Kurt Vonnegut has some good models/theories on communal living.
“This is a lonesome society that’s been fragmented by the factory system. People have to move from here to there as jobs move, as prosperity leaves one area and appears somewhere else. People don’t live in communities permanently anymore. But they should: Communities are very comforting to human beings….
“Until recent times, you know, human beings usually had a permanent community of relatives. They had dozens of homes to go to. So when a married couple had a fight, one or the other could go to a house three doors down and stay with a close relative until he was feeling tender again. Or if a kid got so fed up with his parents that he couldn’t stand it, he could march over to his uncle’s for a while. And this is no longer possible. Each family is locked into its little box. The neighbors aren’t relatives. There aren’t other houses where people can go and be cared for. When Nixon is pondering what’s happening to America—‘Where have the old values gone?’ and all that—the answer is perfectly simple. We’re lonesome. We don’t have enough friends or relatives anymore. And we would if we lived in real communities.”
[On those who are making attempts at alternate social structures—such as communes:]
“They want to go back to the way human beings have lived for 1,000,000 years, which is intelligent. Unfortunately, these communities usually don’t hold together very long, and finally they fail because their members aren’t really relatives, don’t have enough in common. For a community really to work, you shouldn’t have to wonder what the person next to you is thinking. This is a primitive society. In the communities of strangers being hammered together now, as young people take over farms and try to live communally, the founders are sure to have hellish differences. But their children, if the communes hold together long enough to raise children, will be more comfortable together, will have more attitudes and experiences in common, will be more like genuine relatives.”
“[Dr. Robert Redfield] acknowledged that primitive societies were bewilderingly various. He begged us to admit, though, that all of them had certain characteristics in common. For instance: They were all so small that everybody knew everybody well, and associations lasted for life. The members communicated intimately with one another, and very little with anybody else.
“The members communicated only by word of mouth. There was no access to the experience and thought of the past, except through memory. The old were treasured for their memories. There was little change. What one man knew and believed was the same as what all men knew and believed. There wasn’t much of a division of labor. What one person did was pretty much what another person did.
“And so on. Dr. Redfield invited us to call any such society ‘a Folk Society’…. In a folk society, says Dr. Redfield, and I quote him now:
“‘[B]ehavior is personal, not impersonal. A “person” may be defined as that social object which I feel to respond to situations as I do, with all the sentiments and interests which I feel to be my own; a person is myself in another form, his qualities and values are inherent within him, and his significance for me is not merely one of utility. A “thing,” on the other hand, is a social object which has no claim upon my sympathies, which responds to me, as I conceive it, mechanically; its value for me exists in so far as it serves my end. In the folk society, all human beings admitted to the society are treated as persons; one does not deal impersonally (“thing fashion”) with any other participant in the little world of that folk society.
“‘Moreover [Dr. Redfield goes on], in the folk society much besides human beings is treated personally. The pattern of behavior which is first suggested by the inner experience of the individual—his wishes, fears, sensitivities, and interests of all sorts—is projected onto all objects with which he comes in contact. Thus nature, too, is treated personally; the elements, the features of the landscape, the animals, and especially anything in the environment which by its appearance or behavior suggests the attributes of mankind—to all these are attributed qualities of the human person.’
“And I say to you that we are full of chemicals which require us to belong to folk societies, or failing that, to feel lousy all the time. We are chemically engineered to live in folk societies, just as fish are chemically engineered to live in clean water—and there aren’t any folk societies for us anymore.”
—Wampeters, Foma, And Granfalloons
(originally posted on Facebook; see post for comments.)
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