Intentional Communities: Mono vs Poly

Merry Christmas, everyone!
I wish you all peace, love and joy, learning and discovery in the year ahead.

We have so much work ahead of us, but it will not be tedious — it will be astonishing, delightful, intentional, and, in a million small ways, Earth-changing.
We cannot fail.  
 :: Dave ::

In last week’s article I attempted to explain why I thought it made more sense to create new models than to try to fight or reform the existing political, educational, social and economic systems. I promised to write about why I think polyamorism is an essential element of what I’ve called ‘model intentional communities’ — models that are not abstractions or concepts, but real working models, people striving together with common purpose, showing rather than telling people a better way to live.

Let’s start with what an intentional community (IC) is. Diana Leafe Christian defines it as an autonomous, self-managed, democratic association of people with shared social, cultural and economic intentions and aspirations. My own definition of a model intentional community (MIC) is one that is:

  • exemplary — it works well, and represents the best of what ICs with similar focus and talents have to offer
  • egalitarian — it is non-hierarchical, has no dominant leader, and is free of the coercive characteristics that can cause healthy communities to decline into cults
  • replicable — other successful ICs could be created by following its example
  • educational — by spending time in it, you can learn a great deal, including how and why it is successful
  • responsible and respectful — members take responsibility for, and are respectful of, the welfare of other members and their environment
  • self-sufficient and sustainable — it’s not dependent on the largesse of outsiders, or on subsidies or low commodity prices
  • diverse — substantially different in focus, style, and/or structure from the other MICs

In a recent post, I argued that for an MIC to be effective, its members probably had to have most or all of 16 natural capacities: deep capacity for love, passion for the community’s shared purpose/intention, trust, emotional strength, sensitivity/openness/perceptiveness, good instincts, self-sufficiency, honesty, intelligence/critical thinking ability, curiosity, imagination, creativity, responsibility, expressiveness, flexibility, and tolerance.

And in a follow-up, I suggested that MICs should adhere to certain collective political and economic operating principles: Stop at one child per woman, practice radical simplicity, pledge to buy local, leave the Earth as you found it, practice bioregionalism & permaculture, cooperate & collaborate, practice consensus democracy, value everyone’s time equally, pay attention to nature, be self-sufficient, incur no debts, be generous, organic and responsible, and understand and use the power of relationships.

Diana’s research suggests that the average active IC has about eleven members, meaning it’s about the same size as a pioneer family. My guess is that that’s not big enough to be self-sufficient and sustainable.

My argument is that our civilization society deliberately contrives to keep our social units this small. It doesn’t want us to be self-sufficient and sustainable. It wants us to be dependent on it for jobs, for money, and for the things that money buys, so we continue to support it even though it is inhuman, degrading, tedious, and keeps most of us in constant struggle and misery.

This civilization society is full of people in monogamous nuclear family units. It’s a society full of pain and disability, where millions live in one form or another of imprisonment. It’s a society devoid of imagination, incapable of change, grim, conforming, obedient, co-opted, brainwashed. Dependent and co-dependent. Obsessed with security, possession, survival. Addicted to consumption. Mostly joyless, tedious, jealous of others’ power, possessions, beauty, material and political and social and sexual success. The monogamous nuclear family unit is held together by a ‘marriage’, which we are taught is hard work, requires total commitment, struggle, sacrifice. Just like our jobs.

The information and education and entertainment media brainwash us into believing that this is the only way to live. They celebrate the arduous overcoming of hardship, the practice of fidelity, self-sacrifice, defeating the competition. The media adore the ritual of marriage, the giving of two people to each other, exclusively. Infidelity is always punished in the end, in film, in music, in literature. Jealousy and possessiveness are portrayed as natural, evidence of love.

So it’s not surprising that polyamorism — a group of people who love each other without restriction or restraint, with compersion (taking pleasure in the pleasure that someone one loves finds in the company of others) — is viewed as suspect, greedy, selfish, disrespectful, faithless, undisciplined, immoral, even exploitive.

There are four forms of love — intellectual, emotional, sensual/aesthetic and erotic. No one should be expected to love only one person in any or all of these ways. No one should be expected to fulfill everything that another person could want or need, to be that lovable in all four ways.

Several readers have told me that making the community polyamorous will only make it harder to find members, harder to self-manage the complex arrangements, elitist, and preoccupied with love among its members instead of being a true, generous, outward-focused model for others.

The important issue, I think, is whether such a polyamorous MIC would best manifest the behaviours consistent with sustainability, responsibility, generosity and self-sufficiency, and the operating principles listed above. Would a polyamorous community be more likely to have fewer children each generation, consume less, borrow and ‘import’ less, be more peaceful and cohesive, freer, and, perhaps most important, happier and better able to learn, imagine and adapt?

I think it would, but it’s hard to articulate my reason for believing so, other than to say:

  • my instincts tell me it would, 
  • I believe wild creatures live in community this way, and 
  • my own joy loving many people without limit or constraint feels like a natural way to live, one that most people would find joyful and healthy, if they weren’t so brainwashed to believe that monogamy is the only way to live.

There are about two dozen people on my current Love Conversation Community list, people I love deeply and I think I would enjoy living in an MIC with, either in Real Life or in Second Life or some other ‘virtual’ community, if those people were so inclined. Most, but not all, are women, and heterosexual, though, and I believe an MIC needs balance and diversity, so this group is not, and could not be, an MIC, though, hypothetically, it might be the nucleus of one. Some of these two dozen people I am intellectually infatuated with — I really love their minds, their imaginations, their creative genius. Others I love emotionally — they have a combination of strength and sensitivity, and they care about much the same things I do and articulate these shared passions and purposes well. They fulfill something in me that is otherwise unfulfilled, and they have told me that I likewise fill something in them.

Others I have an aesthetic love for — they are just beautiful people, physically, a joy to watch, to listen to, to admire for their art, or the way they move, their grace, their strength, their physical talent, their agility. And still others I have an erotic love for — expressed or (mostly) unexpressed, likely or unlikely to be reciprocated, but present and powerful nonetheless — as one of them put it “we want to fuck who we want to fuck”, and it is our bodies, not our minds, that choose this.

It is not even as simple as checking off which of these four types of love I feel for each of these two dozen people, because there are different aspects and means of loving and appreciating people in each of these four ways. I may love one person emotionally for their generosity, what they offer to me and to others, the way they exemplify openness and the raw gifting of their soul. I may love another person emotionally for their sensitivity, their perceptiveness, their ’emotional intelligence’. I may love yet another person emotionally for their energy, their intensity, and be attracted to them the way a moth is attracted to a flame.

So the idea that I could or should love only one person exclusively, and expect to get everything I would want or need from them, and that I should strive also to be able to provide that one person with everything they want or need seems like the stuff of romantic fantasy, an impossibility, a recipe for disappointment. No wonder monogamous marriage is such hard work — so many compromises, self-denials, frustrations, struggles to be enough, to do better, to make the marriage ‘work’!

I can see the value for a brief pair bonding during a woman’s pregnancy, and this is also manifest in the natural world of wild creatures. For this period, some self-sacrifice is necessary, and that requires a huge and personal commitment to one other person. But once the child is born, the bond should relax and re-permit polyamorism in all its dimensions, as the role of raising the child once it is born is a community-wide role.

My sense (and the purpose of trying out different IC approaches is to experiment, discover and learn what actually works, before presuming to offer a model to others) is therefore that the members of a polyamorous community would be happier, more relaxed, more trustful, more knowledgeable about other people’s feelings, beliefs, purposes, gifts and passions (through greater intimacy), less selfish, less insecure, less risk-averse, more imaginative and creative, more peaceful and adaptive and resilient. Mainly just because they know more and know and trust each other better, because there is an abundance of love, because the support network is broader, because there is emotional ‘safety in numbers’. And also because there is more time and space for love, conversation and community. Surely the consequence of this must be an emergent collective understanding of a better way to live?

And so, my intention is now to co-create with others not one, but a host of MICs, different experiments, full of people who love each other unequivocally. A dozen and then a hundred and then a million people, walking away from the bankrupt and dysfunctional systems of our civilization and discovering and learning together a better way to live, through Love Conversation and Community. Evolving the principles above in a way that works for each community, but with a shared vision of sustainability, responsibility, and gentle joyfulness. And networked together and with all-life-on-Earth, sharing stories of what works, co-creating a whole new and resilient society, with zero hierarchy and unlimited abundance. A natural society.

This may be just my crazy idealism. But my instincts are not usually wrong. At any rate, when we put this to the test of experiment and see what evolves, we will know. I just can’t imagine any community structure working worse than the monogamous isolated nuclear family structure. Despite all the propaganda in its defence, I am sure most of us can, in time, see that that structure is both cause and effect of our grotesque, greedy, hateful, thoughtless, violent, careless and unsustainable modern civilization.

Are you persuaded? What would it take for me to show you (rather than just try to convince you) that a polyamorous MIC is probably the best model for how to live, a model that we can create and offer to others? Do you still feel that polyamorism is a distraction, a red herring in the collective search for answers to our society’s most pressing and intractable problems? Is there a monogamous model out there that actually works?

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11 Responses to Intentional Communities: Mono vs Poly

  1. lavonne says:

    Dave, what is the difference between what you’re talking about and the hippie communes of the 60’s?

  2. Paul says:

    Dave, I’m a bit confused. On the one hand you say that a MIC is “diverse — substantially different in focus, style, and/or structure from the other MICs.” On the other hand you appear to be under the burden of proving/demonstrating “that a polyamorous MIC is probably the best model for how to live.” Are you abandoning the goal of diversity among MICs in this respect? Why not just accept that some MICs will be comfortable with monogamy (though in a large community such as a dozen people–couples, singles, whatever, certainly not limited to centering on a nuclear family) while others, such as yours, will emphasize or require polyamory? Aren’t both modes worth trying? Or is there a reason you want to convince us that polyamory is preferable, even though you haven’t tried such a MIC yet? I’m sympathetic to polyamory, I think your arguments in favor of polyamory have some merit (it’s not a distraction, a red herring) and I’m not persuaded by the arguments against polyamory, but are you elevating it to the status of a tenet or necessary operating principle for MICs (on the level of sustainability, capacity for love, honesty, cooperation, equality, and the other necessary attributes and principles you listed)?Could you be posing a false dichotomy between polyamorous and monogamous models? Why couldn’t some MICs be intentionally polyamorous, while others accept polyamory and monogamy? Don’t equate monogamy with the nuclear family. First, the nuclear family is a rather recent invention in the history of monogamy, an artifact of capitalism (especially modern capitalism) as far as I can tell. Second, monogamy doesn’t have to aim for our culture’s romantic ideal of expecting one’s spouse to meet all one’s needs and to provide lifelong security.

  3. Nathan Shepperd says:

    I have been thinking that humans might be naturally polyamorous, and monogamy is often more about limiting oneself to one partner for erotic love. Most people have friends, some of them very close, and you could often identify this as a loving relationship, although it might not be acknowledged as such.Still, I don’t think you have to be madly in love with someone to trust them in a community, or depend on them. I’m not even sure that what you are proposing is necessarily “total love” in a community, because you have said that in most cases people don’t love everyone in all ways.Perhaps I’m not so idealistic about it, and what I tend to think of is increasing the capacity for self-reliance and cooperation – a community that is more intentional but not necessarily so exclusive. If it’s going to work people need a gradual way into new social patterns.It’s not going to be so clear-cut as mono vs. poly. There are always middle ways, different degrees and combinations that people can work out. That’s the whole beauty of emergent social systems – no-one knows what solutions people will come up with.

  4. Hi Dave,I am going to take some major points up with you because they have not been answered in any of your posts. “Convincing” people that something is effective requires actual demonstration, so that is not required as yet. “Showing” the viability of a model does require words and I am afraid that these aren’t it. You wrote: =============”…it’s hard to articulate my reason for believing so, other than to say:my instincts tell me it would, I believe wild creatures live in community this way, and my own joy loving many people without limit or constraint feels like a natural way to live, one that most people would find joyful and healthy, if they weren’t so brainwashed to believe that monogamy is the only way to live.” ===================Paul is correct in describing your points as offering a false dichotomy simply because you have yet to mention any aspect of MIC choice based upon anything other than the regard with which people will hold one another and their sexual/loving interactions (not well differentiated). On the other hand, sustainability requires talents and knowledge. Sustainability is also not equivalent with self-sufficiency. We are long past the point that any group will manage to survive without regard to its neighbors simply because the ecosystem is all joined through water access and fuel sharing needs; groups occupying arable land versus manufacturing capacities. Social strata developed based upon skills and wealth. The coming chaos will certainly not eradicate that although skills will become the new wealth as money loses its savor (unless land based). Sexual unions were historically based (in persons) upon material exchanges which fostered sustainability and links between groups that led to self sufficiency such as dowries, inheritances, skills/trades, diversity of natural resources between communities linked by blood ties etc. Did you know that even chimpanzees lure mates with food?I find it hard to believe that farmers and artisans will be chosen based upon their attractiveness or the form of love someone defines as necessary for incorporation within a grouping (you mention four types of love but not what is done when it isn’t returned on the same level). Don’t levels alter over time since ongoing relationships undergo changes, and each participant will not always be at the same stage in a relationship as another? You are describing an MIC as a community which, at base, must possess ties of love rather than respect and coalition based upon mutual interests. Mutuality in your theoretical community is obsessed with defining how one member feels about the other. Survival is rife with the need for affiliation based upon more than sex although that has been the price paid by females throughout history as they were and are (1)bought, sold and traded for the material benefits of others in their former groupings or (2) unaffiliated and offered sex to meet their own needs to live in a world in which there is another gender of stronger and more aggressive individuals demanding sex. In a patriarchy, it is also incumbent upon males to breed and guard females to ensure hereditary certainties. How will material equity in the MIC be viewed as people come and go from it? When you noted the need for pairings to be made (monogamously) during pregnancy, I can’t for the life of me understand how you arrived at that notion. Why would the group offer less support to a mother prior to birth than after the birth? Monogamy has never ruled out communal child rearing practices nor has polyamory ever guaranteed adequate care for children. Group structures of sustainable communities are not the same as delineations of individual psychological ties. The insistence that both can be defined and mandated, is to discard human psychology and physiology, not to mention basic needs hierarchies as defined by, say, Maslow. History cannot be ignored and you have yet to discuss any truly novel model. Why not be satisfied with generating an experimental model specific to your regional community needs and equally specific to your personal needs? That would be intellectually honest and perhaps be a forerunner to a workable model for other groups to emulate or use as a starting point. Experimental models are developed for study and field testing based upon measurable parameters. Yes, ‘satisfaction’ is measurable among group members if participants are honest in responses. Unfortunately, honesty also depends upon the fears people hold about having all their needs met. What was your entry about SL interactions? How you all pretended to be different things for one another or wanted to develop various attributes in order to meet the needs of lovers?It is called development and is natural. Feelings cannot be legislated nor are they always equivalent between pairings or within groupings. Nor are they guaranteed to last. Will women be forced to pretend orgasm to ensure continuity of the group or satisfaction for the most skilled and essential community members with regard to productivity? What happens when a member of the community (say, yourself) has medical needs which alter your particular role in the community? Nature is not what ‘feels right’ to you, Dave, although the community you ultimately join will have to feel right for you. But that is not the definition of ‘exemplary’, nor is that the first adjective that belongs on a listing of community attributes in a theoretical model. That adjective ‘exemplary’ is a result of effort and refinement of efforts based upon results. And it must also incorporate model procedures for change as conditions shift. Cultural diversity exists for a reason. You have yet to offer that fact a nod except in the direction of prior failure. Yet every form of culture has failed when it existed in the wrong physical climate or in the way of a more aggressive and expanding culture.Cooperation and self sufficiency cannot be based upon models of sexual interaction. Yes, sex is a factor to be incorporated in a model of sustainable living since it is a requirement of living beings. But, believe it or not, that doesn’t provide food, medical care, education, defense, manufacturing (housing doesn’t spring up with a kiss). It is certainly not a model of interactions between MICs which, in the end, will be non-sexual and the basis for the continuing existence and formation of new MICs. After all, the children within an MIC will go forth and be fruitful – elsewhere, unless they bring new partners into their birth MIC. Laws of inheritance and ownership have yet to be discussed which has a major impact upon both self-sufficiency and sustainability. Individuals are not interchangeable nor equal in skills, intellect, drive, health, attractiveness, fertility and wealth. Initial wealth is a large component of an MIC start up package unlike starting monogamous marriages which are flexible and portable. What dowry will you bring to your group?You are allowed to feel what you feel. But intellectual honesty also calls for distinguishing between ‘models’ of community and a framework in which you wish to express your personal needs for closeness and attain mutual protection. This MIC describes your ‘survival’ needs, not the world’s. As I said previously, that’s fine but it isn’t prescriptive and is currently based upon your intellectual links with persons largely unknown to you. It remains unconvincing as any untested theory must remain. All that was a response to the issues of how you feel your model is the correct model. You also stated it was how things worked in nature. The model you discuss is not unknown in nature bt sex and the animal kingdome has many permutations from wild polyamory to lifelong monogamy and most things in-between (such as successive, seasonal monogamy or one pairing lasting a year). Pygmy chimpanzees engage in near constant sexual contact with one another, regardless of gender. Here is an interesting summary of their proclivities, beginning with the anthropological theory of why they engage in sexual activity to a far greater degree than other species of primates (or any other species, apparently): ===================“But why should bonobos need post-coital calm more than the next primate? One difference could lie in their feeding strategies. Bonobos forage in much larger social groups than common chimps

  5. Mariella says:

    Dear Dave…. I feel you are stil too emotional about polyamorism to be able to make your point clear…… I think that more important than turning “poly” what is needed is to develope “communication habilities” and “openness of mind”…..It is not such a big deal….. maybe I can feel monogamous in one stage of my life, and change my feelings as life goes on….and turn poly…I feel you speak about some kind of deeper friendship…. sometimes it feels as if you were begining to make “religion” out of it….. take it easy…

  6. Jeff Patton says:

    I’m convinced. Although I’m not in a polyamorous relationship, I’ve been loving more freely lately — not confining myself to the love-only-one-person mentality — and I’ve noticed a few things: – I find the ‘crushes’ that I used to beat myself up over have relaxed and have turned into valuable relationships. I used to constantly think “If only I didn’t have a girlfriend…” or “If only this person were single…” These jealous thoughts brought little joy & a lot of frustration. Now I value the love that can be expressed without needing what essentially amounts to ownership of their love.- I’m finding new interests based on the interests of those I love. Because I value their opinions I am finding myself wanting to learn about their interests/passions so that I can better understand who they are and so that I can possibly be more loved by them.- I’m noticing people around me who seem to be afraid to love me because they are currently in relationships. They appear noticeably confused and frustrated as if their hearts are pulling them one way and monogamy is pulling them another.- I’m constantly noticing the prevalence of monogamy in our popular culture (how did I not notice this before?) The flawed assumption upon which horrible shows like The Bachelor are based are so glaringly obvious now. It’s strange to think that jealousy has become such a large part of our culture.- I’ve noticed I’m happier. It really feels good to love.Keep it up Dave.

  7. Anant says:

    It seems you are reaching for a “one size fits all” solution to “How to Save The World” – I myself tend toward simplistic answers to all problems – some exist, but this is not one.Polyamory might be out there but I think serial monogamy is more comfortably natural. Two people entering into a realtionship and knowing they can opt out anytime they want. The pressure is off and the desire to escape from “imprisonment”, which might be the driving force behind “cheating” would be eliminated. Integrity, which of course, you either have or don’t would be required of the two involved. And it all comes down to “feelings cannot be regulated/controlled” as another commentator here wrote.

  8. Renee says:

    All about the bobobos. Not necessarily the hippie love commune after all…

  9. Renee says:

    (oops… “bonobos”)

  10. jochum Stienstra says:

    David, I don’t think that the IC’s will work or that they would be the solution to our environmental problems. But with your polyamorfism I think you are absolutely wrong. This is being tried out on a continuous basis, and it doesn’t exactly create a lot of hapiness. The funny thing is that the human behaviour in this region is independent from the human ideal. So in very strict ‘mono-amorf’ cultures don’t really work: polyamorfism is practiced in secrecy. But on the other hand: cultures that sort of ‘demand’ polyamorfism, have their problems the other way round. Look at the hippy communities. The 60s. It didn’t work very well. The Baghwan communities. All these experiments created hapiness for a short time. But as all ideals, generated as much sorrow as hapiness. I think that you are propagating an ideal world. But fortunately reality is stronger then any ideal you might concieve!

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