Intro: At the December POG retreat I was asked to write this essay. I researched it mostly in social science and anthropology studies, so it can’t really be considered an opinion piece. It didn’t work for Transition Times so I am publishing it here. – Kathy Hill
Community: Is LAEV a Karass or a Granfalloon?
Why you should attend Community Meetings and Potlucks often
Community is vital for humans. Popular Ecovillage author Scott Peck said: “There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
In Bokononism, a fictional religion in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, a “karass” is a group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God’s will. A “granfalloon” is a false karass, a group of people who imagine they have a connection, but really do not. For example, Hoosiers are people from Indiana, and Hoosiers have no true spiritual destiny in common, so they really share little more than a name.
Think of the ways you have bonded with people in your life. Chances are it was in one of two ways, over food or through work. People who take meals together tend to meld. Potlucks may be LAEV’s foremost bonding ritual, allowing friendships to bloom without the pressure of an agenda. Participation in work parties, weekly meetings, committee work and other shared tasks strengthens these bonds.
A “community” is not just a social unit larger than a household, a group of people living near one another who interact; it is more cohesive than other forms of association, thanks to a unity of will. A high degree of cohesion distinguishes intentional communities (ICs) from other voluntary associations. Although an “accidental” community may form in time of crisis, an IC is, by definition, “a deliberate residential community with a much higher degree of social interaction than other communities, sharing a common vision, responsibilities and resources.” (WIkipedia.) People join or remain in ICs for the good of the group and its shared mission; it takes a high degree of social interaction to realize a community’s intentions.
Once any community gets started, there are two directions it can take. If members are present out of self-interest (low cost of living, convenient location or other benefit), the group loses cohesiveness, becomes deficient in critical interactions, and devolves into a looser association, neighbors who share little but their address; a feedback loop keeps making this worse. The community will dissolve.
If members become free enough to share, and secure enough to get along, their connectedness and growing social networks net them more social capital, so they interact more—the opposite feedback loop develops. This gradual process of community-building permits the group to live up to its highest purpose and it thrives.
What factors tell which path an IC takes, toward loose, random connections or tight, effective cohesion? The degree to which the values of a community are communicated and honored determines willingness of members to engage. Then tolerance, reciprocity, and trust encourage continued involvement and an investment of that social capital. These critical communications can only take place through face time: “interaction.”
Maintaining this sense of community is difficult, so other ICs use a wide variety of practices to encourage interaction, ranging from simple potlucks and small book clubs to large-scale festivals or major construction projects, because participation is the means by which parts learn to make an effective whole.
At the Los Angeles Eco-Village, many members contribute to the mission in hidden ways: working for environmental causes, going car-free, eating low on the food chain. These efforts are worthy, but they do not build community, develop cohesion, or foster unity. Only through participation in shared activities do we get to know, trust, and respect each other.
At our weekly meetings and potlucks, you are most likely to get to know and perhaps love the rest of your ecovillage family, hear the buzz, meet prospective members and other guests, and bond with these neighbors and friends in meaningful ways. Then, after a meal and a meeting, check out the under-development “Participation Matrix” that lists all the ways to volunteer your time.