The Role for Intentional Communities is Leadership, Not Exit

24 Aug 2021

In 2017 I found a family. Through getting used to being with them in ways that I’d never allowed myself to be with other people before, I felt a deep need. It was like looking at someone wearing a T-shirt that was too tight, or a belt that was too tight, or living in a house where the doorways are too short. Something about the environments they were in did not fit. It seemed like within our schools, within our governments, within the businesses that determined what people wanted, there was no space for what they actually wanted. I did not understand why we were continuing to do what we did not want to do, to spend nine to fifteen hours a day narrowing our minds in service of paychecks and limited amounts of prestige. When these people, my family, were so amazingly talented, so amazingly gifted, they could really do anything they wanted to do.

Steeped in tech industry ideas of the time, it was clear to me that we were sitting on a goldmine, though that gold mine was not gold but the human capital that everyone had. Looking at the lives of great innovators, it’s clear that they’re often left to play with whatever struck their fancy. After the fact, we labeled them as exceptional polymaths or Renaissance men. Or we name entire fields after what they studied. Assuming that no one else can do it, that everyone else has to be specialized, that everyone else has to be a cog in the machine. That everyone else has to be a part of the Taylorist industrial management process where you can only do one thing and that is all your value. That is what your value comes from. A quick look at the lives of any innovator from Leonardo da Vinci, to what you might read in Vasari’s lives of the artists or anything you might have heard about Claude Shannon or Richard Feynman, would lead you to know that rather than deciding on a specialization and sticking with it, they followed their curiosities. And as disparate as those curiosities were, they were all actually connected, because everyone shares the same environment. And because the environment is shared, all these fields actually inform each other. To read Isaac Newton without having an understanding of how alchemy played a part in his formulation and discoveries of calculus would be short-sighted.

The people around me, my family, they created art, in all sorts of mediums. They sew clothes. They paint, they make film, photography, they write, they could be athletes if they wanted to. Most of them were involved in a music scene at one point or other, whether in a band or as DJs. All the while, they were also scientists, often lab scientists, others were lawyers, who were also capable writers of fiction, and excellent chefs, man, everyone can cook in this family. And all these things, any, any single one of them could be used to generate wealth for the family. We could go and form a restaurant, a bakery, we could form a coffee place, we could have started a lab, we could have started even a software company, even though most of us were not, and are not software engineers, everyone is familiar with the basics of programming enough that if they were driven by a vision, they would certainly come up with something. Not to mention the fact that many of them have high mathematical ability. So with all these talents, with all these abilities, it made sense to me that maybe we didn’t really need to play the game that everyone was playing. Maybe we didn’t need to stay working for these institutions, for these political systems, for these governments and corporations, maybe we could do it for ourselves, where we could use more of our purpose, more of our function, more of our abilities in our everyday lives. So this was three years ago.

So I proposed an exit. An option of leaving the hamster wheel we all seem to be on and venturing out, venturing out on our own, where we would be left alone to do as we wished. Now, in the year 2021, after COVID there’s a rise in this desire to go out and form communes or techno villages or kibbutzes, call it whatever you want, some sort of exit, because the trust in our elites, in our existing institutions is low. Which makes sense, because they are overweight and ungainly. And the time since then, since I first proposed our own exit to my family, things have changed for me. I’ve been working toward it every day. And as I’ve been working on this problem, I began to realize that none of the obstacles had anything to do with resources. We could have $5 million and people would choose, still, to stay working on whatever they’re working on, for systems that do not want exactly what they want. That is because whenever you try something new, it has to be that much better than the option that came before. Because we prefer stability. That’s part of it anyway. The other part is that trust has become very hard. We were divided and conquered by centralizing powers over the last four or five hundred years and we’ve become comfortable with the benefits of living with top-down central control. It’s very convenient to have ten different types of toothpastes that you can just get, it’s very convenient to have three or four different kinds of opinions that you can just get. You don’t have to do any of that work yourself. You don’t have to grow your own food. You don’t have to mend your own clothes. And all these conveniences add up. And the biggest convenience is that decision making is outsourced. You see making decisions, as much as everyone likes to talk about how important their decisions are, is very painful. So our governments, our media, our corporations have stepped in to make those decisions for us, and we have gladly given that option to them, because it relieves our pain. Moreover, in the same way that a TV show is less stressful than having a bunch of friends over, many of the options provided to us to meet our needs are a lot more appealing on the surface than a more fulfilling option. For example, McDonald’s is a lot easier to want to consume than making your own food from vegetables you grew in the garden, because of the amount of labor and thought that goes into making your own meal. So we’ve learned to trust the McDonald’s option, more than we trust ourselves and each other. You will note that people often complain about social drama while, at the same time, they seek out drama at a distance from sources like Netflix or Amazon Prime. This is because we actually need connection. And connection has a lot of possibilities within it. And those possibilities, the conflict that arises from those possibilities, we call drama. We’re interested in drama because we’re interested in ourselves and each other. Since as social animals, that is how we survive. That is how we thrive. But since we’ve become so used to the kiddie pool, to the tricycle with training wheels, we hesitate to jump into the ocean, or cycle with just two wheels.

Actually, connecting to other human beings is incredibly painful, because it’s more information. And more information means more pain. Our ancestors stuck with it, because they had no way of imagining how they could ever make it alone. They needed each other to survive. And this was strongly built into their every decision, their very way of being. With industrialization and globalization, we have the illusion that we can be independent of each other. With the construct of money, we assume that we can be independent, even though what that money represents is what the collective wants and what the collective will do for you. So the chief obstacle that I’ve found to any sort of exit is actually social. And underneath that social element is the mental one, the mind and its perception- every step of the way. I noticed in the people around me and myself, voices that people would hear in their thoughts and thoughts that were extremely judgmental and punishing anytime anyone was at risk of departing from a norm. They sensed this judgment, they felt this judgment in them. And they changed their behavior appropriately. Whenever they saw someone else engaging in behavior that did not fit with the norm, they did the same thing. And since we’re trying to do something new, nothing we’re doing fit with an existing norm. To begin with, at every step of the way, the series of conflicting values, of conflicting wants that they were told to want by their various collectives that they were all a part of, had consequences: we’re constantly fighting each other and ourselves. This internal conflict, in turn, manifests as anxiety and depression. This is because when you are trying to control a population at scale, it is easier to come upon norms that are based on ‘No’ rather than ‘Yes’. Consider the decision to find a place to eat. You come up with some options. And typically someone will say something like, definitely not Taco Bell, or I don’t want any sushi places, and this makes the decision easier to make. So, everyone, especially well educated people (because they find it easier to absorb the norms of the centralizing power), everyone feels these norms in themselves. And as we have globalized, all the norms from all these various different large cultures have started clashing within us. This leads to a sort of learned helplessness, and an ever-looming sense of defeat and powerlessness, because every time you feel like doing something, you’ve learned to stop yourself unless it has been vetted and approved by hundreds of thousands of people or millions and billions of people, even. And I kept on encountering this every day in everyone I loved, and the conflicts between them in their decisions about what to wear, about what to say, and how they were relating to each other.

This lack of trust, made it very, very difficult to try something new, like an exit. Though, the principal thing I realized over the years is that whatever the conflict is, in some sense it does not matter. So long as each individual was willing to stick through it. So long as we were willing to stick together, to be together. The most dangerous thing for a family is not conflict- it’s not shouting at each other or even throwing things at each other or even physical abuse. But separating, taking a step away, shutting down, turning away, cutting people off, holing up in a room alone for many hours, because you don’t want to deal with the other people, which I often did. These things turned out to be more dangerous to the health of the family, then any drama or open conflict. Yes, the most dangerous thing to a family was Exit. And I began to realize that from the drama, from the seeming conflict, we found ways of being with each other that we would never have come up with if we had simply swept those conflicts under the rug. So having no role models for what a healthy extended family unit looks like, we mistook what we were getting from entertainment and entities incentivized to keep us dependent on them about what a healthy extended family unit looked like. We were dealing with the assumption that there’s not supposed to be any conflict, that people are supposed to appear to have a happy affect all the time, that if someone says something horrible or does something horrible, you should establish boundaries and cut them off. When, in fact, sticking together is what makes a strong family a strong family. This reflects one of the practices I’ve found over the years that is really effective for building empathy between two people. And that is just to be together, silently looking at each other. In the context of the intimacy coach I learned this from (who’s also a theater instructor and excellent actress), we practiced giving to each other and receiving from each other with no words. Just being each other’s presence. And that was incredibly powerful, so powerful, that if anyone who’s taken MDMA had walked into the room, they would have assumed that everyone in the room was on MDMA, even though everyone was sober. So this practice of simply being together is actually very difficult, because we have been so used to being separated, to being alienated, to being isolated, that we continue to force isolation on ourselves, when what we need most is togetherness.

So this was the first serious obstacle that I’ve found, to starting some sort of exit community. Everything else, the logistics, the resources really don’t matter. It’s about the willingness of people to come together. If your people can come together, they will figure out what to do. And I learned this from watching one of the churches in Moscow, Idaho, that has slowly taken over a quarter or so of the town, even though they have a tiny population compared to the total population of the town. And that’s by slowly setting up businesses and all working together to corner part of the market in the town. These are restaurants, these are plumbers, these are psychologists, these are lawyers, it’s just everyday occupations. But when they function as a unit, they are much more powerful. And they’ve gained traction in Moscow, despite the overwhelming opprobrium and aggression that they face from liberal denizens of Moscow, who generally call them a cult. But this is actually a great example, a great model that we can use instead of exit. Since Exit is what got us here in the first place. Separation is what got us here- we cannot overcome the troubles caused by separation by more separation. We cannot exit from the consequences of Exit with More Exit.

One thing I’ve learned in opening myself to all the people around me is that they are connected to everyone else in the world, which on the surface seems trivially true. But it’s actually hard to realize and feel. I kept on trying to draw a line between people who were in my family, and people who are not people who I had to care about when I was making my plans. Initially, I only selected my lovers, oldest friends, and people whose abstract values I seemed to share. Then the people my lovers cared about, as well as their friends.. And so we were up to like thirty people in my circle of care. And I began to realize that all these people were connected to more and more people. And within those connections of connections was diversity that represented much of the world.

Most recently, I’ve taken a little bit of a trip across the United States. In being around people who might represent more of the mode of the population, who are also related to people I love, I realized that we can’t exit. We can’t exit, because they’re going through the same problems. I initially thought that all these problems of alienation, and so on, were maybe limited to a few intellectual nerds. That everyone else was content where they were, for the most part, and that they weren’t having the same problems with self-judgment, anxiety and depression. But looking at people who I might have called normies, before, I could see that deep down underneath, they’re not normies- that no one is a normie- that no one is choosing to enforce these norms on themselves and others…exactly. Or while they are, they are not aware that they’re choosing to do it. And they are feeling pain, because of it. And in that pain, I realize that we cannot exit because we have to lead. We cannot exit because we have something that the rest of the population hasn’t found yet.

We have a little more of it. And just like it was really hard for us to get here because there were no models for us, the rest of the population needs more models of living. Of how they can live- how they can live without such restrictive norms. Before they feel like it’s safe enough to set themselves free. And that’s our job. We were sent out as scouts, you see. You may feel alone, but a scout is alone. You may feel rejected, but a scout is not necessarily part of the main body. Because your job as a scout is to go out and see the lay of land. And then tell people about it, to show people where it’s safe to go. For any of you who are thinking about exit, you’ve tasted this. That’s why you’re thinking about exit in the first place. You sense something better out there- you felt something better. And feeling that, you want to go there. But you feel like the only way to go there is to separate from the main body and start a new colony off by yourself. But you are connected to too many people now. The internet has connected us all. We’ve all got these problems, we’ve all got this pain of alienation. So your job as a scout is to lead others to this place.

Our place is not exit. It is leadership. We are not here to form communes and monasteries separate from the world. We are here to go out into the world and form strong clans, families, and communities. Strong families, families that will show everyone else that it is safe to live like a family again, that it is safe to depend on yourself again, that it is safe to dye your own clothes again, that it is safe to think your own thoughts again.

This is in the water. All you have to do is watch a Fast and Furious movie. And that’s the model. All you have to do is watch a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. And that’s the model. It’s what people want- that’s why that media has such mass appeal. But they don’t feel safe yet.

So that’s why we’re here. That’s why you’re here. That’s why you’re going to lead this world, to look at the person next to you and say “follow me.”

What you can do to strengthen your family NOW:

  1. Pay attention to each other, always.
  2. The indirect approach is fastest in the long-term, even if it appears slow.
  3. Take it slow. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
  4. Live as an example.
  5. Take care of your people before you take care of yourself.