Event: Avoiding Bern Out

If you’re in DC we’d love to see you at an event next week we’re organizing to turn away from the depressing disempowering morass that is electoral politics and talk and scheme about what it would look like to build democratic organizations that wield real material power. Organizations, like communes, that can directly improve the lives of their members. Will you join us? Do you know someone who should?

What: Avoiding Bern-out: A “Yes, and” to Electoral Politics
Where: Malcolm X Park, Washington, DC
When: Thur, Aug 25th 6-8pm

Wouldn’t a Sanders presidency have been cool? Totally. But let’s not kid ourselves, the system is rotten, the game is rigged. Without a far reaching democratic and socialist transformation of our society a Sanders presidency would be filled with disappointment, compromise, and stalemates. So what was the point of his campaign? Was it a failure? Of course not! His campaign radically expanded the bounds of what is considered “politically reasonable” in the US today. Millions of people willing to work for a better world were able to see each other and see that they could have incredible power if they worked together. And that work is by no means finished with the end of this primary contest. It is rather a new beginning for the movement for democracy and socialism.

To really transform society we need to be coming together in organizations that can wield actual material power. Political parties are one way people organize democratically to wield that power. Unions are another way. Political parties and unions are well covered, though. What are some other ways that we can organize democratically with each other to wield actual material power and start changing society? Demanding change from the powers that be is valuable and useful but it’s nothing compared to being powerful and being able to make those changes ourselves.

****************************Join us in Malcolm X Park (2400 15th St. NW, Washington, DC) for snacks and conversation. We’ll find a quiet spot near the Joan of Arc statue in the upper section of the park. If you have any trouble finding us, call 206 898 2832. There will be an alternative location in case of rain.

“We can’t build something we can’t imagine.”

Last year saw the release of Octavia’s Brood, an anthology of speculative fiction from social justice movements. The co-editors …

octaviasbrood.com/index.php?page=the-project

Octavia’s Brood
Ferguson is the Future

Speculative fiction, utopian politics is a living work of speculative fiction as we try to write our own future. To claim that another world is possible we must imagine that world. To inspire the doubters and the fearful we must imagine it in convincing detail.

The communes are ever more details works of speculative fiction. We are shrinking the scale of our project so as to increase the scope of it and drive deeper and farther into our utopic fantasies. Our hope is not to create our little story and live in it happily. It is not even to convince others to write the same little book over and over again. We hope to describe a convincing world, to start working out some of the tricky issues, and to make it so compelling and fun that others are drawn to write stories in our world as well.

Sandman – if 1000(?) people all dream the same dream they can change reality.

There is a place for serious hard nosed politics. The powers that are ascendant in our world today are brutal and clever and they will fight tooth and claw for the hearts and minds of the people. We need to organize to fight them but we also need to fight them in the imaginative realm of the possible.

Thatcher was wrong. There are many alternatives and almost all are better than what we’re doing now. The richness of our imagination is our strength.

Bolo’bolo?

As Activists, We Build the World We Want—Which Is Still Very Far Off in Bitch Magazine

Communes as a similarly speculative exercise of imagining a better future in detail.

Spaceship versus Mission Control

There are several metaphors for community design and outreach. If you believe there are serious problems with industrial capitalist civilization and that anyone who decodes this should have a place in community outside of this system, then you see community as a lifeboat. If you believe that a specific community has a specific mission to complete and there only so many seats to be filled selectively (the number of which are often determined by the number of bedrooms in the community) then you see community as a spaceship.

lifeboat.jpg

Some Point A meetings in DC so far have left me the feeling that we are building a spaceship there. Not everyone in the group was going to be on the ship, but many were actively considering it. And that there was some recognized risk associated with being on this exploratory journey and there were people willing to take that risk.

In NYC we seem to be building out this metaphor and now we are building mission control. Mission control can be seen as a group on the ground, which helps the astronauts build and launch the spaceship. What this means as organizers is we are not looking for the select few people who will be next to us in the limited spaceship seats (rooms), but rather we are entering into conversation with anyone who is interested in the project and figuring out how they can help. So “the project” is much larger than just Point A chapter/building. The project is making highly resource sharing and potentially income sharing communities come into being, with our current focus being in the NYC greater metropolitan area.

During a visit to NYC with some mission control friends we discovered the need to recognize and support the other spaceships when we went to visit Teagan and Arrow just west of Manhattan. Teagan is a networking titan who has been pitching the need for ecovillage expansion for years. Arrow is a socially responsible industrialist who has a vertically integrate bio-diesel company.  Together they are starting the Catalyst Community eco-village project outside in NYC.  We also met Jon that evening from the Eastern Light Project, who is trying to save some beautiful land from development. We spoke about their projects and we ended up spending so much time on them, that we never made it to discussing Point A. This made us realize we have more of a mission control mandate.

The future might look like this - Hobbiton Revisited?

The future might look like this – Hobbiton Revisited?

There are lots of highly useful workshops and skill shares at the annual Twin Oaks communities conference and the vast majority of the people from the NYC area are never going to make it to this event. If most NYC folks can’t make it to events on Staten Island, there is no chance they are going to find themselves in central Virginia. So we should be doing at least parts of this multi-community introducing format in NYC. At a recent event we did a miniature version of “Meet the Communities” where each of the perhaps a dozen communities present gave a 90 second self descriptions and then went to different tables in the room to invite more direct communication. This seemed to work well and some important alliances seemed to form. Perhaps more spaceships are forming.

A Look Behind the Scenes in DC

[This post is also appearing on the new CommuneLife blog which gathers together stories and pictures from egalitarian income sharing communes across the country and around the world. Check it out!]

A little while ago, while the DC communards were still scattered between a few different houses, a fellow member of the as-yet-unnamed DC commune shot me this quick note:

Hey, I liked this article that you wrote: http://frompointa.org/blog/2016/02/15/a-busy-month-for-the-dc-crew/.

It occurred to me that a blog article that peeks behind-the-scenes at what policies we’re working on, why and how the discussion/consensus/writing process works, would be interesting. Especially for people who would consider starting a commune. And for people who are like, “So what are you DOING? What is the ‘work’ that you keep talking about?”

 

I thought about this because when one of your housemates and I were chatting in the car today, they were like “GPaul keeps talking about all the work people are doing for Point A, but I don’t get it. What is the work?” And they live with us.

 

A little embarrassing, certainly, but to be fair the work of starting a commune is varied and non-obvious. In fact, even people planning on starting communes or really almost any sort of intentional community, frequently underestimate how much work goes into organizing them. The general advice from the intentional communities world is that any group trying to organize an IC of any significant complexity should plan on putting in one full person-year of work on it. In theory this can be done equitably by all the future members of the community but most advisors recommend paying one or two people to focus all their time on it. The communes have another option open to them, of course, which is to gift the labor time of one or more of their own communards to the task of organizing a new commune. This is a big part of how Twin Oaks started East Wind and Acorn and how Acorn started Sapling and assisted in the founding of Living Energy Farm. And most recently it is how Acorn assisted us in the founding of the first Point A DC commune.

A little peek behind the curtain. What strange magic are these communards up to?

A little peek behind the curtain. What strange magic are these communards up to?

So what does all this work look like? What takes a person-year’s worth of focused attention and labor? Here’s a partial list patched together from what occupied my time for year or so of organizing that I put in before the commune launched and other members started taking over a lot of the work (which is, of course, the goal for a horizontal democratic commune).

Develop a pitch (or vision) for the commune that is both viable, inspiring, specific enough that people can imagine what it would be like but at the same time open ended enough that they can see room within it for their down dreams and schemes.
Identify and individually recruit the initial group.
Write, design, and produce fingerbooks, pamphlets, business cards, and a website to get the word out.
Plan agendas, draft agreements, organize events, bring in speakers, check in with initial group to work through concerns and make sure that the project is engaging for them and that they feel inspired and invited.
Keep doing that for a long time.
Talk about what sort of property you want and can afford, go looking for it, follow up on leads, research potential properties, talk to owners.
Research legal issues specific to your city.
Research legal options for your group to incorporate or organize.
Research tax implications for your legal organization.
Continue recruiting, organizing events, checking in with people, drafting agreements, organizing meetings, attending meetings.
Plan social events and trust building events between prospective members.
Then do them.
Get involved, under the banner of your commune, in groups and efforts and events that you want to be engaged with and that you want to be engaged with you.
Cook food for meetings and events.
Clean up after meetings and events.
Look after the kids.
Mediate conflicts between potential members.
Research financing and funding options and then pursue them, either by wooing individuals or institutions.
Don’t completely neglect your own needs.
Write blog posts.

Surprisingly complicated for such a simple goal: can't we all just get along?

Surprisingly complicated for such a simple goal: can’t we all just get along?

To Boldly Go… Where Many Have Dreamed Before

At this point a cultural icon around the world, Star Trek is known for it’s futuristic tech, it’s memorable lines and characters, the adventures of the crew, and its noble and optimistic opinion of humanity. But standing quietly in the background of all the Star Trek TV shows and movies is a very radical set of economic assumptions and propositions more relevant to the humanity of the present than futuristic tech like transparent aluminum or even tricorders. The radical economics of Star Trek were recently given thorough treatment in a new book, Trekonomics, by author and nerd Manu Saadia. In the book, Saadia makes a point and distinction of particular interest to those of us working to organize a deeply egalitarian and democratic economy and society.

Trekonomics from Inkshares on Vimeo.

The United Federation of Planets operates without money and without markets, a point referenced repeatedly by the crewmembers. The Federation is, in Saadia’s words, “post-economic”, his preferred way of characterizing their post-scarcity society. “Economics is the management of scarcity,” says Saadia. “With Star Trek, at least inside the Federation, you have basically overcome what [John Meynard] Keynes called, ‘The Economic Problem,’ … the allocation of scarce resources.” It’s easy to see how this is possible in a world with replicators capable of synthesizing anything that a Federation citizen might desire. What’s important to note, though, is that replicators were only introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even in the pre-replicator world of Star Trek (The Original Series) money and the market have been abandoned as barbaric relics from a less civilized and less humanistic era. In Star Trek, the movement beyond economics is presented not as the result of some cornucopia of technological automation but rather as a policy choice… and as a strongly moral policy choice, at that. The fact that the Federation’s movement beyond economics is a choice continues to be made throughout the various shows by the existence of technologically comparable societies (epitomized by the Ferengi) where money, the market, and scarcity still obviously exist.

Some people just really love money. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser)

Some people just really love money. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)

The flip side of scarcity is abundance, the state of having enough or more than enough of what everyone needs. It is a utopian material condition that many have dreamed of and sought throughout human history and across political traditions. What is described here in Star Trek are the two general methods of approaching abundance. We might call them demand side abundance and supply side abundance. Supply side abundance is the easier one to imagine and is embodied by the post-replicator Star Trek. The means of production have developed to the point that an infinitesimal amount of human labor is transformed into an infinitude of materials goods. It no longer makes sense to talk about prices when your costs are essentially zero. Without the need to manage scarcity the market fades away as product after product is decommodified. It is the communism described by Marx as the near inevitable result of Capitalism’s drive towards mechanization. Our friends, Las Indias, have done a lot of good work exploring the ways in which this form of abundance is beginning to breach into our world, the challenges it poses to the status quo, and the opportunities it presents to egalitarian communalists (see their by donation ebook The Book of Abundance or The Communard Manifesto).

You can't always get what you want... but sometimes you get what you need.

Picard is served a potted plant by a malfunctioning replicator. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)

However, as exciting as a dawning age of supply side abundance is, what I find even more exciting is demand side abundance. By this I mean the world of abundance that is already available to us and has been, pretty consistently, for a very long time. As the stone soup story suggests and as Bucky Fuller calculated the existence of scarcity in the world is not a problem of production but a problem of distribution. But when we talk about distribution in this way we’re really talking about something bigger. We’re talking about Demand or how decisions are made and priorities are set not just around who gets the stuff that is produced but about what is produced in the first place and how it is distributed and made available. Like how we, as a species, decide how many Ferraris are produced versus how much malaria medicine. Or how we decide where we pile up food and when it gets thrown out. Or how much to spend on lawyers to fight health insurance claims versus how much to spend on health care. Any number of decisions, really. The idea hinted at by pre-replicator Star Trek, and the idea clearly explored by Ursula K. LeGuin in The Dispossessed, is how a society can choose to create abundance even in a situation with limited resources. That is to say, how a society can choose to make sure that everyone has enough of what they need. The path that LeGuin’s moon anarchists take is the same path taken by our very real and present day Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That path is one that both works to make distribution as efficient as possible (by extensive sharing, intensive cooperation and coordination, and the removal of barriers to access) while at the same time thinking critically about what is needed to live a good life and, as much as possible, finding non-materialist paths to satisfaction and enrichment. This is what makes LeGuin’s anarchists a peaceful and rich people despite living on an isolated desert planet with very scarce resources and it is what makes the communes of the Federation able to provide comfortable, secure, and satisfying lives (of an arguable middle class or upper middle class quality) on sub-poverty level incomes. It is an abundance that is available to all of us right now if we can change the way that we relate to each other and to our economy.

We are living science fiction. May our message of peace and abundance one day reach the earth… and finally the stars.

The Federation is on it's way. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser)

The Federation is on its way. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)

A Busy Month for the DC Crew

The last month has been a busy time for the Point A DC crew as we’ve hurtled through the final stages of forming the first commune (of many) to be popped out by the project. At the end of January, we raced ahead of the blizzard to get ourselves snowed in for the weekend at a kindly donated and very cozy nearby vacation home. The eight of us who braved the snow (pictured below after freeing our cars from the driveway) spent the weekend poring over agreements, deepening our connections with each other, eating delicious food, and designing the tricky process of choosing the initial set of members (a process we’re calling the “membership bootstrapping”). We also tried to pick a name for the first commune but the naming party got bumped to sometime in the uncertain future.

After getting back we set ourselves an ambitious schedule in February, aiming to complete the membership bootstrapping by the end of the month so we can legally launch the commune, start sharing income, and move in together. Speaking of which, the commune is looking for a home (both a temporary home and a forever home). Maybe you can help? Our strength is in each other and in our network. Here’s a message our Space Scouts put together about what we’re looking for.

Point A DC Needs a Home
The PADC commune founding group is looking for a temporary rental house/apartment for 3-12 months, while we negotiate and close on a property.

If you have a personal connection to a good space and could get us a deal because you want to support the commune, that would be ideal. If you enjoy scouring rental listings, that could also be helpful… we have been checking Craigslist often.

Rental must haves:

In DC
3-8 bedrooms
Flexible lease term (6 months or less)
< $700/bedroom

Rental preferences:

In or near Petworth/Columbia Heights area
< 3/4 mile from metro
March 1 move-in
Event/meeting space for up to 20 people
Parking for 1-2 cars
Indoor bike storage space for several bikes
Space in kitchen for our commercial fridge and full-size freezer
A guest/flex space

We continue to search for spaces to purchase that are in the 5k-15k sq ft range, cheap and near the metro. Any leads on this are also great.

Thanks for your help!

-Anita, GPaul, Connor, Jenny, Barnaby, Julian, Maren and Steve

State of the Network Address 2016

Point A has been busily working since it’s inception in July 2014 to cultivate a network of ambitious engaged egalitarian income sharing urban communes in the cities of the East Coast (just like it says in our tagline). In that time we’ve expanded from an idea being talked about by three people to an actual project operating in four cities with communes launched and launching. We’ve picked up hundreds of friends, allies, and curious onlookers (in person, via the newsletter, and via Facebook). We’ve started to meet people who have already heard of us by the time we get to them. Obviously, this is an idea worth spreading.

We’d like to take this moment, much like our President, to report on the state of the network.

 

Point A DC

Point A DC was the first branch of the project to get started and for the last two years we’ve been slowly and steadily building the foundation for a brand new commune. At this point, we have five people ready to make the leap of faith and become the founding members of the commune. With help from the University of DC Community Development Law Clinic we’ve set up a legal framework for organizing the commune. Our property search has yielded a few promising possibilities that we have been doggedly pursuing. With the help of The Keep we have hosted a long string of meetings, discussions, and visits by other communards who have shared their wisdom and experience with us (if we must make mistakes, after all, we’d rather they be novel and interesting mistakes). We have our first retreat coming up next weekend to bring together the founding group, other potential members, and a few allies to push this thing into existence.

We continue to seek new members and new allies. Shoot us an email or plan on coming by one of our meetings, evening discussions, or book club meetings (see calendar for schedule).

Point A NYC (or PANYNY)

Point A NYC continues to slowly build momentum towards creating an income sharing community within the 5 boroughs. Over the past couple of years we have done numerous meetings at collective houses as well as mini-communities conferences and public presentations on topics related to community living. Ganas Community on Staten Island has been the host of several of these talks and continues to support the Point A project by hosting out of town activists who regularly come visit.

Point A NYC continues to work with Smiling Hogs Head Ranch (SHHR), an urban gardening project in Long Island City (which is in Queens). We have worked together on SHHR’s visioning exercise which was held at the Flux Factor in Queens as well as introducing people to the project.

Point A NYC is working using an ACT model: Agitation, Creation, and Teaching. We are supporting anti-gentrification efforts in the city, as well as making sure our own efforts to build community do not exacerbate this problem. In creation mode we are helping new residential community projects get started, specifically we have worked with Catalyst Community and the Fae also on Staten Island. Our teaching profile includes the many workshops we offer from Community in Crisis to Transparency Tools.

Quercus Community (Point A Richmond VA)

Quercus community has been in action since October 2015. We continue to organize educational and cultural events, host Food Not Bombs RVA, participate in ASWAN, a homeless-led coalition group, make improvements to our post-punk house using mostly palette wood and other salvaged materials, and more. We aspire to demonstrate less energy consumptive systems and appliances in an urban setting, such as our bicycle powered wash machine and associated laundry to landscape greywater system (pictured below) and heating the house solely with wood from palettes. Some future projects we’d like to work on include finishing our attic with palette wood for greater DIY/maker space, movement room, and a free store; building a 55-gallon drum biodigester to turn excess compost generated from Food Not Bombs into methane to cook with; and building a bike-powered cell-phone charging station for laptops and cellphones. Upcoming events include a Transparency Tools workshop (Jan. 20th), a Non-Violent Commuication work group (every Thursday), and a house show/benefit dinner Jan. 27th. Find us on Facebook for most up-to-date info.

Emmett and Dustin pose by their newly completed bicycle powered wash machine

Emmett and Dustin pose by their newly completed bicycle powered wash machine

Darles cooking for Food Not Bombs

Darles cooking for Food Not Bombs

Baltimore Free Farm (Point A Baltimore MD)

Baltimore Free Farm has been working hard to renovate the house we purchased (as Horizontal Housing) back in May, that’s how we’ve been spending most of our time these last few months! We are moving right along, we hope to be finished in February. Besides working on the house, we’ve been expanding our food rescue efforts. As you may know, we have been hosting Food Not Bombs in our space, and have now expanded the project from one day per week to three days per week! We hosted a number of events this fall including an acorn flour making workshop, and film screenings on gentrification and honeybees. We are excited for the upcoming growing season as we delve more and more into permaculture and medicinal herbs!

Upcoming events:
Volunteer work parties on the Horizontal Housing project, experience or not, we’d love your help! Various days and times, call 443-453-6780 if interested.
Baltimore Free Farm’s 5th Annual Fancy Dinner is on January 29th from 5-9pm. Yummy food and libations, live music, and raffle and auction prizes! Tickets available at our website www.baltimorefreefarm.org

Drywall gets hung in Middle House

Drywall gets hung in Middle House

Kenny and crew cooking for Food Not Bombs

Kenny and crew cooking for Food Not Bombs

The Throw Away Society

The DC Chapter of Point A is moving rapidly towards the birth of the first commune. As we approach the moment of our launch we’re hammering out the foundational mechanics for our group. And arguably the most foundational, most essential policies are for membership and expulsion: how people are included and excluded. Thinking about expulsion is not a fun topic and many democratic and collective groups don’t really think about it. Some (like Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany, apparently) seem to get on just fine for years. For other groups, not having thought much about expulsion eventually causes a conflict to blow up into an explosive crisis and, with an unfortunate frequency, destroy the group.

A community is a web of relationships, and a healthy community reinforces and weaves those relationships thicker and tighter. The complexity and strength of this web is the source of the value and power behind a vibrant community: it brings meaning to our lives, it enriches us socially, and it gives us access to support and assistance when we need it. It can include our closest allies, collaborators, audience, and friends. But it’s the very importance of our community that makes it that much more painful when an assault or serious breach of trust occurs within it. The bigger we are, as it were, the harder we fall.

When a member of our community hurts us or breaks our trust, it is common and reasonable to want them to leave and never come back. Maybe we fear that they’ll hurt us again, or maybe seeing them reminds us of the pain they’ve caused us, or maybe we feel like they’ve broken their side of the social compact and so don’t deserve membership any more. However, in a deep and vibrant community, and especially one with any history, ostracizing a member is messy because inevitably important relationships exist between other members and the perpetrator of the offense, relationships which are not destroyed by the offense. If the aftermath of a serious offense is not handled with sensitivity and care to all sides, it is all too easy for the community to divide into camps and begin to attack itself. If the perpetrator is ostracized and their remaining relationships are not honored, then damage can cascade through the web that is the community. That damage can cause other members to lose their faith in the community’s ability or desire to care for them and frequently results in an exodus of people from all sides of a conflict.

Additionally, although ostracism is sometimes appropriate, it often has the same problem as the throw away society that it resembles: it assumes that there’s an “away” where you can throw people where they won’t do harm (much like we assume there’s an “away” where we can throw trash where it won’t do harm). That’s not always true and if we don’t deal with the root cause of the offense and the perpetrator has not taken on the project of self-reflection and change we want them to then we might just be passing our problem on down the line to the next community they end up in. Similarly, this “throw away justice” assumes that the person who has committed the offense is no longer of value. They are trash and not worth saving.

napolean in exile

In light of all this serious thought about the process of expulsion is of obvious value. Especially knowing that often when an offense occurs emotions run high, people are in pain, and quick and skillful action is necessary to prevent harm from spiraling out of control. It can be difficult or even impossible to conceive of, design, and execute such a response if it has not been discussed by the community in advance. When we design such a process, then, there are a few deep questions we need to consider. If we choose to not just get rid of people whenever they harm someone, how do we respond to offenses in a way that takes care of the whole community and leaves us stronger and better people on the other side? When and why is the work to do that beyond our ability and how can we tell? If it is beyond our ability… what do we do then?

Merely a Trellis

The desirability and use of consensus decision making is widespread these days on the radical left and is nearly universally used at the newer communes (one of two brilliant techniques Acorn stole shamelessly from the Quakers). For people concerned with consent, freedom, autonomy, and agency, consensus decision making is a likely optimal.

However, on its face consensus is a totally ridiculous way to make decisions. Think about trying to decide what movie to watch with a group of friends or, gosh, think of the US congress doing anything and the idea that nothing can be decided unless everyone agrees sounds like madness, a recipe for disaster. And yet, the experience of the communes I know who use it (and that’s communes up to 80 members large) is that it works brilliantly and smoothly. Major decisions are regularly discussed and made quickly and painlessly. Surprisingly complex operations (combining housing, food, accounting, businesses, grounds, childcare, etc etc) are run and managed with only a couple hours of meeting a week. And that is where we begin to see the answer to our riddle. As my friends at Las Indias noted, consensus is clearly the best decision making system available and yet it is important to also think of it as the decision making system of last resort.

 

Like the finger pointing at the moon, the consensus process itself is not our aim. Our aim is to cultivate a community of empowered, empathetic, free people who are working with the collective good in mind and who are always looking for the clever solutions that work best for everyone, consulting with each other as necessary to accomplish this. The consensus process is merely a Trellis that pushes us to grow, as members of the community, into the shapes that are our true aim. It pushes us this way by cutting off all other options for making the things that are important to us happen. In a consensus run group, if we want to have our way in the world we need to develop empathy for others, deep listening skills, trust in each other, and a dedication to finding the creative solution that works for everybody. There is no other way.

The commune is a particularly fertile ground for this work because by collectivizing our work and our lives, making the consensus process work becomes essential to our happiness and our ability to get things done. And of course, even if our goal is to cultivate a community that can act and make most decisions without the need for everyone to sit down together there will likely always be reasons to meet: novel situations we need to consider deeply, big commitments that we need to be very sure of, and the building of relationships and our sense as a group. In fact, the decisions that are nearly impossible in a consensus process are precisely the decisions that cost nothing if they are not made, the ones people can walk away from: what to name the group, what color to paint the room, what movie to watch tonight.

In this light, maybe the US congress would work better if it used consensus after all. There’s a garden that could use cultivation and trellising.

With Our Powers Combined…

One of the most challenging pieces of the commune idea for a lot of people is fully pooling our income. I recently had an exchange that typifies this reaction:

“So when you talk about sharing income… what if Steve is making $50,000 per year and you’re only making $20,000?”

“What you should really be asking about is what happens when Steve is making $50,000 a year and I’m staying home to clean and maintain the house, care for the children, cook the food, do the shopping, and keep on top of the accounting and not bringing in any money a year.”

Sharing income really isn’t that rare or radical an arrangement. It’s actually incredibly common. What’s not common is pooling income with people you’re not related to by blood or marriage. What’s radical about our proposal is to pool income with an open and expandable group of people we are not related to or romantically involved with and to do so in a radically equal way (this money belongs to all of us, no one is “giving” it to anyone). The pooling of income to provide resources that are equally available to all is also something we’re intimately familiar with in the form of government services, like the library, the park, or the roads. What’s radical about our proposal here is the scope of our common economy: nearly everything that can be shared is shared, and shared fully.

 

But why? Why are we so passionate about taking the idea of a common economy and running with it? There are many reasons:

Just like in a marriage, we’re not really sharing our money with each other we’re sharing our labor and we’re sharing responsibility and pledging to be there for each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in richness and in poorness. When we do this we begin to be able to rely upon each other, call upon each other, and access each other’s abilities and resources in a deep and unfettered way. Things that we do for each other are no longer charity or gifts as our interests are bound together. This lets us all work to our strengths by specializing and really throwing ourselves wholly into opportunities and crises knowing that we’ve got a whole crew backing us up at home. The common economy means doing more of what we love and are good at and it means less times that we have to say “I’d really love to but I just don’t have the time.”

We’ve known since forever that cooperation and sharing is more efficient than isolated action and individual ownership. Even capitalism, famous for promoting competition and individualism, is just a way of using greed and self-interest to get people to cooperate and share. People get together in buying clubs and share housing and cars because it lowers their costs dramatically. We see this taken to an extreme at all the egalitarian communes we know of where members live comfortable modern lives at an arguably upper middle class level: organic healthy meals cooked for you from scratch twice a day, plenty of healthy food, housing, health care, transportation, internet access, computers, home theater, exercise room, sauna, hot tub, pond, personal shopper, professional party planners, as much sick leave as you need, generous vacation and extended leave policies, retirement and hospice care, child care, and a maternity and paternity leave system that puts the Scandinavians to shame. And the kicker: they do it all working fewer hours than national average and on an annual income around or well below the poverty line.

cooperative logo

In the status quo individualist economy the expectation is that everyone is responsible for taking care of their needs individually and that they need to go into the market and win money for themselves to do that. If you want to act collaboratively or purchase collectively or own cooperatively then every time you need to go to extra effort and make a special system in order to pool your resources. When you switch to a common economy where all the income is shared as a default then acting collaboratively, purchasing collectively, and owning cooperatively becomes the default and if you want to buy or own anything individually you need to go to extra effort and make a special system in order to shave off some of that collective income for your individual use. Switching to a unified holistic common economy saves a ton of overhead since you no longer need to attend separate meetings to manage your worker co-op, food co-op, car co-op, childcare co-op, housing co-op, buying club, etc. nor do you need to do all the separate accounting for them. Not only can you consolidate management tasks and allow specialization within your group, you can also forgo quite a lot of accounting since you don’t need to keep track of every individual member’s input and output to each particular coop. The difficulty of managing an a la carte cooperative economy is expressed well by Oscar Wilde’s purported quip “the problem with socialism is that there just aren’t enough evenings in the week”.

The savings from cooperation and from lowering the overhead of that cooperation not only allow the members of the commune to live better lives more easily on less, it allows them to more easily reach out into the wider world with a large impact. Collectively we can maintain larger facilities for the benefit of the wider community, donate more resources to causes we believe in, and make the time to organize, agitate, and support if we just put our heads together.