Allen Butcher, July 2008 (EW ’75-’83, TO ’85-’89)
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This paper presents in Kat Kinkade’s own words her invention of the vacation-credit communal economic system, and her later abandonment of the ideals of equality and communalism due to her concerns about envy and the lack of personal incentive. This paper only addresses Kat’s comments on economic issues of labor and money, while her views on politics and decision-making require a separate paper.
Kat co-founded three communal societies, Twin Oaks (TO), East Wind (EW) and Acorn, and named its networking association the “Federation of Egalitarian Communities.” In Kat’s later disillusionment with communal society may be found inspiration for changing the emphasis in communal theory from equality to sharing, and for developing new experiments in communitarian design.
Kat in “Journal of a Walden Two Commune,” from “Walden House Newsletter,” Aug, 1966, p. 8
The holding of property in common at Walden House is not an article of dogma. We don’t do it because it was recommended by Jesus or Marx. We do it because it saves money and makes sense. Where it ceases to have these functions, we cease to practice it.
Kat in “Journal of a Walden Two Commune,” from “Walden House Newsletter,” Aug, 1966, p. 14
Equality in a community is a relationship so structured that no member envies another. Simple.
… We have grown up in a culture that puts a premium on selfishness, that applauds the person who successfully exploits his fellow men, and that honors most of all those who receive riches in exchange for doing nothing at all. We are trying to create a miniature society in which every member considers his neighbor’s needs equally with his own, where exploitation is unthinkable, and where it is assumed that every member is doing his share of the necessary work.
… What we end up with won’t literally and technically be “equality.” But it will, we hope, be a general feeling of fairness, a logical first step in the pursuit of happiness.
Kat in "A Walden Two Experiment" 1972, p. 45
Since early in our history we have had to adjust the labor credit system to make it possible for members to take vacations. We do that by working longer hours than we are assigned and accumulating a surplus of credits.
Kat, Jan 10, 2007 6:01 pm
Retrieved from TwinOaksNet, YahooGroups message number 3655 “Labor systems”
The part of the system that was certainly mine was the notion of a fixed quota and the accommodation to people who worked more than their share in a given time period. I simply couldn't swallow the idea of an equality that began and ended all in the same week. I wanted to [be] able to save up the labor and use it later for leisure. I persuaded the fledgling group about this, and this is what is done to this day.
Kat, Jan 14, 2007 8:49 pm
Retrieved from TwinOaksNet, YahooGroups message number 3674 “Labor systems”
If I remember correctly, it was at East Wind that we first realized we didn't need and couldn't use variable credits. Then later, Twin Oaks independently came to the same conclusion. Remember, Twin Oaks is only 5 years older than East Wind. That seemed enormous at the time, but in retrospect it isn't much.
Kat in "Is It Utopia Yet?" 1994, p. 30
Of course there are simpler ways of distributing work, but none that grants a comparable degree of flexibility and personal choice.
Kat in “The Collected Leaves of Twin Oaks,” Vol 2., ’72-’74, p. 12
Our lives here are so very different from what they were on the outside, and these differences are particularly striking for the women. Many of us have discovered independent and creative spirits beneath the layer of socialization that was forced on us while we were growing up.
We live with secure men who do not need to prove their worth by putting us down. Our labor credit system is designed to distribute work without regard to sex and there are no limits on what we can try. Women learn carpentry and auto mechanics, drive tractors, shovel manure and dig ditches and contribute their ideas to policy making. Men learn cooking, knitting, sewing and wash dishes as frequently as the women. The men feel no pressure to live up to an artificial image of “virility;’ the women know that we are “feminine” whether embroidering a shirt or stringing a barbed wire fence.
In this noncompetitive society that rejects jealousy and possessiveness, we discover former antagonisms between women crumbling. We are not possessive of the men we care for, so we cease to see other women as a threat. So-called standards of beauty are ignored. We do not wear make up, nor do we keep up with “fashions.” Because there is no sense of competition based on looks, we know that we are all beautiful.
Visitors often comment that the women here are so “together.” No longer living in a society where women are expected to mistrust each other, we discover the joys of sisterhood and develop loving friendships with each other. No longer living in a society where women are expected to be docile, fragile and timid, we discover strengths and talents we never knew we had, and we develop new respect for ourselves and each other.
Kat in "Is It Utopia Yet?" 1994, p. 42
When I say that Twin Oaks has a fully communal economic system, I mean that we generate income almost entirely from on-premises activities, and all of that money goes into a communal bank account. We are not employees, and we get no wages. Instead, the Community takes care of all our needs. …
The Community reserves the right to determine what is and is not a “need,” and this will vary according to our income. In spite of these exceptions, I consider that we have complete social security within the Community.
Kat in "Is It Utopia Yet?" 1994, p. 46-50
My attitude to every request for special privilege was always the same: “Why you?” In other words, what is there about you that makes you deserve to have more than other people? …
I was known as a hard-nosed egalitarian, and this is one of the reasons people called me “very idealistic.” It wasn’t always a compliment.
It took me about seven years and a fair amount of self-examination, as well as observation of the people I lived with, to discover some unsettling things about my equality theory. For one thing, I came to see that my ideological purity, though a hardship on other people, wasn’t any hardship on me. I had no financial assets when we started. … Because I was so engrossed in the Community itself, I got rich satisfaction from my life without feeling any need for spending money. In short, I had nothing to gain from making our financial rules more flexible. Most of the people who agreed with my hard line principles were in similar situations.
Also, in truth, I coveted for the Community every dollar anybody could find, and every hour they could contribute. When I used the “Why you?” argument, there was another motive behind it—the desire to build the Community faster and make it more secure. I didn’t want those resources diverted. …
I can now answer the question “Why you?” The answer is basically this: Because most people value small liberties more than they value small equalities, and therefore society works better if the rules aren't too rigid. Equality is a means, not an end.
People will and do work for the common good. If they did not, Twin Oaks would be impossible. But they work harder for more direct personal benefit, and it would be dishonest to deny it. When the Community desperately needs to have a great deal of work done in a hurry (making a lot of hammocks for a rush order, for example), it relies about ninety percent on good will, personal conscience, the labor system, and community feeling. But if we’re going to get the other ten percent, we need to add an incentive program of some kind, some method by which added effort gets added reward.
Gradually I noticed that almost everybody behaves in this way. Then I faced the fact that I was no better than the rest of them. The question “Why you?” is still unanswerable in terms of absolute justice. But I have lowered my sights. We’re not going to create absolute justice. The best we can manage is a reasonable amount of equity. We have a great deal more justice within Twin Oaks than I see in my country as a whole, and I am willing to let it be fuzzy around the edges. …
These days people don’t call me “idealistic” any more. They call me “cynical.” But that isn’t true, either. I have learned that personal gain is, not a stronger motivation than the good of the Community, but a more reliable one. I accept that now. I no longer think it is evil or disgusting. I think it’s ordinary.
Twin Oaks as a group has not caught up with my conclusions (or not backslid to them, depending on your point of view). When I returned to this Community after spending nine years in other places, I looked carefully at my own willingness to live by a code I had myself created but no longer fully believed in. I decided that Twin Oaks had a right to expect me to live by its rules, however naive I now thought its principles. So that’s what I do. I no longer preach absolute equality. I live, along with other communitarians, a rough equality that doesn’t create gross differences or engender severe envy. To the extent that we still find economic equality important, I keep within the limits of our law and common practice. …
… [W]e have holes in our system, but, … the overall economic system is so much bigger and more important than the exceptions that it would be out of proportion and unfair to dwell on them.
These days I believe that secular communal economies must, to be successful, be full of holes. I think that if they are too tight, too "equal," they will fail, because people would not be able to stand the constraints. Give people a little chance to serve themselves on the side, and they will give heartily out of their core efforts for the group. We do, anyway.
Kat in "Is It Utopia Yet?" 1994, p. 87-89
It was at East Wind in its fifth year that I lost my zeal--lost my faith, in fact. Though I had created another viable community, it was not what I had intended. The crowds at Twin Oaks’ front door did not come to East Wind. They did not want to pioneer; they wanted to join a community that was already stable. ... The Media announced that the Sixties were finished, its culture discredited, and the future delivered to the “Me Generation.” I had never believed in these media-described mass phenomena before, but I was forced to take this one seriously. … East Wind had a very hard time finding suitable people. In an effort to survive, it had to accept many people of dubious quality, people who, as their numbers increased, made the community unpleasant for the more idealistic and productive members, many of whom left.
It is testimony to the strength of the communal plan that East Wind survived those grim years, recovered from its losses, found new people, and today is an attractive community.
I’m the one that didn’t survive it. Oh, I know, I’m back at Twin Oaks now and doing fine, but that feels like a rebirth. During my last years at East Wind my belief in community died.
Part of my disillusionment came from watching the worst aspects of communism in action. Some of my friends were able to overlook the glaring flaws rooted in the system itself and dismiss them as temporary aberrations, but I couldn’t. I saw a larger and larger part of the community sitting around on the front steps of the dining hall smoking cigarettes and drinking their wake-up coffee at 11 in the morning, and heard them ridicule as "workaholics" the people who made the money and kept the organization together. It looked possible, even probable, that this once-promising community would be undermined and destroyed by its own people. Our communism wasn't working. There was gross exploitation, but in reverse. The proletariat was exploiting the managers.
I saw a direct connection between the communal system and the poverty and shiftlessness. This was exactly the kind of result the skeptics had predicted from the first. If this perceived connection was a true one, then the mess that East Wind had become was my doing. I had removed the incentive of personal gain through work, and behold, the people chose not to work!
The same people who didn’t appreciate hard workers also didn’t like experienced leaders. I was a major target for hostility. I suppose it is natural for a group to throw out its founding leadership as it matures, and I also remember that I wasn’t at my best and wisest under the pressures of the time. …
I knew that this phenomenon was not happening at Twin Oaks, and the difference seemed to be that Twin Oaks selected its members with some care. East Wind was wide open. That, too, was my doing.
Quotes from Hilke Kuhlmann's interviews with Kat. These are printed in the appendix of "Living Walden Two," University of Illinois Press, 2005
Kat at Ganas Community, April 10, 1995
Kat: Nowadays, I think you need some personal incentive in order to put out your best in the work scene. Cooperation and group reinforcement alone will just not do. I have come to think of it that way, and I don't think that's just the way we've been conditioned. That's the absolute basic. ... We had taken the mainspring out of the watch, and we got a very mediocre response by doing so. I examined this question year by year, and it is not that you don't get a successful community by depending entirely on cooperation, it's just that you don't get as much as you would otherwise get. That's all. I would say it's something like 80 percent. Cooperation will get you 80 percent of what you would otherwise get.
Hilke: What was your inspiration for starting Twin Oaks?
Kat: I need to say that behaviorism was not my fundamental inspiration. I thought it was interesting ... But what drew me was not behaviorism but what I can only call communism. What drew me was equality. My fascination with equality goes back to my childhood, so it's a very strong thing, which I think I'm now through with.
Hilke: Because of frustration?
Kat: Yes. I think at this point equality will take you just so far--I think I expressed this in the book--and then you need other things. But I think I took equality quite a bit further than Skinner would have taken it. Out of my own fanaticism, almost. Here’s an example: We have an area called trusterty, which means things that are intrusted to you. It’s a word taken from the word “property,” but instead of being your own property it’s put into your trust. This includes such things as bedroom furniture. So, suppose you have a dresser, and you leave the community. Well, what everybody really wanted to do was go into your room and take that dresser. But I put a stop to that. I said, “No! That dresser is the equal property of everybody here, everybody gets an equal chance at it.” And so I insisted on putting that dresser up for flips. … To me it was important. Everybody needed to get the idea that there was nobody entitled to anything that other people didn’t have, except by chance, by equal chance. And the idea did not take hold. And for years I wondered, “Why does nobody see it like this?” And I guess it just has something to do with nobody happened to have that particular emotional background, that fanatical devotion to equity. And I think that was the emotional spring from which a lot of my early effort came. And when it went, it didn’t leave much in its place. It left a hole in its place. And so for a long time I haven’t really quite known what I was doing, or what I thought I was doing at Twin Oaks. What for! You know, what is this community for? And you know, somewhere along the line, instead of absolute equality, it was the idea of getting bigger, bringing in more people. And that felt like saving the world, saving these poor people who would otherwise have to deal with capitalism. And I would clasp them to my bosom and give them what they all really wanted, which was community and equality. And that turned out to be bullshit, but it was good while it lasted. It gave me meaning while it lasted.
Kat, at Twin Oaks Community, April 11, 1998
Hilke: ... What does egalitarianism mean to you?
Kat: ... mostly it was just this glittering, shining idea that everybody had a shot at the good life. Everybody has the good life. I don't see anything wrong with that idea, as an idea, but I have changed my mind, very seriously changed my mind about the desirability of equality in any rigid sense. At this point in my life I believe that it is not a good idea. And that the founding of a community in which egalitarianism was stressed as the first principle is not something I would do again. I don't know that I would say it's a mistake. We have a nice community here, and I have a good life in it. So I'm not saying, "I wish I hadn't done Twin Oaks." But I'm saying, if I were young again and were going to do a community again, it would not start with such rigid egalitarianism. And I'll tell you why.
Kat: Because the aim is to make everybody feel equally served by the establishment, and that's impossible. Equal time, equal money, equal whatever. But even if we had this godlike abililty to give everyone an equal amount of satisfaction in theory, there would be some who would immediately be dissatisfied, and they would be dissatisfied because they would look at what their neighbor had, and they’d say, “Well, I don’t have a clarinet.” And you could say to them, “But you’ve got a baby. Don’t you think that baby is expensive?” And they’ll say, “Oh, that doesn’t count. The community is supposed to support babies.” And they’ll be angry, and they’ll be envious of whatever anybody had. As far as I can see, envy seems to be built into the human, and I can see evolutionarily why that might be true. But it's not only built into the human, but also into the system of equality. And I read this about people: the more they strive for equality, the more they watch to see what their neighbors have, to see if they've got something that they don't. And that trait is so ugly and destructive and hateful that I would rather give up equality than have that trait around. I would like to destroy that. I would like to have a society in which we expect some people to have more than others. ... But I wouldn't want anybody to be more than double, have twice as much as somebody else. ... And so, because I have changed my mind about this, I no longer get excited about, "Oh, this isn't equal!" I think, "Yeah, it isn't. It isn't equal, and it's not gonna be." [sighs]
Hilke: So when did you change your mind about equality?
Kat: When did I change my mind? I changed my mind little by little. I need to think about that, because I started changing my mind about communism in general when I was at East Wind, and I saw the system being taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. I don't know if that is the same thing as this envy thing that I'm talking about. I think it was only after I returned to Twin Oaks that I saw this envy thing in operation big time because of particular personalities we have who are big on that. You know, they are just watchdogs to make sure that nobody else gets more than them. And I just loathe this trait. So little by little I thought, "This is not merely an ugly trait in a particular individual." Especially after I read this article on the kibbutz. We are creating it. And our rigid equality sanctifies envy. You know what I said when we first started this, this community back in 1967? I wrote, "Equality in our community is that state in which no one member envies another." So in the beginning, I defined it as, if we have envy, then we haven't made it. So we should give you enough stuff or satisfactions or whatever it is so that you no longer feel envy. That was my ideal. But I had no idea at that time that that was insatiable. Because it’s not insatiable in me. So I couldn’t generalize from my own personality and my own character, because that particular thing isn’t in me. But I found that certain people just want more and more and more. It just goes on and on, and it's sickening. And so I said, "We're creating it, here is this sickening thing, and we're making it!" And I don't like that, and that's why I changed my mind. Let’s have something that doesn’t, that’s where I’m coming from.
Kathleen Kinkade, ‘But Can He Design Community?’ “Communities”
magazine, number 103, summer 1999, pages 49-52.
To comprehend what the B. F. Skinner novel “Walden Two” meant to me in the early years, you have to understand that I was in love. Not with anyone I knew, all just flawed humans, but with Frazier. ... I recognized him as the man I wanted. There he was, mentally brilliant and emotionally warm, giving his life to something worth doing and succeeding in bringing about a community where I wanted to live. I wanted him for my life partner. ... Of course I realized that he was only fiction and I couldn't have him. Just the same, he was real to me in the sense that he represented my ideal. Skinner had portrayed Frazier as very human indeed, with a sizable ego that I thought was rather cute. Somehow I managed to dream that there would be people attracted to his ideas who would resemble Frazier in basic ways and I wanted to be around people like that. ... I was also in love with Frazier's creation. I longed to spend my life at Walden Two, the community described in the book. It had everything I wanted. I used to read “Walden Two” once a year or so.... Our use of “Walden Two” as a sort of Bible in the early days provided us founders with a master plan of sorts and gave us a clear goal that we agreed on.
Kat quoted at Twin Oaks by Tamara Jones in “The Other American Dream,” in “The Washington Post,” Nov. 15, 1998, p. W12
I think I’m the only one left who remembers it was an experiment. I don’t think egalitarian communities are a good idea, and this one is too close to suit me. There are people here for life who mean it. I’m trapped. It’s this disappointment of, ‘Oh, life isn’t what I thought it would be.’ Is a romance less than they hoped, is intimacy less than they assumed, is the community itself less united in its goals and desires? [Twin Oaks] never did love me. It respected me and it feared me, but it never loved me.
Kat quoted by Josie, her daughter, reported by William Grimes in “Kathleen Kinkade, Founder of Utopian Commune, Is Dead at 77,” in “The New York Times,” July 27, 2008
These people really seem to love me, I don’t know why.
Like most of us who come to community, Kat wanted association with others of like mind and common purpose. Like so many of us, her search never ended as either the goals seemed to be out of reach, or they seemed to change when ever she drew near to them. It remains for the rest of us to continue to learn what we can from Kat, and to carry on our own searches until we, too, can find peace by opening to the love that is around us.
There are many facets to the egalitarian culture that Kat’s inspiration nurtured. In the quote with regard to how women’s relationships are affected, both among women and between women and men, we must realize how much people appreciate this “partnership” culture, as Rianne Isler has called egalitarian society. There is also a parallel between what Kat wrote about simplicity of dress and the lack of a feeling of need for adornment, and similar expressions as found in earlier communal societies throughout history. It must be noted, however, that at TO, EW, etc, all manner of adornments are seen on festive occasions, going even to extremes!
The common theme would seem to be utilitarianism. From simple dress to efficient space use design to valuing all labor equally, and even to Kat’s recognition that while personal gain is the more reliable motivation for effort, the good of the community is the stronger motivation, all suggest an objective, “greatest good for the greatest number” perspective. It seems that Kat could live within that perspective for a time, yet eventually her subjective beliefs evolved, and her attachment to her earlier ideals eroded to the point where she could no longer live in the culture that she had championed and that others sought to maintain. Until she returned to TO about six months before her death, Kat lived alone in a small house.
It must be emphasized how significant is the labor-credit system’s provision for vacation-credits, invented by Kat at Twin Oaks Community. It is this provision more than any other that assures that labor credits do not become a kind of currency, and which therefore creates the most effective alternative economic system for replacing the values of the monetary system of possessiveness and competition with the values of sharing and cooperation. The effectiveness of the vacation-credit system for communal economies is in its scalability in numbers of people, its ability to be replicated in different communities, and its longevity, now about forty years in use.
It is difficult to date when Kat invented the vacation-credit innovation, permitting members to use “over-quota” accumulations of labor credits for vacations. Twin Oaks co-founder Rudy Nesmith does not mention the vacation-credit innovation in his 1969 publication printed by Twin Oaks Press titled, “The Revolution is Over: We Won!” As an appendix to that publication Rudy reprinted the pamphlet called “What Is Twin Oaks?” which states, “Twin Oaks is only a few months old.” Rudy’s reproduction of this pamphlet does not mention over-quota or vacation-credits. Also in “We Won!” Rudy reprinted the “Provisional Member Booklet,” which was probably written closer to ‘69, and it states, “We do have Vacation time, and members may take these days (about 12 days a year) ….” This suggests that the vacation-credit system didn’t then exist, since if it did each member would have earned different amounts of vacation. Rudy and the two pamphlets he reproduced, and Kat in "A Walden Two Experiment," all focus primarily upon the variable-credit labor system, which had been suggested by the community organizer Josiah Warren and the utopian fiction writers Edward Bellamy and B.F. Skinner.
It appears from the documentation that Kat’s vacation-credit innovation happened between 1969 and 1972, the latter being the year of the publication of “A Walden Two Experiment.” Kat’s comment about “early in our history” on page 45 of her first book suggests that the innovation would have taken place closer to ‘69.
It is interesting that in its early outreach literature Twin Oaks focused upon the variable-credit system suggested by utopian fiction writers, while in its later outreach literature, after the variable-credit system was ended in favor of all labor being valued equally (i.e., at one labor credit per hour), the community has not focused nearly as much upon the vacation-credit innovation made at Twin Oaks. This suggests an outreach opportunity for emphasizing the unique innovation made at TO that for the first time in history creates an economic system rivaling in effectiveness and flexibility the monetary, debt-based economic system, effectively replacing the values of possessiveness and competition with a time-based economic system supporting the values of sharing and cooperation.
Also in those early writings about TO there is much idealistic discussion about communal childcare theory and programs. Unlike the variable-credit system, TO and EW had the Kibbutz model of communal childcare as inspiration, not just fictional theorizing about an ideal. Both the variable-credit labor system and communal childcare were experimented with primarily because they were found in the book “Walden Two,” and both were subsequently found to be impractical. What the communities learned from and evolved through these experiences, along with many other topics such as that of leadership, could be presented in their outreach, yet such analysis and conclusions are generally unavailable outside of Kat’s writings.
What we have in Kat’s writing is an honest and open presentation on the question of sharing in communal society, probably more and better material than any other community organizer, historical or contemporary. We can expect, therefore, that through the future there will be an endless stream of articles and books analyzing and theorizing about who Kat was and how she accomplished so much that was not only beautiful and inspiring, yet that continues to live its own story as an expression of the communal ideal.
Answering Kat’s Concerns about Equality with the Ideal of Sharing
Kat Kinkade’s invention of the vacation-credit system created a labor-sharing communal economic system that has managed to carry on essentially a life of its own, similar to how the monetary system perpetuates itself. The logic that gives each of these economic systems their definition and form carries on beyond the lifetimes of all those who become bound up with them.
Monetary and vacation-credit systems may be considered to be on the same level given that they both meet the definition of economics as dealing with the production, distribution and consumption of wealth. Each has a compelling logical system affirming its respective value structure, and both have problems resulting from the inherent nature of their particular structural systems. As there are many criticisms of the market system, so it should not be a surprise that there are also problems with communal economics.
Kat points out a couple problems with communal economies, and evidently becomes obsessed with the issues she identifies of envy and with the concern that in some situations personal incentives can inspire greater motivation than communal incentives. As a result Kat abandons her attachment to the ideal of economic equality. Yet just as capitalism must manage the problems of greed and monopoly, and of forever having to create scarcity in order to build markets, and must rely upon externalizing costs in order to maintain profitability, so also must the vacation-credit system manage the problem of envy as found in the fear-of-scarcity, the tendency for people to want to level everyone to a common denominator, the habit of seeing one’s neighbor’s grass as being greener, and must forever seek means of elevating the value of sharing over that of personal gain.
None of the problems of capitalism necessarily destroy the logical system defining it, and neither do any of the problems of the vacation-credit system necessarily destroy its logic and reason for being.
In the early years of Twin Oaks the community found it to be helpful to affirm a “behavior code,” which articulated a set of behaviors which helped the group to avoid problems. These included such things as exercising consideration and tolerance for other’s individual habits, avoiding “prestige groups” by refraining from boasting of individual accomplishments, avoiding using seniority as a criteria for anything, and refusing titles of any kind. There were nine items in the original code, as reprinted in “The Revolution is Over: We Won!” including that all members were required to explain their work to any other member desiring to learn it, members with unconventional or unorthodox views do not talk about them with non-members, everyone cleans up after themselves and avoids gossiping, and the rule that private rooms are inviolate. When problems of envy arise the community may respond by affirming an appropriate addition to its behavior code. Simply talking about and coming to agreement on a behavior code was TO's early method for addressing problematic behaviors and issues, a practice which Kat and the community as a whole seems to have forgotten and let fall by the wayside, yet that can be reclaimed and resurrected.
With respect to the problem of elevating the value of sharing over that of personal gain, first of all Kat recognizes that “personal gain is, not a stronger motivation than the good of the Community, but a more reliable one.” In capitalist culture, when people wish to explain their motivation for sharing over personal gain, the common parlance is “giving back to the community” as an expression of the “stronger motivation.” This represents a personal decision to act in contradiction to the logic of the dominant economic system, which is generally thought to be a positive exception to the rules.
In contrast, the personal decision to act in contradiction to communal systems set up by the group as incentives and reinforcers for desired behaviors is generally thought to be negative. The answer, as Kat seems to suggest in her comment that, “most people value small liberties …, and therefore society works better if the rules aren't too rigid,” is to recognize that taking care of one’s personal needs and wants can also be a positive thing for the communal society as a whole. Kat recognizes this in her comment, “Give people a little chance to serve themselves on the side, and they will give heartily out of their core efforts for the group.”
Kat is correct in her analysis of the problems of egalitarianism when used as the foundation of a culture. Unfortunately, she can find no way out of the philosophical box she constructed around her original belief in equality, when all the while the solution was simply to reformulate the philosophical foundation itself. If the problems inherent to “egalitarianism” turn out to be greater than anticipated, then a new building block is needed for the foundation and walls defining the culture resulting from Kat’s invention of the vacation-credit economic system. The solution is to replace the flawed ideal of equality with the simpler ideal of sharing.
When sharing becomes recognized as a greater moral value and ethical ideal than that of equality, the emphasis upon identifying and developing the methods of building and maintaining the communal economy does not change. We may continue to recognize and appreciate all of the processes and systems that Kat championed in her quest for equality, especially her creation of the vacation-credit system for labor-sharing.
The transition in ideological foundation for the communal tradition which Kat cofounded essentially began more than thirty years ago with how the communities refer to themselves. A progression of terms have been used, beginning with “Walden Two community,” then “egalitarian community,” and finally, “income-sharing community.” It can be seen to be an appropriate method of honoring Kat’s concerns about equality by recognizing that sharing was always a primary value in the communal tradition that she cofounded, and that the tendency to see equality as a rigid ideology is best replaced with the expression of a more flexible ideology of sharing.
New Community Movement
With respect to the intentional communities movement as a whole, Kat Kinkade’s concerns about communal economies confirm what is shown in the significantly greater growth of the cohousing movement in comparison with the growth of the egalitarian communities movement, that sharing privately-owned property with labor-gifting systems are more appropriate to people acculturated to contemporary American values than sharing commonly-owned property through labor-sharing systems.
Kat's invention of the vacation-credit system provides for the success we've seen of egalitarian communalism, yet the insight she gained and expressed from her experience in the communities using her communal innovation, with respect to her concerns about envy and personal incentive, may help to explain why communities sharing privately-owned property are more successful than those sharing commonly-owned property. Other reasons, for the success of the cohousing movement in particular, include their greater access to financing for developing community, and the advantage of a natural selection process for the most competent and resourceful members as a result of a relatively-high-income-level entrance requirement.
Kat’s comments, with respect to her insights and in view of the evidence of cohousing, suggests possibilities for the next wave of intentional community movements. Kat’s comment that, “Most people value small liberties more than they value small equalities,” and her concern about “rigid egalitarianism” suggests the utility of a diversity of economic systems within a particular community. There are various ways that this is being done in different intentional communities, such as through different levels of economic engagement such as at Ganas Community on Statin Island, from renter-members to invested core-group members, and the "pod" form of community comprised of more-or-less autonomous affinity groups such as at Dancing Rabbit, Pinon Ecovillage and elsewhere. Forms of labor-gifting on the part of renters as well as labor-sharing among those sharing real estate equity and possibly income may be accommodated in these forms of “economically-diverse” intentional communities.
Variations on the cohousing model can be made to reduce the cost of membership while preserving the attraction of personal real-estate ownership. Equity-sharing is one opportunity, where the core members who pay housing costs get an equity stake in the community, probably though using the limited liability company method of holding land collectively, similar to Alpha Farm in Oregon (although they use the cooperative corporation).
In a sense, collective real estate ownership would become a form of community business as the community works together to acquire additional properties. The community may also have other businesses and other forms of sharing, unlike cohousing yet like in egalitarian communities. Also unlike in cohousing, a new community movement may be comprised of communities that emphasize specific commonalities or identities that would attract like-minded people, whether political, spiritual, ethnic or other. If these communities also practiced equity-sharing an appropriate name for such communities may be “equity-linked affinity network” or “ÈLAN.” Another name suggested by the cohousing movement’s preference for the term “intentional neighborhood,” may be the name “intentional family.” And as “collective housing” is shortened to “cohousing,” so a new community movement may shorten “collective family” to “cofamily.”
Urban intentional community in particular has great potential for growth since several problems of rural community are avoided. The resistance to cutting trees for new buildings in rural community is not a problem in urban community since the built environment already extends as far as the eye can see in all directions. Access to jobs, markets for community-owned businesses, education, health care and cultural opportunities can all be easily accessible to urban community members, and prospective members can move nearby before making commitments to the community. Although there are many distractions from community in the city, things like a bulletin board, meeting planning and coordination, labor systems and so on may all be provided through wireless technologies such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), making all members easily accessible to each other, as long as members want to be accessible.
With these models the ideal that Kat expressed of the "experimental community" may be carried on in new intentional community movements, emphasizing creative experimentation in finding solutions to the practical challenges of the communitarian lifestyle.