Crow screwed up. They recently acted out in a way that had made people feel uncomfortable and some even unsafe. It could have been any of a number of kinds of things: An intoxicated incident, a minor consent violation, a petty crime, even an especially poor choice of guest. The specifics don’t matter. Crow knew that they had created a problem for themselves with Acorn and they were coming to me for advice. What could they do to make things better? How could they mend their frayed relationships with other members? At Acorn this answer is easy, you do what we regularly do, you have a clearness.
And it turns out that this is a very good thing. Many communities have self care mechanisms that feel punitive. As i have written, the Feedback system at Twin Oaks very often feels punishing, even though it often need not.
But because Acorn does regular individual clearnesses, adding another one to normal rotation almost always feels accessible. The clearness format is the same as a routine clearness (meetings with each individual member, checking in about their experiences of each other, and then a group clearness which summarizes all the individual clearnesses).
The lesson is clear here. When you are designing self corrective systems within a community, you need to consider how they feel to the users. It is not enough to insure the community is taken care of, these systems need to feel non coercive to the members who are going through them. The best way to have that effect is to have a familiar and non-threatening group communication facilitating tool. I think the clearness process is one of the better ones.
A week later i talked with Crow. They had done a bunch of clearnesses and felt much better about their connection to the community. They felt better understood.
The most common complaint about community clearnesses is that they take a lot of time. “Do i really have to talk to everyone else in the community one-on-one?” Only if you want there to be cohesion in your community. Only if you want to be able to fix significant mistakes people make and successfully rebound from it. You only need to do this if you want a healthy community.
For many people this is too much work and i think this is central to why so many communities fail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While on the recent Point A trip, a hybrid group of Catalonyians and Acorn-affiliates met in the cozy basement room of a bodywork studio in Brooklyn. Paxus introduced this group of charismatic New Yorkers and communards to the transparency tools.
The Catalysts are an incredibly clever bunch. These folks know that if they do a good job crafting their agreements and cultural fabric, they can create an amazing eco-village. And while they are a fundamentally fun loving and playful crowd, community building is difficult work and they have been hard at it. Especially drafting written agreements- for everything. For land ownership, for the membership process, for the types of cottage industries that might happen, the mission statement- the tasks go on and on. Important, complex and often slogging work.
This is not actually what this group of people wants to be doing. What they want to be doing is falling in love. This is where the transparency tools come in.
I have experience with some of the transparency tools used, as I used to be part of a meditation community in DC in which we met 2x a month to have a sit followed by a discussion.
Often in this format and during retreats (which happen twice a year) we used the “If you really knew me…” and Hot Seat tools. I’ve already witnessed how effective they can be in bringing a group together, and it was no different with the Catalysts.
Frequently when starting, it takes a round or two of “If you really knew me” statements for everyone to start to open up. What was so beautiful about this night in particular was each person became transparent almost immediately. People were sharing their stories with each other so willingly and with so much faith that the group wanted to hear them.
We transitioned from “If you really knew me” statements to Hot Seats, the Catalysts asking questions and Paxus explaining the benefits of the many tools.
Due to the wacky Point A trip agenda and time constraints, we were only able to fit in three 5-minute Hot Seats. The group did an excellent job being clear with their questions and answers, and everyone involved continued to be engaged.
To wrap up the evening, Paxus began to explain the tools that go beyond being personally transparent and begin to create transparency in relationships. Specifically, these tools are Unsaids and Withholds. These tools can create space for resolution of conflict as well as giving members an opportunity to appreciate one another. They are also notoriously tricky.
This point in the evening is when things really got interesting. Despite Pax expecting to solely explain Unsaids/Withholds and not try to do any that evening, members of the group began to use the tools without any hesitation. Several conflicts were put on the path to resolution within ten minutes, with the tools used practically flawlessly.
What then evolved seemingly naturally- after what could be seen as complaining or criticism of the Withholds- was the graceful move into appreciations, which were equally rich and revealing. As we left it was clear the group wanted more. The Point A crowd- which are in some sense carpetbaggers from Virginia trying to build community in NYC- felt like we had really done our job.
Triple Threat Tony is a small giant and regular editor of Your Passport To Complaining. She’s involved with the Point A project as an organizer/secretarial wench and hates celery almost as much as comma misuse. Trip, as she is known to her close circle of small giant friends, smells faintly of chocolate chip cookies and rocket fuel. When she isn’t dismantling the patriarchy or destroying capitalism, she pretends to be an Acorn intern.
It was about midnight at the fabulous Validation Day party. Willow and the gaggle of friends who had come up for his 13th birthday were no doubt safe killing zombies or the digital equilvalent somewhere on our 450 acre campus. Sky and i caught each other between songs on the dance floor.
“Do you have Willow tonight?” i asked
“He does not need us, he is a teenager now.” Sky quipped
And while it was mostly a joke, there was some recgnition that even in the insular world of the income sharing intentional community, our son was becoming more independent, more self reliant and less in need of direct supervision or support from his flock of parents.
Sadly, we retreated from the lovely complex rules of Capture the Flag 2.0. It was deemed too hard to teach and we were in a hurry to get out into the cold and get playing.
Willow’s team won twice before the cold overwhelmed the group. [Pro tip – attrition. Wait for the other team to have too many members in jail and then overwhelm their strained defenses.] This game had lots of running through the woods which makes it easy to wipe out and out maneuver your pursuer. The kids seemless intergrated in the small handful of Acorners i brought over for the fun.
Willows friends almost all either live in the commune now or did at one point. One of his best friends is Adrian, who left the commune when Willow was 2. Adrian is now 17 (Willow is 13 if that was not clear). But like many kids who grow up at the commune, there is some special home like aspect that brings them back to visit and maintain friendships. A dozen years ago Adrian did child care for Willow. Now they team up to take on zombies or their digital equivalents via online chat.
The parents will stick around for a bit longer, in case he needs us for something.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.