Article — January 14, 2017 — trust, lucidity
Most intentional communities fail. Of those that survive beyond the first few years, nearly all of them fall short of the dream. And the dream isn’t so far away; we all experience it in our lives, at one point or another, with friends or lovers, at gatherings or festivals,I can name Burning Man and World Domination Summit, off the top of my head, as examples. I haven’t been to a gathering like this, but I know a lot of people who have. or in transcendental experiences.
It’s a dream of connection and meaning. Loving, trusting, being loved and trusted, growing up and going forward together into an exciting and unknown future. It’s a certain state of being, which we all want to be in. I get the impression most intentional communities are aimed toward making this state permanent.
Why don’t they succeed?
An outer reflection of inner character. (source) It’s the dishes. Some people clean their dishes right away. Others put all the dirty dishes in the sink and leave them there for hours or days. Others still don’t even put them in the sink, and just leave them lying all over the place.
If all these people live together, the tidier ones clean up after the messier ones. This results in much complaining, blaming, argument, and general disturbance of mental and emotional peace.
Every group of people that’s ever lived closely together has experienced something like this. The phenomenon is older than the invention of dishes, and it appears in many other situations. The cause of it has nothing to do with some people being tidier than others. It’s something deeper.
Our outward behavior is a reflection of who we are and what we’re like, and the tricky thing is that we aren’t done becoming who we are. Growing up is a neverending process. This implies there will always be things about us that aren’t quite right.
You’re a beautiful snowflake and you’re perfect the way you are. (source) Some intentional communities are founded on the principle of “acceptance”, meaning the idea that you’re fine the way you are, and if anyone doesn’t like you, that’s their fault. These communities either fail immediately or stabilize into a revolving-door culture, where no one stays inside long enough to get really annoyed with anyone else.
Other communities take the opposite stance, which says we have flaws and we’re personally responsible for becoming better people. Normative communities are much more likely to survive and to be tolerable to live in for more than a month. They have the kind of cultural context where one can say: you should do your own dishes. It’s the right thing to do, and if you don’t do it, that’s bad!
Modified outward behavior. (source) This is the type of community that grew into the entities which dominate the world today: the organized religions, the nation-states, the corporations, and so on.
You might notice that none of these cultural models are known for reliably producing paradise on Earth. They’re good at modifying our outward behavior, for better or worse, but they’re lousy at creating the conditions for genuine happiness. Happiness requires that what we do outside fits with who we are inside.
An accepting culture does nothing to change us, and so we can’t live with each other, because the rough edges of one scrape against the tender spots of another.
A normative culture changes our outer behavior, which lets us live with each other, at the lost of living true to ourselves.
It’s good to notice when you’re stuck between a thesis and an antithesis, so that you can remember to look for a synthesis.
Transformative cultures, which can reconcile the individual with the group, are rare. They require knowledge of the fact that our inner character is also subject to change, and that’s intensely uncomfortable knowledge, because “my inner character” is one of the things I might be referring to when I say “me”.
Take a minute to make sure you really understand that. It’s not about changing what you do; it’s about changing who you are. If that doesn’t activate the fear of death in you, you haven’t caught what I mean.Anyone who’s tried to quit smoking, and failed, knows the feeling. There is a depth of self-change so profound that just looking over the edge is more terrifying than any leap you could make over a physical cliff. It isn’t easy to convey. You have to imagine it. Here’s a video to help.
This is the depth of change that’s needed, to meaningfully answer the challenges that contemporary life on Earth presents. We won’t get there just by switching to green energy. You can change your behavior to look like a better person, but if you don’t change yourself you’ll always find a way to cheat.The cheating is very easy to see, when you look for it. You go for a symbol of the thing instead of the thing itself. If the thing itself is sustainable energy, then the symbol is solar panels.
It isn’t enough to compromise, and accept less than you want. You have to change what you want, on a certain level. I’m trying to use scary language to drive home the seriousness of what I’m talking about, but, actually, this view is much more hopeful than any alternative I know.
There is another “self”, deeper than your character, which is also you. That self doesn’t need to change, because there’s nothing wrong with it – there can’t be anything wrong with it, because it’s deeper than the level of right-or-wrong.In short: ātman is prior to dharma. I love Sanskrit!
So, don’t worry: (deep-)you will still exist after you change who (character-)you are.I need more pronouns. I protest English! You just need to get clear about which “you” you identify with, and then you can make the jump safely.