Sunday, July 17, 2011

Back to the Future: modern-day utopian strivings for tomorrow

by some forward-thinking anarchists

[We were recently asked to describe our vision for the year 2021, ten years into the future. Here’s our best-case scenario. We're not saying that this is this future is likely. We're presuming there will be no technological singularity, no disclosure about extraterrestrials, and neither a New Age mystical ascension nor doomsday in 2012. This may not be the best nor last such piece we write. It’s not everything we would like, but it’s headed in that direction. If you think you could do better, please write your own and post it.]

A general paradigm shift has emerged over time regarding how people view the nature of humanity itself. People increasingly have moved away from relating based on static labels and moralistic judgements towards instead seeing all human beings as having the same basic and fundamental needs. Increasingly there is also more open acknowledgement that each person is responsible for the choices that they make, that the choices each person makes affects others, and that healthy social relationships are necessary in order to survive. Subsequently there is more of a generalized respect for the autonomy of each person, and for the sake of healthy relationships there is less reliance on coercion, intimidation or manipulation. Because of this, new forms of group facilitation are created and gaining new interest, facilitation that can be said to be more "person-centered", as opposed to the old more "agenda-centered" ways of having conversations and meetings.

With this form of group facilitation gaining popularity as the preferred approach for running formal meetings as well as informal gatherings of people, both the character of organizations as well as for the culture at large begins to change as well. More and more people try to relate with each-other in ways that prioritize empathic understanding, honest self-expression and valuing everyone's well-being. This change is having it's effect on how people address conflict towards more restorative justice and mediation as opposed to the traditional punitive justice. Romantic relationships gradually shift towards becoming more free-form and focused on open and direct dialogue. Parent-child relationships become more non-coercive, creative and cooperative. Family structures become more open, pluralistic and affinity-based. Overall, voluntary cooperation and mutual partnerships are becoming more of the favored mode for social relationships.

Government as we had known it is clearly on the way out. A large majority of people have realized that they were not served by the left/right split which was largely concocted by the rich and powerful to keep the masses divided and fighting among themselves. Dialog and deliberation methods have become popular and Citizens’ Deliberative Councils with randomly selected members are temporarily convened to arrive at consensus about all the contentious issues of the day, producing breakthrough solutions that divisive party politics was never able to achieve. Politicians who once pandered to corporate special interests are now bending over backwards to rubber-stamp the proposals of the Citizens’ Deliberative Councils, lest they lose what little public credibility they have left. A large, growing minority is loudly questioning what we need these politicians for at all, and it looks like the era of representative democracy is drawing to a close, in favor of something much more participatory that works for everybody.

A Truth-and-Reconciliation Commission has been formed in which members of the intelligence establishment, military-industrial complex, Wall Street, and the corporatocracy confess their crimes and publicly discuss their impact on others in exchange for immunity from prosecution. People who've been involved in running corporate and political structures are beginning to talk about their pain, and listen to affected people talk about their pain as well. In awkward fits and jumps, the crypto-fascist regime that has ruled since World War 2 and before is seriously in the process of unraveling in the face of an informed and determined public unwilling to tolerate its continuance. The wars have ended, the foreign military bases have closed down, and returning soldiers have been deprogrammed, rehabilitated, and reintegrated into supportive communities.

Much more food is grown cooperatively and locally where people live. Nowadays pretty much everyone agrees about the importance of local food independence, organic methods, and composting. All genetically engineered seeds have been safely destroyed and replaced with heirloom varieties.

Most people have come to understand the value of unplugging from the mass media and corporate culture. TV, movies, video games, glossy magazines, and pop music only have a shred of their former audience and big mass media companies are going bankrupt. Grass-roots autonomous culture has risen up to replace it, and people who were once made to feel isolated, inadequate, and powerless by the onslaught of advertising and corporate and government propaganda, are now enjoying a new depth of meaning and thrill of empowerment as they begin symbolically representing their own lives and struggles in art and music.

Traditional models of education (both childhood and higher education) are seen are irrelevant and not worth the resources that people used to put towards them. For learning people form informal small groups to study, discuss and experiment together. Occasionally skilled facilitators are sought out to stimulate and guide the interest of these groups to get past problems or stuck spots. Mentorship relationships also flourish between people with more knowledge and experience in given areas and those whom have an interest in learning in that area. When wanting to work in a certain area, people openly talk about what their own personal strengths, weaknesses and interests are without shame, and what they would need to learn in order to effectively carry out the necessary tasks.

Petroleum has begun phasing out of our lives and we’ve risen to the challenge of coping with this shift gracefully. We’ve relocalized our production and drastically simplified our consumption patterns. Fuel rationing is being handled by neighborhood committees, reserving gasoline for the most vital transportation, such as ambulances and moving food. We’re clustering into fewer homes in the winter in order to burn less heating oil. All the nuclear plants have been shut down for the sake of public safety. Wind and solar has made up for some of the shortfall, but mostly we’re making due with less and creatively stretching out what’s left.

The economy has taken an unexpected twist as the GDP and average per capita income has taken a nose dive while surveys of subjective life satisfaction are soaring. Widespread unemployment combined with massive shocks of inflation and deflation has lead the market to distrust money in general, so monetary exchange as a means to get what one wants is falling into disuse, replaced by decentralized volunteer groups coordinating labor and food distribution on an ad-hoc basis. New intentional communities are springing up everywhere as it becomes common knowledge that we need to come together in a spirit of cooperation if we are to survive. Few people have real jobs or income any more, but willing workers voluntarily contribute their talents to the greater good, guided by needs-and-wants bulletin boards and consensus town meetings to set priorities. Consumerism has fallen into ill repute as many have realized that once basic needs are met, materialism produces diminishing returns, and that nothing is more satisfying than pitching in to make one’s community a better place to live for everyone.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Community done intentionally

Ever since I discovered the existence of intentional communities I been a stronge supporter of this way of living and I have known that I want to live in one. For me, the very name says it all - to have community and to do it intentionally. Usually communities come about unintentionally, comprised of whoever happens to be around in a given situation. Things don't have to be that way.

The kind of intentional community that I have always been in favor of is the structure of an income-sharing commune, where people both live and work there and where everything that it's members need is provided for by the community itself. This way of living is a part of my ideal for a future society, and it is possible to implement in small-scale forms right now.

This is a very close-knit way of living, people are all up in each-other's business all the time, and frequent meetings are necessary in order to navigate through all of the matters that are affecting everyone. Despite all of this, I say that it is worth it. For one, social needs are met through this model, such as meaningful interactions with others and belonging to something greater than one's self. Also, people always affect each-other all the time regardless of which social models and structures they live within, so having an intentional community structure in place simply provides a way for people to come together to openly talk about this. Pretending that webs of inter-relation and interdependence do not exist makes social fragmentation so much easier to occur.

More importantly, the intentional community format, in particular an income-sharing commune, provides a clear and explicit basis for mutual support. Instead of each individual being left on their own, or even each couple or family being on their own, you have a whole group of people (which includes individuals, couples and families) who are working together to ensure the well-being of everyone. Instead of abandoning people to chance, people explicitly have each-others' back and are looking out for one-another. This is an incredibly strong form of social "safety net" or "insurance", stronger even than what is normally thought of with these words, given that what we're referring to here are people whom one lives with and sees and interacts with every day. Paperwork and relationships of buying and selling can not even compare to that.

The Camphill model for intentional communities intrigues and inspires me in particular. This is because Camphill communities take all of the collective strength and wealth that are created by the pooling together of resources into an income-sharing intentional community and uses that to support people who are in need of special care. I like this, because it ensures that nobody is overlooked, that nobody is left out. On top of that, Camphill adds a dimension of awareness of spirituality and mindfulness that does much to enrich the quality of life that one can experience in community.

What originally inspired me to write this here is my reading of a recent blog post by a friend of mine. The post is The Problem of Sociability. I agree with what he says there about social fragmentation, and the investment of time, space and people as the way to remedy that. In particular these three sentences stand out to me:

"I have seen in Europe that the strongest political groups begin with groups of friends whose political life looks like a daily life that includes each other. This looks like intentional living and daily meetups in public space. In the US we are together, as radical subjects, only as long as our shared living space or clubhouse lasts and no longer."

Based on this, I then think about Camphill Village Copake, where I am currently visiting. This is a place that is an income-sharing intentional community that this up-coming September will be celebrating 50 years of being at this location. However, it started out as a group of friends who previously knew each-other, spent a lot of time together and were committed to this project regardless of what specific physical space was available. This kind of investment, I believe, helped to make this project such a long-lasting endeavor.

The thing is, Camphill communities are not really a "political" project in any way, which is something that I am OK with. Perhaps this is something that reflects my own tendency towards the kind of "puritanism" way (as spoken of as a "wrong" approach in that previously-mentioned blog post) in which I have approached radical leftist politics. At the same time, I am a strong believer in the need to integrate "personal" and "political" work together, as I have talked about here previously. This leads me to wonder how "political" a person I really am, even though I believe that our world needs to radically be changed top to bottom, and every which way.

One project that I have been following recently is Shut Down Rise Up, based in Minneapolis in response to the recent "government shut-down" there in Minnesota. This project, in my eyes, is an attempt to create more "intentionality" and mutual support among pre-existing communities of people. This project also can very easily be said to be a "political" project. The problem with this kind of thing, however, is that when the specified time elapses people then relapse back into "unintentionality" and isolation. Structures need to exist more permanently, more ongoingly.

My ideal situation would be that of combining all of these different elements: income-sharing intentional community, supporting people in need of special care, recognizing & appreciating the spiritual aspects of life, integrating "inner" work and personal change with more "outer" social change, and, at the same time, making efforts to invite the general public to learn more about and participate in ways to create mutual aid, local self-sufficiency and intentional living.

I am at a place in my life now where I feel like I have a lot from my own past experience to draw from, while at the same time I am unwilling and unable to create the kind of life and projects that I want to engage in on my own. I am looking for comrades, networks and social structures that are in alignment with all of these things that I am wanting. At the same time, my suspicion is that what I am wanting is not all the different, on a fundamental level, from what most people are wanting. The question is to navigate through all of the particulars, and to talk about what we want consciously. This is something that we can choose to do together.