For us, sharing, cooperating, and trusting has made us incredibly wealthy, just not in money. Wealth, really, is an experience: the ability to always get what you need and often get what you want.
What is an interesting life? That’s something I’m in the process of figuring out. In fact, for me, an interesting life is the very process of figuring out. It is the freedom to act, to try new things, to experiment, to explore your life and your world. But this freedom necessarily includes the symmetrical freedom from fear and from want; freedom from the things that might stop me from making those leaps and taking those roads less traveled by.
I live in an egalitarian commune of 30 adults called Acorn Community where we share everything we can, including our land, labor, and income, and where we govern ourselves by consensus. Our economy runs on personal initiative and responsibility and is organized as a strict adhocracy. On the other end of it, all members have free equal access to all the community’s resources and can take from them as much as they need. We have both of the freedoms I described above and we have them in spades. We are each forging our own path and making our own life but we never want for anything and when any one of us stumbles the other thirty of us are there to catch them.
For me, life is interesting in its vast diversity. Most interesting and diverse of all are its free people, each with an internal life at least as rich and complex and idiosyncratic as my own, and each free to pursue and explore their own fleeting whims, bizarre passions, crazy theories, and mad schemes. And so I find that to enrich myself I must enrich my world, I must tend to my people that they might be as free and interesting as they can be. This is my true work and it is endlessly fascinating.
The commune is an incredibly supportive place and easily the most effective educational institution I have ever been a part of. There is a great diversity of valuable projects to undertake and all the tools you need to undertake them. There is enthusiastic support for personal experimentation and the development of new creative pursuits. There are many insightful and experienced people to help you with self exploration and political development. And people take advantage of these resources constantly! A constant parade of self-transforming communards marches past me year after year, to my never ending delight.
Opposing my project and keeping me busy is the very world in which I work. Accidents, shortages, disasters great and small, unintended consequences, neglected problems, and the thousand competing desires and plans of my beloved people. A variable but never ending challenge. The project is hard enough with just that but I also find myself opposed at every turn by a bunch of deeply uncreative people. People who have such a lack of imagination that the only way they can see to meet their own needs is to use violence to shut others out of the negotiation or to horde all of the toys to themselves.
The deep project at Acorn, highlighted and honed by our use of consensus, is the continuing challenge of finding the creative solutions that work for everyone; the process of figuring out how to meet your needs within the context of the needs of others. It is the utilitarian project realized. Knowing how successful we and others have been in running complex and diverse micro-societies with the principles of consensus it becomes clear that violence, as Isaac Asimov was fond of saying, is the last refuge of the incompetent.
Violence, whether taking someone’s home away or denying medicine to the sick, is an admission that you’re not clever enough to figure out that creative solution. The market, based on the sanctity of private property and the myth of the independent self-made person, has become a Procrustean bed on a global scale forcing a mind-bogglingly diverse humanity to squeeze into or stretch to fill a narrowly defined economic format or suffer the consequences. Should our ideas and ideologies stretch and scrunch to fit our people or should we refashion our people to fit our ideology?
At Acorn, and in all the communes in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, we cast our economy instead as a collective project that we are all responsible for maintaining. That project needs all sorts of labor and resources to do what we want it to do and all of that labor is necessary. And so we treat all labor as equal and expect of our members an equitable contribution, based on ability. An hour of order fulfillment is equal to an hour of programming is equal to an hour of accounting is equal to an hour of auto maintenance is equal to an hour of child care is equal to an hour of cooking is equal to an hour of policy making etc. And from the riches created by our labor, whether money, food, knowledge, or what have you, we take whatever we need to be happy, healthy, and satisfied. We have achieved the old dream: from each according to their ability to each according to their need.
But what of the tragedy of the commons? What of the supply and demand curves? Won’t collective property be destroyed (or never purchased in the first place)? Won’t a pile of free things be instantly snapped up and horded by the first person to come across it? Luckily humanity is more complex than that and has evolved for a long time as a social species. Numerous studies and histories show that the true tragedy of the commons is its privatization and the loss of social control that it entails. Deforestation, pollution, over grazing, over hunting, degradation: all these ills have come in spades with privatization. And a rational person only hordes or over consumes if they fear for a future lack. Calm fear and secure supply and hording becomes costly and irrational in addition to being anti-social.
For us, sharing, cooperating, and trusting has made us incredibly wealthy, just not in money. Wealth, really, is an experience: the ability to always get what you need and often get what you want. To want for nothing would be the ideal, would make you truly wealthy. And we want for little. We are always fed well and housed, we are cared for when we are sick, we have friends and entertainment, we have meaningful work and flexible schedules, we both travel and receive visitors, we raise our children and pursue our passions. And yet we do it all working only 40 hours per week (income and domestic work) and with an annual income well below the poverty line.
My commune is a bubble within which we have rewritten the rules of our economy and our society, keeping the violence and cruelty of the mainstream at bay with a sturdy but permeable membrane. I have lived here and it is beautiful. For me, I could spend an interesting life as a blower of such bubbles.