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Consensus’s big brother: Sociocracy

It has always struck me a odd that the decision making system most often employed by radicals and revolutionaries (in my experience) is a conservative one.  While group culture can certainly effect it, consensus tends to gravitate towards the status quo, especially for complex or tricky decisions.  Unable to convince everyone to try something different, the group will often keep doing what it has been doing.


conservative revolutionaries


I was talking to Tree on the phone about this phenomenon and she mentioned that one of the things she discovered in her research on Sociocracy was the opposite tendency.  Most people who examine this Dutch developed decision technique walk away feeling like it is a more ornate and slightly different flavor of consensus.  But I think Tree has identified the critical cultural difference.

Like consensus, Sociocracy uses a collection of decision making tools to help it guide the group towards resolution.  There is however only a small amount of overlap between these tool sets.  Sociocratic elections ask “who is best to do this job?” first, rather than “who is willing to do this job?” which often results in different people being selected than other selection methods.  In my experience when the Twin Oaks visitor team was using Sociocracy, when we did it right, we could dramatically reduce the amount of time we spent talking about topics, especially by using the quick reaction round technique.  This was where everyone in the group gave just a single sentence response to the proposal.


Sociocracy as the next evolutionary step in decision making systems

Sociocracy as the next evolutionary step in decision making systems


The full set of Sociocratic tools and structures dwarfs formal consensus in size.  There is far more overhead in learning Sociocracy.  And central to the difference in these two cultures is how blocks are different.  In both anyone can block.  In (what I think are the better forms of) consensus decoding the blocks is the groups responsibility.  Even though it often comes from a single person, the collective needs to elaborate it and then see if the proposal can be modified to address the blocking concerns.

In Sociocracy, the pressure is flipped.  Your block needs to be “reasoned and paramount” if you can not convince the group it has these attributes the block does not stand.  This is one of the ways sociocracy is progressive, rather than conservative.


This would not satisfy the Sociocrats

This would not satisfy the Sociocrats


The other, which Tree pointed out in our chat, is that Sociocracy has numerous built in tools for designing temporary solutions which will be tried out and then evaluated.  Sunset clauses are regularly used in consensus, but in Sociocracy, everything is up for periodic evaluation, with an eye towards correction and refinement.

The cultural assumption of Sociocracy is “Let’s try something new, and make sure we have safeguards in place to protect us if something does not work.”  While consensus more often says “if we can’t get the whole group to agree on changing, then we are better off staying where we are.”

But culture is mushy.  I’ve been in consensus based activist groups which did our process on the way to the action – we started with the assumption that we had to constantly be doing things. Our critique was that  the status quo around us was not working and our job was to be change agents.  The culture of that affinity group was constantly advancing new things and trying novel techniques.

Just as easily you could get a persuasive intellectual in a Sociocratic setting who was always framing their objections in reasoned and paramount ways.  And it would turn the organization into a discussion group.


[On a personal note: I have been remiss posting on this blog recently.  It has long been my personal adage that "Excuses are like cotton candy.  They have a sickeningly sweet taste but there is not much there, really." But in case you are curious, it is influenced in by extended family visits from Willows half brother Fabian from the Netherlands and his half sister Rachel from Death City visiting Twin Oaks. These lovely encounters have thrown further out of whack my engaged (not busy) schedule.  Thus resulting in fewer blog posts.] 




The New Prometheus Myth

In the original myth of Prometheus, the hero ascends mount Olympus, where he fools the gods and steals fire from them [The myth then morphed into him going to the underworld.] Returning to the surface world, this fire is given to humanity and used to build civilization. But Zeus becomes angry with Prometheus and condemns him to be tortured for eternity.


The old story was pretty depressing

Recent information made available thru the Freedom of Information Act indicates some important details of the myth have been left out. It turns out the gods knew Prometheus was coming and was planning to rob them. So the gods hid all of the good fires and left only the worst one behind for Prometheus to steal [Prometheus wrongly assumed there was only one kind of fire]. Thus Prometheus returned to earth with the wrong fire and with the wrong intent and correspondingly built the wrong society.

There is now a place for a new kind of Prometheus. One who works with the gods instead of stealing from them and uses the best fires, which the gods hid from Prometheus in the places we have only now started to look for them – in the wind, in the sea and in the sun.

Let's look elsewhere

Let’s look elsewhere

It is time we started working with nature – instead of stealing from it, harnessing the power of renewable resources in wind, solar and sea-based technology. And with these we can build a new civilization.

harvest renewables at home


The Hunt for the Green Tortoise

Shal and i are going to visit Sequoia and Yosemite in September on the Green Tortoise Bus.

Green Tortoise Adventure Trip

Green Tortoise Adventure Trip

I am looking forward to this as much for the natural beauty as for the time with Shal, who is one of my oldest and dearest friends.  And as i was talking about this on the phone this evening, i was reminded of my early search for the Green Tortoise.

There was a time when the internet was young and a time when the Green Tortoise did not have permits for all the bus routes they were driving.  I remember talking with a Green Tortoise bus driver about this perhaps 30 years ago and he explained that the legal permits for bus routes were so prohibitive, that Green Tortoise could not cover the permit cost, because they did not do enough cross country runs per year.

So years back, before Facebook existed and when Amazon mostly sold books, i was trying to reconnect with the Green Tortoise for a friend who wanted to go cross country.  I banged the bus company name into google and only three entries came up, none of them was an official site.  And i wondered to myself  “Are they still underground because of this permit thing?” and decided to investigate further. I read one of the pages where the bus company was named, hoping to find contact information.

Sometimes your mistakes are telling

Sometimes your mistakes are telling.

There was no contact info.  But the more i read the blog post, the more i came to the realization “this writer has terrible spelling”.  Now any regular reader of this blog knows that if  i am spotting your bad spelling, they you have a serious spelling problem because it is something i almost never recognize, being borderline dyslexic myself.

But then i got to thinking, “if this person is such a terrible speller, and i am only getting three hits from all of the internet, then perhaps we are combining our poor spelling and i am searching for the wrong thing.” And when i checked, sure enough i had spelled “tortoise” wrong.

Putting in the correct spelling resulted in all manner of matches, including the ticket selling (and presumably legal) Green Tortoise official website.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

No bosses, No sunroofs

Outside of Eugene, Oregon and the intentional communities movement, pretty much everyone has a boss.  There are some acceptable bosses, but overwhelmingly people are, i observe, dissatisfied with their bosses.  The miracle of the income sharing communities, is that we are largely able to run our cottage industries without the oppressive or disagreeable part of the boss role.  At Twin Oaks we have managers, who have labor and money budgeting responsibilities, but they very rarely tell someone that they need to do something.  They often request people do things, but this is not what bosses do, they tell people.  At Acorn we have even ditched the title of manager all together, and things run just fine thank you.

bosses be like

When Occupy sparked, there was much conversation at Twin Oaks as to what Occupy Twin Oaks would look like.  What would be our demand for a more fair and just society in the already fairly idyllic world of the commune?  As we got further into this investigation, we realized again who wonderfully fortunate we were.  “Seconds at 6:15″ was one rallying cry that dinner seconds should be available earlier rather than the current 6:30 PM time.   If this is what we are demanding, then things must be pretty peachie.

There are of course trade offs.  To not have crime, we have to give up living in the city,   To share cars together we have to give up access to the sunroofs in our cars.


Don’t even think about it

This might sound odd at first, or perhaps even unfair.  But when we get a new vehicle which has a sunroof in it, one of the first things we do is disable the sunroof.  We do this because if we don’t some member will leave the sunroof open and the interior of the vehicle will get soaked.  So the least responsible of us dictate the self protective behaviors we embrace that strip us of personal freedoms.

This irks me until i remember that i am one of the people most likely to leave a sunroof open.





Becoming a Digital Nomad

When i was growing up, one of the most transformative adventures one could take was walking off the land you knew with a small bag and a daring attitude and sticking out you thumb and hitchhiking away.  This is still true, except the clever traveler will add to their small bag an internet connected device.

There is a growing knowledge base of digital nomads and the first and perhaps most important piece is  If you have ever hitched much you know there are places that are hard to get through, good spots where drivers are likely to pick you up and routes to avoid.  The problem is that regular maps and guidebook almost never tell you where these places are.

Did you know there are dramatically different laws on hitching, state by state - source hitchwiki

Did you know there are dramatically different laws on hitching, state by state – source hitchwiki

Hitchwiki tells you not only what the laws are in different regions but also what the local customs are and how to best catch a ride.  It also has user edited maps of the roadway system, including stories and advice for how to have a successful journey.  Knowing the hitching culture and hot spots dramatically increases your chances of getting where you are going.

But what if you don’t know where you are going?  What if your adventure is not highly scripted and you are looking for like minded people who might put you up, without asking you for money?  Many people have heard about couchsurfing, but there is a better radical hospitality system called  It is better because the people who are involved in it are more interested in connecting with travelers in a meaningful way and less about being party tourists.  While BeWelcome is far sparser than couchsurfing, it is designed to accommodate hitchhikers and it makes sense to populate this democratic and transparent site with new people, rather than continue with the for profit beast.


It is also worth pointing out that the software developers who created BeWelcome built much of the Couchsurfing site, before leaving the WalMart of peer to peer hospitality for ideological reasons.

But lets say you have no money and want to eat.  Enter TrashWiki.  Another site which has content contributed by many users, it is dedicated to finding food and other valuable things which have been thrown out.  In some cases this is where the good dumpster are.  In other cases it is where pre-dumpster things can be found or where you can find dumpster diving partners.  Better than OK Cupid if you this is your area of interest and you are looking for a match.

Digital nomadism is about using the power of the internet to take a step away from conventional lifestyles and instead trust strangers, rescue waste and see new parts of the world.




The Best Present for a Kid

If you have a Dutch parent, you qualify for the rights of a Dutch citizen.  Every 5 years Willow and Hawina and i go to the Dutch Embassy in Death City and get Willow’s passport renewed.  Willow is a US citizen, with a US passport, but the Dutch are completely happy to issue an EU one, if the parents apply.  This is a no brainer.

The Dutch passport is actually a Schengen Treaty enabled EU passport.  You can travel between all the blue areas on the map below by just flashing an EU passport.

The largest federation in the world

The largest national federation in the world

There are multiple reasons for having a couple of passports, beyond the above listed convenience. The one most people are familiar with is traveling between hostile or warring countries.  Donning a Cuba passport stamp in a US passport can result in a visit from the FBI.  Should you wish to travel regularly between the Arab world and Israel, a second passport (even from the same country, which you can get by claiming you lost one) is advised.

Who says where you can go?

Who says where you can go?

But the real reason i want Willow to have a second passport is that if his life is at all like mine, there will be a moment when it is extremely useful.  This moment will be when he is traveling and some agent of the state thinks that they control him, because they have taken his passport.  Annoyingly confidently they will be leading him off to some undesired destination.  Having a second passport gives you the chance to look for an opportunity to depart from the foreign state agent and make a break for it.

Part of our home schooling is learning for when you can successfully make a break for it.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Paul’s Plausible Proposterous Proposal Party

What do you give to the person who wants nothing (for themself)?  Perhaps  you would give them an idea.  Ideally it would be an idea so novel, funny, daring, newsworthy and crazy enough that it just might work.  This is where i need your help.

So perhaps he needs more precise make up

So perhaps he needs more precise make up

This Friday is GPaul’s 30th birthday and we will be in NYC continuing with our community building Point A work.  I am responsible for his under organized birthday event.  Pleasantly, he personally wants little, demonstrated by (among many things) his willingness to stay in a tiny shoe box room in the barn at Acorn for years after he could have moved into a nicer one.

What we want collectively is at the other end of the accessibility spectrum:  High visibility, inspiring,  urban based, income sharing, intentional communities.  And what I am asking from you, even if you can’t join us for this post Pride Friday night party in NYC is exotic memes.


Taxi harness at Burning Man

Taxi harness at Burning Man

What  preposterous yet plausible proposals do you have for how to spark new urban communities?  Some examples might help.

Party til Occupation. Both  the mainstream media and progressive activists were surprised by Occupy.  A call was made for a broad protest, as thousands have in the past, and people showed up in Zuccotti Park and ultimately across the country and started building political community.  What had not been expected was that people from different classes and races could work intimately together using consensus to improve the treatment of the poor and the homeless and highlight corruption in banking and politics.

What if (after finding a suitable site) we decided to hold an open ended party.  Different collective groups from the city take responsibility for making sure there are people and party goodies for some specific set of days for perhaps the first month or so.  Then if it turns out that people are enjoying the party, renew the invitations and simply start pretending that permanent occupation of the site is a desirable and possible outcome.

startup community  Instead of a one on one dating site, this new social network helps people find others to live in community with.  This does not need to be a single place based residence, it could be buying clubs and other aggregate discount services.  And the structure of the site and the data is such that it is designed to bring people who are looking to spark community into the conversation.  A relatively simple solution for starting up such a project might be as a Facebook plug in.

These are two examples of unlikely, but desirable projects.  I am hoping you can add your own to be part of the birthday fun.

On Friday we will gather all the cards and all the participants we have and each person attending the party will draw 3 or more cards and choose the one which they think they can defend to the group the best. Then they will present the bold proposal of their selection and the rest of the group will evaluate the proposal to see if it is worthy of pursuing.

If you are in NYC this Friday, then email me and I will tell you where this event is in Brooklyn.  If you can’t participate, but would like to submit a preposterous plausible idea you can either email me or leave it in the comment field.




Shuttle Driver to the Perfect Party

When i was in Death City getting Willow a second passport, i got 4 text messages asking if i could drive the shuttle home from Trout’s bachelor party (which was 100 miles away in Louisa VA).  Showing not surprisingly that people have trouble keeping track of where i am. It also shows that i am a first responder shuttle driver.    A reasonable assumption actually.

i need to get one of these cool hats

i need to get one of these cool hats

Earlier in the week i had been a shuttle driver for Fox’s bachelorette party.    Mostly, this is the short but menacing drive from Twin Oaks to Acorn.  Menacing in that getting home after the party can be tricky somethings, trying to guess how long the party will be fun, if this person flirting with you is going to stick around, if you will like the next band of DJ as much as you do the current one, if you can stay later and still get up early for that shift you probably never should have scheduled yourself for.

Which shuttle is best?

Which shuttle is best?

And i am the first responder principally because i am generally willing and often available on short notice.  It does not take long, it is highly appreciated and i hardly drink at all, making me a great designated driver.  I am also on the insurance of both communities as a dual member and have access to both fleets of vehicles.  I am a like a universal donor.

Building Better Parties: Fox and Trout got married.  They did up the celebrations quite right, if you ask me.  They had two ceremonies and 2 pre-parties.  One of the ceremonies was a mainstream legal wedding, with family and close friends and a minister.  The second was held at Acorn with all the significant number of commune friends this popular couple have (pictures in a pending blog post), but it was hardly legal.

Luna at the party after the wedding

Luna at the party after the wedding

Before the commune wedding there was a bachelor party and a bachelorette party.  The communes often struggle with exclusion and especially around gender binaries.  The question of came up “Can i go to the bachelors party as a gal?”  The stock answer is “You should be at the party if you think you should be at the party.”  Gender is a personal choice.  You can be girl enough to go to the bachelorette party, even if your chromosomes think differently.

Sometimes there is no right answer

Sometimes there is no right answer

Many attendees were impressed by these events.  I was happy to get people there and home.





Can Polyamory Help Destroy Rape Culture? [re-post]

Comrade Tikva has penned a great piece for Elephant Journal [Which posted my review of the Movie Wanderlust]  If you want to see this article on EJ , with it’s links (and odd image) it’s here.  She also does a brilliant comic on polyamory.

Objectification is at the center of rape culture

Objectification is at the center of rape culture


Many romances begin with wordless flirtation, stolen kisses and vague communication.
In a culture where disinterest is often interpreted as shyness or “playing hard to get,” men are encouraged to think women need to be skillfully interpreted and convinced, instead of taken at their word. Even the clearest “no” is still up for debate.

I’ve had men tell me I was “asking for it” by making eye contact with them on the street instead of averting my gaze. And when they discovered that my polite smile was not a request for sex, they reacted in outrage as if I was purposefully leading them on.

A stranger misinterpreting our smile as an open invitation to our body sounds ludicrous, but watching any romantic comedy will show us how our culture views consent.

no more rape culture

How many times does the woman turn the main character down before he grabs and kisses her—and doesn’t she secretly want it all along, perhaps without even knowing it herself, until he figures out how to prove that they are meant to be?

It may be entertaining to watch awkward fumbling and forceful passion on the screen, but this kind of indirect communication seeps out into our actual romantic encounters far too often and can be very dangerous.

When men identify with that main character who wins the girl in the end, they feel cheated when their own efforts aren’t achieving the same results. They can sometimes decide to take it forcefully if the woman isn’t catching on quick enough, because “no” just means she hasn’t been convinced yet that this is what she really wants.

Most women have encountered men who feel entitled to have access to their bodies. Just look at the recent gruesome events involving Elliot Rodger and the resulting stories on Twitter with the hashtag “#YesAllWomen.”

Clearly there are a lot of men out there who think they deserve the girl, regardless of what she has to say about it.

In polyamorous relationships, unclear communication will have us drowning in a sea of interpersonal drama much more quickly than it would in a conventional, monogamous relationship.

One reason for this is that monogamy is the expected norm, so if we’re monogamous, it’s pretty easy to coast through the beginning of our relationship without putting any effort into communicating our intentions or expectations.

If we say nothing at all about what we want, it is assumed that our eventual goal is a monogamous until-death-do-us-part with someone. Polyamorous relationships are more complex and less understood, so therefore require explanation right from the beginning and skillful communication throughout.

Poly folks will often discuss their specific intentions with people they are attracted to and even sit down with everyone’s other partners and discuss it with them as well, way before the first date is even considered. It is very likely that a first kiss won’t come with a silent assumption of consent, but after it has been discussed with everyone involved instead.

Clear communication is a must for long-term poly relationships, so this is a skill that gets exercised often.

But what does this have to do with rape culture? Rape culture is fed on silence and assumptions. By insisting on communicating clearly every step of the way about any intention of sex or romance, we kill those old ideas of romance being about silent flirtation and stolen kisses.

We make consent sexy.

yes means yes

We might think that clear communication is overkill, boring and that it will stifle the romance—but the opposite is true. When people are open and vulnerable in relationship to each other, expressing the full extent of their desires and (most importantly) wanting to hear and understand the desires of their partners, there is absolutely nothing sexier than that.

I used to think that stolen kisses were sexy, but now I see them as a sign of emotional immaturity and dissociation. I would much rather my partners be obviously interested in what I want than trying to see what they can get out of me.

When can kisses be "stolen"?

When can kisses be “stolen”?

I would much rather be telling them what I want than waiting for them to guess.

Margaret Atwood’s quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” illustrates why it is more important that men take on the task of communicating clearly and receiving consent, but it is incredibly empowering to take on the task as a woman as well.

girls kissing

We don’t need to be in a polyamorous relationship to get our clear communication groove on, obviously. But if we’re in a polyamorous relationship we need to communicate impeccably, just to keep up with what’s going on.

Making clear communication and consent sexy is a huge part of what’s needed to feed the revolution of consent culture. So whether we are monogamous, polyamorous, monogam-ish, or poly-curious, we need to push ourselves to communicate more openly with everyone and see how it affects our romantic life.

Author and Muse (R to L)

Author and Muse (R to L)


Doc Mom

My mother is amazing.  When i was going to high school some sociologist interviewed her and asked,

“On a scale of one to ten, where ten is the highest, how happy are you?”

“Ten” my mother said without pausing

“Really,” said the interviewer, “no one has ever said ten before.”

“Absolutely ten.  I could not be happier.” She replied.

My mom is a pretty accomplished gal.  Besides raising my brother and myself, who were a handful.  She also founded, ran and grew a non-profit called Boston By Foot.  To celebrate the nations bicentennial, she put together a program of volunteer guides which gave architectural walking tours of the city of Boston. To qualify to be a guide you had to go to 6 weekend lectures, write a paper about architecture in the city and even pay a small tuition for the privilege of volunteering.  As business models go, this one would probably get an F.  But gravity never stopped my mother.

Volunteer BBF guides

Volunteer BBF guides

Boston by Foot would grow to a sizable operation, with over 200 active volunteer guides who have given over a quarter million paid tours since 1976.

A couple of weeks back, the Boston Architectural College gave my mother an honorary doctoral degree in community engagement.  My brother, my sister-in-law and i all went up to watch her get her degree.


Mom with BAC president Ted Landsmark

The BAC itself is a bit of an anti-gravity project.  It is an architectural college, both graduate and undergraduate which has:

1) Open Admissions

2) Volunteer Professors

3) Every student has to both study and work for an architectural firm while they are enrolled.

With the exception of state funded schools at the community college level, there are very few open admission schools in the US.  This means if you can pay tuition, you can come to classes, and if you can survive academically, you can earn a degree.  About 23% of the people who start the undergrad program finish it.  Because all students also work for practicing architects, graduates are highly sought after.

It seems totally appropriate that this academic institution which survives because talented people volunteer their time for something they love, should be the place that recognizes my mothers work.

And if you want an inexpensive architectural tour of the city of Boston given by someone who is doing it for love instead of money, then visit the Boston By Foot website.

She said, happily, i did not have to call her “Doctor Mom”.


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