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Which words can we still use? Commune? Communism?

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.

Anarchist_Communist_Flag_by_TapiocaDeath

These messages, perhaps?

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.

Can we reclaim this damaged name?

Can we reclaim this damaged name?

I wrote GPaul:
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).
In his provocative way GPaul replied:

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. you say commie like it is a bad thing 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.

Commune Snapshot – Acorn edition

Yes, we have a pet cow, called Pandora

Yes, Acorn has a pet cow, called Pandora. Though she is most frequently referred to simply as “Cow.”  These friends include Dragon, Falcon, Mac and Rejoice.

This chalk board elephant is being used to develop a new language at Acorn

This chalk board elephant is being used to develop a new language at Acorn

Falcon and Irena picking orders at Southern Exposure

An alternating text and picture game we play

Exquisite Corpse: An alternating text and picture game we play

Canoe in a truck

Stephanie and Elan off to places which don’t require seat belts

Community Supported Dumpster Diving

Supermarkets are hugely problematic.  They distort purchasing behaviors, contribute to obesity, cut wages to farmers and more.  There have been several responses to this situation, including farmers markets.  The direct workaround for supermarkets is Community Support Agriculture or CSA for short.  CSAs have customers buying shares directly from farmers and typically every week they get part of the harvest in a box they go pick up.  When harvests are good, customers share in the bounty, when harvests are low customers agree not to complain, and as a result, they feel like they are in the game together with the farms.

CSAs give better prices to farmers by cutting out the powerful broker of the supermarket.  They provide money faster to farmers, earlier in the season when they often most need it.  They share the risk between farm and end consumer in a way that supermarkets have no interest in sharing.  They typically offer better profits for farmers and lower prices for end customers.

Our fine friends in Freedonia have taken this idea to the next level.  [If you don’t remember Freedonia is our pseudonym for actual urban communities which are doing clever but illegal things in undisclosed locations.]  They are starting Community Supported Dumpster Diving (CSDD) or what one communard calls Community Supported Gleaning.

Active dumpster diving collective households pull in dramatically more food from dumpsters than they themselves can use.  Other collective households agree to sort, clean, prep, store and divide the bounty as it comes in (often at absurd o’clock in the morning).  Finally a set of other collective houses come and pick up the recovered food and feed it to their people.

There are gems in those dumpsters

There are gems in those dumpsters

If you have not been dumpster diving in an urban area, you might miss the cleverness of this plan.  Normally, dumpster divers are presented with a dilemma.  There are 60 bunches of perfectly good banana’s here, but if i bring them all back 1) we will never eat them in time and most of them will rot.  2) We will spend a bunch of time cleaning and storing them and will end up losing out on other dumpster bounty.

CSDD solves this problem in several ways.  Crews get sent out knowing their own collective household need not clean and consume everything they rescue.   By having the different people doing food prep from the people who are doing the dumpster diving, you avoid asking exhausted dumpster divers at 3 AM to then spend hours cleaning and in some cases food processing all the bananas.  By spreading the dumpstered treasure over several different collective households, you share pro tips, strategies and critical information about urban dumpsters among a growing crowd of experts and don’t burn people out by having to do so much dumpstering in an given week.  By having separate crews doing cleaning and food processing, you rescue a greater fraction of the salvaged food.

Get the right gear - Cartoon Credit WikiHow

Get the right gear – Cartoon Credit WikiHow

There are complex discussions going on between Freedonia and other collective households.  Who can join the CSDD?  Is it possible to just buy shares (like in CSAs) and not do any of the work?  How do we evaluate the different types of efforts, space needs, storage costs, administrative work etc?

But the Freedonians i spoke with said the project (still in early stages) is going fabulously so far, people are not sweating the details and are upping the collective dumpster diving game dramatically – dropping food prices for people living in cooperatives, reducing the amount of wasted food in the system and providing adventurous activities for people who might otherwise simply be sleeping.

Who builds a better future?  Those who are willing to try.

Who builds a better future? Those who are willing to try.

i am excited about where this idea can go, and that it proves that by cooperating we can create a lifestyle which is both more resilient and more fair.

Presents for Propagandists

I am not into birthdays, including my own.  Turns out if i simply turn off the Facebook birthday notification of mine, I can avoid the dozens of robotic “Happy Birthday” messages which I get from otherwise creative people who like me.   I had a lovely birthday including a trip to the free STI clinic, an unrelated rushing around adventure and lovely conversations about forming new communities in Colorado.  It felt like a good day to be alive.

As an anti-materialist, I am an unusually difficult person to get presents for.  Most people don’t even try.  With the exception of my generous mother, it was almost a gift free celebration.  Lovely.

mindless_consumerism

But as the day ended, in the last look at email messages I got the most lovely present from Audrey from the far reaches of Quebec.  Audrey is one of those shooting stars we get through the communes, who enchant us endlessly but we can’t hold onto because they have other adventures that beckon them.

Audrey enchants as an Amazon Warrior in the ZK living room

Audrey enchants as an Amazon Warrior in the ZK living room

Without even knowing it was my birthday, she game me the most lovely of presents – a translation.

One of my favorite self-generated pieces of propaganda is a morsel of writing from way back called “Why I am an anarchist.”  There is a strange history to this piece, which includes that it exploded the collective that was supposed to turn a set of these essays into a book.  But that is another story.

Audrey appreciated this proclamation and mentioned when she last left Twin Oaks/Acorn that she planned on translating it.  And I did not think much of it.  People offer these kinds of things with some regularity, but translation is non-trivial work and can easily get lost behind the rest of the things you are doing.

The original unbirthday party

The original unbirthday party

I am pleasantly surprised and gratified for my multi-lingual friends who help spread these radical ideas around.  What a lovely unextraordinary day to be alive.

Whither Batman, Emerge Triple Threat Tony

She had me from “Batman”.

Triple Threat Tony has had other names, depicted above in Santa Fe

Meet Acorn’s newest intern, shown above in Santa Fe

It is intriguing to observe the cultural differences between the communes and New York City.  On the last Point A trip, Acorn’s newest intern (who back then was called Batman) introduced herself a few dozen times over the trip.  No one blinked.

It was as though they had had dozens of people call themselves Batman before.  Knowing there must be some revealing or at least interesting story, none of them thought it would be appropriate to ask for it.  While on the communes, this introduction reliably drives the next part of the conversation.

But the origin of Batman was problematic, it hailed from a romantic partner who was no longer in the picture.  So I suggested a naming party, and she embraced the possibility.  She wanted a dual purpose new name.  One which could embrace the exotic strangeness and quirky freedom which the communes could offer, while also having a more mundane nickname version which she could answer the business phones with.  Nickelodeon could become Nick, for example.  Prof Pocket could become Po.  She, having a traditionally feminine given name, also wanted something which sounded masculine.

We are nto going this way

We are not going this way

But Batman was a cool name and some communards were reluctant to give it up.  Strandbeest in particular wanted to contribute by keeping the old name with a new origin story.  When Batman challenged “What will I say when people ask about my name?” Strandbeest (who is now called Jayne – along with a half dozen other things – after the Firefly character, who is apparently both stupid and mean) countered “Because I am the hero Gotham deserves”.  Which in the early moments of last night’s naming party was pretty compelling and almost derailed the entire event.

There were a few other attempts at new origin stories to rescue the old cool name from the ash bin of history, but it was not to be.  Our vivacious new intern had fully embraced the idea that a new name was an opportunity and was compelled by the daring prospect of having a group of friends rename her from the very long list of possibilities.

-2

She had lots of options

She did of course whittle down this list.  She was not going to be called Styrofoam, or Lasersnake or Ronald Raygun.  Though to her credit she was willing to consider Styrofoam if there was a clever Babylon acceptable nickname which was spawned.   But despite our best efforts none was revealed.

-4

The group decided that a tie would make me more official

Acorn does not do naming parties like Twin Oaks does.  We don’t name our cars or our buildings generally.  Names appear comically or organically or mysteriously without explanation.  The event was well attended, perhaps because of it’s novelty but more likely because she is an unusually well-liked new addition to our colorful hyper-family.

Surveying all she can see

Surveying all she can see

Besides the attempted new origin story, we also tried some new things at the naming party.  It is not uncommon for us to reduce the list of names thru a number of binding polls.  The first is usually that you have 5 up votes and 3 down votes.  As an experiment after we had done a couple of elimination rounds, we did a non-binding round with three negative votes and single positive one – just to see what people were grumpy about. The least favorites were the more bland options, such as Dylan and Neil.

-3

The revised list

In the end, we choose “Triple Threat Tony”, in part because this was a name that she herself quite liked.  It satisfied the male identification aspect with Tony.  It has the option of endless entertaining sub-names (I am calling her Triple Threat, others have compressed to just “Trip” or “Tone”).  She will still answer to Batman, which some Acorners are unwilling to part with (perhaps this will lead to her name drifting into free fall).

And despite the name change, for me she will always be hero that Gotham needs.

Tony2

Super Bowl Commune Style

One of my favorite commune “out of it” stories comes from the Super Bowl of 2004.  Since you have likely forgotten, this was the year of the famous “Wardrobe Malfunction” which apparently helped spawn YouTube. Janet I was in Morningstar kitchen and there were a dozen people there.  It was two days after the Super Bowl in question and i said “If i were to say to you Janet Jackson’s left breast, how many of you would know what i was talking about?”  No one could answer (i did not know if it was left or right, but i knew it would not matter). This year, like every year, there is a Super Bowl.  Apparently the teams are quite close  as far as the bookies are concerned.  And supposedly they are some of the best teams in the game.  I dont care that much, but i still hear these things. What i also know from indirect experience is that almost everyone thinks sports needs to be watched live.  When i asked my sports fan friends about re-watching old games, even very exciting or close ones, they are nearly universally dismissive of this idea.  Often saying strange things like they would prefer to watch a terrible live game than a brilliant one which was recorded even very recently.  Often it is explained  to me that i simply dont understand sports if i cant understand why this is true. Perhaps my ignorance is contagious. A whole collection of Oakers are planning on watching the game tomorrow.  They have recorded it (probably without the $4.5 million dollar 30 second ad spots) and are going to show it on the digital projector with a bunch of people watching and pop corn and beer. But wont it spoil the game if they already know who has won?  This is the lovely part, they are not going to know.  Or at least they are going to try not to know, with a voluntary media and internet black out for about 24 hours.  In the mainstream, it would not even make sense to try it.  In the commune context, with a few strategically placed notes and requests to some of our more opinionated members who will have seen the game at the “proper” time this is actually possible.

Turns out you can keep a secret, in some places

Turns out you can keep a secret, in some places

Maybe i will watch the big game tomorrow in a place where time does not matter.

Update:  There was a grand event in Degania (which i missed) with pizza and happy communards, until 3 minutes before the end of the cliffhanger game when the video failed and no one knew how it turned out.  Yikes.

Exotic Commune Game Rules

“Is this a friendly game?”

This question gets asked with some regularity where i live, and it has a unique and very specific meaning here.  For most of the games we play, it means that we are going to be forgiving when people make mistakes or want to change their move/play.  Specifically, it means that if no other game decision has been made by another player, you can go backwards and fix your play on your turn and not be penalized for it.

Love_cards

Occasionally this is frustrating, especially in a game like Dominion, where you might have preferred the inferior play of your opponent, before they got help with their play (either by figuring it out themselves or thru a helpful co-player).  And this begs the question, what is the role for “friendly” in competitive gaming culture.  i would argue it is huge.  In fact, it is more important that people feel good about the game, especially after it is over, than it is that we play by especially rigid rules.

Not a friendly game

Not a friendly game

And for “serious gamers” the situation gets worse in games like Magic, where we have Armenian Rules.  At the risk of being deemed racist, this rule is at the center of much of the “friendly” play at Twin Oaks and Acorn.  The way the Armenian Rule works is if you are manna starved in a particular hand in Magic, you can, by your own determination, draw a land instead of your normal card from the draw.

We also permit the “paradise Mulligan”.  Some games permit players who draw a poor or initially unplayable hand to shuffle the cards back into the deck and draw a new hand.  Normal Mulligan rules in Magic, for example, are that when you draw your second hand you get one few card.  This is a tax for your bad luck or poor deck design. In friendly games we are not interested in bad luck taxes, so you can just draw another full seven card hand.  And if you bad luck continues you can draw another one, and so on.

So you need one of these?

So you need one of these?

Serious gamers retort that these types of rules are just an excuse to build a badly designed deck, and that if people built better decks this would not happen.  And they are on some level right.  And since Magic can be an expensive game to build decks for, by using Armenian rules and paradise Mulligans, poor communards need not invest hugely in specific cards that might make the deck work better.

But more importantly, as with most games, Magic is more fun if the score is actually close.  Having one player stuck early in the game damages the game for everyone: it degrades the win, it is harder to learn anything, it can discourage you from future games.

Who's rules?

Who’s rules?

We have something of a mix here at Twin Oaks and Acorn.  Some folks are uninterested in who has the most points, but rather are in the game so that they can they play some lovely combination of cards or strategy.  Most players are excited about a close game, where you have to think hard or get lucky to pull it out in the end.  Some folks believe that adhering to the rules makes the games more fair and a truer test of skill.

And in the end it brings up the more philosophical questions as to what is the purpose of games.  Some will trivialize them as a waste of time, others will point to them as a social lubricant, i use some games pedagogically.  I think most players simply enjoy them, which might just be enough all by itself.

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