Radical Culture Shock: The Desire for Community and the Need for Private Space

A. Allen Butcher, Denver, August 2008

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You Share What?!

What is the most shocking thing about communal society? Different people may answer that question in different ways. For some it may be income-sharing and the resulting freedom from dependence upon any one person or upon the nuclear family for one’s economic well-being, as is the norm in the dominant culture. For others it may be the social acceptance of having multiple or other non-traditional sexual partners, yet for most people, however, it could be something much more basic to human nature.

This paper is a follow-up to two others I’ve written recently, the first being about the change in the ideology that Kat Kinkade espoused as the reason-for-being of the member communities of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, Twin Oaks, East Wind and Acorn, which she co-founded. (See: http://www.thefec.org for: “Kat Kinkade and the Communal Theories of Equality and of Sharing.”) Over the decades Kat realized that striving for equality was problematic, even though it was she who invented the most effective form of communal economic system, the vacation-credit system. Over time she realized that the tendency toward leveling everyone to the same amount of economic consumption was not conducive to social harmony. Kat wrote, “Secular communal economies must, to be successful, be full of holes. I think that if they are too tight, too ‘equal,’ they will fail, because people would not be able to stand the constraints. ... Most people value small liberties more than they value small equalities, and therefore society works better if the rules aren't too rigid. Equality is a means, not an end.” (Kinkade, "Is It Utopia Yet?" 1994, p. 47, 50)

In the second paper that led to this current writing, I wrote what started for me as a humorous comment about seeing that a “denial-of-privacy stress disorder,” resulting from bathroom-sharing over a prolonged period of time, may be considered a form of "brainwashing" in communal communities. I soon realized that what seemed humorous may actually have some truth to it, as humor often does. The space-use design of most communal communities that I know grant that it is essential to have a private sleeping space, typically from 80 to 160 square feet, but try to find a single private bathroom in any Federation community; it may not exist.

In that second paper I was writing about the recent court case in which a former member was acquitted of the charge of attempting to kill a member of Ganas community with a semi-automatic hand gun. (See: http://www.thefec.org/blog for: “Defending Communal Society in Court.”) The defendant charged the community in court with "brainwashing" its members, and I began to question how it could be construed that Ganas or any Federation community might plausibly be charged with “brainwashing.” The term “radical culture shock” then came to mind as an explanation for what some new members may go through when joining community, and the next thought after that was the memory of the scene in the 1992 video about intentional community, called "Follow the Dirt Road" by Monique Gauthier, in which Susan Riordan, who lived in community in California, reported that people to whom she tried to explain community sometimes respond with the exclamation, "You share BATHROOMS?!" It clicked in my mind that this particular issue could be indicative of how Federation communities, and many others as well, behaviorally engineer people to focus upon sharing (we don’t call it “brainwashing”), in what for some may be subtle ways, yet which for others may be quite shocking.

What role does simple modesty in basic human nature have in our lifestyle preferences? This is the question of one’s commitment to an ideology, any ideology, versus one’s desire or need for a particular standard-of-living, and it is the classic dilemma in communal societies as well as in the dominant culture of balancing expressed personal needs and desires against societal norms and values.

Do Private Bathrooms Matter?

How comfortable are you with sharing a three-seater outhouse with no dividers between them? In the early years of many rural communities that is often the norm. From my experience during the pioneering period of East Wind Community, I have to say that although I could live with it I never really got used to it. Even with flush toilets at Twin Oaks I can remember going from one building to another looking for a bathroom that didn't have someone taking a shower or otherwise occupying it. The positive aspect of that is that all bathrooms are available to anyone, and Twin Oaks is large enough that I could generally find an unoccupied bathroom.

In their provision for private sleeping space Federation communities recognize that the deprivation of privacy does not create community, yet for many people, over time the private sleeping room is just not enough. The ideology or other attraction that brings people to community may no longer hold their commitment once they begin to feel that their living situation is not adequate to some aspect of their basic nature, such as simple human modesty. At some point many people just get tired of trying to suppress their true feelings, at which point any kind of annoyance can take them to the breaking point causing them to act to make a change, and usually the only way to increase one’s private space is to leave community.

The private bathroom, private kitchen, or anything other than private sleeping space is simply not considered in the question of standard-of-living in Federation communities, while in the dominant culture the 2000 census reported that over 26% of all households are now of people living alone, without even children present (14% women, 11% men). Not just bathrooms yet also kitchens, garages, basements, the whole nine yards is controlled by just one person. (See: www.census.gov/population/pop-profile/2000/chap05.pdf and http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p20-537.pdf )

Sure, there are extremes, and excessive privacy like what the 2000 census shows also causes problems for the individual, society and the environment. There are psychological disorders from being alone all the time, too. It's known that people live longer when they are in mutually supporting relationships. And ecologically the planet may not be able to support everyone in the world having the standard-of-living of each person in a private house or apartment, meanwhile the capitalist system flourishes with that extreme level of consumption. All of these reasons are often presented as examples of the superiority of living in communal community, yet going from one extreme to the other often only exchanges one set of problems for another.

In her book "Living Walden Two" Hilke Kuhlmann asked one of the few true behaviorists in the Walden Two Communities, Ritchie of Dandelion Community, why he left community, and his answer was that he just wanted more private space. At some point the deprivation-of-privacy in community simply over whelmed his ideological commitment to behaviorism.

I once did an informal survey on the ex-East Wind email list asking people why they joined and why they left, and the result of that was that for the most part people said that they joined for ideological reasons and left for personal reasons. I didn't specifically ask what role "private space" had in that and it generally wasn't volunteered as a reason for leaving, yet a further study asking that question could be revealing. Kat herself went through such a change, writing about returning to live at Twin Oaks after several years away. “I looked carefully at my own willingness to live by a code I had myself created but no longer fully believed in. I decided that Twin Oaks had a right to expect me to live by its rules, however naive I now thought its principles. So that’s what I do. I no longer preach absolute equality.” (Kinkade, "Is It Utopia Yet?" 1994, p. 49)

The concern in community against increasing privacy, of course, is with the slippery slope problem of ever-increasing privatization. The desire for private apartments is one of the factors that generally ended communalism in the Kibbutz movement in Israel. Parents wanted to pull their children out of the children's houses and live with them in family apartments. Those Kibbutzim that couldn't afford to simply build apartments for everyone borrowed huge amounts of money to build them for all of their members, and then had trouble making the payments, for various reasons. Some of them were forced to give up their communal economies and privatize as a requirement for restructuring their debt. Now most of the Kibbutz movement has given up communalism, paying different wages for different work and privatizing much of the rest of their economies.

Never doubt the power of debt-based economics (i.e., the monetary system) to destroy communalism, and all forms of the ideological, economic and natural commons.

Federation communities understandably want to avoid repeating the Kibbutz privatization story, yet it's important to not jump to conclusions, such as that increasing private space inevitably leads to the demise of the communal economy. What may be most important to keep in mind is what many Federation communities have that the Kibbutzim never did. This is the vacation-credit labor-sharing system that can serve to hold the intention of sharing with the kind of strength that the monetary system holds the intention of possessiveness.

It is my belief that the vacation-credit system, invented by Kat, is sufficiently capable of coordinating the communal economy beyond the era of members having only private bedrooms, into the era of families and even polyamorous groups with private suites. East Wind has several private dwellings that some couples share with their children (although without running water), and the former childcare building at Twin Oaks has been occupied by one family (it has running water), so there are precedents. The caution would be against throwing out the baby with the bath water as did the Kibbutz when they increased private space and gave up their communal economy at the same time. To be clear, the “baby” is the vacation-credit labor-sharing system which is the basic dynamic of at least the larger, and some of the smaller communities’ communal cultures. The communal economy and the space use design parameter of only private bedrooms can and in my view must be de-coupled.

Considering the issue of privacy versus sharing in communal society in 1991, I distilled what I think of as being the primary elements of the issues into two essential theories. First the “Communal Privacy Theory,” which states that increasing levels of privacy, afforded by additional resources or powers being entrusted to individuals, does not reduce the community's level of communalism as long as the equity or ultimate responsibility remains under communal ownership and control. And second the “Communal Sharing Theory” which states that the greater the experience people have of sharing among themselves, the greater will be their commitment to the community thus formed; sharing in this context relates to thoughts, beliefs, ideals, feelings, and emotions, as well as to material objects, leadership and power. In summary, as long as the intention and the processes of sharing remain in place, there may be no limit to how much material resources may be entrusted to individuals by the group.

The question is simply what is the essential human need for privacy in the space use and architectural design of communal community? Maybe private sleeping space alone doesn't address the true need over a person's lifetime. Maybe earlier in life and later in life it's fine, yet a "one size fits all" space use design is simply inadequate when considering changing personal needs over time. The ideological solution may be to give up the concept that Kat Kinkade championed of "equality," as she herself did later in life, and instead change the basic nature of Federation communities to the ideal of "sharing" as each has need.

From All According to Intent, To All According to Fairness

Income-sharing respects the communal ideal of "From all according to intent" (the classic phrasing from the individual's point of view is "from each according to ability"), while the provision of different amounts and types of private space for different people according to their changing circumstances meets the ideal of "To all according to fairness" (or "to each according to need"). Of course the problem is in deciding what is fair given available resources and what exists or what can be behaviorally engineered in communal society for motivating people to work for the common good. (or “intentioneered,” a term coined from “intentional community” and “behavioral engineering,” see: http://www.culturemagic.org/Intentioneering.html ) It may certainly be easier to simply give everyone a private room of roughly the same size in egalitarian society than to determine how to share limited resources through balancing expressed needs for different amounts of private space with the goal of fairness to everyone, yet the latter is the challenge to be faced. This is an instance where the focus upon the ideal of “sharing” as each has need can be instrumental in replacing the ideal of “equality.”

Federation communities routinely use a process for distributing different private rooms to members, called the "double-blind preferences matrix," in which people express their preferences for the available rooms, then someone not knowing who requested what room (this is the double-blind aspect) arranges a matrix such that each person gets their highest preference possible. This is fair and efficient. The challenge then may simply be in generating the will to work for the resources needed to gradually provide more private suites or residences with more amenities. The desire to keep up with expressed needs may inspire the increased production needed to create more private space options while maintaining the basic ideal of sharing, if not strict equality, in communal community.

The topic of children in communal society is another important aspect of the issue, which is only begun to be addressed by increasing private space for couples and polyamorous groups. The many facets to be discussed with regard to children in community begin with questions of what is best for the individual child, then what are the adult’s parenting styles. The experience is often that in communal community children generally do fine while it is the parents who get stressed out the most. In communal society there is sometimes also the added concern about how many children the community is willing to support when most will likely leave the community. Is the personal desire to have children a motivation for increasing one’s labor output and productivity in the communal economy, or is that dynamic unique to the private-property monetary system?

If Federation communities can make the ideological shift from “equality” to “sharing,” their vacation-credit, labor-sharing and income-sharing economic systems may prove perfectly capable of entrusting increasing amounts of commonly-owned wealth to individuals, couples and polyamorous groups, without privatizing the entire economy.

In a sense, Twin Oaks, East Wind and other Federation communities still have Kat Kinkade to help them through a transition in their ideological moorings from equality to sharing, given the written material that she left with regard to her concern that equality is not the best foundation upon which to build community. Kat stated, “[I]f I were young again and were going to do a community again, it would not start with such rigid egalitarianism.” (Hilke Kuhlmann, "Living Walden Two," University of Illinois Press, 2005, p. 205) This suggests a 21st Century experiment worthy of a communal tradition that has existed over forty years. Of course, there is always resistance to change, which Kat acknowledged in saying, “I think I’m the only one left who remembers it was an experiment.” (Quoted at Twin Oaks by Tamara Jones in “The Other American Dream,” in “The Washington Post,” Nov. 15, 1998, p. W12.)

Private Space in Cohousing and Communal Communities

The issue of private space in community goes far beyond the tempest in the Federation Community teapot. An introduction to the larger picture is provided by Laird of Sandhill Community who wrote in the article, "State of the Communities Movement - 2007" in the most recent "Communities Directory," that comparing the listings of communities in the 2005 "Directory" against those in the 2007 "Directory" shows that, "Groups where income is shared among all members has held steady at 15%," and that "There are about the same number of groups identifying as 'ecovillage' in this edition as there were two years ago," while "The number of groups reporting that they're 'using the cohousing model' has surged from 25% to 35%. There are a whopping 100 more entries reporting this affiliation in this edition. While there may be some poetic license being taken here in how some groups are labeling themselves, there's no doubt that this segment of the movement is gaining strength."

However much poetic license may be involved, for the most part cohousing communities include the provision for private bathrooms and private kitchens, and more, and it is these kinds of communities that are growing faster than any other form of intentional community.

What may be concluded from this? Think about what all this says with regard to sharing. Perhaps the issue isn't simply the difference between sharing privately-owned property (as in cohousing) versus the sharing of commonly-owned property (as in communal society). Perhaps the issue is actually more with regard to the fact that in cohousing people are able to provide for themselves the degree of private space that is closer to what they want and maybe need than communal communities typically provide.

It is essential to look at the issue of privacy versus sharing in community with regard to space use design. The type of ownership system involved, private in cohousing and common in communal society, may not be the most important factor. The physical issue of spatial design may be more important than most people realize in our psychological orientation to community. The conclusion would be that in order for communal communities to grow, or for the communal movement to grow in numbers of communities, the answer may be in taking a lesson from the cohousing movement with regard to the provision for private space.

Of course, there are issues with regard to the greater access to capital that cohousing communities have than what communal communities can access, plus the fact that due to the need to maintain fiscal responsibility a whole community can not take the financial risk of debt financing on the level that individuals can take, considering the Kibbutz experience, so it may be best to conclude that cohousing is on to something that communal community simply can't touch, and that's okay. Federation communities may learn some things by looking at and considering the cohousing phenomenon, and it is up to them what they do with that in relation to their own identity, reason for being, history and imperatives.

For the communities movement as a whole, there are also issues to discuss when considering the cohousing phenomenon. Although the cohousing community design provides a model of community that emphasizes private space, it sacrifices cohesiveness and commitment to the group as a result, which is typically found to be at a higher level in communal communities. This can be seen in a study of labor systems used in cohousing communities for getting work done, such as cooking and cleaning in the common house, landscaping and garden work, etc.

In the discussion presented in the paper “Gifting and Sharing: Living the Plenty Paradigm in Cohousing and Communal Society” (see: http://www.culturemagic.org/RationalAltruism.html ) I found that some cohousing communities are actually moving toward instituting coercive systems (e.g., fines and property liens) for inducing members to contribute to the labor needed to keep community processes running. Generally, the type of labor system used in cohousing is that of “labor-gifting,” meaning that helping out is entirely voluntary, yet some cohousing communities find self-motivation inadequate when some people feel that they do all the work while other people take advantage of the services provided by others.

There is a parallel between this experience in cohousing and Kat Kinkade’s abandonment of her ideal of “egalitarianism” in communal society when confronted with the same problem. Kat wrote, “I had removed the incentive of personal gain through work, and behold, the people chose not to work! … Our communism wasn't working. There was gross exploitation, but in reverse. The proletariat was exploiting the managers.” (Kinkade, "Is It Utopia Yet?" 1994, p. 87-89)

As some of the problems are the same in cohousing as in communal community, it may be no surprise that the solutions are also generally the same; start with methods of positive behavioral reinforcement and only use coercive systems as a last resort. What is different, however, is the level of cohesiveness and commitment inherent in the two systems. Cohousing typically engenders less commitment to the community than does communal society. Some members even leave cohousing with the statement that they want a community with more cohesiveness. At the same time cohousing is the faster-growing of the two movements. What is the lesson in this and how can we apply it?

Cofamily as the First New Community Movement of the 21st Century

Perhaps there is something between cohousing community and communal society that can benefit from the success of both, while avoiding the problems of each. Have you ever had the feeling that you wanted to discover utopia, but didn’t know where to look? Well, climb upon the shoulders of your favorite giant of the communities movement and survey the landscape, it’s out there!

In every age people strive to go beyond, to go where no person has gone before, and in this new century we have the potential, indeed, the absolute imperative to find new and better ways to live that will inspire the next level of progress in how we think about and in how we build civilization. There are massive changes happening today as we begin to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, natural building systems and many other transformations. The question for the communities movement is what does it have to offer to aid the changes underway?

Intentional communities of all types, and particularly ecovillages, have experimented with and have developed a range of ecological practices over the last several decades, and these are now beginning to be adopted by the larger culture in a big way, with a corresponding change in consciousness. It’s truly amazing to watch this happening in my lifetime! Yet that’s not all that the communities movement has to offer, there is more, we just don’t yet have it pinned down; this question of sharing versus privacy. It is of central importance and we must learn how to articulate the issues, find the lessons to be learned, and build upon that knowledge to increase not just the wisdom of the human species yet also the nature of our existence in the universe as spiritual beings in a material world.

The best place to look for what we need to find may be right between cohousing and communal society. These constitute the two ideological and experiential communitarian poles, between which there is a vast utopian landscape with which most people are unfamiliar. To begin to seriously chart this new world it would be helpful to give it a name, since at present it’s not recognized that most of the communities movement has actually been colonizing this region of utopia.

The two communitarian poles may be generally defined as sharing commonly-owned property, as in communal community, versus sharing privately-owned property, as in cohousing community. The middle ground may be the economically-diverse mixture of the two, such as with community land trusts where only the land is held in common, or pod communities in which different sub-groups have different economic agreements, or the design of the communal core-group as at Ganas Community. Yet there are more different types of intentional community between communal and cohousing communities than just these.

Between cohousing and communal society there are also the differences of sharing labor in communal society versus gifting labor in cohousing, and the difference that communal societies generally have some kind of ideological identity while cohousing communities ostensibly have none. There are other differences as well, yet for the moment the question is what do you have when a group calling itself a “cohousing” community adopts coercive systems, moving from labor-gifting to labor-sharing agreements, and what do you have when a “cohousing” community affirms any kind of ideological identity. Essentially, such a ship-of-community has cast off its moorings at the cohousing pole and is adrift until it adopts some other identity.

On the website of the Cohousing Association of the US there is a list of six specific qualities or attributes of the cohousing community design (see the full list here: www.cohousing.org/overview.aspx ). Any community calling itself “cohousing” that breaks any of those six rules is by definition not cohousing, it’s something else. That’s what Laird was talking about when he wrote about the poetic license of “using the cohousing model.” So if a community isn’t communal, and it isn’t cohousing, then what is it? A new name for that middle ground may be needed.

How big is this problem? Craig Ragland on the IC Wiki wrote, “… if you search for communities that ‘use the cohousing model’ [in] the FIC ‘Communities Directory.’ You find many more communities than are listed in the Cohousing Directory maintained by Coho/US (more than a 3X difference in June '07).”

Criag continues by explaining, “Cohousing is not...

1. a general phrase for shared housing - there are many Types of Community and cohousing is just one
2. "co-" house sharing - cohousing typically refers to neighborhood-level, not Shared households - another type of community
3. a land-sharing arrangement for neighbors who rarely interact, i.e. a loose-knit group that isn't a community
4. just any multi-unit housing design with common spaces - to be cohousing, the housing must be designed and built with at least some participation of an existing or forming community
5. a way for housing developers or real estate agents to legitimately sell or obtain planning approval for conventionally-planned and developed condominiums
6. a group of privately-owned houses without a common house... unless one is planned or the community is small enough that individual households can accommodate shared dining

In some cases, Coho/US has suggested that the phrase “cohousing-inspired” could be appropriate (Six defining characteristics of cohousing). The term "cohousing cousins" has also been used in the movement.

In evaluating communities for inclusion on its list, Coho/US has historically largely focussed on intent, design, and process, not just the physical configuration and end result. The greatest variance is found in Retrofit cohousing, lot-model developments, phased projects (where the intention is that a Common House will be built later).” (See: http://wiki.ic.org/wiki/Not_cohousing )

Craig’s analysis is that there are three times as many communities identifying with cohousing as there are actually cohousing communities recognized by the movement. And in his list of six non-cohousing formats above he doesn’t list the type of community where the group may fit all other criteria of cohousing except that they also have a shared identity, such as political, religious, philosophical, ideological or ethnic. This suggests a pent-up demand for a new identity for the pseudo-cohousing community movement!

Craig listed a couple names by which this new movement may be known, and I suggested a few above that may be used when we consider the entire mid-ground between communal and cohousing community models. Here’s the list I have:
* cohousing-inspired community
* cohousing cousins
* economically-diverse communities including: pod communities, community land trusts and those with communal core-groups
* equity-linked affinity network (ÈLAN)
* intentional family
* cofamily community

Other people may suggest more names, yet with respect to creating an identity for a new community movement the one I like best is “cofamily.” This term is coined in the same manner as the term “cohousing” is derived, which is from the term “collective family,” since “cohousing” was shortened from the term “collective housing.”

The term “cofamily” is particularly appropriate when the intent is to create a greater degree of cohesiveness and of shared group identity than is normally found in cohousing, while at the same time not going as far with sharing as is practiced in communal community. The focus on the family serves to suggest the ideal of expanding the best, most desirable qualities of family life, of trust, love, mutual caring and support, to a larger group of like-minded individuals brought together not just by the circumstance of biological relation yet primarily by an expressed set of shared values and the sense of a shared identity.

If through the coming changes people look for and move to new ideas and models of sharing, it may transpire that the future is cofamily.

Avoiding Radical Culture Shock in “Other Nonfamily Households”

There may be no question that the communities movement has an opportunity to help address the problems arising from the multiple contemporary crises of ecology and climate, resource depletion, energy, housing, food, politics, and local cultural identity changes with the globalization of neo-liberal market capitalism. Both the communal movement and the cohousing movement each have within them internal dynamics that, as we understand them better and work with them, could be channeled toward an even more beneficial response to the needs of the larger culture in the 21st Century.

Consider further the changes tracked by the Census Bureau. The 2000 Census reported that the number of single-parent families in 2003 was 32% of all families with children (26% single-women and 6% single-men family households). The number of classic nuclear-family households (father, mother and children) has been declining from 87% of all families in 1970 to 68% in 2003, although the drop has been leveling off since 1995. (See: www.census.gov/population/pop-profile/2000/chap05.pdf and http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p20-537.pdf )

Perhaps partly in response to these changes, or to the motive of economic necessity, or to the desire for some kind of community, the number of non-family, non-related households is increasing. The Census Bureau defines a “nonfamily household” as either a person living alone or a “householder who shares the home with nonrelatives only; for example, boarders or roommates,” this latter household construct being called “other nonfamily.” The increase in the number of other nonfamily households is from 1.7% in 1970 to 5.7% in 2000 (see resource citations above).

With the prevalence of “other nonfamily” households increasing within the dominant culture there is clearly a potential for the communities movement to articulate a design for community that learns from the past in order to provide for the future. For this effort we need to call upon our best understanding of where we’ve been and what we’ve learned in community, and use that to create an identity for the next wave of communitarian movements.

We can see the yearning for change and the need for community in the increase in numbers of “cohousing” communities at least partly confirmed in census statistics. Yet as a communities movement it is not for us to simply watch this phenomenon. As we seek to see and understand what is happening around us, we can then find ways to effectively support and advance the wave of communitarian interest and effort currently underway. For my part, I wrote in 2005 a paper to support the new communities movement which I named “ÈLAN - Equity-Linked Affinity Network: Interpersonal Process, Financial Structures and Legal Designs for Landed, Spirited, Joyous Urban Community.” (Find it here: http://www.culturemagic.org/EgalitarianCommonwealth.html )

Today I’m offering the name “cofamily” and I’m working on another paper to support that concept. Surely other people are also finding ways to support all of the communities movements, the communal, cohousing, and what lies between them.

There are opportunities for everyone to participate in this effort. The best thinking of all those in and outside of the contemporary communities movements is needed for inspiring new energy and new ideas. Together we can support each other while exploring our own uncharted utopian dreamscapes through experimenting with our need for private space and resources within our desire for community. Hopefully, in the process we may keep a sense of humor about brainwashing and intentioneering as we work to minimize the dangers of radical culture shock!