Not that one!
The other one.
Despite all the hype and enthusiasm surrounding it…
It's a bitch.
You can barely throw a fedora these days without hitting someone "calling in community."
But what is it that these thirty somethings keep nattering on about? And do they know what they’re getting into?
(HINT: exactly what their Boomer parents spent the 60's and 70's exploring, with decidedly mixed results. So we really need to do a post-mortem on prior efforts so we can do this next round a little better.)
From our survey of the technomadic hipster crowd, we've seen this type of elective, idealistic, intentional "Community" unfold in two discrete stages. (results will vary wildly based on race, class, gender and culture)
Phase One: Community = a gathering of tighter and more loosely bonded friendships, often cemented by attending transformational festivals, living in co-housing arrangements, overlapping romantic entanglements, or doing large amounts of mind expanding drugs in consequence free environments together. (or option D. All of the Above)
The community effort coalesces around at least one tech/crypto bro "Whale" who is underwriting a land buy for the rest of the Carnies. The Carnies tend not to have much in savings as they put all their money into fabulous brunches, trips to Tulum and Bali, and photo ops for the 'gram.
Said Whale (i.e. the only one with real net worth) tends to get plied with bountiful sexuality and substances, and is often glamored by the lead Carnies (those with charisma and a thirst for wealth and power, but without enough of their own to pull this off without a backer) to believe that what they need to do is "get out of their head and into their heart."
Anytime that poor naive mark slightly sobers up and begins to question the dynamics of the project, they get hoodwinked back into visualizing abundance, sourcing from infinite love, and remembering that we are All One tribe (but please go ahead and wire the downpayment ASAP, you gave your word when we were high on ayahuasca and it's really important for your soul journey to honor your commitments).
So Community Phase One these days means one poor (rich) sucker picking up the tab for a few dozen others, while sex, substances, cuddle puddles and council circles are liberally dispensed.
And as for sustainable business models to keep the whole thing afloat?
The Carnies know how to hustle just enough to make their own ends meet, whether online coaching, digital marketing, "medicine serving" (AKA drug dealers who stay for the party) or some other silicon grift.
But the big capital improvements to develop said community almost always have to come from the Whale.
Often, folks come up with the totally original and not at all deluded notion that they will open up a thriving and profitable healing center!!!
Yoga, medicine ceremonies, sound baths, and polyamorous workshops (i.e. the same shit they do for free every weekend, just now charging Muggles for the same privilege).
At least until the wheels of civilization fall off.
Then they will become Starseeds for the New Millenium hunkered down in their bamboo bunker in the jungles of Costa Rica.
(they don't call 'em Millennials for nothin'!)
The "abundance mindset" of these communities tends to vary directly with the share price of the Tech bros portfolio, or their crypto wallets (sorry kids!).
What's more, Game of Thrones style sexual politics are still fully in force, so when the poly-go-round bed-hopping slows down, there's almost always some alpha seductor/seductress who manages to land the Whale and get pregnant.
If it hasn't already, that's when everything changes.
We shift from "Soul Family and Star Tribe" into whose name is actually on the deed, and who's next in line for the Iron Throne.
Most of these communities collapse when the Whale stops funding everyone else and starts thinking of their biological family’s future, or the Carnies belatedly realize that free lunches are rarely free.
They predictably chalk it up to the "limitations in the egoic consciousness" of the Whale. And the carnies strike their tents and head off in search of the next abundance opportunity.
And in the "would think it was satire in the Onion, but it's true" category, see the rise in chicken coop babysitting apps (in Austin!) to offer Millennials, who, after their sourdough baking stint and back to the land #inspo from watching Biggest Little Farm on Netflix, belatedly realize that actually caring for other living things puts a serious crimp on the Gypset lifestyle.
Which brings us to Community, Phase Two.
This one is almost always "called in" by hopeful, expecting, or new mothers. They may or may not have been party to Phase One, but by the time they're yearning for this next phase, it almost always comes down to:
Guilt (and money)-free babysitting 🐣
They hold out this Norman Rockwell notion of a circle of Madonna Mommas, all gently suckling their little blonde buddha babies as they sing songs and play with Montessori blocks and woolen Waldorf dolls.
They imagine an idyll where they can share the load of parenting and everyone is fully signed off on "it takes a village to raise a child."
But by that logic, it takes a town to raise a village (of other people's snot nosed little brats). There's just not enough labor–emotional or physical– to go 'round.
Because here's the thing: It's hard but not impossible to work through each other's blind spots and foibles as adults in an intentional community.
Ton of work and maturity required, but doable.
It's impossible to do that when you see their entitled co-dependent, poor attachment style, demon spawn fucking up your own precious kids!
Intergenerational shadow dynamics wreck any good faith between the parents. The gloves come off in a hurry.
And if there's still any bed hopping going on? Forget about it. Way too many relational nodes to map and model in real time.
Especially when kinship ties trump any professed "Soul Family" relations.
Blood is always thicker than ether.
We learned this as a family when we founded a Montessori school for our kids when they were little. At first, we held to the naive notion "hey, we're professional educators, and we are gonna give our own kids the absolute very best learning experience we can muster. It seems a shame to do all that work just for our own, why not start a community and share the love?"
Except that's not exactly how it worked out.
Instead, we realized our kids were sponges for absorbing fucked up and dysfunctional habits from fucked up and dysfunctional kids.
And it wasn't any of those kids' fault.
It was their parents.
And it was asymmetrical warfare. (The kids only came to school for six hours a day. They spent the rest of their lives absorbing whacked stuff at home).
Julie, my wife, and one of the most amazing early childhood educators anywhere, would work magic with those children, and they'd be dignified, capable and competent little humans all day...
Right up until the moment their parents' minivan pulled into the parking lot and they'd collapse into squealing squawking infants.
Our kids too. It would often take all weekend to flush out of their system any of the dirty tricks and mindgames they'd learned oh-so-easily during the week. We realized quickly that teaching the children well, was the easy part.
Re-parenting the parents was next to impossible. And we were the "experts" with teacherly authority, tuition, and learning contracts to confirm expectations.
Imagine trying it in a homeschool co-op with no one clearly in charge! Or when the parents are banging each other?
Lately, we've had another hard reckoning with the realities of the C-word.
Namely, life in a mountain town.
In the places we've alway lived and played, like Telluride, Boulder, Crested Butte and other choice spots in the Rocky Mountains, it's easy to get swept up in the small town promise.
Everyone there (more or less) choses to come for the same adventure, natural beauty and righteous culture.
It's Lake Wobegon with better scenery.
Where all the women have PhDs and climb 5.14, the men are Abercrombie Chads, and the children are named Portia and Carrington.
But they're also incessant cess pools of hedonism, increasingly extreme wealth inequality, and flat fuck petty politics.
The mayor of Crested Butte, a young idealistic thirty something transplant, who wanted to fulfill his civic duty and help the town remain a great place to raise a young family, recently attempted to pass an ordinance. It proposed that AirBnB absentee landlords paid $2500 a year into the kittie to support affordable housing for the increasingly strapped local labor force.
Seems like a no-brainer.
It (and he) went down in flames.
Because most of the locals live down valley, and not in the uber-expensive historic town limits, entrenched locals and out of town second home owners had the votes to shoot down the measure. The fight was so bitter that the idealistic young politician packed up and left town, small family in tow.
(Note: my retelling is from memory––the guy could've been head of Town Council, or some other elected lead role in town gov't)
Same thing just over the pass in Paonia.
That’s the quaint little Western Slope town where Dennis and Terrance Mckenna grew up). Stopping by a coffee shop last month, we picked up the local paper to see what was happening.
Front page was a gut churning resignation letter by a long time local woman who'd served on town government and been pilloried by increasingly unhinged elements during the Covid culture wars.
Even the local paper, who had apparently platformed much of this toxic harassment, ended up apologizing for the bullying.
Despite raising her three boys in that town, and always imagining it was her forever home, she picked up sticks and left.
So that's the tribal politics stuff. Nothing so bitter as a non-profit, HOA, or town council, where there's so little at stake. Jealousy. Gossip. Power games.
Especially as online toxicity and identity politics are trumping place-based neighborly relations.
Keeping up with, (or kneecapping) the Joneses.
So far we've covered relationships, funding, family and tribal politics, and noted how sticky and tricky all of them are to get remotely right.
But there's a final one that matters as much as all the rest.
Simply: doing business locally is hard, slow, unreliable and much much more expensive.
We've been so conditioned by Amazon Prime that anytime we go to the post office to actually mail something, we're almost always sticker-shocked by how much it costs and how long it takes.
"A week and $40???" we squeak when posting a batch of cookies to grandma. "But just yesterday I pressed that little One Click™ button and it was on my doorstep for FREE this morning?”
Same with Wal Mart pricing compared to the local hardware store.
Or DoorDash. Or Uber, compared to local restaurants and shuttle companies.
It's been such a slow, relentless bloodletting of margins, living wages, and actual cost of goods sold, in our post-NAFTA world, that we've forgotten how local economies tend to run.
Compared to seamless (and soulless) globally integrated supply chains where we offshore and outsource all the inhumanity to the Global South, community economies are lousy with middlemen.
And they're your neighbors.
And they're struggling to make a living.
So they charge enough to at least try.
Which is way more than we now (with price matching only a phone scroll away) have been conditioned to expect to pay.
Case in point:
We're building a mountain cabin. Not big, just enough to be a fun little ski hut that can host family and friends. So we went downvalley to check out some reclaimed wood to finish the interior.
We figured we were being super savvy and gonna find some screaming local deals.
After all, this outdoor railroad lot had no fancy showroom, barely a website to speak of, and was very much a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) pick-through-the-pallets kind of operation.
But the prices were eye wateringly expensive. And I noticed my own thought process.
"Fuck that. Lemme go back and do some more research. I remember a big warehouse in Denver. Bet we could take our trailer down there, load up and save 20-30%."
And then I caught myself. Every one of those dollars would then be taken out of the community that we intend to be a positive part of and pumped into a booming megalopolis down on the flats.
If we were serious about all of the ideals of small town living, at some point, you've gotta commit to small town spending.
Community Capitalism as Free Market Socialism.
We live here. We might even give here. But we also gotta spend here.
It’s totally shaped how this project is unfolding.
We started out super geeked on all of the high-tech fabricated building companies springing up all over. They promise rad designs, super green and efficient systems, all done better faster cheaper than on-site stick building.
It was amazingly tempting to have one built in a factory on the West Coast, shipped on a trailer and craned into place. No messy, costly local help required. Just like the pics in Dwell and Architectural Digest!
And we would’ve too.
But for a host of reasons, we couldn't pull it off. There weren't any off the rack solutions that fit our building site at 10,000 feet, crazy snow loads and off-grid energy needs. We had to find a local contractor who could do the job.
What started out as a modest little weekend hobby project has now ballooned into a bigger cost than the house we raised our kids in (and still live in).
So much for our cabin shack.
But/and...it's also supporting our builder's young family, and their trades people, and the renewable energy family, and...we're forging some relationships that we hope continue past the project, and...
The brutal truth is none of living in community makes a whole lot of sense!
Unless you're too young or too broke to have many other options.
If you've got income and wisdom (and choices), most reasonable people choose to go it alone.
It's so. much. simpler. that way!
There’s a reason folks tend to live in the ‘burbs if they can. Elective proximity (to urban jobs and culture), not forced dependency (up in each others’ business with no escape hatch).
History supports this.
We dimly remember those stories in our text books of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when so many rural farm communities started hemorrhaging their young people for a shot at factory jobs in the cities.
It’s a process that’s been slowly repeated all over the world in the past century.
In 1920’s New York the Bowery Boys and Girls gathered. Busting ass in horrible sweatshops by day, but stretching their wings, exercising their modest spending power, exploring post-traditional sexual and social mores by night––it was the beginning of social justice movements, women’s suffrage, sexual revolutions, jazz and a whole lot else.
In other words, these young folks were stoked to live large freed from the confines of straight-jacketed, often repressive, bigoted village mono-cultures.
Back in the day, if you were gay, or “foreign” or agnostic or individualistic, or emo or artistic, or kinky, or creative or…pretty much anything that deviated even slightly from the norms of conventional community, you were marginalized, repressed, or attacked at home.
Yes, those traditional communities were tight, but often because no one had anyplace else to go!
In sum, as the C-word appears to be experiencing a revival, we should be super clear-eyed about what living together, raising families together, navigating romance, governance and business together, actually entails.
Community isn’t one more idealized blank slate we get to project all of our fantasies onto. It’s the ultimate rate-limiter on any and all of our more ambitious and Utopian dreams.
But it can also be a ton of fun amidst that hard work.
As conditions change, the housing crisis deepens, economies throw a wobbly, and we realize we have to start banding together better, we once again, may not have a choice but to figure out community living.
The only way to do that is to start practicing now. Get to know a neighbor. Mend some family fences. Host a potluck with an uncomfortably diverse guest list. Pay a bit extra at a local farmer’s market. Volunteer at a school or shelter.
If you’re a total glutton for punishment, run for a school board or HOA.
And if all else fails, train with an elective community of folks who’ve actually chosen to explore what healthy functional leadership and connection might look like.
Sometimes it’s a whole lot easier to change and grow with (relative) strangers than it is with your own kith and kin.
After all, neither prophets, nor Jimi Hendrix were recognized in their home towns (Jimi had to go to London for his breakout).
While I wasn’t thinking of our own community at FGP when I started writing this essay, I can’t not now.
Whether it’s training expedition behavior in our canyons courses, or practicing culture architecture at our summertime camps, or learning leadership tools in Leading Through Fire, or even just gathering around the digital campfire of Zoom for our monthly calls, this is the small bit we’re playing to split the difference.
We’re here to lead leaders, not grow followers.
Our FGP community is a meta-community, made up of folks who at home are busy leading their own families, communities and organizations.
When we come together to practice with peers rather than dependents (or constituents) it’s often refreshingly more supportive and straight forward.
And when someone takes those new skills and meets with triumph or disaster back home, we end up multiplying the successes and halving the suffering.
So that’s how it works for us, I guess. Splitting the difference on Community. ⚖️
At a personal level, we’re building our little cabin up in the mountains so we can write, paint, climb, ski, paddle and pedal unencumbered by much else.
But at a professional level, we’re all in on rallying a community of community leaders, so we can all get a bit better at doing this Homegrown Human thing together (and apart)
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