[Update: Please read the comments at the end of this post for the proper history of what has happened at East Wind Community in Missouri regarding Personal Shelters. They are the ones who have pioneered it, and the story i have in this post is slightly wrong. I will fix it in the coming days. Paxus]
Egalitarianism is tricky. It starts out tricky because we don’t even have a common definition of it in the income sharing communities where I spend most of my time. The relevant parts of the principals from the Federation of Egalitarian Communities which describe it are:
- Hold land, labor, income and other resources in common.
- Assumes responsibility for the needs of its members, receiving the products of their labor and distributing these and all other goods equally, or according to need.
- Uses decision making which gives members an equal opportunity to participate, either through consensus, direct vote, or right of appeal or overrule.
- Works to establish the equality of all people and does not permit discrimination on the basis of race, class, creed, ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
[There are other FEC principals, like non-violence and sustainability, but these are not the core of egalitarianism.]
So what is missing from this important list? For starters the idea that all work is evaluated as equally worthy. An hour of my time spent writing a blog about communities is worth the same as an hour spent making a hammock or cooking a meal for many members.
One aspect of egalitarianism (that is touched upon in the second point above, but some FEC communities take much further than others) is that we are trying to avoid envy. We do this in part by avoiding the uneven distribution of our collective resources, except in agreed cases of need (for example golf carts for people with mobility problems at Twin Oaks is a needs based intentional unequal distribution).
Which brings me to the controversial idea of personal shelters. The FEC communities provide housing for our members. In several cases these communities are located on pieces of land large enough for members to build their own housing separate from typical dorm-based housing. We call these usually small buildings “personal shelters”.
Quite some years ago East Wind community (on over 1,000 acres in the Ozarks) decided to permit their members to build personal shelters. This resulted in some handy/artistic folks building some really beautiful places. The problem is that these structures created envy. The bigger problem was when the original builder/owners left, they created a fairness problem. Members who had not been involved in the work of creating these shelters could potentially end up in housing that felt much nicer than what most people living in the community had access to.
The problem this created ultimately lead to East Wind banning the creation of more new personal shelters. Twin Oaks has never permitted them, largely because of East Winds’ experience. Acorn wrestles with permitting them and so far has not allowed them. Some Acorners who were really excited about the idea left to form new communities where such things are possible.
The arguments against personal shelters which GPaul outlined to me, late one night while we were driving back from a Point A gathering in NYC are:
- Energy Use/Carbon Footprint
- Psychic Space
One of the things income sharing communities do especially well is minimize their ecological impact. The dormitory style buildings we have share kitchens, bathrooms, living space and meals. This low impact living is very hard to achieve without a lot of people under the same roof. Personal shelters are usually just one or two persons under a roof.
The fairness issue is covered.
The issue I had never heard before was one of psychic space. In a regular community residence dorm, you know you can stand in the hall in front of someone’s room and not worry that you are infringing on their space. The same is not true of personal shelters. The space they take up is much larger than the physical footprint of their construction. Peoples don’t know how to behave around them and this can cause discomfort and confusion.
Do you think the benefits outweigh the costs?
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
In the story i tell, at it’s inception Twin Oaks wanted a decision model which was better than simple democratic voting. The founders thought that communards could make better decisions than what came from the “50% plus one” model which dominated elections and government process. In the search for the elusive super majority, they did not want to set a threshold percentage, perhaps because they wanted something more subtle and dynamic than vote counting at the core of our process. They wanted to leave open the possibility that a small group with strongly held beliefs might be able to shift the groups outcome by carefully reasoned arguments and compelling logic.
Twin Oaks started in 1967, before the feminists had borrowed and adapted the consensus process from Quakers – creating a decision tool which could be used in a secular environment. And since simple majority rule had created so many dysfunctional system it seemed wise to try for something which was more representative, even if it was slower. Now over 45 years later we often wish we could go back to the founders and say “hey, the problem with this system is that we often can not tell when we are done. We don’t know when to run over a vocal minority in favor of the super majority. We don’t know how to interpret silence from most members on most issues. It would appear that decision making power is tilted towards those who write on the O&I board.”
Six years later, in 1973, East Wind was founded in the Ozarks. This was another income sharing community, which used the same base concept that members would each work a quota of some number of hours each week (currently 35 at East Wind and 42 at Twin Oaks) which would satisfy their obligation to the community. In exchange, the community would cover all the costs associated with their living. In many ways, East Wind was a close sister community of Twin Oaks. But most of the founders had come from Twin Oaks and they were ready for a new decision making model.
East Wind would embrace a voting model for many of its decisions. And in a significant deviation from Twin Oaks, it would elect it’s managers every year. [At Twin Oaks typically managers stay until they decide to leave the job or the community.] But the frontier culture of the Ozarks would influence the East Wind decision method and anarchism would creep in. People unfamiliar with commune decision making systems often laugh when they hear the East Wind technique characterized as anarcho-democratic, having a hard time imagining how that might work. But in what might be some libertarian’s wet dream, East Wind uses a dynamic mix of respecting (or tolerating) a high level of personal initiative (often without any formal group making decision process) with voting based group decision making.
Enter Acorn. Born a mere 21 years ago Acorn had a number of tools available to is which it’s older sisters did not have or choose to use. Specifically, it had consensus decision making. For those unfamiliar with the process here is a quick flow chart of how it works:
But you can look at it more simply. We sit around and talk, someone facilitates, but we agree to keep working the problem until everyone is okay with the solution. There are some technicalities (like blocking and standing aside) but it is a lovely elegant decision system for groups our size (about 30). Can consensus work with these larger communities (Twin Oaks is currently 93 adults, East Wind is at 73 adults – both communities are at their population capacity and have waiting lists)? The answer is certainly yes, i have worked in much larger groups that use consensus. Neither of these communities is likely to change their culture so dramatically as to embrace this newer decision system, despite there being (i believe) general belief that it produces better results.
And Acorn does not have managers. This is an interesting configuration, it works surprisingly well. The community is committed to anarchist organizing techniques. Instead of formal managers various members will in a flexible and decentralized way pay attention to certain aspects of the community. We don’t have a kitchen manager but we do have one person and sometimes more who is most involved with the kitchen and who generally takes care of the area, manages its needs, and who you should probably check in with before doing something in that area so that you don’t duplicate or frustrate other folks’ efforts. It is, we like to say, a system emphasizing personal initiative and responsibility. And without bureaucrats it’s hard to have bureaucracy. There are no forms, no legalistic process, no committees. If you want to know or do or change something you have to find the people who care and talk to them about it.
We have a big place in which there is constantly need for repairs of something. When i was growing up, my father stressed the importance of fixing roofs early, everything gets worse and more expensive the longer you wait.
And because there is a lack of champions for roofs here, i occasionally take one on. These days i am working on the TCLR roof. Not the real work of swinging hammers and removing shingles in the hot sun. Instead i am a the bureaucrat for the project.
This roof has needed attention for a long time. Two years back we approved the money (tho we did not specify how much) for this repair and there has not been anyone who has been willing to step forward and push our collective process or lead the construction work needed to make these repairs happen. Then the earthquake hit and everything which was not urgent got pushed back even further. You have been able to see the sag in this roof for several years now and tarps have been installed by Trout to keep it from leaking.
A couple of months back i met with Red and ex-member (and general contractor) Rob Jones about the Ta Chai Living Room (we call it TCLR) roof. Both were interested in fixing it and while it is a little unusual for us to hire out work, it was agreed that Rob could help keep the job on schedule and both men would be advantaged by the other being on the project.
Sadly, when we compared schedules, the month of July was shot. Rob had real estate agent classes and when he completed those Red was going to be away for a couple of weeks traveling. So we agreed we would start he project in August.
But then Mico from sister community East Wind showed up. Mico has done a bunch of construction and wanted to help while he was visiting. Red thought it would be great if Mico could pull out the old ceiling in TCLR and get ride of that nasty old insulation. Mico and new member Raychel donned hazmat suits are started to pull this stuff in the 100 degree temperatures.
This of course started the project, in July, when we did not really have either honcho. Rob had made other commitments for the month and Red was away. So i jumped in. i started scheduling crews and rushed the community paperwork and process. And pushed Rob to change his plans and start work weeks before he planned.
We muddled along as we oft do in the communes, this time in an uncharacteristic way (too early)