Imagining Utopian Anarchist Communities
Having elaborated upon the kind of anarchism that I believe in, the question that immediately then comes up for me is: "How does one move forward with all these big ideas? How does one actually practice all of this stuff?" Okay, maybe that is really two questions, but my answer remains the same: Create new intentional communities.
The Foundation for Intentional Community defines an "intentional community" as being
"a group of people who have chosen to live together or share resources on the basis of common values."
What I would like to see are intentional communities created around the kinds of values that I wrote about in my previous piece. I said a lot of stuff in that piece, so the I part that I’d really want to focus on with this are the "Ten Principles for My Utopian Anarchism". I would summarize these as being:
1) Keep an image in mind of the kind of society that you want.
2) Try to have a comprehensive understanding of all the various systems at play.
3) Keep in mind the goal of it all, "Quadruple-H": "Happy Healthy Harmonious Humans".
4) The mission of "anarchism" here is to elimate all forms of domination and to replace them with voluntary cooperation.
5) Keep in mind the four interconnected "perspectives": the individual, the relational, the structural and the physical.
6) Critiques are valued, but are not the main focus.
7) Heartfelt conversations, holding both the needs of oneself and others, is the basis for it all.
8) All social constructs are impermanent and can be replaced with new ones if necessary.
9) Uniformity is not necessary for sufficient cooperation to be possible.
10) All associations are voluntary. Individuals can choose to leave groups and groups can also kick people out.
In other words, if you have a group of people choosing to live together or share resources on the basis of these ten principles, then you have a utopian anarchist intentional communitiy. It’s as simple as that, nothing more is required! Of course, there are infinitely more details to consider…
I would like to put some particular emphasis here on the fifth principle listed, "keep in mind the four interconnected "perspectives": the individual, the relational, the structural and the physical." What this means in practice is that people in this community would be supporting each other with their mental and emotional health, learning and personal development, they would also be putting particular time and energy towards the health of their communication and interpersonal relationships, they would be designing and maintaining social structures that reflect their values and they would also be mindful of the physical environment that they reside in and how that physical environment is affecting everybody as well as how they are affecting it and the nonhuman life that surrounds them.
One of the things that I have learned from the Nonviolent Global Liberation community that I’ve found to be a valuable insight is that there are five different areas that groups need to consciously design and attend to in order for the group to continue to function in a sustainable and harmonious way. These five areas are: decision-making, resource flow, information flow, feedback loops, and conflict engagement. I like the elaboration on these five areas that is spelled out in the form of questions on the NGL website in the article Aligning Systems With Purpose And Values. To quote from that:
"Decision Making: Who makes which decisions? Through what process? Who gives input? Who hears about which decisions?
Resource Flow: What resources exist? How are they generated? How are they distributed? What principles are used to decide the flow? Who makes the decisions?
Information Flow: What information is shared with whom? What mechanisms are used for sharing it?
Feedback Loops: Who gives feedback to whom? For what purpose? How? How often? What external feedback mechanisms will support learning about effectiveness in carrying out the mission?
Conflict Engagement: What support is available? What process is used for engaging with conflict? How can anyone initiate it? How is all that made known to people?"
All of these questions would need to be discussed and answered by the various members and participants of each community. I do not feel comfortable answering all these questions here as some detached individual speculating about some future hypothetical community. Rather, the real life people who feel personally invested in creating such communities would need to determine the answers to these questions by talking with each other. Throughout it all there would need to be the common intention of sharing power among everyone involved, maintaining a sense of heartfelt connection between everyone involved, keeping an awareness of everyone’s needs, and holding onto the ten guiding principles that I mentioned earlier.
There is then the matter of where these utopian anarchist communities would be located. Would they be rural or urban? Would they own the land or rent it? Would they be inside the United States or outside of it? Could they own multiple properties, or possibly not own anything? My answer to all of these questions and more is: it all depends.
I’ve come to view intentional communities as basically being all about the people involved, not about the land that they reside on. Don’t get me wrong, the land that they reside on is quite important, and the "Physical perspective" in the "Four Perspectives" model I give is all about looking at the various aspects of one’s direct physical environment, but still, without the people there is no community. I’ve come across countless people in my life who own great pieces of land with the intention of creating a community on it, but who have no actual people who want to live there as an intentional community together. It is all about the relationships between people, and the interconnecting web of relationships between people, that form communities. Land by itself doesn’t cut it.
That being said, the process of forming these communities should focus primarily on the relationships between people. The emphasis initially should be on people getting to know each other, getting to better understand the wishes and desires of everyone involved, to find the points of agreement and disagreement, to understand what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are, to understand what all of the needs are as well as what resources are available to potentially meet these needs. The physical location of a community can actually be a pretty malleable thing.
Here’s how I see it: as long as the people involved in an endeavor to create a utopian anarchist community are on the same page as far as their shared principles and the five areas of how the community structure is functioning, they can be living anywhere. Groups like this could own and live on land out in some rural area, or they could own a house in the suburbs. Groups like this could rent an apartment in a city, or they could be squatting an abandoned building or tract of land. Groups like this could even be homeless and camping in the streets or out in the woods. Groups like this could be mobile and traveling together in a big biodiesel bus, or they could traveling the world on a ship at sea, or they could be criss-crossing the country in large caravans of multiple vehicles. There are no limits to where and how these communities can be located in different places, the key thing is that the relationships for them are in place.
After writing my previous piece, Envisioning a Utopian Anarchism, a few questions emerged through discussions with various people about it. Here are some of the questions that most stand out to me:
1) What would the criteria for membership be for utopian anarchist communities and what are the non-membership options available for people to still be involved with these communities without being members?
2) When we are examining our fundamental human needs together how can we identify when and how the various ideologies that we are immersed in throughout our lives are consciously or unsconsciously influencing the ways in which we are looking at needs?
3) How can we ensure that there will be sufficient space for spontaneity, autonomy and flexibility for people within whatever agreements and structures are created?
4) What processes would be in place for changing the group structures if and when the need to do so arises?
5) Where is the threshold point for disagreement when it is no longer feasible for people to continue living in such a community?
Again, I do not have the answers to these questions. As is the case with a lot of what I’ve talked about here, the people who would actually be involved with such projects would need to discuss these things and come to common understandings and agreements among themselves about these matters. I just wanted to make sure to "flag" these questions, to make sure that they do not get overlooked and forgotten.
So, where does this all leave us now? What is the next step for forming real life utopian anarchist communities? Well, the next step as I see it is for like-minded people to find each other and start talking with each other. This process can look many different ways, and it can take place both in person and online. And if the like-minded people who find each other are in substantial disagreement on one matter or another, or if they are not compatible with each other for whatever reason, that’s okay. Hopefully this whole process of discerning can lead to there being more personal clarity on which areas of agreement and compatibility are essential in terms of what one is looking for, and which areas are not as important.
I have faith that over time, through these different ongoing contacts and conversations, both individual and group clarity can emerge and the beginnings of the relationships can be established that can lead to the creation of these communities. These groups can start out small at first, say "pods" of 5 – 8 people, and then over time organically expand until Dunbar’s Number is reached and the community splits into multiple communities. Likewise, I imagine that some degree of cross-over and collaboration between these different utopian anarchist communities will be happening as well.
This all seems quite big to me, like an enormous task, or rather, a series of related enormous tasks, with no guarantee that anything will ever work out. But regardless of that, I do still have a faith that based on all the knowledge, skills and resources that we have in the world today, that people have the ability to weave this all together to make it work. Everything that we need to make this all happen already exists, it is just a matter now of making the right connections, learning the right things, and building up the right relationships. Together we can do this.