Anarres 2 cooperative community

February 6, 2012

Anarres 2: A cooperative community

I can imagine a community where people work together voluntarily to meet everyone’s needs, and I’d like to help make that happen. I’m interesting in a forming a cooperative community based on a voluntary, egalitarian and democratic form of socialism (like a kibbutz) but which allows the members as much personal freedom as possible (people have choices, and they don’t have to agree on every little detail). There are many possible ways to organize such a community, and it would probably evolve over time. In a capitalist economic system, there are many unmet needs (unless you are well off), but there is no reliable mechanism to put the unemployed to work to meet those needs, or to allow them to meet their own needs. Additionally, most people are unable to meet their own needs directly, but must sell their labor to a business owner, who then decides what they will do and how they will do it, and in return they get a cash payment based on the current market value of their labor, which may or may not be enough to meet their basic needs. In a cooperative community there is never unemployment, because there is always work to be done, and that work directly improves the participants’ own quality of life. You can plant a garden, build a solar water heater, raise chickens, make soap, and so on. The more stuff you make, the more stuff there is to share with the community. If you have too much of something, you can try to sell it to people outside the community (you need to earn some “hard currency” to buy the products, services and raw materials that the community doesn’t produce). The reason more people don’t do this is that the less well off don’t have access to land and capital, and if the economy is functioning normally, most people can generally make more money in the mainstream economy. But the community I envisage isn’t about materialism (but it hopefully isn’t about poverty and hardship, either).

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote about a highly evolved form of such a community in her science fiction novel “The Dispossessed”. Anarres 2 would not be an attempt to exactly recreate the society depicted on the planet Anarres in her book, but it’s an interesting vision of a non-hierarchical, self-regulating, cooperative society that can act as an inspiration, and as a warning about things that can go wrong.

Location

I live in Japan now. This is probably not the best place to locate an intentional community, because land here is very expensive and because Japanese society is highly regulated and rigid, and not very foreigner-friendly (see “About me” for more details). Likewise, the United States, my home country, is an expensive place to live, an unpleasant place to work (American corporation: You have two cows. You sell one, lease it back to yourself and do an IPO on the 2nd one. You force the two cows to produce the milk of four cows. You are surprised when one cow drops dead. You spin an announcement to the analysts stating you have downsized and are reducing expenses. Your stock goes up.)  and a place that continues to unravel and descend into madness. It has become a true police state, and is teetering on the brink of fascism. The current debate for example is whether or not to attack Iran for developing nuclear weapons (which the U.S. has, and has used, twice, on non-combatants, and which Iran’s neighbor, Israel, already has). Should the Middle East be a nuclear weapons free zone? It’s not even a part of the debate in the U.S.

So, where to locate? Ideally in a country that has cheap land, is peaceful, politically moderate and which respects human rights, where English is spoken (at least as a second or alternative language), which has a moderate climate and few dangerous diseases, poisonous snakes, dangerous plants, etc. Ideally, the country would also be tolerant of diversity, progressive or well-inclined towards socialism (even if this means just having national health care, which would be highly desirable), and welcoming to immigrants .  Here are some ideas: India, Greenland (cold, land is cheap, food is expensive), the Falkland Islands (tensions with Argentina, likely to discriminate against people from Spanish-speaking countries, public health insurance), Belize (English spoken, hot and humid), Mexico (public health insurance, close to U.S., hot, drug violence, government bureaucracy), Mongolia (very cold, land is free, not much English), Dominica (not the Dominican Republic – English spoken, progressive, democratic government, hot, humid), the Philippines (national health insurance, hot, humid, stormy weather, some political violence), Canada (expensive, English spoken, has national health insurance, high bar for immigrants), New Zealand, Ireland, Iceland (similar to Canada). If we locate in a less-developed/developing country, our start-up capital will go farther, there will be more economic opportunities for us, more opportunities for us to be of service to our neighbors, and a better chance that our community will offer a better standard of living than the mainstream society, making it easier for us to recruit and grow. If we DID locate in the U.S., both Vermont and Montana plan to launch public health insurance. Any other suggestions?

Organization

I’m thinking the best way to organize this would be either as a cooperative (in countries that recognize this form of organization) or as a corporation. I know, “corporations are bad” but it’s like the gun control slogan – corporations don’t do bad things, the people running them do bad things. The reason for this is because it is a recognized form of organization in most places, and potential members will probably have different amounts of capital they can invest. Within this framework, people could invest an amount they can afford, and also sell back their shares if they decide to leave. But this would also mean that those with more capital to invest would get a larger share of power and of the profits. That doesn’t seem to be consistent with an egalitarian community, so perhaps we could give each person one vote and not pay dividends, but pay members for hours worked. We could divide the profits (after deductions for expenses, future expenses, etc.) among the workers/owners on an hourly basis. We’d take the profits to be distributed, divide them by the total hours worked by everyone – to get an hourly pay rate – and then pay each worker according to the number of hours they actually worked. You could work as much or as little as you like (but we would probably agree to have a minimum number of unpaid work hours in order to cover the basic expenses that the community decides to cover for its members, and pay cash for hours over the minimum). Time spent on household chores would also count as work hours (this work is just as necessary). I think it’s important that we reach out to the local community for members so that we aren’t considered alien or scary.

Sources of Income

We can use whatever skills our members have to start small cooperative businesses, which will not only to supply our own needs, but will also produce products and services that can be sold in the local economy to earn money for the goods and services we can produce for ourselves. What the local economy needs will vary a lot depend on where we locate, so we need to make inquires with the local people before making a firm plan or investing in equipment. In the age of the internet we could also sell many products on-line as “cooperatively produced products”, such as bread, cake-mix, soap, cheese, products made from recycled materials, arts and crafts, etc. Personally, I can teach English, cook and bake, and I have an idea for making vases and glasses out of discarded glass bottles. I’d also be interested in learning about solar water heating and wind power, and that could be developed into a business. We could also produce food or food products that are currently imported, have a campground, or run a cafe. In less developed countries we could provide transportation, plow or harvest fields with a tractor, or provide some other needed service that requires a large capital expenditure.

Design

Unless we can attract several people who are each willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars, Anarres 2 will have to start out pretty rough. A piece of land with some timber and a field for gardening, a source of water, a community building of some type with a kitchen, dining area, bathroom and bathing area, and a workshop (I think this could be done with straw bale walls framed with logs/timbers), and then have people living in their own campers, yurts, straw bale homes, etc. The land would be held in common, but you could sell your dwelling to a new resident. I can probably set up a crude solar water heating system, but we’ll probably need to be “on the grid” at first for electricity, or else figure out a way to affordably generate a substantial amount of electric power with wind, sun or water. I’ve read about how to set up a wind power system, but it’s a bit complex and probably doesn’t produce enough power to operate machinery.

Membership and Decision-making

It’s important that the founding members share a similar vision of what we are trying to achieve, and have some ideological commitment to the community. It would be a good idea to have at least a six month trial period for new members to determine compatibility, too. Decisions would be attempted to be made by consensus, but after repeated attempts to reach consensus have failed, or in cases of pressing emergencies, decisions could be made by a simple majority. We should only deal with community-level issues, and allow flexibility for different personal situations (some people may not want to be part of the economic cooperative and may choose to have independent finances), and not try to micro-manage people’s personal lives. That being said, we should also agree on certain minimums of behavior that members need to abide by (not being abusive or violent, not being involved in criminal behavior, maintaining a certain level of cleanliness, safety and order, performing a minimum amount of community work, etc.)

Images of sort of what I have in mind:

http://loca4motion.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/a-mongolian-ger-camp-terelj-lodge/

http://www.mongoliagercamp.com/steppe_nomads.html

Of course the housing doesn’t have to be gers, or be located in Mongolia, but the idea in their nomadic society, that the land doesn’t belong to anyone, is certainly intriguing.

I found a couple of plots of affordable land here http://foreclosedjapan.com/openrealty/search.html but nothing anywhere near Nagoya.

updated June 20, 2012

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