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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12 Comments »

  1. I found you through IC.org. My question to you: Why would you want to start up a new intentional community when there are thousands of existing ones and even thousands of “forming” ones looking for more members at IC.org? I think this is proof that people are so fiercely individualistic (thanks, American Society!) that they would never consider joining anybody else’s intentional community. No, other people have to join yours! I am sure somewhere in the world, there already exists an intentional community which has space and all the other infrastructure you are trying to scrape together. Sorry to come across so critical.

    Comment by Stuart — March 16, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

  2. Well, they all very different. I’d be very interested if you can suggest some that have the same orientation (democratic socialist, limited number of issues that are decided by entire community, with a mission of demonstrating the viability of voluntary cooperation, that are not extremely expensive to join). There are a few that are close, but none that I’ve found that manage to balance cooperation with independence. East Wind and Alpha Farm for example, require members to turn over ALL of their assets to the community (but Alpha Farm pledges to eventually return them if you leave). Dancing Rabbit is interesting, but they are primarily oriented on environmental sustainablility, not socialism. Just some examples.

    Comment by Ed — March 16, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

  3. BTW, I’m all for environmental sustainability, but the restrictions at Dancing Rabbit are pretty strict. For example, if you’re going to try to live off the grid, you need a back up, IMHO. I think socialism is actually a way to improve sustainability, because, unlike capitalism, people don’t have to consume like maniacs just to keep the system from crashing. And there are no boom/bust cycles, which are extremely rough on working class people.

    Comment by Ed — March 17, 2012 @ 11:02 am

  4. Hello Ed, I hate to “punt” gain, but if you search the IC.org directory for “communes,” you will get an incredibly long list of so-called “income sharing” intentional communities. Sorry if I’m telling you the obvious, but these ICs usually do require you to hand over your assets and any outside income in exchange for membership. I guess most young people who join such communes don’t have many assets to give up, so they aren’t bothered. Twin Oaks is the most famous and one of the longest-lived communes. I think they don’t require you to hand over your assets, only that you hand over any investment returns derived from those assets. They apparently have so many people applying to join that they have gotten very choosy. They only want young people, not geezers ready for retirement. I am surprised you find the restrictions at Dancing Rabbit so strict. They require independent finances, that means no handover of assets, but you have to support yourself. However, even at Dancing Rabbit there is a group of people who are engaging in income sharing. The nearby Sand Hill IC is an income sharing group. The nearby Red Earth IC does seem to have very strict rules requiring something called “environmental auditing.” That part of Missouri right around Rutledge seems to be a hotbed of IC activity. I think you need to forget that word “socialism.” Socialist economies were doing a lot of crashing during the 1980s even without the need to consume like maniacs! Income sharing sounds a lot more benign. I just feel you are trying to “reinvent the wheel” when there are already so many intentional communities to choose from. Even in Japan there is a place called Atarashiki-mura which fits the income sharing model. They have a long history stretching back to the 1930s. Unfortunately, the members are getting a bit old, but they farm rice and have a chicken operation. Why don’t you investigate and report back to us? Atarashiki-mura is listed in wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atarashiki-mura) and they have their own Japanese homepage (http://www.atarashiki-mura.or.jp/) which you can translate using Google translate.

    Comment by Stuart — March 19, 2012 @ 2:11 am

  5. Hello Stuart, Income sharing is only one component. I think it’s very important that at least the founding members share an ideological commitment to a more or less shared vision. These are the communities that tend to last. So I think an explicit commitment to the shared vision of a democratic form of socialism is important. A lot of communities have very fuzzy ideals and goals, and I think your point of view, that one community is just as good as another, is an example of that. Another important difference is that I’d like to locate in a country in which our start up capital will be leveraged by the exchange rate. I don’t have a huge amount of money to invest – I wouldn’t be able to buy into most co-housing schemes for example. There are pros and cons to this, but a big pro is that we can assist in the development of a less developed country and have a greater impact than if we locate in a wealthy, industrialized country. Now, regarding the collapse of the Marxist-Leninist regimes, those countries were based on a very corrupted form of socialism, a top-down, undemocratic, repressive model that insisted that people NOT use their creativity and talent, but that they passively submit to the direction of an uncontrolled elite called the Party, or else! Before the M-Ls, there was a rich and varied utopian socialist movement. Most of these schemes failed however, mostly due to internal divisions. I’m a little worried about that. I want people to have democratic control over the project, but without a shared vision the situation is ripe for huge disagreements in how to proceed. Finally, any community that demands you hand over all your assets is not your friend. People should have the freedom to come and go – even capitalism allows this. I would never be so bold as to demand that people hand over all their assets. Can you imaging applying for a job, and the interviewer says, “after a probationary period, if you decide to join the company permanently, you’ll need to hand over all your assets.”

    Comment by Ed — March 19, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

    • Atarashiki-mura looks interesting – I haven’t heard of it. My Japanese is really bad though. I never realized how important a shared language is to communication until I started living abroad. I will check them out though – it sounds pretty good. One thing that worries me though is that they are unable to attract new members. Life in the mainstream is really hard in Japan, so it seems very surprising that they aren’t able to grow.

      Comment by Ed — March 19, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

    • Dear Ed, I’m not so silly that I would maintain “one community is just as good as another.” I told you to search IC.org where there are thousands of existing and forming ICs, I didn’t tell you to close your eyes and just pick one! I hear you loud and clear on the “hand over your assets” aspect to many income sharing ICs. It makes you wonder whether they are really sustainable or just surviving on other people’s assets. Regarding living in a developing country versus the USA, yes, your dollar will go farther, but which country really needs the the IC model more, the developing world or the developed world? You must consider Americans use up 25% of the world’s resources while having only 3% of its population. Many of the usual “cheap countries” like Costa Rica, Panama and Guatemala are already overrun with American retirees pricing the locals out of their own housing market. You will often have to deal with overpopulation, crime and official corruption. Sometimes the devil you know (the USA) is better than two devils in the bush (sorry about the mixed metaphor). Regarding socialism, I won’t waste time arguing with you. If you are honest with yourself and know something about history, the verdict is in: “income sharing” doesn’t work on a national scale. It only has a chance of working in a small group of people who are really dedicated to each other or some ideal. This is the reason some of the most “successful” ICs are religiously oriented ones. Listen, what you want is to create some perfect IC where there will always be harmony and agreement. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! There will always be disagreement. Like you said, so many ICs have failed in the past. I just got my latest weekly newsletter from Dancing Rabbits. Mind if I paste it here? While you read it, ask yourself whether this is a type of imperfection you could live with:

      Ted here to bring you this week’s update from Dancing Rabbit.

      A week ago the web team hosted an afternoon-evening party to work on all kinds of loose ends on the new Dancing Rabbit website it has been busily working on for months. After a few last-minute pleas to test various pages and proofread new content, our new website went live this week! It is the culmination of five years or more of effort toward improving the experience for visitors to our site, and to mounting the site on a new platform that will allow those with lesser tech skills to update content. Three cheers! Be sure to check out the new look at http://www.dancingrabbit.org.

      Other signs of spring cleaning are everywhere, along with some capital improvements. An ambitious team of volunteers has taken on an overall cleanup of our front circle drive in preparation for rerouting the drive and widening turns. We’re hoping to ease the flow of larger vehicles in the future, especially in delivering building materials for our new common house beginning later this year. We also expect to gravel an area alongside our machine shed and convert its east wall into a two-bay garage for working on our vehicles in-house. Two small grain bins that have served for storage since 1997 will soon get picked up and tucked behind the machine shed, so a deadline approaches to remove our stored belongings or see them off on a dump run later this week.

      After all this work has taken place, resources will be stored in a more orderly fashion in the newly mowed resource yard at one end of the drive, and then a landscaping crew will spring into action to beautify the entrance to the village. Whew! And it isn’t even April yet!

      The driveway re-routing is hoped to take place at the same time as the impending installation of the next sections of village road, including the southern portion of the road around our future town center, where the building of our new common house will soon get under way. That will connect to Crooked Route, which runs through Grassroots, the “new” neighborhood that is now nearly full.

      Having pulled 19 acres of land on the west slope of the village out of CRP last fall to accommodate the desire for more and larger agricultural leases, we’ve lately formed a new agriculture committee, which is trying to establish some infrastructure, ground rules, and guiding principles for the use of these areas before the wagons cross into the new territory (can you tell Aurelia’s been into Little House On The Prairie lately?). At issue are questions about how to preserve access to such land for future village residents while making best use of the land meanwhile. Knowing we need to get underway with lots of soil amendment, we’re also mapping out which slopes are too steep for tillage, and should therefore be in perennial shrubs and trees, versus those that might be good for grazing or larger plantings of annuals. As always, there is a lot to figure out.

      We’re just on the cusp of our yearly population boom. A handful of residents accepted last fall to begin residency this spring will soon arrive, including a family with two girls who will further complexify the youth scene here and also bring the youth gender balance closer to parity. Aurelia is excited for more new playmates and school mates.

      Our first group of visitors will arrive before long, and work exchangers and interns will soon start trickling in as well. So many surprises and new relationships to build, so much information to share with newcomers to the village– this lifestyle doesn’t seem to slow down much!

      A handful of residents departed for a week in Texas in connection with a showing of Mandy and Ryan’s community documentary Within Reach at an arts festival in Austin. Katherine was excited to visit friends, and prior to departing, Jordan prepped and planted a string of garden plots around Sparky’s house, where he’s staying. We look forward to their safe return.

      Kurt and Alline hosted a St. Patrick’s Day dinner at the Mercantile, complete with corned beef, potatoes, and a very tasty homemade cheesecake. They are perfecting all sorts of holiday meals and treats, and becoming ever more indispensable in the village’s social scene.

      Alyssa and I got together last weekend for a date to make cheese, and ended up with two rounds of farmhouse cheddar. We made use of some supplies still remaining in our fridge from a cheese-making workshop at the Mercantile a bit over a year ago, and rapidly came up with the intentions both to start making cheese regularly, and to acquire a cheese press and other materials we’ll need. Now that we have a root cellar, I intend to devote a section of it to serve as a cheese cave. Yum.

      I haven’t heard the tallies of syrup per hour worked from the annual cooperative maple tapping effort, but I do know that the advent of summery weather signaled and official end to the season recently. We send out our sweet thanks to neighbors Bob and Angela Neese and Dale and Christine Heaton for allowing us to tap the silver maple trees on their land– this year’s run was a sight better than last year’s, and we couldn’t get much sap without the generosity of our neighbors.

      Lastly this week, I’m pleased to report that a handful of ultimate players inaugurated play on our new, regulation-size field after our Sunday meeting. With a bunch of stakes related to the installation of the new road sections now peppered about the old playing field, the new field north of town center welcomed us just in time with visions of countless games to come.

      Now to get back out to the garden and prepare more beds! We hope you are making good use of the fantastic weather, and that we’ll see you here for a visit before long.

      Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and educational nonprofit in Rutledge, northeast Missouri, focused on sustainable living. We offer free tours to the public twice monthly from April-October. Our first tour of the year will be April 14 at 1pm. Meanwhile, for more information you can visit our website (see above), read our blog The March Hare at blog.dancingrabbit.org, or give us a call at (660) 883-5511.

      Comment by Stuart — March 19, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

    • Sorry I goofed up the replies here. I want to respond to your observations about Atarashiki-mura. I have been living here in Japan for almost 9 years and still can’t say I’m fluent in Japanese. It is a great disappointment to me. I am surrounded by people who speak English. Atarashiki-mura is an old Japanese commune and I can’t imagine a better place to be immersed in the language. Yes, they are getting older, but I bet they can teach you or me a lot about cooperative living and farming. Why are they getting older and no new members? Because young guys like you won’t give them a chance! You and I see Japanese youth traipse in and out of our classes every day: they are as self-absorbed, fickle, gadget-fixated, manga-escaping, etc., as any American youth. At the beginning of my classes every semester, I ask my students to fill out cards with info including their hobbies and interests. NOBODY puts down gardening or farming. Whenever I ask students what they want to become, NOBODY says farmer. I did a class two semesters ago on the Twin Oaks intentional community. The students just sat there with their mouths open when I asked them whether they could picture themselves living in such an IC. When I gave them the assignment of talking with five other students in their immediate vicinity to come up with an idea for an IC they would organize (ideals it was based on, income sharing or not, consensus or majority rule, shared living or individual housing, work arrangements, etc.), they totally wasted the time, and didn’t hand in anything. When I complained, they said no one wants to live together like that. Okay, maybe one group got into the spirit (some girls, of course, women seem to be far ahead of us territorial males in these things). It’s going to take a collapse of our petroleum-based society to wake these people up.

      Comment by Stuart — March 19, 2012 @ 10:43 pm

  6. So Stuart, do you live in the Tokyo area? Have you visited Atarashiki-mura? If not, let’s do it sometime! We have to contact them first, and ask about it of course.

    Comment by Ed — March 22, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

    • Ed, I live up here in cold Hokkaido, I’m married, and I have a salary that my wife is counting on to fund her anti-nuclear activities, so that’s three strikes against me joining you. By the way, I’m 53, so I doubt you would enjoy hanging out with me. My retirement is (unfortunately) still far off. I fantasize that I will get fired from my job, thus setting me free to pursue intentional community! No, I’m kidding, I have a good job that I’d like to keep for as long as they will let me. I have some friends who are running a CSA (community supported agriculture) here in Hokkaido. He’s an American, she’s Japanese. They are just in their second year. They are firm believers in the Biodynamic farming technique. That’s voodoo as far as I am concerned, but I think their heart is in the right place and they are really nice people. The food is organic, a bit bug-eaten, but still delicious. I fantasize (I do that a lot) that I will join them and live and work on their farm. They are WWOOFers and welcome volunteers who want to help them. I can imagine myself in rubber boots and overalls on their farm. That’s my dream. I think you are closer to Atarashiki-mura. A visit there would certainly be interesting. Take pictures, film a little, interview the geezers, and then write something or make a film about their dreams and problems. I think you could publish that somewhere, maybe on a blog or on Youtube. At least you will gain a little experience, and can fine-tune your expectations of an intentional community a little. What do you think?

      Comment by Stuart — March 23, 2012 @ 8:27 am

      • Hi Stuart, I was just proposing a visit, but I didn’t know you lived in Hokkaido. I’m 51 myself, and have a Japanese wife too, who is not keen on this idea. Anyway, I found this post about Atarashiki-mura by a guy who is apparently British, who lived there for a while: http://www.japanesetranslations.co.uk/p/mura.htm

        Comment by Ed — March 24, 2012 @ 7:11 pm

  7. Ed, thanks for the link. I vaguely recall having read that article many years ago but had completely forgotten it. It sounds like an honest appraisal of Atarashiki-mura from someone who knows. I guess like any organization in existence for a long time they have discovered what works (chickens, some pesticide use, deferring decisions to elders) and what doesn’t (organic farming). I have been interested in communal life for a long time. As I mentioned in previous posts, the movement seems to be characterized by idealism, followed by disagreement/disillusionment and then failure. Maybe communal life is like a marriage, it gets stale after a while. What once seemed to work, no longer does. Ben Jones even mentions a difficulty that has come up in my marriage. When we were first considering marriage, my Japanese wife worried we would not be able to talk about “difficult” things like politics, art and philosophy. I naively told her that was okay because our hearts would still be able to communicate “heart-to-heart.” Well, we are into seven years of marriage and the inability to talk about “difficult” things comes up more and more. As the passion has waned (in my defense I have to say I am still passionate about her), she has lost interest in me and now spends all her time with other Japanese who share her political causes. I have been demoted to the role of wage slave and chauffeur. Yes, lack of language ability can be a barrier to full integration in an intentional community too. But it’s not the only problem. I wish I had the answer. If the predictions of impending resource scarcity are true, communal life may once again hold some attraction for people desperate for healthy food and the physical and emotional safety of community. Let’s not hold our breath until then, though. Ed, it’s been fun talking to you. Maybe we should continue our conversations through email?

    Comment by Stuart — March 24, 2012 @ 10:46 pm


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