Looking for Working Models of Intentional Community

IC Meeting Place Colorado
an Intentional Community meeting-place in Colorado

Well, clearly I haven’t been able to articulate the argument to support my instinctive belief that model intentional communities (MICs), to be effective, need to be polyamorous. I’ve read all your comments, and thank you for them. I remain convinced of the benefits of polyamorism to the social health of a community, but what’s more important is that we start identifying and creating MICs that work, both for the benefit of our present civilization and for possible use by the generations that will grow up after civilization’s fall. So I’m not going to say any more about polyamorism*, at least not for a while.

I have been delighted at how many of my readers, and those I have spoken to about it face-to-face and in Second Life, agree that it would be more fruitful to create MICs, better working models of how to live, than to try to fight to reform the existing political, economic, social and educational systems. Just to reiterate, those MICs will need to agree on both essential capacities and operating principles for their members. My first crack at as possible list of each:

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.

Responsible and Sustainable 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.

Each MIC will of course have to develop its own list, but as I work to create MICs both in Second Life and, later, in Real Life, these are the ones I would propose to start with. The idea would be to have an association, an alliance, of MICs, helping each other out with lessons learned, success stories, etc. Each MIC would be a circle within a circle, the larger circle being Gaia, the community of all-life-on-Earth.

In fact, I’m beginning to think of Natural Enterprises, the concept I outline in my book to be published in the Spring, as a specialized type of MIC. Natural Enterprises also require the above natural capacities and responsible, sustainable operating principles.

MICs are, by their socio-ecological nature, inherently complex networks. Dave Snowden suggests that, because the evolution of such networks is unpredictable, they cannot be planned or directed. What can be done, however, is influence their “initial conditions” — using attractors and barriers to ‘steer’ behaviour in ways favourable to obtaining and retaining members with the necessary capacities and who share the beliefs underlying the operating principles. That means the membership has to be self-selected and ‘discriminatory’ — diverse yet picky. This is a tough balancing act. The Natural Enterprises I know that ‘work’ the best have an almost ideal makeup of people — respectful, loving partners whose business capacities (‘Gifts’) are mutually exclusive and collectively sufficient to achieve the enterprise’s shared Purpose. Usually, I confess, the selection of members has been serendipitous and fortunate, rather than deliberate. Nevertheless, it’s the people in a Natural Enterprise who make or break it.

Same thing applies to MICs of people who want to live together. You want diversity, because MICs only work when their members are so interesting and lovable that they cohere — the members want to spend as much time with each other as possible, learning, loving, discovering, collaborating, innovating, making it work. This is so unlike modern disconnected neighbourhoods who are usually only physically together out of convenience. Because they lack cohesion, they acquiesce to the imposition of top-down, indifferent, modern hierarchical political and economic and social and educational systems on them, and ultimately, because their neighbourhood is incapable of self-sufficiency, become dependent on these hierarchical, irresponsible, unsustainable systems.

To be self-sufficient, responsible and sustainable, the MIC needs to have everything (the capacities, the space, the time, and the resources) to be independent. While I don’t know of any modern examples of this, my pioneer ancestors in the early 1800s were, of necessity (they were completely isolated), completely self-sufficient. Seventeen families (about 150 people in total) including Joshua Pollard’s family moved into 8000 acres in the lower Peel region of Canada together — no electricity, no communications — and thrived together as an intentional community. They lived in harmony with another IC — the Mississagua Indians — who sold the land away from the rivers to these new settlers. The two ICs lived completely different lifestyles, but both were self-sufficient, responsible and sustainable, and extremely comfortable, joyful communities (my ancestors, I’m told, loved to dance and sing, and opened the region’s first school and a subsistence tavern). Other than their large families, they adhered to the above principles and, from what I can piece together, had the above natural capacities. They were ultimately undone by overpopulation and, as their community became interconnected with other Ontario communities over the ensuing century, by a switch from self-sufficient permaculture to commercial monoculture, which proved disastrous when the economic recessions of the 1880s and 1890s hit and trade virtually ceased.

Modern ICs have had to try to work under modern constraints — a shortage of land, horrific overpopulation everywhere, depleted soils, an utterly interdependent, fragile, technology-dependent and resource-constrained economy, and the loss of knowledge of how to live self-sufficiently. Because most of them have not been very ‘discriminatory’ in their membership, and many have lacked commitment, capacity and/or principles, most have stayed small or disappeared, and have not had responsibility or sustainability as principles, so they are not useful models (if you know first-hand of any modern MICs that I could profile here, please let me know). Some of these constraints (shortage of land, depleted soils) will be hard for any MIC to overcome, but most require nothing more than re-learning what has been forgotten, and applyingsome sustainable, responsible modern knowledge and technologies.

And then just learning from trying, from experimentation, from collaboration, from innovation, what works and what doesn’t.

And just being a model.

Time to get started.

* I will be responding directly but briefly to comments on my Dec. 19, 20 and 24 articles soon, in the comments threads.

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6 Responses to Looking for Working Models of Intentional Community

  1. Meryn Stol says:

    Why would you want the community to be self-sufficient? Why have a ‘border’? Isn’t better to just try to be model world citizens? Model citizenship can more easily be copied because replication happens at the individual level, not at the group level. Group level replication requires upfront agreement between potential group members, which is eliminated if a person can do what needs to be done by herself.It could be that for some people, the best they can do at this moment turns out to be to find others and live like you propose, but I don’t think this can be generalized. I think modeling at the indivual level is more important right now. I think you should argue for your plan from an individual level. What principles of world citizenship do you see, and how do they logically lead to the decision to form a ‘gated’ community?

  2. Meryn Stol says:

    More specifally, it isn’t obvious to me how your principles of love, care and conversation lead to this. I’d like to see you argue from these words.

  3. Janene says:

    Hey Dave –I haven’t commented thus far, but there is something bugging me about your list of ‘rules’ (principles). The problem I have, basically, is that you are trying to create rules in the first place.You’ve been following this Ish path (among others) for a while now — long enough to instinctively understand the systemic relationships involved in any culture/community. That being said, why would you make a ruel about ‘one child per woman’ rather than incorporating population regulators into the culture/lifestyle itself? We both know, I think, that this tends to work better (hell… simply it works… rules do not)Meryn…. principles of love, care and communication lead to this on the basis of one simple fact of human life: Dunbar’s Number. Small communities(<150) interact as individuals, larger communities interact as stereotypes. As such, there can BE no global citizenship, because you can NOT treat a stereotype as an individual and until our physical reality reflects this, people will continue to screw one another and the planet as a whole….Janene

  4. Mariella says:

    I am in tune with Janene, I mistrust rules…..but I like open suggestions.Rules make your brain go only in one direction, … suggestions allow better sense making…… to have an open mind…..and solidarity (care,empaty, trust, respect) as main principles could be enough… ¿Why do you feel it is needed to “love” that much everybody to put an intentional community to move on….? I feel those “requirements” limit more than enable.

  5. melinda says:

    Greetings, just found your blog after a google hit on Derrick Jensen (a very nice 2006 entry that had an excerpt from his latest book). Anyway you asked for examples of IC’s that work so here is one. http://www.twelvetribes.comHow do I know? I lived with them for 3 and half years; only left on account of my own core beliefs. They are beautiful people with a beautiful life and I greatly respect what they do even if my “beliefs” are different than theirs.It is wonderful to have found you because with all my being I believe that this is the “natural” way to live and am myself striving to return to that way. I refer to it as “tribal” My intentions are to locate an established community in or near Prescott, AZ or somewhere in the Southern Rockies / 4 Corners area.Looking forward to following your progress in this,melinda

  6. For my part, I think there can be no perfect model, as there can be no perfect model of any human group, or human being — and thank goodness. I wouldn’t want to live in that world. But of all the intentional communities I’ve read of, I liked the ones best that come to a consensus on any and all rules. Each community should, I think, have its individual theme and style, as does any family or work group. The rules that work for one group won’t necessarily work for another. I have nothing against anyone wanting a polyamorous lifestyle for themselves — however they define that — but I have to be able to fit my preferred lifestyle into that of any community I would join and be happy in, so that wouldn’t work for me as a requirement. I also agree with the previous commenter to some extent about self-sufficiency, though I can see that the beauty of self-sufficiency is that one doesn’t have to rely on oil-based energy to transport goods. But throughout history, long before the internal combustion engine and our capitalistic, consumerist culture, goods were nonetheless transported, and almost no community was entirely self-sufficient 100% of the time. I think one needs to accept that there will likely be a balance somewhere between non- and fully-self-sufficient that will be obtained depending on the location and the rules of the individual community. But I would definitely agree that the rules of any community that differ from another should not be imposed on the other out of some mistaken idea that one is right and the other is wrong. I also believe very strongly that we need to encourage and nurture universal unconditional love in our world, as much as we possibly can. But I think we can achieve that with something closer to the traditional family unit that people feel comfortable with, as well as with other family and village structures.

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