Thursday, November 24, 2011

Forming community.

I am looking forward to turning the topics of food forestry, pig-tilling, composting, and so on; first though I want to tackle head on the issue of community.

Many intentional communities, famously the communes of the 60's and 70's, fell apart into broken friendships and power struggles. This was a sufficiently consistent pattern to raise concern for anyone interested in trying to create community. On the other hand we know from anthropology that humans have successfully lived tight knit communities of up to 150 people for many thousands of years with great stability. What makes the difference between a gang of people at each others throats vying for power, hiding from the gaze of controlling self appointed leaders, and a community of families living in cooperation and relative peace?

Every commune and ecovillage that failed fell in its own unique drama of competing egos, but some basic issues have been a recurring problem in all such attempts that have come from Western culture. When put in simple language the problem is so obvious it is almost insulting: We are domesticated, and when taken out of the context of the society we were raised in we do little better then a show animal abandoned in the wild; and the historical solutions to the basic problems that arise have been naive and idealistic.

The skills of living in community need to be taught. This is demonstrated by the fact that the most successful intentional communities have been religious and educational communities, with relatively little regard for which religion or which teaching the community has at its core.

The communes of the last generation treated anger, jealousy, desire for power, and the like as traits that we could simply evolve beyond, caused by living in an unjust society. This turned out to be a very insufficient treatment of the problem. These traits are a perfectly normal part of human existence, and have roots in healthy reactions to specific situations, even if we could completely remove them from human nature, it is hard to say for certain if what we would end up with would be desirable.

Some writers like Danial Quinn recommend the tribal way of life as a model for how humanity should live, I am very sympathetic to his ideas on that topic, but also recognize that modern humans can't be reintroduced to a tribal life directly, any more then a quarter horse can be let loose with the mustangs. A lot can be learned from the way tribal societies are structured, and those lessons can be incorporated into a community over time. For the Thinkery people interested in joining the community can start as guests, and transition to students, to residents, and finally to teachers (residents trusted to help evaluate other persons progress in becoming part of the community). Being initiated into the way of life at a place is important. The person starts out being guided in how to live, and develops increasing autonomy, eventually not needing any external guidance, and finally being trusted to and recognized as a good source of guidance in matters of their expertise. Another time I will deal with the particular system of initiation that I will be offering to guests, though bare in mind that there will likely be several different paths of initiation available, offered by different teachers.

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