* eBook: The Book of Community. A practical guide to working and living in community. (translated by Steve Herrick)Las Indias, 2015.
This is an excellent and downloadable Kindle ebook written by the whole team of Las Indias and translated by Steve Herrick.
The description is followed by some excerpts chosen by Steve Herrick:
“This book, rather than a typical “manual,” should be read as an “advice book.” Its focus is practical, because it was practice that guided our evolution. Like Borges, who “wrote” Quijote in the middle of twentieth century, discovering that “what was coming out of him” was identical to what Cervantes had written, though he had not read him before, we realized little by little that that that we’d learned by trial and error, what defined the lifestyle that we were discovering, followed the steps of a long tradition that began in the garden of Epicurus and which we recognized in our era in the Icarians and the Israeli kibbutz. Still later, we met other communities in the US, Germany and Austria that, with years, sometimes decades, of history, and dozens, if not hundreds of members, that had arrived at very similar lessons and models to ours. They are productive and egalitarian communities that give special importance to conversation, learning, and debate, but also to production in common for the material needs of all.
Because we didn’t start from any concrete model, and because we didn’t have “blueprints” from which to build, we have organically incorporated tools and techniques that go far beyond the scarce current community bibliography. This bibliography is, almost entirely, of North American origin and suffers from the need to “invent” what was invented in South America and Europe long ago: the forms and practices of the housing cooperative. What’s shocking is that by dressing it with new clothes (“ecovillage,” “intentional community”), it can find a market in places like France, Spain, Argentina or Uruguay, where there’s a very long tradition of this kind of cooperativism. In contrast, there is little, by which I mean almost nothing, written half-decently about the topics that we usually share, when we “communards” from different places in the world meet each other: how to create an environment helps everyone to overcome their fears and laziness, how to enter the market, how to integrate new members, how to avoid community self-absorption, etc.
These will be our central topics on the following pages.
We think that communities that share everything have a treasure of valuable experiences for anyone who proposes to strengthen their real community and the people they value and feel close with, by sharing some dimension of life in common, whether it’s the economic dimension, the intellectual, or everyday coexistence. Unfortunately, these experiences are mostly part of the “oral culture” of each community network. They are shared but rarely written down. This book is one of the first attempts to do so in Spanish [originally]. It does not answer to any ideological label in particular, but attempts to collect learning from many communities that do not hide from such labels. It attempts to collect a “communitarian consensus,” but also make its contribution, except that this contribution has more to do with common sense in caring for the people and things around us than with any political or social theory. It is intended for those that are considering joining a community or who want to experience community practices with their friends.
If we’ve done it well, it will save you time and learning that sometimes can be painful. If we made assumptions or left out important things that are not obvious, we hope you’ll write us so we can improve new editions.”
Excerpts, provided by translater Steve Herrick:
* From the introduction
Few words have had as many meanings as “community.” While its medieval origin meant support for the first forms of democratic sovereignty, beginning with the communard revolt of 1520, the term would become synonymous with rebellion and democratic revolt. That is the definition Quevedo uses it with, as does, to a certain point, the subtle and ever-critical Cervantes.
The Encyclopedia of Diderot and D’Alembert went back to its guild meaning, defining it as the “meeting of private citizens who practice the same art or occupation under certain common rules that form a political body,” a definition that prepared it for the extension of its use during “the century of revolutions” to mean any form of local sovereignty sustained by forms of shared property.
Cabet, who was much more popular than Fourier in the 1840s, called his egalitarian colonies “communities,” and by extension called the projection of the social system based on them “communism.” The term was so successful among the “anti-system” thinkers of the time that it came to define movements with little or no interest in creating phalansteries or cooperative communities. In this way, within a decade, “community” and “communism” came to be used in two groups that, while they were not openly antagonistic except on a few occasions, did compete openly with each other for the attention of the restless and malcontents, while their respective propaganda machines ignored each other.
On the Left, it was a few Jewish immigrants, beginning in 1909, who recovered the term to name their settlements in Palestine. Based on sharing goods, work and savings, the “communities” movement will become the largest volunteer social experiment of the century. Paradoxically, it will not revive the word “community” in the rest of the world, but rather, only its Hebrew form: “kibbutz.”
Beginning in the ’30s, however, Tönnies and Weber in sociology and Adler in psychology, developed a definition of community—Gemeinschaft—which, in the ’80s would be expanded to political science and history as “real community.” This distinction was highlighted by Benedict Anderson in contrast to the nation, the “imagined community” par excellence.
Under this definition, a community is any human group united by interpersonal relationships where all members know the others and recognize them as belonging equally; from this belonging, both personal and collective obligations and rights are derived. The family—nuclear or extended—and to a lesser extent, the premodern brotherhoods and guilds, become the model of what “community” means for an educated person.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the word “community” overlapped territorial meanings with ideological characteristics. The importance of dissident religious groups in the culture of the Anglo-Saxon colonization of North America meant that towns and colonies were associated with certain Christian denominations. The tension between the enlightened political values of the young State and the particular beliefs of each church became part of the always-contentious definition of jurisdictions between the states and the federal government. But it also gave a legal basis to a new concept, “community standards,” which reinforced the association between the place of residence and the voluntary acceptance of a fairly relaxed but extensive set of private norms.
The role of “community standards” in Anglo-Saxon America was similar to that of local cultures in Europe: they showed the kind of diversity that the growing national identity made a show of, while still defining the primary group that much of the agrarian population identified with, which provoked the distrust of the enlightened urban classes. But as religious identity was diluted as the primary characteristic of identity in North American culture, the word “community” came to evoke more and more those tenuous obligations of neighborliness that materialized in volunteer work and social assistance organized by churches. Community tended to mean all the people, whether they knew each other or not, that shared a physical or social space. Universities, suburbs, associations of all kinds, and more recently, online networks, came to be defined as communities with their own “standards,” which were now tacit or explicit rules for coexistence and collaboration.
So it is that, by globalizing conversation, community can mean almost anything, on a spectrum from living in the same city to sharing everything. Today, “community” is one of those words that have a positive emotional consensus. But, one should wonder, when two people use it in the same conversation, if they really mean the same thing.
* From the chapter on community culture
The narrative of national culture tries to tell us that we will only feel and completely understand the world from within the nation, which is to say, from within the State that materializes it, or will materialize it. That’s why national culture is necessarily disempowering. Everything that tells us that outside of a given media or territorial environment, or outside of a given set of institutions, we cannot be complete people, learn, understand and feel fully, is nothing more than a constant onslaught against personal autonomy.
Community identity is different. It is the identity of a real community, a mutual recognition between real people who know each other and relate to each other. In every real community, the content of identity changes with each conversation and with each new member, with each incorporation, just as in any family or group of friends. So it does not make sense to promote an identity inwardly. If community identity has a core, it is “what we learn together,” which is to say, something over which we have sovereignty and which we shape.
That is why community culture does not try to approach any “ideal.” It doesn’t even try to convince us that there is nothing better for us that our own community. It simply needs to remind us that we can improve ourselves. The challenge of community culture is to remind us that we can be what we want to be. And that is different for each one, something that each one must define for him/herself. Its main tool is remind us that we can contribute meaning to what we do, with its imperfections, its successes, its ironies and its small tendernesses. From Sunday pastries and small talk, to the study of new disciplines, to success in the market that pays our bills.
It’s all about exalting life to feed the virtue in each person, helping to eliminate fears and quickly overcome failures. But above all, the objective of cultures of communities that work is to affirm each of their members as people who are equally responsible and equally capable of being free. In short, a functional communal culture transmits the idea that the more autonomous each of its members is, the more they will contribute to community as a whole.
* From the chapter on communal life
[…] 2009 was also the first real year of crisis in Europe. Millions of people were left without work. In countries like Greece, Spain or Portugal, thousands and thousands of families lost their houses. Spontaneously, the social network—first, families, and then communities—started to reorganize for survival. Hundreds of small “communes” appeared, houses that were shared between families that had been left without regular income, in which everything that that was obtained went into a common fund. Nobody needed design or certify a sophisticated set of rules. While it was a precarious response to an emergency situation, the “naturalness” of the process is noteworthy. The model already was there, in the cultural inheritance and in the traditions of the working classes.
And that’s really the key: the community is, in point of fact, a sophisticated cultural construction. And what’s more, so are the traditions of sharing that are profoundly embedded in popular culture. When an egalitarian community is born, when we create a new commons to be shared, we’re not starting from zero. We are putting into “production” all that code, all that community rationality that we inherited from the learned reactions and way of managing common belongings in our families. That is why we experience it as “spontaneous,” why it feels “natural,” and why it appears again and again in such different environments all over the world. Our “rationality” is definitively not what Hardin and the neo-Malthusian theoreticians of degrowth attributed to us when they presented the irrational destruction of non-renewable resources as a product of our “nature” and not as the result of over-scaled corporations dedicated to looking for rents at all costs.
No, to understand the shared economy, to work together to manage the needs of all in a community economy, we don’t need great treaties, or consultations with university technicians. We just need to go back home.”