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Mandy Fisher

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What are the benefits and the issues that arise with communal living, and should society encourage this type of lifestyle?

When you hear the term "commune", it is easy to conjure up pictures of graceful hippies frolicking through wildflowers and wild-haired babes carrying corn husk dolls- but in the literal sense of word, communal housing is basically a group of people living together and sharing responsibilities. In the documentary "Happy", a family living in Denmark is featured in this type of setting... why? Well, because they were happy. And so was everyone else (generally speaking). So, do you believe that communal living, that is to say, living with a group of like-minded people under one roof with shared responsibilities, is the way to go? What are the benefits? What are the negatives? Do you believe the government/people should encourage this lifestyle? How can we accomplish this?

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  • Aug 12 2013: I can relate a fairly widespread example from my own country, Israel's Kibutzim (or whatever you spell them as in English).
    Dozens of communes both large and small spread across the entire country, even before the nation was founded.

    Initially it all seemed to work out quite well, with the residents all being idealistic newcomers, ready and willing to live in a very communal setting. Everyone got the same salary regardless of their job (people working outside paid any extra they got directly to the commune), and lived in near identical accommodations. Even the children were communally raised at first, though they stopped doing that in later years.
    The communes were actually a major hurdle towards getting western backing during the cold war.

    The whole thing fell apart over the years, I'm afraid.
    The first generation was plenty idealistic, but their children often much less so. Over the years, the inherent problems in a communist economical system slowly led to most of the communes being unable to support themselves financially, and once the government stopped backing them up, they folded up one after the other.
    A few still function, but by large, the whole thing is seen as something of a failed social experiment. It played its part in the past (communism actually works fairly well when your country is piss poor and has little infrastructure anyway, but that's assuming you never dig yourself out of that hole, which Israel did) but communes have little room in modern Israel, which has since turned rather capitalist.

    In general, I say that if people want to set up communes, let them.
    I wouldn't go about encouraging it though. They're doomed to failure, if not now, than in two-three decades. Communism just doesn't work as an economic model, even on small scale.
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      Aug 16 2013: I totally agree, only greed is the lifeblood of the capitalist economy, sharing and caring never got anyone extremely rich and powerful. Communes are doomed to failure because they are about subsistence and profit is minimal, but so is exploitation. And communes probably never took more land from the Arabs, they had enough for themselves.
  • Aug 12 2013: I noticed someone pointed out cohousing in Denmark. This is a growing trend and gives people a small neighbor feel but still have the ability for privacy. The one I visited in Washington State had all the doors open to walking and bicycle trails between the houses. there was a common place to have large cooking and dining. There seemed an informal neighborhood get together once or twice a month with a pot luck dinner.

    The car roads and garage are on the outside of the neighborhood. There was a communal garden.
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    Aug 12 2013: Check out this website on co-housing:

    http://www.cohousing.org/cm/article/related_denmark
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    Aug 12 2013: I've read up on communal living a bit. There are so many permutations: monasteries, ashrams, kibbutzim, etc.

    Many require that you give up your job and/or give up your belongings which I don't think is really good. In condos, apartments, you have more freedom, but not necessarily a spirit of community. Gated communities give you communal facilities such as gyms and pools, but the ones I've been to are still too separated.

    I feel that the feeling of community requires more intervention, but not especially necessary to have it based on any philosophy other than community.

    New urbanism is a concept based in architecture and civil engineering where local pedestrian living is encouraged by building tall mixed use neighborhoods with hyperdensity in cities. It doesn't cut you off from the rest of the world, just helps you carve out your own little portion of it where you can create a sense of belonging. I would take this just one step further and ensure that within each is a medical facility of some sort, a school and park/field/recreation, and put someone in charge of creating community. This person would look into the interests and passions of the members and encourage starting book clubs, parenting groups, toy libraries, sports teams etc.

    Ithink something lie that would be nice
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      Aug 12 2013: I agree Manishka! What a great concept. I'll have to look into Mew Urbanism a bit more. I agree that encouragement of groups would have to be a factor, as you have already noted in the issues with apartments/condos. People can live next to each other, swim together, and lift weights together... without actually being together. In fact, most people don't bother to know their neighbors on the other side of the wall! It's madness, but I believe there is a solution.
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        Aug 13 2013: My point exactly! We live in cities with neighbors so close, yet don't take the opportunity to create togetherness. It's a plum opportunity!

        With planned communes in the past, what I've seen is a separatist feeling... WE are together, but separate from the world. Much more involvement in your choices such as with the kibbutzim that did communal parenting. Ashrams that decide what time you wake up and what time you sleep. We all earn the same salary, so our own economy that doesn't integrate with the outside.

        I have doubt in the longevity of planned communes based on a philosophy because the next generation makes new choices that may not be compatible.

        I lived in a small town in the US population 600. We lived so far apart physically that to get even 2 hrs a day together with people required major amounts of time working out schedules. We had a beautiful public park with wonderful playground equipment..... that was empty most of the time.

        We have city blocks with single story or two story homes, so that means very little density which means finding people with common interests is less likely.

        We have city blocks with tall buildings where you could possibly find people with common interests, but no common facilities or forum to find them.

        So, the whole idea of mixed use, mixed income, tall blocks that are pedestrian friendly really appeals to me. It allows you to maintain your existing connections while making new ones.

        In mumbai, I lived in an apartment building that took up a whole block because it was built around the outside perimeter, The ground floor was shops facing out, parking was just inside the gate, and the rest of the courtyard was a park with some trees, playground, badminton court, cricket field, and a walkway with benches around it. The apartments went from the second floor to the 6th, accessed from the courtyard, not the street. This would have been ideal, but people are shy. A social coordinator would have made it that much better.
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    Aug 11 2013: Many of us have at some point in our lives lived in communal settings with people not our relatives. How well it works depends on the mix of people, specifically the compatibility of their habits and the expectations they have of each other.

    The arrangement is more economical for participants than living independently, and many people enjoy the social aspect. There can be a loss of privacy and the need to compromise over the use of public spaces within the dwelling environment.
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      Aug 11 2013: I agree that economically, it makes so much sense. I admit it would be difficult to give up walking about the house naked, or singing that favorite tune 500 times, but to always have someone there? Worth it!
  • Aug 17 2013: I think the benefits might be for those struggling to live by themselves for some reason (age, financial circumstances, health, etc).

    Negatives would be workload distribution issues, intolerance of unfairness (real of perceived), deciding on and abiding by house rules, and personality conflicts, irritations, or incompatabilites.

    The government pushing this sort of thing starts to become a step towards something like socialism.
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    Aug 12 2013: Communal living is an aspect of culture, and the more diversity in cultures we have the better it is for us all.
    In fact I say it is racist to say we should have only one or the other.
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      Aug 12 2013: Don, you wrote that so matter-of-factly that I couldn't help but giggle.

      ;)
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      Aug 12 2013: Thank you for your input Deepak Behi.

      I will take some time and investigate the Brahma Kumaris and Murli's ideas. Although I make a personal point to not follow a single leader and/or religious system, my beliefs are Hindu/Buddhist in nature. Once again, thank you for sharing.
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    Aug 12 2013: ..

    "Communal living" is necessary.
    It is a secondary symbiosis next to the primary family.
    It is our instincts (ancestors’ successful experiences).
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    Aug 12 2013: Tribal people are able to do this well. But they were raised and had a social structure around tribal living. Key to the success is to have a lead person as mediator of disputes that the entire tribe recognizes. Sociologists who study the tribal way of living say there is a critical mass where tribes tend to fall apart when they hit about 500 people. Then they need to split off to maintain the structure.

    Unfortunately without that social structure supporting this type of living, it is usually doomed to failure. Lots of people have lived in communal circumstances in the US but rarely stay.

    The entire government is about individual liberties. This will never fly in America because the value system will not let it.

    I could never do it. I can't stand my own family sometimes, much less a bunch of other people. The money saved is not worth it to me.
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      Aug 12 2013: You bring up a good point about the value system of America clashing with the idea of communal living. We've been bred to be isolated and contained, and in turn, became so wrapped up with our own little lives that one day, we are sitting in that lowly chair, alone, depressed, and wondering where the hell we went wrong. It's not so much about money saved but perhaps about the community gained. We are social animals, and we thrive on interaction and friendship.

      Don't get me wrong. I enjoy my privacy as much as anyone, yet, can there not be a middle ground? I think it's possible. Small personal spaces for families with shared living areas perhaps.
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        Aug 12 2013: "Small personal spaces for families with shared living areas perhaps." That's called a neighborhood. I lived in one and raised my kids in one. A bunch of us on the block had kids about the same age. We used to get together for dinners couple times a summer and everyone bring a dish. We would call each other and correct each others kids if they misbehaved. And if someone corrected my kid, they got corrected again when they got home.

        I think that is what you are looking for. Community. Not commune.

        Personally I cant wait to be in that freaking chair and alone finally! Not all of us enjoy the company of others. Some of us WANT to be alone. Some quiet would be nice. A lot of quiet even better. (hard-core introvert here)
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        Aug 12 2013: You write:"We've been bred to be isolated and contained, and in turn, became so wrapped up with our own little lives..." It is important not to confuse how you personally may have been raised with fact about how others have been raised. For example, I don't believe I know anyone who has been raised as you describe.
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          Aug 12 2013: My statement was not in reference on how I was raised, in fact, my childhood was very free, open, and socially enriching. I meant society as a whole. Take a stroll through the park, mall, or wherever and notice how much people avoid eye contact. The American dream of mommy, daddy, baby, and kid-sister living together in a little yellow house is great, but take a closer look... It is rare to see people who frequently have guests anymore, and it is even more uncommon for communities to get together and engage. We stick to our family and close group of friends, in general, and this to me is isolation. Of course, I don't mean everyone, but the majority? Yes.

          Why do people sit in bars? Why do people dine out?

          We want to be around other people. We want to be in a group. Imagine if we could have that sense of togetherness with people we know, people working collectively for the good of life?
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        Aug 12 2013: I'm just not familiar with people avoiding eye contact in the park. I think many people are drawn to public spaces and value engaging in communities of various kinds. The great majority of people, in fact.

        Very few people, I believe, separate themselves from forms of engagement. Most people work in a setting of interaction with others. Schooling involves constant interaction with others. Places of worship and clubs are part of popular life. Team sports for fun are more popular than ever.

        Because people spend so much time working and playing together, they often, as Linda described, also like to take the time to retreat for a bit to a smaller, personal space to reflect and to be with themselves.

        As your experience is apparently so different, this must be quite different depending on where you live. I know exactly one isolationist-type family.

        I do not doubt your experience, but you might take a closer look to investigate whether you are making assumptions about those you don't know without really understanding how they think and live.
  • Aug 11 2013: you mean like a family? because yeah it's a good way to live we all know this what's new.
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      Aug 11 2013: Not necessarily. I suppose I should have been more specific. I really meant a group of families living together under one roof, a mix of related and unrelated people.
      • Aug 12 2013: So like an apartment complex or a family home with several couples? This still already happens.
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          Aug 12 2013: In an apartment complex, people live together sure... But they are not engaging together. They simply don't take the time to know one another, or be a part of their lives. The grounds are kept by the landlord, and so people go about the day minding their own business and tending their own affairs. It's like a lake, with many islands, all there but separated.

          What I mean is a home in which residents eat together, share in cooking responsibilities, cleaning responsibilities, gardening, ect. They care about one another and work toward the greater welfare of the whole.

          Check it out:

          http://www.cohousing.org/cm/article/related_denmark
      • Aug 12 2013: So basically it would be like having many many roommates right? that sounds pretty bad actually have you ever had roommates? no matter who they are you always end up not liking them.