Spaceships trump Lifeboats

There is a conversation which Acorn has about membership that Oakers basically don’t ever have.  It is the spaceship versus lifeboat conversation.

lifeboat versus spaceships

Lifeboat proponents say that industrial capitalism is destroying the planet and chances for survival are slim.  And that Acorn represents a lifeboat for people who are trying to escape this disaster.  Correspondingly, your humanitarian nature drives you to try to get as many people into the lifeboat as possible and you don’t judge your fellow survivor based on their abilities or merits, instead you welcome them and try to integrate them the best you can.brazilian-rain-forest-destruction

The spaceship crowd (which i am a long believer of) says we are looking for the best people to take on this mission we are going on.  In fact the success of the mission is dependent in large part on us selecting people who have the complex mix of skills and gifts we need to make this journey work well.    Some of them are organizers, some of them are inspiring artists and performers, some of them garden and fix things, still others manage computers, cook and take care of and teach kids.

When i was going through my Acorn clearnesses, one member said to me “i like you okay, but i think anyone who wants to should be able to live here, regardless of my opinion of them.”  This is a classic lifeboat position.  At Twin Oaks, we are not having this discussion.  We are spaceship believers and we select people largely based on their sociability, their work ethic and their skills.

i know this feeling

i know this feeling

When i was talking with GPaul about this division i posited that “In this debate the spaceship crowd wins, right?  Because any single member can block someone new from joining, so if the lifeboat clan wants everyone, the spaceship faction simply rejects prospective members they don’t want and they get their way.”

GPaul was quick to correct me; it is not so simple.  You cannot just run over the will of a group in the community regularly and there are people who the “lifeboaters” get excited about when they are in their visitor periods who they really are excited about having as members, even if they don’t want to be blocking others out.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

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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.

23 responses to “Spaceships trump Lifeboats”

  1. moonraven222 says :

    I think we need both ‘spaceships’ and ‘lifeboats’, we need communities that model what can be done, and we need places for everyone who wants to be in community. Fortunately, there is a diversity of community. And when there isn’t enough room for everyone, that’s just a sign we need more communities.

  2. Ed, ex-T.O. says :


    I’m curious, of the Acorn visitors that don’t have enough skills to satisfy the spaceshipers, what percent are typically accepted because the life-boaters are enthusiastic about a visitor?

    Though I agree that this wasn’t a much discussed issue at T.O., I’d argue that sociability, a good work ethic, and some skills are the key requirements for a spaceship crew member. Most new members have these basics and find ways, including leaning new skills, to become an asset to the community.

    For me, this issue grew large mostly when I contemplated the future. What would we do if capitalism caused a calamity in our time? We would likely see waves of refuges from urban areas moving to the countryside and our doorstep. How many could our lifeboat rapidly absorb and sustainably support? How many who can’t or won’t contribute much to the collective need? Would the community reach agreement on a population cap? Would many life-boaters become more selective? Would we, as a non-violent community, be able to effectively say “no” to anyone who sees us as their only lifeline, even if we all agreed that one more person in need could sink us all?

    Ed ex-T.O. (which included years on the membership team)

    • paxusPaxus says :

      Dearest Ed:

      I ahve not been around watching the Acorn process to see what the percentages of anything are. But my definition will not make it easy to answer your question. As a confirmed astronaut, the “skill set” for inclusion is not just
      who can fix and build things, manage computers, garden and cook. There are networking players who make things happen which are greater than their own skills and lovely talented people who might be musical, but might just really be lovely to have around and make other people significantly more happy. I want them on the spaceship, despite not having an identifiable “skill set” in classical terms.

      We agree on the basic attributes to be a spaceship member at Twin Oaks.

      All good questions. The only one which TO and Acorn ahve answered in the short term is the one about population cap. TO currently has 93 possible member slots (which is the number of adult rooms we have) and Acorn is wanting only 30 members tops, despit enot currently having that many bed rooms.

      And as with many things, Acorn is happy to fudge the numbers for middle term interns hwo sleep outside and dont count as members, or associate members who move in and out unpredictably and also do not deplete the room stock.

      Paxus at Twin Oaks
      21 Early FLowers 2013

  3. Andrew says :

    I am one of a small group of people in Minnesota that has been gathering many, many resources in efforts to begin a community in Northern Minnesota. We’ve named it Aurora in celebration of the northern light display. We’ve pitched a few heated debates as to how we will handle the membership process. I tend to be on the side of “spaceship” because I find the idea of the lifeboat Idealistic, but hardly pragmatic.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Andrew:

      Good luck with Aurora (which is what we call the residence where our visitors stay – but named for the past community with the same name). If you are interested in finding new members, or presenting about your place you should consider coming to the Twin Oaks Communties Conference (see on Labor Day weekend in Sept

      Paxus in Santa Cruz
      22 Early Flowers 2013

      • Andrew Sosa says :

        I have already spoken with the clan about making an appearance. I will get more information when I come visit acorn in April. We have so much to learn and so many fresh perspectives to experience. Thank you for this blog post! It ruffled a few feathers it would seem, the comments have been very captivating. I enjoyed hearing what everyone had to say!

  4. artisanhenna says :

    is there a position in between these two? maybe a zeppelin crowd? i’m indifferent to new folks even if i may not see myself being friends with them. some folks i’m excited about. but if a potential new co would Destabilize or Detract from the overall functionality of the community, as opposed to holding steady or improving it, then that’s a bad risk. aside from the question of the overall strength of the community and how effective/badass/powerful you can be if you were Really selective, there is the bottom line question of community survival. to me, that wins out. if you were a lioness and this new co was in your litter, would you eat it to prevent it a pathetic death due to runt status or weakness later on? or does it have what it takes to at least eke out an existence within the pack?

    and not only that, but given mainstream values, i often weigh folks based on how i expect them to affect my life as an individual. even if we want to live differently or disagree on various issues, are they a threat to my personal wellbeing? can we hold enough respect for each other to have a basic trust that neither of us will negatively impact the others’ life in a significant way? if yes, then they’re worth the risk, worth whatever skills they have or the time it takes them to find their skillset and develop it.

    i also think this question is to some extent community specific. it depends on the width of your purpose/mission, and whether that encompasses nourishing mainstream’s castoffs and giving them space to evolve, or selecting for above average co’s to give your work a jump start and save yourself a potentially long period of community vulnerability.

    • paxus says :

      Zeppelin Crowd, i love it. i dont think we are to the Darwinistic state in which we have to eat our runts. And i think you are right on about the need to be selective and looking at the great good to the group. i would like to think as a recruiter i am not simply picking personal favorites, but looking at what someone can offer and what the community needs, even if the person is not exactly my cup of tea.

  5. Allen Butcher says :

    In my 12 years in Federation communities, membership issues were some of the most difficult. Having the Lifeboat-Spaceship dichotomy to explain different perspectives is the most helpful framing of the issue I can recall ever seeing.

    With that understanding the question is what is the next step in addressing the problem, beyond a better definition for it?

    I used to think that everyone had some value, and who am I to refuse anyone, so I just left the issue up to others to decide, trusting the group and its processes. The problem of course is that not everyone can do that since the result would be “open land,” and I did see the value in membership selection.

    Yet I wonder if perhaps that is the solution. Lifeboaters can simply leave the issue up to the Spaceshipers, because there are always those who are happy to make the decision to accept or refuse an applicant. If it were possible to vote in the affirmative for an applicant this suggestion is not relevant, yet as far as I know the only votes cast are negative, with the assumption that everyone not voting “no” accepts the applicant.

    Of course, all this emphasizes the institutional aspect of communal society, where like a business people have to apply and take their chances. Unlike cohousing, for example, where a new member just needs the money to buy in, communal society is more of an affinity-based form of community and money has nothing to do with it. So the need in communal society is to stress the affinity issue, and give applicants feedback periodically through their provisional period so that they will have an idea about their standing before it is too late for them to address issues.

    Of course, there are times when a communal group would take in anyone who applied. Such is the case at East Wind much of the time. And that has been a problem, from time-to-time. It is suggested that that is the main reason why EW dropped its communal childcare program. The community failed to select against irresponsible people, and a child died because of it.

    So for Lifeboat types, perhaps that is a lesson to be emphasized. If the community fails to be selective, terrible things can happen. If Lifeboaters are seriously concerned about some members whom they believe are too selective, then it may be helpful to consider changing the voting process so that positive votes can outweigh negative votes, perhaps with a super-majority. Of course, then there is the issue of campaigning for votes, which most people want to avoid. Yet a community can periodically change its membership process according to the needs of current members, it does not have to stick to one method all the time, when there is compelling reason to change policies.

  6. cardin seabrook says :

    acorn is not an empty boat. its not a good analogy because acorn has an infrastructure; a long history and a seed business that is very valuable, connecting it with the larger world. Maybe it should be spaceship vs tree house or cruse ship vs tree house… Or big farm vs tree house collective

    • paxus says :

      @ Cardin:

      lol. indeed it is not an empty boat in any metaphor. And we have a bunch of tree houses in the back yard, courtesy of some of Acorns stranger benefactors.

      Paxus in Santa Cruz
      22 early Flowers 2013

  7. Ali says :

    Interesting that this was your topic for today as the “recruitment” conversation I told you about earlier had a heated discussion of this very issue. First, I disagree that we at Twin Oaks don’t have this conversation. Maybe not “as a community,” but I have only lived at T.O for 3 months and have already had this conversation 3 times with different members (and visitors). I like the metaphor but don’t necessarily agree with the dichotomy, I see it more as a “fit” issue; you may or may not be an astronaut, but if you align with our values, we’re much more likely to accept you than if you don’t. I wish there were plenty of lifeboats out there so everyone could find a good fit and maybe someday there will be, until then maybe it’s necessary to have space programs so the models can persist long enough to build more?

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Ali:

      Okay, perhaps the conversation about lifeboats has sparked up some. Bt unlike Acorn, there is not a significant minority of people who reject the selection process in favor of a “take everyone” approach. If there is a “fit” to be found, they you are an astronaut.

      i hope Florida is treating you as well as California is treating me

      Paxus in Santa Cruz
      22 Early Flowers 2013 | Eros

  8. comadreinchoate says :

    Here at Little Flower, I think we’re pretty much of a life boat, but that’s partially because our experience has been that you don’t really know someone until you live with them, and some who seem ideal just don’t fit, while others who seemed dubious become family.
    I’m happy to see these discussions happening, and continue to meet people every day who have no idea there are any lifeboats or spaceships.

    • Ian Mayes says :

      Yeah, I was going to say that the Catholic Worker movement in general seems to be based on the life boat model.

  9. Eric says :

    In the space ship model, if an enthused person wants to join and has a mix of skills like carpentry, a green thumb, communication, cooperativeness, organizational, promotional, hard-working etc, but is approaching, say 50 years of age, would that person run a chance of rejection? I know your community isn’t an insurance company, but does it have to think like one from time to time in it’s selection process I wonder? Any light you can shed would be appreciated.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Eric:

      Sadly, Twin Oaks has resurrected our “age cap” policy, which creates an extra step for people who are applying over the age of 54. i personally hate this policy and think it does nothing actually other than damage our reputation and make us appear even more agist than we are.

      So at least in terms of Twin Oaks, the short answer to your question is “yes”. i would not discourage you (or someone like you) from visiting and i would warn you this policy (described here:

      Paxus in VA Beach
      24 Seed Pricing 2013

  10. The Dude says :

    This sounds like a false dichotomy(you must choose spaceship or lifeboat). Why choose at all? Just build enough lifeboats for everyone. Put all the stinky people on one boat, all the old people on another, all the parents with kids on another, etc. At Twin Oaks, people need to realize that age is relative and people live a long time now with great health. That 80 year old guy that can still chop wood can also help other 80 year old guys that can’t. That single mom with 3 kids would gladly exchange babysitting duties 10 other single moms/dads.

    • paxus says :

      You try building some lifeboats and get back to me. It is not a false dichotomy, unless you believe that everyone has infinite time to do what ever they like – which has not been my experience.

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