Communes : How do they work?


I am out of my forking mind! Forking off from two topics simultaneously:

…partly in respect to other people apparently preferring for those topics to go in other directions, and partly because I think there is enough in their intersection to sustain its own topic.

For me, collective living has always seemed completely obvious. Consider the most crushing expenses people often face: houses, cars, education… ALL things which people could easily pool their resources on, but usually just don’t. Why don’t they? Why don’t you? Or what have you done differently? Feel free to share you successes and/or failures about communal living, criticisms, speculations, etc.

My own suspicion has been that, not unlike religion, gender roles, and many other perennial memes, people are simply conditioned from a young age to expect atomistic, nuclear-family living arrangements. Conditioned to stigmatize sharing - even while simultaneously working themselves to death to maintain their feeling of isolation. But it seems to really put individuals at a huge disadvantage, and result in inefficient usage of resources.


So, one could argue that even a nuclear family is communnal living. Perhaps not in the particular sense you are speaking of, but it certainly spreads out resource gathering and consumption. And the number of 20+ year olds I know still living with family is decently high.

But what, in my opinion, makes it all work is that there is a hierarchy. I have never encountered a situation where more than one person lives with another (or more) and there doesn’t need to be an arbiter. Which means rules, and power structures. Similar to a nuclear family, even if the participants aren’t related.


As long as I get to choose who is in the collective.


The crux of the problem :slight_smile:


I almost got into a cohousing community once and was very into the idea of communal living. After a couple of marriages and becoming financially ok enough to have built an independent life with my spouse, the idea of moving into a community setting (which involves spending six figures of money easily) with a bunch of near strangers is kind of a no go.

Cohousing in California probably involves you buying a “condo” (legally) in the group to join. Once you’re in, you’d better hope you get along with the other folks or else you’re stuck trying to sell your place as you can’t really rent it out on craigslist.

Translation: Communal living suffers from a “legacy, installed base” problem. It is the most appealing to people with few resources or social commitments and ties. If you have a lot of your own resources and existing cultural matrix of friends and social ties, giving up autonomy and financial success to join a commune is not attractive (aka “something for the young”).


Civilizations of choice, eh?



The “young” bit would certainly explain how my situation has changed over time! Many of the places I lived from my late teens through early thirties would qualify as communal my many criteria. But now that I am not in my forties I am not finding much interest.

What your model doesn’t explain is why people choose to manage resources and ties the way they do in the first place. It’s like communes are alternative to some norm, but without understanding that norm. It requires a person to assume that a person can have finances or resources to begin with. I am trying to structure my life around not deliberately having personal problems or needing to be selfish.

Meanwhile, people who claim to be individualists are somehow enmeshed in dozens of groups, such as towns, companies, marriages, clubs, etc. While I, who prefer to live collectively, am always alone.

How about scientific enclaves? If people are engaged in research, wouldn’t it be worth their while to have other people around to help? That sounds like a basis for a mutual benefit scenario.


Why do you insist that most people think it is an explicit choice? It is an implicit one and it is made for them as they grow up, are educated in the system, work jobs in the system, and generally work within the system. Most people have little interest in self-marginalizing themselves. They just want to have an enjoyable life and get by.

Because they’re playing well with others.

If you were a local friend of mine, your constant questioning of all things, whether practical or not, would probably become tiresome versus my friends who I go and grab a beer with and work on a project, like a milling machine or electronics. Most folks feel no driving urge to be alienated from the day to day experience of the people around them and are happy enough, given the lack of ACTUALLY EXISTING options, to keep it up.

Pie in the sky dreaming is cool but unless you have a critical mass of people who have gotten an alternative in place, it is just discussion over drinks. Getting something in place is a collective effort so then you have to convince people to join in your vision or create a joint one. Why do you think most folks would be interested in that, really?

The answer for some others in the thread is that the system is failing to work for many more people these days but that doesn’t mean most folks are going to be interested in dumping the whole system versus reform within it.

It does but ideas are cheap. Getting a group of people to actually put them into practice is the work, not just proposing alternatives. So where are the people who want to live in these enclaves and how are you going to go about making them?


Gee, that would be because people always go on about how individualistic western cultures are. Being based upon democracy, choice, and personal expression. And recently, even >choke< multiculturalism.

Also, I deeply, deeply mistrust implicit communication as being the blueprint for being hoodwinked. There doesn’t seem to be much reason for it, beyond shady dealings.

I agree! That’s why it gets so annoying having people constantly tell me that I am more interested in ideas than practice.

Sure. Creating a joint effort is what I am trying to do. Why would others be interested? Because they find it fun, interesting, productive, etc. I see it much like you describe:

I have done a bit of brewing, metalwork, and electronics. But when I asked myself what I though would be great to make and hack, my best answer was “social structures”. If people want to design a stepper controller that does what they need, they make a project of it. It doesn’t ruin everything for everybody else. But talk about a project of devising a new model of ownership, or education, or marriage that does what you and your friends need, and suddenly people panic.

That’s part of why I am amazed. Most people don’t build or use CNC machines, so I don’t expect many people in my daily life to be interested in those. But they do use the very social structures that they claim to have no interest in! If you not interested in those things, then don’t use them! And if you are, then why not make some? Instead of running into people who are curious or interested, they tend to be deeply afraid, as if I asked them to perform surgery on themselves. Like non-hacker types are - “Open my phone? Are you INSANE?” I would not expect people in the maker culture to react with the same fear with regards to social structures, but it seems they typically do.

What I do is try to talk with people! As for those who might be interested, I don’t know where they might be, or if they might exist.


Apples and oranges. You’re talking about two different things.


Because if I hack my phone, I don’t have the risk of not eating tonight or having no home. I don’t risk my kids being out on the street. They aren’t equivalent things.


IIRC The @Mindysan33 Unit was reading about communes recently, I wonder if she might have any thoughts on the subject.


If you set up a place in the bay area in, say, January, drop me a line. All I need is a bed and somewhere to practice hurdy gurdy :smiley:


Coincidentally, somebody gave to me a basket of apples and oranges this week! And a grapefruit - I ate that first - now it’s just apples and oranges.

Am I? Perhaps these decisions aren’t explicit choices, but many people seem to assume that they are. That in itself makes people’s ideas about how they live and socialize somewhat relevant.

I have even done interviews with people in cities about the relative effects of explicit versus implicit communication and choice on the course of their lives, what their lifestyles and traditions are. People almost universally claim to be making these choices themselves, and are dismissive of having been conditioned into them by means of socialization. Do I believe this? No, I don’t. But if they claim to believe it, they should act accordingly.

And, as I ninja-edited above, I really don’t trust implicit communication.


Didn’t you admit to being possibly autistic, which would explain that.


Yes, that’s true. But I think that diagnosis can also be seen as a label which attempts to pathologize a drive towards trying to be clear and direct. If one values accuracy and fairness, it seems hard to rationalize how the implicit would be more practical than the explicit.


or an inability to read “normal” unspoken subtext in primate communication. You’re privileging spoken communication over all other forms.


Wait, do you actually think your communication style is clear and direct?
I know thats your objective, but do you think you ever achieve it?


No doubt! Surprisingly, I do amazingly well with non-human animals and human babies. Animals often follow me around and approach me without fear, like in Snow White. Humans get severe uncanny valley vibes from me and are often terrified even if I don’t say or do anything.

I have been hyperlexical since about 2-3 years of age. The trouble of getting on with other humans is that they always insist that their social lives are organized around formal social structures! It’s a constant bait-and-switch. I try to interact with them on a formal basis, and they claim that the reality is some fluid, informal thing. So then, when I try to be informal, they tell me that I lack formal structure! It’s a wonder that people accomplish anything, wasting so much time on such games. Most of the things people say are important in human society do not appear to be facilitated or improved by loading with ambiguous subtext. I acknowledge that I could be missing the point! If they are norms, then I am afraid that they might not be of a very functional variety, even by popular standards.


Nowhere near as often as I’d like! I get on well with some artists and scientists, goal-oriented professionals, and people in very technical disciplines. By “well” I mean sufficiently to have some mutually interesting conversations. But there are usually lifestyle differences which prohibit deeper social or personal involvement.


Sounds a little like the McMurdo Research station in Antarctica. Unfortunately it’s difficult to run without outside help due to the remoteness of the location. How they built a nuclear reactor there is actually a very interesting story.

The bigger problem is that people who work in the sciences often have very expensive institutional needs. I think I’ve lamented on this very forum how expensive basic scientific instrumentation is. Long gone are the days when you could do useful science with cannonballs and poorly constructed towers. The sciences currently work on a patronage model. I’m all for this idea, and in some respects, we already have it in the form of the university. Universities actually function a lot like small communes in some respects, but the financial aspects of higher education have really done a number on the potential of universities to fill this role.