written by Martin
Twenty years ago, when I was living in Vermont, a friend of mine moved from there down to middle Tennessee to join a startup permaculture community that was going to be centered around one of the big names in permaculture–honestly, I forget just who. She returned to Vermont a few months later, saying she had been unable to get along with the guy well enough to stay. We’re not talking boyfriend/girlfriend here, just being members of the same team/community. Apparently, she was not the only person who couldn’t make it work with this particular guy, whoever he was, because he is no longer here in middle Tennessee, nor is there a twenty-year old, permaculture-based community in this area, to the best of my knowledge.
While I would love to be proved wrong about this and have members of this community emerge from obscurity and say, “We are here, we have been here, and here are at all the amazing things we’ve done in 20 years,” this apparently failed community is only one of a number of examples I could cite. It seems that the tricky part of manifesting the long-term vision that permaculture demands isn’t molding the landscape, but forming and keeping together a community of people who can forge a common vision and implement it. The same holds true for the whole spectrum of groups committed to “paradigm shift,” including, to name the first few that come to mind, political/environmental activism, the Transition Town movement, and healing centers and intentional communities. I have seen such difficulties arise, and disrupt communities and movements, numerous times over the course of my life. That’s what I’m going to be discussing in this blog post: what I have learned from my 40+ year involvement with intentional communities.
In college, I joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and was one of those who burned his draft card in Central Park in the late 60′s. I attended enough SDS meetings to become discouraged by its failure to address the egos and emotions of those with a neurotic urge towards leadership and/or martyrdom, and its failure to “be the change it wanted to see.” Later I moved to San Francisco and witnessed the unravelling of the Haight-Ashbury as a viable community. (In retrospect, my own neediness and lack of social and material skills probably helped propel that downfall, although I’m sure it all would have come apart just fine without me!) I joined a small group that aspired to the model Robert Heinlein created in the science fiction novel “Stranger in a Strange Land,” but that succumbed to the neuroses of its founders within a month. I slept for one night and one night only at a Digger crash pad that had slid so far down the tubes that people were peeing in a sink full of dirty dishes, because the toilets had long ago stopped working. (OK, that was actually on the Lower East Side of New York, but it was The Diggers.) I attended what turned to be the last meeting of the San Francisco Diggers, where those who had been in the movement for a while bemoaned the fact that they didn’t own the buildings that they were trying to maintain as The Free Store and the Community Kitchen. I met several times with a group of people who were getting together to buy land in southern Oregon. That disintegrated in the face of actually coming up with the cash necessary for the deal. I hung out with the folks from the Harbinger Community, who had the use of a hot spring/resort hotel north of San Francisco. They lasted a few months before dissolving in a cloud of bad drugs and irresponsible people. Read the rest of this entry »