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The state of intentional communities  RSS feed

 
A Walton
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I pass much of my time spent in a corporate isolation cube researching intentional communities and wanted to start a discussion related to my findings. It seems to me that today IC's fall into a few categories:

1. Long established communities that have been around for decades, but struggle to endure in today's shifting social and cultural values.

2. New communities that have gained a small degree of sustainability, but struggle to achieve stability both financially and in terms of member base.

3. Numerous "startup communities" that are merely just someones idea but never get off the ground.

So that this discussion doesn't start as a dissertation that nobody wants to read, I'd like to focus on #3 here and expand on one and two in separate discussions. So permies, to get this started I wonder if you could answer this question if you are so inclined:

For those of you that have an idea for a new IC, why don't you instead join an existing community? It seems that the primary reason for the failure of IC's is the inability to create a "critical mass" of members and interest, so approaching this like we approach everything in this country (with rugged individualism) seems counterproductive. Thoughts? Also, considering that one of the primary obstacles to creating IC's is the availability of good land, wouldn't it make more sense to join a community that already has that?
 
Rene Nijstad
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Hi Aaron,

Just my 2 cents, based on our own reasoning, which did not start in wanting to build a community, but in wanting to build a permaculture demonstration and education site. During our preparations and initial execution of our plan it became obvious that just the 2 of us would take a long time to develop our ideas. The first option that seemed obvious was to share our farm with more people, and build a community like that. We found that this creates too many headaches, because one group on one piece of land means you have to agree on many things. I personally don't think it's realistic to expect success in such a setup. People are indeed individualistic to a certain extend and need autonomy. But once you have that, you for sure can cooperate. So we've published our idea for a community setup, where people have/buy farms in proximity to each other and then work together to build their own economy-community. You can read about it here: http://www.permies.com/t/52526/intentional-community/Building-community-AUTONOMOUS-farms-people

So in other words, sometimes to reach your real goal you end up trying to build a community... Or sometimes you just want to alert people that you're out there where you see real options for more people and that it would be cool to have a bunch of permie neighbors around.
 
David Spohn
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A few things come immediately to mind. The cost of buying a residence in an existing community might be prohibitive. The location of existing ICs may not be suitable. There may be differences in philosophy or practice. Not all existing ICs have room for additional members. It would be nice if we could all "find" the perfect place rather than having to build it from scratch, but I don't think we're quite there yet.
 
Don Goddard
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I think that David Spohn is really on to a very serious impediment when he talks about the cost of buying in. And the cost of buying in is way more than just the financial aspect. When we bought our retirement home we ran into this same phenomenon. Albeit what I am about to describe is only a situation akin to an intentional community. All sorts of real estate agents wanted to sell us a home in a naturist association. In one case the agent had already driven us several miles toward the home when she let on a comment that suggested there might be a neighborhood association involved. I asked directly and she said that it did and I had to tell her that she should just pull over and turn around as there was no way I would even consider any house bound to a neighborhood association. The horror stories I have heard emanating from such arrangements make my blood run cold. I have encountered ones that had passed by laws that said everyone had to decorate their lots for Christmas with white lights only outlining their house and lawn. I don't even keep christmas.

I do metal working and a fellow home machinist was told he could not have his machine tools in his garage when some trouble maker saw he had some. This was enforced as part of a ban on "commercial machinery" It was not lke he was a plumber parking his plumbing truck in his driveway every night

It is kind of like joining a cult. Actually it is not kind of like, it is exactly that if you look up the definition of cult. If the land and your rights to it is some how governed by the community and they can change the rules and enforce the changes, you must be really committed to even be able to protect yourself economically. However the social cost can be devastating, I have had a student in engineering college who was completely derailed in his program when he was kicked out of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and I hav know some ex-mormons and even known a few people who's life was disrupted when they had a doctrinal disagreement with their church congregation and were shunned.

There may be differences between what you mean by "Intentional Communities" and what I have described but there are many parallels. Is not a marriage a micro intentional community? I have never met anybody who thought their divorce was fun even if they though it was an improvement.

So then how do you make for a successful intentional community.
A. There has to be a thorough courtship !!!
B. There has to be a definition and protection of critical diversities
C. There has to be a fair exit strategy
D. There has to be a fair and open greivence resolution policy
E. The power structure of the group must be understood and defined
F. One needs to remember that (using various national constitutions as an example), the genius of such foundational documents is that they specify rights which sometimes allow a minority of one to resist a simple majority, and require a super majority in order to change the basic rules. That example is a key feature of any such organizational documents.
G. If you put multiple people together in small or large or super communities there is going to be dissent, disagreement and power usurpation, (just watch kids on a playground)
H. This may sound Orwellian but the community must provide for "inculcation" Groups like the Amish and Hutterites persist (albeit imperfectly sometimes) because the people in the group are mostly raised in the culture of the group; ( i.e. thoroughly inculcated). And these groups are generally largely agricultural with a massive dose of religion.
I. Adding an ombudsman process to the group would not be a bad idea easier. Not everyone with a legitimate grievance is eloquent or well connected.

I would really think that it would be a credible idea to say that any group wanting to form an intentional community might benefit from learning what they can from divorce lawyers and marriage counsellors. The parallels are there.

OK I will stop musing for a while as this is getting a bit long fo ra first shot at it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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A Walton wrote:wouldn't it make more sense to join a community that already has that?


I think most people want to own their own land and do things their own way. If they start their own IC they can make their own rules, especially if they choose to run it as a benevolent dictatorship (see wheaton labs).

 
Dale Hodgins
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Ludi beat me to it. ☺

I read to the end, with a plan to mention benevolent dictatorship. This is how many businesses and families operate. As a social Darwinist, I see it as the most natural of systems. Those who posses the means and desire to acquire land, make all important decisions. Some people will like it, some won't. The owner will like some of the first group, and there's a chance for them to come together.

I knew it was over, with a couple living at my place, when it became clear that they were avoiding me. They were only home twice, during a 16 month period. I visited the property about 8 times. Several other owners who have a work trade arrangement with tenants, have reported the same thing. One guy pretended to leave, when he found nobody home. A few minutes later, the lazy buggers emerged from the bushes.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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A quote from the OP.

It seems that the primary reason for the failure of IC's is the inability to create a "critical mass" of members and interest, so approaching this like we approach everything in this country (with rugged individualism) seems counterproductive.


and one from D. Goddard:

the community must provide for "inculcation" Groups like the Amish and Hutterites persist (albeit imperfectly sometimes) because the people in the group are mostly raised in the culture of the group; ( i.e. thoroughly inculcated). And these groups are generally largely agricultural with a massive dose of religion.




I disagree with the first quote, but agree with the second... and then there is the benevolent dictator thing. The primary failure of most intentional communities, from what I can understand from having visited a few one man "Ecovillage" or "communities" is not the critical mass aspect of things, but the lack of cohesive inclusive philosophy or religion, or lack of belief that the leadership is actually on track with their own ideals or ethics. The Hutterites and the Amish are successful with their communities because of this principle (imperfectly, but still largely successful). There is the possibility that a community can be built on philosophic notions, but they have to be laid down in a concrete easy to understand way, so the a newcomer can see if the dictatorship that they are entering, is indeed benevolent to their personal needs.

Generally, from my experience, those dictators that proved to not have enough benevolence could not generate long term commitment from their subjects, and thus there were a lot of abandoned houses, many of them half built. Those with greater benevolence were more apt to support thriving systems, where people stayed long term, or came and went with a degree of commitment to the overall project. Those who were truly great, did not appear to be dictatorships at all, but were inclusive communities with rules based on common sense and ethics. These last are hard to find, and are more apt to generate new members via invitation or personal referral than by public referral or advertising. This last part creates a scenario where many potential seekers are not included in the loop.
 
Steven Kovacs
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The Amish and Hutterites have two advantages most ICs don't: religion as a binder, and time to develop the complex informal social relationships that bind communities together and make them work.

Trying to invent a community from whole cloth seems like an almost impossible task, so I'm not surprised most ICs fail. Better, I think, to follow the "small and slow" principle and start with something less ambitious like a cohousing community. Alternately, join an existing organization (small town, local Grange, whatever) and over time try to steer it in the direction you want.
 
A Walton
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The primary failure of most intentional communities, from what I can understand from having visited a few one man "Ecovillage" or "communities" is not the critical mass aspect of things, but the lack of cohesive inclusive philosophy or religion, or lack of belief that the leadership is actually on track with their own ideals or ethics.


Same thing. Critical mass not achieved due to factors X, Y, or Z, where in this case the factor is lack of cohesive philosophy. Why did IC's work out better in the 70's? Do you feel we had a more cohesive set of societal values back then? I tend to believe this is true, but am wondering what others think.

 
A Walton
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Don Goddard wrote:
There may be differences between what you mean by "Intentional Communities" and what I have described but there are many parallels.


I think what you are describing would be called "Co-housing" rather than a traditional intentional community. I realize they are grouped with IC's, but I don't think they are the same. I'm not a fan of the co-housing idea as it seems most of them are just regular living situations, with modern expensive houses, but like you say, on shared land with a lot of rules. No thanks. In my mind, the draw of the IC is to return to a simpler, cheaper, and more community-based way of life, which are goals not really achieved in a co-housing situation.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Do you feel we had a more cohesive set of societal values back then? I tend to believe this is true, but am wondering what others think.


I think that the drive to create something different at that time (late 60's and 70's) was a pretty major societal force. The back-to-the-land movement had it's successful ICs because the communities being formed had a cohesive philosophy, that was based on things that were trending heavily in the culture. Conspiracy Theorists might say that the demonizing of the Hippy (or counter cultural elements), and the rise of the Yuppie (the re-establishment of workers for the capital state) were both directed by the powers that be to re-establish the dominance of the Industrial American Dream, usurping the establishing Back to Eden Flower Power alternative.

Although some of the communities turned out to not be quite so benevolently dictated and were doomed to collapse, the ones that tended to be most successful were able to direct and distill the surging counter culture philosophies into something that would be useful to form a small community, and that resulted in staying power. This was so because it gave those people a community that still held those beliefs and passions that were a part of the paradigm shifting Zeitgeist that they were founded on, despite the selling out (for lack of a better term, sorry) of the movement by the larger masses. If those beliefs and passions were not continually instilled in the inhabitants of the IC, without effort-just by the way it was---The place would collapse since nobody wants to be told what to do; they have to want to do it. They have to own the philosophy as part of themselves.

It may be that I don't know what I'm talking about. I did not grow up in such situations. My parents weren't really a part of that, and I grew up in Industrial Logging. To me as a young child of the seventies (I was conceived on the Eve of the Summer of Love-1969!) , I was enamored by the hippy movement, their music, the concept of growing food and having animals, the idea that people should be able to get along... Great Ideas! When I was ending high school in 1988 there happened to be a little resurgence of this same Zeitgeist and I believe that the permaculture movement that we know today really started to reach numbers as a result of this surge that resulted in the forming of communities in the '90s. The internet helped this movement to further gain momentum at that time.

The late 70's and early 80's were a cultural wasteland as far as I'm concerned. But maybe that was just me coming to terms with my adolescence.

I think though, that I'm not far off in this statement; the state of the Cold War and nuclear situation and the rise of the ultra capitalist New World Order West made it's greatest gains in this era in the minds of the culture; the CNN and Fox news paradigm shift was unfolding from it's dark potion locus in the minds of the media elite to be cast into the future (now) like black magic upon the masses of this era to once again re-instill the TINA (There is No Alternative) borg mentality; resistance is futile. In the late 70's and early 80's the alternative press had limited sway; the internet did not exist, the (bad)news was a constant drone. I do not see the late 70's and early 80's era as a time that the paradigm was shifting towards global peace. It was thus shifting away from the concept of intentional communities next only to the Post WWII rise of industry and suburbia, which created the collapse of the farming family as a mainstay in American Culture; the push in the 80's sealed the coffin on many more.

It was in the 90's that somehow the ideals of a peaceful culture and the idea of a new back to the land movement came into being again; perhaps the children of the yuppies rebelling! Yay. The punks, the new hippies, the DIYers, they all came into their own at this time. ?? The question is: Do we have a cohesive enough philosophy, a cultural zeitgeist that is large enough and inclusive enough to have the type of momentum to make of go of ICs? Hard to say. I'd hazard to say Yes. I'd say that the information is there, and there is the will to do the work, there just has to be the passion to live as a community, to form the alternative, to stick to it even when it's tough... Anyway, I've spewed enough gibberish... perhaps I should go rant in the meaningless drivel forum.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I currently live in an intentional community that was established 155 years ago, and is still functioning just fine, thank you very much. We all do our own thing, and we all take care of each other. Sure, there are outsiders that live in our community. They either become part of the community, or they leave. No big deal either way. I still visit with childhood friends. I still watch out for their parents as they watch out for mine. We still feed each other depending on who likes raising rabbits, and who likes growing feed for the rabbits.

 
A Walton
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
I currently live in an intentional community that was established 155 years ago, and is still functioning just fine, thank you very much. We all do our own thing, and we all take care of each other. Sure, there are outsiders that live in our community. They either become part of the community, or they leave. No big deal either way. I still visit with childhood friends. I still watch out for their parents as they watch out for mine. We still feed each other depending on who likes raising rabbits, and who likes growing feed for the rabbits.



I'd like to hear more about that, if you care to share.
 
Ziggy Ziegler
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A walton thanks for starting this discussion and thanks to everybody who responded with such great information. I have spent a lot of my 60+ years life living in and around many intentional communities, including earth haven, gold light ranch, the peace farm and several others. I started the concept for an intentional community in Costa Rica and then moved it to Southern Chile and then back to the US. I called it H.E.A.L. (Heal Earth and Life). my listing on IC.org started in 2005 http://www.ic.org/directory/heal/ and still exist today. I have had hundreds of good souls ask to join me and I told them I would let them know when I found what I was looking for. I have moved the concept of this community with me as I have traveled through out the years. Several times I found properties i thought would be good for it none of them I could personally purchases. Land ownership is for sure the biggest hurdle of most intentional communities, whos name is on the title? Every community I have lived in has handled this differently and in all of them I have not been able to find a perfect way to handle this. What happened in Earth Haven is a good example of what can go wrong and what can go right. The strongest intentional community that took hold there is the hundreds of very cool souls who visited earthhaven and decided it was not right for them but bought land as close as they could get. I lived for a year on farm i leased at the entrance to this community and loved being able to join them from a distance. Gold light is a benevolent dictatorship as mentioned above however as go's the dictator goes the community sometime good sometimes not.

One of the most important things I have found needs to be at the base of any good intentional community is a strong and vibrant cash crop. When the community has to leave it's home base everyday to gather money the community suffers. The mixing of community cash crop with the outside world cash do not seem to mix well, a little like OIL and organic clear water. Once everybody has the ability to live as in pursuing their passions and this covers all other needs, something amazing happens, people in the community walk around with big grins on their faces. The Out Side world thinks their all on drugs and they are a drug called living your life to your fullest potential. I have had this experience a few times and it is magic you dont want to leave the community all you want to do is add to it and support it.

I believe we are on the cusp of many of theses amazing communities coming to this planet and I look forward to H.E.A.L. being one of them. My friends at http://www.onecommunityglobal.org/ are about to start another one and their open source concept for building community will become a model of what is possible when the rubber leaves the road.

I hope everybody here finds what they are looking for because in that we will all be fine, remember we are the ones we have been waiting for and it's our time. My time will include an intentional community that believe no one should have to pay for good healthy, organic food, shelter or energy. Cant wait to see the smiles on everybody's faces when that happens.

Ziggy
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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