Better than average questions

I often start tours of the community with the following rant:

You have two options today.  The first is that you can get a good tour.  In this, we wander around campus for 3 hours, and i tell you entertaining and informative stories, and you walk away thinking it was probably better than a movie.  The other option is you can have a great tour.  This however takes work on your side.  You need to listen to me for a bit and then start asking yourself “Why couldn’t i live here?”  This will result in you having a bunch of questions which are not part of my standard script.  When you start interrupting my endless rambling and start asking these questions, you will get a great tour.

We get thousands of questions in the communities movement, many of them simple and demographic (how many people, average age, average stay, number of years since founding, how many kids, cows, cats, etc).  Many of these are boring, at least to us who answer them all the time.  And answers to many of these can be found on the communes FAQ page.

And every so often we get some get someone really clever who is thinking about good questions and the stock answers just don’t have it covered and so it is with a recent student inquiry from Appalachian State University who sent the following set.

1. How has living at Twin Oaks changed your life?
2. What are the benefits and/or challenges of income sharing?
3. What does egalitarianism mean to you, and do you think Twin Oaks is a role model for this?
4. What kind of sustainability practices does Twin Oaks implement/practice?
5. Why do you think Twin Oaks is one of the longest-enduring communities in the US?
6. Are the decision making processes at Twin Oaks effective and equitable?
7. Does Twin Oaks represent equal opportunity for all members?
8. How is the quality of life different at Twin Oaks (In comparison to living outside community)?
9. What are the most beneficial/negative factors of community living?
10. Feel free to comment on anything that you find note-worthy about Twin Oaks community.

I thought at first i could answer them with links back to my blog posts, but a significant number can’t be answered that way.  So here goes.

How has living at Twin Oaks changed your life?

i worry about money much less.  i hardly worry about crime at all.  i spend less time doing political organizing work.  i spend more time outdoors.  i spend less time commuting.  i spend more time lobbying or trying to influence people who i know and less time trying to influence people who i don’t know (at least face-to-face).  In terms of polyamory, i have become much more part of the Old Guard.  I am more focused on propositional politics than opposition ones.  It is much easier to deal with my choice to get arrested for political protest than when i had a straight job, and thus i do it a bit more often.

life changing event

What are the benefits and/or challenges of income sharing?

There are a bunch of benefit.  You can work less and have more.  You need not worry about being fired, or about not having your basic needs met.  And you are also modeling an ecologically friendly way to live, which if applied widely, would actually save the world.  The challenge is that it is off-the-chart-difficult for people to trust each other.  Even when it is clearly to everyone involved that they will be better off by pooling resources, people don’t want to do it and would rather work much harder so that their stuff can sit at home idle all day while they are working to pay for it.

What does egalitarianism mean to you, and do you think Twin Oaks is a role model for this?

There is quite some disagreement as to what is meant by egalitarianism.  Some people think it simply means “equal access to all collective assets (potentially modified by extraordinary need).”  Others think it means “every hour of work is equal to every other hour of work and that there is no such thing as “women’s work” or “men’s work”.  Still others think it means we are trying to create a society in which everyone is equal in as many aspects as possible, especially economically.  Regardless of which definition you use, Twin Oaks is absolutely a role model.

egalitarianism_symbol_by_black_cat_rebel-d592w6z

What kind of sustainability practices does Twin Oaks implement/practice?

So i think the two main sustainability models for Ecovillages are Dark Green or Net Zero.  Twin Oaks follows neither of these, and actually energy self-sufficiency is no where near the top of our agenda.  Despite this we have super impressive numbers for our climate damaging gases being mitigated by this high sharing lifestyle.  Central to all this progress is radical sharing.  If there is a single thing we need to export to the mainstream, it is how to avoid brittle agreements and share better.

Why do you think Twin Oaks is one of the longest-enduring communities in the US?

So, Twin Oaks is only one of the longest-enduring intentional communities if you leave out the tremendous number of Christian communities, many of which are much larger and older than we are.  There are lots of differences between us and these places, most profoundly that we have no charismatic leader.  And 47 years is nothing to sneeze at.  Part of our success was we chose a good industry to be in early on (hammocks) and reliable cooperative business partner (in our case Pier 1).  Twin Oaks has fear of change, so we are quite hesitant to change our practices, even if there are models of better ways to do things.

Timeless

Timeless

Are the decision making processes at Twin Oaks effective and equitable?

Twin Oaks uses a planner/manager system, which is a self selecting autocracy with a democratic cap.  I actually think the Twin Oaks method is a terrible decision making system (Acorn, which uses consensus, is much better of to their meetings).  This is especially problematic when we have internal overrides.

There are many directions

There are many directions

Does Twin Oaks represent equal opportunity for all members?

Not perfectly, but better than any place i have ever been or heard about.

How is the quality of life different at Twin Oaks (In comparison to living outside community)?

More security, leff privacy.  More community, less personal access to money.  More flexibility, less resume building opportunities.  More trust in your own determination of what is good for you (how often you take sick time, what time of day you should get up, do you want to be scheduled or figure it out yourself).  More values-driven people than money-driven ones.

What are the most beneficial/negative factors of community living?

For some people, the restrictions that the community places on members are quite problematic.  This blog post lists many of them. And the community is a model of how to cut your carbon footprint.  But again, this only happens  if people feel proactive about this.

Feel free to comment on anything that you find note-worthy about Twin Oaks community.

You might find this useful.  It is the re-post of an article written in for an academic press.  The article is called Island.

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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.

3 responses to “Better than average questions”

  1. moonraven222 says :

    I think having the hammock business and the Pier 1 partnership is only part of the reason that TO has endured.

    Some of it, I suspect, was just good luck, but I think a lot of it was having some clear vision, good structures, and a willingness to work hard. (Traits also shared with The Farm, ( http://www.thefarm.org/ ) one of the other enduring communities.) When you contrast that with the ‘do your own thing’ mentality of a lot of the communes from the sixties, or the incredible looseness of Fruitlands ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruitlands_(transcendental_center) ) a ‘transcendentalist’ community from the 1840s, run by a group of philosophers that lasted seven months, it becomes clearer what a community needs to be able to endure.

  2. Tree Bressen says :

    A few comments provoked in response . . .

    Q: “What are the benefits and/or challenges of income sharing?”

    I think you wrote why people don’t income-share, rather than addressing the challenges of doing so. I suppose the challenge is inevitable squabbles over egalitarianism and so on.

    Q: “Why do you think Twin Oaks is one of the longest-enduring communities in the US?”

    Compared to most other communities, TO has way more bureaucracy. While it’s something a member can easily chafe at, it seems to me unignorable as a longevity factor in TO’s case. Let’s call this: “Clear systems and agreements. And a way to change them.”

    Q. “How is the quality of life different at Twin Oaks (In comparison to living outside community)?”

    You wrote, “less resume building opportunities.” I disagree. For all but the few members who are abandoning some high-profile career path to be there, TO has way *more* resume-building opportunities than outside. Arrive knowing nothing, manage a major program within a year. Many members use that knowledge to get or create great jobs when they leave.

    • paxus says :

      Thanks for your comments. I need to check my answers actually, since i wrote this piece when i was unusually tired.

      As for Resume building it is true that there are significant responsible positions one can take at TO, with very limited experience. And this works well for entry level jobs after Twin Oaks. The problem is if you stay in the community for any period and you want something other than an entry level job there is often more competition and previous salary factors significantly into these decisions from the employ side. Even claiming that TO provides an in kind salary of $35K or $40K generally does not convince mid level employers that communards are employable. The relevant metrics like “increased sales by x% in y years” and many of the similar measurements generally dont apply at the commune.

      I do lots of references, we land entry jobs for ex-communards regularly, we land mid-level jobs for ex-members fairly rarely.

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