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 this experience of utopian “intentioneering.” While others may come up with additional lessons learned, this writing focuses upon five 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 through 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; and fifth, that communal childcare in which parents give responsibility for their children to a group of parents and other experienced care-givers does not work, showing the limit of communalism, and resulting in the focus upon collective childcare and the need for the provision for 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 is a good 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)
A number of influences had led Skinner to his utopian idea. He had read about 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 in his 1888 utopian novel “Looking Backward: 2000-1887,” and had 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.” 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 five 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 meaning either no place or good place, and since Twin Oaks is obviously a place it can certainly be called a good place. 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 opportunities for oneself to travel to those 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 wanted to learn alternative culture. 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 displaced.
Because of this commonality between intentioneers (i.e., communitarians) and indigenous tribal peoples I focus in my “School of Intentioneering” upon the political-economic concept of the “Fourth World,” which includes both indigenous tribal cultures and intentional communities, among other decentralized, self-reliant cultures. The Fourth World is comprised of small communities, cultures, and countries that are happy with their economy and society and are not trying to become mainstream, or compete 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 obstinate people comprising egalitarian societies is set by the experience of Twin Oaks and East Wind, 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. 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 40 members.
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 says 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 was developed in England, with the principle designer 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 educational system designed as an intentional community. (Rexroth, pp. 151-2)
Ronald Garnett explains further that since there was no social safety net like welfare, the British people had long been forming associations for mutual-aid in response to being enclosed from access to the commons, forced off the land, and having to struggle to find work in the oppressive factories. By at least the 1790s there were “voluntary mutual sickness and life insurance companies,” referred to as “friendly societies” and “trade clubs.” 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 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 also 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.” Friedrich Engels, the associate and benefactor of Karl Marx who wrote “The Communist Manifesto,” and a “critic of Owenite utopian and communitarian socialism … 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, p. 123; 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, “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.” (Manuel & Manuel, pp. 699)
Robert Owen brought the labor notes idea to America. 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 societies 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 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)
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)
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)
The labor exchange eventually 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 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 “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 library.
Not until Kat Kinkade developed the vacation-credit labor system at Twin Oaks 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)
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 agreed to meet, with the provision for individuals to accumulate vacation time 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, and thanks to B. F. Skinner on into the 20th 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 ALIVE: 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, and that is a long discussion pursued in “The Intentioneers’ Bible” (along with a discussion of the failed idea of “variable credits”), yet for this “Feminism 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)
Failure of Communal Childcare Shifts Focus to Parentcare
For the last, yet not the least, of the lessons learned from fifty years of communalism at Twin Oaks Community, something has to be said about communal childcare, and that telling has to at least include the surprising case story of children at East Wind Community, and someday also a telling of Acorn Community’s invitation to single-parents.
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 TO 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)
The high turnover rate among those who provide childcare means that the parents have 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 at least secular 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 their children, resulting in perennial conflicts which other members may prefer to avoid 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 monasteries 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’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, cultural 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.”
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 EW’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 refused more and more pregnancies, creating a 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 a particular 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 such a reprehensible child policy 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.
There were a couple stages in the demise of communal childcare at Twin Oaks, 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 over 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 for about two decades (mid ‘70s to 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.
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 for providing for parental childcare as a collective within a communal society suggests that the community’s concentration needs to be upon providing for “parent-care,” to support 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)
Portions of this article were previously published by the present 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
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