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Fractal Communalism

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New economies and self-valorisation in the communes: the slow motion general strike

In contrast to the coliving models that we most commonly see in the media, the communes are autonomous zones, where people come together to manifest their values, to experiment with home, culture, norms and behaviour. For some this is about sociality and bonding, for others about mutual aid, collectivisation, politics. Autonomous zones are spaces reserved for behaviors and principles of anarchism, such as mutual aid and challenges to hierarchy and management. Traditionally autonomous zones have also served as places to learn about these traditions and theories, but also to act as cultural and behavioural experiments. None of these projects are declaring that they have the answer for how to live, they are experiments, places of learning. They are “forming the structure of the new world in the shell of the old”. Unlike many of the for profit models, which are aimed at scaling, the communes celebrate a diversity of structures, attitudes and approaches within their ecosystem.

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“It may be, in fact, that it is the very nature of anarchy that we shall always be building the new society within whatever society we find ourselves” [3]

Communes, like many autonomous zones, are aimed at trying to nurture organic relations with their local community, aiming to serve and build with more than just themselves. These spaces thus serve as behavioural incubators of sorts, where communities build new skills for non-hierarchical living, and collectivity. The communes go way beyond just living together, and for many of them, they are part of a new economy. DIY production is a key aspect to the communes. They create life with and for each other, in a way that challenges capitalist modes of production. The parallel way of life that the communes are holding represents a number of concepts that have been articulated over the years.

Walter Benjamin describes the general strike as “a means of disengagement and the avoidance of violence,” and Eugene Holland goes on to describe the ‘ slow-motion general-strike’, as non-violent means to getting beyond our dominant systems of control [4]. Holland proposes a gradual and slow motion creation of alternative ways of being that would ‘Seek out actually existing alternative modes of self-provisioning… and also develop new ones; walk away from dependence on capital and the State, one step, one stratum, at a time, while… continually develop[ing] alternative practices and institutions to sustain the movement’. Arguably the communes are doing just that.

Similarly, the italian autonomists coined the term ‘autovalorizzazione’, or self valorization, to describe the production of goods and services for their actual and mutual use, rather than for the purpose of selling /turning a profit. Certainly the diverse activities of the communes constitutes a great deal of mutually provided self valorization. On any given night of the week, there are lectures, discussions, emotional support groups, yoga, musical performances, jam sessions, men’s groups, pot lucks, all for free, or donation based. Some of these groups are working on ways to free each other from work, or forms of basic income, such that individuals who wish to can contribute to the amplification of the communes.

Howard Ehrlich described a concept known as the transfer culture [5], an attempt at future worlds right here in amongst the status quo, the old world, an experiment in future made in the present. More specifically, a transfer culture is the manifestation of the ideas, processes, behaviours, skills and activities that are needed to help humans transition from the current social formation to the incoming one. It seems then, that the communes and the richness that they are creating under the streets of your cities, are fulfilling many of these ideas. They are a distributed transfer ecosystem where we can test alternative ways of being.

The distributed, rhizomatic and fractal structure to the commune ecosystem

So what is it about the structure of this ecosystem that is so interesting? My claim at least is that this structure of organisation, which seems parnarchical [6] to say the least, supports both local autonomy and self governance, and widespread and global collaboration.

First of all, the larger ecosystem of communes is a decentralised structure: As mentioned earlier, there is no central government for the communes, they are self governing and decentralised in their governance and decision making. Individual houses may be hierarchical, and small pods of communities might also have hierarchical relations, but the overall system has no government center. Where distributed autonomous organizations (DAOs) are a decentralized way of coordinating to create value, distributed autonomous support organisations (DASOs) are voluntary, permissionless community led organisations, open to all who have the shared goal of creating better social safety nets and social systems. This is where the communes really come into their own. There is mutual support and aid taking place everywhere. From informal groups, to organized and regular mutual aid and self help groups, a recovery squad who focus on helping with substance and drug dependency, men’s groups and consent confessionals. The communes have therapists, social workers, medics, some communes have build solidarity funds for those in need of financial aid, there are dedicated funds for those who wish for professional psychological support. Within houses, there are a variety of systems for dealing with emotional ecology, and across houses you see remote helpers given the explicit role of being an external source of support to mediate through hard situations.

The communes are nailing mutual aid. And these decentralized forms of social support have the benefits of being both voluntary alternatives and emergency measures, as in a form of insurance that kicks in when needed, which serves to reduce perverse incentives. By dint of their decentralized structure, these systems are harder to be used as a lever of central power. More importantly perhaps they bypass bureaucracy and politics, instead are voluntary, self-organizing and self-determined. These systems are affordable, and in this case entirely free. They target isolated needs and build custom solutions that take into account local social norms and individual economic circumstances. These are systems that support community, as they rely on local trust networks and earnt reputation systems. Where reputation operates as a currency of trust. These are just some of the many factors that decentralised support systems offer that state based systems fail us on.

The rhizomatic ecosystem, just like that of the communes, has no center

Secondly, and relatedly, the ecosystem of communes is rhizomatic: There are ‘multiple, non hierarchical entry and exit points’. There are multiplicities of relations and collaborations which arise and die organically, there is flow through these connections between communities but it is informal and not homogenous. There is no central reference point, yet local areas of dense connections emerge in certain spaces, and tight long distance connections thrive in other spaces of the rhizome. Such a diverse and varied structure is an interesting organism indeed.

Lastly, the communes are fractal. Well this one is a little romantic. You can consider fractals as patterns that repeat themselves at many different scales, and this is something that you see in the larger ecosystem of the communes at scale. The mathematician, Ron Eglash has described the fractal nature of certain villages in Africa, which inspired my thinking about the fractal organization of the communes.

“Fractal geometry was first applied in studies of natural systems: trees are branches of branches, mountains are peaks of peaks, and clouds are puffs of puffs. That is because nature tends to utilize self-organizing processes in its constructions, such as clusters of cells forming clusters of clusters.”

At the end of it all

All in all, the communes are a powerful collective force. They are the social mutations that our society needs, if it is to ever benefit from the laws of natural selection for social formations. They are ways that humans can self organise to build the kinds of lasting resistance and alternatives to dominate systems, whether those be dominant forms of economy, or social structures such as gender and the family.

I am not suggesting that the communes are in any way inherently good, like any technology, they can be appropriated for many purposes. And sure enough many of the damaging things about society, are often reproduced in the communes, but at east there is a clear intention set to work on these issues. Find your local communes, support them, join them. They will provide a way for you to experiment with yourself and your community, and they might just be the way you change the world.

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