Posted by: terrapraeta | April 20, 2009

Removing the Intention from Intentional Community

An only child
Alone and wild
A cabinet makers son
His hands were meant
For different work
And his heart was known
To none —
He left his home
And went his lone
And solitary way
And he gave to me
A gift I know I never
Can repay

Dan Fogelberg, Leader of the Band

I have found myself quite drawn to the Intentional Community Movement (if I can call it a movement…). After all, I have used a lot of words here to describe and support my belief that Community is at the heart of a sustainable, happy and healthy future world. Intentional Communities, following a myriad of different cultural assumptions are the physical manifestation of other humans feeling the same way.

Over the years, I have developed a few potential models of how I would go about creating my own community: what technology I would like to see incorporated, how relationships would be built, sustained and, importantly, supported and maintained by the community as a whole in addition to individually. I have looked into Formal Consensus: how it works, what one needs to learn and understand and be open to if we are to really embrace it. How it relates to true, aboriginal consensus and so forth. As a hobbyist in both gardening and cooking, I have put a lot of thought and time into learning (and adapting) permaculture principles, learning how to take food from the plant to the table – without anyone else processing it in the meantime. I have gradually come to accept my relationship with the plants and animals that provide my food – and to recognize that if I am to be a meat eater, I must accept what that really means. A chunk of beef is not some food product, wrapped in plastic in a grocery cooler, it is a living animal that his given itself to provide me with food… and the way in which it lived and died is intimately involved with my relationship to the rest of the natural world and I cannot (allow that to be) gloss(ed) that over.

As with everything, I see the whole process as systemic and I have tried to, piece by piece, incorporate the entire system into my thinking. I’m sure I am not done, yet, but I do see it starting to take on form and substance in my mind.

As this conversation has continued, between my honey and I, as well as with friends that share our goals at varying levels, we have started to hit a bit of a snag. Perhaps the best way to approach it is via the specific issue of Formal Consensus. Through the Consensus Process, a group of individuals come to an agreement that each and every individual is comfortable with. Various structures can be employed and rules agreed to, the point being to prevent resentment, exclusion, mob rule etc etc.

If we look at primitive cultures, generally they operate on Consensus and so we can point to this as a reasonable and functional way of addressing concerns in small, egalitarian groups. However, there is one huge difference between the two processes: Formal Consensus is a structure placed upon relationships and interactions to try and encourage co-operative behavior, honest communication and equity. ‘Traditional’ consensus is a bunch of people working out problems and issues, the only way they know how.

One of the characterizations that most struck me, is that in traditional consensus, no one is trying to convince anyone else of anything. They just talk, they say what they think, what they feel, make suggestions, dismiss suggestions they don’t like and so forth… until at some point everyone agrees with a proposal. Part of the dramatic difference is in our perception of time. We modern humans will schedule an hour long (or day/weekend/whatever) meeting and we want results when that scheduled time is concluded. Traditional peoples, however, don’t see an end goal, so much as a process – so it is over when it is over… or not.

I am coming to see this as an apt metaphor for the entire concept of Intentional Community.

We look at the idea of creating an intentional community, and the first thing we do is sit down and list ‘characteristics’ we want incorporated, ‘rules’ we are willing to accept and potential rules that we may need to address later, if it is a problem. We want to define it all up front to prevent ‘mis-communication’, bad feelings and future conflicts. Of course we do. But is this, in fact, a recipe for failure?

I’m still working this through in my mind, but I am starting to develop a new idea… a new not-plan for my future. I want to create an organic community. I don’t want to establish a specific form, intention or structure. I want to create an opportunity, for myself and for others: to do something that appeals to me and makes sense for my life, my interests, my relationships and so forth. Then, once I make my choice, I want to present that as a fait accompli to others that I know are interested, along with some known possibilities that would fit into what I am doing, as well as other possibilities that we not have yet considered.*

Build it and they will come.

Of course, this is why my honey and I spend an inordinate amount of our time building relationships of varying intensity, with as many like-minded people as possible. Because I don;t know with whom, under what circumstances or where my community will be, but creating possibilities hurts no one and may, just possibly, provide the foundation for something really good.

* This may be hard to imagine, so I thought I would offer a couple of possibilities we have looked at: the first appears in an article a couple weeks ago: Future Tense . Prior to that, I drove through a small Oregon town a few months back. It was in the middle of nowhere, although along a main highway. This town appeared to be at least 50% up for sale. Businesses, homes, etc. It occurred to me that it could be an opportunity for a group of like-minded individuals to move in, buy whatever ‘business’ or ‘property’ fit our own needs and let that evolve naturally. Of course, this would require going to the current townfolk and openly expressing our plans – individually and as a proto-community – and see if we would be welcomed, or if we would be seen as invaders…

(Originally Posted December 11, 2006)


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