Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Community as a Living Organism

At one of the visitor’s nights here, a young man was asking for details on how Ganas functioned.  He was curious about whether it could be replicated.

Earlier a few people were talking about the differences between Twin Oaks and Ganas.  After the visitor made the remark about replicating Ganas, I pointed out that one of the similarities between Twin Oaks and Ganas is that each is a unique community, in many ways different from just about any other community out there--and, naturally, different from each other.  And that was because each of them had changed significantly to be what they are.  Neither is what they were planned to be, each is what they grew to be.

People have mentioned in meetings that I’ve been in that Ganas was not even intended as a community.  It started as a group of people who were experimenting with a process (‘Feedback Learning’) and began living together in order to do this together.  It was only when a visitor remarked that they were an intentional community that Ganas took on this identity.

Twin Oaks was started as an attempt to replicate the fictional community described in BF Skinner’s novel Walden Two.  While a sharp eyed student of psychology could probably spot a few behavioral components to Twin Oaks even now, I doubt that Skinner would want to claim it if he was alive and few Twin Oakers think of themselves as behaviorist.  It’s more what you’d get if you took the behavioral paradise and turned it over to the care of a bunch of new age hippies and then let it mellow for nearly fifty years.

Both Mildred Gordon and Kat Kinkade (the more famous founders of Ganas and Twin Oaks, respectively) left the communities that they helped start, were often critical of what they became, and literally returned to their communities to die.  (Kat Kinkade was buried at TO.  Mildred Gordon died this past January and there was a memorial held for her in Manhattan in February.)

The point is that the communities didn’t turn out the way the founders thought they would.  Each community (and I think this is true of many other communities--Sandhill, Acorn, Dancing Rabbit, East Wind, The Farm, etc, etc) evolved and grew in its own fashion, in ways that the founders didn’t anticipate or even want.  And I think that this is what healthy communities do.  They develop a life of their own.

This is why mature communities aren’t replicable.  They have grown to be what they are.  No one would design a community like Twin Oaks or Ganas, just as they weren’t designed to be what they are.  They grew into it.  They evolved.

And this is important to remember.  Communities have life cycles, the way that people do and even the way that ant colonies do.  As a community matures, it changes.  It’s got to change.  If a community doesn’t change, it dies.

Quote of the Day:  “...life ... repairs, maintains, re-creates, and outdoes itself.” - Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan