While proctoring an LSAT at the Cambridge Kaplan Center yesterday, I read the majority of a delightful book by Hilaire Belloc entitled An Essay on the Restoration of Property and it sparked a solidification of many ideas that have been mulling for several years now. I thought I would share them with you all, and give a few titles that have contributed to these thoughts.
Some/many of you have heard us mention/discuss/rave about an idea we've been kicking around about a community of families, living in rough proximity to each other, working in the world yet, at the same time, maintaining a strong spiritual, economic, ecologic, and familial haven for the growth and development of ourselves, our friends, and our children. In our increasingly complex world, it is becoming harder and harder to live a fully integrated and moral life within the structures, the schemes of recurrence, the webs of the world. Tracing the lines of each decision leads to places many of us only experience first-hand in our nightmares. Hence this withdrawal from practicality to save practicality.
Having seen The Village and read stories about super-families w/in strange cults, I want to dispel any ideas that this will be "cut off" from the world in that sense. While some geographic and certainly ideological distance will occur in the implementation of this dream, the key feature of it, is to "rest up," to change, to enrich, to reinvigorate in the micro in order to bring about change in the macro, in the short term in order to bring about change in the long term. Utter removal from the course of world is a good thing, in many respects: just look at the rich monastic traditions in the world's great religions. However, for the family, I do not think that such a choice respects the freedom of the children, nor fully understands the call (inherent to many of the great religions, particularly to Christianity) to change the paradigm we live in.
What would this community consist in? Here are a few (by no means exhaustive) features that have arisen in conversation over the several years we've considered it:
- Food: Having read Omnivore's Dilemma, and the host of excellent literature surrounding that tome, we're more than a little leery of the whole food situation in the US. Having a farm to grow nearly all of the food we would need is high on our list of priorities. Better health, better lifestyle, better whole.
- Green: I know the whole "green" lifestyle is really in, for a host of good and poor reasons. Our reasons for going green, really green, even really, really green, are legion, but primarily, we're not fans of paying for things we can produce ourselves without damage to the ecosystem, other people, and life in general. See the whole "oriented toward the long term" speech above.
- Community: We've found that community is a vastly important element in real, holistic, human living and this community would provide a source to foster that growth in a host of ways, from geographic proximity, to a sharing of costs in a Schumacherian land/house buying scheme, to providing shared resources in farming/schooling/living.
- Spiritual: Having an organic basis for life helps reorient one's whole being to the most fundamental aspects of life, the Great Dance to which we are all called to be a part, but are so often driven away by the urgent unimportant.
- Social: As I will show later, once the groundwork for this community is laid, like the smaller unit of the family, it has the potential to be a profound source of solace for anyone coming into relation with it: guest houses, homes for the elderly or homeless, soup kitchens from our local produce... once the means of production has left the hands of the macro and been taken back into the hands of the micro, the family, the possibilities move at the speed of thought.
Anyway, that is a short list of ideas that come along with this notion of a community.
Pipe dreams, Taylor, Pipe dreams! Perhaps, but I think not. Here is a plan to make it more concrete, I did, after all, minor in Entrepreneurial Leadership and am heading to Law School in the fall... though Philosophy can be concrete too ;)
Concreteness: (for the Good is concrete)
I've broken up the venture into three primary phases: 1) Beginnings, 2) Building, 3) Giving.
1) Beginnings: Like any venture, the first phase will be the most difficult, so first, a note on organization.
We'll begin by forming an LLC, that is, a limited liability company, to buy a significant amount of arable land, near a relatively large urban center. (Amount & arable-ness is important for the farming aspect, the urban center for jobs, particularly university... though the exact location is easily negotiable). The beauty of the LCC structure is that it allows people to buy in or out, really own the land, have a better tax position, establishes a formal relationship between community members, and provides for a intelligible unit for dealing with "outside" entities, such as the IRS, or other things.
The startup phase will require the most resources as well, because of the slow transition to farming, the need for a large amount of land, and the usually high startup cost of many renewable energy sources. Also it will require a lot of patience with the transition to a radically different lifestyle.
2) Building: To a certain extent, there is no definite line between these two phases, but they are distinct in practice.
Once our schemes of recurrence start kicking in: food, energy, and housing costs will shrink dramatically, allowing for our disposable income to develop more communal aspects and set up the conditions for the schemes to recur. How will the costs shrink? Partially due to the land/housing setup, partially due to very low energy costs, partially due to negligible food costs, and largely due to our hard work in both starting this community and still working "real" wage-paying jobs.
3) Giving: The Saving, Giving, Developing Stage.
Having set up our own recurring scheme, we can solidly begin really reaching out as a community and building resources for the future of the community and our children.
Speaking of children, a side note on them: a danger of this setup is the preparation of our children for a solid economic transition to life, education, work, etc. once they are ready to set off into the deep. Many of the communities like the one we are discussing, do not really respect the freedom of their children, in the sense that life within the community is set up, but there is no real, healthy way to transition to life "outside" the community. College costs are high, little work experience, culture shock... the list goes on. Part of this problem will be solved by having a more permeable barrier than most communities, the other part will take careful work through all three stages, but particularly in stage three. Building resources for an easy transition for our children, or those whose work we see as valuable and worth supporting (eg scholars, not-for-profit orgs). Freedom from debt is a huge gift in helping people begin life, not just economic life, but moral and spiritual life as well. Planning and sacrificing for this is a necessary element in the recurrence of this scheme of community. However, an element of this community and the strength of communal living, while still participating in the world is the way in which resources can build. With little to no housing, energy, and food costs, we will be able to sock a lot away.
Is this idealized? Are there going to be hard questions that arise? Of course. Nothing worth having is ever easy. But, it is possible, and oh, so worth trying.
A Short Reading List:
The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs
The Unsettling of America, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, and Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Small is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher
An Essay on the Restoration of Property by Hilaire Belloc
The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour