Imagining a Utopian Intentional Community

Utopia

Personal Utopia Writing Project

Nancy Babbitt

Ideal Worlds: Utopian Literature

(2015SU2-CUL-224504-01)

SUNY Empire State College

 

Dr. Debra Monte

August 2015

 

Part One: Personal Utopia – Imagining a Utopian Intentional Community

Peace and Plenty Ecovillage

Intentional Community

Welcome to the website of the Peace and Plenty Ecovillage. Thank you for visiting us today. We are glad for your interest in who we are and what we do. We are an intentional community of individuals and families who embrace the philosophy of nonviolence. We are a democratically governed residential community situated on 250 rural Washington County acres in beautiful upstate New York. We organized into an intentional community in 1989 when four families joined together to purchase the Peace and Plenty farmstead. Since that time, our community has expanded and now includes over one hundred and twenty five individuals sharing land and resources. We are a child-focused community, basing our decision making on what we feel will be the best for the future generations, even unto the seventh generation from today. We also value and honor our elders, as they are the carriers of the community’s wisdom. Our core values include social, economic, and ecological justice.

Social justice, to us, takes place in a diverse community that is egalitarian in its social structure. Therefore, there is no social hierarchy based on in-group/out-group categories. All community members honor and embrace human difference including difference in racial/ethnic backgrounds, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, ability, size, and religion/spirituality. We practice empathic listening and nonviolent communication as a way to avoid conflicts. We attempt to resolve all differences with restorative justice practices. Our community ceremonies embrace an eclectic mixture from many ethnic and spiritual practices. Furthermore, we are a participatory democracy – one in which the voice of all community members (including the children) is required, and decisions are made by consensus.

Economic justice, to us, means that all community members contribute their special talents to the wellbeing of the community and in return, each community member/family enjoys separate living quarters, but also benefits from community meals and community activities/ceremonies based on the earth’s cycles. Each community member has access to healthcare. All are encouraged to engage in ongoing education. We sustain ourselves through self-sufficiency activities such as gardening/farming, food preservation, and arts and crafting projects, as well as teaching. We operate a cooperative retail outlet selling what we produce to the public.

Ecological justice, to us, means concerning ourselves with environmental sustainability. This means stepping away from the competitive and consuming lifestyle that surrounds us, and living instead, with enoughness. Enoughness refers to a philosophy of living life abundantly while consuming less of the world’s resources. In order to achieve this more-with-less end, we embrace an ever-present attitude of thanksgiving. We also utilize green building techniques, we conserve energy, and we use green energy technologies. We are an off-grid zero-carbon community. We reduce consumption, and we reuse, mend, and repair before we recycle. We rarely throw away, because there is no away. We are stewards of the land that sustains us, and therefore, we are caretakers of the forest, of the fields, of the waters, of the air, and of the plant and animal life.

We practice environmentally sound methods for food production (e.g. food forestry, permaculture, organic gardening and farming methods avoiding all genetically modified organisms, free-range pastured animals, sustainable hunting and fishing practices).

Our goal is to be as self-sufficient and ecologically sustainable as possible while at the same time serving the larger community. To serve the larger community we also operate as a learning center. We share our wisdom about growing and preserving food, we teach arts and crafts, and we teach peace and social, economic, and ecological justice as well. We also assist others who would like to develop a similar intentional community of their own.

In sum, the members of Peace and Plenty Ecovillage are social activists. We are active in creating the sort of society in which we wish to live. We practice nonviolence. Nonviolence consists, in part, of obstructive program – blocking the systems and structures that oppress us. However, nonviolence primarily consists of constructive program – creating alternatives to the dominant systems of inequality, oppression, and violence. Constructive program is our primary focus.

Our goals are lofty and perhaps we have not achieved paradise on earth or the perfect utopia, but we feel that our actions and our way of life make a positive difference in our own lives, the lives of those around us, as well as for the generations who will come after us. It is our hope that each future generation will experience increasing ecological diversity and abundance – the very foundation of all wellbeing. It is also our hope that each future generation will experience increasing levels of social justice, peace, and harmony. However, we have designed our governing structure in a way that each generation will be able to shaping their unique version of an ideal world according to their changing world, beliefs, and value systems.

Part Two: Constitution, Manifesto, and Laws

Laws Governing Peace and Plenty Ecovillage’s Participatory Democracy

  1. Community participation is crucial in a participatory democracy and therefore it is mandatory that all community members voice their ideas in all decision-making processes. Community elders facilitate this process.
  2. Each new community member is assigned membership to a band. Children belong to the band of their mother. Members joining from outside Peace and Plenty Ecovillage will be adopted by the band with least number of members and can begin participating in decision making after one year of community membership.
  3. There are five band names, one for each of the following elements of human wellbeing – land, water, air, plants, and animals. There will be two leaders appointed to each band, one male and one female in order to maintain power balance between the sexes. Those leaders’ focus will be on the people of their band as well as their element. Their duty will be to look after their band’s wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of their element and speak on their behalf at community meetings.
  4. Community meetings are generally held on the first Tuesday of each month at 7:00 pm. but can take place whenever there is a need.
  5. Decisions are made by consensus, and therefore community leaders facilitate consensus-building processes rather than exercising top-down management of the people.
  6. Community leaders are not elected rather they are raised. This means that community elders observe the children to see who the natural born leaders are and then begin working with them, supporting their growth and ability in representing their community. There shall always be children in apprenticeship to all leadership roles.
  7. Elders will continually observe the children, seeking to discover their unique gifts and talents and encouraging them to increase their skill and usefulness in order to strengthen and benefit the community.
  8. Community leaders speak the interests of the community. Therefore, community leaders cannot speak for or act on behalf of the community unless the issue at hand has been addressed in a meeting and approved by consensus beforehand.
  9. Leaders not acting on behalf of their community are removed from office and the process for new appointments then begins.
  10. Each community meeting or important gathering shall begin and end with a ceremony of thanksgiving. The ceremony involves expressing thankfulness for those things that are truly important for human wellbeing – community of other people, the living earth, water, air, plants and animals, as well as any other elements deemed necessary at the moment. The purpose of this thanksgiving is to focus our minds on what is truly important to us all and thus facilitate consensus building.

Part Three: Reflection

What is most appealing to you about this place?

To my way of thinking, the most appealing aspects of the Peace and Plenty Ecovillage are the lack of coercion and domination as well as (like the name indicates) it being a place of environmental stewardship that creates bounty and thus, relations that are more peaceful.

What are the most significant barriers to actually achieving this utopian community?

I do think that a somewhat utopian intentional community is possible. However, the barriers would include obtaining the land and resources necessary to build it as well as finding other like-minded individuals who would wish to join and make it happen.

How does your utopian vision connect to the utopian literature we have read this term?

My utopian vision connects to other utopian literatures in that it primarily consists of social theory. It is distinct, however, in its ability to have an eventual real-life application. I think this distinction exists because my utopian vision is for a small community of like-minded individuals, rather than a large homogenous utopian society. The reason that a large utopian society is unlikely, in my opinion, is because people who live in different regions of the world would naturally have different perspectives and needs and then consensus building would become nearly impossible.

How did the reading of utopian theory (in Kumar) shape the development of this utopia?

The reading of utopian theory in Krishan Kumar’s text Utopianismshaped the development of my own utopian vision. This is because Kumar often describes utopian literature as social theory and this is the perspective about utopian literatures that I appreciate also. Although most of the texts covered in class were rather dystopian in nature, I intentionally focused my attention beyond deficit theorizing about what is wrong in the current order or in other utopian literatures to looking for ways in which we might actually shape more ideal communities.

Did you have any difficulties creating this utopian plan? What were they?

I did not have a great deal of difficulty creating this utopian plan because I have spent a great deal of time thinking about changes I would appreciate. For this reason, I included many of my interests – peace; social, economic and environmental justice; nonviolence; non-violent communication; restorative practices, participatory democracy, consensus building, food sovereignty, cooperative sharing economies, intentional communities, voluntary simplicity, self-sufficiency, green technologies, and indigenous knowledge. Much of my utopian plans were taken directly from Indigenous authors such as Barbara Alice Mann (remembering her writing about the Corn Way of Peace and Plenty), and writings about the Haudenosaunee Peace Confederacy of Nations – their customs and their form of governance – and adapted to the purpose of this project.

Did you have any particular difficulties writing this utopian fiction? What were they?

I think the most difficult aspect of writing utopia involves creative fictional writing. Framing my writing in the form of a “home” webpage for a fictional intentional community made the creative writing project more manageable for me – a non-literary student.

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A Letter from Oni the Wind

My beloved human beings, it is I, the ancient one who was before you were, listen to me for I speak truths. I have observed that some of you are angry with me because you have experienced a disruption to your lives. You have called this disruption a storm, a hurricane. Your notions though, are simply a very limiting stereotypical concept of me, Oni, the Wind. I reach out to you today because I see that you are in pain.

Know that I have not come to destroy you. I love you all. I come to you according to my original instructions. In the beginning we ancient ones worked together to create a place of wonder, beauty, and abundance of life. It is my work to continue in this sacred task.

And so, I move, seeking the waters and moving them toward the shores. I seek the rocks and stones of the mountains, plains, and deserts, too. As I push on these other ancient ones we, together, create what becomes the foundation for, not just dirt – but earth, the living soil that brings forth new life. I look for human beings, birds and all other animals, as well as the plants, too. I seek all of these beings in order to provide them with the life-giving, life-sustaining components that I carry: Water, gaseous elements, and a refreshing cool breeze on a hot day.

However, many of you human beings are not always aware of me. You do not notice me, the one who is always with you, unless you are in distress: Out of breath, too hot, or in the midst of a storm.

Know this truth, too, I do not move or work on my own volition. My movements are directed by our ancient relatives, e.g. the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the waters, and the trees, according to the heat and cooling that they provide. We, therefore, do not exist independent from another, but rather we exist because of one another. However, the human animals have increased their knowledge and while doing so, they have forgotten the truth: My manifestation, whether gentle or fierce, is in accordance to the actions and qualities of all other beings.

Sadly, many of the human animals, in quest of comfort and increased wellbeing, have pursued knowledge and technological development while disregarding the ancient truth. That is, some humans, working with imperfect knowledge while discarding truth, have altered our shared world in ways that are reshaping what you call climate and weather patterns.

Thus, you human beings, with your imperfect knowledge, have dug into our earth, extracting and burning what you have found, and by this have altered the elements in the atmosphere, increasing its temperature. You human beings, with your imperfect knowledge, have cut down our relatives the trees and the cooling forests are now so few. You human beings, with your imperfect knowledge, have attacked our relatives the mountains by removing their tops to use as fuel, altering the movement of our relative the water clouds in the process. You human beings, in your imperfect knowledge, have removed our relatives the trees, and now the protective mangrove forests that buffered the shorelines from strong winds are so few. You human beings, in your imperfect knowledge, if you find me fierce, remember, I am because we are.

My dear human beings, I want you to know that it is true, I am because we are. However, it is also true that you are because I am. So, if you hear it said that some human cultures are faulty in that they personify non-humans, do not believe it. Your personhood exists because I am: Therefore, I, Oni the Wind, personify you. Your personhood exists because water is: Therefore, Water personifies you. Your personhood exists because rocks are: Therefore, Rocks personify you. Human beings are persons because all other beings are, and each being has a right to be. I want you to understand this important truth so I will say it again: In the natural law, each being has a right to be, and this right is the basis of personhood and it belongs to all beings, not just human beings.

Therefore, because I love you, dear human beings, I am asking you to return to your original instructions. Recognize that your knowledge is imperfect. We ancient ones carry the wisdom of the ages and we will share that with you if you stop to listen. Your instructions are simply this: Be thankful. Be thankful for all that surrounds you and act accordingly: Work together in cooperative and reciprocal relationships with all other beings in order to maintain a gentle balance.

I am the one who surrounds you always, the one who breathes life into you, and the one who loves you always,

Oni, the Wind.

~ Nancy Babbitt ~ a “make character” project that extends from Linda Hogan’s book titled “Power: A Novel” for a class I took at SUNY Empire State College in the summer of 2015 titled Mythology and Modern Life that was developed by Dr. Menoukha Case and taught by Dr. Batya Weinbaum.

The Haudenosaunee Peacemaker: Originator of American Democracy

There is an ancient legend that tells how the Haudenosaunee (commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy) was formed. Today, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy consists of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and the Tuscarora American Indian Nations. These nations historically inhabited the lands that surround the North American Great Lakes, known as the Eastern Woodlands cultural area. This is in the area of North America that is now known as the states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio in the U.S. and the southern regions of the Maritime provinces of Canada.

Oren Lyons, the Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee, on July 3rd, 1991, spoke with journalist Bill Moyers telling him about The Legend of the Gai Eneshah Go’ Nah (the Great Law of Peace), which was given to his people by a man who they call The Peacemaker.

In this interview, Mr. Lyons explained that over a thousand years ago the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and the Mohawk people had been engaged in constant conflict with one other. Violence and bloodshed had become a way of life. Then a spiritual man, known as The Peacemaker, came to the Five Nations and gave them instructions on how to live together in peace.  Later, the Tuscarora people, who because of the negative effects of colonization, migrated from the south and joined the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The instructions that The Peacemaker gave are known as The Great Law of Peace, which governs the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to this day.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was the first American democracy, and it is the one after which the ‘Founding Fathers’ patterned the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, the notion of ‘democracy’ has a slightly different meaning for the Haudenosaunee people than it does for the dominating U.S. culture. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is a rather egalitarian form of government, a specific type of direct democracy called a participatory democracy, in which there is a belief in the need for consensus and the sharing of power. The Haudenosaunee people believe that law, society and nature are equal partners, each holding important roles.  While in a similar yet distinct way, the U.S. form of government is a representative democracy, where, essentially, the majority rules in a power-over fashion within a system of hierarchical power structures. Thus, in America, the term ‘democracy’ is a shared symbol that embodies different meanings, depending on the worldview of the people using the term.

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