I can't fully explain why, but I've had an interest in communes, and in particular the 1960s/70s alternative lifestyles since I was a young teenager. My dad has an awesome pamplet he picked up in the 1960s advertising one, I'll take some photos of it one day and share it on here. I've always been fully fascinated by it, even before I really developed any understanding of issues like consumerism and sustainability. I guess it's in part a reflection of my desire to investigate alternatives to the dull and largely lifeless middle class suburban town I grew up in (sorry folks). But as I grew up and began to investigate the politics and social climate of the West during the twentieth century (particularly post-Second World War), I began to sense much of the frustrations and anger that lead so many to react against the governments and establishment. Obviously, I really respect people who protested against the injustices and concerns of the era, but I hold an even deeper respect for the individuals, groups, couples and families who chose to actually attempt to develop a whole new way of living, one that was largely as kind to the earth as it was meant to be toward each other.
The alternative societies of the 60s/70s communes were in many ways a logical development from an earlier counter-culture group: the Beats. Another firm fascination of mine, the Beat generation/Beatniks also explored and expressed different ideologies to that of the mainstream, but did so laregly through intellectual and artistic development and expression. From what I understand, the founders of the communes shared much of the Beats' frustration towards social repression and mainstream expectations, but channelled that frustration into more practical, physical responses. Experimenting with how to live, how to interact with each other and how to provide for ones own needs seems to me to really be the natural conclusion to the widespread dissatisfaction felt by dissatisfied free and alternative thinkers.
To be honest, there are some aspects to the Black Bear commune experience that hold little interest for me, the spirituality aspect being one. And there are clearly many ways in which those early communal living attempts failed. With hindsight, as awesome and valueable as it clearly was, Black Bear and the other communes didn't really create an imitable blue print for modern living. But Black Bear ranch and other communes are still in existance today, albeit without quite the freshness and 'journey into the unknown' that fuelled the founders. Many of the current occupants of Black Bear and other contemporary communal living experiments are, I'd imagine, drawn to that way of life for similar reasons to those early pioneers. Argueably, many of the repressive and damaging aspects of mainstream society are still present and just as abhorent, if not more so. Maybe the current occupants are just as idealistic and optimistic about the effect their endeavours can have on the future. If anything, the effects rabid globalisation, mass production and consumption have had on the ecological health of planet and the mental health of its inhabitants provide even more reasons for finding alternative ways to live which are lighter on the land and ourselves.
Personally, I couldn't see myself swapping my current living situation to move into a commune like Black Bear. Maybe that is because I am too much a product of my culture, or because really deep down I am as comfortable, normal and unimaginative as my current living situation. But I value my privacy, personal space, freedom for self-directed personal development and aesthetic life too much. It is possible that the value I place on those commodities is a product of my conditioning as a member of western society and that I could learn to reassess their value when confronted with the possibility of attaining different shared experiences. I don't know. I have researched alternative and shared living options around the area I live, but although many of them seem to have some really interest aspects, none really appeal in the fundamental way I would require them to.
I will continue to look into alternative ways of living. But if pressed, currently I think I'd prefer to share my direct homelife with friends and family rather than a wider community of individuals. However, there are definately some specific aspects of the 'Commune' model that I would like to adopt and/or develop in my life:
- The loss of 'community' is something that many modern day UK dwellers lament, and like many I welcome the creation and nurture of a new sense of community. With a nation of transient, nomadic flat-renters, developing community with neighbours can be tricky so a reassessment of the term may be required. Personally I have been putting my time and energy into the creative/crafting community, both the international online one, and my local in-the-flesh one.
- There is no doubt that modern life, in particular the never ending cycle of product consumption and status acquisition, has dramatic negative effects on mental health. The communes are a fascinating, if extreme, experiment in creating a new focus of importance to living. I've written about consumerism before, and my journey towards changing my relationship to the things I own and how I acquire them, but I need to do more research into this area (particularly into economics) to develop my knowledge and thoughts further.
- Finding ways to live happily whilst easing the strain our planet is currently under is certainly something I feel everybody should devote more time and brain-space to. The self-sufficiency endeavours and skills-pooling part of living on communes is possibily the most interesting aspect as far as I'm concerned. Linked to this, the recent resurgence of interest in 'homesteading' shows lots of people must currently be following this train of thought. I certainly plan to grow more of my own food in the future and would love to try things like preserving and home-brewing.