Problematic Words

Windward embodies a commitment to being different enough to make a difference, and one way that difference manifests itself is in the way we use certain words in unconventional ways. For the most part, we try to not use those words on the website because we’ve learned that without some contextual background, it’s unlikely that we’ll get our point across.

This section of the website is a work in progress that’s intended to provide contextual background for some key words that we use in unconventional ways.

Egalitarian ‒ a system derived from the moral doctrine that people should be treated as equals.

Experience has taught us that mainstream folk tend to see any form of intentional community as some sort of commune and make a series of presumptions on that basis. In Windward’s case, most of those presumptions would be incorrect, but not all of them.

For example, we’re not a commune in the sense of “holding all property in common.” On the other hand, we are a commune of ideas and believe that we’re here to share our knowledge and insights freely with each other, and—via this website—with anyone who’s interested enough to find their way here.

We do hold some property in common in the sense that this land and some of the assets are owned by a non-profit who’s directors are selected by the membership through a representative consensus process. No one draws an income from the non-profit; instead the non-profit is kept in check by its dependence on its members for its operating funds.

We like it that way since this insures that the corporation remains the servant of the membership rather than steadily growing in power as corporations tend to do. This is part of the genesis of our organizational philosophy in the writings of Robert Heinlein, i.e. “Sometimes I think that government is an inescapable disease of human beings. But it may be possible to keep it small and starved and inoffensive.”

While we do see equality as being an essential aspect of what we do and how we do it, we use the term in a way that is the opposite of what some communities mean when they describe themselves as “egalitarian”—especially those who are part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. The communities that make up the FEC consider themselves egalitarian on the grounds that they’re income sharing communities. Windward—by way of contrast—would be better described as an expense sharing cooperative.

The key distinction between the two definitions of egalitarian comes from whether a group is focused on insuring equality of opportunity or equality of result since while you can have one or the other, you can’t have it both ways. Windward is committed to the principle that every adult should have an equal opportunity to create their niche here, and to expend their talents, time and resources as best suits their interests. While each member is expected to carry their share of the necessary expenses, what they choose to earn over and above that is their own concern.

Secular vs. Sectarian

One way that intentional communities can be differentiated involves where they fall along a continuum that stretches between sectarian communities such as the Benedictines or the Hutterites, and secular communities such as Brook Farm and Twin Oaks.

Another way to express this difference lies in whether a community is organized around faith in a higher power (i.e. sectarian) or in faith in each other (i.e. secular). For sectarian communities, there are lots of examples of successful communities, some going back more than a thousand years; for secular communities, not so much.

The record shows that the surest path to creating community involves attracting people who are willing to subordinate themselves to a higher truth as revealed by a transcendent leader, and for people who feel such a calling, a sectarian community can be a good option. Communities founded on long standing traditions such as the Benedictines or the Shakers have a lot to offer, but they require that applicants give up a lot as well; for some that involves a vow of poverty, for others it’s a vow of chastity, and worst case, it can involve martyrdom.

For those who are unwilling or unable to surrender to a higher authority than their own, secular communities, while they are more uncertain of success, offer a wider range of options. A quick overview of the history of secular communities shows a bewildering variety of combinations, most of which didn’t work very well or for very long.

Our focus on nature and natural systems places Windward somewhere in the middle of the sectarian/secular. We don’t worship Nature or Gaia, but we do recognize that in all things, nature will ultimately have its way. To paraphrase a Lincoln quote, it’s not a question of whether nature is on our side, but whether we’re on nature’s side?

For the past couple of centuries, humanity has proceeded on the path of attempting to rise above or go beyond nature, and that madness is coming to an end. Just as children blessed with a vast inheritance can live life large until the money runs out, humans are about to undergo a hard schooling on nature’s total lack of concern for the survival of a life form that fouls its nest.

And so, in hopes of figuring out how to survive the coming storm, we study nature with all the enthusiasm of a devout penitent. And in return, over the years, nature has spoken to us, mostly saying things along the lines of “well, that didn’t work, try something else.”

As a secular community, we don’t have a set of golden tablets telling us how to create sustainable community; what we do have is more than thirty years of our own experience at what works for us, and what doesn’t, and an abiding interest in the achievements and failures of those who’ve walked this road before us.

Communities that believe they’re carrying out the will of God operate with a powerful advantage over secular communities that can only fall back on their collective wisdom since true believers waste little energy in second-guessing what they do. The advantage that secular communities have is that they can change their practices when a change of circumstances warrant commensurate changes; sometimes communities fail because they didn’t keep up with changing times, and sometimes because they lost sight of their core values and changed when they shouldn’t.

And so, on the one hand you can expect us to be open to change in many things, but not all; the goal being to achieve unity in things that are essential, and diversity in all the rest.

Integrity ‒ unbroken completeness

When most people hear the word “integrity,” they think of something along the lines of “a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values,” and that’s fair enough in that any organization has to have standards to work from, but within the context of sustainability, it’s the secondary meaning of “the quality or state of being complete or undivided” that’s counts most since sustainable systems have to build that kind of integrity or crash.

The hull of a boat makes a good example of the way we use the term in that if the hull lacks integrity, it’s going to leak and take on water, and it won’t matter how sound the rest of the hull is because the boat is eventually going to sink. In practice, all boats leak to some degree, and effort has to be expended to keep the boat afloat. In a similar vein, Windward isn’t totally self-sufficient, and while we keep working to move our program further in that direction, reality is always a blend between the desired and the practical.

From the perspective of sustainability, the more integrity a system has, the less the effort that has to be expended to maintain the status quo, thereby freeing up time and resources for improving the system. Similarly, a system which fails to cover all of the fundamentals is going to experience an on-going series of crashes.

So when we talk about building integrity, we’re not talking about abstract concepts, but about improving practical things such as the food and power systems that support us, the buildings and legal structures that enable us to function as an intentional community, the social relationships which form the heart of any community, and the research that makes it possible for us to do better next year.

Proprietary ‒ a relationship founded on the concept of possession or ownership. Our position on personal relationships is decidedly non-proprietary, as in Heinlein’s observation that,

“A woman is not property and husbands who think otherwise are living in a dreamworld.”

Windward is a voluntary association of autonomous adults, and as such there’s no organizational recognition of proprietary relationships; i.e. relationships in which one person belongs to another. The very concept of thinking of people as property is alien to Windward’s founding vision, a perspective that evolved in large part because our founders were Southerners who were all too familiar with the heritage of slavery and segregation. For Southrons who came of age in the midst of the struggle for civil rights, the concept of people owing people isn’t a subject about which one can be neutral.

As Windward’s last founding member, some personal history might help illuminate something of where we were coming from. I attended college in Tennessee, and was a junior when Reverend King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a time when cities went up in flames, and songs such as Dancing in the Streets were banned because the establishment saw them as incitements to riot.

Many people felt that the very least they could do was to make it clear where they stood on the issue of racial equality.The year after King’s assassination, my partner and I chose to make such a statement by getting married in the black church we attended. The Dean of our college was outraged and attempted to prevent the wedding on the grounds that it was racially inappropriate.

That was a tense time as the old order gave way to something new, as people searched for ways to manifest the belief that “we are all of one blood.” Some people may feel that we’ve gone too far in our desire to make equality a manifest part of our lives‒perhaps we have, but it’s my deep belief that only those who are willing to risk going too far will ever know how far they can really go.

For young Southerners, it was a time when all aspects of a social order that enforced segregation and took us to war in Southeast Asia were suspect. My wife and I both self-identified as poly, and our vows were intentionally non-proprietarian, but the ease with which possessive feelings still expressed themselves was enough to persuade me of the pervasive power of our culture to impose itself in spite of one’s best intentions. I came away from that experience unwilling to be the property of another, and even more unwilling to assert property rights over anyone.

And so Windward evolved in major part out of an effort to create a context within which we could come together enough to empower each other without sacrificing our autonomy as individuals.

Poly ‒ a Greek prefix meaning many

For most of its early years, Windward functioned as a polyamorous line family as described in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

I can’t tell you how Windward will evolve as The Next Generation takes over since that will unfold according to the needs and desires of the folks who step forward to carry on the work begun—some things endure, and sometimes it’s a matter of “that was then, and this is now.” But what I can relate is that I’ve come to see the concept of poly as being profoundly entwined with sustainability in all its forms.

For example, the concept of poly is arguably an essential quality of sustainable systems, so much so that it can be argued that mono systems are inherently unsustainable. A century ago, the vast majority of farms produced a variety of crops—today society relies on huge industrial farms that only grow one crop. These mono-crop operations are highly efficient in the short run, but they’re not sustainable over time. They are steadily coming under the control of the huge agribusiness corporations that simply do not care about the long-term impact of their operations.

Those high-yield mono-crop operations fulfill their short-term goals, but they do so at the cost of envenoming the land and allowing the top-soil to wash away. It’s sad but when an Indonesian rain forest—home to a huge variety of plants, animals, fungi, etc.—is clear-cut to plant palm nut trees in order to produce bio-diesel, a sustainable forest becomes just another tree farm—and the ecological balance that nature created over a thousand generations is lost forever in just one.

There was a time when people expected to stay with one company for their entire career, but that day’s long gone. Someone entering the work force today expects to work for a variety of corporations doing a variety of different jobs in a variety of locations. As the demands of the market place change, people often find themselves going back to school in order to learn whole new skill sets.

It’s fairly easy to get people to consider changes in how they insulate their houses or dispose of kitchen waste, to get them to ride a bike more or switch to a more efficient type of lighting, but it’s much more difficult to get people to reconsider the social context within which they function. Since the First Law of Ecology holds that you can’t change just one thing, any serious effort to bring people into harmony with nature is going to require a wholesale examination of the way we relate to each other at all levels—anything less, and we’re just fooling ourselves.

For example, the divorce rate—not just in the US, but world-wide—continues to climb, and as the average number of people living in any given house falls, the environmental impact goes up. As the number of people living in extended families decreases, people spread out, causing the construction of more houses, more roads, more cars, and more stuff in general.

At its heart, the urge to form an intentional community is an attempt to make the world a better place. The first step in that process involves lots of communication since in order to have a shot at making the world better, we have to first start by calling things by their true names. Given the degree to which our society wraps itself in euphemisms, that’s no simple undertaking.

For example, the most common relationship style in the US is called monogamy, but since most people go through a series of intimate partners, that relationship pattern would be better described as “serial monogamy.” It’s actually a form of polygamy in which people engage in a series of sexually exclusive relationships. On the surface, it looks like monogamy since—for the most part—they engage in intimate relationships with only one person at a time, but this relationship style does a poor job of fulfilling two socially essential goals:

(1) the goal of accumulating the capital needed to achieve a significant degree of sustainability, and
(2) the goal of creating a stable environment in which to raise children.

Any social form which fails to do either of these isn’t sustainable.

If two people are able to form an exclusive, ’til-death-does-us-part union, then more power to them since sometimes monogamous relationships actually do work out that way, but the more common experience is that people become intimately involved with a succession of partners. We’re not here to address the moral aspect of that, but what is of key concern in this context is how this pattern of serial relationships affects the creation of a sustainable, post-industrial village.

When people come together to form an intentional community, to some degree they’re choosing to marry their fortunes together—how to do that effectively is a core challenge for any group that wants to create sustainability. When community works, the whole is way more than the sum of the parts—the challenge is to find ways that people can create that necessary synergy without unduly sacrificing their individuality; this is one of the hardest challenges that has to be met in order to create sustainable community.

As people share their lives, their dreams and their hopes, it’s inevitable that bonds of affection will develop, and a community either honors those bonds in some way that strengthens the community, or finds itself caught in the middle of a conflict that it can’t win.

When an intimate relationship ends most people proceed to invest time and heart into finding another person to love, and if they’re fortunate, they will find another person. But what if they’re really lucky and find two people worth loving? Serial monogamy holds that when someone finds themselves in love with two people at the same time, they have to deny one in order to love the other. An example of one version of that dilemma is described in a touching song by Paul Anka.

What serial monogamy sees as a problem, poly sees as a benefit. Where serial monogamy requires a breakup, poly just requires a bigger apartment. Repeat that a few times, and you’ve got a community going.

Poly—as described in the works of Robert Heinlein—takes the position that we have an infinite capacity to love, that the more we love, the more we can love. People who recognize and honor that capacity within themselves generally describe themselves as poly. Our first intern said that she realized she was poly when she came to understand that her greatest gift lay in her ability to love, and that if she were to deny that capacity, she would be denying who she truly was. Many people who self-identify as poly see this as similar to someone self-identifying as being gay—that it’s not a lifestyle choice, but rather an expression of one’s essential self.

Poly is a concept that covers a lot of ground ranging from polygynous groups such as the early Mormons to the modern concept of polyamory in which a person finds themselves in love with two people at the same time and is unwilling to dishonor either. For many people the key point of being poly is that it offers an alternative to the traditional proprietary relationships.

As with most matters having to do with the heart, being poly is both simple and complex. For example, while it simplifies relationships in that no one partner has to meet another’s every need, it also makes relationships more complex by adding another whole layer of time-management issues—hence the poly saying that while love is infinite, time is not.

The concept of polyfidelity is more difficult to nail down even within the poly community where the term is commonly used to describe a sexually closed group ranging in size from a triad to the Oneida Colony, a group marriage of more than 250 adults.

In our case, we use polyfidelity to refer to our commitment to fair treatment within the community. Our commitment to egalitarian association means that everyone in the community has the right to be judged by the same standard without regard to who’s in an intimate relationship with whom, and it’s our determination to uphold that standard of fair treatment that we’re referring to when we use the term polyfidelity.

For most couples, the interests of their sexual partner comes first, an attitude which can quickly shred the sense of trust and fair-dealing that is essential to creating and maintaining intentional community. Serial monogamy’s practice of establishing sex as the first priority in a relationship is a key reason why it’s difficult to integrate couples into a community since if two people act from the premise that their relationship as a couple is primary while their relationship with the other members of the community is secondary, then why should the established members of a community buy into a situation in which they’re relegated to second place status in their own home?

A post-industrial village is going to necessarily involve a group of people who choose to marry their lives together, and that raises the key question of what sort of social form would best serve that purpose? Windward’s structure evolved in part out of a desire to develop an alternative to patriarchy which is one reason why Windward based its structure on matrilocality, a social structure what sustained the Iroquois Confederacy for some five hundred years.

The vision that gave birth to Windward was articulated by the author Robert Heinlein, and a key part of his vision for a sustainable intentional community was the line family as described in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In an uncertain and rapidly changing world, the line family is a way to accumulate capital and create a secure, stable context for raising children. It’s especially relevant in that it’s gender balanced, and because sustainability is necessarily a team project.

A line family is similar to a family line in that property is handed down from generation to generation, but it differs in that the people involved are memeticly related instead of genetically; i.e. their kinship arises out of shared values and ethics, not blood and genes. It’s a social form that evolved in the Australian Outback as people had to work out a way to manage the huge sheep stations. Drawing on the Australian experience, George Bernard Shaw based what is arguably his most controversial play Major Barbara on the concept of the line family.

Today most people find themselves sinking ever deeper into consumer debt as they go through a series of intense relationships punctuated by emotionally devastating breakups. The line family offers a way out of that quagmire; it’s how Windward came to be, and it has kept us going over the years—it’s future relevance is an ongoing discussion.

Human nature being what it is, when quality people spend time together doing meaningful work, attachments are going to form across a broad emotional spectrum. At Windward, we take the position that this is natural and good, that the more a spirit of love permeates our community, the more sustainable we’ll become. Long experience has shown that love is most sustainable when two people are looking, not into each other’s eyes, but in the same direction.

Does Windward’s history as a poly community mean that everyone here has sex with everyone else? Hardly. All it means is that people here are free to follow their hearts and express their capacity to love in whatever way feels right to them.

What we’re working to create here is very challenging, and it’s clear that challenging times lay ahead, so while it’s important that we focus on building sustainable energy and food systems, perhaps the greatest challenge we have to address as a community lies in the area of building sustainable relationships. The future is uncertain, but history shows pretty clearly that in hard times the best thing to hold on to is each other.

Notes From Windward – Index – Vol. 70