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Commune Exports – Fatherhood

In the time of Trump, it is critical to seek high functioning alternatives to the mainstream culture.  Twin Oaks and the surrounding cluster of egalitarian communities could be a model for new behaviors of sharing technologies and cooperative culture.  But perhaps our most daring export, because many default culture citizens think they are expert in this, is how to be a father.

commune-dads

Keegan and adder (sic) are two young fathers living in a rural income sharing egalitarian commune.  But if you are willing to listen, i think their advice might be applicable for your world as well.

Other articles about communes and families:

This is a rich topic.  Your comments are welcome.

willow-star-and-paxus-in-pussy-hat

Willow behind me, before Women’s March (Pussy hat by Hawina)

Trust Fall

By Gil Cambia

Ask anyone what is the first association they have with the term “hippie commune” and you’ll get “free love.”  This term technically makes no sense, unless you assume that all love in Babylon is expensive and that Milton Friedman, bless his heart (or lack thereof), didn’t mean to say “no free lunch” but “no free love”. Either way, it begs the question of what is meant by that term and whether there is any truth in it. This article is somewhat of a personal account through the thorny rose garden of compersion.  [Compersion is the feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy.]

tf11

 

Ever done a trust fall? You know–when you step up on a platform and fall back, against every bit of intuition which yells at you “We’re gonna die!” and “Don’t do it,” only to be caught by all of your friends. I’ve done it many times and guided many people through the process, as I’ve worked in the ropes course industry for many years. I still remember the look on this 11-year-old boy’s face after getting caught. His eyes sparkled with a combination of elation, disbelief, sheer love, and a little bit of residual tears of fear from the 5 minutes it took him to finally drop. What I saw in him was actually a new emotion, one that he didn’t expect to experience. It was more powerful than he had words for.

This is all nice and good, but there is something different that happens to parents when they watch their children try the trust fall. They don’t get to have the endorphins, adrenaline, and peer pressure. It just feels so scary to watch a loved one go through it, especially if you don’t get to be a catcher. I’ve had some parents tell me that they went through a more challenging ropes-course experience in watching their children participate than in participating themselves. Nonetheless, it can be a powerful growing experience even when it isn’t very enjoyable.

So my little family and I moved here to the Louisa communes and started a new one called Cambia, and we’re doing quite well, all things considered. Something you need to know about the Louisa communes, however, is that people are very polite. They don’t just assume that because you are a family you must be monogamous. In fact it might be rude to utter such Babylonian terms, so they ask you right away if you are polyamorous. And asking one spouse is also too presumptive, and one should really ask both in case one of them is poly and the other is still stuck in their ways.

This is all well and good. We, of course, do not believe in sexual possessiveness and felt mildly appreciated for that. So no, we didn’t get subsumed into orgies right away. People just wanted to know in the same way that they want to know one’s preferred pronoun. But the compersious challenge came right away when my son said he didn’t want me to be his primary and that other people are more fun to play with.

Hmm… he’s right. I’m often preoccupied and am trying to do multiple things while watching him. What do I do? I try to be better and more fun but a part of me wants to tell other people in my community to not be so much fun. I don’t want him to start crying every time I tell him it’s my turn to watch him. It is so insulting. Does he not remember all of the reusable diapers I washed by hand with hand-pumped ice cold water in the rain? The answer is no, he doesn’t and he doesn’t need to remember. I wouldn’t want him to be polite and suffer through his time with me, pretending it’s the best thing since homemade flatbread. And just to add insult to injury, he sometimes calls other people “Daddy” and seems to not bother changing that mistake. Sometimes calls me by other people’s names too, but he never confuses me with the really fun people in his life.

Good Gaia, he’s only 4, not 14. I’m not ready to be snubbed. Why is this happening??? I know why, and I know that it’s good. He is growing up with endless adult attention, people to play with and teach him things. On my end, however, not only do I feel inadequate as a parent, but I also feel like I must not want what’s best for my child but what’s best for my ego.

tf2

 

So guess what, I realize that there is no way to win his heart without offering mine completely. I try my best to play with him with full attention, with creativity, but without being contrived or fake. I just started taking more interest in him and in wanting him to enjoy the game I create for him. This effort turned out better for everyone involved. And if Milton Friedman was reading this paper he would attribute it to the breaking of monopoly that I had over him, and that the competition sparked improvement in quality. Ugh, maybe you’re right just this one time. In the big picture, though, Milton, you’re wrong. Competition also leads to reduction in quality and increase in the Kitsch factor. The pressure on me was to be a better dad and not a more attractive dad, because my motivation was not sales but connection.

Sorry about this economic digression. Let’s digress into anthropology instead:

It takes a village, right? There is one culture remaining that does not have a word for “father” and does not have a word to distinguish “mother” from “aunt”. This is one of the last matriarchal societies on this planet.

tf3

 

The Mosuo people of the southern Yunan province of China have been living in a matriarchal and matrilineal way for longer than recorded history (not fair; they had no written language so most of their existence is before recorded history). Every household has a matriarch whose mother, sisters, and brothers help with raising all of their children regardless of who birthed whom.

The Mosuo traditionally have no marriage. They practice something they call “walking marriage,” which is a secret connection between a man and a woman as the man is invited by the woman to her private room, which she gets when she turns 13 after her “flower ceremony,” where she has the liberty of inviting whomever she wishes to her space and they must leave by dawn.

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This ritual functions to create a complete uncertainty of paternity. Every man knows who his nieces and nephews are, but not his children. This is far from perfect now. There are many Han (dominant culture) influences and their traditional ways of life are disappearing.

The important thing to realize about the Mosuo is that they have very low rates of violence, rape, murder, warfare, child abuse or abandonment in comparison to patriarchal tribal societies. Though difficult to document or verify, it appears that more sex and more sexual diversity is experienced by both genders. This last point should surprise us, shouldn’t it? When women are in charge, there is more sex and more diversity than when men are in charge?

tf5

 

As one anthropologist describes it: “In matriarchies, mothers are at the center of culture without ruling over other members of society,”  “The aim is not to have power over others and over nature, but to follow maternal values, ie. to nurture the natural, social and cultural life based on mutual respect.” From a reproductive perspective, it makes perfect sense. For the reproductive fitness of the female, it makes sense to have support in raising children. Unlike men, she cannot have hundreds of children through raping and pillaging, and restricting the reproduction of other men will not help her children in any way.

This is the reality of the bonobo and the naked mole-rat. They also have structurally determined paternity diffusion, and what’s the result?

tf6

 

Cuddle puddles! Unlike gorillas and chimps, bonobos do not fight invaders, steal their females, kill their young, play political games, or abandon their orphans. And yes, they have more sex than any other primate, and they are pretty undiscriminating about their sexual partners.

When a male does not know who is his child, and he figures that at least a few in the group are, he has an evolutionary pressure to care about the entire group, not just his own. Also, if he can’t stop a female from mating with others multiple times a day, it’s better for him just to join the fun than to try to control it.

So how did it go for me? How am I handling being in an open relationship? It wouldn’t be very interesting if I said that it was great, would it? It really wasn’t easy, though. Of course I love those who love my spouse, but it’s hard not to feel insecure. I’ll spare you the details that you may have read this far just to get to some juicy stuff.

Let me just say the following: it’s the greatest trust fall of all. Just when you think you are falling to your death, when it’s someone else’s time to spend the night with your partner, you get caught by both your partner, their new partner, and the entire support network of poly love warriors.  It’s an incredible feeling. Your intuition yells to you, “She doesn’t want you anymore!” and your partner smiles and reaffirms that she will always love you. You lay there in the hands of those who caught you and you think you must have fallen to your death and woken up in heaven, and the truth is you did.

When love loses restrictions, suddenly the love with a partner becomes a true rather than an obligatory expression. Suddenly your partner not only feels owned by you but actually appreciative for the effort and struggles you are willing to go through for his or her well being. What better way is there to show love?

To be honest, it isn’t instant nirvana. It takes a long time to overcome the internalized patriarchy completely. But luckily, the path is not pure suffering. There is a distinct experience of greater love and greater security.

The cultivation of compersion is that of true love. It’s about vulnerability, it’s about trust without control, it’s both letting yourself fall and getting caught by the soft loving hands of your friends, and about watching those you love get caught by others and not by you. Through this process you get nudged to become a better, more loving, and more lovable person (or so I hope).

tf7

 

In a broader perspective of communal living, our movement is focused on creating wealth out of sharing, not out of possessing or overproducing. We have mastered it in shared land, housing, work, risk, costs, childcare, and many resources, but the most important aspect, the one that is also the least depleted by sharing with others, is love.

Compersia lands on the Atlantic

A collection of intrepid adventurers have launched the newest income sharing commune in Washington DC and it is called Compersia. After failing twice to name this new community using naming parties, they discovered that one of the limitations of naming parties is that they are good at coming up with funny or lighthearted names. But when you are naming your home you might want something a bit more serious.

compersia-dinner-scene

Compersia retreat January 2016

Compersia is derived from Compersion, which is roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy.  More precisely compersion is when you feel good about your intimate experiencing intimacy with another person.    Part of the reason why compersion is only roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy is that you can feel both compersion and jealousy at the same time.

The name is barely a month old and the major liberal magazine, the Atlantic, has completed a 6 minute video on them.  Here is the link to the Compersians discussing their community.  The reportage is all in the words of the members and thus it is a pretty upbeat piece of coverage.  Compersia is looking for new members and this might well help.

Curiously, just the day before the Atlantic posting, Realtor.com ran an article called “With Housing Costs Sky-High, the Commune Makes a Comeback” Which quotes a number of our friends at Ganas and Twin Oaks.

commune-scenes4

A collection of Old Twin Oaks photos use by Realtor.com

Nice to be seen a bit by the more mainstream press.

 

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 95,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Acorn Kids Double in One Day

On Wednesday of this week the number of kid members at Acorn doubled from two to four.  Stephanie and Sean’s two kids, Elan and Adira, were joined by newborn, Tullulah, and Sappho.

Fox, Talula and Oden on the floor.

Fox, Tullulah and Odin on the floor.

Sappho in a dress she sewed for herself just before arriving

Sappho in a dress she sewed for herself just before arriving

It is a big deal to go from one family with two kids a couple years apart to three families with kids ranging from newborn to eight years old.  It shows an interesting stability in Acorn, which has long been a culture dominated by more transient young people.

To my optimistic eye it harks the beginning of a golden age, in which Acorn uses its considerable resources to make all manner of enviable things happen here.  I’m game.

The First Policy – Expulsion

One of the most exciting about working on the Point A project is that we get to work with lots of different communities.  Several of these communities are young, so unlike the places i live (Twin Oaks and Acorn), they don’t have a long history and well established culture of how to handle tricky situations.  Also, a number of these places are anarchist identified, so they often think that they don’t need policies or pre-existing agreements.  They think they will just figure out what they need to do when it comes up. This is naive. Trick_or_Treaty There are a handful of completely predictable community crises in which a relatively small amount of work in advance can save you tremendous heartache and damage.  And, in the case of how to manage the expulsion of a member, if you don’t design the policy/agreements before you need it, your entire community can fail the first time you have to decide if you are going to throw someone out.

Why?  Communities are not like jobs where you can relatively easily fire someone or lay them off (and even this is often not easy). Communities generally start with friends who have come together because they want to live together.  It is hard enough to create community so that these friends have to be fairly heavily invested in each other to be able to get the community off the ground in the first place.  Strong friendships and trust are the thing good communities are made of.  And when these break they don’t break evenly.

It never said

It never said, “Don’t eat the apples.”

Almost always, if something goes terribly wrong in a community and there is a need for some type of expulsion process, there are some people in the community who don’t want to lose their friend by throwing them out.  If the person that could be expelled has no friends or has done something so bad that no one wants them to stay, then that person generally recognizes that they have poisoned their relationship with the collective and no process is needed because often they just up and leave, before a process could start.

Even Acorn, which tries to avoid fixed policies as much as possible, takes on this problem with the ironically named “Peace and Love Accords“.  If you look at this anarchist policy (yes, this is not an oxymoron), you will find a lot of it has to do with protecting the rights of the focus person and making transitions smooth, even if there have been serious problems.  And as with all good anarchist policy, it gives the group the right to bail on the policy and do something different, if everyone agrees. The advantage of having this type of policy is that in the trickiest expulsion cases often not everyone agrees and then, rather than fight about what you should do, the policy creates an agreed upon fall back position which can keep the group from descending into chaos. When you are designing an expulsion process often you will want to figure out what appropriate grounds are for expulsion.

Can't we all just get along? Sometimes no.

Can’t we all just get along? Sometimes no.

Here is what Twin Oaks has decided are valid ground to consider expulsion: [Twin Oaks uses “co” as a gender neutral pronoun to replace “she or he”.]

Expulsion of a full member may, but need not, take place for any of the following reasons:

1. Co openly repudiates the principles of the Community and works against their implementation.

2. Co is found guilty by local, state, or federal authorities of some crime or misdemeanor and the Community therefore feels it is no longer appropriate for co to remain a member.

3. Co consistently does less than cos share of the Community work.

4. Co absents coself from the Community for more than three weeks beyond the point of legitimate vacation according to current Community policy or without having made satisfactory arrangements with the Community with regard to cos absence.

5. Co physically, sexually and/or mentally abuses another member or guest of the Community, or any child, by any aggressive action and/or words which the Community interprets as sufficiently serious and/or likely to be repeated to warrant expulsion. The application of the foregoing provision to abusive words is not intended to inhibit the free expression of information, opinion, belief or emotion. It is intended to apply when oral or written language is presented in a threatening, harassing, or violent manner such that it would be reasonably expected to cause physical, sexual or mental harm. Guidelines for Applying the Mental Abuse Provision of the Bylaws

6. Co repeatedly and/or flagrantly violates the equality principle by appropriating to cos use items (including but not limited to cash) intended for the use of the Community as a whole or property designated for other use; or co repeatedly or flagrantly steals property belonging to someone else;

7. Co is discovered to have made bad faith declarations of the extent or disposition of cos property when entering the Community or subsequently, or co grossly violates the Community Property Code (Article IV below) with regard to the disposition of said property or the disposition of any income co received while a member.

8. Co deliberately and overtly attempts to destroy or disband the Community by any legal, extralegal, or financial means or in any other manner, provided that this shall not be broadly interpreted to refer to the holding of disapproved opinions or to behavior which from time to time might be considered dangerous. It is intended to refer specifically to deliberately making trouble between the Community and civil authorities, involving the Community in a lawsuit, involving the Community in unauthorized financial obligations, and such similar hostile acts or attempted hostile acts. The above provisions shall not be taken as requiring the Community to expel a member, even for these reasons. The Community may, but need not, expel a member for any of the above reasons. The Community also has the option of substituting other remedies or sanctions.

Expulsion Mechanism. The procedure for expulsion shall be as follows: Expulsion may be proposed by any voting member. The Planners and/or such other body of members as the Planner may authorize either ad hoc or as a matter of policy, shall hold a public meeting or meetings on the proposed expulsion — provided, however, that at one meeting or another the member in question shall be given full opportunity to answer any accusations or to explain cos conduct or view and express cos desires concerning cos membership, if possible. If, after the member in question has been heard, the Community desires cos expulsion, if possible co shall be so informed, at which time co will normally be allowed at least three days before co is required to leave the Community premises. Extensions of this period may be made at the discretion of the Community.

So, if you have a new community, and you don’t have time to design your own expulsion policy, you could look at these, hack them up to make them fit your circumstances, and then make them yours until you have time to do it right.

The ass you save may be your own.

Parenting in Community – It takes a Village

Presidential candidate and corporate crony Hillary Clinton wrote a book some years ago called “It Takes A Village“.  The central thesis of the book is that the lives of individuals outside the immediate family are tremendously influential on kids.  And while i disagree with Hillary on everything from drones to the Iraq war, this is one place we agree.  [Though i would point out Chelsea does not have a village, she has a security detail.  My son Willow has a village.]

Anya and Summer - photo credit Yahoo News

Anya and Summer – photo credit Yahoo News

willow-on-head-w-phone

Willow at Climate Change Action – Photo Credit Caroline Morningstar

Yahoo News came through here and wrote a fine piece about parenting in the community which has just been published.  The community has a quite mixed relationship with the press, and this mostly positive article strikes a good balance of the problems with the parenting program and the advantages.  The article outed the community as being mostly polyamorous and the liberal author apparently got that this is not a detriment to the kids.  In fact, it is a boon.  What is really true is that Twin Oaks is an “embrace diversity” community, which means we don’t tell our members what to do in terms of diet, spirituality, relationship models, smoking, really anything. The article also inspired a number of inquiries to the community through our Facebook page, which of course is the wrong way to get in touch with us (write twinoaks@ic.org or better yet, read the webpage about the community before you ask any questions). We don’t have all the answers about parenting at the communes.  But what is clear to me is our kids are happier, better adjusted, more curious and more self aware than the kids i bump into in the mainstream, on average.  Turns out villages are important.