I live in a world that is slightly inconceivable to most people. I do a lot of work, almost all of it stuff I am super pleased to do. And I don’t get paid for it. Instead the communities I live in (Twin Oaks and Acorn) cover most of the costs of my living: Food, shelter, clothes, education, entertainment, medical insurance, dental insurance, and most of my travel.
Instead of getting paid in money, besides the services listed above, I accrue labor credits. For each hour I work, I get one labor credit. My labor obligation is 42 hours a week. It makes little sense, however, to compare this work quota to most people’s straight jobs. On the rare cases when I commute (like to a college speaking gig or a craft show) I get “paid” for my time traveling. I get labor credits for voting and going to the doctor, and some small fraction of the time I spend taking care of my son Willow is labor creditable. All the time I spend with Willow on home schooling, including the prep is labor creditable. When I clean our collective dishes, I get labor credits. If I were to cook for more than 7 people (which I never do) it would be also be creditable.
Some of the stuff I do is hard. I do mediation between people who are furious with each other. I work to stop nuclear power plants. I am trying to start income sharing communities in NYC, where couples committed to each other for life find it easier to not share income. I help find consensus when there is sharp disagreement. With some regularity people thank me and appreciate the difficulty of this work. When I am feeling clever or exhausted by my efforts I say, “That is why I make the big labor credits”, a silly knock off on the phrase “That is why I make the big bucks.”
Silly, because all labor credits are exactly the same size. One hour is one credit. It does not matter how hard I work in an hour to the accounting system (though other members certainly appreciate and celebrate anyone’s hard work). The labor credit I get for an hour of preparing space for a party is the exact same size as the one I get for hour I spend getting a drunk and belligerent guest out of the party. The labor credit I get for folding mail in the sun while talking with charming visitors is the same size as the one I get for counseling and talking down a manic or suicidal member.
I don’t need to get a bigger labor credit for the harder work. Turns out when my basic needs are met, I am pretty well off. The communities are poor. The people who live there have legitimately calculated taxable income below the poverty line (or at least in the case of Twin Oaks–Acorn is higher but still below the national average income). What this radical sharing we deploy does is to permit us to live like kings (or at least like the upper middle class), while we live in technical poverty.
If you are thinking to yourself “Wait why doesn’t everyone do this? We could eliminate the awful effects of living in poverty without having to make any more money,” you would be on to something. Besides stopping climate change, we would be saving millions of lives from the sharp edge of poverty.
What stops us is we don’t trust each other enough to share what we have, almost all of which is sitting idle almost all the time.
Post Script: I should clarify this thing about traveling, since it has sparked a bunch of questions. Perhaps half of these trips are paid for by the communities i live in. These include craft fairs trips with Hawina, college speaking gigs, hammocks sales trips and almost monthly trips to DC/Baltimore and NYC for the Point A Project, With the possible exception of Ira from Acorn, no one at either Twin Oaks or Acorn travels even close to this much. And i travel more than this.
I visit my mother at least two or three times a year, often in Florida, and she pays for this travel completely. I also travel with the Star family (my family of choice) and i pay for this out of money i earn outside of the community. I am also fortunate to have romantic intimates who pay for me to come and see them in all manner of curious or exotic locations.
We climb trees. We often muse as to the number of other people in the county or state who are also climbing trees when we are (typically midnight under a full moon). There is a new place to climb to at Twin Oaks. Shal and Christian built it.
This is not an easy climb (though Shal already has plans for how to make it much easier). The tree has no branches for perhaps the first dozen feet which is plenty discouraging to most people. Shal is not most people. Launching climbing ropes into higher branches he set up the tree so for folks with the right equipment it is possible to climb. You need climbing rope and harnesses and two types of ascenders, and quite some level of conviction
We arriving in the fading light, the tree is prepped, with a climbing rope up it, but not in a way which would be at all inviting to a random passerby. Shal helps me into the harness and sets up ropes and ascenders and bags. We will likely be the only tree climbers this evening to bring a powerful portable sound system. We like to listen to Tangerine Dream space music while we watch the moon rise and talk about our lives and plans.
Shal reminds me of the slightly counter intuitive spider climbing technique. You alternate between ascenders, standing in a loop connected to one, then sitting back being supported by the other which is attached to your climbing harness. We have done this before, but he needs to teach me again, for it feels strangely backwards. I ascend the first dozen feet, climbing ropes vaguely like a spider. At the first real branch I leave the foot loop behind and start climbing like the monkey i am more closely related to. The lower ascender remains attached to my harness and the rope, so if i made a mistake the ascender would stop me in a couple of feet.
Even as the light fades the view from the platform is amazing, we can see far across most of the Twin Oaks land and soon appreciate the additional light from the moon rise. We celebrate the new areal place to reside on our monthly full moon outings, and we plan trips to the West Coast Communities Conference at Groundswell Community, and other adventures out west.
Seeing the moon-lit world from high in a tree while listening to spacey music and planing new adventures might not be what anyone else was doing last night, and it might just be that everyone else got it wrong.
There are all manner of messages which we want to get out to the world and recently myself and my comrades working on the Point A project have been thinking about what messages people are ready for.
On our most recent NYC trip we realized that we were making it sound harder than it really is to become income sharing. “They don’t need to have a cottage industry.” GPaul said, “They don’t even need to live together.”
Indeed, the only thing which stops people from becoming income sharing is a lack of trust. If you trust each other, you can change your agreements and begin taking care of more needs cooperatively almost immediately.
We started thinking about a workshop that would explain this. But what do we label the workshop?
I wanted to call the workshop “You can become income sharing now!” But GPaul and others thought it was not compelling enough or it was too abstract. GPaul even questioned whether people would know what income sharing is. GPaul’s rework was “Communism Now! Why wait for the revolution?” Alarm bells went off in my brain.
Communism is dead. Sorry, it is a political non-starter, worse than anarchism actually (tho not as bad as Stalinism and Fascism). Many progressives and almost all liberals do not associate it with a quasi-utopian desirable state.Nothing jumps to mind to salvage the title, since I get your meaning and there is not an obvious substitute (Utopia Now!, Equality Now! Community Now! all don’t work).
I both agree and disagree: Communism is dead to some people, perhaps even most people, but communism is not dead. The question here is “who is our audience?”. We have many possible audiences. One audience could be radical leftists. When giving tours and explaining the communes to folks I’ve been leading with “anarchism” and “communism” for years and getting surprisingly little shock or pushback. Radical leftists are one demographic that is more likely than others to be interested in what we are offering. We can aim a workshop at them. They will respond differently to the word “communism” than other people. For other people we might have to rebrand this workshop. For other people this might not even be an appropriate workshop (we might have to begin with “why should you want to share income?” in any of its various permutations).
I remain skeptical, but I am curious what my readers think. Some readers will be glad to hear that this blog is finally getting reorganized. Specifically, the portion of the blog which is about community life (including the Point A work, the Virginia egalitarian communities, Freedonia and other underground efforts, Commune Snapshots [images with few words], the Communities Conference and advances in sharing techniques) may be spun off and turned into its own blog with its own domain name.
I was thinking of the name CommuneLife.org – but other experienced communards thought the name “commune” was too dated, too distant and too misunderstood and untrusted. When we talked to twenty somethings, they had no baggage around the word commune and thought it might be cool. The Fellowship of Intentional Communities actually uses the word commune as a name for income sharing communities and lists 166 of them under this category.
Again, feel encouraged to weigh in and discuss your thoughts about this.
Crow screwed up. They recently acted out in a way that had made people feel uncomfortable and some even unsafe. It could have been any of a number of kinds of things: An intoxicated incident, a minor consent violation, a petty crime, even an especially poor choice of guest. The specifics don’t matter. Crow knew that they had created a problem for themselves with Acorn and they were coming to me for advice. What could they do to make things better? How could they mend their frayed relationships with other members? At Acorn this answer is easy, you do what we regularly do, you have a clearness.
And it turns out that this is a very good thing. Many communities have self care mechanisms that feel punitive. As i have written, the Feedback system at Twin Oaks very often feels punishing, even though it often need not.
But because Acorn does regular individual clearnesses, adding another one to normal rotation almost always feels accessible. The clearness format is the same as a routine clearness (meetings with each individual member, checking in about their experiences of each other, and then a group clearness which summarizes all the individual clearnesses).
The lesson is clear here. When you are designing self corrective systems within a community, you need to consider how they feel to the users. It is not enough to insure the community is taken care of, these systems need to feel non coercive to the members who are going through them. The best way to have that effect is to have a familiar and non-threatening group communication facilitating tool. I think the clearness process is one of the better ones.
A week later i talked with Crow. They had done a bunch of clearnesses and felt much better about their connection to the community. They felt better understood.
The most common complaint about community clearnesses is that they take a lot of time. “Do i really have to talk to everyone else in the community one-on-one?” Only if you want there to be cohesion in your community. Only if you want to be able to fix significant mistakes people make and successfully rebound from it. You only need to do this if you want a healthy community.
For many people this is too much work and i think this is central to why so many communities fail.