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The following list of... um... commandments has been put together by looking at lots of different communities that abide. It is not dependent on what exact kind of community it is: whether it’s patriarchal or apportions equal rights and responsibilities to both women and men, whether it’s religious or atheist, whether it’s settled, migratory or nomadic, whether it consists of farmers or carnival performers, law-abiding people or outlaws, the highly educated or the illiterate, whether it’s rigidly traditionalist or polyamorous, vegan or omnivorous...
This wide range should allow you to set aside any fears that whatever community you envision forming or joining might be excepted from following these commandments, because, given the very wide range of variations between the communities I examined, finding an exact match to what you happen to like is, first, exceedingly unlikely and, second, completely irrelevant to uncovering the common traits that underpin their success.
Their only commonality is that they all have children, bring them up, and accept them into the community as adult members. These are biological communities that function as tiny sovereign nations, not one-way social institutions where people join up and die, such as monasteries, retirement homes, hospices and suicide cults. The difference is that while the former abide—last for many generations—the latter do not. This is an empirical result, not a theoretical one, and thus very hard to argue with based on one’s ideology or taste.
The XIII Commandments of Communities That Abide
I. You Probably Shouldn't come together willy-nilly and form a community out of people that just happen to be hanging around, who don't have to do much of anything to join, and feel free to leave as soon as they get bored or it stops being fun. The community should be founded as a conscious, purposeful, overt act of secession from mainstream society, a significant historical event that is passed down through history and commemorated in song, ceremony and historical reenactment. A classic founding event is one where the founding members surrender all of their private property, making it communal, in a solemn ceremony, during which they take on new names and greet each other by their new names as brothers and sisters. The founding members should be remembered and revered for their brave and generous act. This makes the community into a self-aware, synergistic entity with a will of its own that transcends the wills of its individual members.
II. You Probably Shouldn't trap people within the community. Membership in the community should to be voluntary. Every member must have an iron-clad guarantee of being able to leave, no questions asked. That said, do everything you can to keep people from leaving because defections are very bad for morale. One good trick is to give people a vacation when they need it, and one good way to do that is to run an exchange program with another, similar community. There need not be an iron-clad guarantee of being able to come back and be accepted again, but this should be generally possible. Those born into the community should be given an explicit opportunity, during their teenage years, to rebel, escape, go out and see the world and sow their wild oats, and also the opportunity to come back, take the pledge, and be accepted as full members. When people behave badly, the threat of expulsion can be used, but that should be regarded as the “nuclear option.” On the other hand, you should probably have some rules for expelling people more or less automatically when they behave very, very badly indeed (though such cases should be exceedingly rare) because allowing such people to stick around is also very bad for morale.
III. You Probably Shouldn't carry on as if the community doesn't matter. The community should see itself as separate and distinct from the surrounding society. Its separatism should manifest itself in the way its members relate to members of the surrounding society: as external representatives of the community rather than as individual members. All dealings with the outside world, other than exchanging pleasantries and making conversation, should be on behalf of the community. It must not be possible for outsiders to exploit individual weaknesses or differences between members. To realize certain advantages, especially if the community is clandestine in nature, members can maintain the illusion that they are acting as individuals, but in reality they should act on behalf of the community at all times.
IV. You Probably Shouldn't spread out across the landscape. The community should be relatively self-contained. It cannot be virtual or only come together periodically. There has to be a geographic locus or a gathering place, with ample public space, even if it changes location from time to time. The community should be based on a communal living arrangement that provides all of the necessities. A community living in apartments scattered throughout a large city is not going to last very long; if that's how you have to start, then use the time you have to save money and buy land. A good, simple living arrangement, which minimizes housing costs while optimizing group cohesion and security, is to provide all adults and couples with bedrooms big enough for them and their infants, separate group bedrooms for children over a certain age, and common facilities for all other needs. This can be realized using one large building or several smaller ones.
V. You Probably Shouldn't allow creeping privatization. The community should pool and share all property and resources with the exception of personal effects. All money and goods coming in from the outside, including income, pensions, donations and even government handouts, should go into the common pot, from which it is allocated to common uses. Such common uses should include all the necessities: food, shelter, clothing, medicine, child care, elderly care, education, entertainment, etc. Members who become rich suddenly, through inheritance or some other means, must be given a choice: put the money in the pot, or keep it and leave the community. This pattern of communal consumption is very efficient.
VI. You Probably Shouldn't try to figure out what to do on your own. The community should have collective goals and needs that are made explicit. These goals and needs can only be met through collective, not individual, actions. The well-being of the community should be the result of collective action, of members working together on common projects. Also, this collective work should be largely voluntary, and members who are fed up with a certain task or a certain team should be able to raise the issue at the meeting and ask to be reassigned. It's great when members have brilliant new ideas on how to do things, but these have to be discussed in open meeting and expressed as initiatives to be pursued collectively.
VII. You Probably Shouldn't let outsiders order you around. It's best if the community itself is the ultimate source of authority for all of its members. It should have a universally accepted code of conduct, which is best kept unwritten and passed down orally. The ultimate recourse, above and beyond the reach of any external systems of justice or external authorities, or any individual's authority within the group, should be the open meeting, where everyone has the right to speak. People should only be able to speak for themselves: attempts at representation of any sort should be treated as hearsay and disregarded. You probably shouldn't resort to legalistic techniques such as vote-counting and vote by acclamation instead. Debate should continue until consensus is reached. To reach a consensus decision, use whatever tricks you have to in order to win over the (potentially vociferous and divisive) opposing voices, up to and including the threat of expulsion. A community that cannot reach full consensus on a key decision cannot function and should automatically split up. But this tends to be rare, because the members' status depends on them putting the needs of the community ahead of their own, and one of these needs happens to be the need for consensus. Decisions reached by consensus in open meeting should carry the force of law. Decisions imposed on the community from the outside should be regarded as acts of persecution, and countered with nonviolent protest, civil disobedience, evasion and, if conditions warrant, by staging an exodus. The time-tested foolproof way to avoid being subjected to outside authority is by fleeing, as a group. Oh, and you probably shouldn't waste your time on things like voting, trying to get elected, testifying in court, bringing lawsuits against people or institutions, or jury duty.
VIII. You Probably Shouldn't question the wonderful goodness of your community. Your community should have moral authority and meaning to those within it. It can't be a mere instrumentality or a living arrangement with no higher purpose than keeping you fed, clothed, sheltered and entertained. It shouldn't be treated in a utilitarian fashion. There should be an ideology, which is unquestioned, but which is interpreted to set specific goals and norms of behavior. The community shouldn't contradict these goals and norms in practice. It should also be able to fulfill these goals and comply with these norms, and to track and measure its success in doing so. The best ideologies are circularly defined systems where it is a good system because it is used by good people, and these people are good specifically because they use the good system. Since the ideology is never questioned, it need not be particularly logical and can be based on a mystical understanding, faith or revelation. But it can't be completely silly, or nobody will take it seriously.
IX. You Probably Shouldn't pretend that your life is more important than the life of your children and grandchildren (or other members' children and grandchildren if you don't have any of your own). If you are old and younger replacements for whatever it is you do are available, your job is primarily to help them take over and then to keep out of their way. Try to think of death as a sort of bowel movement—most days you move your bowels (if you are regular); one day your bowels move you. As a member of the community, you do not live for yourself; you live for the community—specifically, for its future generations. The main purpose of your community is to transcend the lifespans of the individual members by perpetuating its biological and cultural DNA. To this end, you probably should avoid sending your children through public education, treating it as mental poison. It has very little to do with educating, and everything to do with institutionalization. Also, if a child is forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in class, that creates a split allegiance, which you should probably regard as unacceptable. If this means that your community has to expend a great deal of its resources on child care and home schooling, so be it; after providing food, shelter and clothing, it's the most important job there is.
X. You Probably Shouldn't try to use violence, because it probably won't work. Internally, keep your methods of social control informal: gossip, ridicule, reprimand and scorn all work really well and are very cheap. Any sort of formal control enforced through the threat of violence is very destructive of group solidarity, terrible for morale, and very expensive. You should try to enforce taboos against striking people in anger (also children and animals). Use expulsion as the ultimate recourse. When dealing with outsiders, don't arm yourselves beyond a few nonlethal defensive weapons, don't look like a threat, stay off the external authorities' radar as much as possible, and work to create good will among your neighbors so that they will stand up for you. Also, be sure to avoid military service. If drafted, you should probably refuse to carry weapons or use lethal force of any sort.
XI. You Probably Shouldn't let your community get too big. When it has grown beyond 150 adult members, it's time to bud off a colony. With anything more than 100 people, reaching consensus decisions in an open meeting becomes significantly more difficult and time-consuming, raising the level of frustration with the already cumbersome process of consensus-building. People start trying to get around this problem by hiding decision-making inside committees, but that is incompatible with direct democracy, in which no person can be compelled to comply with a decision to which that person did not consent (except for the decision to expel that person, but most people quit voluntarily before that point is reached). Also, 150 people is about the maximum number of people with whom most of us are able to have personal relationships. Anything more, and you end up having to deal with near-strangers, eroding trust. The best way to split a community in two halves is by drawing lots to decide which families stay and which families go. Your community should definitely stay on friendly terms with the new colony (among other things, to give your children a wider choice of mates), but it's probably a bad idea to think of them as still being part of your community: they are now a law unto themselves: independent and unique and under no obligation to consult you or to reach consensus with you on any question.
XII. You Probably Shouldn't let your community get too rich. Material gratification, luxury and lavish lifestyles are not good for your community: children will become spoiled, adults will develop expensive tastes and bad habits. If times ever change for the worse, your community will be unable to cope. This is because communities that emphasize material gratification become alienating and conflicted when they fail to provide the material goods needed to attain and maintain that level of gratification. Your community should provide a basic level of material comfort, and an absolutely outstanding level of emotional and spiritual comfort. There are many ways to burn off the extra wealth: through recruitment activities and expansion, through good works in the surrounding society, by supporting various projects, causes and initiatives and so on. You can also spend the surplus on art, music, literature, craftsmanship, etc.
XIII. You Probably Shouldn't let your community get too cozy with the neighbors. Always keep in mind what made you form the community to start with: the fact that the surrounding society doesn't work, can't give you what you need, and, to put in the plainest terms possible, isn't any good. Over time your community may become strong and successful, and gain acceptance from the surrounding society, which can, over time, become too weak and internally conflicted to offer you any resistance, never mind try to persecute you. But your community needs a bit of persecution now and again, to give it a good reason for continuing to safeguard its separateness. To this end, it helps to maintain certain practices that alienate your community from the surrounding society just a bit, not badly enough to provoke them into showing up with torches and pitchforks, but enough to make them want to remain aloof and leave you alone much of the time.
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This set of commandments is known to elicit a very wide range of reactions, most of the quite interesting, and so, if you have something to say, please don't hold back. I'll only moderate obscenities and personal attacks.