Communitarianism in a Market Culture

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Discussion

A. Allen Butcher:

"Intentional community itself will likely always be a parallel society, moving through time apace with the dominant culture, the two influencing each other in sometimes subtle, sometimes fundamentally challenging ways. Both the dominant and the parallel cultures have always adapted or co-opted what each found to be of value in the other, and ignored or discarded what it disliked or did not understand. The opportunity in this relationship for the communities movement is to develop a concerted effort to nurture that dynamic for the benefit of all.

As intentional communities can be seen to be research and development centers for society, the movement challenges the dominant culture to acknowledge the innovations found in community as opportunities for positive cultural change. Intentional community in general exists as a response to the perceived problems or inadequacies of the dominant culture, and with that the movement can generate some excitement around the idea of communitarian lifestyles as activist vocations!

Communitarian values, increasingly discussed by theorists on all points of the political spectrum, stress the benefits to all when individuals acknowledge responsibility to a social group larger than the immediate family. Some of the perspectives on this include the work of M. Scott Peck (see: The Road Less Traveled, 1978 and A Different Drum, 1987), and of The Communitarian Network (see: Amitai Etzioni, The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society, Touchstone, 1993).

As fifty years of the post-war housing industry has shown, communitarian values are luxuries that we do not absolutely need if all that we are trying to do is acquire housing. Today, however, the challenge is to build a social fabric that provides, in addition to mere shelter, a culture that engenders in the individual an awareness of and appreciation for others, and for the environment that we all share.

Communitarian values include a safe and mutually beneficial environment for children and seniors, community food service and childcare, landscaping for common areas, building and auto maintenance and various collective services involving people working together for mutual advantage and greater efficiency. Other communitarian values may include neighborhood forums to resolve disputes or address challenges from both within and outside of the community, alternative dispute resolution, neighborhood-based primary health care services, and architectural and site designs that facilitate interactions among neighbors, the development of friendships, and resulting "random kindness and senseless acts of beauty."


* Trust, Social, Spiritual and Environmentally Responsible Luxuries

There is quite a list of luxuries inherent in community. Consider the priceless value of the peace of mind that comes with knowing on a first name basis everyone in your neighborhood, because you talk and work with them regularly as a matter of course in day-to-day living. This we might call a "trust luxury." The informal ambience of the common facilities such as for food service, child care, workshops and agriculture we might call a "social luxury."

Consider the luxury of inter-generational community, in which both young and old are encouraged to care for the other. More than mere luxury, compared to the usual pattern of age segregation in America, this is cultural elegance. Consider too how much more completely than living separately does the fellowship of community come to the spiritual ideals of brotherhood and sisterhood, of living by the Golden Rule, or of practicing a love-thy-neighbor ethic. The opportunity of conforming our lifestyle to our spiritual ideals can be cast as a "spiritual luxury" that not many outside of community enjoy. This is in addition to the obvious potential for quantifying how much more ecologically responsible than tract-house-living community can be; perhaps this one we would call an "environmentally responsible luxury."

An additional luxury is how people living in community have a kinship with people in other communities around the country. The networking carried on among communities builds relationships that provide friends for us to visit while on vacation, even potentially around the world. Call this one a "holiday luxury." The point to be stressed is that community, and communitarian values, are luxuries that money alone cannot buy; they are priceless commodities that we should be careful not to undervalue.

Promoting the communitarian values experienced in intentional community is an opportunity for us to take advantage of the greatest set of new-found luxuries since the invention of indoor plumbing. In a sense, what we want to do is repeat history, at least that part of our history that led to the replication of housing design innovations across our country and increasingly around the world. Understanding how we arrived at our fabled American Dream of ubiquitous suburban monocultural design can help us to build a marketing plan for the diffusion of the innovations of communitarian design throughout the world." (https://we.riseup.net/assets/4969/ELAN.pdf)