Being out of the mainstream financial system not easy even for utopias
December 7, 2014 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Communes still thrive decades after the '60s, but economy is a bummer, man Communes or intentional communities, as their proponents prefer are still going strong but even utopias are struggling to face dystopian economies previous post about international communities in general
posted by 2manyusernames (35 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Student Debt is going to cripple generations of Americans
posted by The Whelk at 2:17 PM on December 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


I feel better off than many of my peers with student loan debt because I don't desire the traditional home purchase and children. It is interesting that this also cuts off living in a different non traditional lifestyle of a commune.
posted by "friend" of a TSA Agent at 2:25 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Twin Oaks' tofu is the best available in the US and, after years of only seeing it in bulk at co-ops, it has recently appeared packaged at Whole Foods. Hoping they can scale this, find new customers, and survive financially. The idea of it as a "trendy" food is dated, IMO.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:25 PM on December 7, 2014


The Kibbutzim are still doing well.
In 2010, there were 270 kibbutzim in Israel. Their factories and farms account for 9% of Israel's industrial output, worth US$8 billion, and 40% of its agricultural output, worth over $1.7 billion. Some Kibbutzim had also developed substantial high-tech and military industries. For example, in 2010, Kibbutz Sasa, containing some 200 members, generated $850 million in annual revenue from its military-plastics industry.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:34 PM on December 7, 2014


This should be a lesson for libertarians who would otherwise like to detatch from society. So much of the survival of these communes is backstopped by the society that they have otherwise disowned.

Without society at large they wouldn't have access to advanced healthcare, a market to sell their goods to. Do they have a glass blower for their jars? Do they have a lumberjack for making wood? A blacksmith for making and maintaining their tools? Probably not. What about artisans for making and repairing their instruments?

We're all in this together. It's time we started actually acting like it.
posted by Talez at 2:41 PM on December 7, 2014 [8 favorites]


Total disengagement is probably impossible, but it's hard to argue these people haven't gone quite a bit of the way there. $5,000 per member is apparently what it costs. Which of us reading this article can live on $5,000 a year?

I mean a commune like this is basically a village, right? A little anachronistic to be sure, but hey. Very few villages anywhere are or were totally self-sufficient. But you don't need a blacksmith if the next village over has one. And it doesn't mean it's a bad way to arrange your life. Every person in this village is doing useful work, adding value to their local community, and are mostly if not totally checked out from the broader degenerate consumer culture.

The society "we're all in together" tells 20-year olds to borrow ludicrous amounts of money to invest in overpriced degrees that have no value (w/r/t job prospects) so they end up slinging coffee for a living. And as far as I can tell, they pay their taxes and aren't planning to do violence to their neighbors. So... I don't know, living in a small community, surrounded by like-minded family and friends, doing tangibly useful work every day, doesn't sound like such a bad deal.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 3:05 PM on December 7, 2014 [27 favorites]


Well Talez I think you have that exactly backwards. The communes aren't trying to exist without us, they are trying to show us how to exist, as best they can at the scale their creators can manage. If their philosophy doesn't scale then the next step might be, instead of the demonstrably failed attempt to turn nations into such communities, to make larger "communities of communities" like the very successful Iroquois Confederacy. They have shown that it is generally more beneficial for 30 to 100 people to live as a community than for the individuals to all go it on their own. That's kind of their whole point.
posted by localroger at 3:06 PM on December 7, 2014 [40 favorites]


Many of these places do have artisans, but they still have to get raw materials and things like healthcare that tie them into the larger economy.

We looked at living in one in Tennessee, but could not see a way to make it work. All the problems mentioned in the article were visible there too, except that they somewhat subsidized themselves by hosting weddings on the grounds and running a school that charged non-members steep fees for a very unschooling-type experience.

I think these places are not the answer, but do have lessons to teach us. I understand completely the longing to do work that is more meaningful and varied than your average office job, and get to be outdoors and in a slower, more communal style. It seems like there should be ways to make "normal" communities that have more of these aspects to them.
posted by emjaybee at 3:09 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Professor Burris has no regrets.
posted by fairmettle at 3:48 PM on December 7, 2014


What localroger said. Times a million.
posted by yoga at 3:57 PM on December 7, 2014


For its part, Twin Oaks is growing — not by accepting more members or increasing its population limit, but by spawning new communities in Louisa County, which are together forming their own grassroots economic network for work trades and other types of support. Acorn Community now has about 30 members. A community called Living Energy Farm was formed nearby in 2012, and another, called Sapling, established itself down the road from Twin Oaks in 2013. A similar cluster of communities has developed in northern Missouri among Sandhill Farm, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and Red Earth Farms, founded in 1974, 1997 and 2005, respectively.

Also to localroger's point, it sounds like they may be following more in the footsteps of the Iroquois. (At least for more rural intentional communities.)

The other half and I have been looking at intentional communities in urban settings for some time, & were on a waiting list for one that was just completed. There are common spaces, like

- a kitchen if people want to share a meal once a week, or hold community meetings there;
- gardening area if people want to grow seasonal edibles
- workshop area - for people who enjoy their own projects
- outdoor area with a firepit to hang out by

But those common areas are balanced by private areas. Each member has their own suite including everything they need to live independently (like a kitchen & washer dryer, e.g.).

Similarly, each member has their own finances & jobs from outside the community. So it's effectively a condo community, but the group is of likeminded people. I'm sure there are still disagreements, but probably not the polarization so typical of HOA's where the only thing its residents have in common is that they live in the same building.
posted by yoga at 4:13 PM on December 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'd imagine that the narcissism of minor differences leads on average to just as many disputes in these arrangements as in a typical HOA.
posted by wotsac at 4:26 PM on December 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


I just visited Homestead Heritage a few weeks ago and I LOVED it!! I would love more communities to be built around those values-- the idea of intelligently designing cities and communities with agricultural and crafting options near homes so that people could get little communities going on site and build as much as they can from materials on site (as well as trade with other communities that have access to different resources and raw materials) is really freaking cool. I'm not into the weird/creepy religious stuff (or the weird new agey stuff some of them came with)-- but you do have to deal with group think anywhere there are groups of people so I don't think it means we shouldn't try to build communities just that it will take a lot of work and awareness of problems people have already dealt with. Artisinal crafts often lessen the burden on the environment and fuel/energy needs as well as being local and reducing transportation burden on the environment. Having a balance where we work to produce some portion of our goods in small community environments and balance that with some larger production companies/co-ops could be a great thing.
posted by xarnop at 4:26 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not to mention that sane design of communities where work/grocery/medical/shopping options were walkable/bikeable distances to residential areas would be smart planning. Akso if we banned cars in some of these areas it would probably increase people's willingness to walk or bike- currently trying to breath around exhaust fumes is hard for me and I don't even like driving with the windows down let alone walking next to all the cars. A bus system with low pollution buses and no cars in city centers might increase air health and walking bike usage.
posted by xarnop at 4:29 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd imagine that the narcissism of minor differences leads on average to just as many disputes in these arrangements as in a typical HOA.

That's the stereotype that cynics like to promote for some reason, usually sourced to third-hand anecdotes.

I know enough people who lived communally in the late 60's/early 70's to do a decent oral history project, thanks to my hippie parents. The reality is more that these communities tend to be fragile ecosystems that can be undone by one devoted narcissist, but they're not generally a simmering pot of distributed petty squabbles. Like-minded idealists are great at being excellent to each other but, being idealists, they can't really accept that someone might be working to their own ends until it's too late. I'm really impressed that some communities like this has survived to the present!
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:59 PM on December 7, 2014 [22 favorites]


I feel better off than many of my peers with student loan debt because I don't desire the traditional home purchase and children. It is interesting that this also cuts off living in a different non traditional lifestyle of a commune.

Having significant student debt (and not having the kind of family that is able or willing to make the payments for you) cuts off entirely or makes very difficult a whole set of experiences, from extended travel to unpaid internships. And if it's not the kind of federal student loan that is deferrable, good luck doing something that like joining the Peace Corps or any other kind of low-paid situation that might have great career benefits in the long term.

Above a certain amount, student loans start being serious constraints, particularly in the years immediately after graduating. The inability to join a commune isn't something that is going to bother the majority of graduates, but it's symbolic of the limitations many are facing.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:06 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm really impressed that some communities like this has survived to the present!

I remember reading about an urban commune on Staten Island, of all damned places. Maybe they needed pizza.
posted by jonmc at 5:16 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


these communities tend to be fragile ecosystems that can be undone by one devoted narcissist

Mayor Curley, I for one would be fascinated to read your oral history and will gladly fund your kickstarter for it.
posted by localroger at 5:45 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


It seems odd to discuss intentional communities and their fluctuating fortunes without including Hutterites and Mennonites, who live in communities as intentional as these (i.e., an explicit, shared ethos; common property and industry, etc). AFAIK, they're not suffering financially, at least in any community-threatening sense. At the time I was in contact with them, they tended to be indifferently wealthy--paying full price for new trucks every couple years, never negotiating feed prices, and now and then paying $10MM for a new package of land to create a daughter colony when theirs got too big (which meant more than around 20 families). The salesmen to whom I spoke said their farming and slaughtering operations were as modern, clean and efficient as any they'd seen.

Some colonies had branched into ventures that might be more vulnerable to fluctuating fortunes. Window manufacturing, web design. But the core self-sufficient, farming lifestyle seemed quite stable and relatively immune to economic trends. How often do/did the people setting up these left-wing-ish intentional communities look at groups like the Quakers to see how they've gone steadily for so long? Or is the ideological difference too great to imagine their might be some patterns worth copying?
posted by fatbird at 6:27 PM on December 7, 2014 [13 favorites]


Localroger has pipped me.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:28 PM on December 7, 2014


That's a great point fatbird and I'd add monastic communities too. I can't help but think that some of the difficulties of modern intentional communities are basically from their reinventing the wheel. It seems like these people often want to tear down all old traditions and start new - and I'm sympathetic to why - but the thing about these older communities is they've had a lot of time to get it right.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 6:34 PM on December 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Localroger has pipped me.

I did what? WAIT IT WAS THAT OTHER GUY oh OK I WHAT?
posted by localroger at 7:02 PM on December 7, 2014


I have worked with Mennonites and they can be very good people to work with, in both obvious and bizarre ways. But there is also a definite cult-like undercurrent, and while they will tolerate the hippie long-hair programmer with the pagan medallion necklace a few members weill get out of sorts about the necklace, and there is an obvious hierarchy where some have access to outside things like frank talks with outsiders like me and the internet and media, and the less privileged are obviously supposed to eschew such toxic influences. If it weren't for the programmer needing to go out on the floor of the catfish plant to do my job, I'd not have seen both sides of that.
posted by localroger at 7:08 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


Can somebody explain how student debt works if you earn a very low income and have no assets?
I understand you can't discharge student debt via bankruptcy, but how do they enforce minimum payments if you don't earn that much?
posted by bystander at 7:14 PM on December 7, 2014


how do they enforce minimum payments if you don't earn that much?

The interest keeps it going up until you do earn that much.
posted by localroger at 7:17 PM on December 7, 2014


One nice option that Amish and Hutterites (and some Mennonites) have is to opt-out of Social Security and Obamacare. They arrange their own deals with healthcare providers.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:28 PM on December 7, 2014


The interest keeps it going up until you do earn that much.

So you could drop out, but you would be super heavily indebted should you want to go back to a conventional lifestyle later on?
posted by bystander at 7:29 PM on December 7, 2014


bystander: "The interest keeps it going up until you do earn that much.

So you could drop out, but you would be super heavily indebted should you want to go back to a conventional lifestyle later on?
"

Pretty much, and because you defaulted, the interest / payments would not be the friendly IBR/ICR kind.
posted by pwnguin at 7:32 PM on December 7, 2014


I would love to read some journals, blogs, memoirs -- whatever - of people who moved from standard/modern US-ian society for one of these communities. Would be fascinating to hear about their challenges, the transition, the effects.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 11:40 PM on December 7, 2014


The other half and I have been looking at intentional communities in urban settings for some time, & were on a waiting list for one that was just completed. There are common spaces, like

- a kitchen if people want to share a meal once a week, or hold community meetings there;
- gardening area if people want to grow seasonal edibles
- workshop area - for people who enjoy their own projects
- outdoor area with a firepit to hang out by

But those common areas are balanced by private areas. Each member has their own suite including everything they need to live independently (like a kitchen & washer dryer, e.g.).

Similarly, each member has their own finances & jobs from outside the community. So it's effectively a condo community, but the group is of likeminded people. I'm sure there are still disagreements, but probably not the polarization so typical of HOA's where the only thing its residents have in common is that they live in the same building.


This sounds like cohousing (my residential aspiration). I find it a reasonable accommodation with the limitations of our capitalist system. The shared facilities allow some limitations on consumption. Despite their somewhat anticapitalist ethics (more orthogonal than opposed really), these communities tend to require very wealthy participants due to issues with development capital.
posted by Octaviuz at 6:39 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The key aspect of intentional communities is the word intentional. My poor 11-year-old nephew is the only boy in a house of ten hippie women and their daughters. Most of his fantasies these days revolve around making tons of money.
posted by sockerpup at 7:53 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


The other nice thing about focusing more on producing goods directly from the land with tools powered by hand is that increasing automation will put more and more power for resource distribution in the hands of people who own factories and production-- bringing the power back to consuming more directly from the land and through work of the people is that it also brings power back to the people. I think that solar/wind power and technology and the like could still fit into that idea- as well as some degree of larger structures that inter-relate- but that power would serve as a buffer against the larger system becoming too tyrannical (as the larger system can help ensure the smaller systems don't turn into weird creepy cults that are too cut off from the light of critical feedback or needed interference from the rest of the world)
posted by xarnop at 8:08 AM on December 8, 2014


I would love to read some journals, blogs, memoirs -- whatever - of people who moved from standard/modern US-ian society for one of these communities.

Mefi's own redemma spent many years on an intentional community, and has described some of her experience here in various threads. Her most immediately recollection: talking. Endless, endless talking about things, and then talking about them again.
posted by fatbird at 8:40 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


This sounds like cohousing (my residential aspiration). I find it a reasonable accommodation with the limitations of our capitalist system. The shared facilities allow some limitations on consumption. Despite their somewhat anticapitalist ethics (more orthogonal than opposed really), these communities tend to require very wealthy participants due to issues with development capital.

When my wife and I lived in London, we fell into a fairly awesome cohousing-lite situation. It was a mock-Tudor mansion built in the 1900s for 'young ladies without a husband', later converted to barracks for munitions workers and then, post-war, turned into subsidised housing for female teachers and social workers. There were about twenty tiny (tiny) flats around two shared areas, one of which was about an acre of grass. We had two fire pits, shared wifi that cost each flat £10 a year, a lot of communal sharing of tools and a terrific social life. There were all sorts of people living there and people worked together to build and work on shared veg beds, three or four big parties a year and so on. There was also a shared email list and people looked out for each other security wise.

To say it was a bit different from my previous London living situations would be an understatement. And it was really not an inevitability either, about half the flats were privately rented, half owned, and the sharing and community feel of the place came about through history, precedent and a few more active people who took the lead in organising. For us, as a new couple, one of whom had moved from the middle of the Rocky Mountains to South London, it was a heck of a place to live. The compromises were many (mainly the size of the place, which would fit into our current kitchen here in Edinburgh), but the benefits were huge.

Housing can be designed to foster and facilitate these kinds of interactions. Humans are innately social, and it really doesn't take a lot to get us to talk. I'm fascinated by the work of Bjarke Ingels in Denmark, who focuses on creating housing that emphasises sustainable livability and encourages interaction and engagement with neighbours.

It doesn't take a lot to balance privacy and self-determination (having your own space that you can manage as you please and enjoy) with the kind of connection and incredibly invigorating and meaningful interactions that some forms of communal living can create. But it does take a willingness to accept the premise that any kind of communality does not necessarily mean fifteen hours of community meetings and mandatory tofu consumption quotas per week. And that, I think, is where the idea has been fatally poisoned in the American mainstream.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:40 AM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I lived in a cooperative house with 30 other people for two years. It was very difficult -- endless bickering over chores, the whole house was always filthy, plus several caustic characters with ulterior motives. In the end moving out was immensely liberating. I realized I'd spent the past two years just focusing on this small community to the detriment of doing work in the larger world. It was incredibly cheap, room and (local, mostly organic) board for probably $400/month.
posted by ChrisHartley at 7:46 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


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