Episode 44 – Intentional Communities

Editorial # 1, by Ian

I knew that I was an anarchist as soon as I discovered anarchism. But the things that anarchists are supposed to be doing, namely, activism and organizing on the one hand, or, breaking things and beating up bad people on the other, never once appealed to me. I found and fell in love with The Beautiful Idea, sure, but as far as my practical daily life goes, anarchism had nothing to offer me.

Then I discovered Zendik Farm, which was, to put it bluntly, a cult. The cult aspect of it did not appeal to me, but what did was that they were an intentional community. They were people living and working together in the real world, trying to embody their big ideas for how society should be by how they lived their own lives. I was hooked.

Luckily I had the good sense to not join Zendik Farm and instead I looked into the intentional community movement in general, of which Zendik Farm was just one small part. My life then took a completely different path, and over the years that followed I lived in about three to five different established intentional communities (depending on how you define that term), I tried a few times to create some new intentional communities, and I visited countless other intentional communities. I’ve seen the whole range of how they can be: formal & informal, large & small, radical & mainstream.

Some intentional communities have an ideology or philosophy that runs through the whole place, while others do not. Often I have seen communities start out with an underlying ideology that inspires the whole endeavor, and then over time the amount of actual belief that the members have in the ideology evaporates and the ideology becomes more of a window dressing than an important part of the community. And as far as the philosophy of anarchism goes, that is something that very few intentional communities subscribe to, at least explicitly.

The value that I find in intentional communities is that if anarchism is about living in different kinds of ways, structuring society differently, using different kinds of collective decision-making processes, different kinds of economic systems, whatever, then intentional communities are specific real-life places that people can go to to do that. With intentional communities there is no need to wait until a future anarchist revolution, societal collapse, or the Second Coming in order to get started. And the situations are a bit more ongoing and longer-lasting than protests, festivals and riots. Sure, it may not be a whole country or an entire planet doing the anarchy thing, but at least it is some people. And one of those people could be you.

This is the gospel that I preached for a long time. At one point I even helped to create an anarchist organization that was dedicated to spreading this message: the Anarchist Communitarian Network. But eventually my passion for the whole thing faded and went away. I experienced one too many heart-breaks and disappointments, experienced one too many stupid conflicts that takes up the time and energy of the whole community, and I watched one too many friends and loved ones leave the intentional community that I was a part of. Eventually my desire for a bunch of anarchists all getting together and living our dreams together became a lot more distant and abstract for me. I still hold on to this, but now it is as far away for me as the planet Mars.

I do think that anarchists can learn a lot from, and anarchism itself can be informed by, the whole intentional community experience. And chances are that you have had that experience too, be it as an urban collective house, a rural land project, or if you are lucky enough to have survived it, a crusty punk squat. So let’s talk about all of this. What has been your experience with intentional communities? What have you learned from the whole thing? What anarchy is there in how we live together? Let’s talk!


Editorial # 2, by Nexus

Is knowing for sure better than wondering what could have been? Living
in an intentional community gives you the opportunity to try out your
ideas in real life. Anyone who disparages communitarians for “not living
in the real world” fails to understand that intentional communities are
every bit as real as any other community, it’s simply not the default
society. One way or another it must find a way to exist within, or
despite, the default society. The necessary compromises will always be
unpalatable to the purist, yet those compromises enable its real-world
existence.  Some of us find the tangibility of actually-existing and
very imperfect intentional communities more enticing than most perfect
of fantasies (those which never come to fruition.)

The creation of situations involves the confluence of careful planning
and serendipity, where mixing people and matter and ideas can create the
spontaneous emergence of synergistic complexity. Whether the end result
will be good or bad is anyone’s guess, and perhaps a matter of personal
taste. One person’s heaven is another person’s hell, and one of the
virtues of intentional communities is that each one is different, and
the potential diversity of lifestyles available is sure to offer
something for every preference. Within your community’s sphere of
influence, you get to set the rules (or lack thereof) and you get to
live with the consequences, so choose wisely.

Even the intentional communities which were intended to last forever end
up being experiments, because they tend to last about as long as new
restaurants on average. Myriad things can lead to a community’s failure,
and only a lucky few survive. There is no single formula for success
that fits every context.

Intentional community living is worth trying, if for no other reason,
then it is an unparalleled learning opportunity. One real-life social
experiment is worth a thousand untested assumptions, and perhaps, like
Douglas Adams, you end up discovering that just when you think you’ve
finally found the answer, you’ve been asking the wrong question all
along. Humility is priceless.