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Intentional Community, Part 2

(Intentional Community . . . )

I gather that this sort of thing eroded to some degree, although when I visit my old neighborhood it seems much the same. Still, something led thousands of people to form hundreds of communities with a shared vision of living together in an intentional way which would foster greater harmony and fulfillment.

Kahlil Gibran said that comfort is a stealthy thing that enters a house as a guest, then becomes a host, and then a master. One experience that pretty much everyone of my parents' generation had in common was World War II. This amounted to four continuous years of discomfort, severe for some, mild for others. But sacrifices were made across the board. Most young people today have no idea of the tremendous war effort that occurred in America: people growing food in their victory gardens, recycling of rubber and metal on a massive scale, housewives riveting warplanes together, which greatly accelerated the womens movement, and rationing of nearly everything.

I don't believe it ever occurred to my parents or their friends that life should be good, or fair, or pleasant. Life certainly could be all of those things, yet every gain was purchased with concentrated effort, and this was the way that life was: you worked hard. You disciplined yourself. And you got out of life some percentage of what you put in.

My generation, the baby boomers, grew up in comparable comfort and stability. Not many of us were overly concerned about our survival. Vaccinations and antibiotics severely decreased the chance of watching a sibling not survive childhood. We had the leisure time to be dissatisfied. We demanded satisfaction.

There was, to the bommers credit, a dissatisfaction, of some duration, with material wealth in general. Like Buddha, we had the opportunity to realize that material things alone did not bring happiness. Having our physical needs sated, we scooted up Maslow's hierarchy to emotional and spiritual needs. Through study, insight, luck or some combination of the three, it was concluded by many that these needs had a better chance of being met in a group than alone. And they were right. Indeed, the fate of the world rests on human relations.

With this realization began one of those epoch-making interstices in human evolution: a conscious attempt at social engineering. B.F. Skinner said, in defense of behavior modification, that our behavior is shaped haphazardly anyway. Might as well shape it systematically and produce results. To a certain extent, this is what has been attempted in intentional communities. All you had to do was follow the blueprint, right?

Breitenbush's blueprint for paradise is the Breitenbush Credo and it begins, like the U.S. Constitution, with a big fat, self-important We: We of the Breitenbush Community dedicate ourselves to living mindfully in the spirit of love, unity, honesty and service. It goes along in this vein, mining the language of such precious ore a holistic health, spiritual growth, respect, dignity, accountability, peacefulness and joy. The problem with all this is that any B-average college sophomore can take these abstractions and scamper off with them in a dozen directions at once. And has. And will continue to do so.

There are assumptions embodied in the Credo, hence in the general organization of the community, which it might profit us to scrutinize. Has Breitenbush Community achieved a positive, practical alternative to mainstream American society? Or is the Community more of a microcosm of the macrocosm, with all the perennial social ills (and strengths) intact? If you accept the premises, you must accept the conclusion.

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