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Podcast 117 - Democratic Community

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Location: Montana
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Credit: Brian Walker

Paul and Jocelyn address listener questions regarding democratic governance of intentional communities.

They begin by emphasizing three points: First, that progress in establishing functional permaculture systems is made possible by successive implementation of numerous symbiotic strategy and design elements, manifesting as specific projects or decisions, that cumulatively effect meaningfully positive change; second, that a minimum quantity of such elements must be satisfied to effect such change; and third, that the success of long-term goals requires coherent, sometimes visionary management of smaller day-to-day decisions. In other words, a consciousness of whole systems best guides management of component decisions.

Paul uses the analogy of a consensus-based or democratic attempt at musical composition to challenge these systems’ ability to achieve end-goal integrity in creating complex systems when group deliberation on mundane decisions might corrupt decisional coherency and impede progress.

Jocelyn references Toby Hemenway’s emphasis on “buy-in” ratios of members, suggesting that, while consensus-based systems may ultimately achieve superior buy-in ratios, they are time-consuming, and that, while leader-based systems are more expedient, they may not guarantee such high buy-in ratios. She continues that democracies, however, may not only be time-consuming, but offer worse buy-in ratios than either consensus-based or leader-based systems as a minority of as high as 49% may have no buy-in incentive for projects in which it is outvoted.

They explore land ownership options from individual, to non-profit to corporate ownership, as well as how each affects social organization. Paul references the Italian intentional community, Damanhur, as a functional example of what might be termed a republic.

Lastly, they discuss the prospect of farming communities operating as businesses where founders hold the majority of assets and community members are paid in food, profit shares, housing privileges or other resources. They bring up three points: First, Paul asserts that such systems would allow customizability for community inclusion of different people with different skill sets, levels of commitment and buy-in priorities; second, Jocelyn adds that such a community could be sub-divided into mutually supportive but financially separate businesses, allowing greater security and more dynamic financing solutions for complex systems; third, they agree that such a system would reduce the likelihood of “founders' syndrome.”

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