Monday, November 2, 2009

Report on the Possibility Alliance

For three weeks I lived at a beautiful place in the green pastures of central Missouri, at the Possibility Alliance (PA). I had a wonderful time and am seriously considering living there when my son turns 18. There is no electricity except for flashlights and a landline phone (no solar panels, no hydro or wind, no internet, no batteries except for guests), and no fossil fuels (hence no internal combustion engines, no gas stoves). There are bicycles and horses (one horse-drawn buggy which is not used so far very much) for transport, candles for indoor light, human-powered saws for cutting wood, wood-stoves for heating and cooking, and much joy and consciousness. I did not miss electricity, the internet or cars at all while I was there. I needed no money while I stayed there. They produce most of their own food, except grains. Wheat is imported from Kansas City, not further than 200 miles, and rice is probably further. If I ever move there I will try to grow rice or wheat.

I first heard about the PA from Nathan at Dancing Rabbit. Ethan told me that they couldn't have me until Sep 21 because he was going to New Mexico for the Superhero ride. The superheroes are a service organization. They dress up as superheroes of their own making (I was Mindful Chaos), tour the country on bicycles and help anyone who needs and accepts their help. They make decisions using deep consensus, bring their own food and supplies and do not expect anything in return for their services. They give freely without any agenda except to be of service and try to connect with people. I decided to go with them, so I can get to know Ethan better, because I love to help people directly (as opposed to giving money to charities), and because it sounded like fun. I will write more about the superheroes and my adventures with them in another post. After two weeks of riding with the Superheroes, Ethan and I left them to go back by train to La Plata and the PA. La Plata is a small town in Missouri on the Amtrak route. We were met at the station by Rory who brought me a bike and a trailer for my pack. We rode for 5 miles through Amish farms. We stopped at one neighbor for the kids to inspect the bikes and talk to Ethan for a while. Ethan promised them some honey from the upcoming honey harvest. Then we rode home.

The physical/ecological layout
There are 80 acres, 20 of which are zoned wilderness (meaning one can't build or gather/hunt there, only commune with) woods, the rest being mostly pasture. There are apple, pear, and peach trees that the humans get much fruit from. There are chickens that the humnans get eggs, meat and insect-control from. The humans collect black walnuts and acorns for the chickens, and otherwise they are mostly free-ranging and find their own food. There are 4 female goats producing milk, some of which is drunk by the humans and made into cheese. Every few years they need to be "freshened", which means more goats are born, some of which will be killed for meat. There are horses which are used to haul heavy loads like fallen trees. There are some plans to use the horses for plowing, for grain production. There are fish in the pond, bluegill and bass, at a sustainable fishing ratio of 10:1. There is a house with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a pantry, a bathroom (used mostly as a cold room for food storage and sometimes for taking baths), a living room and a dining room. There is a barn for the horses and goats, for storing hay and straw, and for visitors to sleep in. Many visitors (including myself)--there are about 1000 per year, also sleep in tents.

The social structure
Every day there would be a morning meditation at 6:30, which I would usually miss because I would rather catch up on sleep in the morning. There was breakfast and morning meeting at 7:30. Breakfast usually consisted of cold oatmeal or rice with apples, pears, honey and flax. The morning meeting was fun: it would start with a minute of silence and tuning in, followed by a reading about a native plant or animal (“community member”) that recently interacted with someone, and a poem or inspirational reading. Then we would figure out what “bread labor” needed to be done that day. The people who have been there for a while generally had a better idea of that than people who have been there less time. After bread labor was decided, there would be a joke told, a magic trick performed, a dance move demonstrated or a riddle posed and then we would go, unrushed to our tasks. As the saying goes:”where there is vision with no task, it is a daydream. Where there is a task without vision it is drudgery, but when vision and task are combined, the world changes.” And that is my experience of work at the PA. Every task there, except one which I will get to in a moment, was a joy. There was a variety of tasks that needed doing, for reasons which were pretty simple and more or less obviously related to food production, water, shelter, or aesthetics. There were tasks related to health, education, and outreach. There were tasks related to inner peace and joy, and tasks related to communion with people or other beings. I gathered acorns, and black walnuts for the chickens, made a compost pile from hay, green garden "waste" and goat and chicken manure, harvested potatoes and sweet potatoes while learning Erithrean from Blen and teaching her Hebrew (many words are almost exactly the same!), I harvested carrots and herbs for Blen's meal, harvested and cut chili peppers for canning, basil for pesto I made. I played with Etta, Ethan and Sara's 2 year old daughter. I have an irrational fear about cooking for many people at once, though I love cooking, so I was an assistant to a few cooks. I washed my clothes by hand in a galvanized metal tub, wrung them out by hand and with a wringer, then hung them up to dry. I played fiddle and recorder for the open house (about 120 people from the neighboring farms and villages came over for human power and craft workshops), played duets with Sara, improvised with Ethan (he played guitar and sang) and Crea (she sang), sang amazing songs which we were teaching each other a capello, danced free style (Ethan is a great rapper and guitar improv player, we were all trancing out dancing to his music) and Israeli folk dances which I taught. I cut wood with Cory using a two-person timber saw--what a pleasure, then split it with an axe. I walked the goats to their pasture and collected felled branches for them to eat. I helped milk them. We all moved the composting toilet over a few feet, to feed another future tree. We covered some crops with straw one evening when frost was announced. Robert and I rode our bikes twice to help with a neighbor's sorghum harvest, syruping and yummy meal (we just ate the meal, didn't help prepare it). Bread labor was roughly from 8:30-noon, lunch from noon-1:00, siesta (An essential part of a balanced life)1:00-3:00, more bread labor 3:00-6:00. We celebrated one birthday with Pizza cooked in the earthen wood-fired oven, dancing, singing and cake eating. We told Megan everything we appreciated about her, and we did the same for visitors and interns who left, circling with an "imploding supernova of love". We had consensus meetings to talk about bigger issues, and readings from writers about peace and non-violence once a week. I rode into town on a bike with a trailer 3 times to pick up visitors (one time the visitor didn't come due to a misunderstanding, but I had a service call at an elderly woman who needed help moving out of her trailer). Beth taught me a cob plaster recipe and I was impressed by the outdoor covered bench with huge cob blue whale on the wall, and the outdoor kitchen with huge cob lizard on the wall which she cobbed. Specialization is for ants, as Heinlein would say. Well, not totally. It is so much fun to have varied work, yet, it is also a great human pleasure to have an avocation, a lifelong pursuit at which one gets better at. I didn't have much time or energy for theoretical physics or technology R&D, which are my avocations. Maybe in winter there would be more time, or after the community has existed for a while and infrastructure has been built. In the mean time the only avocations that are available most of the time are cooking, gardening, animal husbandry and building. Maybe some political activism.

Not everything went smoothly. On my second or third day I was sitting across from Megan at lunch. She had a women's studies T-shirt from the nearby college, and figuring it would be a good topic of conversation and a compliment, I commented on her dikey-looking glasses. I was surprised to find out she was offended by that comment. Later she forgave me, after realizing my intentions were good. I went to the Barn loft to get a bale of hay for the horses and only two days later did we find out that I grabbed a straw bale and the horses were hungry during that time. "That's what happens when you ask an engineer to do farm work"--quipped Rory. After every meal there was a "Blitz" where everyone was supposed to help clean up. I thought more than 3 or 4 people and more than one meal per day cleanup was excessive and I made my opinion known, which I think alienated some people. I have nothing against cleanliness and order, but I value physics, technology R&D music, dance and ritual so any time spent in (excessive) cleaning is less time spent on those other things. I want cleaning and organizing to be efficient and not make-do or OCD work, coming from damage and oppression. In addition to the blitzes, there is also a cleaning and organizing period on Friday afternoon, which I ended up enjoying because I felt like I was really accomplishing something instead of being oppressed by some woman's past oppression or nesting instinct gone awry, thanks to Ethan giving me good tasks to do.

Cutural Speciation
The PA is a place where a new culture is being born. They are focusing not on one thing, but on everything, perhaps through a few "master" memes. They have become somewhat memetically isolated by banning electricity (TV, internet, radio) and using only handtools, which I have claimed in past posts is a necessary condition for speciation in nature. They are not completely isolated because the interact with visitors, talk on the phone and go out to the world, but I hope they are isolated enough to survive the onslaught of Mainstream memes, and not too isolated so as not to be able to thrive and replicate.
The contrast between the two cultures is already great. I was mostly joyful in PA culture and am mostly nautious in Mainstream kulture unless I put on a psychic armor. Nausea was greatest when I left and rode a greyhound bus, and gradually diminished (replaced by a feeling of claustrophobia and unreality) although I occasionally get it back. I went to a Halloween party recently where the music was too loud to really hear anyone. There were flashy lights and a huge screen playing a zombie movie (I felt like I was relating to zombies indeed, with a few exceptions) to further reduce human to human contact, as well as alcohol to dumb people down and numb them to the pain of the unrelatedness. The music was aggressive (not just loud), there was not much architectural beauty or crafty human-made furniture, there were no plants or animals and it was cold. The dancing was typical individualistic, non-collaborative, ego-centric techno-industrial type (I did my best to enjoy it though). When I told this one guy that the superheroes help people, he thought “helping” was a euphemism for beating up and raping, as in the movie Clockwork Orange. The costumes were mostly from TV shows or movies, which shape the Mainstream Kulture in a way that would make Goebbels proud. By contrast, the PA environment and superhero costumes are decided by consensus, interaction with nature and individual creative process, encourage human to human contact, ethical global responsibility and local communion with nature. I love the people and other creatures I met there--I am filled with hope. I don't know if we need to completely give up electricity and petrol to live ethically, sustainably and joyfully, but I think it is a good place to start. If eventually we want petroleum and electricity (for labor saving and communication), we should be able to figure out how to have them without destroying the planet, exploiting people and destroying our souls. We can do almost anything we put our minds and hearts to. The next step at the PA is to build more buildings, and start making tools and materials. I hope to be making window glass and mason jars there out of recycled glass.


  1. I hope my quip wasn't hurtful, Iuval :-)

    Are you doing well? We think of you often, especially when food goes missing.


  2. Oh shit, I just saw this. Hey Rory, I love you too bro. So are you saying food still goes missing? Dang, who done it? I swear it wasn't me!
    And no, your quip was not hurtful, it was just what I needed and it was cute.

  3. Mindful Chaos,

    it has been so long since you sent this, but I finally found some time to sit
    and read your wonderful reflections of your time at the PA, thank you for
    sending this. I hope you are doing well, wherever your journeys have taken you.
    I have been mostly circling between Northern California and Oregon, lately in
    Eugene where I reconnected with Anthony from PA, who now has a big crop of curly
    hair, and finally met Rabbi Yikes, who gathered us for Shabbat (along with a
    handful of other superheros from that area). Now I am back in the Sierra Nevada
    foothills, enjoying sunny California whether, farming and cooking and playing!

    blessings my friend, hope this finds you smiling!

    -GypsyWeaver (now One Earth)

  4. "...I felt like I was really accomplishing something instead of being oppressed by some woman's past oppression or nesting instinct gone awry, thanks to Ethan giving me good tasks to do."

    Whatever your intentions are, your words here communicate a disdain for women, and for the joyful struggle- of us all - to ameliorate and heal from the effects of growing up with patriarchy. It does a disservice to your readers and - I believe - to your intentions.

    What's underneath men's feelings of being oppressed by women? Men still hold the majority of economic and political power. Violence still flows in almost exclusively one direction between men and women. We can, and should, learn to distinguish between:
    • personal hurts disappointments, that are part of any life story
    • hurts from the universal (but heterogeneous) stunting of development created by the enforcement of gender roles, and
    • the systematic oppression of women under patriarchy.

    When you describe yourself as being oppressed by "some woman's" past oppression, you confuse those categories - to all our detriment. A little solidarity and compassion is called for, for all those people who experience types of systematic oppression that are, after all, organized to assign privileges to *you.* Not guilt, not shame, but solidarity and compassion.

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  6. Rafter Sass, I don't think men are generally oppressed by women. I didn't say that. Past oppression in this case means women getting all their self-worth from domestic chores and getting obsessed with cleaning. If a group gets obsessed with cleaning, both men and women are usually obsessed with it and both are oppressed by it. My words communicate a disdain for women to you? I think that is not just the words, but how you interpret them. I do not mean any disdain for women, but for oppression.

    What's underneath men's feeling of oppression by women? I don't know, since I don't feel oppressed by women. However, if you read Susan Faludi's Stiffed, she has some speculations about men who do feel that way.

    I don't know if men hold the majority of economic power. The question is not who makes more money, but where that money ends up and whose needs are satisfied with that money. As far as political power, maybe. And I don't know about violence mostly flowing from men to women, I have read the opposite somewhere. There are many divorced fathers who experience systemic violence when they
    1. have their children taken away from them because of their gender and given solely to the mother, and then raised in ways that are sometimes anathema to the fathers (akin to kidnapping of native children who are raised in white culture)
    2.are put in debt or in jail under the guise of "child support" and "responsibility", whereas the money they pay goes to their ex-wives retirement fund or to benefit their ex-wives, not the child.
    3. are told that their work or avocation is less important than maximizing their income (being treated like ATM machines, or "providers").
    4. Are treated like male preying mantises by society at large--their only value being to provide energy for their offspring in a mandatory, not voluntary way.

    One can distinguish between the 3 categories you mentioned (and include a category for the oppression of men by the current culture), and still have situations where all 4 or combinations apply at once. I have had such experiences.

    Now about solidarity and compassion. I have much solidarity and compassion for early feminists and many present feminists, and all victims of violence (men and women) and oppression, but very little of either for those whose forerunners have experienced oppression (or they themselves have) and are blind to the systemic oppression directed against men and especially divorced fathers. If you tell the thousands of divorced fathers that they are privileged, especially the many who are in jail and/or on hunger strike (!!!), or have become homeless, or who have become debt-slaves, or estranged from their children, then it is you who is participating in systemic oppression. It is hard for the oppressed to have solidarity and compassion with their oppressors (be they men or women). If you want my solidarity and compassion, extend those to me as well. Tell me your story without blaming me or patriarchy (or some other abstraction) and I will probably be your loving ally.

  7. One Earth Nun! Good to hear from you. I met Anthony briefly, and heard lots about him (e.g. the amish wanting to trade a horse for him). And Rabbi Yikes is a force of natur--I got to meet her in person during my first brief visit to the PA. I am trying to start an intentional community here in Atlanta, GA. We are off the electrical and water grids, heating with wood, cooking some with wood, planting every square foot. The biggest challenges are cultural. People are stuck in mainstream culture...
    Keep in touch. Maybe you can email me for updates since I don't see comments on here very often.

  8. impressive post! thank you for sharing your experience. the PA's story is one people can be inspired and informed by. while on this HOOP TOUR i found out about them, and i intend to visit on my way back west!