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.

1 comment:

Seth Scholfield said...

Awesome Ian! Well said. I'll definitely be sharing this with others. Thanks!