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Digital Iron Lips

There was a time before the internet. Many of my younger friends have some difficulty believing this is true or at least understanding how it might work. There is a story i often tell about a particularly dramatic job offer i got and then arriving at work before i got my job offer by crossing the international dateline. To buy that airplane ticket, because there was no internet and because i was in a hurry, I went to the Sydney airport and walked around the ticket offices until i found the next flight out.

From Sydney to Honolulu – 24 hours Time Shift

While it is inconceivable to consider how we would run small business these days without computers, but early in the life of Twin Oaks, the decision to computerize our businesses was internally quite contentious. These days we are regularly looking for ways to use software and hardware to reduce or simplify our human labor.

This year Twin Oaks Validation Day made the jump to automate the six creatures game. If you are unwilling to click through to these links, let me summarize these cultural constructs you are possibly unfamiliar with. One of the best parts of big complex full service communities like Twin Oaks is we get to completely redesign holidays. Valentines day is a horrifically flawed event, so we redesigned it. Specifically, we made it principally about affirmation (which can be given to everyone) and secondarily about romance. This helps make the event inter-generational and accessible to all. We create validation day cards, which are like love letters from many people sharing the same collage container.

While it hardly seems daring in the age of Tinder, the 6 creatures game is a way people who are attracted to each other to find each other without indicating their attractions. The way it used to work is the players would fill out ballots for which of 6 different types of dates you are looking for with the people on the ballots. The creatures/date types are:

1 ) Ants – work dates

2) Puppies – play dates

3) Kittens – cuddle dates

4) Fish – kiss at the party

5) Rabbits – Sex date

6) Doves – Long term relationship

After the ballots are all gathered a trusted member (named iron lips) finds all the matches and lets people know of only their matches. Iron Lips is selected because they are very good at keeping keeping secrets. This game has sparked quite a few new romantic relationships.

Digital Iron Lips ?

This year the person of Iron Lips was replaced by an app. The six creature ballots were never seen by anyone other than the people who wrote them, their shared matches were spit out and given to members who were excited to see what shared possibilities exist.

An Empire of Vacant Lots

“All the trash comes here” Wolvie replied when i asked why they wanted to be in New Orleans. As a scavenger and builder from free materials, this is the carpenters equivalent of having a free lumber yard. But they went on to explain the much richer and complex relationship between the punks of this town and material wealth. It caught my ear because it centered around sharing.

wet chairs

Wet chairs in a stylish vacant lot

The informal collection of people living in conventional housing and shacks and vehicles functions in many ways like the intentional communities i am more used to. Cars are lent for long periods, instead of buying or renting tools a distributed informal library provides for these needs, and friends are invited to move in. Wolvie comments that it provides access to the culture and services of intentional community, but they can still retreat to their own private space at the end of the day.

anarchist wall art

The art and propaganda above Ruby’s desk

I visit a collection of punk homesteads where different “rent” models comfortably co-exist. Some folks are squatting, others renting, some residents are paying back taxes on abandoned properties in hopes of securing ownership of them eventually, still others have succeeded in owning places. The people i am introduced to flow between these housing options as luck, circumstance and employment permit. Work seems often to be gig based, to fit in with peoples needs for traveling or activism.

The names of collective properties make me smile: Kitty Meow Town, Liability Park and Squatopotomus. This flat rainy city is ideal for bikes and i have several offers for bikes to borrow in my first couple of hours in town.

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Over a decade after hurricane Katrina, the effects of the disaster are often visible. “We have moved from shock capitalism to disaster tourism” Catrina tells me, referring to Naomi Klein’s brilliant book Shock Doctrine. Construction is everywhere.
“I am becoming a boat punk.” Wolvie confesses. And within an hour of this confession we are off rescuing abandoned barges of the St John’s bayou.  Credit goes to Ruby for convincing the nay-saying boys that we could get these barges out of the water and loaded onto the truck.

barge on land

Ruby surveys our success.

With the help of a passing runner we landed this barge which had been built for a recent raft race and left behind. We are particularly excited by the US american flag paint job and make shift paddles.

Wolvie and Ruby on barge

“It is battery powered” jokes Wolvie.

NOLA is a party town. We stop at a Melba’s a laundromat/restaurant/bar which serves inexpensive frozen daiquiris and i find myself slightly smashed in the late afternoon. Mardi Gras is not just for tourists, the whole city celebrates for weeks with parades and musical performances and pub crawls. The colorful fabric of this place is woven by mixing diverse cultures and taking it to the streets.

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The piano has been drinking, and it is on fire.

All this begs the question, “Can we mimic the benefits of intentional residential community in scattered punk microvillages?” The New Orleans punk scene with its generous material cooperation, low cost and no cost housing, binding festivals and cultural events, and inexpensive social lubricants makes a compelling case.

why i am an anarchist

anarchism is the ultimate intellectual and ethical high wire act without a net.  it starts with rejecting the principle extant political institutions and dominant paradigms – but to get very far you need to build something. you need not build based on great thinkers of the past (tho some are available).  you can go where you find your passion and create something based on what you experience as true.  it is a broad anti-orthodoxy and thus everyone has their own slightly different personal flavor.  this is mine, i hope you like it.

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i share.  perhaps the greatest challenge to the dominant political models is the idea that you do not have to possess things exclusively. widespread change in only this cultural value could result in a far more economically just world, using the same or fewer resources. i own little myself and live in places where material things are held in common.

anarchism deals with more than just the physical. feminism is about sharing power. it is training people to listen, helping the quiet find voice, flattening hierarchy and finding consensus – this is the beginning of building justice.  i like the adage that anarchism is the philosophy and feminism is the practice.

polyamory is sharing lovers – i do not claim sole rights to my intimates, and they as well have other lovers. i find it a great poison that intimacy should be locked up and made exclusive. it is the commodification of love. some of the hardest work of my life has been moving thru jealousy,  balancing time and establishing clear communication.

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radical spirituality is about sharing the planet with all of its life forms and respecting their rights.  as pagans we seek to build relevant rituals. we explore how to move symbols and create meaning.  this is the reclaiming of magic from the scientists and spirituality from the church. it also dovetails with environmental politics and the development of the connection to things greater than the self. these are the critical extensions of our language and culture we need to evolve.

i am a communard – i choose to live in an intentional community, where we work and live together, sharing income and resources, we build our own buildings, grow much of our own food organically, we don’t use money internally. there are basically no locks, no tv and virtually no crime. it is far from utopia – we have little shared vision, for example – but it is working model of what can be.

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anarchism is embracing flexible strategies in face of structural dilemmas. a central example is the prefigurative politics versus the “length of the fuse” debate.  it is intellectually attractive to say “we will limit the tools we use now for the social change to the ones we want to still have in our new society.” violence and property destruction are the tactics most often excluded by this reasoning.  the length of the fuse argument is “if you are running out of time to change things you need to use fast tools”. sadly, prefigurative approaches are generally slow.  the resolution is that there is no fixed strategy – the workers (or activists) decide, the people who are on the scene at the relevant time make the choices. it was a pacifist who convinced me that violence played a central role in ending nuclear construction in Germany. when you are looking at preventing thousands of years of uncontrollable toxins, can you risk failure because you could not reach consensus on strategy?

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i smuggle – borders are perhaps the most offensive static structure of the state.  i had the good fortune to help smuggle 3 Tibetan monks across a thousand miles of the Himalayas and into Nepal to see the Dalai Lama. i have carried banned documents and other contraband.  i’ve gotten caught a few times, but i’ve been lucky and made it thru basically unscratched.

i am a lobbyist – i have run thru the halls of parliament and congress trying to get elected officials to behave as i thought they should.  i am not especially good at it, but i have been the best available. simply because we can see that a governmental system is corrupt does not justify failing to engage with it. we have more tools than protest.

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i am a propagandist – i don’t believe i or we have any monopoly on the truth – i have debated ideologues and i know they are sure they are right as i think i am in my most arrogant moments.  we have an obligation to put out our beliefs brilliantly and we need to remember that we are trying to sway people to think like us, not because we know we have a better way, but because we believe we do.

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i’m an outlaw – i shoplift, counterfeit, trespass, destroy property, break and enter, hop trains, panhandle, violate curfews, copyrights and security clearances, trade on the black markets, tax resist, enter and exit countries illegally, black ride (ride without a ticket), lie to the police, default on credit cards (for $50K), forge signatures, falsify visa’s, hitchhike, cut handcuffs, leak state secrets and don’t wear seat belts (for somewhat crazy reasons). i wish i could say all of this has been done for the greater good and to advance the revolution – in fact, some was self-serving and some just frivolous. But i certainly don’t start from the place of assuming laws are right – this is the anarchist prerogative.

i am a life style terrorist. someone who asks uncomfortable questions to people who are comfortable, about what they really need and what they can contribute.  of course, this is only credible from a place of doing it yourself and is best served in a humorous and non-dogmatic way. when visiting people we don’t really know my Dutch lover Hawina and i try to be “ambassadors from where we want to come from”. this is about pushing the positive aspects of our lifestyle choices, hoping to inspire folks to try to do more progressive political work.  This can be as small as recycling and using mass transit to as large as quitting your corporate job and running campaigns or moving to a commune.

vote nobody

i am a clownmy favorite fairy tale ends with the line “don’t take yourself too seriously”.  i make a point to remember jokes and riddles and try to make people laugh.  i don’t believe things are so bad we can’t make it without humor. similarly, one of the things i like the most about my community is that we strive to be a great audience – anyone willing to get up and perform is highly appreciated. i have watched it change the self-confidence of our kids and improve the overall quality of our cultural life.

 

kid laptop skyline

he will need a bigger bag

 

i travel. i have hitchhiked on sail boats from Mexico to Australia, trained across Europe and Asia, crossed the Atlantic twice on polish tramp ships, worked briefly on the north slope of Alaska and the bottom of the ocean near Hawaii. years ago i quit flying, for energy and environmental reasons, but i continued to travel more than most people i know – i am writing this on the train across the US. i have had to change my perception about the importance of the time spent traveling – correspondingly, i make fewer but longer trips.  but i have basically stopped going to places where i don’t know anyone – this is the difference between tourism and traveling. i strive to discover the culture thru the eyes of people who live there, rather than a guide book.

i raise funds – money is an oft necessary great evil. i learned how to make it come towards projects and campaigns which were important.  i never escaped the feeling that there was something wrong with this solution, and my ego did unhealthy flops around successfully finding money.  when i was doing this a great deal, it felt best to be homeless, without salary and living very cheaply.

 

we can do it

Know who “we” is

 

anarchists seem to be either of the individualistic/loner type or cooperators looking for allies.  i am always looking for allies. the success of the recent World Bank and WTO protests has been the ability of divergent groups to put aside their differences long enuf to come together to make an effective mass protest.  globalization and these oft media-invisible institutions which drive it are now the subjects of popular debate and they can not continue unchanged. we are a long way from closing them, but debt cancellation is gaining momentum and the WTO fast track seems derailed – both good things.  anarchists were central in organizing these actions.

anarchism deals with more than just the physical. feminism is about sharing power. it is training people to listen, helping the quiet fine voice, flattening hierarchy and finding consensus – this is the beginning of building justice.  i like the adage that anarchism is the philosophy and feminism is the practice.

proudhon property is theft

building these broad coalitions. and there are lots of other types of alliances – my wordsmith lover jazz edited this piece … almost every project of significant scale is a collaborative effort, and many which fail simply did not gather the right allies.

i am an organizer.  there are several key differences between an organizer and a leader.  the first is that no job is too low for an organizer. they are self-aware enough to know what they can teach and humble enuf to know there is still lots to learn.  always pressed for time, good organizers don’t get stuck and don’t overwork problems. they replace themselves before they leave work undone (something i have often failed in) and they are most generally invisible to the eye of fame.

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in a tiny train station in Czechoslovakia, i helped a man buy an international ticket and we got to talking.  he told me he had the best job in the world, traveling from place to place telling stories.  After listening to one of his stories and thinking about this for a while, i decided that it was a wonderful and important job and have been working on my storytelling ever since.

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i am an optimist – if the anarchist principle is that “you can do what ever you want, but you must take responsibility for it” and you believe the new age principle of “we create our own reality”, then we have an obligation to be optimistic – or else we are creating the wrong reality.  For seven years i lived in eastern Europe working with small anti-nuclear groups against the most powerful corporations and the state.  i was constantly reminding them that it was groups exactly like theirs which had stopped reactors around the world.  it is as papa Chomsky so well put it:

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i am in the hope business. and that is why i am an anarchist.

 

Secret for a Day

The morning after the super bowl more than half of Twin Oaks woke up without knowing who won the big game.  You might correctly assume that since these people live in this egalitarian, rural, income sharing ecovillage commune they might not prioritize this national event.  But this is not the whole story.  Quite a number of these members who don’t know the result are actually very excited about the game and are looking forward to watching it.  Let me explain further.

Twin Oaks has a long-standing “no live television” norm.  There is no place in the community that you can just flick a switch and suddenly view broadcast television (or even live cable television).  There is, however, a whole subculture of television and cable watching members, who draw from our huge archive instead of watching things live.

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Apparently, it was here

But sports are somehow different.  People mostly want to watch sporting events as they are actually happening.  I’ve never completely understood this. I will leave it to some sports enthusiast to enlighten me as to why this is important.  And Oakers want to watch the Super Bowl; they want to watch it in their home, they want to watch it with a bunch of other Oakers.  So to get all of these things a few years back we stumbled onto a solution.  Watch the Super Bowl a day later.

 

secret - finger over lips

Tell no one

 

This clever fix has its own problems and at the top of the list is that there are a couple of dozen Oakers who do not want to wait. They visit outside friends or nearby communes which don’t have such restrictive norms around the television.  And basically, the whole rest of the community agrees that they have to keep the game a secret for one day and especially not say who wins.

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Is TV a social toxin?

 

Back in 2004, we were less into sports.  I remember walking into the Morningstar kitchen and asking the dozen assembled people “If I were to say ‘Janet Jackson’s left breast‘ how many of you would know what I was talking about?”  No one did.  Perhaps I got lucky that morning, perhaps the commune has become more accepting of major sports events.

 

 

Stepping Stone Commune

 

Architecture shapes culture, so a guiding principle of Cambia is, if we can make it beautiful, we do.  Architecture is unique as an art form because it integrates function with form. This includes landscaping and outdoor play spaces.

Stepping stones are interesting because they have multiple functions; for example. they can protect clover, especially in the winter. The form also affects our local culture: when you walk on stepping stones, you are called to a child-like stance.

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You can walk with your hands hanging down by your sides, and what tends to happen is that your arms raise up to maintain your balance.  The stepping stones can draw you into being playful and childlike.  As your hands go up, you are more likely to skip and as you start to skip, you are more likely to smile.

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Kelpie, Sappho and some big nose guy on Trampoline with snow

Cambia also boasts a trampoline.  The trampoline draws kids from the surrounding communes.  We recently replaced our broken one, in an assembly effort which was guided by a gaggle of giggly kids.

The German modern architect Mies van der Rohe is famous for two sayings, both of which are applicable.  “Less is more” is the argument for minimalist architecture to achieve simplicity, using white elements, cold lighting, large space with minimum objects and furniture.

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One of Mies’s iconic creation.

The second aphorism is “God is in the details“, expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly because details are important.

 

Cambia is a handcrafted commune, in sharp contrast to the grandmother commune, Twin Oaks, just down the road.  Twin Oaks is a large place which includes industrial spaces, warehouses, tofu production facilities, rope machines, gang drills, and sawmills.  All the spaces are closer and on a more human scale at Cambia.  Some of the art is tiny and temporary.

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Ella sorts seeds into a mandala

Handcrafted means focusing on details: doorknobs from twisted branches, floors of pebbles and clay, tiny signposts, salvaged redwood around the hot tub and hyacinth pool.  It is these and dozens of other tiny aspects that makes this stepping stone commune so precious.

 

Other Blog Posts about Cambia:

Every gift is an obligation

I’m lucky. My upbringing was affluent and comfortable and basically trauma free. I come from an advantaged class background. I am white and male in a world which has been designed to privilege these attributes. I have a low maintenance body and fairly good genes. I went to fancy schools and learned how to play some of the games which support the existing power structures and inequitable distribution of wealth.

Got-Privilege

So if one cares about fairness, how do you justify this unfair advantage? Some of my peers, like Sara, do anti-oppression work. Decoding their class privilege, calling out racism, classism and sexism where they see it. I’ve done a small amount of this work, but it is hardly my focus. And sadly, I am aware because of regular mistakes, I am still not getting this stuff.

Instead what I try to do is to look at this set of gifts as set of obligations. If I have been lucky, much of my work should be focused on giving back to others. Early on this drew me to activism. I selected anti-nuclear activism because it requires a certain unlikely combination of attributes. You need to be able to argue with people who come from these advantaged class backgrounds about technical and financial things. You need to be able to pour energy into long campaigns, which you are almost certain to lose and then you need to not get discouraged and keep on doing it, and even encourage others to join you.

white privilege - we will decide what is racist

One of my gifts is optimism. It is easy to have it, given my background. And the obligation (in my thinking) around this gift is taking on nearly hopeless causes. Not because you want to waste your time, but because there is social and cultural value to fighting the good fight in a world where the bad guys often win.

Some of the Point A folks went to NYC recently. It was quite an educational trip for me. And at first on it I was quite discouraged. If seemed like the idea of starting urban income sharing communities was nearly impossible.

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On one hand you had the real estate developers. Especially in New York City, real estate prices are so out of control this often unsavory profession takes on especially monstrous dimensions. They have money to invest, tremendous motivation and their eyes everywhere for a bargain or opportunity.

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On the other side you have the ugly force of gentrification. This is where often well meaning folks looking for inexpensive space inside the urban environment set up their artist’s lofts in economically disadvantaged areas, only to make these areas desirable and trendy. This in turn raises property values and ultimately they get themselves and, more importantly, their poor neighbors kicked out by the real estate developers described above.

I did not see a way around these vexing forces when we started talking with folks about the Point A project. And while I am nothing like confident we can figure this out, I am now feeling more optimistic about doing something we can be excited by and proud of.

[This was written over 3 years ago, since then the Point A project has made quite some progress in finding real anti-gentrification allies.  More on this in my next post.]

i make what you make [fiction]

It started as a revolutionary coaching service. The PANYC project was going from Virginia to NYC almost every month and there was a desire to offset the costs of this travel by having regular Virginia based PANYC staff do things in the city which generated income and ideally which were portable. Ogtar had the idea first. He placed an ad on Craigslist which said approximately:

Revolutionary Coaching Advice $100/hour. What is it that you really want to do with your life? How do you move out of your current rut and into a trajectory which gets you where you really want to be going? Fill out this short, simple survey on RevolutionaryCoaching.Com and we will give you one on one, face to face advice on how to get there. First hour is free.

Coaching

The first hour free part nearly bankrupted him. Applications flooded in. Because Ogtar wanted to do a good job, he had to do a lot of prep work for before the first meeting. This would include, of course, reading the client’s applications, but Ogtar would take it much further. He would research their stated desires, studying their personalities online (facebook stalking and the like), and even develop an understanding of the areas and topics the clients were excited about. All this before meeting them. He was usually several hours in before he gave away the first hour.

Then Max came along. Max was a development banker on Wall St and made obscene money. Max was very bright and very stuck. His relationships did not work, his work felt like a grind, he had manic tendencies which were lurking at the edge of his event horizon, he did not know what to do. A friend of Max had had an amazing session with Ogtar, who was unusually good at giving people advice that seemed both appropriate and daring. Max’s friend recommended Ogtar to Max and they hit it off famously. It might have been the mutual affinity for strange dystopia comic books or perhaps some slightly kinky anime style. Whatever it was, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Ogtar helped Max unravel his troubled romantic life. Ogtar coached Max into ditching his job and getting one with fewer hours, one which was still challenging and did not have the values mismatch of development banking. Most importantly, Max could feel the danger of madness receding the longer he worked with Ogtar. The two of them talked philosophy daily.

One day Max cut an unusually large check to Ogtar. “I did not work this number of hours,” Ogtar protested.

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“I calculated it in a different way,” replied Max. “It is what I would have been paid for that number of hours. I don’t have any good reason to compensate you less than I am paid.” And with this dangerous thinking a bit of a movement was born.

Of course the idea of equal compensation for people based on time is neither novel or new.  But the right combination of social media and interesting initial offerings, combined with existing well developed barter and peer to peer services and imakewhatumake.com was a huge hit.  Some doctors, nurses and nutritionists stepped in and provided health services for a fraction of their total work time to cover especially acute health needs.  Other trained professionals from plumbers to lawyers were quickly followed by a myriad of other workers.

There were offshoots, groups which took the name in a different and literal sense, in which cross training and extensive wiki-knowledge bases permitted people to share skills and physically manifest the same thing that someone else in the network could train them to do.

Designed to make it easy to take care of workers and project cooperators, the software naturally formed union like organizations which were short on rhetoric and long on organizing results. Soon imakewhatumake.com was banging on the doors of organizations which had historically treated their workers ill.

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