Tag: federation of egalitarian communities

Acorn Community: American Anarchism at its Apex

Ryan Lau | @agorisms

America, since its founding, has strongly valued the need for a government to satisfy needs. Rule of law, freedom, and checks and balances are ideals that many of us grow up believing in. But some people believe that freedom is not compatible with the State. The range of anarchist thought varies drastically, from philosophical to political and individualist to collectivist. In 1993, a group of them came together and birthed their ideas. Hence formed Acorn Community.

Acorn Community Anarchism

Acorn Community, as stated above, began as a small project in 1993 in Louisa County, Virginia. It is a member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, a group of rural autonomous settlements throughout the United States. The community professes itself to be anarchist, egalitarian and sustainable. Moreover, it claims to thrive on non-coercive, voluntary interactions.

The group began when a sister group, Twin Oaks, was at its maximum capacity of 100 members. Many more people wanted to join, so the group branched out and purchased another plot of land. Now, both communities are healthy and full. Twin Oaks operates with over 100 members, while Acorn Community has around 30.

Of the many groups that make up the FEC, Acorn Community is one of the few that professes anarchism. Despite this belief, the community nonetheless does still pay taxes. With 501(d) non-profit status, their rates are considerably lower, but unlike some religious organizations, they are not entirely exempt from the state.

Collectively, the roughly 30 members of Acorn Community own the various elements of property present on the site. Large items, such as houses, cars, and the seed-growing business that they use to sustain the group, fall under this communal ownership. On the other hand, smaller items, including those that one can stash in a bedroom, are owned by individual members.

The Decision-Making Process

What makes Acorn Community particularly notable is the way that it reaches agreements. In fact, that’s exactly it: every rule they impose on the community, they all agree to. The group rejects majority rule as a way of disregarding minority voices. Instead, they firmly believe in a process that they call Consensus.

In the system of Consensus, any full member of the community is allowed to propose a new idea. Then, every other member of the community can voice his or her agreement or disagreement. Peaceful discussion and debate follows, and eventually, they all state their preferences. If a single full member disagrees with the notion, then it does not go into action.

This form of decision-making is incredibly uncommon, even among other members of the FEC. It is known by political theorists as unanimous direct democracy, under which everyone’s voice is included and no one member can make a decision for another without his or her consent. In a sense, it gives ultimate veto power to every single member. Some theorists believe that such a system is the only way that both authority and autonomy can exist. Acorn Community, therefore, is a rare example of such a phenomenon of freedom and democracy.

However, for the sake of efficiency, Acorn Community encourages members to listen to each other and seek out compromises. If each member can agree to one, then the motion moves forward.

A Lack of Conflict

In its history of more than a quarter-century, there has not been any conflict between Acorn Community and local police. The group, in order to sustain itself, operates a GMO-free seed business. With their profits, they are able to buy essentials for the members. They also use the excess money for social events such as dances, parties, books, games, and other entertainment.

The distinct peace separates the group from many other exhibits of anarchism in the modern world. Freetown Christiania, for example, boasts itself as another successful anarchist district. Though they have effectively survived without a state for longer than Acorn, they recently have been the victim of several police raids.

On the other hand, Acorn Community appears to function with very limited interaction with the government. This is possible due to their self-reliance; a rotating schedule of farmers and cooks enable the community to thrive off of their own local produce and livestock. Both meat and vegetarian options come from local products. Crops that they cannot grow generally come from other local, organic farmers. Though not every member works in food preparation or growth, all must meet a quota of 42 hours per week, or six hours a day. Yet, non-traditional forms of labor, such as childcare and cleaning, also count towards the total. As a result, many members exceed the quota considerably, thus earning extra time off.

How to Become a Member

The process of joining Acorn Community is quite complicated. First, any interested applicants must fill out an online questionnaire and make a visit to the farm. The visitor period may be from anywhere from one to six months. During that time, the visitor can request that he or she become a provisional member.

In order to be a provisional member, the current members hold a test for excitement. As a majority, they must determine they are “excited” for the new applicant to join. If they vote “accept” or “have reservations”, then the vote continues. Every “have reservations” vote cancels one “excited” vote. A single member can also entirely block the process, halting the initiation at once. This fits the method of unanimous direct democracy that Acorn Community practices.

If the applicant gets enough “excited” votes, they then must complete a round of Clearnesses. This essentially means that he or she must meet individually with each of the existing members. There, members can express their concerns about the new member or just get to know him or her better. After this, one more test for excitement occurs, and if the applicant passes, he or she becomes a provisional member. Every six months after this, a new test for excitement will occur. At this point, the members can vote on whether to make the provisional member into a full member. If at any point, the members reject an applicant, he or she has two weeks to leave the community. Members can extend or shorten this timeframe if need be.

Culture and Entertainment

Though Acorn Community places an emphasis on work, they are not without recreation. Living on a farm, they frequently use their outdoor space for sporting events. Wrestling, volleyball, and croquet and particularly popular. They also enjoy swimming in the nearby river and holding bonfires. In the winter months, they often soak in a hot tub, play board, card, and video games, and practice yoga.

On occasions, the community organizes events with the neighboring Twin Oaks community. The two groups are very close with each other, even though Twin Oaks does not claim to be anarchist. All in all, Acorn Community is a thriving example of what simple life can be, without the influence of a coercive government.

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Is Socialism Bad for a Country and its People?

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

Through most of American history, our country has demonized socialism openly. In fact, during certain periods of time, refusing to do so was costly. During the McCarthy Era, for example, those who did not condemn socialism and communism were often subject to sharp punishment. In other time periods, the same has been true.

Of course, it is safe to say that punishing someone because of their views is unjust. Nonetheless, it has occurred many times. Why is this? Naturally, there was a great American fear of socialism and communism during the Cold War. But, does this justify the general fear and hatred of socialism itself? The simple answer: it’s complicated.

Is Socialism Bad for a Country?

There are a number of elements to the question of whether socialism is bad for a people or country. In order to properly answer it, it is critical to address all parts of it. Failure to do so, as I will explain below, can create a dangerous partial truth at best.

The Definition of Socialism

First and foremost, one must comprehend what socialism truly is. This notion is logically sound: it is impossible to fairly like or dislike something that you do not understand. Ultimately, socialism is a worker ownership of the means of production. Rather than private individuals owning money and land, the collective society does. In some, more authoritarian cases, the state steps in to handle the distribution of goods. On the other hand, smaller socialist societies claim an ability to do this without the state.

Naturally, this runs in direct contrast to the current American way of life, which centers around private profit. Yet, different is not inherently good or bad. Now, a convincing argument could exist, saying that if the socialist system forces you to participate, then it is a negative force in the world. This, of course, is due to the lack of autonomy and choice that such a system would bring about.

Opt-Out Socialism

What can we say, though, about a more voluntary form of socialism? A number of such communities exist, notably the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. By joining the group, you agree to abide by the rules, but you also can reside peaceably without contributing or receiving anything. This, of course, does not rob you of that same autonomy. At every point, you are free to sever communication and allegiance with the group. The same is not true about a modern democracy or a forceful socialist community. In both cases, there are punishments for refusing to comply. So, if someone is allowed to opt out of this process without harm, there is no loss of autonomy. A form of opt-out socialism, therefore, does not violate the ideal of individual freedom.

Clearly, the idea of socialism does not always take away autonomy. So, it does not necessarily run in contrast to the moral freedom that we as human beings all possess. Various forms may support or oppose the idea of freedom, but it is wrong to place a blanket statement on them.

What is Political Good and Bad?

Beyond the word socialism, it is also important to define the other terms. To know if socialism is bad, you must furthermore know what it means to be bad. The word itself is a negation of good, so for the sake of definition, I will focus on the positive form. The thing is, though, it is frankly impossible to think of a real definition that can apply to a country or group of people.

Economic Growth

When it comes down to it, different people will have different ideas for what is good. Some, for instance, may believe that economic indicators are the surefire way of determining the goodness of a political system. For them, it appears that a more open or mixed market may be a good system. The numbers, on the surface, appear to support this notion. After all, world poverty dropped from 53 percent to 17 percent from 1981 to 2011. This perfectly coincides with industrial revolutions throughout the world and the formation of market economies in developing countries.

Other Measures of Goodness

Looking deeper, though, it becomes clear that this may not truly be good for everyone. Arguments can exist far beyond the economic scale. For example, there may be environmental, moral, religious, or philosophical perspectives on the issue.

From an environmental perspective, industrial revolutions cause a great deal of pollution. In a decentralized, agrarian society without mass industry, rivers would perhaps not be as unclean as they were after shifts to market and industry. Morally, perhaps the consumer lifestyle does not bring a sense of inner peace. After all, would not a happy but poor life to 60 be more fulfilling than a rich, miserable life to 100? Neither capitalism nor socialism will make everyone happy. Inevitably, though, there will be some who would prefer that shorter life.

A Question of Perspective

Clearly, there are countless perspectives on this forever back and forth debate. Is socialism bad? The question is not a fair one. Socialism can mean a number of things, and the word bad is too one-dimensional. It may boost a certain man’s wealth and life expectancy, but take away his connection to his community and pollute his river. Perhaps, in some other cases, it will not drastically affect his income but will make him a happier person.

If we can say that two or more perspectives exist, then the word “bad” is not proper for the discussion. And, with just those two above, we have the two necessary ideas. Of course, many more can exist, and each only furthers my point. Socialism is not bad, necessarily. It very well can be, according to an individual. The word bad, though, is one-dimensional and limiting. Thus, it is not accurate to use it to describe many different perspectives, provided that the preferred system does not initiate force against anyone. And, as shown above, opt-out socialism does not cause any loss of autonomy.

Still, someone may use it subjectively, to describe his or her own life. A woman may prefer capitalism to socialism or vice versa, and declare one of them good for her. But, that woman is in the heads of no other man or woman. Thus, she cannot decide if it is good for any other person, let alone the world. For such a complex issue, we must always turn to the individual: each person can only assess his or her own best interests.

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