, 100% possibly a FACT

I would argue/I believe/I would suggest that selfishness is a basic innate survival instinct. Most people "unlearn" a degree of selfishness through their upbringing. I frequently berate my 4 year old for taking my 2 year old's toys without asking. Some parents don't do this, and that's where assholes come from. A minority of people go beyond the socially accepted minimum level of selfishness, and we'd usually refer to them as generous. Finally, there are the few truly noble (Mother Theresa springs to mind).

Are people essentially selfish? Not all of them.
It depends - are they assholes or a saints?
 
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Maybe you need to wait longer to see the results of the "seeds"you planted Paul?Perhaps you won't ever see the result or fruit of the seeds of charity you planted Paul but I bet someone will.
 
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Living in drival land. My experiance is that age and experiance goes hand in hand with cooperation and sharing. The young and youth of today have fewer tools and concepts. I see this in many of the organisations I try to help with. On the inverse, our pot luck at the meeting we always have a pleanty of interesting food and stuff. People get turned away from kitchen duty. On the inverse of this, when I was living in the college hippie co-ops I found it hard to deal with the self centered and selfishness of the young of my generation. Let alone a few of the self serving hippies that sucked everything and one dry. I can not stand a person who will not share some basic eats with a hungry person. It makes me pissy to this day.

I find that established older groups ususally have few problems.

People need rules. It is the ugly fact for the monkey boys and girls. We are a race of a few who do fine without them while the many need and crave rules. Ask any sadist this. The masses crave to be spanked. Why? I have no idea.

The dogs in my pack follow an Alpha. So do people. How little we have come. So far to go.
 
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Individual > Family > Community > Nation > Global Community. When you are young and cannot even fend for yourself it is not a good idea to start a family.
If you cannot operate within a family setting , why do you think you can "form" a community ? That is the problem that I have seen with many kinds of intentional communities - from roommate settings to Ashrams to Coops. Who has designed the model for this community Was it a group of people or an individual that cannot function in the simpler units of society - family and self? Or was it a group of self actualized strong individuals who are capable of operating independently and have something to offer to a group. It is the sum total of the individuals within it. Just like a family. You cannot artificially design a template for a community and expect everyone to just fall into place within it and function. If the designer is dysfunctional then the product will be so also. That was the problem with Marxism - Marx outlined the source of evil in the world { capitalism } and was probably correct on some levels - but then he outlined a model of society that had no precedent. It was just an ideal with no historical evidence of success. The way I see it , we can create intentional community or we can make do with what we have . It's only going to get as good as the individuals within it.Are people willing to give it all they have ? Are they willing to admit where they are wrong and change ? Are they willing to accept advice from experts and appreciate wisdom? Is the common goal powerful enough to inspire
overcoming pettiness ? We are members of a Home School Coop. We just had a graduation ceremony for the kindergarten and senior classes. The emcee said " Who would have thought that a bunch of public school educated people could become home school teachers " . It is based on families with strong convictions about their kids and education and the kids putting out all they have , then everyone coming together so the kids can have a larger peer group and also be involved in 4H and music classes. We all pay to form this group - cash and sweat . We all pay and sweat to form our individual home schools . The kids sweat and make sacrafices . There is no sense of entitlement - we still pay our taxes for the public schools to stay open. Its a strong community.
 
paul wheaton
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Ed Seal wrote:Maybe you need to wait longer to see the results of the "seeds"you planted Paul?Perhaps you won't ever see the result or fruit of the seeds of charity you planted Paul but I bet someone will.



Possibly. For a few.

I wish to be clear about an important point: if we design community systems to depend on everybody in the system to be noble, there is a high probability of failure. To address your point: I suppose this would be considered short term failure.


 
George Lafayette
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paul wheaton wrote:<snip>

I wish to be clear about an important point: if we design community systems to depend on everybody in the system to be noble, there is a high probability of failure.
<snip>



I would say that this is an understatement.

 
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Ed Seal wrote:Maybe you need to wait longer to see the results of the "seeds"you planted Paul?Perhaps you won't ever see the result or fruit of the seeds of charity you planted Paul but I bet someone will.



I agree. Changing even one person's perspective or contributing to their lives in a positive way is worth the struggle and sacrifice. At one time I was in a very dark place but I have turned my life around. It isn't impossible to reach an individual.
 
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Three years ago, I ran a house where I rented out rooms. All went well at first since I was around quite a bit. Later on, I was gone to distant jobs quite a bit and the whole system broke down.There was no promise of free or shared food but quite often I or one of the others would throw on a large supply of some inexpensive staple like rice or potatoes and inform the group that these items were for common usage to be mixed with whatever they were cooking. I scrounge lots of dry goods from the cupboards of houses under demolition and am always keen to grab any great deals at the store. William frequented wild areas where he found apples, pears and berries that he shared. Of the 8 people in the house, 4 were regular contributors to the food pot. One reclusive guy neither contributed nor drew from the common pot.

Three people, Rob, Rob's girlfriend and Muhamad regularly consumed stuff but never contributed. These same three were also responsible for most late night noise, dirty dishes, water all over the bathroom and other breaches. These three were also incapable of feeding a wood stove. Muhamad moved out in anger when I confronted him regarding his late night alcohol fueled noise and cooking incidents(fire). The other 2 got worse with time and made life difficult for everyone in the house with their sloppiness, fighting amongst themselves and later stealing. I had to resort to legal measures to get them out. The entire atmosphere and tone of the house was eventually set by the bad apples. Some retreated to their rooms, others moved out.

All 5 of the good tennants had full time employment. The 3 bad apples drew money from the government in one way or another. The couple who were so bad that the drunk was OK by comparison never went to work or sought work. They did run a series of scams that involved collecting money for fictitious charities. Rob put countless hours into this, so I couldn't say that he was totally lazy.

All of this has put me off of group living for now. In the future, full time employment will be my #1 criteria in choosing housemates.

 
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Paul, There are two books on evolutionary psychology that, if you haven't read them, you may find interesting. The Moral Animal by Robert Wright and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Researchers like them who are re-inventing the field of human psychology by analyzing it from the perspective of genetics and evolution are finding some interesting things about "human nature" and behavior of animals in general. For example, some research using computer modelling seems to indicate that a species is not stable over evolutionary time unless a certain percentage of the popupalation "cheats" in some way. In the models, if the percentage of cheaters is either increased or decreased, the population goes extinct. Genetic variability between individuals means that there will always be a spectrum of any tendency, including honesty, in all populations.

Personally, I believe that we humans have to, collectively, change our behavior away from the behavior that our genes have program us for. That's because that programming was the result of eons of time when resources were plentiful, and competition was rewarded more than cooperation, both within and outside of our species. Now that we are approaching the carrying capacity of the planet, we have to behave in ways that go very much against what our genes are telling us to do. That is much more difficult than it sounds. In fact, it has been proposed that everything we do, science, religion, culture, is merely the result of what our genes direct, as if we are not in control - our genes are.

We have to stop and even reverse population growth and cooperate much more with other species, and we have to do so even though our gut tells us not to. I see permaculture as one method to gain superiority over our instincts.
 
Daniel Morse
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This is where I go off the subject a little. Sometimes, I feel it should be allowed to smack stupid and selfish people. Just a smack and maybe a spanking. Bad behaviors should not be rewarded. When we lived int he co-op if someone messed up too much they were told to get out. If they acted stupid their stuff was put out on the curb. DONE! I am a terrible Quaker like that. Some people will push, push and take as much as they can. I am not talking about the truly mentally unable. Just people who take advantage of others. Often drugs and drink are involved.

Maybe we need a neighborhood Grandma to do this. To give hugs and spanking as needed. Just a thought on the issue.
 
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Daniel Morse wrote:
Maybe we need a neighborhood Grandma to do this. To give hugs and spanking as needed. Just a thought on the issue.



I think you need two Grandmas, the nice Grandma and the mean Grandma. The nice Grandma dispenses cookies and hugs, the mean one dispenses dirty looks and sharp words.

 
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