What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

Grim got me going on my favorite daydream: how to reconstruct society after the collapse. Yes, I know I'm just re-enacting an early childhood existential catastrophe, so sue me. I still find post-apocalyptic fantasies engaging, and I'm not alone.

My husband, whom I met and married when we both lived in a communal household, sent me this Atlantic piece about the revival of communes. People who tried them out in youth are re-thinking them in retirement. It's sort of a return to the village or clan, at a time of disenchantment with broken families and anonymous suburbs or apartment complexes. I was particularly taken with the thought experiment of "Who would come if I stood out in my front yard and yelled for help?" I know what would happen here, or what would have happened in our old communal home; I'm less sure what would have happened in the suburb we inhabited in the interim.

We spent long years on our own experiment, which wasn't even a true income-sharing commune, just a way of sharing some living expenses in close quarters. I guess if a flaw in the system could be found, we found it, repeatedly. In our semi-dotage, though, we continue to flirt with the idea, the more so whenever the world threatens to collapse personally or societally.

We're not really cut out for it, I suppose: too solitary and wrapped up in each other, a Bokonan "duprass," as Kurt Vonnegut would say.


Anonymous said...

"I guess if a flaw in the system could be found, we found it, repeatedly."

Would you care to elaborate on this flaw? Seems you had quite an interesting experience, and I'm genuinely curious about it, pros and cons, actually.

douglas said...

Well, I'd suspect that it would be some form of the tragedy of the commons. This is why the nuclear family first, then the extended family secondarily, have been the backbone to human social existence throughout history. You need the largest group that can still be held accountable to each other in a meaningful way, and that turns out to be pretty small- family. Anything bigger, and you start seeing the tragedy of the commons problem seep in to levels that quickly become problematic.

I think the only communes that seem to work fairly well are the religious communities, where they have a commitment to strong convictions binding them together. Anything less than that and it seems to not be enough. Just ask the OWS kids.

Texan99 said...

There were of course the commonplace problems of reaching consensus in any group of a dozen or so equals. A bigger problem was that an expense-sharing community inevitably attracts a higher-than-normal percentage of seemingly normal people who will move in and then go limp on the community as soon as a little bad luck hits. So almost every month there would be at least one person, maybe two, who couldn't manage to make the costs of food and shelter his number financial priority. He'd know he was unlikely to be evicted immediately (how can you be so mean, etc.), and the rest of us would make up the difference to the landlord.

Then, of course, with a dozen twenty-somethings living together, the whole thing is one non-stop Peyton Place.

The tragedy of the commons is a real problem; forget about leaving a tool out and expecting to get it back in one piece! There also was the resentment of the over-achievers against the slackers when there are "necessary" improvements to be done, and the corresponding resentment of the slackers against the over-achievers who want to pass the hat for "inessential" public projects. A little microcosm of the state.

Those are just the pitfalls. Mostly I loved it.

douglas said...

As I recall, you can tolerate a lot of problems when you're young if you're also having 'fun'. That doesn't seem to balance out so well when you're older...

MikeD said...

To be fair, it's not the peace, love and understanding I object to. It's the lack of hygiene prevalent among that crowd (note, I do not say "universal to that crowd").