The organizer’s prerogative is to travel light. You don’t need to bring everything if you can talk others into lending or giving it to you. They might do this in service of the revolution or because you are cute or pathetic.
I was coming back from a tour of Europe. The customs agent was looking at my small handbag.
“How long have you been traveling in Europe?” he asked.
“Three weeks,” i confessed
“Where are the rest of your bags?” says the skeptical border control agent.
“This is all i have,” i said, again confessing.
“I don’t believe you,” says the guard and there is this impossible moment which flashed between the two of us.
I put my hands across my chest and look curiously at the agent, asking, “What are we going to do about that?”
The agent waves me through.
I personally name many months of the year. Sometimes this is prophetic, when i think i can guess the future. More often it is simply a memorable event, like the birth of a friends child or the collapse of a foul dictator.
This month after much discussion and a fair amount of throwing stuff into a rented dumpster we knocked down the building we called “The Falling Down Shed” See the above video for the dramatic moments with Mike on the tractor.
Now the curious thing is that this month naming tradition did not start with me, it is actually a Slavic tradition, where they named the months after things which are actually happening in the physical world at that time, rather than unimportant gods. So for example August is Harvest and March is Pregnant Animals
Curiously in the warmer Slavic countries (like the Croatia) it is the month of October which is called “Falling Leaves” or Listopad. .In the cooler Czech Republic and the Ukraine, this is the month name for November. Because we knocked down the “Falling Down Shed” in November, i am calling this month “Fallen Down Shed”. It served us well.
It all started with Yahoo Parenting. A reporter came out with a photographer and talked with a handful of Twin Oaks parents.
Then ABC Nightline called up and asked if they could come and film. ABC and Yahoo News have a partnership agreement. Perhaps we should have said “no.”
There were a number of problems with the final ABC piece, including mistakes which started from the second word of the article. “Inside Off-the-Grid Virginia Commune Where Everything From Housing to Child Care Is Shared.” In fact, we are not off the grid. We have some solar panels, and we are getting some more, but we have a long way to go before we are off the grid.
The video which I reported on earlier depicted us as negligent for letting kids wander around the property unescorted and not doing background checks on members offering child care. There are lots of reasonable things to criticize the communes about, but there are not on the list. Background checks don’t actually catch much AND we live with these people for three weeks and interview them for hours. Much more rigorous than anyone hiring a babysitter from Craigslist. They bungled the description of our complex pension system (saying adults over 50 drop to a single hour of work per year.)
A number of members were angry at me for not restricting the motion of the press more and not being more sensitive to people the media should stay away from.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to internet. Lots of other media entities mimicked the story in some ways. Specifically:
- CNN did photo montage of Aaron Cohen’s pictures on Aug 17
- The UK Daily Mail blew up over the permission to have a baby on Aug 22
- The Inquisitor rebrands us as ‘Commune In Virginia Blends Off Grid Harmony And Business Savvy’ on Aug 21st
- Right wing blog NewsBusters slammed Nightline’s coverage and the socialist commune while offering a full transcript of the broadcast.
So what we see is news driven by trends. If a topic appears to be trending, one cheap way your news entity can get a piece of the action is by finding a hot story, searching the internet for other free content on the topic, piece them together with a thin narrative and bang! you have intern-generated popular “news” stories.
Now we have had a handful of additional offers from news entities who want to come film. For a while, i think we will say no.
For more insightful and important analysis of the community, please read:
- How Sustainable is Twin Oaks
- I live on a peculiar Island (academic review)
- The Most Controversial Approval: Pregnancy
[Proofread by Gryphon]
In 2004, Twin Oaks was briefly harassed by an unmarked black helicopter.
A much nimbler Coyote rushed to his room to get a camera. Remembering that without photographic proof there would be no story or media coverage of this event. His picture is above.
One of Charlottesvilles local free newspapers at the time (the Hook) picked up the story and ran with it, ultimately discovering who was in the unmarked chopper.
Over the course of finding the culprit, the author of the article talked with lots of different military and law enforcement personal. They asked them all about Twin Oaks and if they had any trouble with us.
From the article:
So are Twin Oakers big troublemakers? “I haven’t had any trouble with them,” says [Louisa County Sheriff] Fortune. “We wouldn’t need any law enforcement if everybody lived like they do at Twin Oaks.”
Just about the best advertising a community could ask for.
As i was going through the endless array of stupid comments in the recent Yahoo Parenting article on Twin Oaks, i found myself wanting a good summary of why Twin Oaks (and other secular and especially egalitarian communities) are not cults. Fortunately, these communities have designed themselves to make this easy.
Let’s hop in our time machine for a moment. It is 1967 and the original 8 founders of Twin Oaks are looking at the principals and cultural norms around which they will form the community where they want to live. Reverend Moon had just visited the US and set up holy grounds in the 48 contiguous states. The FDA had just raided Scientology offices and seized illegal medical equipment, and the religion was being banned in Australia and other places. And the Church of Satan was performing it’s first recorded baptism.
The intentional communities movement wanted to distance itself from these kinds of organizations, so it looked at the behaviors which typified cults and set out to make themselves different in as many ways as possible. The 4 things which typify a cult are:
- It has a living charismatic leader
- You give them all your money
- You are kept away from your old friends and family
- You can’t leave when you might like
Cults are also exclusive, often highly secret and universally authoritarian. Let’s take a quick look at these components.
Living Charismatic Leader: Twin Oaks has a complex internal decision making system. Specifically, we have 3 or more planners who serve 18 month terms but can not serve consecutive terms. Over the last 18 years i have been at Twin Oaks, the problem is not having people want to do consecutive plannerships, the problem is getting people to complete their terms – recently several planners have quit this generally thankless job. Holding onto leaders in an egalitarian community is hard, because they get extra headaches without the extra perks. Plus at Twin Oaks we have a distrust of people in leadership roles and they often get extra flack for this reason. We would appear to fail the charismatic leader cult test.
Give up your assets: This one is understandably complex, because the difference between income sharing and asset sharing is often confused. When you join Twin Oaks, we ask you not to touch your pre-existing assets, if you have any, for the duration of your membership. This does not mean we ask you to give them to the community. If you want you can lend them to the community, and when you leave you get them back. Without interest. The interest is income. Because the community pays for everything when you live there, food, clothing, medical, housing, entertainment, taxes, dentist, etc we ask that any income your assets earn (including Social Security and pension income – excluding 401K interest, which you can’t get at) be given to the community. This feels fair to us. We also don’t take your debts if you arrive with debts. Most cults require you give everything over. Some (like Scientology – which fails the living leader test) require you to pay for expensive classes and encourages significant donations to the community. Members are not encouraged to make donations to Twin Oaks of pre-existing assets nor do we charge our members for anything.
Isolation: Bring your friends and family to the commune, by all means. They can stay for free and the host determines what work, if any, is appropriate for them to do (if you are going to stay for a while we would like you to work quota). It is true there are people who live at Twin Oaks who rarely leave the farm. But we design our selection process so that it pushes you back into the arms of those who care about you, before you come to join. At the end of your visitor period at both Twin Oaks and Acorn you must leave, even if everyone thinks you are great and you should stay forever. After you have been home for 10 days you find out if we have accepted you and then (at TO at least) you have to wait another 3 weeks before you can come. My joke is if your friends and family can’t convince you not to join this hippie commune in 3 weeks, then you are free to come.
No Exit: I dislike grumpy communards. I really dislike communards who are grumpy about the community that they are living in. I want these people (after making a good faith effort to fix their situation) to leave. Every one of them represents a misallocated space, because there is someone on the waiting list who wants to take that person’s place and really wants to live with us. Again we have had waiting list for years.
Exclusive: One of Twin Oaks and Acorns missions is to be a model. To be a model you have to be open to outside guests – friends, media, academics, curious travelers and more. Cults won’t let you inside, and while it is wrong to say our doors are always open to anyone, if you ask in advance and come to any of the Saturday Tours or 3 Week visitor periods you can see pretty clearly what we look like.
Secretive: Similarly, models can’t be secrets.
Authoritarian: This seemed to be where many readers of the Yahoo article got hung up. The assumption seemed to be that, if there were a self selecting group which was not following the roles of the mainstream, then there had to be an authoritarian oppressive structure.
Look, these communities are filled with anarchists. We are not going to work if the structure is authoritarian. We want to do better than majority voting. All the egalitarian communities require democratic decision making systems, at least voting, ideally consensus. This does not absolutely insure authoritarian structures will not emerge, but consensus is one of the best ways to maximize the power individuals have over oppression by a group.
Thus by any of the standard criteria for determine cult status, we fail. But you dont need to believe me, come visit and see for yourself. Call 540-894-5126 and arrange a Saturday tour.
It was a great meeting. Port was facilitating, and he was afraid of the meta-discussion on the topic of what Acorn thinks its labor is about/for. He had been afraid that this digression would lead us to a world of complaining and depressed talk. But it is hard to restrain the hippies, especially when it comes to meta-discussions.
And a funny thing happened on the way to reviewing our labor situation. People did not think huge changes were needed and many of the suggestions (like doing our clearnesses on time and using existing structures to solve problems) felt genuinely helpful. The group identified the individuals who felt overworked and overwhelmed. [This did not include Ira and me, who only know how to function if we are overworked – by things we are excited about doing.]
Then Jayne spoke:
I agree that the measure of the labor system should be how happy are we? It sounds like people feel they live interesting, enriching, and productive lives. Going around, I do catch a common frustration that it is too difficult to pass on a job you’d like to be done with. I think about this thing Nightshade said three months into my membership: “If you want to get involved in a labor area at Acorn, just sleep with the person who’s already doing it.” It’s sort of horrifying how often this is kind of true. Aside from sleeping with them, how can you learn to pass responsibility to new people?
This brought on a whole raft of jokes about Sexually Transmitted Responsibility and it quickly became clear that Jayne was right. All manner of lovers had dragged their partners into work areas which needed help. Many intimates had decided one of the better ways to spend time together was to share the tasks that the community needs to function.
Acorn functions as an Adhocracy (a flexible, adaptable and informal form of organization that is defined by a lack of formal structure. It operates in an opposite fashion to a bureaucracy). When we need something done, we form a group of volunteers to do it and give them significant power at least of analysis and often of decision making and purse strings. When your intimate joins one of these temporary groups, you are often enticed to be part as well.