Archive | General

Branches in a Storm

blankets

Epic blanket fort at The Academy

Last winter, there was a slight freeze followed by a strong wind storm that blew down brittle branches and downed many trees in Eugene. Power was out for a lot of the city and there were branches everywhere. In response, the community house where I live made a rockin’ blanket fort in the living room and watched the Lord of the Rings. A good time was had by all (except probably for the city workers who had to clean up the mess).

The next morning, a bunch of branches blocked part of the sidewalk near the house. They stayed there for probably two weeks while city workers focused on more important power outages and major blockages.

A small vision of anarchy

As I walked around the branches blocking the sidewalk, I realized that in an anarchist society, they would have already been cleaned up. The day after the storm someone would have gone out, seen the damage, asked a few neighbors for a saw and some assistance, and the neighborhood could have removed the branches in a few hours. Maybe other neighbors could have cooked dinner for the workers and there could have been a nice potluck afterwards where people could warm up. Everyone could have gone home feeling a little closer to their neighbors, knowing they helped contribute to the well being of the community.

But, of course, that didn’t happen. There are many reasons it didn’t happen: People are tired after a long day of producing wealth and leisure for others; there are no (or few) pre-existing ties between neighbors, making it awkward to knock on a stranger’s door; it could take away the city workers’ jobs; we are told that it is not in our interest to do work that doesn’t directly benefit us; and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were illegal for individuals to clean up storm debris. Everyone waited for the City to take care of it for them. How much faster could the roads have been cleaned if people felt empowered to take action?

Where did the power go?

This is a minor example of a much larger problem. The current system discourages people from solving problems themselves so they will depend on other institutions (government, businesses) to solve problems for them. Everyone is trained and taught to give away power to someone else: First at school, then in jobs, and in government, we are always deferring to someone else to make decisions. So, when something needs to get done, we expect someone else to take care of it, like they do everything else.

Really?

Do we really need a product to hold used apple cores? And you could eat way more of that apple!

You can see it in the government, which makes new laws for every little nuisance. You can see it in the court system, where people turn to the government to solve interpersonal problems.And you can see it in products that solve non-existent problems.

“When ignorance reigns in society and disorder in the minds of men, laws are multiplied, legislation is expected to do everything, and each fresh law being a fresh miscalculation, men are continually led to demand from law what can proceed only from themselves, from their own education and their own morality.” – Kropotkin

Let’s stop deferring

politics

So let’s stop deferring! Even if it’s just a little bit at a time, it’s a good muscle to strengthen. Next time there is a storm, I will ask the neighborhood for help so we can clean up as a community. It will remind me, and others, that we don’t need other people do to everything for us and can accomplish great things if we work together. And the next time there is a need, it will be that much easier!

Can you think of any other examples where people defer to others? Is there anything you’ve thought about doing with a community? Let us know in the comments!


3 Ways Communal Living is Revolutionary

Revolutionary acts often takes forms you may not expect. You don’t have to start a spontaneous thousand-person march or liberate academic journal articles for the public to freely access. Living a revolutionary life can start with choosing where you lay your head at night.

What’s the highest number of housemates you’ve had at any one time? Three? Six? What about 12?

At our communal house we have 12 housemates. We call the house The Academy, because it’s where we’re all learning about life.

Here are three ways that communal living is revolutionary:

#1 Decision Making

Quiet hours are decided by consensus, so the late night socialites and the early birds are all happy. (Writing in the mountain-area says: "We invite you to be quieter... like this landscape.")

Quiet hours are decided by consensus, so the late night socialites and the early birds are all happy. (Writing in the mountain-area says: “We invite you to be quieter… like this landscape.”)

There’s a lot of decisions to make when you’re living with 12 people. Who is going to do each chore? How much do rooms cost? Do we want to have a big potluck gathering this weekend? How do we create more bonding time for housemates? When should the common spaces quiet down? Do we want to invite a particular person to live with us or not? And the most common question of all: How do we keep the kitchen clean?

How do we keep things moving with so many voices? Perhaps one “benevolent dictator” could decide everything, then no one would have to expend much energy. Or perhaps we could all vote on topics, and the majority would get their way, and the minority would just deal with it.

What works best for us is to use a consensus decision making model, where we strive for unanimous agreement, and settle for an overwhelming majority in agreement. When someone has an idea that might effect the whole house, they make a proposal, we hear concerns, and adjust the proposal until we reach consensus. The objective is to give everyone an opportunity for their voice and opinions to be a part of the decisions we make. When people are in open, respectful communication with one another, it’s a far more pleasant space to live in.

We all moved into this house by our own free will, and we all work together to keep it clean, comfortable, and playful. There’s no need for us to surrender some of our power over to a “leader” who directs us. What would it be like to live in a society where this were the case everywhere? Where people freely associated for their mutual benefit, and no person was able to wield power over another person.

#2 Community-centered

The fruits of a food liberation operation from a nearby dumpster.

The fruits of a food liberation operation from a nearby dumpster.

The United States has a proudly individual-centered culture. There is an understandable appeal to having individual rights and access to any item whenever you want it. But, is this “me focused” attitude creating the most vibrant, thriving world possible?

When you live in a community, your focus begins to shift from “what’s good for me” to “what is good for us?” Each person shares an interest in the well-being of everyone in the house. If someone hears about an offer for free compost, they pass it along because even though they don’t garden, they eat the food we grow. When we are in abundance, especially after liberating food from nearby dumpsters, we share the abundance with everyone.

In this culture, we are scarce on examples of what it looks like to give attention to the needs of a community as well as ourselves. When we live communally, we have the opportunity to practice this on a daily basis.

#3 Mutual Aid
In our community, we share resources and share the work. We purchase food as a group and share in the shopping. We cook food together and share the meals. We all clean the house, and there is less to clean because the work is spread out. A few housemates have offered to have their vehicle be the “community car,” so now there are fewer vehicles on the road, and we still have access to one if we really need it. And it’s common for housemates to offer up beds that aren’t in use to visitors and friends.

Sharing shopping and food makes life more simple and easy for everyone.

Sharing shopping and food makes life more simple and easy for everyone.

We don’t need a dozen refrigerators, a dozen sets of kitchenware, a dozen shovels, or a dozen copies of a book. We just need one, and we all share, saving everyone money, reducing waste, and building more interdependency.

By cooperating on a small scale, we are demonstrating our vision of a society built around mutual aid, where each person helps others and receives help from them, and everyone benefits.

Community is Revolutionary
Living a revolutionary life is all about challenging the existing power structures and creating something new. Living in a community house is a revolutionary act for that very reason. Out with the old, in with the new. Community houses won’t create a thriving world on their own, but each house is a beacon of light, sharing an inspiring vision of what it looks like to focus on “we” instead of “me.”

There are all kinds of options for communal living: rent a bigger apartment/house than you’re used to, move in to a co-op house, or share rooms in the place you already have. Each additional person is a new person to learn from and another contributor to the creation of vibrant community.

How could/does communal living benefit you and your loved ones? Let us know in the comments.

Private Property

field fence

When I imagine an Anarchist society, one of the main things I notice is that everything is freely shared by everyone and there is no private property.

Some people get very concerned at the idea of no private property. People like their stuff and they wouldn’t want to lose it. I think some people imagine that without private property they’d be living in the forest without any possessions, scrounging for food with only the clothes on their back.

But there is an important difference between ownership and use. People can use things without owning them. And what we really want is to use things.

Scarcity models of property

What if you could have full use of all of your current clothes, but when you weren’t using them, someone else was wearing them? Would the experience of wearing a shirt be any different if someone else wore it?

The problem is that society has taught us to see everything in terms of scarcity. We think that there is not enough to go around. And so, if we want to use something, we have to own it and not let anyone else use it, so that we can use it when we want.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we could set aside the scarcity model and embrace the abundance model, we would realize that there is enough to go around. We don’t need to stop others from using things in order to enjoy them ourselves.

“Property is Theft” – Proudhon

The Experiment

I’ve been experimenting with giving up property. It started by sharing “my” bike with a roommate when his bike was stolen. I only needed it occasionally and it usually just worked out. Sometimes we’d both want to use it and we’d work out a schedule. It worked very well and was very simple!

Since then, I’ve announced to the people I live with (there are 11 of them) that they can use anything that is “mine”, including the room I live in, whenever they want. So far, people haven’t taken advantage of the offer very much because we are so well trained not to use other people’s things. But sometimes people use the room when they want to go somewhere else to study or something.

I also have been trying to not use “possessive language,” which basically means avoiding the words “my” and “have”. It’s not as hard as it sounds and it helps shift how I think about the things I use.

“My” laptop

Honestly, the hardest thing to think about not being “mine” was the laptop. I use it so much and I have a very strong connection to it. So the thought of losing it was a big barrier to starting the experiment.

But then I realized that I wasn’t losing it. If I don’t own it, it doesn’t mean that someone else does. I could still use it, and so could anyone else. And if I needed to use it, it’d be a simple conversation about when they’d be done. That wouldn’t be so bad.

I’ve found it to be quite freeing. It’s a relief to not be tied down to things. I don’t have to worry about other people using them. They are just things that I use.

“The things you own end up owning you” – Fight Club

An Invitation

Now, I’d like to invite you to give up your possessions too! You wouldn’t have to give up all of them. Maybe start out with a few things. Offer to let other people use them whenever they want (bigger things like bikes or cars are good for this). You can pay attention to how you speak and try not to use possessive language!

Give it a shot and I’d love to hear how it goes and if you have any questions! You can write in the comments or privately.