This is number 2 in the randomly occurring series which extends the answer provided in the Twin Oaks website FAQ section. The first was on personal possessions. And this post appends to the answer given about our membership process. That answer is:
Basically, in order to become a member, a person needs to be willing to abide by the agreements of the community (e.g. no personal cars, our income-sharing agreements, and lots more). They also need to be able to fit into our social norms which, because we live so closely together, are quite particular (e.g. being sensitive to people’s “personal space”, being able to pick up social cues, being able to be cooperative and share control, etc).
The process for membership involves an interview with the Membership Team during a Three-Week Visitor Period. The interview consists of telling one’s life story, and answering questions about how one deals with various aspects of community living like conflict, anger, people with different values, etc. Then there is an input period during which all visitors leave Twin Oaks for some time, and have the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and decide if they really do think they want to live here. During this time, each member of the community has an opportunity to give input on the visitor (Accept, Visit Again, or Reject for membership). If there are outstanding health (including mental health) issues those will also be taken into consideration. The Membership Team makes the final decision about a visitor becoming a member.
While generally a fine answer, there are all kinds of things missing here. The first is the complexity of Twin Oak’s own visitor and membership process. We have no less than three separate teams inside the community to deal with this process.
Another thing missing from this answer is that pretty consistently for the last 4 years the community has had a waiting list. This means if you are in a big hurry to live in community (a state i would recommend no one be in) then Twin Oaks might well be a poor choice of places to come. Some communities permit accepted visitors to stay indefinitely after their visitor period waiting for a space to open up. Twin Oaks is not like this. If accepted, expect to wait 3 months to a year.
One of our stronger rules is that after your visitor period (if you are applying for membership) you need to leave the community. Usually, this is for at least one month. This is part of our “anti-cult” orientation. We want you after your visitor period to return to your family and friends. If they can’t convince you that the idea of joining a commune is a little bit nuts, they you can come.
And while it is true 95% of the time that that membership team makes the final decision on accepting, rejecting or visiting again a prospective new member, the remaining 5% of the time is interesting to consider. While i complain about the internal decision making process in the commune, there are numerous well designed components of it. How do we deal with splits within the community around membership? A minority of the membership can reject a visitor or provisional member trying to become a full member, but this minority can be overridden by the majority. One of the clever aspects of this policy is that the larger the minority rejecting someone, the larger the super majority must be to override them. At something like 27% rejecting a person, it becomes impossible for the majority to override the minorities decision.
One of the community agreements not explicitly mentioned in the above FAQ is working quota. During your visitor period you will get assigned a bunch of labor, including an incredible number of orientations. Including these, you need to work your 42 hours of quota a week. There are all manner of areas you can work in as a visitor. Reliably the kitchen has cooking or dish washing cleaning help to offer. We used to train people in hammocks, because they could always fill up their quota in this area. Though this is less true these days and some visitor groups don;t even learn how to make hammocks these days. And we are a bit unforgiving in this. You stay with us three weeks, if you are interested in membership, you better work 42 hours each week – or have some compelling excuse for not working (remember being sick is labor creditable – to a point). Visitors not making quota consistently lose their ability to apply for membership on that visit.
Another thing to be aware of is the commune has a second process step for people who are interested in membership who are 55 or older. One of the policies i most dislike is out Age Cap policy. It comes from an understandable place, when the average age of the community exceeds 43 years of age, we slow our acceptance of older members to not pre-maturely age the community. And the reason this is relevant is that Twin Oaks has a very clever pension system, which slowly decreases the quota of members over age 49 by one hour per year.
The other membership cap is around gender. While i think the community is increasingly well educated in the fluidity of gender (strong gender binaries are so twentieth century) we still maintain an existentialist policy when it comes to capping lopsided gender balances. Specifically, if we end up with more than 60% male, we cap our admissions of men until we become more balanced. It would be true for females as well, but this is not really our problem or any of the other FEC communities. For slightly inexplicable reasons, many fewer women apply for membership at Twin Oaks and of those who do apply, a significantly smaller fraction of those we accept decide to come. On the positive side of this imbalance (again for inexplicable reasons) women tend to have longer memberships on average then men.
Fortunately, in the 16 years i have been hanging around Twin Oaks, we have never hit this 60%/40% ratio, so unlike the age cap we have not implemented a gender cap to membershiping visitors. Unfortunately, East Wind has not been so lucky and has had well over 60% male membership for a long time, which gets in the way of the problem correcting itself.
For a look at some of the other restrictions Twin Oaks puts on it’s member, take a look at this post on our most controversial approval.
[This is an old post. When i wrote it i showed it to the planners and was told that i could run it if i wanted, but one planner asked me to hold off til the issue was no longer topical, which i did.]
One of the myths in community is you can’t keep a secret here. In fact, this place (i am thinking Twin Oaks, but to a lessor extent Acorn as well) holds a tremendous number of secrets. What you can’t do is keep a secret when a lot of people know about it and other members know there is a secret being kept.
That is what is happening tonight. The planners and the membership team had an unusual evening urgent meeting to talk about something. There are 3 planners and 6 members of the membership team and there were a number of other people at this meeting as well. The most plausible guess is that it is some expulsion level situation, the news for which has not broken to the membership. You may well never know what is happening, but i and a half dozen other communards i spoke with this evening certainly will and probably soon.
The math goes terribly against secret keeping in this kind of circumstance. In part because many of the people on these teams have romantic partners, who they want to tell about it and then need to be sworn to secrecy. Yet with every leak to an intimate, a general leak becomes more likely. As soon as a bit leaks out generally the rest can often be teased out, because people who know will feel the need to correct the inevitable rumors.
Also, it is only a question of time before the secret will have to be released because of the pressure associated with the existence of the secret being known. For the people who know it, especially the planners, there will be pressure to release it to folks who are curious or concerned and there will be pressure to set a soon deadline as to when the informant will be put out in a mailbox, from members only to read.
By the following morning the commune was buzzing and the people who were at the meeting were doing a heroic job of trying to maintain the secret, but simply by looking at who was inside the loop and who was outside and by lots of members asking lots of questions, before noon a likely scenario was established. But as i said, you may never know – because in fact the commune can keep some secrets, just necessarily from itself.
[It turns out the secret was soon revealed and was mostly about a controversial person who wanted to come to visit and was ultimately asked not to. This secret is old and largely forgotten news now.]
i have not been writing about it, but it has been a pretty stressful week and a half. i have been going thru two parallel approval processes in the last 10 days. One was for the position as stand-in planner, which is Twin Oaks highest executive decision making job. The other has been Twin Oaks’s approval of my dual membership with Acorn.
The processes for these two community decisions are quite different. And slightly curiously, the one which mattered most to me (and had the least impact on the community) had the most selective unpredictable decision process – this was my dual membership status. For the plannership, the existing planners took a couple of preliminary steps, they asked members of the community for their non-binding input. This was preceeded by this call for my own Twin Oaks Member clearness and this clarification of why i called a clearness on myself.
Dual membership is approved using the “negative minority centric” decision making model which the membership team uses on visitors who want to be come provisional members. This means a very small number of well reasoned “no’s” can stop either a visitor from becoming a member or an existing Oaker to become a dual member with anywhere else. How small? Probably 5 would do it. But what if 30 or 40 or even 50 members thought i would be a great dual member, well these dont matter at all. As hard as this is to imagine, the thinking is that (especially for visitors) lots of under informed yes’s should not overrule a small number of well reasoned “no’s”.
And this was the source of my paranoia. I am a big personality, i try to move gracefully and respectfully, but with some regularity i upset people off. Generally for reasonable reasons, sometimes it feels a bit frivolous to me. When i realized the threshold for reject was so low – and no number of positive votes could counteract these negatives, i started to worry about my dual membership process. 4 negative inputs came in during my planner input, and perhaps someone who did not want to hear my rationalizations would just wait until the final input process and pop up and block this important (to me) option.
So the results? 3 yes’s and 3 no’s. i was granted provisional dual membership status. I still dont know about my planner results, but that takes 20% of the full membership to block it, which would be something like 16 vetoes. i am not that paranoid.
Janel and i spoke in front of all 600 McDonogh Prep upper class students today. This is what i said:
There are a number of ways one might think about Twin Oaks Community but perhaps the easiest is that we are a Deviant Culture
We have intentionally made a number of dramatically different choices about how to live than our mainstream counterparts.
The first is that we largely live without contact to money. Most members on most days dont touch money or credit cards or any of the other representations of money.
In the mainstream most workers do the same job everyday and it is hard to switch jobs. In our community each of us typically does several different jobs each day. And when you tire of a job, generally it is easy to switch [There are some important exceptions, like it takes a year to train an Indexer, so that want typically a multi year commitment once you are trained. Similarly, the membership team requests that people joining plan to be on it for at least a year.]
All these jobs are done by volunteers, members who have said “i m willing to do this for us” and the community values an hour of all work [except child care] the same.
You dont come to the commune to make a lot of money – you come because you want a better quality of life. A life without bosses, without unemployment, without crime, without bills, without fear – and it is a life with respect and fairness.
Now i have a question for you. [Lights go up] How many of you self identify as environmentalists? Raise your hands please. [Perhaps half of the students raise their hands.]
I believe that recycling (which requires a lot of time and hardware) is actually far less important than building and implementing sharing systems. Almost everything we own sits idle almost all the time.
If you are serious about wanting to ave the world, you you should be working to make agreements with people you like and trust as to how you are going to share things you own and thus consume less by having fewer things which are sitting idle.
And your best friend is going to break your camera and you are going to drop their ipod into a swimming pool and you need relationships and agreements which are flexible and robust enough to handle these situations.
Recycling alone can’t save the world, but wide spread radical sharing just might.
So the next time someone mentions deviant cultures to you, instead of thinking about motorcycle gangs or survivalist groups, consider the possibility that doing something outside of the norm might actually be better than it.