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Intentioneering the Parallel Culture

Building Urban Intentional Community using the Affinity-Group Network, Material Spirituality and the Anti-Quota

A. Allen Butcher, April, 1999, revised May 2002

The ultimate test of human wisdom is our creation of a society based upon the values of caring, nurturance, love and equality, using the processes of cooperation and sharing. Competition, possessiveness and oppression can never be more than individual or collective profit at the expense of others and the environment. If we were to affirm that we are truly intelligent beings, we would seek to look beyond the circumstantial culture which we inherit to more deliberately build a foundation for a lifestyle that is mutually fulfilling, environmentally sustainable and joyful in the most positive sense.

In the pursuit of happiness, many people realize that the quality of our relationships is one of the most important aspects of our personal happiness, along with good health, a personal outlook of optimism, physical activity, and personal control over one's own life. John Stossel made this point in his April, 1996 segment of ABC's "20-20," titled "Happiness in America." And he went on to say that all of these positive values are generally considered to be more important than mere personal monetary wealth alone. If the quest for ever greater wealth requires that we live a life of competition (via exploiting comparative advantages), possessiveness, greed and similar processes and values, then we can understand why it is said that money can not buy happiness. How, then, may we live our lives in such a way that the influence of conflict and violence-generating values is kept to a minimum while nurturing-relationship values are emphasized?

One of the greatest challenges in beginning to build such a culture based upon nurturing-relationship values, however, is in simply finding the appropriate words with which to describe it. As very few of us have any experience living strictly by nurturing-relationship values, our language is very limited with regard to how we may explain our intention. Because of this, many of us get lost in semantics just as we start to explain the idea of a cooperative lifestyle. One term often used to describe a range of different efforts to live by positive values is "intentional community," which may be defined as, "a fellowship of individuals and families practicing common agreement and collective action." The suggestion is that people deliberately working together can better assure their collective and personal happiness than can a "circumstantial community" comprised of people living in proximity strictly by chance.


As with any other field of concentration, the study and vocation of deliberate social and cultural design and construction (such as intentional community) has to involve the development of a set of terms, concepts, theories and a pedagogy in order to discuss the issues, share the experiences, and teach the knowledge gained. For this reason, a number of new terms are coined and employed in this paper, beginning with: "intentioneering."

The term "intentioneering" comes from the idea that enjoying a culture and society based upon positive values must be something like living in paradise. Since we know that we can create hell on earth, due to nuclear weapons, shouldn't it also be possible for us to create heaven on earth? Or if not heaven, then at least we can work to create what Kat Kinkade refers to as, "successive approximations of paradise" in her writings about Twin Oaks Community's experience with applied behavioral psychology.

The word "intentioneering" merges the terms "intentional community" and "behavioral engineering" to derive one word to be used to refer to the effort to build intentional community. The term also references one of American culture's contemporary idioms for having a good time. The exclamation "... going to Disneyland!" suggests a popular vacation destination, and so it is a suitable adaptation of Disney parlance to take the term "imagineering," meaning taking fairy tales and cartoon characters and engineering these figments of imagination into physical, interactive, holiday attractions, and create the new term "intentioneering," referring to deliberate human cultural design.

Hopefully, the etymological reference to Disneyland will serve to emphasize the goal of only positive values being involved in the process of intentioneering. This is particularly important as, generally, the concept of ones' behavior being engineered is not thought to be a positive idea, since our experience with the dominate culture's ubiquitous and relentless consumer advertising can be considered a negative form of behavior engineering. What serves to assure that deliberately created socio-psychological processes in intentional community are positive, of course, is the concentration upon participatory governance and the attendant functions of consensus facilitation, constructive feedback, clarity of communication and similar processes.

The Parallel Culture and the Affinity Group

The second term coined for the purpose of explaining a culture based upon positive or cooperative values is "parallel culture." The intent here is to suggest that the goal is not to change the larger, dominate culture, since that suggests negative connotations of manipulation or force, but rather to recognize that the positive alternative has always existed along with or parallel to it. The goal is to develop the parallel culture to where it is the dominant social design. Monasteries are the oldest form of parallel culture in civilization, while prehistoric tribal culture may be considered as being an example of the integration of positive and negative cultural values, prior to these motives being split between two different cultures, the dominate and the parallel, with the advent of civilization.

People generally think of prehistoric human society as being brutish and characterized by a competitive struggle for survival. Yet there is another perspective offered by Richard Leakey, in the book "People of the Lake: Mankind and Its Beginnings," in which he asserts that "Sharing, not hunting or gathering as such, is what made us human." His study of human prehistory in Kenya suggests that our long history as an "intensely social creature" resulted in the embedding in our brains of the senses of obligation and generosity as powerful human instincts helping to assure the success of our species. Hence, there may be nothing spiritually mysterious about our ability to know right from wrong and to seek peace, love and harmony (sometimes referred to as our "inner light"); rather, it may simply be an aspect of human development, like language capability, that evolved through natural selection. (Still, there is a role in the parallel culture for spiritual awareness. For this discussion see the section on "material spirituality.") Due to the influence of our long prehistoric past, some of us today would likely have a stronger instinct for cooperation, while in others competition may be the dominate instinct. For this reason people must have a choice of lifestyles, and this is the value of having parallel cultures.

So the desire to live in community can be presented as an innate drive in our basic constitution, possibly as strong as the primitive drive for sugar, salt and fat in the diet, for procreation, competition and other basic instincts. All that we need is a society that respects the communitarian preference, and that nurtures it rather than destroying it. And in the dominant culture it may be the monetary economic system, more than any other single factor, that prevents us from honoring our basic preference for sharing in community.

Given that the dominant culture today is generally characterized as being based upon the political-economic system known as "neo-liberal market capitalism," focused upon competition, possessiveness and similar values, an alternative economic system focused upon positive values, such as sharing, must be based upon an economic system known as ... what? Certainly the term "communism" does not suggest the positive value of participatory governance, since it refers to the authoritarian system of one-party rule and the negative value of centralized control, with regard to "the production and distribution of goods and services." Similarly, "socialism" refers to the practice of "redistribution" of wealth from those who have to those who have not, and this taking is essentially a negative process. A more positive program would be the focus upon building common wealth, similar to the way that nonprofit and some cooperative organizations work.

One of the important aspects of authoritarian structures such as communism, as it has been experienced and in some communist theory, is the problem of centralization of power and authority. This is also a problem in capitalism, particularly the neo-liberal form, as wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in fewer hands. This political-economic structure can be called a "plutocracy," meaning rule by the rich. To avoid this problem, the parallel culture must use decentralized forms of decision-making, such as consensus and other forms of participatory group process, practiced in small groups or "affinity groups" formed around common interests or backgrounds, which then may send representatives or delegates to larger governmental bodies. This can also be referred to as "social anarchism," as long as it involves voluntary association. Similar to how clans and tribes comprised nations, the "affinity-group network" then becomes the basic foundation and building block of the parallel culture.

The Political-Economic Matrix and the Egalitarian Commonwealth

To answer the question of by what name shall we know a culture built upon positive values, I suggest a range of different terms that provide for different forms of property ownership, while having in common the attribute of participatory governance. The term "egalitarian" serves to refer to the ideal of popular self-governance, and therefore would always be used in reference to the parallel culture. Within a politically egalitarian society, however, there may be a range of different economic structures, including common property ownership, private property ownership, and a mixture of the two. "Egalitarian communalism" refers to common property ownership with a participatory government, and examples would be some of the Kibbutz movement in Israel, Twin Oaks Community and other members of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in North America, and other egalitarian communal societies around the world. "Egalitarian collectivism" refers to private property ownership, and examples would be cohousing communities and cooperatives, known by different names throughout the world. "Egalitarian commonwealth" refers to a combination of common and private property ownership structures (i.e., "economic diversity") with participatory governance. Examples would be community land trusts and those communities having both a communal core-group and other members holding more private property. The dominant culture, however, with its authoritarian structure would not appear on this egalitarian economic continuum.

The dominant culture would be on the authoritarian economic continuum; same economic range yet on a different political level. Between the egalitarian and the authoritarian political levels would be majority-rule or "democratic" societies, including "democratic socialism," with a similar economic range. Note that now we have identified three economic classifications (i.e., communal, economically-diverse and private) and three political classifications (i.e., consensus, majority-rule and authoritarian). Placing the economic continuum on a horizontal axis and the political continuum on a vertical axis we create the "Political-Economic Matrix" with nine separate and specifically defined cells, each with a unique political-economic combination. Over time cultures, societies and affinity groups may move among different cells, yet historically, human civilization in general may be said to be moving toward the top center cell, labeled the "egalitarian commonwealth," having a consensus-based governance with economic diversity.

Viewing human civilization as moving from authoritarian structures to democratic to greater degrees of popular participation suggests a "process trend," while viewing the balance of common and private property suggests an "integration trend," together moving us toward the egalitarian commonwealth. An ecological analogy to these trends in human civilization suggests that our history is like an ecosystem changing from a swamp to scrub-land to the climax forest. Kenneth Boulding wrote in 1970 in "Economics As A Science" that the primitive tribe or village is a good example of a climactic social system, remaining stable until some fundamental change takes place. Recorded history begins with one such change, the advent of civilization and the end of the primitive climax human culture. We have been working ever since, through the city-state to empire and now to global culture, to arrive at a new level of cultural stability, a more advanced climactic social system similar in ways to primitive human culture yet at a different level of technology and social complexity, if not also evidencing a higher degree of wisdom.

On the large scale, the parallel culture would best be considered to be an "egalitarian commonwealth." The term "commonwealth" suggests the general economic welfare of a region or group of people, and thus adequately suggests a combination of economic structures. (See: "Classifications of Communitarianism" by the same author.) On the large scale, the parallel culture would involve a range of different forms of participatory, self-governing, community organizations comprising an egalitarian commonwealth. The part of the parallel culture that emphasizes strictly positive values would have the goal of working toward egalitarian communalism, or common property ownership, on the small scale. Note that egalitarian communal communities are rarely found on the large scale. The communal Kibbutzim range up to a maximum of about 1,200 people, and many of these Kibbutzim have been transitioning to economic diversity. For this reason the focus upon small-scale affinity groups in the parallel culture is particularly important.

Rational Altruism and Time Economics

The easiest way to begin to structure the idea of an economic system based upon nurturing-relationship values is simply to take the terms used to explain the monetary economy and find existing or coin new terms with opposite meanings. So the opposite of the term "rational self-interest," which is used to explain how it is that an economy can work well when everyone is concentrating upon what they can get for themselves, is the new term "rational altruism," explaining how an economy based upon sharing can work well. Similarly, the term "comparative advantage," or how various individuals or groups can each exploit their particular resources or talents and trade their resulting commodities or services in the monetary economy, is replaced with the concept of "mutual advantage."

The theory of "supply and demand," or how competition among buyers and sellers affects prices, productivity and trade in privately-owned goods and services, is replaced with the theory of "desire and dedication," or how in cooperation people's needs and wants affects their motivation to produce public goods and services. Thus, the perfect elasticity of aggregate desire, or our tendency to want ever more, is motivation for the process of intentioneering the dedication to satisfy those desires. "Artificial scarcity" in the competitive economy, suggesting that the dominant culture may be characterized as representing the "scarcity paradigm," is replaced with the concept of the "plenty paradigm," suggesting that by sharing we can enjoy a natural abundance. Finally, the "invisible hand" of the market place, that specter of capitalism, is replaced by "material spirituality" as an affirmation of the spiritual value of sharing through the intentioneering of the parallel culture, the plenty paradigm, time economics and rational altruism.

Rational altruism affirms the positive perspective that all of our needs may be met, and that happiness is best provided, when we share. Since it is harder to share when we value everything in units of currency, and hoard as much as we can, an economy based upon the ideal of rational altruism has to be based upon an alternative to monetary economics. A nonmonetary economy, therefore, can not be an exchange economy, but must be a sharing economy, and work or labor, if not motivated by money, must be motivated by the nurturing-relationship value that it brings to the individual and community as a whole. Time, then, becomes the basis of the nonmonetary economy, and "time economics" provides for the common wealth by maximizing public goods and services. The resulting shared wealth reduces the fear of economic loss or exposure (fear of scarcity) and greed is not rewarded. Rather than working for strictly the materialistic and temporal goals of personal wealth and power, rational altruism affirms one's intention to work for mutual benefit, social justice and ecological responsibility. Happiness, then, is found as much in working for the good of all, as in work for personal benefit.

The Anti-Quota and other Communitarian Luxuries

In time-based economics the "service credit" or "labor credit" is the root of public good, and all work is valued equally. One hour is worth one credit regardless of who is working or what is done. However, there are two different forms of time economies, "labor exchanging" using "service credits" or "time dollars," which are exchanged hour-for-hour, and "labor sharing" using "labor credits," which are not exchanged, but used to keep track of member's fair-share of work done for the community.

Labor sharing usually involves a "labor quota" or minimum fair-share contribution of time that a community organization agrees is necessary for the good of the group, and that each member must do in order to maintain their membership. However, another form of labor sharing would involve voluntary labor pledges given to the community for the maintenance of ongoing community-wide service programs. Computing the average per-member number of hours worked, or "done labor" for a particular period of time would result in a second way to arrive at a figure for member's fair-share labor-hour contribution goal. This "anti-quota" would be a voluntary goal, rather than a requirement as in the case of the labor quota.

The anti-quota might be particularly relevant to an urban community, as the urban experience has so many demands on a person's time. The anti-quota lets every member know the amount of time that the average member gave to the community, and thus an idea of what one's fair-share contribution of work would be. This would represent a reliance upon the individual's desire to support the community, and provide a passive form of positive reinforcement, as it focuses upon the individual's maintenance of self-motivation. More active forms of positive reinforcement would include individual access to the services and resources provided by the community, and various methods of group recognition of those who contribute time to the community. This recognition might include both group events and individual positive or constructive feedback, encouraging a focus within the community upon positive morale-boosting functions other than monetary reward.

Community in an urban setting involves bringing together people who appreciate each other's company, and involves nurturing mutually supportive activities among the group. We all have many different activities and cares taking our time, yet some of those activities, and over time probably many of them, can be made easier and more enjoyable as we find ways to provide for them collectively within our egalitarian commonwealth rather than individually through the consumer economy. Consider that through building community we can enjoy luxuries that individually we could not realize. We might consider the relationships we build among us through our sharing of child care and food service, a vehicle cooperative and a purchasing program and other services, as a "trust luxury," based upon our experience of community members making agreements and following through with them. The feedback and other levels of communication used to maintain these services nurtures our friendships and encourages the pleasure we have in enjoying each other's company.

Consider how the fellowship of community respects the spiritual ideals of brother and of sisterhood, of living by the Golden Rule, or of practicing a love-thy-neighbor ethic. The opportunity to conform our lifestyle to our spiritual ideals can be cast as a "spiritual luxury," while the focus upon sharing and ecological design can be presented as a "politically-correct luxury." Visiting other communities around the world is a "travel luxury." And more than mere luxury, intergenerational community where both young and old are encouraged to care for the other, in comparison with the usual pattern of age segregation in America, is cultural elegance. All of these and more are "communitarian luxuries" available to everyone.

By emphasizing that the benefits of community are not commodities that can be simply purchased, we can begin to develop an awareness of the unique nature of rational altruism and of the communitarian lifestyle, which might be cast as the "communitarian mystique." Such an outreach campaign may then begin to counter our acculturation to "the American Dream," and its attendant ideals of home as moated castle and that debt-financed consumerism is a patriotic duty. Yet there are different ways to view the effort to build community. One view, that our only choices are chaos or community, suggests that building intentional community is a necessity in order to assure our long-term survival. A less fatalistic view, which may be far more effective as an outreach campaign, is that building community, of any kind, is the effort to create luxuries that can not otherwise be enjoyed.

Material Spirituality and Natural Law

Although we may recognize that there may be nothing spiritually mysterious about our desire for community and other positive spiritual values (as explained in the section: The Parallel Culture and the Affinity Group) there is still an important role for spiritual expression in the parallel culture, which may be presented in the term "material spirituality" and its use of the concept of natural law.

As human beings, our nature includes both physical and spiritual aspects. Our material lives are generally governed by the economic and political processes in which we engage, and these influence our health and happiness. In contrast, our spiritual lives arise from an awareness of grace and inspiration, and a sense of right and wrong. Whether the source of our spirituality is an external revelation (transcendence) or an intuitive nature (immanence), our awareness and expression of spiritual truth must inform and balance our economic and political lives, or how we manage our time and provide for our happiness in the physical world.

Both the material and the spiritual aspects of our nature must be honored, expressed and balanced, such that neither eclipses the other. With such a balance we can justify both a respect for private property and for commonly-owned property, since the former represents material values and the latter represents spiritual values, and both are justified via natural law. This balance is the basic ideal of "material spirituality," and this ideal leads to the practice of rational altruism and the application of time-based economics.

As a society of human beings our culture must express a balance of material and of spiritual values, in order to support individuals in maintaining a similar balance. This can be the best way for the society and the individual to be mutually supportive, and this ideal is addressed in the process of seeking justice through the institutions of law. The seat of authority over individual choice, however, is always the individual conscious, inner light, or awareness of truth and justice. However inspired, the expression of individual awareness of philosophical or spiritual truth and justice may be considered to be one's representation of "natural law." A culture, then, must be able to trust in each person to manage their participation in society according to the common positive values of peace, equality, compassion, tolerance and justice. Accomplishing this requires an ongoing emphasis upon acculturation, education and spiritual instruction.

The concept of natural law encourages the expansion of our concern and motivation from what is good for the individual, or just our own needs and wants, to what is good for everyone, the world, and ultimately the focus upon transcendent values of peace, justice, nurturance and happiness. As this concept in democratic society has resulted in political issues, or issues presented from a person's or a party's subjective concerns, being addressed in objective legal terms of justice and fairness, the influence of the ideal of natural law upon society can essentially be seen as a secular expression of spiritual values. It is therefore through the concept of natural law that spiritual, political, economic and social issues may be integrated in one coherent world view, offering the potential for the presentation of natural law as a unified field theory for the design of human society.

What may result in confusion and misunderstanding of the concept of natural law is the tendency to define nature as the law-of-the-jungle and survival-of-the-fittest, as in each person for themselves, justifying the worst experiences of arbitrary law, selfish parochialism and predatory capitalism. These negative practices, of course, serve to respect only a narrow, self-centered view of the reason for one's existence. In contrast, there is a view that our existence serves the integration of the laws-of-nature and of natural law. In this view, just as the laws of physics, chemistry and all the natural sciences are immutable or beyond our ability to change them, and just as we are subject to these laws of nature and can only seek to understand and to live with them, so also are we subject to natural law. Just as we seek to learn the laws-of-nature, so also might we seek to learn and live by natural law.

The concept of natural law presents the ideals of justice, love and nurturance as being of the order of immutability. Breaking these metaphysical laws, as any in the physical sciences, unavoidably returns negative consequences. Living with and respecting natural law as the basis for how we utilize the laws of nature is the manner in which we, uniquely situated between the realms of the physical and the spiritual aspects of the universe, can best honor and most completely realize our full potential.

As a global civilization, human beings have created a world order comprised of economic systems and laws that, although may have originally been based upon expressions of natural law, are increasingly subject to misapplication through processes of writing human-made or "positive law," tending to respect spiritual ideals less than wealth, and the power that flows from it. As this new world order becomes increasingly exploitative of the earth's resources, damaging to the natural systems that support life, and economically and politically oppressive to humanity (materialism eclipsing spirituality), the need grows for supporting economic processes, engaging in cultural activities, and establishing social units in which individuals can express a set of values different from the negative values of the dominant culture.

Communitarian Values

The challenge to us is to build a culture with a political-economic system that engenders in the individual an appreciation of others and a sense of responsibility for the environment that we share. Trust in one another and mutual responsibility are simple luxuries that are assured as we enjoy a lifestyle expressing communitarian values. Providing a safe and nurturing environment for children and seniors is an expression of communitarian values, as are the provision of services where people work together for mutual advantage and efficient resource usage. Communitarian values are experienced in forums where people resolve disputes or discuss opportunities or challenges, whether from within or from outside of the community. Communitarian values are supported by architectural and land use designs that encourage the random kindnesses and senseless acts of beauty that encourage positive interactions among people. And communitarian values nurture the development of friendships and the other primary and secondary social bonds that make of our lives a joy, a work of art, a labor of love, and an expression of our spiritual awareness.

All of the concepts and terms presented in this paper, as we find ways to apply them in our lives through intentioneering community, may enable us to understand, express, and enjoy a society based upon positive, nurturing values.

A. Allen Butcher, Fourth World Services
Providing information for a lifestyle balancing our personal needs with those of society and nature.
PO Box 1666, Denver, CO 80201-1666
4thWorld@consultant.com phone: 303-355-4501 fax: 303-333-8671

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