Gaian Institutions

critical life skillsA recent e-mail message from Sheri Herndon prompted me to think about Step 8 of my What You Can Do (to make the world a better place) process — “Create New Structures and Models”.

My initial thoughts on this were to focus attention on helping with the creation of new model communities that:

  • are intentional (i.e. members have a shared purpose, vision and set of values),
  • embody the principles of permaculture, unschooling and the transition movement, and
  • incorporate Natural Enterprises (sustainable, responsible, joyful co-operative businesses where people do the work they’re meant to do).

Sheri prompted me to dig deeper and be more specific about what institutions such communities would contain. Joanna Macy’s book Coming Back to Life has the following list (the last six items are my own additions):

  1. teach-ins and peer study groups
  2. think tanks and Gaian learning institutions (where you would learn improvisation, story-telling, and some of the other critical life skills in the graphic above)
  3. groups that would maintain measures of genuine well-being to replace GDP, stock markets, phony inflation & unemployment numbers as the gauges of our society’s health
  4. consensus and conflict resolution services, to replace lawyers
  5. non-violence ‘genuine defense’ institutions, to replace the military
  6. renewable energy ‘transition’ co-ops
  7. land trusts and conservancies, replacing land ownership with community stewardship
  8. community-based co-ops for gardening/permaculture, CSA, tool-sharing, skills banks
  9. community-based repair, recycling, composting and re-use programs
  10. holistic health institutions based on self-management and prevention
  11. local currencies and gift economy programs
  12. unschooling (natural/self-directed learning)
  13. collective, independent, non-commercial information sharing and communications media
  14. clothing co-ops (like Mondragon’s)
  15. community theatre
  16. community-based scientific research, idea and innovation centres
  17. facilitation ‘collaboratories’ (where skilled facilitators would help you resolve challenges both local and global)
  18. well-being centres for personal growth, relationship management and self-learning
  19. artist and crafts co-ops

I think it would be interesting to visualize how such communities, working from a kind of ‘blueprint’ that would be adapted to suit local needs and preferences, could be entirely self-organized. This would require a lot of learning (and relearning) how to do things for ourselves that we have come to rely on governments, professionals, corporations, ‘experts’ and foreign workers to do for us. We are, most of us, so used to having things designed and organized for us that we have lost the essential skills to do this for ourselves.

That’s why I think we need good working models, that show others how and why each of these institutions works. Equally important, they would demonstrate the co-operative form of collective work self-organization, as contrasted with the modern hierarchical command-and-control form of top-down work organization. It takes practice to learn to make decisions with others, instead of (as we have been trained to do) making decisions for others or acting on decisions others have made for us.

Likewise, most of us expect jobs to be designed and created by others, that we can then try to fit ourselves to, rather than creating our own — self-employment is considered too difficult, too stressful, and too much of a commitment for most. We need to learn (that was one objective of my book Finding the Sweet Spot) that sustainable entrepreneurship is not difficult or stressful, provided we don’t try to do it all alone.

One purpose of my novel/film will be to create a vision of how such communities could be formed, and operate, and how much better they would be, by every measure, than the wasteful and toxic industrial systems we rely on today. If you read the list of 19 community elements above, you probably think creating a community with these elements is hopelessly idealistic. My objective is to work with others to create models that will show such communities are entirely possible.

What do you think? Can you imagine a community with these 19 elements, working effectively, sustainably, responsibly, joyfully? How big could it get before it started to come apart, get disconnected? Can you envision the world after the collapse of civilization, with a human population only 10% of the size of today’s, starting over and building a community-based society that looks like this? Or do you think it’s in our nature to create hierarchy, hoard power and wealth, wage war, and grow until we’re stopped by some outside force?

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4 Responses to Gaian Institutions

  1. Historically didn’t we live in tribes of no more than 150 people? Bigger than that and it would disintegrate. When I looked into cohousing, I remember reading that 150 was about the maximum-sized group which could work. A group of about 50 or 60 was ideal.I live in a rural town with a population of about 150. I often wonder if we could remain cohesive during a collapse. It’s not the progressive bunch of folks I would ideally envision myself with, but these are practical people and I can imagine us all banding together and doing quite well.A small community automatically provides right livelihood for everyone. I don’t even think it’s necessary to tax our brains too much coming up with all of these lists (although I’m guilty of that too). Real communities (not dependent on the “system”) tend to cover all bases–work, art, entertainment, “government”, health,….

  2. I wanted to add…the reason I think intentional communities have a tendency to fall apart is because they are optional communities. No one’s survival depends on the cohesiveness of the community. But when survival is the driving factor, communities are more likely to cohere. The center holds because everyone needs the center to hold.Building these communities half-heartedly, i.e. building them when members are still participating in the outside “system” puts them at risk of disintegrating. Unless the members need to depend on each other it’s more difficult to build a strong community. So how do you do build strong communities now, when most people still have at least one foot in the “system”?And the other challenge is staying connected with other communities, so we don’t revert to some form of tribalism.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    This sounds fantastic. I can imagine it, certainly. And I believe it possible, because without hope, where would we be? Even in The Road, they carry the light (father passing it from his generation to the next). Whether we can succeed or not, I do not know. But it’s only (and so essentially) human that we continue to try.

  4. Jon Husband says:

    “The birds they sang at the break of day Start again I heard them say Don’t dwell on what has passed away or what is yet to be. Ah the wars they will be fought again The holy dove She will be caught again bought and sold and bought again the dove is never free. Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.

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