Intentional Communities

An intentional community (www.ic.org) is a group of people who have chosen to live together with the intention that their community will have certain attributes, values, etc. which may differ from society at large.  I think intentional communities could be a good solution to some of our society’s problems.

When people hear the phrase intentional community, if they do at all, they tend to think it must be something like a hippie commune.  Certainly, a hippie commune is an intentional community, but it’s not the only kind.  A much different type is co-housing.  In co-housing, there are a bunch of single family houses owned separately by individuals or families.  People have normal jobs outside the community.  Each household has its own finances.  People do not share their income or property with the community.  It’s pretty much a suburban neighborhood, except that the people who choose to live there want to live in a neighborhood where people know their neighbors and do things together like barbequeues and movie nights.

People who want to live in that kind of neighborhood have increasingly found that if they just buy a house in some random suburban neighborhood it will most likely not be that kind of neighborhood.  So the only way they can find what they want is to set out intentionally to create it.  This is the core meaning of intentional communities.  What the community is like can be whatever the members want.

There are countless attributes that people may want out of an intentional community.  They may want to live in a more environmentally sustainable way.  They may want their community to follow religious values.  They may want to achieve communitarian economic goals.  They may want a certain kind of social life.  The common thread is that these goals are hard for an individual to achieve all by himself, but are much easier for a community of like minded people.

This is what interested me in the idea of intentional communities.  In my day to day world I’ve often felt trapped when I wanted anything different from the mainstream.  For example, I would love to live in a place where I could walk or bike everywhere.  Unfortunately, in America modern towns are set up for the convenience of cars.  Wide streets, big parking lots and spread out zoning plans make places further away from each other than they have to be.  It’s no problem if you have a car, just step on the gas.  But if you want to walk or bike it’s a real pain.  To make it convienent to walk or bike everywhere you would lay out the whole town completely differently.  This is not something that I can choose to do all by myself.

I really feel trapped.  I can try to live in a more bike friendly town, but at the same time I’m trying to find a nice house that I can afford close to a job that I can get, in an area of the country that I like.  Most of the time I wind up stuck with what I can get.  If you want what the mainstream has to offer there’s lots of it available, but if you want something different it’s not available, or you have to go far out of your way to get it.

My idea for a solution is to have lots and lots of incredibly varied intentional communities.  These communities would be villages of a few hundred to a few thousand people within a metropolitan area.  The purpose is to increase freedom by increasing the set of available options that people have to choose from.

Being part of a community would make it easier to achieve certain goals.  For example, let’s say you want to buy environmentally friendly products, but it’s hard to tell the true environmental cost of something by looking at the packaging, and you worry about companies greenwashing their products, marketing them as environmentally friendly when they are not.  As an individual, if you spend 1/10% of your time researching environmentally friendly products you have about 10 minutes per week, barely enough time to do a little web surfing.  If a community of 1000 people spends 1/10% that’s one full time person who can be dedicated to that job, and the information they learn can be used by all 1000.

These intentional communities could exist within a very libertarian framework  Basically, libertarianism would be the lowest common denominator that would govern interaction between communities, but within a community people could decide that they want a different vision of how people should interact.  And if a person just wanted to be an individual in a libertarian society they could not join any community.

Ironically, this is a very libertarian idea.  A libertarian framework, and voluntary personal associations.  The difference I would have with libertarians is that I would not support the libertarian lowest common denominator framework unless the intentional communities existed so that someone who doesn’t want to live in a libertarian society has some alternatives to choose from.

2 comments ↓

#1 Joe Locke on 07.09.09 at 3:08 pm

Great post. I love the idea of intentional community and have even had the opportunity to participate in some. I have some qualms about freedom solely as choice.

I know its been well discussed on this blog, but society must be such that these choices can be realized- not just that the choices exist, but that people have sufficient power and resources to follow through with what they so chose, providing it does not infringe upon the rights of others.

I think that a libertarian frame work would work on the political level, but economically it creates such conditions where the rich determine what their communities will look like and intentionally neglect poor communities.

Through the power of community, the poor can achieve a lot, even when their communities are neglected. They can even take collective action and demand to not be neglected. However, they are still begging, in a sense, if fundamental and systematic changes do not occur.

Decentralization is great, as are intentional communities, but we must take this a step further and demand that power and resources be distributed in manner which is fair and just. So, libertarian: yes. libertarian-capitalist: no. Personally, I keep coming back to libertarian-socialism when I think about these things.

#2 Bob Steinke on 07.13.09 at 2:29 pm

Joe,

This is an interesting difference in our views.

My vision is that intentional communities would be able to use their economic bargaining power more effectively, or be more self sufficient and thus less succeptible to the power of others, or even trade only within networks of communities with similar values.

Basically, I think having a critical mass of intentional communities could go a long way towards solving the problems of fairness and lack of control over what options are available that exist in our current economic system.

It sounds like you think that won’t be sufficient by itself.

I will admit that what I’m hoping is true of intentional communities is exactly what was hoped for from the individual right to own property. That turned out to be a great improvement, the poor today are better off than serfs under the feudal system, but it was not a complete solution to the problem.

But I hope intentional communities would be a complete solution. We can’t know for sure yet that they won’t. We should keep this difference in mind and check to see how well it works if any of this ever gets implemented. That’s better than enforcing conformity to ideological dogma.

One qualm I would have with any alternative system that prohibits capitalism would be how do you protect the freedom of those who want to live in a libertarian-capitalist system?

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