Cofamily: Spirited, Joyous Community!

From the forthcoming book: Intentioneers and Illuminati
A. Allen Butcher
Book IX: Chapter 4−Section 6 of the Intentioneers Series • See chapter list at end of article

Affirming the importance of sharing wealth as well as labor between women and men, the definition of “cofamily” would be, “three-to-nine unrelated adults affirming a common identity or affinity, while sharing privately-owned property with labor-gifting (i.e., collective community), or sharing commonly-owned property with labor-sharing (i.e., communal society).” The focus upon a common affinity is the “spirited” ideal, and the processes of labor-gifting and labor-sharing provide for the “joyous” feeling of people working together for mutual benefit.

Cofamily community could serve to take sharing and cooperation as an economic process the next step into the mainstream culture as a communitarian movement beyond the cohousing movement, further supporting the reversal of our cultural emphasis upon possessiveness and competition through the practices of gifting and sharing in small affinity groups.

By adding a focus upon sharing privately-owned or commonly-owned property to one of the most basic and most expensive needs, specifically housing, the dominant or mainstream culture may gradually be changed to an appreciation of sharing in community, which has already begun with cohousing more than with any other community movement since the earliest housing co-operatives. As cohousing becomes ever more mainstream, this growing movement can provide opportunities for other forms of community to advance the practice of gifting and sharing in general, and intentional community in particular.

The emphasis upon cultural and social affinities in cofamily communities results in complexities which must also be addressed, in these cases through the study and application of interpersonal and group processes. (For examples of group processes see: “Light and Shadows: Interpersonal and Group Process in the Sharing Lifestyle” by the present author, at: http://www.culturemagic.org/Intentioneering.html)

The potential for communitarian answers to the needs of people in the dominant culture is seen in studies such as those of the U.S. Census Bureau and of the Pew Research Center. These studies of the American family show that the “American Dream” of the happy nuclear family is not working for many people. The statistics can be interpreted to present the case for community, or at least some form of collective family that does not rely upon marriage and biology only, instead a type of family that emphasizes adults’ commitment to the domestic living group or community they create.

For general background, first consider that for all households, including single-parents, the average number of family members dropped from about 3.3 people in 1967 to about 2.6 people in 2014. (“America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2015” at http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html, figures: AD-3a, HH-6)

Further, the 2015 Census Bureau statistics show that:

1. The number of married-adult households has been steadily dropping to now about half of all households. (“America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2015” at http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html, figures: AD-3a, HH-6)

2. The number of adults living alone is now over a third of all households. (www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/households.html, figures: HH-4, HH-7b)

3. The number of children living in single-parent households increased to over a quarter of all the children in America, and half of those live in poverty. (“America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being: 2015” at http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/family1.asp; see also http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/children.html, figure CH-1)

4. Over a third of all women with more than one child had them with more than one father, called “multiple-partner fertility.” (“America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being: 2015” at
http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/family1.asp; Guzzo, 2014; Logan, Manlove, Ikramullah, & Cottingham, 2006; Martin, 2011)

From these statistics it is clear that the nuclear family is not working for a large number of Americans. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly helpful to recognize another form of family which better reflects America’s changing demographics and lifestyle choices, named by the current author the “cofamily.”
While cultural conservatives continue to emphasize the nuclear family, cultural progressives recognize the need for adults (more so than government) to support single women who become pregnant in keeping their children rather than getting an abortion, and in supporting those single-parents as their children are growing up. For those for whom the nuclear family ideal has failed, the cofamily is a solution.
Non-nuclear families, involving three-to-nine adults forming cooperative, collective, or communal families obviously needs a name to distinguish these small communities from nuclear families, and so the term “cofamily” was coined for whatever relationships may develop within the group, and for however those relationships may change over time.

While the traditional nuclear family will never go away, extensions of it have always existed. The term “extended-family” means including other family members, like aunts, cousins, grandparents, or grandchildren of the nuclear family in the same household, and so the idea of more than two adults in mutual aid is neither new nor untested. More and more, however, particularly as the population continues to polarize between liberal and conservative factions, the desire and need is to include with the biological family other non-biologically-related adults, especially if they also have children, for two reasons. One is in order for parents to be able to help each other with childcare and other domestic labor, and the second reason is for people to be able to live with others of like mind. These “affinity-families” create intentional communities rather than extended-families, and since the biological and marriage ties are less emphasized, something else has to provide the glue or the rationalization for people to practice small-group mutual aid, which usually means finding common interests, values, or goals. These are the affinities among people important to the creation and maintenance of community.

With the conservative, religious-right defining the ideal family model as being the supposedly God-sanctioned nuclear design of father, mother, and children, a different term is needed for affinity-based families which can be comprised of any number of adults of either gender, with or without children. For this the term “cofamily” is offered. (See: book IX, chapter 9, “Communitarian Mysticism,” Section 1 “Family Lifestyles Over the Ages: Matriarchy, Patriarchy, and Partnership”)

The term “cofamily” has an obvious connection with the term “cohousing,” while the meanings are very different. The Cohousing Association of the U.S.A. has a very limited definition for the term “cohousing,” with six specific criteria to which a cohousing community is expected to adhere. Many groups calling themselves “cohousing” do not follow all of these criteria, and so a different name is needed for their type of community. Essentially, any small group of people less than ten whose community does not fit the classic cohousing model (explained on the cohousing.org website) can instead call themselves a “cofamily community,” or simply a “cofamily,” while ten or more adults in community can use the term “intentional community.” An “intentional community” is defined as comprising three or more adults, yet for small groups the “cofamily” name suggests a more intimate lifestyle. In fact some people actually leave cohousing community in order to find a more intimate form of community, which requires a smaller group of people.

Setting the number of people in a cofamily community of three-to-nine is not entirely arbitrary, as first there has to be a minimum number of people for comprising a community, and second, a maximum number is necessary for respecting the intimate nature of a communitarian family.

The idea of limiting the cofamily community model to less than ten adults is suggested by psychologists who affirm that seven or eight adults is the optimum size for intense small-group communication, because that is generally the maximum number of different thoughts that the human brain can keep present in mind at one time. The military commonly uses this number of individuals for its squads or service units, from air force to infantry, and consensus process facilitators typically break out large plenary groups into seven or eight-person small-groups for discussing complicated issues.

The best number of people to live together in community is probably specific to each group of people, their individual emotional constitutions, the visions they articulate and share, the material aspects of their location, the resources they have available, and the gifting and sharing processes they develop. Optimum numbers of members can be found for different types of communities, and for each there are different cultural and historical factors involved.

The paleo-anthropologist Richard Leakey in his 1978 book with Roger Lewin titled “People of the Lake: Mankind and its Beginnings” gives the number 25 as the optimum size for the “gatherer-hunter economy,” and of 500 for the “dialectical tribe.” Along with the birth interval of a maximum of one child every four years for women, due to the difficulty of nursing and childcare in the wild, these numbers are specific to the subsistence, nomadic culture. (Leakey & Lewin, p. 111)

“Dunbar’s Number” is another perspective on the optimum number of people for a clan, small tribe, or neo-tribal intentional community. The British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that an individual can reasonably keep track in one’s mind of around 150 people. This, writes Dunbar, is the number of people “with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.” (Robin Dunbar, quoted in Ryan & Jethá, p. 171)

The communal Hutterite Colonies in the plains states and provinces typically grow to 100 or 150 adults plus children then split into two communities of more-or-less equal size, both of which continue the grow-split cycle. (Oved, p. 351) As of about 1997 there were about 400 Hutterite Colonies with about 40,000 people. (Pitzer, p. 8)

In contrast, some of the Israeli kibbutzim have around 1,000 members each, although it is unclear how many of them are still communal. In the “Encyclopedia of Community” Daniel Gavron reports that, “Some kibbutzim have joined together in a movement called the Communal Stream, in an attempt to preserve and protect traditional ways. This movement includes about a dozen veteran kibbutzim and a similar number of new urban communes and experimental settlements, …” However, Ben Hartman reported a somewhat larger number of kibbutzim in a January 25, 2010 “Jerusalem Post” article titled, “Only 25% of Kibbutzim Still Adhere to Collective Model.” Whatever is the exact number, a substantial fraction of kibbutzim are resisting the trend toward privatization of their communal economies, particularly refusing the paying of differential wages for different types of work, which is the red line between communalism and individualism. (Gavron, p. 727; Hartman, 2010)

As of 2008 the Kibbutz movement had a population of about 106,000 people in 256 kibbutzim with varying degrees of economic sharing. (See: http://www.kibbutz.org.il/eng/welcome.htm) This averages to around 400 members per kibbutz, although the most common size would be 200 to 300. The kibbutz movement is now growing with people moving into the newly privatized communities, and with the recent trend of new urban kibbutzim being founded involving about an additional 100 communities in Israel. (See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbutz)

In “Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves” the authors Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett state that in Europe cohousing communities with more than “40 dwellings have been divided into smaller clusters.” They also quote cohousing residents as saying that just over 60 adults is ideal so that teams of two adults each only have to cook the common evening meal for the community once a month. This size community is also small enough to practice direct democracy in community meetings. (McCamant & Durrett, pp. 159-61)

There appears to be no particular population size that can definitively be said to be the best for community, whether religious or secular, communal or collective. While the larger communities get all the attention, small communities of from three-to-nine adults are often overlooked, although they account for 40% of the listings for communities of three or more adults in the 2010 “Communities Directory.”

Taking the idea of intimacy in community to its logical end is what is known today as “polyamory,” involving intimate relationships between more than two adults, such as a triad (three adults) or a quad (two couples), or even more than four adults of either gender. While “polyandry” involves one female and two or more males in an intimate relationship, and “polygyny” involves the opposite, polyamory simply makes no reference to gender in multiple intimate relationships.

As practiced today, polyamorous relationships involve the “full knowledge and free consent of everyone involved.” Such relationships may change over time, while the partners in a stable “multiple-marriage” or “polyfidelity” relationship may all live together in the same residence. Polyamory existed in many ancient tribal cultures like the Celts, and it exists today around the world. (See: wikipedia.org/wiki/polyamory)
With same-gender marriage now legal in the United States, polyamory may become the next lifestyle pattern to become commonly accepted. When polyamory involves three or more adults living together a form of intentional community results. While other forms of intentional community may involve only monogamous relationships, or serial monogamy as a succession of marriages and divorces, or even celibacy in monastic society, polyamory assumes the presence of at least three adults in close relationship.

People in community together create the culture in which they want to live. However much they may deviate from the cultural assumptions presumed to be of the dominant culture, the essential value of the neo-tribal aspect of intentional community is the mutual support among a group of people for their chosen lifestyle.

While the term “cofamily” is not yet an established term for small communities, the need to focus upon the development of small communities is seen in the fact that they comprise at least 40% of the communities directories. This need to concentrate upon developing an identity or tradition for small intentional communities may result in the “cofamily” becoming the first new intentional community movement of the 21st century!

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Previous books in the Intentioneers Series by A. Allen Butcher:

The Intentioneer’s Bible
Interwoven Stories of the Parallel Cultures of Plenty and Scarcity

I    The Book of Ideals
II    Egalitarianism in the Ancient World
III    Egalitarianism in the Early Christian Era
IV    Egalitarianism in Secular and Tribal Culture
V    Communitarianism in the 19th Century
VI    Communitarianism in the 20th Century
VII    Intentioneering the 21st Century
VIII    The Book of Intuitions

The Intentioneer’s Bible is available in ebook format at Amazon.com • Published May, 2016

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Forthcoming book in the Intentioneers Series, for which “Cofamily” is a chapter:

Intentioneers and Illuminati
Interweaving the Parallel Cultures of Plenty and Scarcity
via Myth, Allegory, Reason, and Mysticism

[IX:4-1 = Book:Chapter-Section]

IX:1  The Love of Gifting and Sharing is the Root of Happiness!
IX:2  The Fellowship of Intentioneers and the Lord of Currencies
IX:3  Answers to the Anguish of the Ages
IX:4  Cofamily: Raising Children in Community
IX:5  Class Harmony: 2027 Socialism Bi-Centennial
IX:6  Correspondences of the Fellowship Allegory to the Real World
IX:7  Parallel Cultures: The Fourth World’s Plenty Economics in the First World’s Scarcity Economy
IX:8  Economics of the Golden Rule
IX:9  Communitarian Mysticism

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