Persistent Myths

Upstairs Ta Chai living room is one of my favorite chill spaces on the farm.  It is where Bochie and i form the Pizza Club agenda of gossip on the commune.   It is where Scuba Steve (the micro-epic lizard in the picture below) lives.  And it is where many of the cool kids hang out.

Christina and Scuba Steve relax on a Saturday Morning

One of these cool kids is Christina.  In the picture above, besides the lizard, she is holding a bottle of sparkling wine and wearing her killer (tho i am told ugly) warm booties.  Less visible in this picture is the fabric which is in her hand that will be part of the craft work/sewing she will be doing the morning this picture was taken.  The upstairs Ta Chai living room (not to be confused with the more public TCLR – Ta Chai Living Room – off the hammock shop) hosts this event along with scrabble night and the Pizza Club after party.

Christina lived in Turkey for several years before she came to Twin Oaks and was part of a different life style common in the mainstream USA culture and even at Twin Oaks.  While we were talking and she was cradling this large lizard.. She challenged the community orthodoxy that there was some magic to the 42 hours per week we did as quota each week.  Her experience in Turkey was that one could support themselves doing far less work than this.  Christina is certainly not lazy, but like me is suspect that our work focused life style is necessarily serving us well.

The story i tell is that the persistent myth of the need for this amount of work comes from evolutionary origin story.  Back when the community was founded in 1967, there were lots of other communes getting started.  Almost all of them failed.   When folks looked around and saw that we had survived the logical theory was that we had worked hard and thus prospered.    This is one part of the story, but there are others which i think are at least equally important.  One which is have often written about the is the deep sharing we do here, which dramatically reduces our costs.  Another is our highly flexible labor situation, in which members work all in areas they volunteer for.  And another important piece is the hammocks business which is minimally supervised (no annoying bosses), either social or solitary work, and can be done anytime of day and is not physically exhausting.

Could we work less and survive?  Certainly.  We could cut quota (East Wind works 35 hours a week instead of our 42) and likely only minimally effect our economic situation.  We have a very broad definition of work which includes everything from going to the doctor, to voting, to child care, to political work, putting on plays for ourselves.  And while some of these represent “leisure” or under valued life choices in the mainstream, it may not serve us to include all of them them as part of our labor system, thus institutionalizing and time tracking these activities.  We could also do more work that was higher income, both tofu and hammocks are low $/hour and we institutionally dont support our much higher compensated computer work, for example.  And some, like ex-member Foxx, think we should give up wholesale hammocks biz  completely and focus on dramatically expanding the wholesale seed business that we manage jointly with Acorn. [Foxx and i clearly disagree on this strategy in the near term, tho i am involved in Seeds wholesale.]

And what Christina and i agreed in our brief conversation about this is the key to success as a member at Twin Oaks is finding what you love and figuring out how to make it labor creditable.  And for all it’s failings, it is certainly true that this is much easier to do here than it is to figure out how to get paid to do what you love in the mainstream.

About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

12 responses to “Persistent Myths”

  1. paxus says :

    Foxx Tupelo sez [Copied from Facebook]
    If you picked up seed racks and dropped wholesale hammocks thereby making a higher dollar per hour…
    3 hours ago · Like
    Foxx Tupelo What’s wholesale HX net? GPaul said seed racks was $50k net without them investing time in marketing for it and likely with room for expansion. I hear Acorn is making almost as much money as TO these days, except with a third of the population.

    • Foxx says :

      My argument with the hammocks business is essentially that it’s unable to compete long-term and, per hour, is not sufficiently valuing the time of the average oaker. To address the situation in this regard, there are two courses of action. Either raise the dollar per hour or gracefully transition to a business that has a higher dollar per hour.

      One of the things I argued for when I was on RPM was to fairly value people’s time by having wholesale charge more and not compete with Chinese and indian hammock producing companies on price, but on quality–a competition easily won by Twin Oaks. My bet was that if wholesale hammocks raised prices a lot (maybe 30-50% across the board) that sales would decrease roughly in proportion to the increase in revenue per item considering the quality of the items and the fact that it’s the only hammock company that still produces in the US–fewer orders, same amount of money, less work and, thus, higher dollar per hour. If something like that were to occur, my bet is that it would likely double the dollar per hour. That’s essentially what I wanted to make happen for the hammocks business.

      • paxus says :

        There is actually a third option for the hx business with respect to $/hour – increase wholesale sales at nearly current rates and have other communities do the lowerer end portion of the work. This is what happened (slightly accidentally) this year because of new customers from the trade show. We have orders for more hx than we can produce. We are outsourcing harness making, setup making, tying off and inspecting for likely several thousand hx. Turns out fi we do this, we can pay satellites $10 to $12 per hours for piece work keep the rope making and stretcher making work in house (which is higher $/hour) and take out our least efficient work and increase our $/hour on these hx quite a bit, Will this be enuf to drag up the entire w/s hx biz? We dont know yet, but we will in the next few months.

      • Foxx says :

        Wow, that’s an interesting result. How are you able to pay other workers more than yourselves? Are they more efficient? If so, why?

  2. paxus says :

    Look forward to an updated picture of Scuba Steve as soon at the wires cooperate.

    And i am interested in the discussion about ways TO can tweak the labro system and/or make better money

  3. Abbey O says :

    Are visitors allowed to stay connected to the community once their stay is over?

    • paxus says :

      Yes. Visitors who are applying for membership need to leave for a month to allow us to make a decision about them. Then they (at the current time) can not join until there is a space for them. However, right now we have ex member Aubee here, who has been accepted and is guesting here waiting for a slot to open up for her to join as a member. We have recent visitor Anat from Israel here, who simply stayed after her last visitor period, did not apply for membership and is guesting with us thru the winter. And Ex-visitor. Carly is also now a long term guest. This is the most direct way visitors can stay connected (by guesting), former visitors also come to parties and maintain friendships with members without guesting.

  4. artisanhenna says :

    i’m interested to see how much work it takes me as an individual to support myself and a couple of critters on six acres. i got what sounds like a lot done this growing season, with many many days off (like every other day) and ‘work’ days consisting of anywhere from 1-6 hours of work.

    in six months i planted over three hundred trees, established and revamped several gardens, cut and hauled lots of wood, fenced garden, made a floor, a bed platform, wash counter, garden gate, an awning, scythed paths, harvested and tinctured medicinal herbs, did henna on tons of folks, went to lots of parties, hosted full and new moon gatherings, walked at least ten minutes to get Anywhere, researched and bought stuff at auctions and flea markets, washed all my laundry by hand, did everything with hand tools and lived with no electricity or running water. and that’s just off the top of my head in a minute or two.

    my biggest question is – what is the bottom line of comfort for a given individual, and what amount of work is required to maintain that? the idea of a metric to quantify that is terrifying, but i’m excited to experiment with myself and find out for my particular situation.

  5. paxus says :

    Dearest Foxx:

    We are in effect ale to pay satellite workers more than we pay ourselves. Satellites work by piece work rates. Oakers (as you know) work for uncontrolled labor credits. We are slow at making our own hammocks, driving down our $/hr. Classical production work (stretchers and rope) we do fine on and this is the only direct labor in the satellite hx.

    So because they work fast they are able to make quite reasonable $/hour (certainly above minimum wage). Because we take this most labor expensive piece of production out of our shop, we make a much better $/hour the old fashion capitalist way.

  6. Dan Kappus, Huitzilopotchli says :

    Wait, I’ve really wanted to know this since I visited: what is the average $/hr for income labor? I assumed that TO was able to sell its labor at a wage far below a market rate. I was assuming a few bucks an hour or some such. You really do surpass $7.25 an hour on hx, tofu, and seeds? Hot dang.

    (As a side note, I work for the people who enforce the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. It’s not applicable to y’all, but I find this topic interesting.)

  7. paxus says :

    Dearest Dan:

    Our $/hour for hx has been much lower that minimum wage. We pulled about $5.50/hour last year. It is somewhat higher for tofu. Both tofu and hx are increasing in size and improving in $/hour. Tofu thru automation and expansion. Hx by doing larger custom orders and opening satellite shops to make them for us (employing this old capitalist trick of skimming off surplus profits from other peoples labor).

    Paxus at Twin Oaks
    21 Begging 4 Rooms 2KXI

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