The following is from an interesting discussion by Eric Hunting on the role played by religious or spiritual communities in developing alternative forms of production.
I just want to add that of course this does not imply support of a particular path, nor of of the presence of authoritarian elements within a particular community (for example, it seems that in Daimanhur, if you do not want to follow the lead of the founder, you’re out, which means the ‘democratic federation infrastructure’ has definite limits).
I would also briefly like to mention another lead I’ following, that of neo-traditional economics, i.e. the economic theories of religious traditions before industrialization, where the logic of economic life was geared towards the immaterial (salvation, enlightenment). My hypothesis is that, as we are moving to a similar focus on the non-material, there are things that we could learn from these approaches.
“I actually first heard about Damanhur through Fortean Times magazine many years ago, long before the story seemed to break on the mainstream media in the US this year. I’ve had their original pre-tourist-board-push web site bookmarked for a long time. (http://www.tempio.it/) I put little stock in their mash-up of New Age beliefs and their pursuit of pseudo-scientific psychotronic technologies.
But, though it tends to look in style like a secret lair for the Abominable Dr. Phibes, I do think their temple is one of the great works of contemporary art and architecture and an excellent example of the potential of excavated architecture, which I have used as an example in discussions of practical strategies of lunar and planetary settlement. And it’s another good example of how people are cultivating images of the future derived from the ancient past.
What’s most intriguing about Damanhur, though, is the subversive nature of its culture. In ancient times it was common for cults, alchemists, herbalists, and early scientists to rely on encryption as a means of securing their research and knowledge from competitors or from exposure to authorities. But with Damanhur we have this situation – and still pre-Internet at the start, mind you – of a community of about 1000 people who effectively cultivated an encrypted culture flying under the radar of European authorities for decades! They even had their own secret currency, and yet somehow managed to avoid the ‘Waco Treatment’ long enough to secretly construct one of the largest and most sophisticated works of architecture ever created by such a tiny religious community in modern times. It’s like the plot of a science fiction story where the descendants of ancient astronauts are drawn together into a secret tribe with a secret racial language and pool together bits and pieces of the plans for a starship extracted out of their own DNA and then construct it in a secret underground hangar. It’s an amazing demonstration of the potential of small groups of people systematically cultivating surplus productivity through community structures and then applying that to a shared goal.
This is the sort of amplifying effect I have anticipated for things like cultivating post-industrial technology within a community setting – though, of course, with Damanhur there’s the factor of religious fervor as well. We squander a lot of our lives to other people’s profit in exchange for cash.
Though I wouldn’t consider it a model to follow, this is definitely a good picture of just how much that lost productivity amounts to. If 1000 determined people could build this in their spare time, what could a million do?
Another religious community that has impressed with their sophistication is Auroville in southern India. (http://www.auroville.com/ This site used to be more about the community but had since gone more commercial, the community info apparently moved to auroville.org but the site down at the moment.
However, the Auroville Earth Institute page has a good overview of the community architecture) I learned of them through my study of earth block architecture for use in non-toxic MCS-adaptive housing. They have produced some of the most sophisticated earthen architecture in the world and developed what I think is the most advanced form of Cinva Ram ever created; the Auram 3000. They may even hold the world record for the largest span earth block vaults and domes ever built and the largest solar oven kitchen. Unlike other religious communities, they are very public and involved in a broad spectrum of industries.
Another interesting community that’s not exactly a religious community but was founded, if memory serves, by a catholic priest after the Spanish Civil War, is Mondragon in Arrasata Spain. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragón_Cooperative_Corporation) You’ve probably already heard of this one. It is based on a workers cooperative that was founded as a trades apprenticeship school for disadvantaged youth whose graduates turned entrepreneurs and formed a coop that just kept getting progressively more industrially sophisticated until if became a multinational multi-industry coop and could compete with other European technology centers. I’ve considered it a possible model for the GreenStar Industrial Cooperative that I’ve proposed in TMP2. This is a good example of a pre-Internet P2P economic system cultivated in a community setting – exploiting community nepotism in a progressive way. it seems to incorporate many of the characteristics of the systems proposed by economist Louis Kelso, though with more of a traditional early 20th century socialist bent to it.”