It is the happy end of a longish story.
In early 2013 I was invited to speak at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. It is a school that teaches a wide variety of native and folk arts, from building canoes to baking bread. One of the things that this school does rather well is teach people how to become part of the community that has grown up around the school. This had been happening spontaneously for some time, and it was thought that a conscious effort in this direction would produce even better results. And so, I was invited to address this topic in a seminar.
This was a new topic for me, and so I spent a few weeks at the library researching small communities that have stood the test of time. I looked at a great many of them: religious communities, such as the Anabaptists—the Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites, as well as the Mormons in Utah and the Dukhobors in British Columbia; secular ones, such as the Kibbutzim in Israel; ethnically defined ones such as the Roma (also called Gypsies) and the Pashtun tribesmen of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
My criteria were simple: I looked at small communities that had stood the test of time—a century at least, ideally longer. What I was looking for was not their particulars (although I found them engrossing) but their commonalities. This was as diverse a set as could be imagined, defying any attempt to categorize: religious and secular, liberal and conservative, settled and nomadic, pacifist and warlike, isolationist and cosmopolitan, with different and similar roles for men and women, with and without private property, with and without a formal authority, with and without written law, democratic and authoritarian... and yet in spite of all these differences a consistent picture emerged: all of them exhibited a certain set of common traits.
Amazed by my discoveries, I presented my findings, first at the North House Folk School, and a few weeks later at the “Age of Limits” Conference at the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. While the audience at the school was very receptive and attentive, and used my presentation to jump-start a very serious set of discussions, the audience at the conference rose up in rebellion. You see, none of the communities I described as exemplifying the common set of successful traits was acceptable to every part of the audience: they were either too much of one thing, or too little of something else.
A particular sticking point was the lack of gender equality in almost all of them (the Kibbutzim were the one exception). Their lack of gender equality is not the least bit surprising, given that most of these communities were founded (and became set in their ways) a long time ago—which was the reason I thought they were worth a look. Back then “gender” was strictly a grammatical term, while the ideal of égalité was yet to be proclaimed by the French revolutionaries. Nevertheless, I was loudly criticized for holding up such retrograde communities as examples.
Since I was not interested in specifics and peculiarities, but in generalities and commonalities, I put this criticism down to certain people’s inability to see the forest for the trees, and went on to publish a collection of articles on the topic, titled Communities that Abide. In it I laid out my case, supplemented by a number of articles along similar lines by some quite illustrious contributors. In it, I distilled the set of traits that I thought were responsible for the ability of these communities to abide to “thirteen commandments,” which I playfully cast in the same form as the commandments of Pastafarianism, a.k.a. the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster: “You probably shouldn’t...” in place of “Thou shalt not...”
Although Communities that Abide sold out the initial print run and has continued to sell quite well ever since, it has left something to be desired. It’s an interesting little book, but as an organizational tool it has turned out to be quite useless. You see, it’s not just a matter of not seeing the forest for the trees—it’s more a question of there being a forest in place of an open meadow. What’s needed is not a set of recommendations (or commandments, however playfully expressed) but a set of first principles. People want to be able to think things through on their own, and come up with their own recommendations. People don’t want to just apply a recipe, no matter how scrupulously and impartially it was formulated.
He explains the urgency with which society needs to be reorganized should we wish to leave to our children a pleasant and survivable world. He explains why none of the existing large-scale systems of social control—be they capitalist or communist—would work. He lays out the basic requirements that must be fulfilled in order for a community to function well. He explains the basic principle—the reconciling principle—which can resolve conflicts as they arise. This principle cannot be based on selfishness (a.k.a. the profit motive). Also, it cannot be impersonal: it can only operate if we personally know every other person. This limits the maximum size of the community to Dunbar’s Number—around 150 individuals.
Rob manages to do all this without introducing any cultural, religious or ideological specifics. His text is so ecumenical that it is not even specifically Christian—or based on any other religion, other than a spiritual bond with our living planet—the only one we will ever know—that is universally human. His writing appeals not to any culture, class, tribe, group or party, but directly to human nature.
These are weighty matters, but Rob’s book is not a scientific treatise on the problematics of social organization: it is a textbook suitable for an introductory course. But it is also a guide that contains a call to action; not any specific set of actions—that is left entirely up to you—but perfectly general action that will bring you together with the 150 people who are closest to you in a way that will make each one of us 150-strong.
OTHER CLUB ORLOV PRESS TITLES
Is there any chance that this book is going tobe available in German? I´d like to share it with friends and family, but their English is in most cases not good enough to read a book.
A collection of First Principles is wanted and needed to give everyone a basic, time-tested viewpoint. This enables an individual to do his own evaluation of observations and considerations.
Having such knowledge would seem even to bypass a [the ?] major trap of implanted data each person receives during his first 3 years after birth. Namely, during that period, everything a mind receives and even records is absorbed without any inspection and eval or judgement. All later data, while being inspected as much as awareness allows, are then subjected unknowingly to conflict with the prior hidden data that operate as fixed ideas.
Regarding "community", the work of Peter Kropotkin on Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution is highly relevant. The cooperation between individuals in a "community" seems to dominate any likelihood of survival, as opposed to the pseudo-factor of "survival of the fittest", the latter being apparently a mis-representation of Darwin's views hat suggest all glory to the self.
This project effort -- at its simplest -- is profound. It is the template for continuity; not of governments, but of our sprouting humanity to seed and grow on this beautiful evolutionary platform we call Earth.
Decades ago, we filmed a documentary for the (old) A & E Network on backwoods utopias in America. I learned a lot. Fell in love with the Shakers: what they had to overcome to get here, their ingenuity, inventions and work ethic...all to fall to extinction because of their vow-of-chastity requirement.
Why most utopian communities failed and why the few persevered -- from our research — came down to one factor. Success was attributable to putting in the actual physical labor to build the community. The hard-work bound them together. It was a total blend of heart, head and hand. There was nothing "virtual" about their efforts.
Thanks for all that you share...and do.
Our fragmented communities give rise to the most repressive regimes. Without a common bond we are ruled from afar and have no say in matters of justice and regulation...capitulation is common and is the expected outcome. The state effectively uses its power, provided by the people, to squash any alternatives to it's machinations. Even though many have fought and won legal cases involving the state and it's jealous prerogatives, the laws stay on the books...ready for the next challenge. If we are to get a responsive government, it will have to be small, accessible by the population, and have restrictions on its ability to make laws without consent of the ruled...a probationary time limit before it is written into law should be constituted. Look at Iceland, the country that successfully fought off the banks and jailed the bankers. They forgave the debt incurred by the government and did not try to save the banks by "bailout". There were mass protests and successive governments were replaced until the will of the people was enacted. With the coming collapse of western society (especially in Europe) there will be a power vacuum, how quickly can we fill it before the governments retrench?
Any chance of being able to order the book from Club Orlov Press or the author rather then Amazon?
Any chance of autographed copies being made available for a premium price?
I was most amused to read of the general ab-reaction to the Gender Equality issue regarding traditional societies.
I am old now and grew up in a slightly saner world. I have traveled and lived in about 30 countries (some we may call "lesser". I had never met an "unequal woman" until I traveled to North America. All intelligent people know that women are superior to men by far. Most women were superior enough not to have to flaunt it. It is a wise woman who makes her man think he is superior.
The modern Corporate/Capitalist hidden agendas have inculcated in women a false belief of what equality is. In my opinion Women-Marine-Assault-Troops is not a good model. Many years ago my wife who is a professional and was well up in the chain of command, in a weak moment said to me that the most meaningful and fulfilling period of her life was when she took off in order to raise our four children.
I can find no instance in history where women of intellect and ability have ever been denied leadership roles. In my travels, I have never found in any culture a woman who is not in charge of her own household once the front door closes. In the street they may well walk ten paces behind their husband but once the front door closes they wear the pants.
Feminists at the halfway mark in a very long game are receiving their "equality". They may yet rue this day because it is in fact a retrogression.
@ Graham--so there are no instances in history where women of intellect and ability have been denied leadership roles? That will certainly be news to the millions throughout history who have been kept illiterate, married off at 15 or younger to men who had the legal right to beat them, and repeatedly impregnate,e them and take their earnings, etc. Some had the option of entering a celibate religious order instead, or of being the old maid daughter who cared for her parents or her married siblings' children. Of course succumbing to such treatment is a clear sign that they lack the intellect and ability for leadership. Nice circular argument you have going.
I believe that Second Wave Feminism was derailed by it's commitment to equality within the capitalist, corporate structure; but that is a long way from thinking that what equality under the law it did achieve was only a retrogression.
The reason I found Communities That Abide depressing had nothing to do with gender, but was rather about the seeming necessity for a community to have some type of bizarre belief system that divides the world into us and them.
These are very esoteric issues. There were in your historical model, millions of "unequal men" who did not become Caesar, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great etc. The Feudal era is a classic. Historically as I read history in all eras there were representative women in power.
Age at marriage is not an issue. Cultural norms are not an indication of "equality". I do not condone beating per-se. Sadly our species is an aggressive one and I am sure there are many many victims of both sexes, of beatings. The legality is a social/cultural issue which the culture at the time felt was necessary. I am sure that functional, healthy, male/female relationships do not have the problem.
If you are a reader of history you will have read how religion through history has been used to manipulate people of both sexes to reach desired outcomes. I suspect that there are as many religiously manipulated men as women, and little boys seem to be particularly vulnerable.
I think you misread "equality". Are cats less equal than dogs? Remember that all human fetuses are female for the first 7 weeks of life and then a species differentiation kicks in, giving each of the two sides different hormonal strategies. This is not a circular argument.
None of these are esoteric issues. Some strongly held belief that divides the world into "us and them" is necessary for a cohesive community because without a "them" there is no "us" and nothing for the community to coalesce around. Remember, a community is defined less by its membership than by the sorts of people it decides to exclude. Different gender roles stem from gender dimorphism, which in humans is very pronounced, and from their different biological roles. This can be ignored in highly technological settings, in which humans are increasingly superfluous and replaced by machinery, robots and algorithms—for the time being, while supplies last. But if you actually want to build a community with your own hands, you will find that the men have to do the construction work and the heavy lifting, and the women have to clean, cook, make clothes, tend to the sick and mind the children. The girls will follow their mothers around and learn everything it takes to be one, and the boys will do the same with the fathers, and if they decide to be contrary and try to do a little of each, then they'll miss out on too much of each and will learn neither one well enough. And if you don't do it this way, then it just won't work. This is super-simple stuff, and it will never change.
It never ceases to amaze me that North American women, who are the biggest losers in the whole gender relations lottery, nevertheless see it fit to pass judgment on everyone else. Now they can't be good mothers because they are forced to work all the time, and they can't be good workers because they are busy being mothers—unless they forgo having children, which a lot of them now do. All they've accomplished economically is reduce the family income, and all they've accomplished socially is destroy the family. And the men? Well, a lot of them are now emasculated wimps, and as for the rest, all you have to do to figure that out is to look up the statistics on the mail-order bride business, which is booming. This is not a gender-equal society but a stinking corpse of one. But don't tell that to any of the university-taught "feminists," or I'll have to waste several minutes of my precious time deleting their stupid comments.
(not necessarily for publication if too contentious) You too may be old enough to remember when they introduced the Contraceptive Pill. That was the beginning and the end of women as we knew them. Not only was there profound hormonal change in womanhood but there was an even more profound psychological and social change.
The Pill created an androgynous hormonal being which could be brought into season when required. The full whack of female estrogen's were not kept flowing in their normal pattern. I also suspect that a lot of "Male Whimp-dom" may be caused by the constant barrage of 'Estrogen Mimicking" plastics which surround all our foods and implements.
The social/psychological changes are more profound and I have not yet got a handle on them
In traditional societies, there is no gender inequality. The whole idea of gender inequality comes from capitalism, where everyone is viewed as a factory worker. In traditional societies there are traditional gender roles, and they are not unequal, just different. And, in most traditional societies, you can choose your role. It's the exception rather than the rule, but it happens. Look up two-spirit people among the Navajo and apache. Two-spirit people are considered essential in those societies, and a modern complaint is there's less of them these days.
Hello Dmitry. One question about "Prosperous Homesteading".
I live in France, I have already ordered and received this book, but my English is not yet good enough. Do you think a kindle edition of this book could be available soon? This facilitates the translation of difficult texts. . .
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