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Cultural Zones: Tables, Fun Tables and Super Fun Tables

Hawina and i were at an engaging after dinner conversation at Ganas about what good communication culture looks like within community.  There were lots of examples of different community cultures.  I pitched the Acorn Clearness process, which is part of the Point A kit of tools for improving trust and transparency in your community.  We talked about whether it was important to greet everyone you see each day.  We discussed and disagreed on the fundamental nature of people who are in conflict and the availability of mutually agreeable bridges.

you cant get there from here

sometimes you just can’t get there from here

At one point a Ganasian confessed that there was confusion around what the appropriate protocol was for sitting at a table with someone who was already sitting there.  Do you ask if it is okay?  Do you just plop yourself down next to someone?  It may seem like a tiny point, but in the occasionally hyper sensitive world of commune culture, you want to get the social cues right.

The way we have resolved this type of problem at Twin Oaks is thru zoning  We use spacial and temporal zoning to help  with a collection of issues: kid noise, nudity, smoking, sex noises, bike sharing, gardening and much more.  In the case of who sits where at meals and what to expect in those places we have evolved three different types of tables.

Tables:  Most of the tables at and around the dining hall at Twin Oaks are simply tables.   If they are free you can simply sit at them.  When the next person comes to the table the etiquette is to simply check in “Can i sit with you?” Or if there is already a group of people you might ask “Is this a meeting?” which you might be invited to sit in on, or it might scare you away from the social lunch you were hoping for with these people.  Simple enough, no?

Fun Tables:  For reasons i can imagine but don’t know for sure, the community wanted a place you could go reliably and socialize.  A place where you never needed to ask if you could sit down and where you were sure there would not be a closed meeting or work discussions happening.  And thus the fun table was born. The informal rules are that we will always make room for you at the fun table.  And if you start talking about work at a fun table my son and others will call you out about talking about work.  There are two fun tables at Twin Oaks, one inside and the other outside.  They are popular and oft lively.

Super Fun Table:  Turns out there was a greater need for fun tables than just these two.  And it turns out that members don’t want there conversations controlled.  So there is now a very long set of three picnic tables end to end which are super fun tables.  You can talk about anything, you don’t need to ask to sit down and while it seats perhaps 30 people we will always make more space if it is needed.

quite fun table

quite fun table

Extended FAQs – Twin Oaks Decision Making

This is the second in a series of extensions to the FAQs found on the TwinOaks.Org website.  Members, ex-members and other informed folks are encouraged to send corrections or alternative interpretations of my extensions as well as of the official FAQs themselves.

Here is what the website says about our decision making system:

Our decision-making model is based on the Walden Two Planner-Manager system combined with our egalitarian values. Managers are responsible for the day-to-day decisions for their area. For community-wide decisions and larger issues, the Planners (3 rotating members) make decisions by looking at our bylaws and policies, and by soliciting community input by posting papers for comment, holding community meetings, putting out surveys, talking with members (especially members that are closely involved in the issue or have strong feelings), etc. They don’t make decisions based on their personal preference, but rather by gathering information and determining the larger will of the community on a given issue. Any member can appeal a Planner decision they feel is unfair, although this rarely happens as Planners generally do a pretty good job at considering all the aspects of a given issue.

The community as a whole does not use consensus for making decisions, but some decision-making bodies within the community use consensus to make their decisions (e.g. the Membership Team). In keeping with our egalitarian values, we all have a voice in making the decisions about how to spend our collective money and labor during each year’s economic planning. The Managers and Planners put out their proposed economic plan, and each member can alter the plan according to their values and preferences (e.g. I can cut the office budget, and shift that money/labor to the garden budget instead, if I want). Once every member who wants to has done this, the Planners synthesize everyone’s changes to create the final budget.

decision-making-processes sign post Decision making at Twin Oaks is complex and the origin of this complexity (in my opinion) is the noble notion that we can do better than have a simple majority win.

The founders of the community thought they could improve on voting.  They wanted a system which revised proposals, even if they would win a simple vote, so that they could take care of minority voices in the community.  But because there were not (in 1967) good secular models of consensus process, they decided to roll their own and create a whole new group decision making structure. Key to this structure is our own unusual internal communication system.

Every community has an internal communication system, and almost all of them are verbal.  The group gets together some number of times each week and discusses what needs to happen and who is going to do it.

Twin Oaks was founded by writers.  We have a written communication culture. I don’t know of any other community that does it this way.  It has several advantages and some disadvantages as well.

The principal advantage is we avoid the “sloppy majority effect”.  If you are making a proposal and you have general support for it, but there are people with concerns about it, you cannot just force it through as a simple vote would.  If there are reasonable ways you can take care of the minority by modifying your proposal, the expectation is you will try to find these and amend your proposal.

This is why the O&I board is more powerful than a meeting format for proposal reworking. The O&I board is a collection of 24 clipboards on which people post proposals for changes in our policy and decisions.  These clipboards are stocked with extra blank paper at the ends so that there is room for people to add their thoughts (and so they feel like the authors of the proposal are inviting them to do so).  Ideally, critics voice their concerns, make constructive suggestions, and these amendments get reviewed and integrated in part or in totality to the new version of the proposal. The problem comes when the comments are not constructive or not easily folded into the existing proposal.  This is especially problematic when a vocal minority wants the proposal not to go forward at all or has a significantly different alternative they would like to advance.

How are we getting there?

How are we getting there?

These contentious proposals test our decision making system and demonstrate both its flexibility and its hazards.  The person who posts the proposal has several different options when they get complex or contradictory feedback on what they have submitted.  The first and easiest option is they can simply drop the idea.  This happens with some regularity.  Many folks proposing things, however, have a vested interest in the improvements they have suggested, so they will typically go one of several routes:

  • re-write the proposal to include new suggestions
  • call a community meeting to discuss the proposal (this is rare)
  • do a survey of member’s attitudes on this topic (also rare)
  • consult with other area managers or the planners

It’s a complex process and can proceed at a glacial pace, but some proposals do pass and it works well enough at Twin Oaks.

[ edited by MoonRaven ]

Game of each single point

It was great to see Drew on my recent trip to the West Coast.  He is a networker who is excited about the Point A project and has mad skills.  He also has stories.

One of his stories that i was excited about was his experience of playing Frisbee at Acorn.  An ultimate game he claimed was the best he had ever played.  Not because we are especially good players, tho we can field a respectable team.  It was the way we play.  In his blog he writes:

We didn’t keep score, something I hardly noticed at the time. It wasn’t necessary to keep score because we were all infinite players playing a series of finite games.

It was at the moment of the opening disc thrown that the finite game started. We played for the point at hand. Not for the accumulation of points. Once that point was scored the finite game ended, the winning team got the title of team to most recently score a point then we started play on the next finite game.

Yes we play Frisbee in the snow

Yes we play Frisbee in the snow

We played to keep the game going. If one team kept winning and the other team was getting frustrated we would trade players to even out the skill levels. We would adjust the rules, boundaries on or off, people rotating out, etc. to ensure that the game continued (until sun down, of course).

Each finite game was played to it’s fullest. We played with great seriousness. Even more serious than professionals I would guess. Because no point was worth any more/less than another. We were never so far behind in points that scoring couldn’t keep us from losing or so far ahead that we could go easy on our opponent. We were never playing warm up or pre-season games that “didn’t matter”. We were playing for the point, the only point—at that moment in time—that mattered.

I had not thought of this analysis before, but i found it compelling.  While not universal, anarchist score keeping (aka not keeping score) is common in the communes.  Quite some Volleyball games start and end with scores of 7 to 7.  They are no less fun that ones i played with highly competitive rules and cultures.


Climb like a Spider, Climb like a Monkey

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.

You can't get there from here

You can’t get there from here

​About​ 50 feet up a tree on Pagan Ridge​ there is a platform
​ complete with railings​ which is the perfect resting place as you are climbing towards the stars.  But don’t bother showing up to this new attraction​ yet​, unless you know how to climb both like a spider and like a monkey.

spider and web

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 an​d 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 and Platform

Shal and Platform

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.

a tiny part of the panoramic view

a tiny part of the panoramic view

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 a​real 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 we​st.​

​S​hal is also spent some time figuring out how to create a rope pulley ascending system that will make it much easier for several people to get to this lofty perch.  Only one person will need to climb it like we did last night, and then will be able to set up the pulley at the top so several people will be able to safely pull each other up one at a time.  S​o even non-climbers will be able to enjoy the airy view.  ​

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.


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.


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 – 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.


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