Lulu Orne: On Individualism in an Intentional Community

Lulu

It is a facet of all intentional communities that each member surrenders some amount of autonomy for the community to function. The Wild Rockies Field Institute (WRFI) is no different. Without that unspoken agreement to forfeit some of our individualistic tendencies, our group would be a dysfunctional crap storm.

What underlies this agreement is willingness to self-sacrifice for the best interest of our group.  This willingness of self-sacrifice is the same willingness that the future of humanity hinges on.

The false promises of freedom and individualism of our capitalist society, obliterate any incentive to act selflessly in our economic system. We worship mavericks of the economy who “redefined” technology and business (i.e. Bezos and Buffet). We in Western society fear the shame and discomfort of poverty. I don’t blame anyone for fearing poverty and engaging in capitalist pursuits. I know that humans are not the malicious and greedy creatures we were said to be in our Anglo-Christian creation story. We are creatures enslaved to a system that hangs like translucent silk webs, enshrouding our lives and obscuring the truth. The truth being that we don’t have to live as fear stricken creatures, subservient to a capitalist system that destroys the physical and spiritual health of the land and its inhabitants.

As I grew more and more disheartened with every profit driven person and place I encountered, I began to fear the complete destruction of the earth and its inhabitants. Ready to delve back into the discouraging throws of society after our forty eight hour recess, I climbed into the WRFI van, Garth, and watched the rolling hills pass across the windshield on our way to our first speaker of section three.

The O’Hallorans, an organic farming family based outside of Lewistown, MT, told us that living your truth in this system whose values undermine all of your own, can be found in this mantra: “Don’t be afraid of poverty or hard work.” The O’Hallorans have made it a point to foster and maintain a personal and ethical relationship with their land and animals. Within our capitalist system practices like the O’Hallorans’, that focus on engaging morally with the land rather than exploiting the land for maximum profit are selfless acts. They are selfless acts lived out in the intentional community of the earth and its inhabitants.

Within our group of ten students our sacrifices are smaller than the O’Hallorans, though not insignificant. We become our most upbeat selves in less than ideal conditions in an effort to maintain group morale. We compromise and discuss when making decisions in order to address the needs of the group as a whole rather than individual members. We share what needs to be shared (space, time, food), and we most often do so without prompting from our group-mates.  We give up our autonomy to maintain our schedule. This schedule is the main tool we have for obtaining our goal of educating ourselves on the land and how we ought to live with it.

These “sacrifices” I have made as an individual do not feel like sacrifices, and the O’Hallorans echoed this during their time with us. These “sacrifices” have become an inseparable part of day-to-day life. They are habits. They are expectations, and humans have an unyielding ability to rise to the expectations that are set for them.

If we as a society were to step away from capitalist rhetoric and towards a more communal culture focused on living with the land rather than against it, we would be achingly close to the society we need to create. Sacrificing some “individualism” for the sake of our species and the earth seems a justified trade to me.

These are not “sacrifices,” this is a way of life.

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