Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An intentional community concept brainstorm

Things have been a bit hairy since last Thursday to say the least. I don't have photos today of any sort for which I apologize. All I have is a landscape by the Lady of the House.

What I'm going to talk about today is a concept I've been kicking around that the Lady of the House tentatively supports based on finding solutions to some of the glaring problems, and resolution of some details. The idea is of building an intentional community based around ethical living and eating, art, and feminism, without rejecting technology.

That's a mouth full. How can we pare that down?

An intentional community based around food, ethics, and art.

Is including "without rejecting technology" such a core part of the concept it needs to be mentioned? I'm not actually sure. If so I'm not sure how to pare it down to a concise sentence.

In a little more detail:

Ethical living: Part of this is simply cultural. A group of people doing their best to live ethical lives. This necessitates a social dynamic that allows for discussion of ethics without condemnation, support for harder choices due to ethics, and a physical space allowing the community to gather for discussions.

Ethical food: This is both integral to, and separate from ethical living in my mind. Step one of ethical living has to be ethical eating  in my mind. To that end the community would need to produce it's own food. This would both mean sufficient land to farm on to include vegetable gardening, fruit orchard, and animal husbandry. Given that it's probably going to be in the North East it would probably also include wood lot. I think given the environment that sufficient green house space to keep leafy greens going during the winter would be important.

Art: I suspect I should include why on Art, beyond simply that the Lady of the House is an artist, and I like art. To affect positive change in the world, communication is necessary. One of the largest areas of inequality is the representation of people. People of color, women, men, everyone. This art is produced by people, and I think having a community of people around you to support more positive and realistic representations of people would allow for production of pieces that exhibit less of the stereotypical imagery that we see that continues damaging preconceptions. As an example, do some research on representation of the Noble Savage, then look at just about any representation of First Nations people in modern representations.

On a practical level what such a focus requires is a space dedicated to art. While there are certainly strong factors suggesting an open art studio, there are also real benefits to private work places. I think this would want to be some mix of the two allowing artists to work alone, but also come together for classes, critiques, and simply working together as the spirit takes them.

Feminism: Why do I include Feminism in the larger concept structure? There's a lot of reasons, but in short it comes down to, even in permaculture communities there is a glaring imbalance in the treatment and view of women. Women make up more than %50 of the college educated people in our country, and are over %50 of the population. Why, even in more open minded and egalitarian communities like permaculture and sustainability are less than %35 of leadership positions filled by women? I think that in an ethical living community feminism must be a focus.

Non rejection of technology: Technology has many meanings, and like each of these sections could be a whole discussion. It comes down to, technology isn't inherently evil. The misuse of it, like the misuse of a gun or a knife can be. The methods we use to acquire the resources necessary for much modern technology are unethical, and can't be supported. That doesn't mean that a total rejection of the modern and of progress is appropriate. Either on a farming, or day to day level. Something that warrants more discussion for certain.

Some challenges that come to mind. Managing a strong leadership structure recognizing that leadership should recognize who is best for each job, and follow their lead. Financial starting point, and actually making money off the community. How do you deal with contributions of artists vs farmers? What about people who want to live as part of such a community but are neither, is their potential contribution of helping with finances something that is welcome and important? How do you find like minded people and know before hand that you'll be able to work and live with them long term? A personal partnership is tough enough.

So there's the basics of the concept. At this point I'm working up a overall plan, and trying to work up an official proposal to try to find patrons for it, and others interested in joining and personally investing in the community whether or not it is monetary since this isn't a one family plan.

I'd love to hear thoughts. I know there are lots of interesting intentional communities out there, so this may well be a thought exercise, but I think it is a good one.


  1. The concept reminds me of communes/communities idealized in the 60's and 70's, and that were executed with varying levels of success. I think it's an idea that has interest in the area, and with the resurgence of interest in our area with sustainability and locally produced food, perhaps one that has more potential than it did before. As you pointed out, the issue is not just resources but interpersonal relations as well.

    1. In a lot of ways I actually think the interpersonal relations are a bigger deal than the resources for the same reason that most relationships are monogamous. Communication takes time, and learning how everyone does it in a non strictly hierarchical situation is time consuming and vital for a healthy community.

  2. I had the same thought as T: have you read anything about The Farm? It's one of the only communes from the 60's that survives, out in Tennessee. I think the founder died about a week ago.

    I'm glad you brought up technology. Like science, technology is a tool: what impact it has depends on how you use it. And by some pendantic definitions, all tools and tool-using systems (including agriculture) are "technology". I could even see it being useful: connecting to art buyers, maintaining databases of seed banks, what was planted where and when (and how that turned out); weather reports; easing isolation, quick 'urgent' medical check-ups. It's all about how you use it.

    Have you read the sci/fi /fantasy series by SM Sterling about the world when electricity, internal combustion and gunpwoder are suddenly negated? I can't remember the title of the first book, but there's a lot of discussion about building communities. (It also made me slightly paranoid, because the books are set near where I live, so I quit reading them, but some are set on Nantucket too.) In cause you had some free time. :)

    1. I love SM Sterling's books, the first one is "Dies the Fire". They do a wonderful job of positing possible futures and social situations given an apocalypse of that nature. I also second (third?) the stance on technology. As someone whose training an profession puts me in with Evil Technology and CHEMICALS (oh noes! D: ) it's sometimes frustrating to explain that yes, there are good and ethical ways to use technology and even have industry that isn't horribly evil. Sadly, many profit driven organizations don't, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

    2. I haven't read about The Farm yet, I should look it up. Sounds like a good thing to look in to and learn from. I want to learn from as many successes and failures as I can!

      The big things I can see using technology for aside from standard farming uses would be things like, as you mention, seed databases, planting and harvest spreadsheets with tied in calendar alerts, CAD mapping of everything so we could accurately plan during the winter instead of having to walk the land or rely on hand drawn maps. Lots of fun things to do with modern technology that doesn't have to fully replace, but can augment normal systems. I also think that having print and digital designs and construction instructions for vital tools and things of that nature are both worth while.

      I haven't read the SM Sterling series. I've seen it, but I hadn't picked it up because I sort of had problems suspending disbelief that electricity, internal combustion, and gunpowder would stop working with fire, light, and magnetism still working. I should just shut that part of my brain up, stop killing kittens, and read it it sounds like. Thank you both for the recommendations!

    3. The "explanation" for internal combustion and gunpowder are that the ideal gas laws simply stop working. (What that does to things like canning aren't addressed.) He doesn't ever really explain it, at least in the first couple of books.

  3. Unfortunately, it ate my first response, but I'll try and recover it.

    Since I've been thinking of, and slowly planning on a move out of York, PA, intentional communities are definitely peaking my interest. My church, Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary is in the grey area between an intentional community and a monastery. The discernment process for living there long term is pretty difficult, and all but requires a vow of poverty. However they've learned some lessons over the years that give me pause.

    My biggest concern with an intentional community is the worst-case scenario - how do you sustain it after a big blow-up and half your residents leave? The land and capital investments need to be held in a trust, so that a dramatic exit by one of the founders doesn't put the whole community in jeopardy (or in court). The fact of the matter is that arguments *will* happen, even in the best planned communities, and there needs to be a way to cope with that without putting people's homes at risk.

    However, that being said, the idea of an intentional community has a tremendous amount of appeal, and I'd say you're asking some of the right questions.

    I still need to work out a visit with you guys - maybe this fall we can work something out, would love to talk more about this, or just visit in general :)