New to LessWrong?

New Comment
8 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:33 AM

It seems like one of the major issues with these communities was the heavy emphasis on self-reliance. What I think this ends up doing is not allowing people to rely on systems that already exist and are much more efficient. One of the core beliefs behind a lot of the utopian communities was "The system as it currently exists doesn't work", which at the extreme, led to the rejection of things that do work (like having access to food, water, electricity, etc.). In other words, a community begins by a group of people noticing that a lot of the current systems which exist in society have inefficiencies or are clearly not ideal in some way, but only later does it become obvious that, actually, what we have took centuries to get to the state it is currently in, is way better than what we had before, and tearing it all down and starting from scratch is probably a horrible thing to do.

A better approach might be to do a systematic study of societies that have existed across time, the structures that existed within them, and try to incorporate the details that seemed to work and avoid the things that didn't, while also trying to avoid re-inventing the wheel whenever possible.

There is already a book on this topic: Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities. Yes, it focuses on ecological communities, but most of the lessons seem to be universal.

Some things I remember:

  • Don't rely on people merely saying "I will totally join the community", no matter how convincing they sound. When it comes time to actually buy some land or building, expect that less than half of them will actually join. (Worst case: you spend your money or take a loan to buy the land/building, only to find out that actually no one joins you. Yes, there will always be an excuse: the timing is wrong; we wanted to live in a forest, but not that part of a forest, etc.) Take it as a serious project, make written agreements.

  • Make sure all of you can agree on the same vision. Put that vision in writing, because people have selective memory, and a few months later one will remember that "we agreed on X", while another will rememeber that "it was always supposed to be Y". Make sure you agree on the near-mode details, not just the far-mode applause lights. (There was an example of a group of people who moved to forest to get away from civilization. Turned out, half of them opposed civilization in principle, other half just wanted to live in a more green and less stressful environment away from the town. They started okay, but an unsolvable conflict emerged when the latter part wanted to bring internet connection to the village, which the former part opposed in principle.)

  • Think about all details of the life style: What kind of sexual behavior do you expect in your communities? What is your position on drugs? Are people going to have kids, and does that require increased safety or quiet at night? What kinds of religion are accepted? Is it okay if community members participate in politics? In other words, communicate explicitly and in detail what behavior will be okay, and what behavior will not be okay.

  • Make a formal decision-making process. Saying "oh, we will just solve everything by a consensus" is pretty much a disaster guaranteed to happen. (Consensus is easy while people generally agree with each other. You need a method to make decisions when they don't. Without clear rules, some people will try to win by increasing pressure, and soon everyone will go: "unless you do it my way, I quit".)

  • Avoid insane people, or generally people who generate tons of drama around them. One such person can be enough to destroy the whole community; there will be already enough problems happening naturally. Have formal rules for accepting new member of the community (e.g. some trial period, and approval by majority of existing members).

  • Make sure your community has someone with technical skills, and someone with people skills.

If we are looking for intentional communities that do work, we need look no further than modern organizations like corporations. We may not like the communities they create, but we can't deny the corporations that survive for long tend to have some reason they are able to do it and it must involve coordinate the actions of thousands of people. WalMart is perhaps the most successful intentional community of all time.

One of the main components of intentional communities is living together, something that corporations don't do. Part of the reasons corporations are successful is because people don't rely on it for their living situations and friends, just their income.

Perhaps a starting questions should be: If you want to set apart a community, exactly which parts of the normal world do you want to exclude?

I'm curious if there's much record of intentional communities that aren't farming communes. (i.e. the sort of tech commune that rationalists seem more likely to want to try and start seem like they would have a related but non-identical set of issues to the ones depicted here). I do expect the "attracting starry eyed dreamers without enough skills" to be an issue.

Oh, it actually talks about this at the end, shame on me for not reading to the end before commenting.

(In my defense, it was really long. :P)

I'm curious if there's much record of intentional communities that aren't farming communes.

Oneida comes to mind. They had some farming (it was upstate New York in the 1850s, after all) but also a lot of manufacturing — most famously silverware. The community is long gone, but the silverware company is still around.