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discussing Podcast 37: community decision-making

 
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Very interesting discussion.  I have to agree that using consensus presents problems in any size "democracy."  I was involved with a couple of "planned communities" back in the '70's.  One was a consensus format and is was more like chaos than consensus.  The other one though had one decision maker that was the "manager" and there was much more harmony among the members.  Oh sure everyone complained about cleaning the bathroom when it was their turn but it got done.  It may be somewhat "politically incorrect" but from what I experienced having one "leader" worked best.  People most often were given general tasks that they were capable of performing effectively.  I grumbled about having to clean the bathroom too and I was in charge of the kitchen and all of the food prep.  We all used the bathroom so we all took turns with that chore.  The same with washing the dishes.  If you sat down and ate the food you were expected to help clean up afterward.  One "manager" works best in my opinion
 
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Jocelyn and I recorded another podcast that adds a bit to this one.

I think that the conclusion I never made was:  with 12 people in consensus you have 66 equal relationships.  With 12 people in a fiefdom, you have 11 relationships. 

Further, in a relationship with two people that are equal, the relationship is a two-person consensus system.  If we look at marriages of 100 years ago, it was a two-person fiefdom.  I'm not saying that a marriage should be arranged that way, but what i do wish to point out is that the success rate was higher. 

When I worked on the Tubbs ranch or the B. L. Davis ranch, these were fiefdoms.  I did not think that I had equal say to the owners.  The system worked.

I like the idea that there are 100,000 farm fiefdoms out there.  And for each one, the person running the joint makes their "style" or community position public knowledge.  A person can then go there and see if they like this community managed by this one person.  Or maybe go visit a dozen before settling on one.

Maybe there are 20 people living on a hundred acres.  Some people have been living there for ten years.  Some people have been there just a few months.  Some people plan on being there forever and others are just passing through.

I like what somebody in this forum once said about how some people are seeking their passion.  I think it would be good to facilitate that.
 
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Great podcast.  Intentional community is near and dear to my heart and has been in our thought/planning stages for years.  We have kicked around various ideas, including one that much resembles a team with a coach, or in our case coaches...somebody/ies who kind of steer the ship.  We would consider this a working community, where everyone is expected to do some form of work to the value of the community as a whole.  For instance, I love to cook, but S hates to cook, G likes it a little, etc.  I would be the cook for 20 meals per week, G will cook one night a week (and would be considered the back-up cook when needed), S and a couple others like to clean up after meals, as long as they do not have to cook.  We have considered all areas of our homesteading community in this manner, covering each area with a coach/es who has passion and knowledge in that area.  Not perfect by any means, but I believe we are headed in the right direction...for us.
 
pollinator
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An interesting listen.... But, I couldn't even interrupt    Anyway, There were a couple of thoughts that came to mind... the first has little to do with things but I found it useful? edifying? not sure. Anyway, near the end Paul said something about these forums being useful because he was learning from them. That he would ask a question or set a position and someone would come along and add to his knowledge. Ok... Me times three. But I also realised that I learned things just because a topic makes me think along a line I hadn't thought of. Not that I had thought up something new, but maybe new to me in a way I could understand it.

Second was the idea that a working intentional community based on consensus was not very pretty. There seemed to need to be a leader. I agree. I would tend to base things on a church model as that is my experience. but many of the same principals apply anywhere. The only thing I would add that seems to help is that I think there needs to be some people outside the group who act as a safeguard against having everyone drink poison koolaid or start a world war because "we are the pure race" (two things that actually did happen) or whatever. I think these people need to understand and to an extent share the vision of the community, but not be a part of it and probably not have any reason to take the side of someone in the community (a family member perhaps) to cause the leader problems. I don't know what people here think of those who go to church, but I can tell you we are not better than anyone else.... mostly we have more hangups than most. Yet somehow that community seems to work... people do leave all the time and go somewhere else. Things don't always work just right, but they do seem to mostly work.

Yes this is a very important part of permaculture. Like many other parts, I see how it needs to be, but I am not very good at doing it.
 
Dave Bennett
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Len wrote:
An interesting listen.... But, I couldn't even interrupt    Anyway, There were a couple of thoughts that came to mind... the first has little to do with things but I found it useful? edifying? not sure. Anyway, near the end Paul said something about these forums being useful because he was learning from them. That he would ask a question or set a position and someone would come along and add to his knowledge. Ok... Me times three. But I also realised that I learned things just because a topic makes me think along a line I hadn't thought of. Not that I had thought up something new, but maybe new to me in a way I could understand it.

Second was the idea that a working intentional community based on consensus was not very pretty. There seemed to need to be a leader. I agree. I would tend to base things on a church model as that is my experience. but many of the same principals apply anywhere. The only thing I would add that seems to help is that I think there needs to be some people outside the group who act as a safeguard against having everyone drink poison koolaid or start a world war because "we are the pure race" (two things that actually did happen) or whatever. I think these people need to understand and to an extent share the vision of the community, but not be a part of it and probably not have any reason to take the side of someone in the community (a family member perhaps) to cause the leader problems. I don't know what people here think of those who go to church, but I can tell you we are not better than anyone else.... mostly we have more hangups than most. Yet somehow that community seems to work... people do leave all the time and go somewhere else. Things don't always work just right, but they do seem to mostly work.

Yes this is a very important part of permaculture. Like many other parts, I see how it needs to be, but I am not very good at doing it.


Len,  I have been organic gardening since the 50's when I was in grade school because that was how I was taught.  When I found out about this site and came for a visit I joined up after reading only a few topics.  This is a community of people where I feel comfortable learning and sharing my experiences.  I think we all need a sense of community.  It makes us more complete.  I could live out in the woods as a hermit but there would always be a piece missing from the experience.

It was the Sepp Holzer videos that made me realize that I had seen pieces of what he has done on his farm from my earliest experiences with "farming" outside of my hometown.  Most of the places that had built ponds in what at the time I thought were odd locations it turns out had a specific purpose.  Sepp put it all together though.  That really opened my eyes to the possibilities of forest farming.  I had a neighbor that had a huge garden that to most people looked like a haphazardly designed miss mash of plants but my friend Arthur (he was in his 80's) had in reality set a mini-permaculture system. 

I could easily relate to Paul's experiences with planned communities that were "democracies" and having had that experience in the 70's I know that they do not work well.  I was involved with another one that had a "leader" and that ran very well.  It was very much like a big family.  It was patriarchal but could have as easily been matriarchal. 

I made my original post immediately after listening to the podcast and now that I have had time to reflect on it I really enjoyed it.  It was much more than just interesting.
 
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Hey Paul!
Loved the podcast! I had a great laugh about how some of the people who desire community are doing so because they have relationship issues. Your imitation of such a person had me shrieking with laughter.

I've had roommates from time to time but never more than one (unless I count the time I spent in the Army). I've had friends though, who lived in a few situations that looked pretty scary. They were places where cleaning wasn't done and the place descended into filth. Another one had a deal where they shared the food but one guy took advantage and didn't contribute. You have to be very careful in choosing who you live with. I'm very interested in systems where a household can be managed effectively even when they aren't totally "noble".

Through the second half of the podcast I kept wondering how the issue with the belligerent vegan woman at the Greenlake house was resolved. I've heard of situations where roommates move out to get away from such people, causing the household to collapse. I understand if you don't want to share the experience but I have to admit, I'm very curious.
 
Len Ovens
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One more thought.... perhaps not related. Paul mentions a marriage being a consensual relationship.... a 50/50 kind of thing. Then he says something about 50% of todays marriages failing. I wonder if there is a correlation with those two things. I think a marriage needs more than 50% dedication from both parties... and a leader. maybe thats why they lasted longer in times past. Maybe if 50/50 won't work with 2 people, then 33/33/33 has 1/3 less chance of working with 3 people. That is, the bigger the group, the stronger the leader needs to be. With two people the leadership can be light. An outsider wouldn't know it existed. At some point, the group is so big, the leader becomes a tyrant... the old saw about absolute power.

So my next guess would be that there is a maximum size of group that can work even with a benevolent dictator... or maybe an optimum size. This size may depend on the person leading or the type of project.

On the other side is the amount of dedication of the people involved. In a marriage that dedication needs to be 100/100 to work I think... though I am not really sure what that looks like. certainly something too uneven (say 100/50) would cause a problem. However, a marriage is a special case, it is a bond between two people and if one leaves, it does not matter how much the other is willing to put into it.... the relationship is over. With a larger group... say three (for simple illustration). If one leaves, the group still exists and can function. Its purpose is still intact. Already we have an understanding of a core plus "hangers".

This is what I have seen. A core of people who's "vision" for the project is very close to that of the leader and almost as strong. And then a group of hangers who like the vision and want to be a part of it, but if something else comes along that grabs their fancy, they leave. A hanger who leaves does not change much if anything. A core member who gets grumpy and leaves may take some hangers with them and form a new core.... this is beyond me to say where that would lead. However, in most cases a core members would start to loose interest and become a hanger before leaving and a hanger may become core if they find their vision aligning with the project. The case of a core member splitting with a group is more memorable and so may seem to happen more often, but I suspect the people quietly leaving happens a lot more often.

Another possibility is that the group is too large and becomes unwieldy and so splits on purpose. This is also beyond me to analyse as there are so many ways this could be done. I think the core would have to be quite large for this to work.

It is a living organism. This works so long as there are other groups for the disillusioned hangers to go to. Or the project is important enough that the hangers want to stay and contribute even if they don't agree ... like survival for example could make strong leadership more important than than fine direction and belonging may give a better chance at "making it" than not. However, I think that situation is (at least right now) outside of what this thread is talking about. The communities we are looking at are meant to work within the rest of human society leaving any disgruntled person a place to go.

Another thing that hits me just now was the part about the 40 people split into two groups, those who want to learn about relating and those who want to farm (I think that was it) and I think the two groups can be summed up as those who are joining to get something and those who are joining because they want a place to give or do something.

 
pollinator
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I have been involved in a few ‘intentional communities’ and none turned out any differently than in the podcast.
The only successful communities (that I am aware of) are not democratic; but then you are at the mercy of the dictator – be that good or bad.

I lived in a commune, of sorts, in Oakland from 73’-74’.  I say ‘of sorts’ because it was a house owned by a man who charged a minimal amount per week so an outside income was required.
Many of us could panhandle the amount that was charged.  Some were permanent residents with white collar jobs, some were travelers from abroad, some were street urchins (like me), and others were day laborers, etc.

One permanent resident was in charge of each of the three upper floors, the owner lived on the ground floor/basement with his garden out back and separate entrance.   He grew his pot forest on the roof and we almost never saw him.  He had a fairly hands off approach. 

Everyone took turns with meals and cleaning. 

This worked because he was a benevolent ‘Lord’ but nevertheless he was Lord.  There was no consensus.
 
paul wheaton
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I think it is good to have 100,000 communities.  Folks that want to live in a consensus based community can go there.  Folks that prefer a central leader community can go there.  Communities that have a lousy central leader will have hardly anybody there.  Communities that have a cool leader will have lots of people. 

wondering how the issue with the belligerent vegan woman at the Greenlake house was resolved.



She left.  And made things awful.

Paul mentions a marriage being a consensual relationship.... a 50/50 kind of thing.



Most modern marriage is a demonstration of a consensus based system - but with just two people.   


 
Len Ovens
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paul wheaton wrote:
Most modern marriage is a demonstration of a consensus based system - but with just two people.     



I think that what I was trying to say is that those "modern marriages" that last, have a leader. Or that "modern marriages" have a 100% fail rate. The ones that last are not "modern". I think often the leadership is very light and perhaps not noticeable to outsiders... or even insiders. The leader realises they can't (and it is still often the male) be a real rogue as the rest of the family can (and will... a modern thought) leave. A leader needs followers.... they have to be a good leader to keep them. I think the modern marriage proves your point, consensus doesn't even work with two people. There needs to be someone to tie break.
 
pollinator
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Len wrote:
I think that what I was trying to say is that those "modern marriages" that last, have a leader. Or that "modern marriages" have a 100% fail rate.



My marriage may not last - 19 years next month - but we have no leader. 
 
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