After reading Kat Kinkade‘s Is it Utopia Yet?, probably the least understandable idea, from an Indiano point of view, would be her concept of open community. According to it, a community has a set of rules, and if you accept them, you can theoretically become a member.
As a result, communitarian culture evolves not only through community experience and members’ contributions, but through the changing ideological profile of the different waves of newcomers. Kinkade wonders many times “how could we reach this point,” meaning how could the community absorb so much influence from “New Age” practices and evolve so far from its founding scientific approach to reality.
Indianos take part in an Epicurean communitarian tradition: the community is a “society” of friends. From the Epicurean point of view, friendship (fraternity) and knowledge are the central goals of community itself. So, you will accept and look for people you can become friends with. But you also will put another condition on them: to share basic common contexts, in order to be able to learn together. Consequently, community is something that happens within a cultural and philosophical common ground, not just a set of rules open to everybody.
Why “communities of friends” provide more diversity and freedom
Also related to this Epicurean view, we think community must provide “abundance” in as many fields as possible. [Disclaimer: “abundance” means diversity, not overconsumption or waste.] In the book, there is a creepy Stalinist scene where the community censures the author for installing a microwave oven in Twin Oaks. It is not even an economic issue, the oven was a donation from a friend. Nobody intended to make it mandatory to use it. So, where was the problem? It was, from our point of view, an ideological problem: community took over individual needs, limiting individual action. Assembly artificially produced scarcity and homogenization.
From an Epicurean point of view, community cannot determine what anyone’s needs are, and cannot take sovereignty over individual or personal preferences. Egalitarianism never will work if it assumes everybody’s needs are the same. Each community use to have a characteristic consumption pattern because as we said before, they chose and were chosen within a similar culture, with similar values. But inside a common culture there will be still diversity. In an egalitarian community, there will inevitably be different consumption levels and particular preferences and tastes.
But, as a consequence of shared values and cultural practices, if people have this cultural common ground, everyone’s different needs will fit into the community budget without serious problems, as it happens in income-sharing couples and families all around the world every day. So, the famous “common bank account” can live perfectly well along with personal accounts without questioning the “community of goods,” with only one condition: individuals must commit not to save money in their bank accounts. Something similar happens in other “big” egalitarian communities as, in example, Nieder Kaufungen.
Could American egalitarianism discover interesting ideas in Epicurean communitarian traditions? I would guess so… and we would love to participate in any discussions with materials and thoughts.