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community food: I provided 540 meals and received 2

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
My impression is that 90% of the problems in a household with several unrelated adults under the same roof are rooted to the kitchen. 

If you try to have a conversation about how to have things managed so that everybody gets along, you hear a lot of talk about "nobody would ever ..." and "people are good and decent ..." or "all of the people in this house are good and decent ..."

My thinking is that all people are .... people.  There is a lot to be said for "human nature".  When people are thinking about how awesome their behavior will be, they will be great.  And then when reality comes along, a lot of the times they aren't in the mood, or they're broke this week, or something came up, or ....  whatever.   Further, once a system is established, some people try to "work" (or "game" the system.  A few will follow a path so that everything continues to be fair or decent, but once one person starts to game and it goes unchecked, others learn that if they don't game the system equally, then they get screwed while the gamers get an advantage.  In the end, the wicked win and the decent get screwed.

In the fall of 2008 I conducted an experiment.  I wanted to demonstrate that people were, in general, going to prefer a path for what is in their own best interest, rather than the group's best interest.  And if they made mistakes, they would not take steps to heal things for the group, but rather try to skip past and let others make up for their errors.  I went into the experiment with the idea that I would be mostly passive except for the most extreme abuses.  In a world of decency, we all contribute equally and we all receive equally.  I would show faith, and be the first to contribute.  In an ideal setting, with ideal people, if I put 100 pounds into the community, I would get about 100 pounds back.  If I was right, I would put 100 pounds in and get nothing back.

I lived in a newly forming community.  From mid september through mid december (three months) I provided nine meals a week for the community.  All organic.  I provided breakfast monday through friday, and dinner monday, tuesday, thursday and friday.  I paid an excellent cook to prepare these meals and report to me some of the details about what all went on. 

Since the community was affiliated with a wilderness college, many of the people that came for meals were part of the wilderness programs.  So as part of my offer, I asked:  people wash their own dishes; people help with the post-meal cleanup (if any); and once a week, people bring in some sort of wild food:  trout, or berries, or camas, or nettles, or squirrel or .... anything that comes from the vast woods that surrounds the property (or the creek that runs through the property). 

There were a about nine people, including me.  So for twelve weeks, you would think there would be wild food brought in about a hundred times.   I think wild food was brought in about six times.  A few times I asked what wild food we might see next week, thus reminding people about this part of the arrangement, but I never pressed it.

Many times, some people would not help with the cleanup.  Some of the community tried to remind other community people ("hey!  I'm not your fucking maid man!" - but that often didn't work.    The cook often cleaned up after everyone else.   Although I have to admit that one really decent community member did go the extra mile and persuade the slackers to help more.  So toward the end of the experiment, the cleanup was mostly by the collective group.  But it took one decent person getting angry at the slackers.

I provided 108 meals.  I would guess there was an average of five people in addition to me.   So I provided 540 meals.  I thought that some people would reciprocate and offer a meal to me.  I never suggested it, but I was very curious how often it might happen.  I received two such meals during the three months.

I felt that community was an important part of these shared meals, so i set a very exact time for when the meal would start so we could all sit together and share a meal.  One person wanted the food, but not the company - so this person would strategically show up late.  On one occasion, this person showed up after we started cleanup.  He wanted some of my food and I said "no".  About half of the group felt I was rather evil to say no and expressed their anger about this for a couple of days.   

One thing I made clear was that this was my food which I shared during the specified meal times.  My excuse was that I was providing the food for the sake of community.  Leftovers were mine and would be either for my consumption outside of shared meals, or they might reappear for later meals.   I make this clear because several people were frequently stealing my food between meals.  I regularly reminded folks about how it was not okay to take the food between meals.  I wanted there to be no doubt about the issue.  I only made an issue of it when they were being too lazy to hide their theft from me. 

After the project ended, several of these people had become so accustomed to stealing my food, they couldn't stop.  I repeatedly reminded the community that taking my food without my permission was stealing and yet LOTS of my food kept disappearing.  Finally, I caught one of them stealing my food red handed.  The interesting thing is that many people of the community were horribly upset that I would call it stealing and make this individual feel shame for what happened.

This experiment bore lots and lots of stories of shenanigans.  It goes on and on and on.  At one point a collective formed to voice concern because "he who controls the food, controls the world" - they actually skipped several meals.  But the food was really good - so they returned.

The experiment bore the fruit that I expected:  people are human.  If you come up with a food system that is dependent on people in the house being decent, you will learn the ugly truth.  As a side effect, ugliness compounds ugliness. 

I think that when coming up with a food system for community meals, you need a system where the foundation is that people are human.   People will, by nature, seek the easiest path to put food in their belly.  Hunger is a powerful, driving force, and a full belly makes a human rather lazy.  It is simply nature.  It takes a rare, evolved being to be better than this.  And even the rare, evolved being will not be perfect.

I think that if people are in the regular habit of being good and decent, and they are surrounded by people that are good and decent, they will become even more decent.  Even generous.  Exceptionally evolved.  But if people start down the path of disrespecting even one person in the community - the whole community will unravel into ugly chaos.  And the odds are stacked 200 to 1 for the latter scenario.

Suppose the mission is to have 20 people living under one roof.  There are models where this is working all the time.  Old folks homes and military comes to mind.  There are gobs of other examples. 

So here is one possible scenario (there are infinite scenarios - but I wanted to make one simple example):  A 20 bedroom house with one owner and 19 renters.  There are two kitchens - a big kitchen with a big dining room and a small kitchen with a small dining room.  The rent is higher than the going rate for rent in the area.  Renters are told that their rent includes access to the small kitchen.  The owner has meals in the large dining room and invites some renters to join in.  The owner can afford this because of the higher rents.  Each renter is welcome to the table as long as the owner is comfortable with sharing a meal with the renter.  If the owner is not getting along with a renter, then the renter always has access to the small kitchen.  If this goes on for any length of time, the renter would probably want to rent somewhere else. 

In this system, everybody is not equal.  You have the owner that acts as the facilitator.  And you have the renter that acts as the guest.  If the guest thinks the facilitator is icky, the guest chooses to not participate.  If the facilitator thinks the guest is icky, the facilitator withdraws the invitation.  It is in the best interests of the facilitator to get along with the guest or the facilitator might be doing the work involved to re-rent out the room - and there could be loss of rent.  It is in the best interests of the guest to get along with the facilitator or the guest might be on their own for meals. 

This is something that has been rolling around in my head for a long time and I just felt the need to post it.


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Joined: May 10, 2010
Posts: 34
Paul- about the experiment you conducted - what drew the people together in the first place, what common value or commitment did they have? Was there an over arching theme, or if I might be bold, some authority to which all agreed to ascribe to even if simply some set of principles people commited themselves to in order to be considered part of the group?
                        


Joined: Jan 01, 2011
Posts: 40
Location: Berkeley,CA
Human nature is something that can't be explained easily if at all and I can see a few things in your setup that may have skewed the results, or maybe I just need some backstory.  To be fair it was a great idea to study/observe human social relationships surrounding food as it's one of the few things that every human has in common.  This is true for me, but I reckon it is part of the reason why a lot of us got into permaculture and natural methods of farming in the first place, because food is such an integral and immediate part of the human experience that "demands" our attention.

Were you all "guests", as you say in your example, in the community and you just doing the cooking? or were you the "owner" that was paying for all the food out of pocket? Were they making money so they could buy their own food?  Was there a store nearby where they could buy it?

If you were paying for everything out of pocket then you surely could reserve the right to have absolute control  over the food and when you served it, but if you were charging them "extra rent" then I could see why so many of them got upset about only getting food at prescribed times.  You told them not to eat the leftovers, but you got to eat them in front of them essentially if you lived together.  That's pretty frustrating.  

I'll make another post when I have more time.  Keep up your observations, I like where you are going
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4426
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
164
I noticed that the community was affiliated to a college and that many of the people you provided food to were part of the college program.  Were these young people?  Possibly not used to having to fend for themselves?  It's my experience that kids are used to being fed by parents, and then by schools, and then they tend to fail to outgrow this when they hit college, at least to a certain extent.  And, being broke, they tend to bum food off anyone they can, especially anyone who may be seen in a parental/educator role - you tend to give the impression Paul that you may be some kind of giant 'father figure' (I've never met you, so I'm relying totally on unseen impressions here), so maybe they would subconsciously award you and your food the same status as their mum and the food in their fridge at their childhood home.  I've also encountered middle aged men who have lived with their mums for too long who are exactly the same and will happily raid your fridge and 'borrow' things - they just need a kick up the backside to make them grow up a bit. 

I'm wondering if a lot of it comes from the way kids spend so much time in schools and other institutions.  Kids who come to visit here from, er, 'wilder' families, will run riot around the place, picking all the fruit and veg they can lay their hands on, stuffing their faces with it, then proudly returning to the adults to distribute anything they haven't manage to pack into their stomachs.  Kids who turn up here who have been in childcare before they were old enough to attend school, then stuck in school with maybe childcare in the evenings and holidays so the mums could work, will sit on their butts and expect everyone to stick food on plates for them and arrange entertainment for them, as though they had lost the idea that food and play were things they had to actually engage themselves in.  My mum would have said that they 'seem to think the world owes them a living' and I'm beginning to see what she meant. 


What is a Mother Tree ?
Ran Prieur


Joined: Jun 01, 2010
Posts: 66
Location: Spokane and near Diamond Lake, WA
    
    1
Humans enjoy working, or we would not have been so successful as a species. "Gaming the system" is not something we do all the time, but something we do under one or more dysfunctional conditions: 1) We lack full participation in power. 2) We are motivated externally rather than internally. 3) We have been institutionalized -- that is, we have lived under the first two conditions for so long that our responses to them have become habitual.

Here's a great video, The surprising truth about what motivates us, which helps explain external vs internal motivation. Basically, if a task involves any thinking at all, people perform *worse* if they're being rewarded with money. We perform best, and are most satisfied, when the work includes Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

So, this food experiment might have worked out differently if the people had not been asked to contribute to a meal planned and prepared by someone else, but instead, if their contribution was linked to their power to plan and prepare meals themselves.

Also, as Burra mentioned, it's very likely that most of them had been institutionalized. I have a friend in Seattle who moved his stepson from the public schools to a radical private school where the kids can choose their own course of study and are never put under pressure to do any work. I talked to the instructors and they said that new students always spend weeks or months moping around and doing nothing, but they all eventually find the motivation inside them to start doing great work. (I did this myself in my late twenties, by saving up money to live without a job, and I was depressed for a couple years before I pulled through.)

Another example, from the book The Continuum Concept: There's an automous tribal culture, and one guy went away to live in the city for many years. When he came back, nobody asked him to do any work. This tribe has a taboo against even *asking* anyone to do anything. For months he did nothing, but finally he made a little garden, and eventually he was happily and fully contributing.

What these examples have in common is that the community is made up of people who already know how to self-motivate and give each other slack, and they can absorb a few people who don't know how to live that way, and support them while they learn. But we live in a culture in which almost everyone has been beaten down with carrots and sticks. (For much more on this subject, see John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education.) So, can a group of these people bootstrap themselves into an autonomous internally-motivated community? I don't know! Maybe we have to do it, as in the above examples, by somehow building a core, and then absorbing new members one at a time.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I lived in a cooperative for a couple years during college.  One house with 20 young women.  Chores were shared, including kitchen duties.  Only one of the young women slacked regularly from her duties, the rest of us did ours just fine.  The only food-related problems were that sometimes the meal planner chose food people didn't like much, and people tended to eat all the snacks right after the shopping trip, leaving none for the rest of the week.

I'm not sure how or why it worked out as well as it did. 


Idle dreamer

Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
A lot of this is more fundamental, even, than human nature. If a niche exists for gamers-of-systems, that niche will occasionally be occupied, and either there will be some mechanism to leave that niche, or gaming will bring the system down.

Pioneering work on this was done by Robert Axelrod, and published in Harnessing Complexity. His simple computer simulation involved computerized agents playing a "prisoner's dilemma" game many times in a row. In each session of the game, each of two players decides whether to work with or against the other: those that exploit do the best, those that cooperate do okay, and those that no one cooperates with do the worst. In the beginning, each agent was programmed with a randomly-chosen set of behavior rules, and was assigned a random number as its "identity," which other agents could respond to when choosing whether to work with or against it. After many games were played, the worst-performing agents were re-programmed with behaviors & identities resembling the best performers but with some new randomness mixed in. "Tribes" emerged which would tend to cooperate with similar-numbered agents, and defend against differently-numbered agents. As these tribes got larger, though, they began to be able to support similar-numbered agents who never work with any other agents; exploitative agents were initially very successful, rapidly increasing in number until the tribe around them collapsed.

Axelrod's iterated prisoner's dilemma simulation was too simple to allow the emergence of mechanisms that defend against exploitation, but I think it's worthwhile to identify real-world mechanisms which have served or might hypothetically serve that function.


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
                              


Joined: Dec 27, 2010
Posts: 30
Location: Many-snow-ta
It sounds like it was a rather expensive experiment. Lord of the Flies is as low as $3.78 (used) on Amazon, you know.
It seems like they considered you an outsider to begin with. Sounds like they lacked a lot of foundation.


Zone 4 in Central Many-snow-ta
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
You all make excellent points.  And I'm sure that if we take the time, we could come up with a hundred explanations on why things went the way they did and how they could have been better. 

I have sat down with at least a dozen groups that were in the planning stages of how community will thrive.  And they all want to build a community design rooted in the decency of the people doing the planning and the decency of those that will arrive later. 

I admit, that if you are in a group of purely decent folks, then everything will always be silky smooth. 

Of course, what happens if more than half your group falls a bit shy of "purely decent"?

I think that rather than a system that assumes the best until proven otherwise, try to design a system that is permissive of people behaving like people.  Assume that some people will avoid work, or will be sick on every work day, or will have an emergency on their day to cook.  Have a system that is more resiliant.  Have a system that is more rewarding for the people that really do contribute and naturally sheds those that say they will contribute, but really never do.    A system that eliminates the opportunity for shenanigans:  where there is no such thing as stealing food - have as much as you want.  Where there is no such thing as an obligation to cook a meal, and if you don't show up to cook it, then the community goes hungry.  Besides, do you want to cook a meal for your community out of obligation or because you like to nurture your community?

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Ran,

I think you make an exceptionally good point. 

I think we need a word for has-not-found-their-path-yet.  And we embrace that they are merely existing until their path presents itself. 

I like how there was something that may have helped with that in "The Good Life" (Nearing and Nearing) where each person spent four hours a day on "bread labor" and four hours a day on "soul labor" (I think I have that right - I don't have my copy of that book anymore).  So everybody spent four hours a day doing the stuff at the top of the priority list that had to be done.  Then everybody spent four hours a day on stuff from anywhere on the list.  And they could add stuff to the list.  So they might create some community art, or they might write a letter, or they might create a farm journal, or they might make a pie, or they might put together a party ...  stuff that was for the farm/community but maybe not a really obvious payback - but more fun to do.    Perhaps with something like this, stuff still gets done and people might be able to find their path faster. 

Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4426
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
164
paul wheaton wrote:

I think we need a word for has-not-found-their-path-yet.  And we embrace that they are merely existing until their path presents itself. 



How about "still on walkabout"?
jacque greenleaf
volunteer

Joined: Jan 21, 2009
Posts: 464
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
"How about "still on walkabout"?"

That's great!


I think that part of being human is living in a hierarchy of some kind. The trick is finding the balance between too rigid and too loose.

The two most successful communities I personally know are formed around the land ownership of one person in one case, and a small board of directors in the other case. In both cases, the owners are easy-going and open, but there is no question who makes the final decisions, and the "purpose/mission" of the community is crystal clear, as are the expectations for visitors. The contributions of both short and long term visitors are obviously valued, in both word and deed, and not taken for granted. Visitors who are not with the program are quickly asked to leave, before they can seriously disrupt the community. The decision-makers, in each case, are very picky about who is asked to stay long-term as part of the organization. Those people fill specific functions for which a particular skill-set is needed, and also exhibit cooperative personalities. THose who are asked to stay receive stipends, in both money and kind. Everyone works, including visitors, and the owners/long-term members work hard.

I think if you look around at workplaces and relationships, for most of us it is not true that good behavior is forever its own reward. Sooner or later, we look to see whether those around us value our efforts and show it, in something more concrete than words. And if we don't get it - we become dissatisfied, and everyone around us knows it. One of the ways a community values the contributions of its long-term members is to not put up with people who are gamers or on power-trips. I think this is easier for a group that does have one or a very few people clearly in charge.

A community can offer roles for those who are still on walk-about, but those who are clearly dissatisfied with the community as it exists should be told to find a place that suits them better.

Len Ovens


Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1274
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  15
I have heard favour points work in a more loosely connected community. Loosely means, each family tends to look out for there own needs. When someone needs something they can not provide on their own, someone helps.... lets call them A and B. A needs something.... help pulling the car out of the ditch. B comes along with tractor and pulls them out. Sometime later, B needs help cutting a tree down... it is close to the house and so just cutting and letting it fall is not an option, it will take more people to make sure it falls where it should. If A comes and helps, then balance is restored.... Favour points have been exchanged, thought they have never been called such nor written down or kept account of. If A had chosen not to help and B had found someone else... the next time A needed help it would be slower coming and eventually would not come at all.

In these communities, A helps B who helps C who helps D who helps A and all is well, because they are close enough for that and aware who has helped who or at least who is though of as helpful. So a person who only takes.... ends up never getting.... or learns to give. I think the skill of giving ends up being learned from childhood.

I think also people need to make their own way to a large extent, but a tradition of making enough for guests (expected or not)and sharing work that is too much for any one family (group of people in one house) is also something that needs to be encouraged.

When I was young (single may have had more to do with it), The idea of community living in the sense of a commune sounded great..... now I have a little commune called a family and a sense of responsibility to them. I have offered room and board to those in need and been burnt more than once.... I have grown quite protective of my family and understand the need to be separate in some things and communal in others....

I am still learning.... I don't have the answers. I do know that in general, modern man is to disconnected from each other. It is not just a matter of setting up communities, but learning to live as one.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Reading through this again ...

We were peers.  I did not own the property, nor was I anyone's boss (except the cook). 

I did this after a huge amount of study of ICs, visiting ICs, living in ICs and visiting with people that were forming ICs.  My opinions in this space were often rejected almost universally.  So I felt the need to be prove my point.  This is a lot like my video about washing dishes: people universally insisted that they were right and I was wrong and would not even let me speak because their point was so obviously correct.

Their point is that if I feed one meal to eight people, in time I will receive eight meals back.  Because people are good and decent.

I provided 540 meals and received 2. 

These are all adults.  Most are under 30.  A few are over 30. 

And it isn't like this is a crazy bunch of people - a fluke.  I think the exact same thing would have happened with nearly any group of people.  Maybe if we did this with a thousand groups of eight people we would have ten groups where I could get back more than 300 meals. 

I think that sharing a table with eight people is an excellent experience.  The trick is to come up with a way to do it that is fair and pleasant and there is no stealing or obligation.  And it will work with this same group of people, and with nearly any group of people. 


paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I changed the title on this thread.  From now on, I'm going to refer to this as "the 540 meals experiment"

Len Ovens


Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1274
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  15
paul wheaton wrote:

I provided 540 meals and received 2. 



Thank you for taking the time and spending the money to do the research... on this and other things.
Chris Fitt


Joined: Jan 10, 2011
Posts: 115
Location: Eastern Shore VA
Does anyone see a connection between this type of experiment and personal experience with sending out holiday cards?  That is what it reminded me of, with some extreme differences of course.  Over Christmas we (my girlfriend and I) sent out about 20 or so Christmas cards.  I'm sure that some people will frown on this practice as not sustainable, but we did it anyway  Most were to people out of state who we knew we would not be seeing.  We got back four in the mail, two of which were with presents and one which also included an invitation to a New Year/housewarming.  We got three in person with gifts from people that we saw on Christmas. Of these 7 only one was from someone we did not send a card to (it was our bosses on whose property we live and we gave them a gift with no card).  Full disclosure: we moved in September although we did give our new address to 90% of the people we mailed cards to.  And we mailed them late, while most people got their cards the week before Christmas, some got them after.  And there have been several people who have thanked us when we have spoken to them.  We did not send out cards with an expectation of getting any back.  And this was no experiment.  This is not the first time this has occurred in my life.  So we talked about it as a curiosity more than anything and tried to figure out why.  We just figured either it is an outdated practice mostly.  I like to think that since people send out a finite number of cards and that there would be both an overlap and a lack of overlap that maybe most people get more cards then they mailed out and a few people get back less because they mail so many.  Further, because I think that people are decent,  maybe they were doing other things for people other than me.

Could this be a factor in the 540 experiment?  Maybe because the meals were provided with such consistency this freed people up to reciprocate in other ways?  If not directly to you, Paul but to others that they come in contact with?

I like to think that there is a ripple effect that happens and we don't always see how everything plays out.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
It is certainly possible. 

The one guy that did provide me with two meals, did do many other things for myself and many other people.  He was definitely a good person. 

As for the rest, there were ups and downs that I witnessed.  My overall qualitative analysis is that if you take out that one guy, these folks would often operate in the space of fair exchange, or take 10 and give back 1 if they can negotiate that. 

Perhaps their generosity (or reaching a state of fair and equal) will happen 20 years later. 

But I think my point stands clear as a bell:  540 meals provided.  2 received.  A clear metric that, I think, is powerfully indicative of human nature.  And the overall experience comes with heaps of supporting side stories such as that whole "he who controls the food, controls the world" boycott.  And the food stealing stuff.  The attempts to leave while leaving your own plate for others to wash.

I think it is important to not minimize what occurred here.  We need to embrace it and we need to design our systems with respect to human nature.

jacque greenleaf
volunteer

Joined: Jan 21, 2009
Posts: 464
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
Paul, what brought this group of people together? Was there a goal other than saving money? Were house guidelines discussed before people moved in? In particular, were meal and clean-up expectations discussed? There are a lot of arrangement that will work, but first people have to agree on what the arrangement is.

Sounds to me like this group of people had little bonding them together other than a need to get as pleasant a living situation as possible for as little money/effort as possible. I once participated in a household like this when I was a starving student, and things did not improve until a couple people moved out, and I became the person who was responsible for dealing with the landlord. Then the "we need a new housemate" process became just a bit more structured.

Clearly, you had different expectations than the others did, and I wonder why, especially since it sounds like a large household, and others did not have the same expectations.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
jacque,

I'm happy to answer your questions if you start a new thread. 

Chris Fitt


Joined: Jan 10, 2011
Posts: 115
Location: Eastern Shore VA
paul wheaton wrote:

I think it is important to not minimize what occurred here.  We need to embrace it and we need to design our systems with respect to human nature.



I agree with that.  I was trying to look at another way.  I worked for three years at a holistic retreat center that was also a community.  I will never be surprised at how little people will do and how much they try to put one over even in "utopia".  I have had enough of wolves in hippie clothing. 
                                      


Joined: Jan 09, 2011
Posts: 22
Location: Eastern Shore of Virginia
I lived in a communal house with four room mates, and it worked very well.  In our weekly dinners with a larger community, though, folks outside a central core tended not to volunteer or help pay for foods. 

It has to do with the size of the group, I think.  In a larger group people lose that sense of being visible and accountable.    And yes, it does take someone to call folks out. 

In larger communities I guess they do what we did in our small group, which was have regular meetings and talk about everything, so everyone remains conscious that none of of the things we enjoy are actually "free".
Kirk Hutchison


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Perhaps this is how hierarchy originated. "Hey, some people are gaming the system." "OK, lets put someone in charge to make sure no one does that." "What is they start gaming the system?" "We kill them, of course." Look at what's going on in North Africa, for example.


Paleo Gardener Blog
Dustin Hollis


Joined: Apr 21, 2010
Posts: 14
I think the only way you could expect to get meals back is if the system of food is set up ahead of time, not out of "good will".
For example, each family (or sufficient size "group" is on a rotation and is expected to cook and provide the food for a period (a day a week, etc). Everyone not cooking is expected to clean up after themselves. This is explained early on and written down where everyone can see, say in the dining area.
If the group that is supposed to provide and cook that period does not, they will very quickly be shamed out of the group as everyone else immediately goes hungry. Same as people cleaning up after themselves. They know the rules and everyone agrees. If you don't agree, you don't participate. Those that don't follow the rules end up getting shamed out.

In your situation, everyone thinks they are getting everything for "free" and they feel they have no obligation to return your "favor". There is no disincentive for not returning the favor, so they slide for as long as the free ride takes them.



Len Ovens


Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1274
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  15
technomagus wrote:
I think the only way you could expect to get meals back is if the system of food is set up ahead of time, not out of "good will".


I think the understanding of reciprocation has been lost in our society. We are a self centered generation that has forgotten how much we are interconnected. How interdependent society is, has been forgotten. In many places you would not ever accept a meal without reciprocating, in fact, you would have a difficult time accepting food if you had not brought something to add to the meal yourself... you would be embarrassed to show up... My wife is a Filipina and Not only have I seen the way she operates, but watched how their community in general operates. They are much more sensitive to these things (and insult too.... ask how I know). It is not just one group of people either, The idea of intensional community is to find a way of life we have lost. These rules used to be (in some cultures still are) something you learned as you grew up from a young age. perhaps these rules need (as you say) to be verbally (and in writing?), explicitly expressed until it becomes just the right thing to do.

A sad comment on what we have become..... there is a fine sense to seeing a need and filling it... because the community needs it and I can.... not waiting till maybe someone else does and I don't have to (one of my biggest faults BTW). A sense that if I don't fill the need maybe it won't get filled and the whole community will suffer for it.... me included.
Dustin Hollis


Joined: Apr 21, 2010
Posts: 14
I think it works this way:
You provide meals to the entire "group" everyone in the group thinks "someone else' in the group is going to reciprocate.
You provide a meal to say one family, the family getting the meal knows they should reciprocate and knows that they would look bad if they didn't.
In a group, there's just enough people that they think that they can pass this off to others.
Yes it's sad, but its a common social dynamic, especially if the group is large enough and they don't have much connection to the one providing the meal.
Franklin Stone


Joined: Jun 09, 2010
Posts: 152
Trying to create a working community from scratch is an interesting idea.

Of course, it's not really from scratch, because the members all come from society at large, and have been programmed by that society. Traditional societal values, for better and worse, have been eroded over the past two centuries by various factors, not least among them the rise of corporations and industry, but even things as simple as the automobile and cheap energy. Erasing that programming, even when one is aware that one has been programmed, is no easy task.

But even if you could erase that programming, what is the goal, beyond some vague, new-age feel-good platitudes? What do you replace the programming with? What is the ideal?

What held tribes together in the past? What allowed small communities to exist successfully in the past?

A common set of social codes? A common religion? (Shunning?) Strong gender stereotypes? Strong family ties? Large families? Strong patriarchal (or matriarchal) leaders? A police force?

Did people eat communally in the past? Or did each family prepare their own food? (Or, rather, did the women of each family prepare the food for them.) (Or slaves or servants?)

Of course, we want to leave behind many of the mistakes of the past, and build a community free of racial or gender bias.

Are there any successful intentional communities out there that have lasted? Is there a certain size that works best?

Is currency necessary as a kind of scorecard?

How do communities begin naturally? How big a factor is the environment (the natural one, the one with weather and sun and snow) in how a community evolves?

It might be better if certain people specialize in food preparation, the ones who do it well. (Maybe that's why people invented restaurants. Maybe not.) It's obviously far more energy efficient if everybody eats together, and there is a sense of community created when that happens. Perhaps a communal meal should only be a special event - (perhaps once a week?) (Or just once a day?) in order to have maximum effectiveness at bringing the community together.

In terms of supplying raw ingredients, I have seen references that stated that 200 years ago, 9 out of 10 people were farmers. So 90% of the people produced food, while the other 10% did all of the other things that made society function - they were the tradesmen and the bureaucrats. Should we expect a similar ratio in our intentional community?

I obviously don't have any answers, just lots of randomly free-associated questions...
Dan Wallace


Joined: May 27, 2010
Posts: 41
I've been in many shared housing situations and currently living with 4 others. Completely agree, most of the issues are kitchen based.

I've finally had enough: I'm building my own tiny house with my own kitchen. I very much want to be involved in a community, but at the same time, I need a separated kitchen/food situation.
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
It's not human nature, it's replicator nature. If you came across smart dogs or dolphins or zebras in the wild they would behave the same way.

Evolution is a bitch.
                                    


Joined: Apr 06, 2011
Posts: 8
paul wheaton wrote:
You all make excellent points.  And I'm sure that if we take the time, we could come up with a hundred explanations on why things went the way they did and how they could have been better. 

I have sat down with at least a dozen groups that were in the planning stages of how community will thrive.  And they all want to build a community design rooted in the decency of the people doing the planning and the decency of those that will arrive later. 

I admit, that if you are in a group of purely decent folks, then everything will always be silky smooth.   

Of course, what happens if more than half your group falls a bit shy of "purely decent"?

I think that rather than a system that assumes the best until proven otherwise, try to design a system that is permissive of people behaving like people.  Assume that some people will avoid work, or will be sick on every work day, or will have an emergency on their day to cook.  Have a system that is more resiliant.  Have a system that is more rewarding for the people that really do contribute and naturally sheds those that say they will contribute, but really never do.    A system that eliminates the opportunity for shenanigans:  where there is no such thing as stealing food - have as much as you want.  Where there is no such thing as an obligation to cook a meal, and if you don't show up to cook it, then the community goes hungry.  Besides, do you want to cook a meal for your community out of obligation or because you like to nurture your community?




I'm running into an issue that fits well with what you've just said here. We based our, very small, community on the common decency of people with a purpose, the assumption that everyone was for the good of the project, and we have run into people being 'human'. I'm a fairly empathetic person, and these are my friends, one is a slacker if he sees someone else slacking, or getting it any easier, and on the flip side, is one of the hardest workers when everyone is working. Another actually has some drive to be a leader, but its the wrong kind of drive, he's one of those guys that has something to prove to their dads kind of thing, and at the same time has a fear of being taken advantage of so strong, that it is expressed in him trying to take advantage of a system or person if his over sensitive self feels like he is being taken advantage of.

At the same time, looking at other examples in this thread and personal thoughts on the subject, I hesitate to actually call it "human nature",  a phrase thrown around often when talking about groups of people, when in truth much of it is human nurture, and that has very different connotations than what you are saying. If it were human nature, then we have to kind of hope for the best and pick between two not so great options, a heavily moderated community, or a collapsed community. if it is human nurture, then the possibility for a more closely Utopian society is possible, generations down the line, with the proper combination of control and freedom applied at different points along the way. putting more power and responsibility into every individual's hands as the way that individual's perspective changes, and also more power and responsibility into the hands of each subsequent generation brought up with a slightly better nurtured self.

When going from the society we live in, and trying to change it to a completely different one, then yes the likelihood of the gamer appearing is soo much higher than the other thought, and in that case you most definitely do need some sort of program to defend against that kind of institutionalized system. however, at the same time you must plan for a fundamental change in the future, years or perhaps even a generation down the line.

starting out with a bunch of institutionalized young adults, a system like the one you proposed would work well, but how do we evolve that system in the future when talking about a larger community setting? how do you avoid institutionalizing your people all over again in a new system that relies on a benevolent dictator? You really need to go from a system that relies on the benevolent dictator to a benevolent democracy, or anarchism preferably.

it seems to me that you couldn't set up a system that was to ridged or flaccid in the beginning, the former making it difficult to change later, and risking a downward spiral despite good intentions, and the second one risking a more immediate collapse of your small society.


P.S.

looking at your video.... UHGHGHHGHGH.. -vomit- some of those comments scare the freaking crap out of me

"if your having a party for christmas and new years, and people see your glass cups they will be scratched and soo streaky it will look unclean, dishwashers dont do that, most leave em soo clean the cups look like diamonds"

the simple... just not truely thinking that goes on in peoples heads bothers me so much.
                                      


Joined: Aug 23, 2009
Posts: 25
Part of the challenge when starting a group like that is having a core of regulars to sort of...innoculate the newbies.  The core folk show by behavior what's appropriate and expected. Having no example of behavior to learn from the group just fell into childhood behavior--eat what's on the table and leave.  Maybe for future groups you might take them foraging/fishing/etc as an example of what's expected.  Just my nickle's worth.
Len Ovens


Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1274
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  15
greenthumb wrote:
Part of the challenge when starting a group like that is having a core of regulars to sort of...innoculate the newbies.  The core folk show by behavior what's appropriate and expected. Having no example of behavior to learn from the group just fell into childhood behavior--eat what's on the table and leave.


I think you are right... I think the core would have to have no newbies for a while till it became auto for them even.


  Maybe for future groups you might take them foraging/fishing/etc as an example of what's expected.  Just my nickle's worth.


These are adults, they need a reason to think they have to come with you... most of the people who need the lesson most will be "sounds great, have fun, I'd like to come, but...."  I have both worked with people like that.... and been one. I don't know that i have fully learned my lesson yet, though I have a hard time watching someone work without joining in. I think hunger, need, and an understanding that the days of handouts (government and otherwise) are over may be the only cure for some people.
                              


Joined: Apr 17, 2011
Posts: 25
Location: near Bellingham WA
(Note, this response may seem attackful due to the stressing of "you".  However, please keep in mind that it was in response to a post that kept stressing "i" and "my".  When placed into that context, hopefully the reader will understand that this post isn't a personal attack, but is merely a response of ideas and sharing of thoughts.)

Am I understanding this right?...
You made clear that YOU were paying the cook.
You made clear that YOU were providing the food for this community.
You made clear that YOU were providing breakfasts mon-fri and dinner all but wednesdays and weekends.  (were weekends part of this wilderness college thing? or just weekdays?)
You made clear that this was YOUR food which YOU shared during specified meal times.
You made clear that YOU would not allow them to eat if they didn't show up at the proper times.
You made clear that any leftovers were YOURS and would be eaten by YOU in between meal times, or maybe used as leftovers in another meal.
YOU established further rules regarding the food between meals.

So basically, YOU came up with a food system that established YOU as filling the food niche, and without the input, discussions, ideas of the others?  And then you complained because they left it to YOU to fill that food niche you had already claimed?

You said you were going to take a passive role in this experiment.  Yet you were quite assertive in making it clear that YOU were filling the food niche.  I'm willing to bet that you were quite often accused of being passive-aggressive in attitude during and immediately after this experiment.

For starters, I didn't see a polyculture food niche design plan, instead I saw a monoculture food niche design plan.  You established yourself as the monoculutre food niche filler.

You approached these people with the idea and attitude that they wouldn't do anything.  Our attitudes influence our focus, our speech manner, our words, and our behaviors.  So having the idea and attitude you had, it's highly likely that you talked to them with the attitude that they wouldn't do anything, and behaved towards them with the attitude that they wouldn't do anything.  Is it any wonder then that they didn't do anything?  It's often said that our ideas and attitudes often bring about self-fulfilling prophecies.  I'm wondering if this experiment was such a case.

I didn't see anything about everyone involved being asked to gather together to provide their own input or ideas, and having those considered before a group consensus being met regarding how to fill the food niche. 

Permaculture teaches us to pay attention to the elements, their needs, and the functions they can provide.  In this case, the elements were the people involved, you, the cook you hired, and the 5-9 other people involved.  You had established what the cook's functions were.  You had established that you were fulfilling most of the cook's needs.  But you didn't seem to take into consideration the other elements in your system, instead just planting them there in the blind hopes that their needs/functions would align with what you what you wanted of them...which, considering your starting attitude, they may have actually fulfilled for you.

The thing is, you wouldn't have done this with a plant system you were designing. 
You wouldn't have done this with a plant & animal system you were designing.
Yet, you did this with a human system, as if the individual's don't have needs and functions of their own to take into consideration.

The needs and functions of an individual aren't as simple to handle as those of plants, nor most farm animals.  Most farm animals (or the animals commonly used in permaculture) have set characteristics based on their species and breed characteristics.  Yes, there will be some personality differences, but if you come across a farm animal personality that doesn't suit the purposes you need it for, you eat it and/or replace it with one that will.  A permaculturist system designer will be very picky about the characteristics of the species or breed that they are looking for.

A permaculturist human designer will have to concern themselves with the cultural background, ideas, interests, skills, etc of each human individual that they are considering for their system.

Maybe some of them weren't interested/skilled in providing meals, but would have been happy to..say...provide firewood.  Except I'm assuming that firewood wasn't needed.  Or maybe one of them would have served a better function as a medic-type rather than a meal-provider type.

The biggest thing though, is that the system revolved around one thing...food providing, and you had already made it clear to all that you were filling that niche.  What other niches were available to them, other than them possibly adding a little flavor here and there?

A story about niche fulfillment:
I used to live in a gold-mining camp.  The owners had a trailer which housed kitchen gear and the food.  They provided gobs of groceries once a week.  Before and after a long day of hard work, the workers would make their own meals, then dump their dishes into the sink so that the next worker could wash it up make their own meal then dump the dirty dishes into the sink.  And so the cycle continued.  The good foods were eaten up quickly by workers who knew how to cook.  But by the end of the week, supplies would be really low and what was left was a mish-mash, so the workers would pretty much just grab a couple of cans and eat out of the can.  This system was a waste of money, time, and energy.

At the time, I didn't have a clue how to cook.  And I hated housework with a passion.  (still do)
But the system was such a huge waste, and I wasn't a worker.  So I stepped in and began experimenting with filling that food providing and cleanup niche.  My uh..experiments...weren't that tasty.  Some were down right nasty.  But the workers didn't complain, because they didn't have to do it themselves.  When grocery day came, sometimes they would put in requests.  And some would even offer to help with a special meal.  For example, steaks.  If I ordered steaks, two of the workers would cook them up for us all.  If I got the makings for chili, one of the workers would prep it up for me so that all I'd have to do during the day is watch it and stir.

I can honestly say that if I had been hired for this job, there would have been many expectations of me, and less help offered.  As is, I received no payments for this, other than to get to eat the food I/we had prepared.  I believe that because I was volunteering my time/energy to helping them, they were willing to volunteer their time/energy to help me help them, lol.

Another story:
After I left that camp, I was living elsewhere in the mountains, living out of a tent.  Throughout this valley were other homeless people and some who were working on spent mines, so had little income themselves.  Once a week, on their payday, we would all gather together for a potluck.  Those who got paid bought the meat.  But that didn't mean they knew how to cook the meat.  The meat was bought so that those who knew how to cook the meat could make it.  The cooking part was their contribution to the potluck.  I usually made a noodle salad of some kind because it was all I could afford...and the only thing that would come out tasting decent.  Everyone involved contributed.  Everyone was able to find some niche they could fill for each potluck.  Sometimes the niche changed from week to week, but there were no expectations that they HAD to do something specific, which gave them control over deciding for themselves what they would/could provide.  This was never an organized thing.  It was more like a "hey, I get paid on wednesday, ya wanna come over?"


Back to the OP experiment:
How would I, personally, have reacted in this experiment (as described)?

I'd have hated it.  I don't take kindly to people telling me what I have to do, what's expected of me, etc.  I would have sensed the attitude and probably would have responded in kind.  I also would have been frustrated.  If I brought something in, would there be enough of it for everyone?  Would the cook have known what to do with it?  Would the cook have been frustrated about having to figure out what to do with it?  Would the cook feel as if I was criticizing their meals if I brought something else in? What kind of example is our friendly food dictator setting?  He's made it clear that it's HIS money, HIS cook, HIS meals, HIS food, HIS experiment.  Are we then merely here to do HIS bidding? To fulfill HIS demands and expectations?  Where do the rest of us fit in?  Is there somewhere other than the food niche that I can fit in?  Is there something here that I'd want to provide for?  Is there something here that would make use of my personal skill/knowledge set?  Well, if I'm gonna get more attitude than credit for what I do put in, why should I even bother.


(Reminder, this response isn't a personal attack.  It is merely a response of ideas and sharing of thoughts.)


Dealing w/ less than .17 acres, mostly shady, sun blocked by trees, annoying by-laws, about 1/3 of land covered by house and sheds, and very very minimal finances and labor options.  Time to get creative!
Len Ovens


Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1274
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  15
anndelise wrote:
(Note, this response may seem attackful due to the stressing of "you".  However, please keep in mind that it was in response to a post that kept stressing "i" and "my".  When placed into that context, hopefully the reader will understand that this post isn't a personal attack, but is merely a response of ideas and sharing of thoughts.)


That was very well thought out. I learned some things from it. My social skills are less than average (I get along much better with machines ), and I have a poorer understanding of peoples reactions or likely reactions than most (ask my Yf).
                              


Joined: Apr 17, 2011
Posts: 25
Location: near Bellingham WA
Len wrote:
That was very well thought out. I learned some things from it. My social skills are less than average (I get along much better with machines ), and I have a poorer understanding of peoples reactions or likely reactions than most (ask my Yf).


Len, I enjoyed reading your posts as well as others in this thread.  I like considering how things might have gone the way they did, or where things might lead to if an action is taken, etc.  Heh.

Unfortunately, though I tend to approach things in a contemplative way, what comes out in writing seems more...forceful...than I could ever have intended.  In this case, the stressing of the 'you's read pretty bad, even to me.   

From your writings, your social skills and people understanding, at least online, seem to be pretty darned good, I'm not sure what about it might make you feel less than average.  While machines might differ from humans, surely even machines have their own...uh..quirks.   After all, you're still having to deal with previous programming, much like the 18+ years of programming one must deal with with humans.  Now, if only people came with a readout so one could more easily figure out just what that programming was or was edited into. 

Now, you can PM it to me if you wish, but I have to ask.  What does "Yf" mean? 
.
.
.
oh duh, I actually just got it I think.  wife?  That's a cute way of spelling it, heheh.  Yes, I'm not too bright when it comes to text speak. heheehh It took me approximately 5 minutes to figure that one out.
Len Ovens


Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1274
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  15
anndelise wrote:

Now, you can PM it to me if you wish, but I have to ask.  What does "Yf" mean? 
.
.
.
oh duh, I actually just got it I think.  wife? 


One of those old radio codes from the Morse code days. I like that one better than XYL (ex young lady or old lady I guess) She's flip (or is it phlip?) and having been the token white guy in a Filipino church.... I know first hand about social gaffs.... feed you good though I do better on screen than when talking in person and generally enjoy the company of children (and their wide open minds) than adults. Churches teach a lot about group dynamics! I grew up in a Baptist church, spent time in a Mennonite church as well as Pentecostal and some wilder things... not too denominational, but I like to play music.

The idea of community living is central to the ideas found in the Bible, yet there is very little in practice (and I'm talking in the church). Even aside from scriptural principles (I know that many people on here believe different than I). I think community is an important part of what human is. We are more like dogs (wolves not coyotes) than cats. Yet our current society stresses individual. We are not meant to be that way. I think that is the backtrack of what this thread is about. We are meant to live as community, but we do it so poorly.... why? I think Paul was looking to see this sense of community fall in place, but it fell on it's face instead.

I think community has slid slowly out of our lives, not all at once. I don't know that we can just drop it back in place by trying. I think it would be step by step.... think, a group of families living close together, but each with their own house and garden. A first step might be a play ground or common park. People have done a common garden thing and had it work. things that give people their own space when they need it. Doing a lasting marriage is a trick that is beyond many people, yet community is just outside the door from marriage. There is a fair amount of intimacy involved even if it is less than a family.

perhaps Paul's problem is that he is too much of a leader... and the leader is just not supposed to do the food. As your account showed, one of the Indians just doing something, gave other indians the freedom to join in. If the leader (in your case the boss) had started something, each individual task would have had to be laid out and it would have been seen as a chore and "hey you don't pay us for this!"

Ok, so how do we figure out which things need to be lead and which work best from the bottom? I don't know.
                                    


Joined: Apr 06, 2011
Posts: 8
That is really well put Len.

I've been working with a church camp for the last five months on a sustainable garden program, and its been really interesting to see the community starting to come together in preparation for the summer, and I will be very interested in observing, with permaculture in mind, the group dynamics of what is essentially a 3 month intentional community based on ministry of kids and christian community, I'm sure it is going to be really interesting.

I think that summer camps in general are a great place to experiment and observe intentional communities... the councilors and staff form a community in the face of long hours (24/6) and constantly changing environments, and hoards of children that they are responsible for.
Len Ovens


Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1274
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  15
mfrodesen wrote:
I think that summer camps in general are a great place to experiment and observe intentional communities... the councilors and staff form a community in the face of long hours (24/6) and constantly changing environments, and hoards of children that they are responsible for.


Summer camps.... it's been a while My last experience with feeding people has been motorcycle rallies (thats been a while too). As a ministry, I felt that some of the people who were coming were doing the best they could to pay gas and camping fees and suggested we at least supply one meal per day. I suggested breakfast as pancakes are cheap, fast and simple. there was of course no expectation whatever that anyone would reciprocate. However, what did happen was other local ministries (with the motorcycle focus) provided either additions to our breakfast (coffee, eggs or whatever) but even other whole meals (chilli, corn on the cob, etc.). So far as I know, this policy of providing at least one meal a day is still in place today, though I am no longer involved. This was not an experiment, but a feeling of seeing a need and filling it... and other people copying without being asked.

Should the fall of civilisation happen as many are predicting. I and my family and friends are looking at becoming much closer to whatever community we end up with. We may not (ok, won't) have much of a choice of what kind of people make up that community. Everyone from hardened criminal to freeloader to whatever will be there and strategies for dealing with all of these people will be needed. In a world with no refrigeration, sharing food will become a must at least with meat. Even those who start a community with restricted access will have to accept some of the less desirable people (friends and family) in hard times.

I'm glad Paul was able to do his experiment if only to get us thinking about some of these things.
                                    


Joined: Apr 06, 2011
Posts: 8
hardened criminal, yes, I can see dealing with that, but in terms of hard times... I feel that "free loader" will be a quickly dieing breed. The niche they fill will no longer be there, I can't imagine patience and acceptance to be in great supply in a community survival situation. 
Len Ovens


Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1274
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  15
mfrodesen wrote:
hardened criminal, yes, I can see dealing with that, but in terms of hard times... I feel that "free loader" will be a quickly dieing breed. The niche they fill will no longer be there, I can't imagine patience and acceptance to be in great supply in a community survival situation. 


Each person is different, so it is hard to make blanket statements..... so I will anyway
The criminal may be the easier to deal with as the survival situation may be more suitable to them. The free loader may become the new criminal. What has value changes and hungry people do strange things. The hyper-religious may be a problem too.... but we were just talking about meals, though of course actions in one area will show in others too.
 
 
subject: community food: I provided 540 meals and received 2
 
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