Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Communities that Abide—Part III

Alexander Kosolapov
There are two organizing principles that self-sufficient communities can rely on in order to succeed: communist organization of production and communist organization of consumption. Both of these produce much better results for the same amount of effort, and neither is generally available to the larger society, which has to rely on the far more wasteful market-based or central planning-based mechanisms, both of which incur vast amounts of unproductive overhead—bankers, traders and regulators in the case of market-based approaches, and government bureaucrats and administrators in the case of centrally planned approaches. History has shown that market-based approaches are marginally more efficient than centrally planned ones, but neither one comes anywhere near the effectiveness of communist approaches practiced on the small scale of a commune.

Here is an extended passage from Peter Kropotkin's Anarchy in which he explains the benefits of communist production and consumption:

Leaving aside the question of religion and its role in organizing communist societies, it should be sufficient to point to the example of the Dukhobors in Canada to demonstrate the economic superiority of communist labor over individual labor. Having arrived in Canada penniless, they were forced to settle in an as yet unoccupied, cold part of Alberta. Due to their lack of horses, their women would hitch up to the plough 20 or 30 at a time, while the middle-aged men worked on the railroad, giving up their earnings to the commune. However, after seven or eight years all 6000 or 7000 Dukhobors achieved a level of well-being, having organized their agriculture and their life with the help of all sorts of modern agricultural equipment—American mowers and bailers, threshers, steam-powered mills—all on communal principles.

Moreover, they were able to buy land on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, in British Columbia, where they founded a colony devoted to growing fruit, which these vegetarians sorely lacked in Alberta, where apples, pears and plums do not bear fruit because their blossoms are killed off by May frosts.

And so here we have a union of 20 communist settlements, where each family lives in its own house, but all field work is done together, and each family takes from the communal stores what it needs to live. This organization, which for several years was supported by their religious idea, does not correspond to our ideals; but we must recognize that, from the point of view of economic life, it has conclusively demonstrated the superiority of communal labor over individual labor, as well as the ability to adapt this labor to the needs of modern mechanized agriculture.

A similar, contemporary example is provided by the Hutterites, who tend to be up on all the latest trends and techniques in agriculture and make productive use of industrial resources.

It stands to reason that communist production methods would outperform capitalist ones. On the one hand, you have a group of people driven to work together out of a sense of solidarity and mutual obligation, cooperating of their own free will, free to switch tasks to keep life from becoming monotonous, free to do what they believe would work best, using work as a way to earn respect and improve their social standing, knowing full well that their fellows will take care of them and their families should they ever become unable to work. On the other hand, you have commoditized human beings pigeon-holed by a standardized skill set and a job description, playing the odds in an arbitrary and precarious job market, blindly following orders for fear of ending up unemployed, relying on work to keep them and their immediate family from homelessness and starvation, and discarded once “burned out” on the set of tasks for which they are considered “qualified.” The result of all this is that 70% of the workers in the US say that they hate their job, putting a gigantic drag on the capitalist economy:

Just 30 percent of employees are engaged and inspired at work, according to Gallup's 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, which surveyed more than 150,000 full- and part-time workers during 2012. That's up from 28 percent in 2010. The rest … not so much. A little more than half of workers (52 percent) have a perpetual case of the Mondays—they're present, but not particularly excited about their job. The remaining 18 percent are actively disengaged or, as Gallup CEO Jim Clifton put it in the report, “roam the halls spreading discontent.” Worse, Gallup reports, those actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. up to $550 billion annually in lost productivity. (link)

* * *

Having shown the superiority of communist production methods, let us turn to communist consumption. Kropotkin again:

In addition to these successful attempts at communism in agriculture, we can also point to numerous examples of partial communism having as its goal pure consumption, and which takes place in the many attempts at socialization taking place in the midst of bourgeois society—among private persons as well as entire cities (so-called municipal or city socialism).

What is a hotel, a cruise-ship, a boarding house, if not an attempt in this direction being made within a bourgeois society? In exchange for a certain payments—so many rubles per day—you are allowed to choose what you like from ten or more dishes, which are offered to you on board a ship or a hotel buffet, and it does not occur to anyone to account for how much you eat...

The bourgeois have understood perfectly well what a huge advantage they gain from this sort of limited communism in consumption, combined with full independence of the individual. And so they have arranged things so that, in exchange for a certain payment—so much per day or per month—all of their needs for food and shelter are satisfied without any additional worry. Luxury items, such as richly appointed rooms or fine wines, have to be paid for separately, of course, but for a payment which is the same for all, all the basic needs are satisfied, not caring how much or how little each person will consume at the common table.

Putting both production and consumption together, let us consider the case of a small farming community that grows, among other things, corn. If it were organized along communist lines, it would grow the corn, and then distribute that same corn, cook it, and eat it. If it were organized along capitalist lines, it would grow the corn, then sell it to a processor at $5 a bushel and then buy it back from a supermarket at $1.69 for a 15-ounce can (of mostly water). Disregarding the weight of the water, what they get back is around 80 times less corn. By participating in the market economy, they would effectively be allowing their corn to be taxed at a 98.75% rate.

What all of this adds up to is that communities organized along communist lines can become self-sufficient in a handful of years and quite affluent shortly thereafter. And it is affluence (along with lack of persecution from the outside) that is often at the root of their undoing. Affluence creates too many temptations, makes it difficult to distinguish needs from wants, and allows systems of mutual self-help to atrophy from disuse. But there are many ways to avoid the trap of affluence, provided its dangers are recognized early enough. One is to work less, by coming up with a long list of days during which one is not allowed to work, starting with Sunday and/or Sabbath and expanding the list from there. With a bit of effort the work schedule can be brought down to around 100 days a year. Another is to eat up the surplus by upholding certain unproductive but satisfying community standards, such as requiring fresh cut flowers on the table at every meal, high quality of polish and varnish on exterior woodwork, and intricate hand-woven banners flying at festive occasions. Yet another (popular with the Mormons) is to proselytize, recruit and spread the revolution. Yet another, popular with the Hutterites, is to have lots of children and spread out over the landscape, gobbling up and reclaiming farmland, splitting whenever a colony outgrows Dunbar's number of 150 in order to remain anarchic and to continue to self-govern by consensus. One more example: the Roma like to burn through fantastic sums of money by throwing lavish wedding feasts that last three days. The ways of burning off excess wealth can range from music festivals to theatrical productions to historical reenactments complete with authentic-looking props. The threat of affluence is a nice problem to have, and provided that money isn't allowed to pile up, creating a big temptation to re-privatize, it does not have to be damaging.

* * *

Those who chafe at the use of the word “communist” should feel reassured that no military or political “communist menace” is ever likely to reassert itself: state communism is as dead as a burned piece of wood. The one remaining, ongoing attempt at unreformed state communism is North Korea, and it is the exception that proves the rule. On the other hand, regardless of your opinions, you too are a communist. First, you are human, and over 99% of their existence as a species humans have lived in small tribes organized on communist principles, with no individual land ownership, no wage labor, no government, and no private property beyond a few personal effects. If it weren't for communism, you wouldn't be here. Second, if you have a family, it is likely to be run on communist principles: it is unlikely that you invoice your children for the candy they eat, or negotiate with your spouse over who gets to feed them. The communist organizing principle “From each according to abilities, to each according to needs” is what seems to prevail in most families, and the case where it doesn't we tend to regard as degenerate. From this it seems safe to assume that if you are human and draw oxygen, then you must be, in some sense, a communist.

None of this has anything to do with the communist style of government or with state communism. That state communism is an oxymoron was recognized from the outset, and it only existed as an aberration of state socialism, which can be made to work—just not very well. Nevertheless, we can learn something by looking at the principles embraced by the great International Worker's Movement of the 19th century. Here they are, as spelled out by Peter Kropotkin:

1. The elimination of wage labor, which the capitalist pays to the worker, since it is nothing more than a contemporary form of slavery and serfdom

2. The elimination of private property for all that which society requires for the organization of socialized production and distribution

3. The liberation of the individual and of society from that form of political enslavement—government—which serves to support and maintain a system of economic enslavement

These tenets may seem quaint and idealistic; after all, what has come of the efforts to implement them? A globalized economy of labor arbitrage that sends the work to the lowest-paid sweatshops... a population abjectly dependent on uncertain wage labor and government hand-outs... Thus, it is nothing short of remarkable that the abiding countercultural communities I have looked at all seem to embrace these tenets to a fair extent.

All of them do their best to not work for wages, refusing to be “proletarianized.” Let us look at some specific examples.

The Roma, also known as the Gypsies, are the largest abiding separatist group in existence, with their numbers known only approximately (since they usually refuse to be counted in a census and hide their identity) but are generally believed to be well in the millions. They will contract to do work as work groups (called kumpania) but never as individuals, and all the earnings are given to the Rom baro who is the self-appointed leader with the responsibility for distributing these earnings according to merit and need. This system is extended to every other type of good that is taken in from the outside; for example, aid workers are often displeased to find that their handouts don't necessarily go to the person they designated as the recipient but are distributed based on merit and need as they are perceived by the Roma themselves.

The Hutterites, an Anabaptist group which has its origins in 16th century Tyrol and which has since traversed many countries including Russia, eventually settling in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as in Montana and the Dacotas, and number in the tens of thousands. They are growing rapidly because of their very high birth rate (highest of any human group by some estimations). They live in agrarian communes of between 75 and 150 adult members, and are entirely communist, practicing the doctrine of “everything in common.” While the Hutterites are at one end of the spectrum with regard to private property, the spectrum extends to other groups: other Anabaptist communities (Amish, Mennonite), the Mormons and the Roma all unconditionally pledge a large part of their private property to the common cause, in order to support an extensive system of mutual self-help. For example, the Amish have successfully lobbied the federal government in the US to be exempted from the Social Security system. They did not mind paying into it, seeing it as the work of charity, but they did not want their members individually receiving checks from the outside, seeing this as detrimental to their internal system of mutual self-help. Likewise, the Mormons and the Orthodox Jews run internal welfare organizations that make their communities independent of government hand-outs. Among the Roma, the social unit within which mutual self-help is practiced unconditionally is the vitsa, or clan, and within it the free sharing of individual wealth takes the place child support, insurance and retirement.

In addition to having as little as possible to do with the government, all of the above groups refuse to have anything to do with the military. The Roma escape military conscription by virtue of being nomadic and not having an address to which a conscription notice could be sent. They also make it a point to make it hard to identify them individually by maintaining an internal, secret name and an external, public name which they change frequently, especially when moving from place to place. The Hutterites are likewise pacifist, and have been forced to flee Russia for the US, then the US for Canada, to avoid conscription. The Dukhobors, who faced persecution in Russia due to their pacifism (one of their founding episodes involved gathering and burning all of their weapons) relocated to Alberta, but then were forced to relocate to British Columbia over their refusal to pledge allegiance to the provincial government. It makes perfect sense that such small, widely dispersed groups would find no use for weapons or for militarism: should they ever try to stand up to the majority militarily, they would be wiped out. Instead, their defenses include posing no threat and being willing to flee. The Roma in particular are often ready to flee on a moment's notice.

Although all of these groups (with the exception of the Dukhobors, who have all but dissolved in the surrounding Canadian society for reasons we will take up later) have done well to curb wage labor and private property and to remain free of the tentacles of the government, such independence is sometimes impossible to maintain: the need to pay property and land taxes forces these groups into trade with the outside, and sometimes even into wage labor. Taxes are these groups' Achilles' heel, and tax avoidance (along with avoidance of military service and compulsory public education) must be a prime objective of all groups that want to maintain their independence. Peter Kropotkin has this to say on the subject of taxation:

This is how, quietly and gradually, control of the people by the aristocracy and the rich bourgeoisie—against whom the people have once risen up, when confronting them face to face—is now exercised with the consent and even the approval of the people: under the guise of tax!

Let's not even talk about taxes to support the military, since by now everybody should know what to think of these. Was there ever a time when a permanent army wasn't used to hold the population in slavery? And was there ever a time when the regular army could conquer a land where it was confronted by an armed populace?

Take any tax, be it direct or indirect: on land, on income or on consumption, be it levied to finance government debt or to pretend to pay it off (since, you know, these debts are never repaid, but only grow). Take a tax levied to finance war, or a tax levied to pay for public education. If you study it, and discover what it leads to in the end, you will be stunned by the great power, the great might which we have relinquished to those who rule us.

A tax is the most convenient way to hold the population in poverty. It provides the means to bankrupt entire classes of people: land-owners, industrial workers—just when they, after a series of tremendous efforts, finally gain a slight improvement in their well-being. At the same time, it provides the most convenient means for refashioning government into a permanent monopoly of the wealthy. Finally, it provides a seemly pretext for accumulating weapons, which one fine day will be used for the suppression of the people should they rise up.

Like a sea monster of ancient tales, a tax provide the opportunity to entangle all of society and to redirect the efforts of individuals toward the enrichment of privileged classes and government monopolies.

And as long as the government, armed with the tax, continues to exist, the liberation of working people cannot be achieved through any means—neither through reform, nor through revolution.

* * *

A couple of months ago I was part to a conversation that included Albert Bates of The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, at one time one of the largest hippie communes ever, and Orren Whiddon of the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary in Artemas, Pennsylvania, a sprawling campground that is also a church, a monastery, winery, a precision machine shop and a school. The discussion centered on ways in which small communities can avoid becoming entangled in the tentacles of officialdom, and the conclusion was that the community stands the best chance if it is simultaneously all of the following things:

  1. A church
  2. A nature preserve
  3. A historical society
  4. Minority-owned

For those atheists who dislike the idea of church, please look into Pastafarianism. I am happy to report that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has just been successfully incorporated in Russia. Ladies and gentlemen, please don your pasta strainers! In the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Ramen!

This is a lot to think through in one week, so I will leave it at this. Next week we will take up an equally important topic of that without which no community can ever abide: children, youth, and how some of them manage to bring them up, educate them and give them the freedom to run away and come back—so as to keep them.


Silenus said...

Hi Dmitry,

This is excellent.

It seems to me some of the criticism you get comes from people who think the separatist communal way of life that you suggest is insular and parochial - to them, it clashes with their desire for freedom.

However, it seems to me that the most capitalist segments of the U.S. population - the middle class, the evangelicals, the southerners - are far more parochial than Gypsies or the Canadian group described in the above excerpt from Kropotkin.

Maybe capitalist formalism in social relations makes people more insular and dumb, and communist separatism makes people more tolerant of others, even while they know where the group boundaries are. Maybe Americans yearn so much for freedom because this country is a stinkhole with too many rules and too much formality, legality etc. and not enough genuine human relationships.

Unknown said...

I have been trying for years to convince my family to incorporate some of this "communism" of which you speak, but no such luck. Exactly how much wage labor and negotiation takes place inside the tattered remnants of an American extended family is terrifying to me. (I come from a white native rural extended family that I've watched deteriorate into the usual American family over my 50 years. It's really, REALLY painful.) I'm loving what you're doing here, but I'm also very skeptical about the chances to convince many people at all of its wisdom. In my life so far anyway, my success rate is a terrifying ZERO.

I can see the usefulness of a certain peaceable attitude, but actual official doctrinaire pacifism? That is, I can see walking away from a fight. I can't see happily allowing your family to be killed.

And finally, about the willingness to move -- if no one is willing to stand and defend the land -- against oh say, and the all benevolent(of course) TVA, then you and your family might be elsewhere but in the meantime the Yankees have destroyed a big chunk of land. Repeat that process often enough and well, you know the state of the planet.

Finally, we agree that English spelling is crazy, but still and all, it's Dakotas, not Dacotas.

JimK said...

George Bataille took surplus as the basic problem to be solved by an economy, in his book The Accursed Share.

We have a couple Hutterite communities here in Ulster County, New York.

Ponter said...

Dimitri, this series is among the most interesting you've written. I'm glad you've expanded on the material from your latest book. I've purchased and read two of your books, I regularly read your blog, and I find your viewpoint to be extraordinarily insightful. And yet ...

From things that you've written, one might think that, when the guacamole really hits the fan, the US will be one of the worst places to be. And yet, here you are. Why do you stay? Is there some positive aspect of our collective madness that offers a good reason to park your boat here? I'm genuinely intrigued.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see that these groups have high population growth. It seems the natural pattern is to be tribal and then develop more complex governmental structures as the population growth makes for higher population density in a give geographic area.

In other words, the original structure of religion etc break down. Historical collapse leads eventually to growth and the same old same old. Except this time we have an overlay of resource depletion and possible long term enviromental damage.

Andy Brown said...


I'm glad to see the topic of taxation come up. It has always struck me as a dangerous blind spot for people trying to organize alternative communities that they don't take seriously the local techniques of confiscation. Taxation, bankruptcy, zoning, law enforcement confiscation (whether enabled by the presence of illegal drugs, health violations, abuse laws), and so on. The US seems intent on exploring the potentials of debt peonage for the coming unemployable generation as well. If economic contraction comes to be recognized more widely, more techniques may be dusted off. The kind of anti-hoarding laws that so enriched bureaucrats in the early USSR make the same cultural sense here as they did there. All of these techniques can be made to seem perfectly legitimate since they serve good purposes or ill depending. But any can certainly serve as a means for despoiling people marginal to the larger community.

None of this will be a surprise to the people you are talking about, of course - only to the people organizing such communities at a time of general prosperity and relative indifference toward others. I hope you'll have more to say on the subject.

KevinB said...

Dimitry, this is great, thank you.

I am far more inspired by the idea of forming or joining an Amish-like community than I am by the thought of existing within or alongside the Russian mafia or the Pashtuns, for all their undoubted qualities. And in fact such a spiritually-oriented community aligns with my own thoughts on post-collapse thriving.

Do you have a reference for Kropotkin's Anarchy? I can find one neither in your latest book nor on the internet. Is it a book, an essay or something else? And is it available in English?

Many thanks.

asotir said...

I love this series. I hope you will also address "communities that have not abided" - for instance I read that the Israeli kibbutzim system is breaking down because the kids are leaving the hard farming life and going to the cities for money, sex, and consumer goods.

That raises another aspect of these communities you profile: they are and remain as outsiders that are distrusted by the outer world and in turn distrust it. A healthy measure of bigotry going both ways helps to retain future generations.

Of course once TSHTF life on the communist freeholds will be so much nicer than what is going on "out there" that the kids will not want to move away. (Though "different" individuals will always find it tough going in a small, homogenous clan society.)

Andy Brown said...

A useful way of thinking about the efficiencies of communism is the refrigerator/freezer. As a member of a consumer society I have a little freezer in the basement with a quarter of a beef in it - which I bought off my cousin who raises excellent grass-fed cattle in an Amish valley in PA. The freezer is a relatively high tech contraption that I invested in and which runs on fossil fuels.

Contrast that with the "refrigerator" that prevailed for tens of thousands of years before that in small-scale communism. Even a small slaughtered animal was distributed up and down the social network - and a large animal necessitated (or precipitated) a feast. Networks of sharing, commitment and obligation were maintained and derailed in the process. Your meat came back to you later through these relationships - when someone else had meat or something else to share. (Though you might only be paid back in deference or some other currency of human relation.) Anthropologists detail many variations, though the basic economic habits of the species seem to have been fairly consistent until things like hoardable grains and refrigerators became the norm.

Jeff Snyder said...


I add my voice of acclaim for this series on communities that abide. Very valuable, and very thought-provoking. When you are done, I hope you will package it all in another book or e-book.

I wonder if at some point you might comment upon the walled "city-state," which served as a model form of social organization for thousands of years. Obviously this is a much larger scale and diverse "community" than those you are speaking about, and has a greater division of labor, class stratification, etc. Perhaps this form won't work in our resource-depleted future, or is not to be encouraged, but possibly it will enjoy a resurgence as the central governments collapse. It is a much more hierachical form of social organization, whose "diversity" and prospect of greater individual "freedom of thought/choice/action" may be appealing to some, but of course it did not provide the same social safety net or secure sense of belonging as the communities that you are describing. It "abided" for a very long time as a political/social form, without necessarily serving the common interests or real human needs of its citizens very well, but it may seem a more diverse, "open" form of society than some of the communities that you are describing. I mention it as an intersting case of contrast and compare; please don't take my remarks as an endorsement of the form.

Thanks for pointing out the Bataille work, I am going to check it out. To me, "surplus is the problem" easily equates to "farming is the greatest mistake / disaster of mankind." The food surplus permits the formation of the hierarchical caste superstructure of king, priest, soldier, and their legal foundation in the ideas of property ownership and taxation.

NomadicBeer said...

I really like this presentation and I think I can learn a lot from it.
One note, though - I think your approach to present the government and capitalism as the enemy of the people is misdirected. I think all of our social system evolved to allow us to adapt to the new environments we created. I agree they will be no use in the future and experimenting with alternatives now is desirable. I just don't know if this historical example of communist tribes will work in a overpopulated and ruined world (except for harsh inhospitable regions where the population density was never too high).

Lance M. Foster said...

I get sick of hearing how often we are referred to as "consumers" instead of "citizens." One thing you will hear over and over as both an insult and a dismissal in one, is that someone is "a failure."

What they mean of course is solely based on economic success or lack thereof. To them anyone who isn't "making bank" is (the ultimate insult) "a loser." People conceive of "getting rich" as the highest and greatest good they can imagine for their lives.

Using this "rationale," to these "unidimensionalists," those who historically did not "make bank," people like Van Gogh, Jesus, Gandhi, the Buddha, Tecumseh, Marx, Paine, and so on, were all "failures" and "losers."

Well, people who are forward-thinking have a chance to re-tool their mindset to better endure, survive, and even flourish, in what is coming. If your entire worth to yourself and others is based on your economic worth, then when you go broke and become poor, well, it's game over, isn't it? (Except for those who mainly focus on starting over "to get rich or die trying").

So if "making bank" isn't in the cards, make your achievements in the technological and ideological spheres. These should not be overlooked. And of course the social dimension of family, friends, community, and service to humanity is a whole world of possibility. Even economics isn't just about finances and "money," it's much larger...it's about trade, making a living, how you use resources, and how you live in and provide for the stewardship of your environment, including taking care of the land (and you don't have to "own" the land, in order to take care of it).

Remember, economics is important indeed, but anthropologically it is only one of the three legs of the products of human culture: economics, technology, and ideology.

If you "fail" at your finances, lose your job, your house...don't consider yourself a failure or a loser. Look at the rest of economics, because money isn't the end-all of economics. And achieve in the worlds of social, technological, and ideological possibilities. Even if those worlds are within arm's reach :-)

Terrace said...

Again, as concerns confiscation and enumeration (census), James Scott's "The Art of Not Being-Governed" is a must-read to gain historical context (set in Southeast Asia, but applicable everywhere).

Deskpoet said...

Beyond the immediate discussion, you're doing a great service to your readership by continuing the references to Kropotkin. His great insights into mutual aid and questioning of the dogma of competition are lessons that NEED to be re-discovered as we approach the event horizon.

Keep up the good work.

Reverse Developer said...

The IWW principles were way ahead of their times. Great job tying it in to these longstanding quasi anarcho cultures and brushing all with the ochre of 'communism'. Words are but symbols, but the logic of your argument, usparring honesty and forthright trajectory get right to the core of the matter. It makes so much sense it will surely be denied, decried and ignored.

I wait to see whether gene flow creeps up in the continuing series and discussion. It seems the single most critical problem. More children does not solve it, noe does simple division per the Dunbar number. Inbreeding is especially problematic where polygamy is also practiced. The young men without wives must either be celibate or join mainstream communities. As well, wherever youth leave the fold without continuous inputs of fresh DNA from novel stock the lack of diversity threatens sustainability of healthy gene pool.

Andy Brown said...


I read Weapons of the Weak long ago, but this new one looks fascinating. Have you ever come across the Good Soldier Schweik? Another great account of how not to be governed. (I've heard the argument that Schweikism did more to bring down the USSR than all the tanks and missile silos of NATO.)

Anonymous said...

Silenus -- I think Americans yearn for freedom because that's what the advertising/media complex tells them to want. Which of course is quite ironic. I don't think they're specifically trying to spread that message; they're only trying to make money. Telling someone they need freedom creates a great opportunity for you to tell them that your product or service just happens to be able to give them this freedom they just found out they need.

Government plays the same game, though of course it uses slightly different channels for advertising itself. It presents itself as freedom-giver while usurping freedom. Was it Nietzsche who defined an addiction as something that presents itself as the cure for the symptom that it actually creates?

KevinB said...

Dmitry, as someone with training in evolutionary biology (including back in the day being tutored by one Robin Dunbar, he of Dunbar's number), I'd like to qualify Kropotkin's perhaps idealised interpretation of animal behaviour.

Animals both compete and collaborate.

Take a herd of caribou/reindeer which Kropotkin will likely have observed in his travels on the tundra. At some points, e.g. during the rut, they will compete directly, the males fighting each other for access to mating opportunities. At other times they are competing indirectly, in that a gene for, say, more efficient digestion will tend to mean its host lives longer, is healthier, and thus has more offspring. Thus that gene will become more common in the population than a gene for less efficient digestion. This is competition in action. This is what Darwin is talking about.

At the same time, a gene for collaborating with your relatives and neighbours, herding together for warmth and protection against predators, etc, will also tend to do better for its host than a gene for going off into the dark night to face the wolves on your own. Thus collaboration also works.

A genome that codes ONLY for competition will tend to die out. And a genome that codes ONLY for collaboration will also tend to die out too.

Of course reindeer don't think about any of this - they just do it. And it's also true that in time, as their population increases to the point where their environment can no longer support them all, one bad season will tend to mean they have a population crash. So exactly the same situation which we are facing as humans.

What makes us unique among species is that we have the awareness to see this coming - if we do but look.

Thus, rather than looking to animal populations and evolutionary theory to justify any particular shade of dogma and say how we "should" live - be that free market individualism or communism - I suggest we look at those populations to see what we can learn and what works.

And what we can learn does, in my view, accord with what you propose. That untrammelled competition and population growth will lead to crash, a repetitive cycle of population boom and bust, whereas smaller groups based on collaboration and "group before individual" can survive and thrive in a more stable and ongoing way.

Assuming that we wish to transcend the evolved and actually very natural population boom and bust model, our challenge as humans is to be aware of our to-some-extent competitive nature and its limitations, and to manage it and move beyond dog-eat-dog to a more mutually supportive mode, which is of course easiest (and perhaps only possible?) when Dunbar's number is not exceeded.

Fortunately, human history and society is littered with examples of us NOT trying to maximise our reproductive potential at all costs (unlike pretty much every other species), so we have it in us. My goal now is to achieve this without relying on some religious or political dogma, with all the mind-control and individual suppression that that tends to entail.

Lance M. Foster said...

"1. A church
2. A nature preserve
3. A historical society
4. Minority-owned"

One could be all of these things on a small piece of land, if you buy it in common with several others who want to try this out.

For example, one could buy a small historical site, such as a historical house and its grounds (there are many for sale, in almost every state). First establish the historical society based on the house/site. There should be public hours, even as little as one or two days a month, "and by arrangement." Some of these historic sites were farmed too, so you can re-establish food production as part of the historic site's interpretation and management (and have your own food!) There are living history sites to serve as models.

As soon as you have that done, or even at the same time, establish a nature reserve on part of the grounds or preferably on most of it, even a bird or butterfly garden area, restoring the appropriate native biomes of prairie, desert, wetland or forest, and register as a nature reserve associated with the historical society you created. You might be able to also have an adjoining wildlife rehabilitation unit.

Finally, you can incorporate a church which uses part of the building/house as its address and you have to have an ordained person, a theology, and regular worship. The Unitarians are well-established and are considered to be Christians by most, but they are really flexible Deists, and even Wiccans and Druids attend their services in many places. The Reformed Druids are another route to go, and you don't even need a building, as a circle of stones or a grove of trees in your nature preserve would work. Greer's Druid group for example has a program set up that can lead to ordination as a Druid minister if I recall. The Asatru religion is also an option for the Norse-Germanic minded. You could revive ancient Slavic religion with Chernabog and all those guys. Or be a Budhist or animist. So many possibilities. And along the lines of the Spaghetti religion, there is the option of becoming a Discordian. There are a lot of "church" possibilities. I would think Buddhism and Unitarianism would put up the least amount of red flags in a rural homogenous population, since people at least know what those are.

Finally, I assume by minority-owned, you mean racial minorities. Well there are a lot of Native American tribes, some in pretty much every state, that could probably be approached to work out some kind of arrangement as to co-ownership of the site, IF you do your footwork and make relationships. But that is just one option, as various places have different minority groups and communities which might find possibilities. And the advantage there is if you promise some kind of arrangement for minority youth involvement, you might make a lot of friends and have a real population to work with and expand, instead of just you and your family, which is too small to work with anyways. After all, you have to get to that 150-member number ASAP in these times.

Kyddyl said...

No matter which group you may pick out, what would make it worthwhile to become a "helping" professional? Sooner or later a community will need highly skilled persons such as physicians, surgeons, dentists and veterinarians. These professions take many years of schooling. Or would you really like to go to the herbalist for those multiple smashed up bones and punctured lungs? Or lose your valuable animals or have no teeth?

Patrick said...

A question which arises for me is how any of these "abiding communities" would protect themselves from marauding gangs who are hungry, frightened, and angry? Gangs which can't or won't form their own self-sustaining communities, but loosely band together to try to get what they need through violence & intimidation.

My in-laws used to live in a rural area which included some nearby Amish farms. There wasn't much contact with them, unless it was to buy eggs, lumber, or cheese. They were mostly left alone. But this was while the surrounding neighbors still had affordable gas for their pick-ups, beer and potato chips at the corner store, and satellite dishes on their houses.

Kayr said...

I grew up in Mormon culture, but practice no longer, and can attest to the "clanish-ness" of the religion and its ability to survive. However it isn't very communistic and it is very hierarchical. Bishops use to control the storehouses and if you didn't tow the line, your portion might be somewhat less. I think that is why such communistic experiments, like the United Order didn't work. Even now you have to get your bishops approval to get help from the church. This usually involves going to church on a regular bases.

Also it would seem that the only thing that has some control, not perfect, but some control over the excesses of a hierarchical driven religious organization that sees nothing wrong in raping young girls through an institution of "celestial marriage" or abandoning young men because there aren't enough women to go around is something like our current state or federal government.

How do these other religious/cultural groups avoid the pit-falls of a self appointed god on earth such as Warren Jeffs? Here in Utah we have organizations that help the women who escape polygamy and the abandoned young men deal with their transition into mainstream society. While there is a lot to be said for the group support offered by the Mormon church to it's members, it seems too easy for some predator to take advantage in "god's" name and of course, for your good.

Jeff Snyder said...


I believe you ask a key question, regarding protection from marauding bands. It may be one thing when all of civilization has collapsed and we are all back to small tribes. Warfare will then be on a much smaller scale, as Dmitry has argued.

However, during the collapse/transition, which could last a long time, small pacifist communities growing their own food and producing a surplus of even one year to ride out hard times will be targets for bands who find it easier to just pillage their way through life. Let others build shelter and lay in food stocks, then just ride in and take it.

This is one of the reasons I asked Dmitry earlier whether he would at some point discuss the walled city state. During feudal times, towns built walls -- which they kept fortfying and to which they kept adding over hundreds of years -- to protect themselves against marauding bands of "nobles" looking to conquer territory and set up their own principalities to establish a rentier existence for themselves. Rules of inheritance pursuant to which the first born son acquired everything drove the other sons outward in search of their own lands. This was a factor, for example, in the support of the "nobility" for the Crusades: the lure of acquiring new lands and serfs for themselves.

The walled city is described by Norman Cantor in Chapter 20 of "The Civilization of the Middle Ages," as well as in other places I am sure. He describes some of its negative effects there as well, such as having the effect of forcing people to live in too-close quarters, which led, among other things, to unsanitary conditions and disease.

In short, I believe that defense has to be considered, because it is possible that pacifism works well so long as you are tiny cell within an otherwise "civilized" world, but it may not work when civilization has fallen. "Hiding who you are," may not be enough.

And at the risk of causing Dmitry to add to his list of automatic deletions, I find the TV show, "The Walking Dead," fascinating as a sign that, at some level, many, many people sense what is coming. A major theme of the show is how people, under pressure of necessity, form into tribes for survival, how they learn to cooperate and rely on one another's strengths, and how individuals learn that no one can make it on his own. And, this being America, it involves lots and lots of guns. I'm not saying this is a model, but it is a pretty amazing indicator of the current American psyche.

k-dog said...

I extract a common thread from your writing this week. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

You disparage taxes but praise communist organization of production which naysayers would call a 100% tax and muddle the issue.

You describe communist organization as being more natural and closer to the bone. It forces a more balanced and wholesome supply and demand cycle in society because it is not polluted by the abstraction of social distance between economic participants.

Taxes are different because they extract from the health of groups in a parasitic way. A reciprocal return is not part of a tax arrangement. As you describe them taxes are typical of hierarchical social structures where operation of society depends on one class exploiting and extracting wealth from another. - K-Dog

Lacy Thompson Jr said...

Quite enjoyed the article because it parallels a lot of my work and thinking, to churches and the other categories of tax advantaged, add education and schools, which is why I am setting up my intentional community Eco-Tribe.org with the long term goals of being a research and education center for sustenance farming(as opposed to commercial farming). Since "communism" carries such baggage in US culture, I am careful to describe the goal as interdependence. I think there could even be "capitalistic" models of interdependence that accomplish the primary goal of by and in large getting out of the "money economy" which has the goal to make you helpless, individually or as a group to meet your own needs. You become totally dependent upon the external economy for a job so you can earn money to "cure" your helplessness. You are taxed, with the exception of property taxes by and in large to the extent you participate in the external "money economy". Individual atomized socio-economic organization is so very wasteful, that I am convinced, a properly organized and run interdependent community is the optimal route to economic security, prosperity and quality of life.
My goal is to replace 75% of the external "money economy" with an internally owned and managed economy. The REAL numbers on unemployment are pushing 25% so we can either pay people to collect unemployment or re purpose them with internal community jobs in farming, food prep and long term storage, and community support.
Trick is that it HAS to be under one socioeconomic umbrella to avoid being classed as "barter" and taxed. You could be partners in a schedule s corp or a full blown "communist" group like the Hutterites.
My plan is a hybrid of a small intentional community with it's own businesses combined with a sort of commercial "boarding house" where you "repackage" life more efficiently with access to a common auto fleet and access to a common theater, restaurant, bar, library, tool rental, shop, etc.
I recall a phone conversation with Paul Grignon (Money is Debt) where he observed… “we could organize ourselves and we wouldn’t need (the banks.. elites, etc.)
them but because we haven’t they’ve organized us for their benefit.”
It’s time for us to step up to the plate and organize ourselves and quit making the wheels of their machine “go round”.
In a related vein Daniel Quinn has written in “Beyond Civilization” advocating abandonment” as the best way to shift the balance of power away from the elites.
Looking forward to the next segment on retaking control of education.

kleymo said...

A little late for this post, but it is on topic.

I just got back from a camping trip that took the family by New Glarus. (Purely by chance, there is a brewery there.) There is an open air museum (Музей-заповедник)

The first settlers worked together, and did it again when the main employer closed down at the end of the fifties. I told my kids that the group survived because they worked together communally.