The most controversial approval

The key to being a successful propagandist is not hiding your shadow sides.  In part because you want to be framing what others might be freaked out about.

When i give tours of the community i talk about several sensitive topics, including what i think the community does poorly.  I rant about how our decision making model is broken and how it took 20 years to locate our pond.  I discuss our cultural aversion to change and new ideas.  And given my long tenure at the commune, the trade offs are apparently working for me.

pond at TO

It took us decades to build it, but we are very happy with the pond

When i first came to Twin Oaks in the 1980’s i was at the height of my radical anarchist beliefs and what i really wanted to know was what one could not do in the community.  i looked at Twin Oaks as a mini-state and wanted to understand how it restricted my behavior as a possible member.

What was interesting was that no one in the community was thinking the way i was.  No one could tick off a list of restrictions the way i wanted them to, so i had to piece the list together myself.  It includes the following restrictions for on the communities campus (we dont care so much what do off the farm):

It is the last on this list which is the most controversial usually.  People don’t balk at the idea that a community might not want members to have guns.  If you understand income sharing, the part about not bringing in outside assets makes sense.  The TV thing is odd, but people get it.  But the community really thinks it has the right to tell prospective parents that they should not have a child?  We certainly do.

One piece of the explanation is that adding children to the community is a big deal.  The community provides thousands of hours of labor per year for the first four plus years of the child’s life, and many more thousands of dollars.  The even bigger point is that we want to be growing in a way that we are happy about and that we want to have families which have a high chance for success.  The community takes this responsibility pretty seriously and still this process occasionally creates big problems.

The process requires that 1) at least one of the prospective parents has lived in the community for 2 years or more (this need not be the mom) 2) that prospective parents interview all the parents of kids in the community who are under 5 years old to ask them about their experience 3) that the parents each have changed at least 20 diapers 4) they interview with the Child Board and 5) the parents go thru community input process. [I might have forgotten a step or three]

The community process is an input step where members tell the Child Board what they think of you as a parent.  This can be as hard as it sounds.  Generally speaking, most prospective parent glide through our pregnancy process.  As controversial as i was as a member, no one thought i was going to be a bad parent, or at least no one thought this was the right forum to express that.

Others have not been so lucky.  The Child Board, even before the community input step, told a prospective single mom that she needed to identify at least 3 other members who were willing to commit to 10 hours a week or more for her planned kid.  She did not find these co-parents and she left the community.  More painful was a mother and her new partner who was applying for her third child and almost everyone thought this was a good idea, but even a couple of peoples negative input caused this couple to feel their family unwelcome by the community and they left.

The community rarely says “no” to a pregnancy request.  When Twin Oaks was younger and poorer, we sometimes asked people to wait.  In my 14 years, except for the conditions placed on the single mom above, we have approved all requests.  [Importantly, provisional members who have gotten pregnant without approval have not chosen to stay, because it was clear they would not be accepted for full membership.]


We almost never say “no”, but you still have to ask

So what happens if you have an unplanned and desired pregnancy?  Technically not so much.  The community still pays for all aspect of the birth, the mom still gets all the pregnancy benefits.  The parents still get full child budgets.  We do ask parent who leave within 2 years of having an unplanned child to pay the community back for the costs of the pregnancy, if there were any.  If you stay more than 2 years after the birth there are no costs to the family, except for peoples upset that you did not go thru proper process.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

18 responses to “The most controversial approval”

  1. Cara Ziegel says :

    Huh – east wind was less organized. i had an accidental pregnancy. it was voted on and approved, but then i left within 2 years and there was no talk of money – even tho i ended up w an expensive hospital birth due to preeclampsya. but EW had had much more traumatic pregnancy decisions in the past.

  2. paxus says :

    Dearest Cara:

    Thanks for your story. I am not surprised at the difference between the communities in this case. East Wind (Twin Oaks sister community in Missouri – see has the capacity to vote on individual circumstances, like pregnancies. Twin Oaks does not make decisions this way, we have less direct methonds like input, which is not binding and often advisory to the Child Board or the planners.

    From a mother/family perspective the prospect of voting on child birth in the case of unplanned pregnancy likely seems cruel and unfair. From the community perspective, many fear being taken advantage of by people who dont go thru the known community process with respect to family planning.

    As with most interesting ethical questions, conflicting rights frames the discussion.

    Paxus in Death City
    16 Not Here 2012

  3. Sid says :

    If you had been in charge, fsvo in charge, what if anything would you have done differently in the two cases you outline? Do you think the policy works?

    In other restrictions, what do you think about outside income?

  4. Scott Busby says :

    Gigi and I had an unplanned pregnancy at Twin Oaks in 1988. I took care of most of the kids in the picture in your article. Everything turned out ok. I came to expect a bit of flak at just about anything. Simone is 23 now. Planning an unplanned pregnancy is a bit like a boss saying “From now on I want advance notice of all unplanned outages” (from Dilbert)

    • paxus says :

      Individuals planning for unplanned pregnancies is silly, communities planning for them is obvious, at least communities of any size, like us.

      As to what i would do differently, i am brainstorming a parents collecitve, whcih is responsible for the kids and once you are a member, you work with the collective to take care for the kids and you get accepted to the collective which then gives you that groups approval to be a parent.

      • SYD says :

        I noticed there are no women who’ve commented on this topic as far as I can tell. Note to add: if there is an unplanned pregnancy, particularly in a provisional period, there is pressure felt to get an abortion if member(s) want to stay. I know of at least two and would guess there were more that could be added to the facts about unplanned pregnancies at TO.

      • paxus says :

        We ask people to wait until they have been members for 2 years before they apply for pregnancy. The provisional membership period is 6 months long. Provisional members who get pregnant rightly feel like their chances of getting accepted as full members having skipped the process and ignored our agreements are reduced. No one is encouraging abortions, but certainly women have chosen to have them instead of risking not being accepted.

  5. Keenan Dakota says :

    I think that this approval process makes it much more likely that a child gets parents who really want to be parents and who are prepared to be parents. The world would be transformed into utopia if this were always true everywhere. An addition to your piece: even with an accidental pregnancy the parents still have to go through the same process. I am also surprised at how few accidental pregnancies there are, and these are mainly (like Scott and Gigi above) couples who the community would happily approve, but whose biological enthusiasm outstripped the slow communal process

    • paxus says :

      Thanks keenan, i am reworking this article for a larger post on Elephant Journal, so these corrections are important. And it is true that being unplanned does not exempt you from the regular process is you are planning on staying

  6. Keenan Dakota says :

    A comment about prohibitions: Your list isn’t even close to complete, in fact the list of prohibitions is almost infinite: You can’t hit anyone. You can’t have sex with a child. You can’t try to sell the cars and keep the money. You can’t play loud music after quiet hours. You can’t take all the bowls out of the dining hall. You can’t dig up the garden… I think that this sort of framework–what is prohibited–is pretty pointless.

    • paxus says :

      Hmmm. Here i want to disagree (about the prohibitions) what i am looking for is the list which is useful to someone who is thinking about living with us, what makes us different from the mainstream. You cant have sex with kids or sell other peoples cars in Babylon, this would not surprise anyone – that you cant watch TV or own a gun, these things might actually influence some peoples choice about the community. quiet hour violations and “borrowing” bowls from the dining hall are not going to run you seriously afoul of the culture – spark a feedback or more – using outside assets and having an unplanned pregnancy will. And you are tight i need to define my lists purpose more

      • Gordon says :

        Other things you can’t do:
        Pets – it takes a long time to “get” a dog, and it better be well behaved (by T.O. standards). Probably you couldn’t ever have a noisy bird in most residences.
        Overt political statements that are out of line w T.O. values — e.g. nazi or confederate symbols on yr bedroom door. (this hasn’t been tested, but I suspect a member would get a serious hard response)
        Public pornography.

  7. Dan Kappus says :

    I’m speaking out of school here, not having lived at TO, much less lived there for most of a lifetime (Keenan). Something I noticed as a visitor is that people really do have a lot of freedom. There are rules, but the main consequence of not following the rules is that people will make the, eh, violator’s life difficult. Short of kicking someone out– a process that I understand has never been undertaken from start to finish– consequences consist almost entirely of ostracism.

    There are no other ways to “punish” actions taken in bad faith. Co could get to the end of a feedback process, be asked to sign a contract, and refuse, or sign a contract and then just not follow it.

    The key is there is no way to come up with an all-inclusive list of ways to incur the wrath of the communards. A list of which things are likely, based on experience, to cause such strength of ostracism that a person might leave is a little more acheivable. I’m morbidly curious about that list.

    On the other hand, maybe I’d be more fascinated about how one could be an awesome communard, loved or even grudgingly respected by most, after decades. What causes people to feel so beloved they’d stay?

    Sorry if I’m speaking out of turn– this is your home, and I’m just a spectator.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Dan:

      Please dont be sorry, i write this blog in large part so that we (Twin Oaks) can be better understood and more transparent in our workings. Your questions are observations (especially here on the blog itself, rather than in the more limited Facebook comments) are especially welcome and encouraged.

      What makes a loved communard? Well that could be its own blog post. It is not an easy thing actually, it is certainly not enuf to work hard, there are lots of people who do that who are not widely loved. Tho working certainly helps. When i look at people who were popular in the community culture they tend to be friendly, non-political (internal politics that is), good workers, and most of them are women. If they take on leadership roles, then the listen more than they talk.

      That is what i have this morning for you.

      Paxus in Death City
      17 Not Here 2012

  8. Brian Adler says :

    Pax, is there a precedent for two members away on PAL getting pregnant (while on PAL) and being prevented from returning because of the pregnancy? When our PALs expired we didn’t have plans to return. But out of curiosity I inquired if returning would be problematic and was told it most likely would be. I didn’t give it much thought since we didn’t actually want to return at the time, but I did wonder about the issue it raised.

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