Communitarianism

When we talk about intentional community, a certain amount of confusion about what it all means and what it’s all about comes into play. Recently, a discussion on Cybergrove over the ideal in our pledge, “From each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her need.,” sparked a minor flame war. Why? First, let’s talk about “intentional community.”

In the Western city, suburb, or semi-rural area community is mostly accidental. You don’t meet your neighbors until you or they move in and there is no guarantee they will share any of your interests other than that particular geographic location. This can be alienating to people who march to the beat of a different drummer. That’s where intentional community comes in.

For many people, the idea of an intentional community (or IC) doesn’t ring a bell even though it has been in practice for thousands of years. In essence, an intentional community is a group of people coming together in a place they create to live in some particular way. The variety of intentional communities is nearly infinite: some are religious, some are not; politics run the gamut; they are large and small, rural and urban, ecologically minded and materialistic. They include monasteries, communes, anarchic squatter houses, cooperative housing, co-housing, kibbutzim, Christian activist communities, Shaker communities, and many other kinds of groups. In a very large sense, our military bases and ships are intentional communities (though not “egalitarian”). Making generalizations about intentional communities is about as accurate as making generalizations about people.

Historical IC’s in the United States include the Amana Colonies (survived today in the appliance company they built), the Oneida Community (survived today by Oneida Silverware),
New Harmony, and the Hutterite communities (an offshoot of the Mennonites and Amish – still going strong today in Canada and New England). More modern communities include The Farm, Twin Oaks (inspired by B.F. Skinner’s novel, “Walden Two”) and many, many others. The ICF website includes listings of over 600 communities, and they estimate there are several thousand throughout N. America. In other words, this is not a new idea. Monasteries are probably the oldest known continuously existing IC’s, but keep in mind that early tribal communities (like the ancient Celtic villages) were communal as well. The most successful of all are the Israeli Kibbutzim, which still account for the greatest share of Israel’s agricultural economy. One of the few things that can be said about most ICs across the board is that they are built on a stronger sense of community than is common in a  conventional setting. People know each other better, work and/or play together, and in most cases share some values, goals, or beliefs. There are real advantages to living in a place of this kind for people who are open to being an integral part of their communities.

Most IC’s make a living by running some kind of business. The same principles apply to labor relations in IC’s as apply to labor relations in any business. You can get “fired,” that is, kicked out of a community for not working, or for just being lazy.

Labor is usually divided in a community equitably. As Imladris (our vision for a kind of Druid Kibbutz) will be in the “hospitality” industry, the following skill sets will be needed: management, housekeeping, maintenance, security, paramedic, guest services, kitchen, grounds keeping and gardening. As a service for our guests, we will also have a massage / Reiki therapist, reader/advisor and a recreational coordinator on hand. For everyone’s benefit, I also see a librarian and network engineer (Imladris will be a fully wired community). ALL these will be treated equally and receive the same benefits: housing, meals, access to vehicles, access to all community owned facilities (pool, hot tubs, weight room, etc.,), health insurance (including dental, eye and alternative medicine), etc., and a small stipend per person. We will attempt to keep working hours / days to the absolute minimum (something like 6 hours per day, 4 days per week – variable depending  on guest load (like if we are hosts for a big convention, we might all have to work a 40 hour week for that) (at Harbin they allow people attending conventions to do a “work for lodging barter”, This takes some of the stress off the regular community members).

If someone gets to “slacking” well, we’ll just have to toss ’em (we’ll have some kind of equitable system set up where people will submit to a “trial” and be judged by a jury of the whole community). Some communities require that candidates joining have a savings account – that each candidate controls and never touches – of, say, $3k to $5k, for just such an occurrence, so they’ll have some means of reintegrating into the regular economy. If residents are considered “employees” (I will have to research California law on this) they may also be eligible for Unemployment Compensation.

In our vision, Imladris will be a corporation whose shares are owned by it’s residents and maybe by the dues paying members of the Order. The exact nature of that corporation is something that is still in the research stage (including the question of whether the Order should be incorporated at all).

When I did a Google search for resources for this essay, I ran into 15,100 references for the words “Intentional community” and 188,000 references for the word “kibbutz.” Following is a list of websites that have even more general information on communitarianism, including some sites operated by actual working IC’s.