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Stef's rants, #4 in a series

In this entry I invited people to give me topics to rant or blather about. This is wild_irises's contribution:

Let's hear your opinions on cohousing and other forms of intentional community.

I'm historically pretty negative about cohousing and intentional community.

It's not that I think the idea is stupid -- I was musing the other day about how I lived in group houses in college and thought it was a great idea and a way to save money by being able to share, e.g., one toaster among five people instead of one or two people. The social aspects were usually good more often than they were bad, too. Of course, I think it made a difference that it was only for nine months, and if something really wasn't working we only had to wait it out for a little while longer.

But many (not all) of the people I know who are active in cohousing and intentional community seem naive and unaware of the ways people are different from them, and/or they assume that the way they are is the way everyone will be once everyone else is enlightened.

I also have a problem with the term intentional community, because it implies to me that the baroque, fragile, slow-growing organism that is community can spring full-grown from people's heads if they just call it that. So I have a saying, that I coined while watching the movie Bagdad Cafe: "I don't want an intentional community; I want an unintentional community." (The movie portrays an unintentional community well, and I highly recommend it.)

I suspect that the personal reason behind my negativity about cohousing and intentional community is because I've always been an antisocial, antiauthoritarian, cranky loner. I suppose some folks will read that and protest that I'm not - well, it's true that I'm less concentratedly that way when I get to indulge my periodic randomly timed urges for serious laziness and unscheduledness, but just watch out if I don't. I suspect/fear cohousing/intentional community arrangements would put pressure on me around this; I imagine people poking into my business all the time or grumping that I am not cleaning my space or the common space properly or harrassing me about what I eat. (I had a lot of negative experiences along those lines when I was a kid at camp and in school.)

Another personal thing: I am especially cranky with a particular kind of rah-rah recruitment enthusiasm. I first encountered it in school: "participate! join! sell raffle tickets! come to team spirit meetings!" When it's combined with "alternative politics/lifestyles" (excuse the term) it sometimes takes on a relentless flavor of "we're more evolved than the rest of humanity!" and "let's improve ourselves!" and "if you don't give back to the community right now you're a bad person!" I have very little tolerance for that sort of behavior and have a bad habit of, to use an Esalen word, "firehosing" when I encounter it. (That means pushing back with equally vehement assertions of "It won't work" and "How stupid.")

Of course there must be cohousing groups that aren't like that, but because they would by definition not recruit, I wouldn't be likely to come across them; and I tend to hear more about the groups that are like that or who have spokespeople like that, at any rate.

I'd be happy to be shown my notions about cohousing are wrong.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 25th, 2004 09:36 am (UTC)
I don't think your notions about co-housing are wrong. I think each co-housing situation is as idiosyncratic as each, say, marriage, and I've had good and bad experiences with it. I kinda miss the sense of community that does spring from a conscious effort to create it, but I do much prefer the community that I've accidentally built around me.
Jun. 25th, 2004 09:55 am (UTC)
I agree; it entirely depends on the community. I think that intentionality in communities can work, but it's decidedly an art, not a simple program that you plug in and get the desired result.

But I'm hoping to find out more about them in the future, so far most of my experience is just with one place...which worked in some ways, not in others.
Jun. 25th, 2004 10:30 am (UTC)
I am a co-housing and intentional community booster. However, I agree with your assessment. Not because I have a problem with either concept, but because most of the groups I encounter who are trying to create one or the other for themselves are doing so with desperate fervor. And that is off-putting.

I understand the ones who are preaching the One True Way. I used to be one. :)

Most of the successful intentional communities I know aren't trying to create other communities. And most of the individuals I know who are recruiting and preaching push most of my resistance buttons.

My personal choice is "intentional family." I think I'll rename it to family by choice. :) It is a personal choice, though. I don't want to live alone (It's not good for my mental health to live alone) and the default model fails me completely.

It's not for everybody.

You point of view about intentional community and co-housing isn't wrong. There is no right or wrong. The value of either is entirely subjective.
Jun. 25th, 2004 11:52 am (UTC)
Very interesting perspectives. It's funny, but I'm so torn on this one, myself -- there's a part of me that's susceptible to the draw of a community like that, but there's also a part of me that feels exactly the way you do. It's like I both succumb to and make fun of that kind of rah-rah recruitment enthusiasm. It can be very confusing. I think serenejournal is right in saying that every cohousing community is different, so I suspect you're both right and wrong.

mouseman and I are tentatively considering being part of a co-housing community in the far, far distant future. My biggest objections to the idea include not wanting to live in a rural or suburban area (so if I'm to be a part of it, it would have to be very much a part of urban Edmonton), and feeling rather attached to my house. I'm also worried about having to share space with potentially dysfunctional people, as well as the kinds of "be a part of the group" pressures that would come up, though I worry about that slightly less given that the idea was hatched by purplejavatroll (and if anything, she objects more than I do to those things). On the pro side, a community garden and some sort of community room where people can have common meals if they want to sounds lovely. I don't know; I'm very ambivalent.

Jun. 25th, 2004 12:52 pm (UTC)
Many, many thanks, and (of course) it all makes loads of sense!

Meanwhile, I should have known that we share a love for Baghdad Cafe, imho one of the greatest "small" movies of all time.
Jun. 25th, 2004 05:17 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen that yet, but it's on my list of wanna-see movies. Maybe sometime when I'm over there?
Jun. 26th, 2004 09:01 am (UTC)
Any time! Whether or not alanbostick wants to join us. (But he should. He'd love it and I don't think he's seen it.)
Jun. 25th, 2004 05:23 pm (UTC)
Oh yes Baghdad Cafe is wonderful.
Jun. 25th, 2004 05:33 pm (UTC)
You're welcome and I'm glad it makes sense! I'm curious to hear your views on the subject sometime. And it's cool that we both love that movie.

I will now indulge in nitpicking: It's spelled Bagdad in the movie, not like the name of the city in Iraq.
Jun. 26th, 2004 09:02 am (UTC)
You know, I saw that and I wondered if you had it right and it was wrong in my head, and I went ahead believing it was right in my head. Thanks for the nitpick! I'd much rather be corrected and correct.
Jun. 25th, 2004 05:27 pm (UTC)
Interesting ideas. Mind if I link to this? I need to rant about chosen family, and this casts some light on various points I want to make.
Jun. 25th, 2004 05:29 pm (UTC)
Sure, feel free.
Jun. 25th, 2004 05:32 pm (UTC)
I pretty much agree with your assessment. I will say there's a part of me that is very attracted to the whole concept. I suspect in many cases like chosen family, when we think of them we think of them functioning idyllicly. It would be great to have wonderful people that you feel close to living near you and helping you, making you feel like you belong and that people care for you. It's all the work connected with a cooperative living that people don't always factor in to their plans
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 28th, 2004 01:45 pm (UTC)
I've lived in exactly that situation, actually, living with a co-worker. It worked out fine for me, because we were friends and he was very accommodating. From some hints I got, though, it probably worked out less fine for him. It lasted a year or two, as I recall, and then he moved out of the country.

I've also lived with friends/roommates who drove me crazy.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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