The Pen is mightier than the sword, but the Pen must sometimes move the sword against corruption if the corrupt are not moved by the pen.. An idea without an implementer is useless. "The Rulers do not carry the sword in vain"Rom 13:4

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Failure of the Nimbin Commune

Aaah... let's form a commune!  so... 500 people all pool $200 and buy a $100,000 property.

The main and most immediate problem is how to arrange this Utopia?  Will each member have an equal share of the land or.. will they all have all the land in common?
Many people who enter communes were inspired partly by the writings of Henry Thoreau, who did the 'go native' thing on an individual basis to learn what nature could teach him.  I suspect that Thoreau derived his own inspiration from the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau who postulated the education of a child by nature in his highly influential work "Emile".

Listening to an ABC documentary on Radio National yesterday, a number of members of communes were interviewed.  The classic and most fundamental flaw in all such movements was clearly underlined and illustrated.
To quote the source linked in the reference below,
"Most of the conflict in eco-villages arises from disputes over managing common land."

Example. On the commune there was a dam/pond water source. One group of members believed it should be turned into a duck pond. Another group wanted to farm it with wet rice. They both saw the same thing, but in a very different way. This incident alone is sufficient to highlight the problem of using secular 'reason' as the source of determining human actions and making decisions.
The commune then decided to implement a 2/3 vote wins arrangement. But that did not solve the problem because those who lost the vote still wanted it their way! I suppose in one way this is the conflict between the 'developer' vs 'environmentalist'?

More...But when I asked another Jarlanbah resident what was the one thing he would be glad to be away from if he left, he said community bullies! This is seldom articulated but is a very widespread problem, exacerbated in part because people are “trying to get along” and in some respects are willing to play “happy families”. (From the Link below)

The source of the difficulty actually resides in the way the commune was set up.  Without clearly delineated private space, every opinion on how things should be in the public space (which is all of it) will believe it should be embraced. So the first solution would be to allocate each family with a plot of land based on an equal share.

PROBLEM. Then there would arise the issue of "But I've got 5 children, others have only 1 and I need more space" and so it goes.....So, equality is an illusive idea at the best of times. One mans equality is another mans oppression or injustice. Rousseau believed that a man takes ownership of land on 3 primary conditions. 1/ It is uninhabited 2/ He adds labor to the land, 3/ He takes only as much as he needs for his subsistence.

ANOTHER PROBLEM  If however he takes only as much as he needs for his situation when he has only a wife but no children, and then, around him other people also take as much as they need, presumably around the same size.. then....he (and his neighbour) begin having children... and his wife is particularly fertile and he has 5 children while his neighbour has only 1.  Now.. the individual families 'subsistence' need has grown dramatically from the original need.
Ok..as the 'enlightened' Immanuel Kant would have us do... we use our own "reason" to solve this problem.
Step 1. "Estimate how many children you might have"
Step 2  "Take and till as much land as you think you will need if you have "n" children.

Ok..so far so good, but what if you end up being infertile ? You have a large plot of land and no family to support ... while your neighbour (who happens to be very fertile) has many children and his plot of land cannot support them.  Perhaps your neighbour will think "What does Jeo Bloggs need all that land for...he has no family to support?"  If this thinking is allowed to flourish it might lead to "I've got the big responsibility so I NEED some of Bloggs land?"  You have enough reason to see where this is heading!

So.. combining Rousseau with Kant's ideas.. we end up with as many problems as we began with. (more in fact as we now have the potential for human conflict)

Of course, what happens next will be determined by the bigger social structure, is it a monarchy, or a very unstructured village situation....

EXAMPLE FROM BORNEO. Indigenous tribes people in Sarawak have a very clear concept of land ownership. The first thing they consider is the ultimate scope of the surrounding area. After a few generations in one region, a family might find all the land is pretty much taken, and that in order to provide for the farming needs of their own children and grandchildren, it's time to move to a new area. This assumes that the population density is vary sparse and that it's even possible to do this without impinging on another tribe or family's claimed area.
Let's make it easy and assume there are not many people throughout the Jungle.  This is the reality in fact in the 5th division of Sarawak which I know best through personal experience.
The usual thing is for a division of the uninhabited land to be made at the beginning, and this will include enough area to provide for further division for children and possibly grand children. So it is much much more than is needed for the current generation's subsistence needs.  This contradicts Rousseau's rather naive theory.

As populations increase and families grow (even closely related ones) and the original land becomes tighter, disputes definitely arise among tribespeople. They also have the idea of buying and selling land in a barter system. e.g. "I'll buy x parcel of land between the small creek here and the top of that hill there for.. 10 buffaloes"  If the deal is duly done, it then forms part of the oral tradition of the tribe and this is guarded by the head man.  Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, there are still problems. The funniest one I remember is when the Malaysian government decided to place an airstrip on a piece of village land (buying the land from the villagers).. this immediately meant that the current owner of that particular land would receive a huge financial boost!  At this point, the previous owner revisits the original sale terms and price paid and suddenly those 'typical' buffaloes which were paid, become much smaller than standard buffaloes and a dispute occurs about whether the sale actually has been finalised.

In this case, the best solution is the one offered by the (wait for it......the BIBLE-Matt 18:15) the procedure laid down for conflict resolution is as follows:

1/ Tell your opponent of your grievance between you and he/she alone.
2/ If you win them over, the problem is solved and the cosmos is back in balance.
3/ If they do not accept what you say, then gather 2 or 3 witnesses.

At this point, the witnesses should be impartial for obvious reasons, but in a village where people are all related, this can be problematic. The way to solve that is to refer the matter of witnesses to a regional chief/head man (who usually is aware of the history of such transactions)

4/ If, with the (reliable and non partisan) tesimony of witnesses you still cannot get satisfaction, the matter is to be taken to the 'Church' (the village)
5/ If the grievance still cannot be settled, and one party is recognised as being in the wrong by the community, that person is to be regarded as an outcast.


Problems with Communes.

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