MIT Workshop March 15 of Climate and Communes

Feeling helpless and hopeless about climate disruption?  Some of the most powerful solutions are in places most people are not looking.

In 1985, Amory Lovins wrote the ground breaking article, “Saving Gigabucks with Negawatts,” where he argued that utility customers don’t want kilowatt-hours of electricity; they want energy services such as hot showers, cold beer, lit rooms, and spinning shafts, which can come more cheaply if electricity is used more efficiently.  Intentional communities and especially income sharing communes can use a similar approach to reducing their carbon footprint.


Same services, less electricity

You can think of communities and climate in a way similar to negawatts.  People living in community don’t really care if they own a car or bicycle or set of clothing.  What they want are transportation services and clothing services. If these can be provided more efficiently than through personal ownership then their needs are met.  This is where radical sharing comes in and changes the entire climate discussion.

bike fleet

access > ownership (shared bikes at Twin Oaks)

If you are in the Boston/Cambridge area this Thursday, please come to the MIT campus and come to our workshop (Facebook RSVP) on the techniques and philosophies which help these communities reduce their carbon footprint by 80%

MIT Campus 70 Memorial Dr Room E51-145, , Cambridge, MA 02142 – 7 to 9 PM

If you are not on Facebook, but wish to attend please let us know at paxus @

Gossip is the Fabric of Community

I co-moderate a large diverse facebook group on intentional communities.  Recently someone posted:

Gossip gets embellished as it travels. Things heard second hand should be verified with the speaker. Beware words taken out of context, even if the context is the room next door. Good communities practice all that.

While this is true as far as it goes, it misses the tremendous complexity around the issue of gossip and how important it is to both the culture and success of a community venture.

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What is gossip?  It is certainly more than an opinion expressed about someone who is not in the room.  “Trump is a misogynist racist,” isn’t gossip, unless you are close to him.  It is just an opinion.  “Cindy is gifted at fixing cars,” almost certainly does not qualify either, as most people think gossip is a negative opinion.

“Paxus is a poor driver.” What if this is something I have said myself and you are simply repeating it?  Is it gossip if the target is the source?


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They did what?

Let me propose a harsher definition: Gossip is a critical judgment shared about a person or group, often in conspiratorial or secretive tones, while not directly communicating with the subject of the gossip.

Using this definition one might reasonably be concerned that gossip would have an acidic effect on the fabric of the community.  One of the common anti-gossip norms that exist in the communes is if you hear something critical about someone you could ask, “Have you told this to them?”  This is the antidote to gossip; being transparent with the subject of the rumor.


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Back in the 80s, as I was just becoming aware of community living, when I was making a critical comment about gossip, my dear friend and mentor Crystal replied “Gossip is the fabric of the community,” and it took me a couple of decades to understand what he was talking about.

Even when using the negative it turns out gossip is important for a community to be healthy.  Members need to confide in confidants about their frustration with others in the community.  Ideally, this is less about spreading rumors and more about seeking advice.  “How do I deal with this headachy circumstance?”  or “Do you understand their motivations for this strange behavior?” or “I was so upset and they were clueless, what is really happening here?”

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In the best light, gossip is the flow of self-critical and self-correcting messages which members share in the lead up to actually addressing the problems.  [Where the “self” here is the larger collective one, rather than the individual personal one.]  You talk about things which are on your mind with the people who you live with and they help you reflect back on what you should do about it.  Recognizing that if you are being critical of another member of your community, you are obligated to get back to them with your concern.

In this way, gossip within a community is different from what happens in the mainstream.  If I am being critical or concerned about another member, I have a larger obligation to do something about it than I do if it is a co-worker or random stranger.  If you have a substance abuse problem and we live collectively, not only can it blow back on me in a problematic way, but I have made some level of commitment to take care of you.  If we are part of the same intentional community and I am worried about your mental health, I can’t casually gripe about it to another member, we have to be considering what our course of action is regarding this problem.  Even less dramatic problems other members are experiencing like a poor choice of romantic partners or headache with a boss are much more shared in a community setting than when living independently.  Gossip in community has more obligation to it.

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It is worth pointing out that Twin Oaks does not embrace this culture.  In my large commune, if you don’t want to deal with someone you can completely shut down communication with them.  This is terrible for clearing gossip but might make it possible for some people who really do not see eye to eye to be able to live together.  And because the community is so large these estranged members (including me) just try to avoid each other.

It is worth pointing out that when ex-Oakers founded Acorn with financial assistance from Twin Oaks, this was one of the most important things they wanted to do differently.  Acorn (and many other communes) have a communication covenant which makes it the community’s business when members are failing to communicate.  When you are designing communities one of the thorniest issues is when do you give power to the collective over the individual members.  And gossip is one of the few places you should seriously consider it.

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Secret for a Day

The morning after the super bowl more than half of Twin Oaks woke up without knowing who won the big game.  You might correctly assume that since these people live in this egalitarian, rural, income sharing ecovillage commune they might not prioritize this national event.  But this is not the whole story.  Quite a number of these members who don’t know the result are actually very excited about the game and are looking forward to watching it.  Let me explain further.

Twin Oaks has a long-standing “no live television” norm.  There is no place in the community that you can just flick a switch and suddenly view broadcast television (or even live cable television).  There is, however, a whole subculture of television and cable watching members, who draw from our huge archive instead of watching things live.

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Apparently, it was here

But sports are somehow different.  People mostly want to watch sporting events as they are actually happening.  I’ve never completely understood this. I will leave it to some sports enthusiast to enlighten me as to why this is important.  And Oakers want to watch the Super Bowl; they want to watch it in their home, they want to watch it with a bunch of other Oakers.  So to get all of these things a few years back we stumbled onto a solution.  Watch the Super Bowl a day later.


secret - finger over lips

Tell no one


This clever fix has its own problems and at the top of the list is that there are a couple of dozen Oakers who do not want to wait. They visit outside friends or nearby communes which don’t have such restrictive norms around the television.  And basically, the whole rest of the community agrees that they have to keep the game a secret for one day and especially not say who wins.


Is TV a social toxin?


Back in 2004, we were less into sports.  I remember walking into the Morningstar kitchen and asking the dozen assembled people “If I were to say ‘Janet Jackson’s left breast‘ how many of you would know what I was talking about?”  No one did.  Perhaps I got lucky that morning, perhaps the commune has become more accepting of major sports events.



Stepping Stone Commune


Architecture shapes culture, so a guiding principle of Cambia is, if we can make it beautiful, we do.  Architecture is unique as an art form because it integrates function with form. This includes landscaping and outdoor play spaces.

Stepping stones have multiple functions; for example, they can protect clover, especially in the winter. The form also affects our local culture: when you walk on stepping stones, you are called to a child-like stance.


You can walk with your hands hanging down by your sides, and what tends to happen is that your arms raise up to maintain your balance.  The stepping stones can draw you into being playful and childlike.  As your hands go up, you are more likely to skip.  As you start to skip, you are more likely to smile.

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Kelpie, Sappho and some big nose guy on Trampoline with snow

Cambia also boasts a trampoline.  The trampoline draws kids from the surrounding communes.  Cambia recently replaced our broken one, in an assembly effort which was guided by a gaggle of giggly kids.

The German modern architect Mies van der Rohe is famous for two sayings, both of which are applicable.  “Less is more” is the argument for minimalist architecture to achieve simplicity, using white elements, cold lighting, large space with minimum objects and furniture.


One of Mies’s iconic creation.

The second aphorism is “God is in the details“, expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly; i.e. details are important.


Cambia is a handcrafted commune, in sharp contrast to the grandmother commune, Twin Oaks, just down the road.  Twin Oaks is a large place which includes industrial spaces, warehouses, tofu production facilities, rope machines, gang drills, and sawmills.  All the spaces are closer and on a more human scale at Cambia.  Some of the art is tiny and temporary.

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Ella sorts seeds into a mandala

Handcrafted means focusing on details: doorknobs from twisted branches, floors of pebbles and clay, tiny signposts, salvaged redwood around the hot tub and hyacinth pool.  It is these and dozens of other tiny aspects that makes this stepping stone commune so precious.


Other Blog Posts about Cambia:

Every gift is an obligation

I’m lucky. My upbringing was affluent and comfortable and basically trauma free. I come from an advantaged class background. I am white and male in a world which has been designed to privilege these attributes. I have a low maintenance body and fairly good genes. I went to fancy schools and learned how to play some of the games which support the existing power structures and inequitable distribution of wealth.


So if one cares about fairness, how do you justify this unfair advantage? Some of my peers, like Sara, do anti-oppression work. Decoding their class privilege, calling out racism, classism and sexism where they see it. I’ve done a small amount of this work, but it is hardly my focus. And sadly, I am aware because of regular mistakes, I am still not getting this stuff.

Instead what I try to do is to look at this set of gifts as set of obligations. If I have been lucky, much of my work should be focused on giving back to others. Early on this drew me to activism. I selected anti-nuclear activism because it requires a certain unlikely combination of attributes. You need to be able to argue with people who come from these advantaged class backgrounds about technical and financial things. You need to be able to pour energy into long campaigns, which you are almost certain to lose and then you need to not get discouraged and keep on doing it, and even encourage others to join you.

white privilege - we will decide what is racist

One of my gifts is optimism. It is easy to have it, given my background. And the obligation (in my thinking) around this gift is taking on nearly hopeless causes. Not because you want to waste your time, but because there is social and cultural value to fighting the good fight in a world where the bad guys often win.

Some of the Point A folks went to NYC recently. It was quite an educational trip for me. And at first on it I was quite discouraged. If seemed like the idea of starting urban income sharing communities was nearly impossible.


On one hand you had the real estate developers. Especially in New York City, real estate prices are so out of control this often unsavory profession takes on especially monstrous dimensions. They have money to invest, tremendous motivation and their eyes everywhere for a bargain or opportunity.


On the other side you have the ugly force of gentrification. This is where often well meaning folks looking for inexpensive space inside the urban environment set up their artist’s lofts in economically disadvantaged areas, only to make these areas desirable and trendy. This in turn raises property values and ultimately they get themselves and, more importantly, their poor neighbors kicked out by the real estate developers described above.

I did not see a way around these vexing forces when we started talking with folks about the Point A project. And while I am nothing like confident we can figure this out, I am now feeling more optimistic about doing something we can be excited by and proud of.

[This was written over 3 years ago, since then the Point A project has made quite some progress in finding real anti-gentrification allies.  More on this in my next post.]

i make what you make [fiction]

It started as a revolutionary coaching service. The PANYC project was going from Virginia to NYC almost every month and there was a desire to offset the costs of this travel by having regular Virginia based PANYC staff do things in the city which generated income and ideally which were portable. Ogtar had the idea first. He placed an ad on Craigslist which said approximately:

Revolutionary Coaching Advice $100/hour. What is it that you really want to do with your life? How do you move out of your current rut and into a trajectory which gets you where you really want to be going? Fill out this short, simple survey on RevolutionaryCoaching.Com and we will give you one on one, face to face advice on how to get there. First hour is free.


The first hour free part nearly bankrupted him. Applications flooded in. Because Ogtar wanted to do a good job, he had to do a lot of prep work for before the first meeting. This would include, of course, reading the client’s applications, but Ogtar would take it much further. He would research their stated desires, studying their personalities online (facebook stalking and the like), and even develop an understanding of the areas and topics the clients were excited about. All this before meeting them. He was usually several hours in before he gave away the first hour.

Then Max came along. Max was a development banker on Wall St and made obscene money. Max was very bright and very stuck. His relationships did not work, his work felt like a grind, he had manic tendencies which were lurking at the edge of his event horizon, he did not know what to do. A friend of Max had had an amazing session with Ogtar, who was unusually good at giving people advice that seemed both appropriate and daring. Max’s friend recommended Ogtar to Max and they hit it off famously. It might have been the mutual affinity for strange dystopia comic books or perhaps some slightly kinky anime style. Whatever it was, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Ogtar helped Max unravel his troubled romantic life. Ogtar coached Max into ditching his job and getting one with fewer hours, one which was still challenging and did not have the values mismatch of development banking. Most importantly, Max could feel the danger of madness receding the longer he worked with Ogtar. The two of them talked philosophy daily.

One day Max cut an unusually large check to Ogtar. “I did not work this number of hours,” Ogtar protested.

Image result for big check

“I calculated it in a different way,” replied Max. “It is what I would have been paid for that number of hours. I don’t have any good reason to compensate you less than I am paid.” And with this dangerous thinking a bit of a movement was born.

Of course the idea of equal compensation for people based on time is neither novel or new.  But the right combination of social media and interesting initial offerings, combined with existing well developed barter and peer to peer services and was a huge hit.  Some doctors, nurses and nutritionists stepped in and provided health services for a fraction of their total work time to cover especially acute health needs.  Other trained professionals from plumbers to lawyers were quickly followed by a myriad of other workers.

There were offshoots, groups which took the name in a different and literal sense, in which cross training and extensive wiki-knowledge bases permitted people to share skills and physically manifest the same thing that someone else in the network could train them to do.

Designed to make it easy to take care of workers and project cooperators, the software naturally formed union like organizations which were short on rhetoric and long on organizing results. Soon was banging on the doors of organizations which had historically treated their workers ill.

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Rent a room in NYC commune

Cotyledon is the newest income-sharing commune aspiring to be part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC).  Founded in Dec 2017, this Astoria, Queens-based community has a single room to rent, starting quite soon.  If you know someone who wants to be at the center of the income sharing communities movement but is not yet ready to be part of a commune, this might be exactly the right place.  Below is their roomate announcement.
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Cotyledon is the energy packet for the first leaves


Join our cozy communal home! We are looking for a long-term member interested in income sharing but will accept a short-term collective member, for a room available February 1st.  If you are interested, read on about our house and continue to complete the questionnaire below. We receive many applications, and we appreciate you putting thought and care into your answers! We know this isn’t the best way to get to know someone… but we’re working with the tools we have to learn as much as we can and make informed decisions. Please submit your applications ASAP, we will be contacting people as the forms roll in!
Cotyledon is an egalitarian, income-sharing residential community, dedicated to environmental and food justice, radical sharing, personal growth and accountability, clear communication, and simple, cooperative living. We strive to practice equitable physical and emotional labor, and consensus-based decision making. We are currently a small group in a 4 bedroom home based in Astoria, Queens, but we have a mid-term plan to grow and move into a larger home, staying close to Western Queens.
After organizing together since 2015, we recently moved in together. We are queer friendly, age-diverse, and welcome POC and all genders. While we do not bring parties home, we are organizers and frequently host meetings and social gatherings, often around shared meals. We participate in various urban farms and food justice groups in Western Queens. We also enjoy listening to music, playing games and going on outings together.IMG_20180119_111106.jpg

Roommate #1 – A 66-year-old white male bookworm, compost fanatic, systems devotee, and community networker. Technically retired but excited to be involved in many projects. Community is my passion.


Snake is not included

Roommate #2.0 – A funky woman in her mid-forties who loves cooking for folx, dancing, biking, being outdoors and, although I can be quite serious at times, playing the jester. My passions lie in food sovereignty, mushroom growing, gardening and bringing slow-medicine into our everyday lives. I help support our community working odd jobs, giving massages and occasionally teaching workshops on mushroom cultivation.



Turning tracks into gardens since 2010


Roommate #3 – Almost 40 y/o white male. Works various gigs offering environmental education, volunteers as a nonprofit leader and urban farmer. Enjoys bike rides, dancing, dumpster diving and participating with a local artist collective. Down-shifting towards a slower, contemplative life.


Progressive (if not radical) and cooperatively minded. A good communicator and listener. You are interested (if not experienced) in living communally. This doesn’t mean you have to be the most social person out there! but you’re responsible, respectful, interested in participating in the community in some way (i.e. not simply looking for a room). You’re also financially stable, however, you make that happen. You’re compassionate and non-judgmental. You may be of any gender/sex/sexuality/race/ ethnicity/religion, and you respect those who align differently along those (and all) categories.

We are an income-sharing, egalitarian residence, and this differs from other collective houses (which can sometimes mean nothing more than sharing a big space).… But what does it mean? Basically, we pool the products of our labor, including monetary income, salvaged food, clothes, etc. helping insulate us from the corrosive and isolating effects of capitalism. Although scary to get into, once established, income sharing makes everything else we are trying to do easier. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.



Cotyledons just finding out that they got their place in Astoria


As for the term egalitarian: Let go of the idea of justice and deserving. We’re making it all up anyway. What matters is that we’re being taken care of and that so is everyone else. Liberty, equality, community. By basing our economy on equal access to resources rather than an equal distribution of resources we celebrate and support differences and eliminate a lot of paperwork on our way to our post-scarcity utopia.

The three of us who are already income-resource-sharing meet every week, usually over dinner (or weekend brunch), to discuss and organize that aspect of our living agreements and general household concerns, norms, and ideas. Moving in as a non-income sharing participant, we ask that you commit to attending a house meeting every other week as a participant, while the alternate week you are welcome to observe, especially if radical sharing is of interest to you. We also want to be transparent so you understand that, although we are consensus-based, the income-sharing group may need to make some decisions that could impact you.
While we have yet to establish a schedule of household chores and responsibilities, it will be expected that you participate in the work of the house which could also include assisting us in developing communal norms and standards.

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Located at 21st Street and 30th AVENUE on the Astoria/LIC border, a short walk to grocery stores, post office, laundry, restaurants, banks, healthcare and cultural amenities including libraries, the waterfront, Socrates Sculpture Park, Rainey Park, Hallet’s Cove, Two Coves Community Garden, Noguchi Museum, Welling Court Mural Project, Boys and Girls Club, Astoria Park (& pool) and Hellgate Farm (where we bring our compost).
Transportation: Express bus at the doorsteps two stops to the F train and easy access to the W & N trains. Approximately 25 minutes to midtown transfers. Plus the NYC Ferry, Astoria route is 4 blocks away.
We share the basement and ground floor of a row-house (not a large apartment building) with 4 bedrooms and 1-½ bathrooms. A full, eat-in kitchen, separate and roomy living room, plus a bonus room downstairs that we are currently utilizing as a craft room and for visitor accommodations.

Unfurnished (but we could provide shelving and/or a bed upon request) 14’x8-½’ and a closet with a south facing window. A wonderful blank slate!
Monthly cost: $950 (includes utilities!)
Move in cost (1st and last month’s rent): $1900
Couples are welcome, see question below.
RESTRICTIONS: Pets are negotiable, no smoking indoors.

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