by Simeon Becker
I am a syncretic anarchist. What this means is that, if you identify
as an anarchist, and are reasonably intelligent and nonviolent, I will
do my absolute best to not try to tell you that you are not one. This
goes from anarcho-communists/libertarian socialists/anarcho-syndicalists (I like to call them “Chomskyites”) to anarcho-capitalists/voluntaryists/free market anarchists (whose thinkology to which I personally am admittedly more partial*). I even believe there may be a place in Anarchotopia for anarcho-primitivists, as long as they don’t force me at obsidian spear-point to live naked with them in a cave wherein we will communicate by grunting and flailing our arms and shun the individual oppressive enough to dare reinvent the wheel. But we’ll have to wait and see how that goes.
*Whilst touring the egalitarian community Twin Oaks yesterday, I made
myself out to be a bit of a “that guy” by repeatedly asking questions
with dirty words, such as “Can you BUY clothes from the community
closet?” and “Now, when you claim a community bike, how much does it
COST?” And then everyone pointed at me and made a raspy shrieking
noise before devouring my soul like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Okay, no, they chuckled and politely encouraged me to think outside
the mercantilist box for a few hours. I obliged.
I do not imagine that the circumstances under which I first began to
consider that I might be an anarchist are typical to most anarchists
(though, is anything, really?). At the age of 13, I read Alan Moore’s
incredible graphic novel V for Vendetta (and yes, the book is better
than the movie), whereupon I immediately hopped on Wikipedia to learn
more about this “anarchy” of which the flamboyant protagonist extols
the virtues. This naturally led me to explore the plethora of books,
people, and inevitable awkward schisms which make up the history of
anarchism, and at some point in this, the making of a teenage
anarchist, the name Paxus Calta leapt out at me. Hence why it is kind
of an astronomically big deal for me to be guest-contributing to this
esteemed blog. (Let that hopefully serve as my first, last, and only
moment of unabashed fanboyism to be documented for posterity within
the archives of funologist.org.)
I was extraordinarily fortunate enough to have a philosophical
tradition spanning roughly 200 years laid out before me in digital
form, to be perused at my own discretion. And, since I am for whatever
reason fascinated by all forms of conflict and what drives people to
them, I naturally was compelled in particular by the various conflicts
among self-proclaimed anarchists concerning what, exactly, an
anarchist society would necessarily be and not be. It is
etymologically self-evident that “anarchy,” Latin for “no rulers,”
does not mean “no RULES,” but when one attempts to delineate what
rules are legitimate, how they ought to be enforced in the absence of
rulers, and by what means we as individuals can coax society at large
toward such ends, one will likely incur the ire of no small number of
diametrically opposed thinkers all shouting at each other, “NOT REAL
ANARCHISM!” Especially if one makes the horrendous blunder of starting this conversation on Facebook.
(Tangential to that last sentence, if you are an anarcho-anything,
please do your mental state the huge favor of avoiding the Facebook
group Anarcho-Capitalist/Anarcho-Communist Debate like the plague. I
say this as a reluctant administrator of this group who has concluded
many a coffee-fueled morning holding my head in my hands over
something astoundingly rude and/or insanely idiotic posted by someone
on either side of the issue, usually myself.)
A conversation with Paxus yesterday highlighted a perfect example of
such a fundamental split among anarchists, one in which I
uncomfortably find myself slightly to the right of the middle. Allow
me to allegorize:
Mr. X runs A Very Big Smelly Corporate Factory. AVBSCF, Inc., on a
daily basis, dumps roughly 666 gallons of oobleck into the Idyllic
River, which runs past Happytown. The prolonged exposure to oobleck
begins to make the residents of Happytown, well, not so happy. Maybe
even sick, or dead. How shall an anarchist society penalize Mr. X for
his callous irresponsibility? The most common Chomskyite answer in my
experience, which I personally do not find satisfactory, is that there
simply would be no AVBSCF, Inc., to begin with; in its place, there
would be A Harmonious Eco-conscious Worker-Owned Collective (Inc.?),
as society will presumably have somehow evolved past such ridiculous
constructs like “money” and “economics.” Failing that, some kind of
Harmonious Consensus-Democratic EPA will step in to decide what to do
with Mr. X and his henchpeople. The anarcho-capitalist answer, on the
other hand, is not particularly satisfying, either: If people don’t
like the oobleck problem created by AVBSCF, Inc., they should not be
perpetuating it by buying AVBSCF, Inc.’s widgets. Failing that, the
relatives of the deceased Happytownites should sue Mr. X, and in a
just market of laws, would win. And yes, I just used the phrase
“market of laws.” Unless you are an anarcho-capitalist, your mind is
probably irreversibly blown.
It seems to me that, if the general public is too willfully ignorant
to give the logical and ethical superiority of a stateless society
over a statist one a second, or maybe even a first, thought, they
probably shouldn’t be relied upon to collectively resolve, “Let’s put
the Idyllic River before our lovely widgets!” But doesn’t the
Chomskyite solution presuppose, well, a government? Even a supposedly
kinder, gentler government? Mao Tse-tung was unfortunately right on
the money when he pointed out that “political power comes out of the
barrel of a gun.” Whatever their aims, governments necessarily claim
epistemologically unjustifiable monopoly over an essentially arbitrary
section of the planet. That doesn’t sound kind, or gentle. Or
anarchist. Is the question we should be asking ourselves how to
prevent the problem, or how to resolve it after the fact? Is the
problem even preventable? Can any model of society suppress the human
nature to oppress?
Anarchy is a priori. To paraphrase Alan Moore, the most common statist
objection to anarchism, that the biggest gang would take over and
negate the entire concept of anarchism, is literally the exact state
of current affairs. We live in a badly developed anarchist society in
which the biggest gangs have taken over and declared that this or that
area within these or those imaginary lines is not really an anarchist
society, but a capitalist society, or a communist society, or a
democratic socialist society, or a fascist society. As far as I am
concerned, anyone attempting to deny anarchism outright is probably
not worth discussing politics with, or sociology, or economics, or
much of anything except maybe the weather. Maybe not even that,
either. This is the attitude that has restricted my circle of friends
almost entirely to anarcho-capitalists and a very small handful of
very patient anarcho-communists. And even these friends I have a
tendency to horrify/annoy/confuse/weird out, the former by saying
things like “I’m spending a month in a commune! Isn’t that awesome?”,
the latter by saying things like “Don’t you just love the free
market/money/private property laws/the Ludwig von Mises Institute/the
Supreme Court ruling on corporate personhood?”
It is clear to me that SOME kind of anarchist society MUST be the cure
for the majority of society’s ills, but what exactly I mean by
“anarchist society,” I guess I can’t say. I don’t think anyone can.
But if you’re not an anarchist…sure is cold at Acorn Community today.
One of the best parts about the Point A project is the lovely people who are in fairly close orbit to it. The DC Point A group includes Connor who i barely knew before the project but i have grown a deep affection for. This last evenings meeting was at his group house in Death City which he shares with his sister and several other charming housemates.
There was a lovely, chaotically structured pot luck dinner type thing which happened just before the Point A meeting. Part of which was the creation of homemade donuts. They were in a word, epic donuts.
The Akashic Record is a quasi mythical place in which all history of all things is being recorded in real time, using a complex combination of high speed digital technology, ancient hand scribing arts and indecipherable magic. This is not some giant flat bureaucracy. The Akashic record has a number of different divisions to help users figure out which the most important events are and how it is they are best represented.
One of the special forces groups of the Akashic Record is the Sonnets Division. For powerful historical events, when they need something really compelling and rich to capture the importance of an event, they call in the Sonnets Division.
Tonight, for these donuts, the Sonnets Division is working overtime.
i realize that central to my evaluation of someone is what it is that i think motivates them. Sadly, the affluent parts of the world seems crowded with people who have fallen into some type of personal profit maximization motivation. A “S/he who dies with the most toys wins” kind of mindset.
Another way of looking at things
Trying to avoid this kind of motivation has landed me in hippie communes and scruffy activist circles. A choice and trajectory i am quite pleased with.
For about 20 years i have a running joke with activists, organizers and communards who have gone out of their way to make the right things happen, often at some personal expense or hassle. What i tell them is that they will receive one of the highly coveted cardboard “Hero of the Revolution” buttons. Today i finally made the first one.
Made of 100% durable cardboard
i made it for Michael Mariotte who is having a lifetime achievement award ceremony on Monday in Death City (DC). MM (as everyone in the movement abbreviates his name) and i met in Kiev in 1996. I was running the Chernobyl tenth anniversary campaign, which included a huge anti-nuclear conference in the Ukrainian capital. Having spent the preceding 7 years mostly in eastern Europe i was unaware of the US anti-nuclear movement, where MM was a bit of a superstar.
MM was the executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (he is now president). He asked me to be on the NIRS board and when i asked him to tell me what the organization had done, he rattled off a number of successful achievements in slowing the spread of nuclear reactors in the US and blocking numerous dangerous waste dump proposals and reprocessing facilities. I was impressed, i joined the NIRS board, a position i held for a dozen years.
The ED has rhythm – MM on drums with Tru Fax and the Insaniacs
I thought i was getting into a David and Goliath situation, it was more like David and Godzilla. In eastern Europe we fought corrupt utilities and deluded development banks, this i was used to. In the US, where more money was on the line, there are all manner of professional liars and propagandists who were actively attacking us as well as a captured regulator which did an outstanding job of appearing to be fair and caring about civilian safety and concerns, when what they really did was protect nuclear industry profits.
MM at recent NYC Climate March
Nobody fights nukes for the money. The executive direct salary for NIRS is in the bottom 20% for full time non-profit EDs, paid to someone who is living in one of the countries most expensive cities. And because of the fickle nature of philanthropic foundations (driven both by their dynamic priorities and swings in the market influencing their endowment) there was often not enough money to pay the staff, and MM was proud that the staff always got paid, often times electing not to pay himself on time.
Intelligent people can disagree about the best way to fight nuclear power. There are two classical splits: Reactors versus Weapons and Nuclear versus Renewables. The nuclear weapons complex is directly tied to the nuclear power complex. They need each other to survive. And they have repeatedly served each other as a crutch. MM looked around at the many groups in the US fighting against nuclear weapons and believed reactors deserved focused attention. Similarly with renewables, NIRS avoid putting campaign energy into clean energy, because many groups were doing it well. NIRS is the only internationally operating pure play anti-nuclear power organization in the world.
But don’t confuse MM’s sharp focus on reactors as less than a full understanding of the clean energy and military issues at play. Currently, reliably the best information about renewable energies disruptive effects comes from the SafeEnergy.org blog, which MM continues to write for prolifically. Including recently:
- Deutsche Banks says rooftop solar will be cheaper than the grid across the US inside 2 years.
- Nuclear industries Earth Week assault on Renewbles.
- CitiCorp says renewables to displace coal and nuclear.
MM demonstrates a kind of scrappy intelligence critical to low budget non-profits. I was arrested at the new Exelon Headquarters in something like 2004. MM called me after the trial to find out how it went. “I got 80 hours of community service.” i told him. “You should do them at NIRS.” he replied without a pause. Not stumbling over the idea that i should do community service at the organization which created the event i got arrested for in the first place.
MM was also a visionary with respect to Eastern Europe, which is how we met. He was one of the few people in the US who saw what was completely apparent in Czechoslovakia, that without orders for new reactors in the 1990s in the west, the newly liberated former communist countries were the place nuclear engineering infrastructure could be maintained. And just as Westinghouse and GE’s focus moved to eastern Europe. MM designed (with me) and implemented the east European small grant program, he got money from Ted Turner and others, recognizing that relatively small contributions from the west could have tremendous impact in the east. We gave out 40 grants in perhaps 1998 of $2000 or less funding everything from bike tours, to direct action camps, micro anti-nuclear university and east/west internships.
mm, Tanya and kid 3 and kid 4
Some of the most important reactors in the world in this fight were the pair of units affectionately called K2R4, which were in Khmelnitsky and Rivne in the Ukraine. One of the most important interns to come to the micro anti-nuclear university was Tanya Murza also from Rivne. We stopped the western funding for the reactors at K2R4 and basically knocked the east European development bank (the EBRD) out of the business of paying western companies to complete 25 unfinished Russian reactors. And Tanya stayed and she an MM had two charming kids.
MM has been a hero and inspiration to a whole bunch of people including me. He deserves his cardboard hero button.
Twin Oaks is an established income sharing community in central Virginia of 93 adults and 15 children. Now located on a 450 acre farm, the commune operates 6 businesses, grows most of its own food–organically–builds it’s own buildings, teaches it’s own kids, and repairs it’s own appliances and vehicles.
Here is some of the mainstream and alternative media coverage of us:
Russia Today circa 2012
CNN circa 2010
Frequency555 circa 2010
Mojo Productions circa 2009
Voice of America circa 2009
Central to the community’s operation is the idea of sharing resources. Twin Oaks has developed robust systems for sharing cars, bikes, clothes and businesses. These systems are in sharp contrast to the casual sharing practiced in the mainstream where brittle agreements generally lead to failure.
One of the many advantages of sharing resources is dramatically reducing our negative ecological effect and carbon footprint. The numbers below demonstrate we are already near the 80% reduction in carbon emissions that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is recommending by the year 2050.
[Note: It is unclear if the below numbers include our income generating businesses or not. My guess is they do, and thus we are even more sustainable. But i will check and indicate here what is true.]
Gasoline: The average Virginia resident uses about 530 gallons per year. Twin Oaks consumed about 15,267 gallons of gas in 2007. With an adult & child population on average of population of 96, that would put our consumption at 159 gallons per person. That is 70% less gasoline consumed.
Electricity: The average Virginia resident uses 13,860 kWh of Electricity per year. Twin Oaks consumed 268,065 kWh in 2007. With an adult & child population on average of 96, that would put our consumption at 2,792 kWh per person. That is 80% less electricity consumed.
Natural Gas: The average household in Virginia uses 767 therms of natural gas. Twin Oaks consumed 16,221 therms of natural gas in 2007. With an adult population on average of 87 adults, that would put our consumption at 186 therms per person. That is 76% less natural gas consumed.
Solid Waste: The average American produces 1,460 pounds of trash a year. Twin Oaks produced 18,780.00 pounds of solid waste in 2007. With an adult & child population on average of 96, that would put our production at 196 pounds per person. That is 87% less solid waste produced.
The cultural aspects of community life are as important as the economic ones. We develop our own holidays. Almost all our operations are run by volunteers. We don’t use money internally and there is effectively no crime.
In many ways , the community is an island, culturally and economically separate from it’s immediate surroundings. This cooperative model, however, is one of the very few solutions that can actually avoid the climate catastrophe the US is hurtling toward at breakneck speeds.
The original data for comparing Twin Oaks with US average consumption of electricity, natural gas, gasoline and solid waste were researched by Alexis Ziegler of Living Energy Farm.
This is number 2 in the randomly occurring series which extends the answer provided in the Twin Oaks website FAQ section. The first was on personal possessions. And this post appends to the answer given about our membership process. That answer is:
Basically, in order to become a member, a person needs to be willing to abide by the agreements of the community (e.g. no personal cars, our income-sharing agreements, and lots more). They also need to be able to fit into our social norms which, because we live so closely together, are quite particular (e.g. being sensitive to people’s “personal space”, being able to pick up social cues, being able to be cooperative and share control, etc).
The process for membership involves an interview with the Membership Team during a Three-Week Visitor Period. The interview consists of telling one’s life story, and answering questions about how one deals with various aspects of community living like conflict, anger, people with different values, etc. Then there is an input period during which all visitors leave Twin Oaks for some time, and have the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and decide if they really do think they want to live here. During this time, each member of the community has an opportunity to give input on the visitor (Accept, Visit Again, or Reject for membership). If there are outstanding health (including mental health) issues those will also be taken into consideration. The Membership Team makes the final decision about a visitor becoming a member.
While generally a fine answer, there are all kinds of things missing here. The first is the complexity of Twin Oak’s own visitor and membership process. We have no less than three separate teams inside the community to deal with this process.
Another thing missing from this answer is that pretty consistently for the last 4 years the community has had a waiting list. This means if you are in a big hurry to live in community (a state i would recommend no one be in) then Twin Oaks might well be a poor choice of places to come. Some communities permit accepted visitors to stay indefinitely after their visitor period waiting for a space to open up. Twin Oaks is not like this. If accepted, expect to wait 3 months to a year.
One of our stronger rules is that after your visitor period (if you are applying for membership) you need to leave the community. Usually, this is for at least one month. This is part of our “anti-cult” orientation. We want you after your visitor period to return to your family and friends. If they can’t convince you that the idea of joining a commune is a little bit nuts, they you can come.
And while it is true 95% of the time that that membership team makes the final decision on accepting, rejecting or visiting again a prospective new member, the remaining 5% of the time is interesting to consider. While i complain about the internal decision making process in the commune, there are numerous well designed components of it. How do we deal with splits within the community around membership? A minority of the membership can reject a visitor or provisional member trying to become a full member, but this minority can be overridden by the majority. One of the clever aspects of this policy is that the larger the minority rejecting someone, the larger the super majority must be to override them. At something like 27% rejecting a person, it becomes impossible for the majority to override the minorities decision.
One of the community agreements not explicitly mentioned in the above FAQ is working quota. During your visitor period you will get assigned a bunch of labor, including an incredible number of orientations. Including these, you need to work your 42 hours of quota a week. There are all manner of areas you can work in as a visitor. Reliably the kitchen has cooking or dish washing cleaning help to offer. We used to train people in hammocks, because they could always fill up their quota in this area. Though this is less true these days and some visitor groups don;t even learn how to make hammocks these days. And we are a bit unforgiving in this. You stay with us three weeks, if you are interested in membership, you better work 42 hours each week – or have some compelling excuse for not working (remember being sick is labor creditable – to a point). Visitors not making quota consistently lose their ability to apply for membership on that visit.
Another thing to be aware of is the commune has a second process step for people who are interested in membership who are 55 or older. One of the policies i most dislike is out Age Cap policy. It comes from an understandable place, when the average age of the community exceeds 43 years of age, we slow our acceptance of older members to not pre-maturely age the community. And the reason this is relevant is that Twin Oaks has a very clever pension system, which slowly decreases the quota of members over age 49 by one hour per year.
The other membership cap is around gender. While i think the community is increasingly well educated in the fluidity of gender (strong gender binaries are so twentieth century) we still maintain an existentialist policy when it comes to capping lopsided gender balances. Specifically, if we end up with more than 60% male, we cap our admissions of men until we become more balanced. It would be true for females as well, but this is not really our problem or any of the other FEC communities. For slightly inexplicable reasons, many fewer women apply for membership at Twin Oaks and of those who do apply, a significantly smaller fraction of those we accept decide to come. On the positive side of this imbalance (again for inexplicable reasons) women tend to have longer memberships on average then men.
Fortunately, in the 16 years i have been hanging around Twin Oaks, we have never hit this 60%/40% ratio, so unlike the age cap we have not implemented a gender cap to membershiping visitors. Unfortunately, East Wind has not been so lucky and has had well over 60% male membership for a long time, which gets in the way of the problem correcting itself.
For a look at some of the other restrictions Twin Oaks puts on it’s member, take a look at this post on our most controversial approval.