In our current era of growing interest in alternatives to the dominant, globalized, market-based culture, often called the “First World,” the School of Intentioneering provides information on the traditions and cultural innovations lived in the parallel culture of the decentralized, time-based economies of the “Fourth World.” Through aiding understanding of the history and development of the Fourth World, the School of Intentioneering supports those living in or interested in the community lifestyle within the competitive culture.
Currently the focus of the School of Intentioneering is upon publishing materials and producing videos for an online course and other presentations to support its mission (above), with opportunities for others to engage in these projects. The School is part of an urban community called the Dry Gulch Ecovillage, supported by rental income from two apartments available periodically to those interested in participating in the work of the School of Intentioneering. Future income is planned from publishing print and video resources, along with speaking and consulting services, for supporting the intentional communities movement, and its local networks of communities. These can then engage with other local, culturally-progressive educational, governmental, religious, business, and other organizations to create a regional “commonwealth,” through projects such as Transition Towns and bioregional organizations. Dry Gulch Ecovillage plans to support commonwealths in both Denver and in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, planning in the Ozarks a real estate investment cooperative and a community land trust. The various programs of the School of Intentioneering are intended to present and support the many aspects of society and culture which involve lifestyles of gifting and sharing. The following are current projects in development for writing, organizing, speaking, teaching, and fund raising:
If you are interested in living and working with us in Denver, the Ozarks, or elsewhere please contact: 4thWorld(at)consultant.com
2019 will be the year at which Twin Oaks Community (TO) will have had for the first half of its existence a communal childcare system either in practice or intended, based upon a philosophy called “the community child.” The change away from that earlier form of communal childcare to something else came in 1993 during TO’s 26th year.
2019 will be twenty-six years after TO gave up what was then called a “communal childcare program.” This article considers the kind of childcare system that Twin Oaks has been using since the change.
Some people called the new system “collective childcare within a communal society” yet as the years passed and parents and children came and went the tendency has been for people to call the kind of childcare that has been practiced over the past quarter-century at Twin Oaks “communal childcare,” because of course it is happening within a communal society even though it is not what the community called “communal childcare” during its first quarter-century.
People now involved in raising children at TO may not know or care about the community’s ancient history, yet while TO may never go back to its earlier system, other large communal groups may attempt to recreate a similar version of communal childcare out of ignorance of other’s experience with it. In the interest of helping others to avoid reinventing the kind of communal childcare wheel that TO and most other large communal groups have tried and given up (including the Israeli kibbutzim and the American/Canadian Hutterites), and in the interest of documenting what we who have lived or who are currently living communally have learned about communal childcare, it is helpful to understand and to have a way to explain the structure of childcare in use today in egalitarian communalism.
I have given a name to the kind of childcare generally practiced at TO and at related communal societies after the 1993 change at TO, which I call “cofamily.” The “co” prefix can stand for either communal or collective, or for cooperative, or complicated, or complex, or simply community-family. It is not necessary to stipulate an exact meaning because people use different terms in different ways, anyway. What “cofamily” is intended to mean when children are involved is that a small group of adults work together to provide childcare for any given number of children.
There may be more than one cofamily within a communal society, perhaps even one per child, each functioning as at least a semi-autonomous decision-making unit for one or more children within the larger communal society. Each of these childcare groups within the larger community is then what I am calling a “nested cofamily.”
Twin Oaks grants resources of space, money, and labor to member’s childcare as during the community’s first quarter-century, yet no longer does the community claim responsibility for designing and maintaining the childcare processes, since all or most of that is now parental responsibility. This is similar to how the community has given space and occasionally other resources to members who live in the same building, called “Small Living Groups” or “SLGs.” A cofamily may also be an SLG, yet more often the people contributing to the care of any particular child may live in different SLGs.
My preference for the term “cofamily” is due to my application of the term on a larger level as well. I use the term “cofamily” to refer to any small group of unrelated adults, from three to nine, with or without children. Partly to find out how many such cofamilies are in the “Communities Directory” I transcribed both the 1990 and the 2010 Directories into a database and ran some queries (someday I’ll include the 2016 Directory). I found that:
In the 1990 Directory 47% of U.S. listings are cofamilies (3-to-9 adults), comprising 8% of the total reported members of all listed U.S. communities, with the average cofamily having about 6 adults each.
In the 2010 Directory 40% of U.S. listings are cofamilies (3-to-9 adults), comprising 7% of the total reported members of all listed U.S. communities, with the average cofamily in this directory also having about 6 adults each.
Why 3-to-9 adults? A couple reasons, first, psychologically, 7-to-8 people is the natural number of things like ideas and relationships that people can generally keep in mind at once. The military calls such small-groups “squads,” although with different numbers of people for different functions.
Another reason for stipulating the maximum of 9 adults for a cofamily is because once a group gets to ten or more adults they will most likely have developed a design for their community that fits another term like: “cooperative” or “cohousing” or “land trust” or “communal group.” Since cofamilies are forms of intentional community it is simply convenient to use the term to refer to small communities.
The term “cofamily” is also helpful in expanding the ideal of the family beyond the three common forms: the “single-parent family” involving one adult with child(ren); the “nuclear family” involving two adults of whatever gender plus child(ren); and the “extended family” involving three or more related adults with or without children.
An extended family is essentially a form of “circumstantial community” since people are born into it rather than choose it. The “cofamily” is then a group of unrelated adults (although a subset of a cofamily may be related) who deliberately choose to live together, with or without children. This adds a fourth type of “family,” which being different from the three that are commonly understood in the First World dominant culture, represents the small community-family found in the Fourth World alternative culture.
The level of autonomy enjoyed by nested cofamilies within larger communities like Twin Oaks may change over time, just like their composition and cohesion, yet the term is useful when a distinction is desired between the earlier “community child” philosophy and the current “communal childcare” in practice at TO and in other large communal groups.
For the non-monetary, labor-sharing economic system, why use the term “vacation-credit labor system” rather than simply “labor-credit system?” Because Outside-World people do not know or understand what makes Twin Oaks Community (T.O.C.) tick, and I think that it is essential to the egalitarian communal movement itself to help the Outside-World to better understand communalism. People often wonder how it works, and often miss the essential aspect.
By using the term “vacation-credit labor system” the most important aspect is emphasized of “the glue that keeps this community together,” as Mala T.O. once said to a visiting magazine reporter. Emphasizing the vacation aspect helps people to better understand the “secret” to Twin Oaks’ egalitarian culture, or the “silver bullet” which slays the hegemony of the monetary system. And it is not just capitalism that is replaced by labor-sharing economics, yet all monetary and non-monetary exchange systems! (Mala, quoted in Rems, 2003)
One would think that the fact that Twin Oaks has existed for over fifty years as a secular communal society would mean something to people. They might raise an eyebrow to learn of a successful secular communal society in America that has existed over half-a-century, yet I may as well be talking about life on the dark side of the moon for all that most people in the Outside really know about Twin Oaks and what it has discovered about human behavior. That could change if Twin Oaks and non-members, like myself, were more forthcoming about what makes Twin Oaks and similar communal groups successful.
At this point I’ll explain, for those readers who do not know, the most significant aspect of Twin Oaks Community’s economic system. With no use of money or other exchange system internally, something else has to be substituted. Twin Oaks’ brilliant innovation was for the community to agree to set a certain minimum amount of work per week that people have to do to maintain their membership, then as they work over the minimum required hours they accumulate vacation time. Believe it or not, it took 140 years of experimentation with what I call “time-based economies” for someone to come up with that simple idea. This is what I call the “vacation-credit labor system.” Consistently meeting that work minimum or “labor-quota” secures for the individual member equal access to all of the community’s wealth: land, buildings, equipment, food, clothing, education, healthcare, recreation, everything! That is communalism!
Failure to keep community agreements, especially the labor agreements, results in the person losing their membership and having to leave the community. This is communalism’s solution to the “free-rider” problem. As St. Paul says somewhere in the Bible: no-work; no-eat. There is a long history of Christian communalism, yet I’ll spare the reader that story, saying only that religion and charismatic leadership can sustain communalism, while secular, egalitarian communalism needs to substitute something else.
The labor-quota is one of two components of the community’s total labor supply, calculated as: number of members x weekly labor-quota = labor supply for one week’s work that benefits the community. The labor quota is typically between 35 and 45 hours per person per week; yet remember that all domestic services and all other things which the community wants to provide are included, such as: food growing or procuring, preparation and service, laundry, maintenance and construction, income-generating work, accounting and taxes, some or most childcare, and everything else that the community decides to provide for itself.
A member’s access to material assets, resources, services, and other wealth of the community is not dependent upon one’s ability to pay for them (neither monetarily nor by labor-credits), yet simply upon one’s keeping of the agreements kept by all members. Besides the egalitarian or feminist behavior-code, one of the most important of those agreements is to participate in the labor-sharing system, and the most important aspect of that is that when a member works over the weekly minimum labor-quota they earn vacation time to be used to meet the labor-quota later, whether they decide to take a “staycation” at home or travel on vacation.
That’s it! That’s the most important aspect of the glue that holds Twin Oaks together! That vacation provision is a simple thing, yet little things can make a big difference. I liken it to how the simple act of banks making loans to each other is what creates 85% of the money in the economy, called “multiple deposit creation” (printing bills and minting coins is only 15% of the money supply), and like how all of the Internet boils down to whether the electricity is on or off, represented as 1s and 0s. Simple little things can result in very big things, like a small acorn growing into a huge oak tree. So it is that the simple idea of the vacation-credit replaces debt-based monetary economics with time-based communal economics.
In my “Fifty Years of Utopian Intentioneering at Twin Oaks Community” paper (on Facebook and on my blog: http://www.Intentioneers.net) I wrote, “Reporters and academicians come and go and rarely ever understand the significance of Twin Oaks’ vacation-credit labor system.” Now I have discovered a good example of that.
In 1998 a German psychology Ph. D. candidate named Hilke Kuhlmann spent six months visiting Twin Oaks and some other communities inspired by the utopian fiction “Walden Two” written by the Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner. Kuhlmann published her book about these communities in 2005 titled, “Living Walden Two: B. F. Skinner’s Behaviorist Utopia and Experimental Communities.” In 2005 she was assistant professor in the American Studies program at the University of Frieburg, Germany.
I was recently re-reading parts of Hilke’s book to see what she had to say about the labor-credit system and was amazed to discover, what I had missed before, that she never explains the vacation-earning provisions of Twin Oaks’ labor-credit system presented above!
How could she miss that simple yet brilliant innovation of setting a weekly work-quota that when people work over-quota they earn vacation time? If Hilke did understand that aspect of T.O.’s, E.W.’s and other communities labor systems, she says nothing about it in either her 2005 book nor her summer 1999 article in issue number 103 of “Communities” magazine titled “Walden Two Communities: What Were They All About?” Evidently, Hilke Kuhlmann never did figure out what we were all about!
In chapter 11 titled “The Labor-Credit System” of her book, Hilke writes the following:
“To ‘make quota’ meant to work for however long it would take to accumulate the number of labor credits the communards had decided upon as a weekly minimum.” (Kuhlmann, 2005, p. 108)
First of all, note Kuhlmann’s use of the term “communard.” The behavioral psychologist Deborah Altus refers to this as one example of Kuhlmann’s “pejorative tone,” while Altus’ colleague Edward Morris gives this as one of several examples of what he calls Kuhlmann’s “fascist-sounding … rhetoric.” Personally, I think it sounds more communist, yet either way, while Kuhlmann uses the term correctly it is considered archaic and not used much today, other than in jest or endearment. Some of her tone and word use, however, needs to be forgiven since English is her second language, not her native language. Secondly, and most importantly, while Kuhlmann is technically correct in her quote above, she omits the most important part, which is that by working “over-quota” an individual accumulates vacation time. (Altus, p. 1; Morris, p. 2)
Kuhlmann’s first language is German, so her wording errors may simply be a non-native-English-speaker’s cultural faux-pas. Another language error of hers is her inappropriate use of the term “Virginian” which she uses in phrases like “the Virginian community.” The term refers to a person from Virginia, not a location, town, or anything else in Virginia. I have been making a list of Kuhlmann’s errors. For another thing, she gets Twin Oaks’ tax status totally wrong (p. 110), and commits several other factual errors, which admittedly, only a few readers like myself would ever notice.
Kulhmann’s little omission is extremely important, not only to the natural history of Twin Oaks and other egalitarian communities yet also with regard to communal theory. With the vacation-credit labor system innovation Twin Oaks has solved the problem of Karl Marx’ and Freidrich Engels’ second phase of communism. They had no better idea than Skinner or anyone else as to what a secular communal society would look like. The best that Marx and Engels could come up with was to use Morelly’s Maxim of “from each according to ability; to each according to need.” They set the goal of achieving a non-capitalist economy as an uncertain step to be taken sometime in the distant future, focusing in the interim upon what they explained as the intermediate step in Marxist communism, that of class-conflict for control of the State. And yes, the second stage of Marxist communism is a utopian theory or ideal. (See: “Critique of the Gotha Program” in Tucker, p. 531)
Essentially, Twin Oaks has gotten to where the social reformers like Owen, Fourier, and St. Simon, and the revolutionary advocates like Marx and Engels, as well as anarchists and utopian fiction writers, could only dream about: a truly egalitarian economic system.
To describe communalism from the perspective of the group as opposed to that of the individual, the present author has evolved Morelly’s Maxim to what I am calling “Allen’s Axiom” saying, “from all according to intent; to all according to fairness.”
While the behavioral psychologists Deborah Altus and Edward Morris have their own criticisms of Kuhlmann’s study, I have another to add, which cannot be attributed to language problems. The tone of Kuhlmann’s writing is rather critical and dismissive as she writes:
“Yet a closer look at the inner workings of the community reveals that the community’s claim to have found a viable alternative to capitalism may have to be modified. It seems that the most central—yet often overlooked—factor in sustaining the noncompetitive economic system is the community’s rate of membership turnover, which was as high as 25 percent per year during its first five years. … The appearance of permanence is achieved through the fact that the community is most often discussed as if it were a stable entity rather than a constantly changing body of people.” (Kuhlmann, 2005, p. 122)
Yes, membership turn-over is a fact-of-life in the communitarian movement, less so for communities like cohousing where people have to invest hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to build a house, and more so in communal societies where new members do not have to invest any money at all to join. In Twin Oaks’ first year the average length of membership lasted only a few months, while today the average length of membership is at least eight or nine years. Longevity of the community and the average age of the membership are important factors in the membership turn-over rate, yet this is true in American culture in general. Maybe things are different in Germany, yet in America people move frequently to chase down work opportunities or to simply stay housed in a rental market in which ever-rising rents can cause people to move frequently. In America the “friendly neighborhood” is disappearing to where people do not know their neighbors. This is evidently a problem in Europe as well, since the cohousing community design began in Denmark and is often referred to in America as a form of “intentional neighborhood.” Yet the turnover of personnel is ongoing in every human organization, from for-profit corporations to nonprofit organizations, and from churches to government agencies, and so it is disingenuous to criticize Twin Oaks and other communal societies for also having an ongoing membership turnover rate.
Hilke Kuhlmann repeats her membership-turnover-rate criticism again in the conclusion of her 2005 book saying, “What Twin Oaks appears to have found instead [of a “recipe” for communal success] is a structure that is perfectly suited for utilizing membership turnover …” And in an earlier 2001 book titled “The Philosophy of Utopia” edited by Barbara Goodwin, Kuhlmann contributed an article called “The Illusion of Permanence: Work Motivation and Membership Turnover at Twin Oaks Community,” in which she states almost word-for-word the same criticism she later used in her 2005 book, along with her omission of the vacation-credit system. (Kuhlmann, 2005, p. 168; Kuhlmann, quoted in Goodwin, pp. 158-9)
To add some perspective to the membership turnover rate, I once did a survey via email-list of former members of East Wind Community and found that in general people said that they joined for ideological reasons, like feminism, anti-capitalism, ecological living, etc., and left for personal reasons, like going back to college, taking advantage of travel opportunities, not being able to find an intimate relationship in community, or finding a partner and leaving to start a family outside of community, sometimes to take advantage of offers of support from their biological families contingent upon their leaving community.
While Kuhlmann emphasizes the “illusion of permanence” that the labor-credit system gives to Twin Oaks, which carries on even as members come and go, she points out that it is precisely the turnover of membership which continually brings in new people with their infectious communal idealism. Affirming Mala’s explanation for what keeps Twin Oaks together, Kuhlmann states, “In short, the labour credit system helps to perpetuate the communal status quo.” (Kuhlmann, quoted in Goodwin, pp. 169-70)
Returning to Kuhlmann’s chapter 11 about the labor-credit system, the author writes the words “vacation” and “over-quota” yet only in reference to money and not in the context of how the labor-system works. She states:
“These days, the communards can supplement their monthly allowance nonetheless. There are three ways to do this: to work for wages off the farm in one’s own vacation time, to work ‘overquota’ in Twin Oaks production areas for minimum wage, or to receive money from relatives or friends.” (Kuhlmann, 2005, p. 110)
All of this is true enough, yet her emphasis is upon how members get private money, not what enables the community’s communalism or a person’s right to membership. She mentions above that members get vacation yet does not explain how. I emphasize this quote because it is the only place in Kuhlmann’s book or articles where she uses the word “vacation.” In her “Walden Two Communities” article it is clear that Kuhlmann does not understand the mechanics of the community’s vacation-credit labor system begun just a few months after the community was founded in 1967, since she refers only to the variable-credit system used during the community’s first decade, ending about 1976, saying:
“The main problem encountered by the communards was the impossibility of giving out enough labor credits to make every job equally desirable.” (Kuhlmann, 1999, p. 37)
While this statement was somewhat true back in the 1970s, this minimal wording for the sake of brevity only suggests why the community abandoned the variable-credit system, while ignoring the more important innovation of vacation-credits which predated the use of variable-credits, and which has continued all through the community’s history.
When Kuhlmann talks about Twin Oaks’ and other communities’ labor systems she focuses only upon the important aspect that “one hour of work equals one labor credit,” meaning that all work that benefits the community, whether considered on the Outside to be women’s work or men’s work, is considered equal in value to the community. (Kuhlmann, 2005, pp. 112, 167)
This is where I present the labor-sharing acronyms: LIVE•FREE, standing for “Labor Is Valued Equally • For Realizing Economic Equality,” as in live free of taxation (since the IRS does not tax labor systems); and ALIVE for “All Labor Is Valued Equally,” as in feminism is ALIVE in time-based economies. Valuing all labor equally that supports the community is the common aspect of all time-based labor systems, while not all of them use the vacation-credit innovation.
There is much good information in Hilke Kuhlmann’s book, making it a great resource for research into the Walden Two communities movement, yet while Kuhlmann does explain a good amount about Twin Oaks’ history of experimentation with labor-credit systems, especially giving a good explanation for what “variable-credits” were at Twin Oaks and how the membership decided against differential compensation for different types of labor in favor of One Hour = One Credit, she never mentions the vacation-credit aspect. (Kuhlmann, 2005, pp. 106-10)
This is a critical error on Kuhlmann’s part. Evidently during her six months of field research involving visits, interviews, and study of the relevant literature she never understood, or at least never wrote about, the single most important aspect of egalitarian communalism. Despite her incomplete work Hilke Kuhlmann was awarded a Ph. D., yet if it were me I would have first made her resolve her omission! As an academic observer she evidently never really understood what she was seeing, or perhaps simply forgot to ever mention it, so how could any other interested non-member be expected to understand how egalitarian communalism works, unless someone explains the vacation-credit aspect?
Twin Oaks Community’s time-based, labor-sharing economy represents the first long-term-successful non-monetary economic system of secular utopianism, on the level of what the Rule of Benedict did for Catholic monasticism, assuring a stable communal economy providing for economic equality now for over fifty years, and very few people outside of the communities movement understands it or how important it really is to the ideal and history of people’s search for an egalitarian utopia!
Altus, Deborah. (2006). [Review of the book Living Walden Two: B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist utopia and experimental communities by Hilke Kuhlmann]. Communal Societies.
Kuhlmann, Hilke. (1999 summer). Walden Two Communities: What Were They About? Communities: Journal of Cooperative Living, 103, 35-41.
Kuhlmann, Hilke. (2001). The illusion of permanence: Work motivation and membership turnover at Twin Oaks Community. In Barbara Goodwin (Ed.), The philosophy of utopia (pp. 157-171). Frank Cass Publishers: Ilford, Essex, England.
Kuhlmann, Hilke. (2005). Living Walden Two: B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist utopia and experimental communities. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois.
Rems, Emily. (2003 winter). “Ecovillage people.” BUST magazine. http://thefec.org/about/media/bust-magazine.
Morris, Edward. (n.d.). [Review of the book Living Walden Two: B. F. Skinner’s Behaviorist Utopia and Experimental Communities by Hilke Kuhlmann]. Journal of publication unknown.
Tucker, Robert C. (1978). The Marx-Engels Reader (2nd Ed). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
A. Allen Butcher · April, 2018 · The School of Intentioneering
East Wind Community (EW) became landed in Ozark County Missouri in 1974 as a sister community to Twin Oaks Community (TO) in Virginia founded in 1967. One of the Twin Oaks cofounders, Kat Kinkade, wanted to start a second community which would intend to grow faster than TO, as at that time Twin Oaks was turning away many prospective members.
Twin Oaks Community celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2017, and upon that occasion I wrote a paper titled Fifty Years of Utopian Intentioneering at Twin Oaks Community presenting my views on what has been learned from mostly Twin Oaks’ yet also from East Wind’s experiences. Most all of the Twin Oaks material is relevant to East Wind so I recommend that the reader find that paper as well. It is on my blog (URL above) and on my “Fellowship of Intentioneers” Facebook page. As I also talk about East Wind in that paper I will not repeat any (or much) of that material here. For this paper I will expand upon three topics: East Wind Community’s original goal of 750 people, the potential for a future “Tecumseh Commonwealth,” and what we have learned from EW’s experience of children in communal society.
East Wind Community’s Theoretical Goal: 750 People
As presented in the Fifty Years paper, East Wind’s original “theoretical goal” was to grow to 750 members. Forty-four years later the community’s population is about one-tenth of that earlier optimistic goal. When I joined East Wind in 1975 it was because I wanted to support the idea of creating a large alternative society. Instead, for various reasons, East Wind has ended up with an even slower rate-of-growth of its membership than Twin Oaks, which now has about 100 adults.
I remember during my membership at East Wind, which was eight of the community’s first ten years, the time when another member posted on the bulletin board a paper expressing his idea for how East Wind might grow. He was a Native American from Oklahoma, and he wrote about a vision of several different villages like East Wind scattered among East Wind’s Ozark hills. This, of course, was contrary to the vision of many of the people in East Wind’s power structure, or those who were most involved in East Wind’s government, who wanted a large centralized community rather than a decentralized network of small communities. At the time EW was still using B. F. Skinner’s idea of “Planner-Manager” government, presented in his utopian fiction, Walden Two, so the decentralized organizational concept was refused for being contrary to EW’s stated intent.
One of the East Wind Planners (i.e., member of its board-of-directors) wrote a response to the member’s bulletin-board paper explaining that the idea of a decentralized communal society was not acceptable, partly because Twin Oaks was not having a good outcome with its decentralized branch experiment, yet primarily because the “Walden Two” model that East Wind was trying to emulate inspired commitment to the idea of a large, centralized communal society, originally to be 1,000 people (because that is what was suggested by the author of Walden Two) then scaled down by East Wind to 750.
Although I agreed with the member who wrote about a decentralized network of sub-groups, I thought to give our leaders the chance to realize their ideal of a large, centralized communal society. After all, many kibbutzim in Israel had over 1,000 people so it was not unreasonable to think that we could do it as well, even without the cultural uniformity of Jewish culture. Yet while we were thinking that, even then the kibbutzim were starting to give up their communal childcare programs. Some of us were beginning to learn about this, especially Kat who visited kibbutzim in Israel in 1975, and probably at least some of the Jewish members at both Twin Oaks and East Wind.
On my almost annual visits to Twin Oaks I found newsletter and journal issues from the Israeli kibbutz movements in the TO Library, so as I was East Wind’s Library Manager and Network Manager I subscribed to some of those publications for the EW Library. We also had several visitors from the kibbutz, and one woman who grew up in kibbutz joined East Wind. Into the 1980s some of us read in those journals and talked with those kibbutznics about the kibbutz movements giving up their children’s houses as the first step in the privatization of the kibbutzim, and I think that many of us, when we learned what was happening in kibbutz, worried that if we gave up our communal childcare programs that we might find it hard to resist following the kibbutzim down that slippery slope of privatization. I thought at the time that it was our labor-credit systems that would save our egalitarian communities from privatizing, and I wrote about that to the editors of the kibbutz publications, yet no one ever responded. I agree with what Mala Twin Oaks once said to a reporter that, “Our labor credit system is the glue that holds our community together.”
Both TO and EW have now successfully given up communal childcare in favor of parental childcare without further privatization of our communal economies. While that is a success, it is clear that our original ideal of growing to hundreds of members is not being realized. In 2010 East Wind set a “membership ceiling” policy of 73 adults since that was the number of rooms available at the time, which replaced the earlier 750-member goal. (EWC Legislation Policy 11.52, p. 42)
Perhaps the most important reason why East Wind has not grown much in over forty years, not even to parity with Twin Oaks, is because of the issue of the optimum number of people for a more-or-less intimate group. As I wrote in the Fifty Years paper, most sociological, psychological, and anthropological studies of optimum human populations, both of primitive societies and of contemporary intentional communities, indicates that 75 to 150 people is the natural limit. It is this “membership ceiling” that may be the most important reason why the egalitarian communities of Twin Oaks and East Wind have not grown to large sizes, plateauing at around 75 adults at EW and 100 at TO. Another reason that our communities have not grown larger may have to do with children; yet hold that thought for the third section of this paper. Recently I have heard that some at EW are talking about raising their membership ceiling.
It is this experience of TO and EW, confirming the 100-or-so limit for social groups, that justifies the idea of a decentralized network of communities in a local area as opposed to that of one large centralized society.
Other large alternative-culture centers like Damanhur in Italy (founded 1975) organized as a federation, and Auroville in India (founded 1968) organized as neighborhoods, illustrate the necessity or efficacy of the decentralized network. This is what is developing around Twin Oaks now with four or five small communities around the larger group.
The decentralized network is essentially the organizational theory that Murray Bookchin developed through the Institute for Social Ecology, which he called “communalism,” confusingly using the French term for political subdivisions of a city, now called “democratic decentralism” by the Kurdish people who are developing the theory in the Rojava region of northeast Syria. Note that in English the term “communalism” is an economic term for sharing commonly-owned property. It is unfortunate that Bookchin’s use of the term “communalism” is confusing to English speakers, while the Kurds at least translated his idea into English. For my writing and advocacy, I use the term “commonwealth” to refer to a decentralized network of collective (i.e., sharing privately-owned property) and of communal (i.e., sharing commonly-owned property) and of economically-diverse (i.e., mixture of collective and communal) societies in one local area.
The Future Tecumseh Commonwealth
Before I joined East Wind, less than a year-and-a-half after it became landed in the Ozarks, I looked around at the communities movement for the largest, most dynamic countercultural community project to join. There were only a few that were communal and secular, and of those East Wind seemed to be the most likely to grow. I gave up on that idea about East Wind years before I had to leave the community, yet I never gave up looking for another community design that I thought might grow to a large size.
Being concerned about the lack of growth of our communal communities once they get to around a hundred members, I became excited about a new design for community begun by a group in southern Virginia called Abundant Dawn Community (AD, founded 1994). This design was being developed by Velma Kahn, whom I had worked with when we were both members of Twin Oaks Community, and when both of us were on the board-of-directors of the Rocky Mountain Cohousing Association in Colorado.
Velma developed for Abundant Dawn a legal structure involving a state nonprofit organization, which Diana Leafe Christian calls a “non-exempt non-profit” in her 2003 book Creating a Life Together (pp. 185-8), which holds the land and leases sites or lots to individuals or small sub-groups of the community. This decentralized intentional community design is referred to in Diana’s book as a community with subcommunities (p. 197), with the subgroups named at Abundant Dawn “pods” after the term used for groups of dolphins and other sea mammals. Diana uses the term “pod” only in reference to Abundant Dawn (pp. 160-1, 197), while Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (DR, founded 1993) in northern Missouri uses the same general idea although not the same term for it, using instead “subcommunities.”
Then one day it came to me! I remembered our Native American member’s idea of decentralized villages and it suddenly occurred to me that East Wind could be just one of several communities comprising the local alternative culture. Such a local countercultural community network may or may not develop a formal community-networking structure involving all the separate communities (like in Bookchin’s “communalism” or the Kurds’ “democratic decentralism”), yet in either case the network can be called a “commonwealth.” This term, like many others, is defined in different ways by different people, yet the general dictionary definition is a voluntary association of sovereign entities linked by common objectives and interests.
This idea of founding a new community in Tecumseh, the nearest small “town” having little more than a gas station and a post office (the latter of which was about to be closed due to lack of utilization until East Wind moved in only a mile or so away) is now a long-term goal I am beginning to develop. Actually, my hope is that many new small or large groups may develop around Tecumseh, such that the local area will form a regional network which I am calling the “Tecumseh Commonwealth.”
Typically, where ever one intentional community is founded others will also develop, not necessarily of the same type. Especially where a large communal group exists, collective communities often form near-by, usually comprised in part by members of the communal group who have given up communalism, often in order to start families. Twin Oaks has several such smaller groups in its local Louisa County, some of them collective and some communal (the collective community named “Baker Branch” was not started by TOers yet is now mostly comprised of them), while East Wind has none in its Ozark County of any kind. This presents a great opportunity for myself and others to buy land in Tecumseh and start building different types of communities, which will likely attract former members of East Wind and others who would like to contribute to the building of a local community network in the Ozark Mountains.
There are many good reasons to form small communities in or near Tecumseh and East Wind. For one, there are no or very few building codes in Ozark County, Missouri. For another there is a lot of water in the area. At Tecumseh the North Fork of the White River and the Bryant Creek come together to form the hundred-mile-long reservoir called Norfolk Lake, all of which provide wonderful recreational opportunities. While there is little flat land and lots of rock in the region making agriculture difficult (beef is the primary agricultural commodity in the area), the region is mostly forested with plenty of small local saw mills, and has lots of rock available for building homes and other buildings. Once hemp becomes legal it can be grown on even the poor soil of the Ozarks for use in making the building material “hempcrete.”
The primary drawback of Tecumseh and Ozark County is that there are practically no jobs in the area. Communities concerned about maintaining good local public relations need to bring with them their own businesses for making money, to avoid the problem of transplants taking local jobs from the long-term population of the area. It may be that the lack of jobs in the area is the main reason why there has been to date no satellite communities of East Wind established in Ozark County.
Okay, another reason may very well be ticks and chiggers! The Ozarks is practically semi-tropical in the summer, humid, and populated with flora and fauna of all kinds because the Ozark Plateau is a mixture of plants and animals from the different ecosystems of desert to the southwest, grasslands to the west, deciduous forests of the north and east, and wetlands of the Mississippi Valley to the southeast.
The lack of jobs, along with the poor soil quality and hilly topography, is what keeps land prices low and zoning regulations minimal in the Ozarks. Along with the abundance of water and of building materials in the Ozarks, there is another reason why the Ozarks provide a good environment for a countercultural settlement. For the last couple centuries, the Ozark Mountains have attracted people wanting or needing to escape the dominant culture. People move to the Ozarks to get away from people telling them what to do, so the Ozarks culture is very much one where people want to be left alone, which engenders the cultural practice of leaving your neighbors alone. East Wind has been accepted by the locals largely because members prefer to stay at home enjoying our counterculture, resulting in locals only seeing East Winder’s when we go to town to spend money in their stores!
Ozark County local government has told East Wind that we are the largest “employer” in the county, although of course our members are not employees since all members are owners of the community including its businesses! And when it comes around to election time the candidates for county sheriff and other local public offices sometimes visit East Wind campaigning for votes. I was told by a local once that they know East Winder’s to be nice people, they just wish we would clean up a little better before walking into their stores!
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw an “in-migration” bringing many new people into the Ozark Mountain region from the cities, and the 2020s could easily see a similar in-migration happen, particularly from the West as the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountain region, and the Southwest all continue to get drier. With relatively inexpensive land prices, lots of water, trees, and rocks, Ozark land prices will likely increase in the future, so now is the time to purchase! Also, the highways and bridges into and through the Ozarks have continually been improved over the last forty years, so we can expect that the population and land prices will continually increase.
Not only may there be lots of people from the West looking for land with water in the future, yet there is reason to think that people from the East (and from Texas) may also be moving to the Ozarks. The problem in the East is not so much the lack of water as the lack of affordable land. If coastal cities get to be more difficult places to live, for any number of reasons, rural land in Missouri and elsewhere, especially regions with lax building codes, could get inundated with climate migrants. Better to buy land now than to wait until the rural Ozarks real estate market becomes inflated.
After leaving East Wind I lived four years at Twin Oaks Community in Virginia, and one of the main reasons I left TO is because all the communities of the area share Louisa County with the South Anna Nuclear Power Station, just 15 miles from TO. Some years ago (2008?) a rare East Coast earthquake occurred in Louisa County that rattled TO, the nuke, and the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., just 100 miles to the north. Fortunately, the nuclear power plant sustained no serious damage, yet it remains a liability and a threat to everyone in the region, as there are other risks to nukes than just earthquakes. The association of communities including EW, TO, and the other communal groups around TO and elsewhere, called the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, has many of its communal eggs in the Louisa basket. Tecumseh, Missouri is the main fallback or disaster-relocation contingency plan for Twin Oaks and the other egalitarian communities in Virginia, should any number of potential disasters occur, and while those communities may not actually help purchase land around East Wind, former members like myself certainly can.
Another reason to think about purchasing land around East Wind and Tecumseh is because there is already a regional community land trust in the area. Sweetwater community about 70 miles north of EW, and Hawk Hill about 30 miles north are both part of the Ozark Regional Land Trust (ORLT), and any new community in Tecumseh could request to put its land under ORLT as well. The Trust is actually both a community land trust (CLT) and a land conservation trust (LCT), and some time ago ORLT purchased some land on Bryant Creek upstream from Tecumseh to keep it wild, so purchasing land for a community near that small conservation trust on the Bryant would be a good location.
I think of adapting the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage’s design of intentional community, involving a community land trust leasing plots of land to pods or neighborhoods, for the design of a new community in Tecumseh. It should be fairly easy to replicate DR in Ozark County as both groups would be in the same state. This may be helpful since DR has a rather complicated structure, explained by Ma’ikwe in her 2017 book, Together Resilient. Ma’ikwe, formerly a member of East Wind, then of Dancing Rabbit, is now living in Wyoming with a new name: “Mayana.” In her book she gives much good information about the community, explaining DR’s community land trust, its “overlapping cooperatives,” its “Exchange Local Money” (ELM) alternative currency, and its many ecological design features. Among the DR pods was “Skyhouse,” which I think lasted 17 years as a communal group, part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. To emphasize that the proposed new Tecumseh community is intended to be a mixture of aspects of both Dancing Rabbit and of East Wind, I suggest the name “Dancing Wind.”
The population goal for the proposed Dancing Wind Ecovillage might simply be to equal EW’s adult population, although since I personally would like to see the Dancing Wind community project include a primary school for the youngest children, the population goal for the whole local network would then be whatever is needed to support the school. Developing a school for both community children and for other local children around Tecumseh would be a very good plan, since schools always provide a central focus for encouraging people to work together. An early-learning school will also help secure good public relations for countercultural Tecumseh, although people at East Wind may be of mixed opinion about it. Those who want more children at East Wind will probably like having a Tecumseh school, while those not wanting children at East Wind will probably not want it. Along with an early-learning school for children I would also like to develop my “School of Intentioneering” for adult education about intentional community. These educational programs could become projects of the tax-exempt Ozark Regional Land Trust.
It will be a year or two before I can purchase land near Tecumseh and resume my contribution to the creation of a large alternative culture project in the middle of the Ozark Plateau. I happen to have the good fortune to have purchased real estate in Denver, Colorado, which has recently greatly appreciated in value, thanks largely to legalized marijuana, so my plan is to use what equity I can from this city property to purchase rural Ozarks land around Tecumseh.
At the same time, I want to maintain my city property as a location for community networking here in Denver and the West, and as a stop-over for Federation people and other communitarians traveling through the West. I hope to establish an ongoing connection between the alternative community in Denver and the Ozark communities. A good possibility is that since jobs are scarce in Ozark County yet plentiful in Denver City and County, my Dry Gulch Ecovillage can house Dancing Winders who are willing to spend time in this city to make money to support themselves at the Dancing Wind Ecovillage, similar to how East Wind used to have “outside-work houses” in Springfield and St. Louis during the community’s first two years. In the mean time I will encourage people to purchase land near East Wind, around Tecumseh, Missouri, for the building of a local network of different types of intentional communities, which I am suggesting be called the “Tecumseh Commonwealth.”
Children in Communal Society
One of my goals in life has been to understand not only the dominant culture yet also the alternative culture, and to be able to write and teach what I learn about the differences and the interconnections between the two. In some ways the two are interdependent, which I explain through the concept of “parallel cultures.”
While I used to think that the goal of the alternative culture is more to change the dominant culture than to merely escape it, I have come to see that the more important perspective is that the two actually need each other, like day needs night, spring needs winter, and inhaling needs exhaling. Through both living in community and outside of it, I have come to see many different pieces of this rather involved puzzle, and have worked to connect the dots of information I have found here-and-there to create a coherent picture of it. I am sure that I have not seen the whole story yet in all its detail, yet I have come to some conclusions about the counterculture relevant to East Wind, to the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, to the Fellowship for Intentional Community, and to other communities-movement organizations, which I am teaching through my “School of Intentioneering.”
Like probably everyone else, I have heard of monastic societies that are celibate and have no children. The best known are Catholic monasteries, yet there are many more as well, including Hindu, Buddhist and others. EW, TO, and the other Federation communities are communal like monasteries yet unlike monasteries they are secular and do have children. I used to think that there was no correlation between the two: celibate monasteries and sexually-permissive communalism. Yet now I see that there is a fundamental relationship between the two that helps to explain East Wind’s evolution.
At first it was difficult to see this relationship between celibate monasticism and egalitarian communalism when only looking at Twin Oaks, because that community manages its children and its community agreements concerning them very well. At East Wind, however, the story is very different. Through EW’s experience or evolution we have evidence of a behavioral characteristic, or pattern of human culture, suggesting a basic aspect or rule of human society. I am still working on how best to explain this concept, yet for now I will rely upon B. F. Skinner’s behavioral science to help explain it.
The Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner proposed the idea that human behavior is a rational science that we can understand and manipulate through technology like all other sciences. However, as far as I know neither he nor anyone else has ever written down what any of those laws of behavioral science might be. I now think that through our experimental communal societies we can begin to see what some of those laws actually are, understand them, explain them, and work with them. One example would be what Henry Hammer often said. Henry is a former member of TO who designed East Wind’s buildings: Sunnyside, Fanshen, Rock Bottom, and the Enterprise box trusses. Henry stated that the built environment may be designed to facilitate the kind of relationships we want to encourage among people. That is a good behaviorist concept. I think that other laws of behavioral science can be drawn from our practice of communal economics with regard to how labor-credits are different from money, yet I will skip that and other possible topics for now to focus upon what East Wind’s experience is teaching us with regard to children in both communal society and in the dominant culture of competition.
Building upon what I wrote in the Fifty Years paper about communal childcare, I think that both of our communities’ experiences of attempting to create communal childcare programs only to see them fail, shows clearly that secular communalism is no more able to maintain communal childcare than is religious communalism. While it is possible that some contemporary religious communal organizations are successfully managing communal childcare programs, like perhaps the Twelve Tribes communities and Padanaram Village, many others like the Hutterites and probably the Bruderhof have given up communal early childcare for family-based early childcare. Many of the Israeli kibbutzim made a similar transition, while some of the new urban kibbutzim in Israel may be experimenting again with communal childcare. (For details and references see the relevant chapters for these communal societies in my 2016 book The Intentioneer’s Bible.)
I think that we have sufficient evidence from our experience to proclaim that adults having children results in the need, not just the preference yet the imperative, of forming family units in order to put the needs of children first. The exception is cases where parents are not able to or simply have no interest in taking care of their children.
Communal childcare becomes problematic when decisions for children are made by a group rather than solely by their parents, especially when some of those parents refuse to respect those community-made decisions or agreements. At that point the unstoppable force of social pressure hits the immovable force of non-compliance-through-principled-dissent, resulting in energy being diverted from harmony to conflict. For this reason, among others, TO and EW gave up communal childcare for what is now considered “collective childcare” in which parents make decisions for their children. Small groups of parents and non-parent care-givers may look like “communal childcare,” yet they are not what we used to call “communal childcare.” To give the parent-directed childcare model a name separate from the community-directed childcare model, I am using in my School of Intentioneering the term “cofamily,” in which the prefix “co” is unspecified as it can mean: cooperative, complex, collective, compound, communal, composite, community, combined, or even complicated family! Such cofamilies can stand alone or be nested within a larger community, whether a land trust, an ecovillage, cohousing, class-harmony, communal society, or other intentional community design.
I now believe that through our experience of children in communal society we have evidence that having children, and the resulting need to put children first, is a large part of the reason why human society has developed the private property system. Groups of people, in any kind of community, simply do not usually make children their highest priority to the degree that their parents and other caregivers do.
We can see this anti-child social dynamic in several ways in communal society, which I call the “anti-child bias of communalism.” First, and probably most commonly, women and men meet in communalism then leave together to have children in the private-property system rather than in communal society, perhaps largely to be close to their families, and the financial support which they would not provide if the couple remained in communal society. Then there are unannounced pregnancies where women quietly leave, with or without their partners, to avoid having to ask the community to support their child. Another way we see communalism’s anti-child tendency is most starkly revealed at East Wind when the community refuses to support its women once they become pregnant. (How many? Only members can search Community Meeting records to find out.) If a pregnant woman wants to stay yet loses her vote in Community Meeting, she is then confronted with the ultimatum to either get an abortion or leave, even if she has to go on welfare alone in an unfamiliar city.
The first pregnant woman to be pushed out of East Wind for getting pregnant without permission from the community was in February, 1976. I was a provisional member at the time so I could not say anything against this decision of the EW Planners if I wanted to stay. This decision was led by Kat Kinkade to delay having children until a childcare facility could be built, as Twin Oaks had done around 1970 (coincidentally, TO and EW both refused children four years prior to the building of their respective childcare buildings). I knew all this at the time and did not agree with this Planner decision as I thought it was self-defeating and unnecessary, while it evidenced a lack of simple human compassion.
The excuse for kicking pregnant women out has been given that East Wind was “poor,” yet later that spring we received around $100,000 from the Pier I hammock business account (thank you Twin Oaks for sharing your labor-intensive craft business!), some of which could have been used to upgrade Re’im, the original farmhouse, for a childcare building as it was soon to be vacated. We were just finishing building Rock Bottom that spring for our new kitchen-dining building, and could have used the vacated Re’im for both food processing and childcare, yet instead used the bedrooms and dining room for storage, and the living room for a “Music Room” as Twin Oaks had done with its original farmhouse, “Llano.” Instead, most of that money was used to build the industrial building called “Enterprise.” Yet the precedent for refusing pregnancies was set, and East Wind has continued to make pregnancy refugees of many of its male and female members ever since, including eight years later in 1983 involving the current author and my partner. Over the decades the Music Room party crowd has gradually grown in strength of numbers to where it may now be the community’s primary anti-child voting-block.
Due to this tendency to refuse to support children while the community continues to increase its income, thanks now to its nutbutter business started by the Planner who earlier wrote the refusal of the Native American member’s proposal, I refer to East Wind as the Federation of Egalitarian Communities’ “party commune,” similar to the fictional Star Trek member of the United Federation of Planets’ “pleasure planet” called “Risa.”
Once East Wind had established a communal childcare program it restricted the number of children it would support, resulting in a small yet steady stream of East Wind pregnancy refugees. Then in a 2011 item of community legislation East Wind decided to submit each new announced pregnancy to a Community Meeting vote as to whether or not the community will financially support that particular woman’s pregnancy, birthing, and childcare. If the pregnant woman failed to win the vote she had to leave or get an abortion. (EWC Legislation Policy 85.0 – Approval for Pregnancy, p. 159)
Decades prior to this Approval for Pregnancy policy (around 1980) East Wind had decided to plan for two new pregnancies per year. As long as the Child Board accepted additional pregnancies above that limit there were no problems, yet if the Child Board did not accept a woman’s unplanned pregnancy then a vote was called in Community Meeting for making the final decision as to whether a particular pregnant woman could stay or would have to leave or get an abortion. Until recently I thought that the 2011 East Wind legislation mandating that all pregnant women had to go through a Community Meeting vote was in order for the community to avoid the criticism that it was telling women to not have children. Simply saying that the community would not financially support a pregnancy was somewhat less appalling and overtly oppressive than throwing pregnant women under the bus. Yet more recently I’ve read through more of my files on East Wind and now have a slightly different perspective.
While during East Wind’s first two decades the goal was to maintain a communal childcare program where the community made all decisions with regard to childcare and education, including diet, immunizations, discipline, toys, etc., and the parents only had input though the various child program committees, all that changed when an EW child died in a car accident due to adult negligence in the mid-1990s. That incident ended EW’s communal childcare program. There is more to that story, which I’ve written in The Intentioneer’s Bible, yet for this paper I’ll carry on to explain that in the decades since that tragedy the community evidently at first became more relaxed about accepting new pregnancies.
From my records it appears that after the tragedy and the end of communal childcare, East Wind first loosened up and accepted most announced pregnancies. Then in 2011 something changed. I noticed that it was a woman who had sponsored the successful policy proposal that all announced pregnancies would be submitted to a vote in Community Meeting, and I had met the woman who had made that proposal, working with her one afternoon during one of my visits to EW. Reading through my files and considering what I knew about this woman, that she is very responsible and much respected by the community, and seeing that a number of items in the community’s Legislation Policies document were sponsored by her, I came to the realization that the automatic vote was most likely imposed upon all announced pregnancies simply in the interest of fairness. This might be obvious, yet I have come to think that this particular woman proposed the automatic-pregnancy-vote because she had responsibly planned her two pregnancies with the Child Board, getting permission to have her children before she got pregnant, while evidently nearly every other woman who became pregnant failed to ask permission first. Clearly the earlier community policy was not working, so the most egalitarian thing to do was to submit every pregnancy to a vote for community acceptance or rejection. Interestingly, just a year after the woman sponsored the automatic-pregnancy-vote policy, she left East Wind with her two children just like most EW parents.
Keep in mind that Twin Oaks Community has no such policy, automatically accepting almost all pregnancies of its members without voting on each separately. Why are the two communities’ pregnancy policies so different? Unlike EW’s implicit child population limit, TO has set an explicit limit on the number of children it will support. This limit is high enough that with membership turnover, in which parents frequently decide to take their children out of the community once they reach school age (another aspect of communalism’s anti-child bias), new births simply take the place of those children leaving. In this way the community avoids the problem of refusing pregnancies. While EW’s population ratio of adults to children has generally been from around 8:1 (that is 8-to-1) to 10:1, at TO the limit is 5:1, or nearly twice as many adults-to-children than at EW. Thus, the whole atmosphere involving children at Twin Oaks is more accepting than at East Wind, since TO has set a more appropriate limit for children than what results from EW’s mandated pregnancy vote. (Note that 5:1 is similar to the adult-child ratio in the outside world.)
Considering the different childcare programs and policies at East Wind and at Twin Oaks, it is easier to see the inherent bias of communalism against children at EW than at TO. Yet clearly, even TO is subject to that bias as it does have a limit to the number of children it will support. As to how much the community will provide for their children’s college education when they choose to leave communal society, Brenda TO has explained to me that parents have to ask the community and, “they may get it and they may not.” To see this limit at TO one only would have to propose increasing the child population limit, or just do a survey at Annual Planning time asking members what limit they prefer for TO’s child population.
Recognizing communalism’s inherent bias against children, I have come to see that such dynamics are partly why, or perhaps in large part why, the dominant culture is characterized by and supports private property. People continually leave communal society to live in competition, because they have come to see that it is in the private property system that parents can best provide for their children, and this dynamic has probably been going on since before money was invented! This may even be an important reason WHY money was invented!
I have seen this justification for and attachment to the private property system in other countercultural dynamics as well. I first saw it at Rainbow Gatherings, which are ostensibly expressions of the gifting culture. People bring their private property to Gatherings to gift to others in the Rainbow Family of Living Light, yet at all large and many small Gatherings there is a Barter Circle or Barter Lane, where people will sit for hours on a spread blanket and offer any manner of things from their private possessions to passers-by for trade, from jewelry, to tools, to clothing, to consumables, with tobacco and especially chocolate taking on the attributes of money through their use as indirect barter commodities. And it is especially children who enjoy bartering, learning how to buy-low-sell-high, and to recognize and practice the law of supply-and-demand, merchandising, and monopoly in wilderness training experiences for market economics at Rainbow Gathering Barter Lanes. Burning Man festivals have the same tendency, showing that whenever people come together to enjoy the gifting culture they invariably want to create private-property barter markets as well. At Burning Man festivals barter is not tolerated and is always broken up, while at Rainbow Gatherings the atmosphere is much more anarchistic, with the existence of Barter Circles forever being a contentious topic.
Recognizing that the dominant culture of private property and of competition engenders its own counterculture of gifting, sharing, and cooperation, and that the counterculture engenders the dominant culture as seen at festivals and in communal society, I have come to see that the two, the dominant culture and the alternative or counterculture, are both dependent upon the other! Both creates the other and justifies its opposite or nemesis by its own nature! Essentially, this reality is diagrammed by the Taoist Taijitu or yin-yang symbol of Eastern religion, and we who create the counterculture need to be aware of this ironic truth of human existence. I believe that the inter-dependency of cooperation in the Fourth World (i.e., locally-based economy) and of competition in the First World (i.e., market-based economy) qualifies as one of those cultural dynamics or behaviorist principles that Skinner postulated as existing, and we now can see this illustrated in our own lives.
Perhaps this realization is not earth shattering. Maybe others have seen this before me. Yet none of us talk about this. Recognizing this truth gives ironic meaning to East Wind’s name, considering that Eastern religious traditions have been telling us this all along, in general terms. Now we know that cooperation and competition are like night and day, male and female, black and white. Both need the other, while neither can completely subsume the other.
East Wind’s development with regard to its childcare program shows us that as in monasticism, children are problematic in communal society. While I formerly thought that our story would be different from the history of monasticism, the similarity is made clear by especially East Wind’s, yet also by Twin Oaks’, policies restricting the number of children the communities will support.
Communalism has an inherent bias against children, the need to provide for which drives parents into private property and competition. There is somewhat of a corollary between this communal-versus-competition dichotomy and the dynamic of children growing up in the city wanting to live in the country, followed by the next generation growing up in the country wanting to move to the city, yet it is more fundamentally instructive of human culture to recognize that the experience of children and parents in society has been an important part of the driving force behind the private property system, through all of recorded human cultural history.
Philosophically, we can see now why both private property and common property exist, and how the two opposites are both essential to human society. This provides justification for the founding of forms of collective communities like land co-ops, and of economically-diverse intentional communities like land trusts, in close proximity to East Wind. People are continually attracted to East Wind to live communally, then invariably they are motivated to leave communalism to live in competition.
I once did a survey of former members of East Wind via email asking, “Why did you join and why did you leave East Wind?” The responses boiled down to the explanations that people generally join for idealistic reasons, like anti-capitalism, then leave for personal reasons, like the desire to have children.
I affirm that East Wind Community will benefit by having collective intentional communities around it that will accept its pregnancy refugees and other members who become disillusioned by the challenges of communalism. For the reasons presented in this paper, most especially with regard to children, I believe that East Wind can be a wonderful component of a larger alternative culture of people practicing gifting and sharing in the beautiful Ozark Mountains. East Wind is a good start on that ideal, yet communalism is only half of the story, with the collective part yet to be built. I invite others who would also like to live in a remote, rural, alternative culture of gifting and sharing to help work for the creation of the future Tecumseh Commonwealth.
A. Allen Butcher • School of Intentioneering • Denver, CO • April, 2018
Since the Great Recession of 2008 it has become more difficult for people to acquire especially the housing part of the American Dream. Prices for homes and everything else go up faster than wages, and while two incomes have been needed to pay for the American Dream through recent decades, in recent years even that is not enough, especially as government-supplied social services are reduced.
Today, in many cases three or more adults are needed to support a household, all contributing both wages and time to the group, much as extended families combine the resources of several family members. Small groups of adults who are not related, working, playing, and living together, typically form as a result of their common interests, needs, values, or ideals, a sense of “family” outside of the usual bond of shared family DNA. As such people develop a set of affinities, it may be said that a “cofamily” results.
Three or more unrelated adults making commitments to each other similar to those in traditional families can result in mutual-aid among unrelated adults for creating and maintaining clan-like support for child and elder care, housing, transportation, maintenance, and other needs. Such non-traditional families especially provide an alternative for women who may be considering an abortion due to a lack of traditional family support for their pregnancy, birthing, and child-raising.
Non-traditional family designs need a name to distinguish them from the traditional nuclear family and from the extended family, with the term “cofamily” offered. While restricting use of the term to refer to three to nine adults, with or without children, the “co” prefix in “cofamily” is unspecified as it can mean: cooperative, complex, collective, compound, communal, composite, community, combined, or even complicated family! Also, a cofamily can be nested within a larger intentional community, such as an ecovillage, a housing cooperative, cohousing, a communal society, or a community land trust. Further, a cofamily may be comprised of married couples, or of a polyamorous group, or of unattached individuals.
The following information compiled from U.S. Census reports provides background for making the case for the need to recognize cofamilies as a viable alternative to the nuclear and the extended family. These six points derive from the resources appended to the end of this article, in the following sequence:
There is a clear benefit to society of the non-traditional cofamily in helping to keep children and their parents out of poverty, and potentially also in reducing the incidence of abortion, as people work together to support each other in what is sometimes called “partnership culture.” (Riane Eisler, The Partnership Way, 1998) There is also a clear benefit to the individual of having a clan-like home comprised of people who are mutually supportive, caring, and nurturing. This may be called the “Communitarian Dream.”
Please feel free to do your own math for deriving conclusions from the U.S. Census data provided above, consulting as desired the references below. My calculations from this data suggest the following.
With only half of all households now comprised of married adults (item 4), and one-third of all households comprised of single adults (item 5), that leaves 17 percent of all American households comprised of two or more unmarried adults, which may be called “cofamilies” when they involve three or more adults. Two unmarried adults living together may or may not be a couple, yet they are certainly not a cofamily according to the definition offered requiring three or more adults.
The multiple-partner fertility statistic (item 3) could involve women in married households (item 4), or in single-parent households (item 6), or in the 17 percent of households comprised of either cofamilies or of two unmarried adults. Frequently, women with two or more children of different fathers practice “serial monogamy,” meaning: marriage, divorce, remarriage, divorce, repeat. Such women usually live in a succession of married households, comprising what is sometimes called a “blended family” when the man brings his children to the household (item 4). However, the cofamily provides another option, enabling any number of the children’s fathers and their new partners and children to live in close proximity for sharing child and elder care among a group of mutually committed and supportive adults.
The statistic that a quarter of all households are comprised of single-parent families (item 6) suggests that some of these are probably included in the one-third of households comprised of single adults (item 5), while other single-parent families are probably found in the 17 percent category comprised of either households with two unmarried adults or of cofamilies comprised of three or more adults.
Although it cannot be said that 17 percent of all households are cofamilies, given that most non-married households are probably comprised of two housemates, those comprised of three or more adult housemates, sometimes called “other non-family households,” may increase as economic necessity dictates, and as more people become familiar with and desire the clan-like lifestyle of the cofamily.
For a quarterly magazine about intentional community, a directory of communities, workshops, conferences, etc., see: http://www.ic.org The Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC)
Culture Magic: The Art of Changing Culture at Will, 2007, Allen Butcher, http://www.CultureMagic.org
Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools … Ecovillages & Intent. Comm., 2003, Diana Leafe Christian
Finding Community: How to join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community, 2007, Diana Leafe Christian
Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption, 2017, Ma’ikwe Ludwig
First, consider that for all households, including single-parents, the average number of family members dropped from about 3.6 people in 1967 to about 2.5 people in 2016. (“Families and Living Arrangements,” tables: AD-3a, HH-6)
“Families and Living Arrangemets.” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: at http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html, tables: AD-3a, and http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/households.html > Households > Table HH-6 “Average Population Per Household and Family: 1940 to Present;” or http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/HH-6.pdf
Second, about 23 percent of the population of the United States is children under the age of 18. (“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016,” Children as a percentage of the population)
“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016.” Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from:
http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/glance.asp > America’s Children at a Glance > Demographic Background > Children as a percentage of the population; and:
http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/glance.asp > America’s Children at a Glance > Family and Social Environment, and List of Tables > Table FAM2.B at: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables.asp; or http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/fam2b.asp?popup=true
Third, over a third of all women with more than one child had them with more than one father, called “multiple-partner fertility.”
Guzzo, K. B. (2014, July). New partners, more kids: Multiple-partner fertility in the United States. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4182921/
Logan, C., Manlove, J., Ikramullah, E., & Cottingham, S. (2006, November). Men who father children with more than one woman: A contemporary portrait of multiple-partner fertility. Child Trends research brief. Publication #2006-10 4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC 20008, 202-572-6000. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from htttp://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2006-10MultiplePartnerFertility.pdf
Martin, M. (Host). (2011, April 19). Multiple partner families: More common than you think. (Radio broadcast) with Cassandra Dorius and Maria Cancian (Guests), National Public Radio News. Washington D.C. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=135541549
Fourth, the number of married-adult households has been steadily dropping to now about half of all households. (“America’s Families and Living Arrangements” Table AD-3b)
“Families and Living Arrangements.” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html > Living Arrangements of Adults > Table AD-3b at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/AD-3b.pdf
Fifth, the number of adults living alone has been steadily rising to now nearly a third of all households. (“Families and Living Arrangements,” Tables AD-3a and HH-4)
“Families and Living Arrangements,” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html > Living Arrangements of Adults > Table AD-3a at:
http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/AD3a.pdf; also > Households > Table HH-4 at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/HH-4.pdf
Sixth, births to unmarried women comprised 40% of all births in 2014, resulting in about a quarter of all households being of single-parent families, with half of all single-parent children living in poverty. (“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016” Family and Social Environment and List of Tables; also, “Families and Living Arangements,” tables HH-1 and CH-1)
“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016.” Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/glance.asp > America’s Children at a Glance > Family and Social Environment, and List of Tables > Table FAM2.B at: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables.asp, or http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/fam2b.asp?popup=true
“Families and Living Arangements” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016 from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/households.html > Households > Table HH-1; and “Families and Living Arangements” > Living Arrangements of Children > Table CH-1.
Every summer down on the commune there is a holiday during which the members invite their parents to visit. The grounds and buildings are spruced up a little more than usual, the flower gardens are in full bloom, and the bright, warm summer sun encourages friendly smiles and laughter among all.
Most of the parents who arrive have never been to a country commune before and so do not know quite what to expect. Their daughters and sons who have joined are eager to positively impress their visiting family members, assuring them that life is good on the commune.
Meanwhile, down by the pond, those members of the commune who have no family coming this year for the annual open house are busy digging a shallow pit, about a foot deep and large enough in diameter to accommodate 20 or 30 people sitting down. They pour in some buckets of water and mix back in some of the soil they had taken out, making a thick mud soup. Then 20 or 30 people take off all their clothes and wallow around in the mud pit like pigs for an hour or so, getting thoroughly into a non-human, animalistic group consciousness.
Now covered head-to-toe with sticky mud the Mud People climb out of the pit and fan out in groups of two or three to wander through the community, walking the paths and searching the buildings for those unsuspecting and still slightly uncomfortable parental units.
Those members whose parents are visiting have already given them a tour of the nicest parts of the community, and are now settled with their family members in various residences and common buildings, or on the patios and in the gardens, at pleasant little intimate table-and-chair settings that the commune created to encourage members to gather around for socializing in small groups.
With the visiting parents enjoying a genteel respite of tea and crumpets, the daughters and sons of the visiting parents explain how commune life is a good thing for them, as they are learning to grow healthy food, build energy-efficient housing, and manage socially responsible businesses. They almost have their parents convinced that all is well on the commune, and that the commune will be a good place for their heirs to someday contribute their inheritances, then in come the Mud People, making crazy animal sounds and flaking off bits of dried mud with every move they make.
The Mud People pull up chairs beside the visiting parental units, avoiding eye contact while eating the crumpets off the visiting parents’ plates, and spilling their tea on previously clean, white table cloths, all while making soft animal coos and grunts!
Now the members who had invited their parents to this prankster ambush start noisily driving the Mud People out of the rooms and off the patios, shooing them away with brooms along with their trail of mud flakes, while exclaiming to their parents that they are not to be frightened, the Mud People are harmless, just a little hungry is all!
While most of the parents are annoyed, disturbed, or incensed, others are amused since they can see through the practical joke. These decide to turn the tables and attempt to communicate with the Mud People, telling them their own name and trying to get the Mud People to state their names, or stating the names of items on the table and trying to get the Mud People to pronounce them correctly. While the visiting parents get more and more amused the Mud People find it increasingly difficult to avoid laughing and stay in character, until they can keep a straight face no longer and run off before they cannot stand it any longer and burst out in laughter!
Now THAT is the best tradition of country commune living!
Revised and Expanded: July 2, 2017
Portions of this article were previously published by the author in the 2016 book,
The Intentioneers’ Bible: Interwoven Stories of the Parallel Cultures of Plenty and Scarcity, currently available only as an ebook on Amazon.com
Portions of this article have been subsequently reprinted in an article by the same title in the Fall 2017 issue number 176 of “Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture.”
With fifty years of cultural experimentation at Twin Oaks Community being celebrated this year, this is a good time to review what has been learned in the Twin Oaks experience of utopian “intentioneering.” While others may come up with additional lessons learned, this writing focuses upon six issues: first, that living in the Twin Oaks’ version of utopia is thought by some to be “too easy;” second, that the optimum population of such communities is so far about 100 adults; third, that a society that does not use money internally is achievable via a labor-credit system; fourth, that in an egalitarian time-based economy domestic labor or “women’s work” can be valued equally with all other labor or “men’s work” including income-generating labor; fifth, that ideological blueprints often conflict with practicality, requiring participatory governance and even dissent and social anarchy to create change; and sixth, that communal childcare in which parents give responsibility for their children to a group of parents and other experienced caregivers does not work, showing the limit of communalism, and resulting in the focus upon collective childcare and the need for the provision of communal “parentcare” instead.
Twin Oaks was begun as an “experimental community” in central Virginia in 1967. After the community’s first five years Kathleen Kinkade, one of the co-founders, published a book about Twin Oaks titled, A Walden Two Experiment, in which she wrote on the first page that, “we are trying to make a new and better society.” Fifty years on it is time to evaluate the Twin Oaks experiment. (Kinkade, 1972, p. 1)
Kat and others used as a blueprint for the design of Twin Oaks Community the utopian novel Walden Two, published in 1948 by the Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner, in which the author applied his ideas about behavioral science to human society. By the 1960s the book was selling at the rate of up to a quarter-million copies a year! (Altus & Morris, p. 268)
Deborah Altus and Edward Morris explain the origins of B. F. Skinner’s idea of applying behavioral science to utopian fiction in their article titled, “B. F. Skinner’s Utopian Vision: Behind and Beyond Walden Two,” published in a 2004 issue of Contemporary Justice Review. Altus and Morris begin the story by relating a dinner conversation between Skinner and a friend during the spring of 1945. The friend’s son-in-law was returning from military service at the end of World War II and,
“Skinner mused about what young people would do when the war ended.” (Altus & Morris, p. 267)
“What a shame,” Skinner said, “that they would abandon their crusading spirit and come back only to fall into the old lockstep American life—getting a job, marrying, renting an apartment, making a down payment on a car, having a child or two.” When asked what they should do instead, he answered: “They should experiment; they should explore new ways of living, as people had done in the communities of the nineteenth century. … Young people today might have better luck. They could build a culture that would come closer to satisfying human needs than the American way of life.” (B. F. Skinner, 1979, p. 292, quoted in Altus & Morris, pp. 267-8)
As it turned out, it was not so much the “Greatest Generation” that took on communitarian social change work, it was their children in the “Baby Boom Generation,” and those who have followed, while B. F. Skinner was only one of many influences inspiring them.
A number of influences had led Skinner to his utopian idea. He had read about historic American communal societies, including the Shakers and the Oneida Community, he was particularly impressed with the fictional non-monetary economic system that Edward Bellamy had written into his 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887, and he thought about the dissatisfactions that people experienced in the dominant American culture. (Altus & Morris, p. 268)
“I had seen my wife and her friends struggling to save themselves from domesticity, wincing as they printed ‘housewife’ in those blanks asking for occupation. Our older daughter had just finished first grade, and there is nothing like a first child’s first year in school to turn one’s thoughts to education.” … [Skinner’s] dinner companion insisted that he write down his ideas … [for] his ‘book about an experimental community’.” (B. F. Skinner, 1976, p. v, and 1979, p. 295, quoted in Altus & Morris, p. 268)
In the preface to the 1969 edition of Walden Two Skinner explained why he named his utopian fiction after Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 book, Walden: Or Life in the Woods. He stated that there were five principles that his and Thoreau’s book had in common, being: 1. No way of life is inevitable. Examine your own carefully; 2. If you do not like it, change it; 3. But do not try to change it through political action. Even if you succeed in gaining power, you will not likely be able to use it any more wisely than your predecessors; 4. Ask only to be left alone to solve your problems in your own way; and 5. Simplify your needs. Lean how to be happy with fewer possessions. (Skinner, 1969, p. v, quoted in Altus & Morris, p. 269)
In the preface to the 1976 edition of Walden Two B. F. Skinner explained his concern about human civilization in a world threatened by potential nuclear war, environmental, and other catastrophes. “[E]ither we do nothing and allow a miserable and probably catastrophic future to overtake us, or we use our knowledge about human behavior to create a social environment in which we shall live productive and creative lives and do so without jeopardizing the chances that those who follow us will be able to do the same. Something like a Walden Two would not be a bad start.” (B. F. Skinner, 1976, p. xvi, quoted in Altus & Morris, p. 269)
The behavioral psychologists Deborah Altus at Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, and Edward Morris at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, explain that, “Skinner’s premises … were no more than naturalism applied to human affairs. Naturalism is the working assumption that behavior is part of nature, and thus is lawful and orderly in its own right, a function of historical and current, environmental and biological, contingencies and contexts. Naturalism is not controversial in science—it works. It is a useful premise. Skinner’s extension of it to social justice and human wellbeing was a culmination of the Enlightenment philosophy that flowed from the Scientific Revolution. … Naturalism, though, should not be mistaken as Skinner’s utopian vision. His vision was not an end or an ism, but a means for arriving at effective premises—empirically.” (Altus & Morris, pp. 270-1)
If human behavior is subject to laws of nature which can be recognized, then it ought to be possible to identify some of those laws, although no one, Skinner, Altus, nor anyone else, has ever listed them as far as is known by this author, perhaps because they believe that each group of people must identify them “empirically” from their own experience. Yet “laws of nature” ought to hold for everyone, like gravity for example, so it should be possible to deduce and explain what the members of Twin Oaks Community have learned about communalism from our fifty years of experience with intentioneering an alternative, countercultural, parallel society to that of the mainstream, dominant culture. Following are six suggestions for the communal lessons discovered and lived in Twin Oaks’ behavioral experiment.
Utopia is Too Easy!
In 1994 Kat Kinkade (now printing the short version of her name) titled her second book about Twin Oaks, Is It Utopia Yet? An Insider’s View of Twin Oaks Community In Its 26th Year. Kat answers in her book the rhetorical question she used in her title by saying on her last page, “We’re working on it.” Yet one good method for determining whether Twin Oaks or any communal society could be called “utopia” is whether people consider that living in the community is substantially easier than living in the outside, dominant culture. The term “utopia” was created by Thomas More for his 1516 utopian fiction titled Utopia, meaning either no place or good place, and since Twin Oaks is obviously a place, and it can certainly be called a good place, then the question is whether Twin Oaks can be considered an improvement upon the dominant culture! As it turns out, various members, some former and perhaps some current members, have said that living at Twin Oaks is “too easy!”
The present author is one of those people who felt that living at Twin Oaks was too easy, since in the Twin Oaks version of utopia one always has: at least two meals provided every day in the dining hall; a warm, private room in which one can decide whether to sleep alone or to invite a friend, since marriage has none of its economic or security attributes in a non-violent, egalitarian, communal culture; a system available for managing each members’ voluntary participation in community decision-making; a sense of security since violence is not tolerated and everyone looks out for others; a beautiful natural environment to enjoy; equal access to all the clothes, toys, instruments, tools, vehicles, and other assets of the community; interesting work and skills to learn; clearly defined ways for everyone to contribute to the good of all while accumulating personal vacation time; and interesting people to meet, constantly coming from and going to other communities and places all over the world, along with occasional opportunities for oneself to travel to such places.
As long as one engages in the labor system and respects the behavior code along with all other members, a person has nothing to worry about: no or minimal use of the outside-world’s monetary system, no competition, and no oppression of any kind. Envy is minimized when everyone has the same access to goods and services, as well as opportunities for acquiring things for personal or unique needs and wants. And there is usually always someone else who is willing to volunteer to deal with the serious, onerous problems that come along. If such a life sounds too easy, then that is an indication that the reader has found utopia! Or at least as Kat has written, Twin Oaks and its related communities create over time successive “approximations of utopia.” (citation needed)
While there are always many issues, controversies, and conflicts roiling the community, a person does not have to pay attention to any of that if one wishes to avoid the stress, although each member does have to live by all community agreements, including the processes for decision-making, the property code, behavior code, and other aspects of the community’s formal and informal social contract.
What is hard is leaving communal culture. The longer a person stays in communal society the more they lose contact with their former life in the outside, and the harder it is to get reestablished in it. If they drop out of college to join community, going back to school can be very difficult, unless as former Twin Oaks member Colleen Higgins once commented, one is of the opinion that college is wasted on 20-somethings, while mature students can get more out of it. I found that to be the case, myself. Before community I had no interest in economics or politics and dropped out of college to learn alternative culture in a rural commune. After community I earned degrees in business and political science as I had learned how important these are in the design of society and culture, both the mainstream and the parallel cultures.
The hardest part for some former members in the outside world can be getting beyond the feeling that they are a pretender, or a stranger in a strange land, being in it yet never feeling that they want to do all that it takes to be a complete part of it. For some people that sentiment is why they joined community in the first place, and often when they leave community the feeling is stronger, and it never goes away. That is why people often write sentimentally about their time in community, always wanting to reconnect with others who share the experience. This is felt not only among communitarian refugees, yet also among people in the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. An East German woman once commented on TV that the transition from an economy where everyone was part of the same effort to everyone being in the system for themselves was hard to make. Indigenous people have always had, and will always have, that problem when they move away from tribal areas, or their tribe dissolves or is destroyed.
Because of this commonality between intentioneers (i.e., communitarians) and indigenous tribal peoples I teach via the “School of Intentioneering” that the political-economic concept of the “Fourth World” includes both indigenous tribal cultures and intentional communities, among other decentralized, self-reliant cultures. The Fourth World is comprised of small communities, tribal and ethnic cultures, and countries that are happy with their economy and society and are not trying to become mainstream, or compete as strenuously in the global, market-based, First World, which is the goal of the Third World. The Second World is state-planned economies like the former Soviet Union, although these are dwindling in number.
100-Member Limit (as of 2017)
While Skinner populated his fictional Walden Two community with 1,000 pliable members, the practical population limit for the self-willed people comprising egalitarian societies is set by the experience of Twin Oaks (TO) and East Wind (EW), currently at under 100 adults each. At whatever population level, Twin Oaks will continue to represent the standard for secular, egalitarian communal societies in America.
Kat wrote in her 1972 book about Twin Oaks that 1,000 members was “our theoretical goal.” This was one of the design parameters that she and the other East Wind cofounders took with them to Missouri, although in the initial EW bylaws the theoretical goal was reduced to 750 members, since the Walden Two idea of 1,000 did not seem to be practical. In 2010 EW reset its “membership ceiling” at 73, less than a tenth of the original goal, while the community’s 2016 population level slightly exceeded that. (Kinkade, 1973, p. 42; EW Legispol 2011, section 11.52)
Neither Twin Oaks nor East Wind seem to want to grow larger, probably because of the concern for the communication and other quality-of-life problems resulting from an ever-growing population, however slow that growth may be. In 2017 Twin Oaks is looking to purchase more contiguous land, although probably to create another communal group upon it rather than to expand its current membership. If this land is acquired and a new income-sharing community is founded upon it, that will increase the number of satellite communities of Twin Oaks in Louisa County to six, with Acorn being the largest at around 30 or 40 members.
While one may tend to think that the communal labor system, governance processes, social contract, and other aspects of these communities should be able to accommodate much larger numbers of people, TO and EW, at least, seem to have reached a practical limit. The growth of Twin Oaks is now essentially delegated to its newest satellite communities, most of them founded in the same county of Louisa, while East Wind has yet to create any communal satellites in its Ozark County.
There is much to be said about the numbers game for identifying ideal population levels for different types of intentional communities. Among primitive clans and tribes the anthropologist Robin Dunbar says that 150 people is the average human’s cognitive social limit, according to his plotting of “overall group size against the neocortical development of the brain.” Meanwhile, the paleo-anthropologist Richard Leakey writes that the number 25 is the typical limit for the clan, and 500 for the minimum size of a breeding population, constituting the “dialectical tribe” with which the individual identifies. (Leakey & Lewin, pp. 111, 113-4; Ryan & Jethá, p. 171)
Among the various forms of contemporary intentional communities: the religious Hutterites split when they reach 150; most cohousing groups have 40 to 70 adults; and some Israeli kibbutzim had over 1,000 members before they gave up communalism and became collective communities on government land trusts. The kibbutzim estimated that a population of about 350 people is needed in order to maintain a complete age-range from youngest to oldest over the generations. (citations needed)
Labor-Credit Systems Can Replace Money
There had long been the ideal, since at least the early 19th century in England, of creating an economic system which would reward workers with the full value of their labor, rather than the capitalist model of business owners taking as much from labor as they can get. Ronald Garnett explains in his 1972 book, Cooperation and the Owenite Socialist Communities in Britain: 1825-45, that, “The basis of communitarian thought was equality—economic rather than political—in that the labourer had a right to the full value of the product of [his or her] labour.” Much of the development of this theory was due to the excesses of poverty and debasement resulting from the dispossessed and deprived underclass during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in first England, then France, Germany, and later in America and elsewhere. To create economic justice, it was believed, a society or a culture had to do away with the use of money internally and substitute something else. However, finding something which would substantially serve the ideal took about 140 years. (Garnett, p. 26)
From the mid 1820s to the early 1830s the idea of a time-based currency, so named in the present author’s School of Intentioneering, was developed in England, with the principle designer or intentioneer being the Welsh industrialist Robert Owen (1771-1858), who had earlier been influenced by Gerard Winstanley’s 1652 book The Law of Freedom and by the Quaker, John Beller’s 1695 book, Proposals for Raising a College of Industry of All Useful Trades and Husbandry, which was a call for a form of publically-supported education program designed as an intentional community. Beller’s educational-community idea has occurred to many others through time as well, from the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, to the New England Transcendentalists at Brook Farm, to Findhorn University in Scotland. (Rexroth, pp. 151-2)
Ronald Garnett explains further that since in the 18th and 19th centuries in England there was no social safety net like welfare, the British people had long been forming associations for mutual-aid in response to being forced off ancestral lands, to being enclosed from access to the commons, and due to having to struggle to find work in the oppressive factories. By at least the 1790s there were “trade clubs” and “voluntary mutual sickness and life insurance companies” referred to as “friendly societies.” Some of these had “fellowship rites,” which Garnett states provided, “a unifying influence on working class culture.” Presumably, many “friendly societies” developed sharing systems that did not involve money. Garnett explains that, “Many social reform measures, apart from cooperation, were built on this foundation of working class consciousness.” By 1815 there were almost a million members of friendly societies, or about 8.5 percent of the British population, and nearly all of these groups were local organizations “with strong communal ties.” By the mid-19th century, “large affiliated orders were predominant,” such as the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, with its quarter-million members in 1848. (Garnett, pp. 11-2; McLanahan & McLanahan, p. 305)
Robert Owen’s and others’ ideas about time-based economies resulted in giving workers a form of paper scrip stating the amount of time the worker had contributed, which were then redeemed in a community store for goods and services, essentially comprising an alternative exchange system to that of the official currency. The “labour theory of value” was explained by Owen as goods being “exchanged on the equitable principles of labour, for equal value of labour through the medium of Labour Notes.” The labor exchanges served to bring the trade unions into the cooperative movement. (Garnett, pp. 139, 141)
John Curl provides a simpler explanation in his 2009 book For All the People. He quotes Robert Owen’s 1821 community proposal called, Report to the County of Lanark, in which Owen writes that, “the natural standard of value is, in principle, human labour.” (Curl, p. 37)
Intermediary exchange associations were set up to facilitate the circulation of both labor notes and monetary currencies, yet the whole system imploded by 1834 as there was no standard equivalencies for converting “labor notes” into British currency, which resulted in the destruction of many cooperative societies including the first co-op stores, labor exchanges, trades syndicalism, and the movement for the eight-hour workday. (Garnett, pp. 140, 142)
Donald Pitzer in his 1997 edited work, America’s Communal Utopias, writes that, “In Britain, workers’ cooperatives and trade unions originated in Owenite activity.” Pitzer explains that Friedrich Engels, the associate and benefactor of Karl Marx, was a “critic of Owenite utopian and communitarian socialism … [who] conceded that ‘all social movements, all real advance made in England in the interests of the working class were associated with Owen’s name’.” (Pitzer, pp. 123, 133 n. 109; Engels, pp. 296-7)
Frank and Fritzie Manuel probably wrote the most detailed criticism of Marx’ and Engels’ hypocritical attitude toward “utopian socialists” in their 1979 book, Utopian Thought in the Western World. Like the communitarian scholar and kibbutz member, Yaacov Oved, the Manuel’s use the term “sneer” in describing Marx’ and Engels’ comments about the communitarians. Oved writes about Engels that, “He openly sneered at utopian experiments,” while the Manuels state that Engels’ writing titled in part, Anti-Duhring (1878) is, “spotted with similar sneers.” That is, sneers like calling communitarian settlements, “optimum little republics.” (Manuel & Manuel, p. 700; Oved, p. 428)
The Manuels state that while Marx and Engels used the term Utopian Socialist as “an epithet of denigration to be splashed onto any theoretical opponent,” at the same time their doctrine of the second phase of communism, as described in the paper, Critique of the Gotha Program, utilizes Morelly’s maxim of equality, which is itself utopian; this is the familiar, “From each according to [one’s] ability, to each according to [one’s] needs.” (Manuel & Manuel, pp. 698, 711, 715; Tucker, p. 531)
Frank and Fritzie Manuel point out that Marx’ and Engels’ Communist Manifesto (1848) is utopian, and that, “on occasion even they might lapse into utopian glossolalia.” [Example: Tucker, p. 472] (Manuel & Manuel, p. 699)
Robert Owen brought the labor notes idea to America with his communal experiment at New Harmony. However, every attempt to use forms of labor notes in intentional communities through the 19th century in America (as in Britain), such as at New Harmony in Indiana (1825-27), and at Kaweah (1885-92) and Altruria (1894-5) both in California, resulted in the labor notes system being the first thing to be abandoned as the communities began to fail.
It was Josiah Warren, called by his biographer the “first American anarchist,” who would be inspired by his time at Owen’s New Harmony community to develop the labor notes idea into a successful time-based economic system, although as a labor-exchange system not as a communal economy. John Curl explains that Warren’s store gave to its members time credit for each product they deposited, which they then used in barter for products they needed. Warren added to the bill the time it took him, the store clerk, to make the transaction. “An hour’s work was considered worth an hour’s work; no adjustment was made to account for the different hourly values of every different type of work on the capitalist market.” (Curl, p. 37)
Donald Pitzer refers to Warren’s labor exchanges as the “Time Store Cooperative Movement” (1833-63), involving first his time-store at New Harmony, then in Cincinnati (1827-30), then the Equity Community (1833-5) and Utopia (1847-51) all in Ohio, and Modern Times (1851-63) in Long Island, New York. (Pitzer, pp. 120, 130 n.68, 489) Other people adapted Josiah Warren’s Time Store model in Ohio and in Philadelphia, PA, where it was called the “Producer’s Exchange of Labor for Labor Association,” yet always as exchange systems, not for communal economies. (Cress, pp. 72-3)
By Pitzer’s count, there were a total of 29 Owenite communities: nineteen in the U.S., one in Canada, and nine in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. They developed pre-schools and “communal” childcare systems, and at various times and to different degrees, experimented with communalism. At twelve years Modern Times was the longest lived. (Pitzer, pp. 122-3)
Eventually the labor exchange became a movement unto itself. For that discussion see book VI, chapter 7 of The Intentioneer’s Bible, titled “Labor Exchanges versus Alternative Currencies in the U.S.” (Butcher, 2016)
As Kenneth Rexroth explains, Josiah Warren (1798-1874) anticipated many of the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s (1809-65) theories. Proudhon published What is Property? in 1840, popularizing the phrase, “property is theft.” Karl Marx’s criticism of Proudhon assured Proudhon’s reputation as the founder of anarchism. Yet as Rexroth explains, Warren’s work predated Proudhon’s, saying that, “Warren not only anticipated Proudhon, but he was a far clearer thinker and writer, and a man who believed in testing all of his theories in practice. Marx was right about Proudhon. He was a confused thinker and a confusing writer and far from being a practical man.” (Rexroth, pp. 226, 238)
Murray Bookchin writes that Proudhon’s anarchism envisioned the exchange of products without competition or profit, with small craftsmen and collectively-owned industries organized into local and regional federations with minimal or no delegation of power to a central government. This is the basis of Bookchin’s theories of “confederal municipalism,” which he later called “communalism” in his 2015 book The Next Revolution, confusingly using the French political definition of the term as opposed to the more familiar English economic definition meaning commonly-owned property. Proudhon created a “mutual credit bank” using “labor-value certificates” which neither charged nor paid interest, similar to Warren’s time stores which functioned as Rexroth writes as “an interest-free credit union [with] loans in labor and commodities and eventually money.” (Bookchin, pp. 20-1; Dolgoff, p. 67; Hyams, pp. 85-6; Rexroth, p. 238)
While Edward Bellamy never stated the sources for the ideas which he included in his utopian fiction Looking Backward published in 1888, it is entirely possible that he was familiar with Josiah Warren’s publications, primarily his 1847 book Equitable Commerce, since both lived in Massachusetts in the 1860s and ‘70s, and Bellamy was known to have an extensive personal library.
Not until Kat Kinkade developed the vacation-credit labor system at Twin Oaks Community in the summer of 1967 would a successful communal labor-credit system be invented. Edward Bellamy had included a time-based “credit card” system in his Looking Backward utopian fiction, and from this B. F. Skinner got the idea that a community could use ledger accounts for managing individual labor contributions with no form of exchange of anything like coins or paper bills. In Walden Two Skinner wrote, “Bellamy suggested the principle in Looking Backward.” (Skinner, 2005, p. 46)
Warren, Bellamy, Skinner, and others have also suggested rewarding labor differently for different types of work in communal society. Walden House (in Wash. D.C.), Twin Oaks, and East Wind all experimented with “variable-credits” for ten years from 1966 until about 1976, rewarding some work done with more labor-credits than other work, until members decided to value all labor equally. It is an important lesson to keep in mind that variable compensation for labor is an aspect of monetary economics, while being both impractical and anathema to time-based economics.
Building upon Skinner’s idea of ledger accounts, Kat Kinkade’s brilliant innovation, called by the present author the “vacation-credit labor system,” set a weekly work quota that all members agree to meet, with vacation time earned by working over-quota. This time-based economy, called at Twin Oaks simply the “labor-credit system,” became as Twin Oaks member Mala stated to a reporter, “the glue that keeps this community together.” (Mala, quoted in Rems, 2003)
It is phenomenal how the thing that was usually given up first when communal groups failed, their time-based economy, became the most important thing that now makes them successful! Kat Kinkade essentially created the first complete alternative economic system to that of monetary economics, and sadly, very few people outside of the egalitarian communities movement know anything about it! It would seem that such an achievement would be worthy of much pride and promotion, yet most people think nothing of it. Reporters and academicians come and go and rarely ever understand the significance of Twin Oaks’ vacation-credit labor system.
Extending equality in America from the political system to the economic system was the whole point of Bellamy’s Looking Backward, which was immensely influential around the end of the 19th century. Today the labor-credit system is essentially the portal to a parallel reality existing within global monetary economics, enabling the very thing that has eluded social reformers since the early Industrial Revolution—a truly egalitarian economic system—and no one talks about it!
Feminism is ALIVE when All Labor Is Valued Equally
Along with the idea that workers ought to receive the full value of their labor, is the sentiment that all labor that directly benefits the whole community or society ought to be valued equally. The feminist ideal of domestic work or “women’s work” being valued equally with income-generating work and all other work typically performed by men, is served via the vacation-credit labor system. This is another fantastic achievement and characteristic of Twin Oaks and other egalitarian communities providing an important lesson. While feminists and others have looked for ways for women to earn money for housework as a way to create economic equality, only non-monetary, time-based economies, including labor exchanges as well as quota and anti-quota labor systems, value “reproductive work” the same as all other labor.
While people generally discount the idea that in a labor-credit economy a doctor is rewarded the same for their work as someone cleaning a barn, there have been doctors who have been members of Twin Oaks, East Wind, Ganas, and other egalitarian communities. Clearly, for many people the benefits of egalitarian economics are seen as being more important than differential compensation for labor. For this “Feminism is ALIVE” communal lesson the egalitarian ideal of valuing domestic and income work equally is a major success for Twin Oaks and its associated groups comprising the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.
Kat Kinkade wrote a letter to anthropologist Jon Wagner saying about Twin Oaks that, “absolute sexual equality is fundamental to our idea of equality, and equality is fundamental to our approach to changing society. There is no platform of our ideology that is more central.” (Kinkade, quoted in Goldenberg, p. 258)
Zena Goldenberg in her chapter titled “Feminism at Twin Oaks” in the 1993 book Women in Spiritual and Communitarian Societies in the United States, quotes Jon Wagner stating an endorsement of Twin Oaks’ egalitarian culture in his comment that Twin Oaks, “may be among the most non-sexist social systems in human history.” (Wagner, quoted by Goldenberg in Chmielewski, Kern, & Klee-Hartzell, p. 258; Wagner, pp. 37-8)
Social Anarchy Rules when Participatory Governance Upholds Idealism over Dissent
The same year that B. F. Skinner published Walden Two, Martin Buber published in his Paths in Utopia (1948) a maxim similar to what Skinner evidently believed, that the design of community cannot be set by ideology alone. While Skinner states that communities should discover their own truths through empiricism or experimentation, Buber writes, “Community should not be made into a principle; it, too, should always satisfy a situation rather than an abstraction. The realization of community, like the realization of any idea, cannot occur once and for all time: always it must be the moment’s answer to the moment’s question, and nothing more.” (Buber, p. 134)
The danger which both Skinner and Buber suggest is to be avoided is mistaking a blueprint for a principle. While holding on to the founder’s ideals for what a community is intended to be can be a unifying force, divergent views can arise from experience or from outside influences. In the cases of Twin Oaks and East Wind it is clear that while Kat Kinkade accepted the value of experimentation, she and others were very committed to certain principles found in the book Walden Two. Kat once wrote that she read Walden Two once a year while she was founding TO and EW, and fortunately her and other’s commitment to experimentation with the ideas for governance and economics found in the book, with some modifications, did result in a successful communal model, although the communal childcare which Skinner championed, like the idea of variable credits, proved to be a failed ideal.
When the founders first settled at Twin Oaks in the late 1960s consensus decision-making process was just beginning to be developed, and some of the founders wanted to use it. Consensus, however, was not what Skinner believed in, since he had a more authoritarian form of governance in mind, which Hilke Kuhlmann calls “psychologist-kings.” (Kuhlmann, 1999, p. 41)
Skinner’s governmental model is called the “planner-manager” form of government, which at Twin Oaks evolved into much more of a participatory form of governance than Skinner imagined. Kat Kinkade waited a few months until the initial experiment with consensus process bogged down, then got the group to accept Skinner’s planner-manager model of governance. Twin Oaks’ early experiment with consensus process probably helped the planner-manager structure to become a form of participatory management. As Kuhlmann wrote, “By the early seventies, the role envisioned for the planners had shifted from omnipotent decision-makers to facilitators.” (Kinkade, 1972, pp. 51-4; Kuhlmann, 1999, p. 37)
Governance at Twin Oaks evolved toward a form of participatory decision-making, which some people likened to consensus, while the term “sociocracy” seems to be more appropriate for the TO system as it delegates authority to managers in whom decision-making responsibility is entrusted. Yet the irresistible force of participatory governance hit the immovable object of idealism in the attachment to the idea of communal childcare, resulting in the cognitive dissonance of people, like the present author, doing one thing while saying something very different about exactly what they were doing for childcare.
Many members seemed to think that of course a communal society must have communal childcare. Yet if any of us knew that all through the history of both religious and secular communalism communal childcare has been a problem when parents defer decision-making for their children to the community, they probably thought that we at Twin Oaks or at East Wind might succeed where others failed, as was the case with communal time-based economics. For two decades Twin Oaks struggled to make something work that never has worked over the long term, neither for the Hutterites, the Israeli Kibbutzim, nor for anyone else so far.
As discussed further in the next section, Twin Oaks’ experiments with communal childcare was plagued with parents refusing to follow all the agreements or decisions made at meetings by the group of parents and other caregivers. For two decades people talked about “communal childcare,” which meant parents giving decision-making power over their children to the group, while many parents refused to follow the resulting agreements or decisions they did not like. Conflicts escalated as non-compliance was met by social pressure, yet parents continued to ignore the rules they disliked. Eventually it was social anarchy that ended communal childcare at Twin Oaks, while at East Wind the story was similar yet more intense. Despite the commitment to participatory governance, the story of communal childcare in Federation communities shows how group-think can maintain commitment to a hopelessly failed ideology while policy dilemmas seem to continually reoccur. Although the successful evolution of time-based, sharing economics illustrates that people can overcome fundamental problems of communal organization, communal childcare illustrates a greater level of difficulty.
Essentially, the commitment to communal childcare at Twin Oaks resulted in people trying for two decades to make something work that was continually failing. Social pressure reinforced the status quo, while non-compliance with childcare agreements resulted in an example of social anarchy within a bureaucratic system. When the community-wide communication process at Twin Oaks in 1988 called the “Child Program Process” upheld the agreements or rules about children sleeping together in the children’s building called “Degania,” rather than with their parents in the group residences, the community failed to accurately assess the situation and to responsibly evolve the community’s fundamental ideals. Eventually the people involved caused the change by abandoning communal childcare. A similar dynamic very likely led to the end of communal children’s houses in the Kibbutz and the Hutterian Colonies, and may also have been much of the reason for the demise of the communal group that arose in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles in the Christian Bible. This Early Christian Church is stated by Trevor Saxby as likely having existed only around twenty years as a communal economy, or about one generation, before changing to a collective where people accumulated private property and tithed to the church. (Acts of the Apostles 2:44, 4:32, 4:34-5; Gavron, 2003, p. 727; Near, pp. 731-2; Oved, pp. 351, 361; Saxby, p. 21; see: Butcher, 2016, book I, chapter 5, “The Influence of Children Upon Society,” and book III, chapter 10, “The Christian Communalism of Anabaptism, the Free Spirit, and the Beguines”)
In participatory governance, social anarchy always “rules.” Dissent may arise in the form of another generation rebelling against the monetary system, while the next generation rebels against radical lifestyles. It is a form of “bi-polar dissent,” as when one generation moves from the country to the city, and another generation moves back-to-the-land. Lifestyle fads and formats evolve with each cycle of the generations.
Failure of Communal Childcare Shifts Focus to Collective Parentcare
Kat Kinkade’s emphasis upon feminism extended to the communal care of children. Most likely she did not know about the history of communal childcare, while she generally accepted the perspective on it that Skinner wrote into Walden Two, who himself knew nothing about communal childcare, only using the concept to help explain his behaviorist theories.
Although there is much to be said on this topic, in short there are at least two problems with communal childcare. First, in all cases, from the Hutterites, to the Israeli Kibbutzim, to the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, the biggest problem when parents give to the community the primary responsibility for their children is the lack of consistently high-quality childcare. Everything has to be worked out with the entire group of parents and care-givers, including immunizations, diet, discipline, education, and what toys the children can play with. As former Twin Oaks member Karen Stephens expresses in Ingrid Komar’s 1983 book, Living the Dream, achieving agreement on these and many other issues creates such a bureaucratic cost in meeting time that focusing upon the developmental needs of each child is often lost. (Komar, p. 240; also the comment by “mother from EW” p. 241)
It may be that having two sets of meetings is necessary in communal childcare: one for agreements about the childcare program and another about each child’s specific development. Without that division of concerns the issues over maintaining agreements among the adults tends to push the discussion about each child’s accomplishments and problems off the agenda. While more meetings might be an answer to the problems of communal childcare, it begs the question of just how much the commitment of more energy to more meetings is justified, given that the bigger problem is the high turnover rate among those who provide care to the children. The result of caregivers coming and going is that the parents end up having the most consistent relationship with their children, which can lead to parents disregarding community childcare policies with which they disagree, resulting in the failure of the communal childcare program.
The second problem with communal childcare is that members of the community who do not have children tend to question the need to pay the cost of childcare and education when in most cases the children will leave the community when they become adults. Since most communal societies maintain their membership by admitting new members, usually young adults, they do not need to support children in order to maintain or grow their membership. Yet young adults tend to have children, periodically questioning community policies regarding children. Non-parent members, usually the large majority of members, typically prefer to avoid the costs of childcare and education by restricting the number of children in the community. It is said that this is why the Catholic Church insists upon celibacy for both its monastics and its clergy. While some of the reason for that may be the desire to focus upon prayer or service, much of the reason is because children always want an inheritance, which would be a drain on Church resources. A similar concern may explain why East Wind Community permits only a token child presence of about one child for every ten adults.
Another possible explanation for East Wind Community’s policies restricting its child population would be that children cramp the party atmosphere, particularly with regard to nudity and the use of recreational consumables. Especially if the community has no school and the children must go to the local public school, culture shock can result for both the community children and for the local adults and children. Therefore, in the interest of good local public relations, East Wind restricts its child population to a token childcare program in which most of the few children that are born into the community leave with their parents by the time they reach school age. Because of its child policies the present author refers to East Wind as the Federation of Egalitarian Communities’ “party commune,” similar to the “pleasure planet” in the fictional StarTrek’s United Federation of Planets, called “Risa.” Better than Disney Land, the Federation has East Risa!!
East Wind’s anti-child policies began with its first refusal of a member’s pregnancy in 1976. At the time the community wanted to delay having children until a Twin Oaks’ style childcare building could be built and staffed. Some years later the community did create a childcare facility, yet the precedent was set that it was acceptable to refuse pregnancies and push pregnant women out of the community. Over the years East Wind’s communal childcare program experienced the same problems as at Twin Oaks and other communal societies, to where the community ended its communal program in favor of a collective system, while it continued to refuse many pregnancies, creating a small yet steady stream of East Wind pregnancy refugees.
For many years at East Wind, when a woman’s pregnancy proposal was refused she was confronted by an ultimatum to either get an abortion or leave. Eventually the community became sensitive to the abhorrence with which many people viewed this policy, and as of 2011 the community vote is simply as to whether or not the community will provide any funding for any newly-announced pregnancy. Obviously, refusing financial support for a member’s child does essentially the same thing in a communal economy as the earlier ultimatum; it is simply less overtly lacking in compassion. [Full disclosure: the present author was one of those served the child program ultimatum at East Wind, later to be accepted into Twin Oaks’ much more developed communal childcare program before it was ended.]
Twin Oaks does not have pregnancy and child policies as extreme as East Wind’s, accepting almost all births in the community, except for those whose circumstances are clearly problematic. Acorn even began a policy of welcoming single parents to the community, although it is not known to the present author how well that policy has been working. A big question is whether anyone will help these children pay for college?
There were a couple stages in the demise of communal childcare at Twin Oaks, with the Child Program Process in 1988 being an important milestone, to where sometime in the mid-1990s the community formally gave up its communal program (Kinkade, 1994, p. 146; Kuhlmann, p. 102) in favor of what may be called a “collective childcare system.”
As defined by the present author’s school-of-thought about intentional community developed in the School of Intentioneering, “collective” means the sharing of privately-owned property, which in this case means that parents do not give control over decision-making with regard to their children to the community or any group of parents and caregivers. Parents have the primary responsibility for their children in collective childcare systems, which then can look much like a childcare cooperative within a communal society.
Essentially, the lesson is that communal childcare does not work over the long term. It can work for a while, and Twin Oaks practiced communal childcare to various degrees from the mid ‘70s to the mid ‘90s. The collective form of childcare now used at Twin Oaks is probably what has been or is being adopted at Acorn and the other local communal groups with children, and probably at East Wind as well.
On the occasion of East Wind Community’s 10th Land Day holiday Kat Kinkade returned from Twin Oaks and stated during a conversation in the Music Room that a community cannot presume to be a complete alternative to the dominant culture if it does not provide for children. While the ideal of communal childcare has proven to be impractical, the methods used for providing for parental childcare as a collective within a communal society suggests that the community’s concentration needs to be upon collective “parentcare;” providing support for members who are parents in caring for their children.
(Sources on communal childcare at Twin Oaks and East Wind: Butcher, 2016, book I, chapter 5 and book VI, chapter 16; Communities no. 9, July-August 1974, pp. 10-12; Communities no. 73, winter 1987, pp. 18-22; Communities no. 76, May 1990, pp. 11-14; Communities no. 103, summer 1999, pp. 45-8; Kinkade, 1973, pp. 130-46; Kinkade, 1994, pp. 143-52; Komar, pp. 211-57; Kuhlmann, 2005, pp. 102-106)
Breaking the 50-Year Record and Realizing the Cooperative Commonwealth
With over fifty years existence this is a good time to declare the Twin Oaks utopian experiment a success! No other secular communal society in America has existed as long. The 19th century Icarian communities are a runner-up, yet they dissolved when they reached the fifty-year mark. In Israel the kibbutz movement will hold the global secular communal records for a while, having had the largest secular communal societies at over 1,100 members, and the longest lived at about ninety years of communalism so far. Yet while the term “kibbutz” used to mean “communal,” all but a small number of kibbutzim have given up communalism to where now the term “kibbutz” more generally means “intentional community.” Today as often in Israel, America, Europe, and elsewhere there are a number of small urban and rural groups utilizing an anti-quota communal economy. Keep in mind at the same time that all communal groups represent only about ten percent of the community listings in the Communities Directory, printed by the Fellowship for Intentional Community. Most intentional communities share privately-owned rather than commonly-owned property.
With a growing number of rural and urban satellite communities each pursuing their own experiment in the secular, egalitarian communal tradition pioneered at Twin Oaks, all of their adaptations and evolutions will hopefully someday comprise the basis for a comparative study of the successes and failures of these related communities.
Now arising in Louisa County, Virginia is the dynamic of an inter-dependent, growing number of communal groups around Twin Oaks. The idea of a network of communal and collective groups in local proximity in America as a force for social change has been a goal since at least the publishing of the 1884 book by Laurence Gronlund titled The Cooperative Commonwealth. Whether this is called today “radical decentralism,” “deep democracy,” “democratic confederalism,” “communal municipalism,” a “regional commonwealth,” or something else, this is a fascinating story now developing, with challenges to be identified, lessons to be debated, and glorious revelations yet to be realized and celebrated!
This presentation of the lessons of the intentional community tradition of Twin Oaks Community references much of the history of the countercultural, Fourth World, gifting and sharing alternatives to the dominant culture’s taking and exchanging in the First World. The stories of time-based economies and of communal childcare comprise two of the themes presented in The Intentioneer’s Bible: Interwoven Stories of the Parallel Cultures of Plenty and Scarcity, which tracks these and other themes through much of the prehistory and history of Western Civilization. As illustrated in the article above, the material in the Intentioneers presentation for the School of Intentioneering is similar to a bibliographic essay, indentifying sources of topics for further inquiry.
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