Thursday, October 5, 2017

#278 / Where Have All The Communes Gone?

Members of a commune located about 20 miles from Madison, pose for a 'family' portrait outside the barn where they conduct a flourishing candle business 10/23/1969-Cross Plains, Wisconsin.

Where, indeed, have all those communes gone? That is the question posed by In These Times, in an article published on September 18, 2017. Jessa Crispin, the former editor of Bookslut, which is now no longer publishing, provides an answer that draws from experience in Germany, where Crispin now lives. Her answer is, is in some ways, rather hopeful:

All of those social deviants of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture, by taking a nonviolent, extreme position, managed to pull the culture closer to them. The once-conservative German society now has very low marriage rates, a blasé attitude toward single parenting, and an innovative and successful educational system—all areas the Kommune and similar groups were experimenting with.

In the United States, trends since the 1960s do seem to parallel what has apparently happened in Germany - but only to an extent. I'd say that marriage rates are significantly down, and I do think that there is a relaxed, if not a blasé, attitude toward single parenting. I would not think, however, that the United States can boast of much progress towards an "innovative and successful educational system."

Furthermore, to go directly to the question posed by In These Times, I can't personally think of a single commune that I could visit, should I want to, and I have great doubt that the candle commune from Cross Plains, pictured above, is still intact and in place. Click the "Cross Plains" link to see how this village of 3,500 residents is presenting itself today. Not much evidence of a counter-culture approach to life, although I do note that Dane County, in which Cross Plains is located, voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton last November, even though the State of Wisconsin, as a whole, went for Donald Trump. Of course, that's probably mostly due to the vote in Madison, also located in Dane County. Any reader who wants to find a "commune," and they often bear other names, can peruse the Directory of Intentional Communities, available online. 

In These Times is definitely on the "progressive" or "left" side of the political spectrum, so I was happy that Crispin included the following observations in her article:

The Left defines itself mostly by what it is against—white supremacy, misogyny, capitalism—but is vague on what it is for ... It seems we’ve resigned ourselves to neoliberalism, rapacious capitalism and endless war. The most radical suggestion anyone ever comes up with to deal with the housing shortages in every major city around the world is maybe to build some more rent-controlled housing. Where are the champions of socialized housing, communal living with private quarters but shared domestic spaces (co-housing), single-sex communities, or even large-scale occupation of the increasing amount of vacant real estate bought only as investment? Our relentlessly profit-driven healthcare system is one of the most expensive and ineffective in the world, but the dominant progressive fix is to expand private insurance coverage. What about nationalizing the pharmaceutical industry, forbidding religious orders from running hospitals, and revamping the mental health system to prioritize holistic treatment over drugging patients into stupors? Marriage remains a support system for the patriarchy, but no one even talks about abolishing marriage anymore (except for maybe me, inappropriately, at parties, after a couple martinis). It’s as though we've decided this world is inevitable and we must adjust ourselves to it, rather than adjust the world to better suit us. 
As Czech political dissident-turned-president Václav Havel noted, politics follows culture, so there will be no revolution or improvement in our condition coming down through the legislature. To believe otherwise, to legislate cultural issues through politics and ignore the will of the people, is to support tyranny [emphasis added].

Those "counterculture" activists of the 1960s and 1970s were definitely trying to define themselves, and the society they were determined to create, by what they were "for," as opposed to what they were "against." If Václav Havel is right (and I think he was always a rather perspicacious observer of all things political), we need to "culture" a new society like those who care about good food and drink need to "culture" their sourdough starter and a "Mother" for their homemade Kombucha

That kind of culture comes (as it did in the communes) from small groups of people who define what they are "for" by how they live together. It's that Margaret Mead thing all over again

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

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