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.
I have not done a single Transparency Tools workshop on the current PANYC trip. I have however been working with Ogtar who has so far done two of them. In trying to explain the technique to him there are some things which I observed that I think are worth commenting on. The first is that I see as the three levels of transparency.
The first level is simple self revelation. Most common among the our tools for this are “If you really knew me” and hot seat (where others deeply question someone in the group). While people are encouraged to be a bit daring in these exercises, you are always at choice as to what you reveal and how much.
The second level is empathy building. This is when instead of a self revelation you reflect experiences or emotional states you have had which are similar to those of another member in the group. This type of transparency frequently comes out while the crosstalk tool is in use or “i have a story about you”. After some transparency exercise (and especially after “if you really knew me”) we ask for cross talk, where the share of one participant has sparked an empathetic or other emotional response from someone else in the group. By sharing this (in crosstalk or some other tool) it builds bridges between the members of the group who have similar histories.
The third level is emotional housekeeping. When a member of the group tells another something which is standing in the way of clear and complete communication. This is most regularly done using the Withhold or Unsaid tools.
It is this last level of transparency which I refer to as the sharp edge of this tool set. This is because it is where some of the most important healing and connecting work is done. And it is also the tool in which it is most easy for people to mess up and hurt each other. In part because of this it is the tool I most often introduce new groups to, without having them try it on each other.
Often, if the group consists of people who don’t know each other, it is an inappropriate tool to use, because there is not anything important for people to clear with each other. But even when there are things to clear among participants, in the first or second transparency tools session the group may not yet have built up enough trust for it to make sense to try. And again this week while we were introducing a NYC collective house to the full Transparency Tools set, someone grabbed this tool after it was explained and used it to get stuff off their chest which was bothering them about another person in the group. [This also happened with the Catalyst Ecovillage group we trained in February.]
There is something deeply satisfying to me as a purveyor of these tools when new users feel so excited about a tool they are introduced to that even when they are discouraged from using it, they daringly grab it pick it up and try it. So far the results have been impressive and positive.
Before there were zines, there were fingerbooks. An 8.5” by 11” sheet of paper cut in half and then folded into half small booklets, with high graphic content and relatively few words. I made a lot of these on different topics while I was working in Europe. There was one on consensus, one on reactors and the most popular one on open relationships which got translated into several languages.
I’ve sat at a whole bunch of tables in my day handing out propaganda. I watch people and what they reach for and pick up. From a collection of full size flat pieces of paper, a tri-fold and a fingerbook, a surprising fraction of the time, a typical curious passer by will pick up the fingerbook first. Often people will only take one thing and if you are in the propaganda business, you want to be first.
There was a Point A pamphlet, I did not have much to do with it, I really did not like it. The font was tiny, there were hardly any graphics, it was folded into an 1/8th of a page with some strange cut pattern which was confusing. As someone who had made a lot of fairly popular fingerbooks, it offended my sensibilities.
Recklessly, Trip left her email open. I fired off message to GPaul pretending to be her, complaining about the Point A pamphlet and asking if he and Lily would fix it. Not noticing that I had spelled incompetently wrong (a dead give away since Trip would never do such a thing), GPaul was both fooled and took the request seriously. A beautiful thing resulted from this spoof.
In the type of last minute scramble indicative of so many things in the Point A project, Drew [link blog], GPaul [link something] and Lily [link MatchMaker bio] pulled together a Point A “foldie” which is a kissing cousin of a fingerbook (no cutting thank you) in time for the DC Point A introductory event. Which was conveniently a few days before the PANYC Community MatchMaking event this weekend.
The world is a better place.
We are constantly guessing when and what type of events we should be organizing in order to spark the new communities movement. This time we clearly guessed right.
We had about 70 people at this quickly organized event. We crowded the Keep with enthusiastic and chatty folks. Many were experienced community people but for most of the group this was relatively new stuff.
Lovely food and engaging conversation were had. After GPaul did a wild and woolly version of open space technology, we broke into working groups talking about:
- Community as an Agent for Healing
- Addressing Sexual Assault in Community
- Starting Community Businesses
- Starting EcoVillages
I was in the healing discussion group which was held in part in an empty Jacuzzi tub.
It was a lovely warm up for our content in NYC this coming weekend, the Community Matchmaking (see Facebook Invite) event. Here is the evolving program for that event, being held at the Brooklyn Free School.
All photos by Dragon
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.