Tuesday 25 November 2008

Why Communal Living Makes Sense

I possess a washing machine, oddly enough.
I possess one, because I wear clothes and these clothes need washing. As, of course, do my sheets.
I possess a tumble drier. The function of this is to dry clothes.

Both of these items get used between once and twice a week. And neither is exactly full.

My chief thought every time I go outside for a cigarette after loading the machine up is to look up the street and wonder how many washing machines and tumble driers are in the street.
How many half full washing machines and tumble driers there are, washing and tumbling away.

And then to wonder just how many washing machines and tumble driers would ACTUALLY be needed to serve the street. If the street owned the said machines in common. And paid for them in common. Would we all of us living in that street not be a lot better off owning shares in an adequate number of washing machines and tumble driers?

Every fortnight I toddle down to Morrison's and spend a good fifty quid on food. And I'm not a big eater. And I'm pretty stingy about food- if it's buy one get one free on economy burgers, I'm doing it. Then again, I waste money on expensive seafood snacks and the like.
But I still use a fan assisted oven or a grill to cook what is always a meal for one.

And this food is kept in a fridge freezer.

Again, I can't help feeling that if the street as a whole had somebody whose job it was to get our food and cook it for us and it was stored in a much larger fridge freezer, the cost per head would be significantly less.

It strikes me that one of the things we like about going on holiday, is the fact we get to stay in a hotel. Where so much of the routine crap we waste our every day time on, is done for us and the cost is included in the bill.

And the only reason we as a society generally don't all decide to live in hotels is that they make us pay through the nose for that privilege. The only problem a hotel has, is filling its rooms- if it does that, it can't fail to make a profit. Since most manage to do that quite easily and still manage not to be full that often, it's quite clear that living such a lifestyle is actually quite efficient- it doesn't cost as much to provide per head, as the ACTUAL life we lead- and yet the actual life we lead, is harder work. If instead of paying fifty pounds a night to the hotelier for the room, the hotel was always full and we simply paid our share for the running of it- imagine how much lower our living costs would be than they are now?

The problem is, you mention that you believe life would be better if people lived in communes and people automatically think spaced out hippies walking slowly along a field throwing seeds into a furrow. Or sitting around strumming guitars and smoking pot.

Well, that's maybe why their communes didn't work so well. The Commune bit, good. The organisational system, somewhat lacking. A commune that consists of a few tents in the Arizona desert probably isn't a great idea. But then, farms of any kind in the Arizona desert aren't necessarily great ideas.

What I kind of envisage, is people living in vast, organised hotel complexes. The family home disappears, along with the conventional family. And in fact, one of the benefits of this, is it actually gives the individual more freedom to be an individual within a community which caters for his basic needs.

I would recommend each Commune/Hotel to house about five hundred individuals. It would fulfill the same dynamics a village does, in terms of community spirit, but would also replace the dynamics of the family. Within it, each adult would have their own apartment. Their own private space. With their own bedroom, living room, bathroom, etc. They wouldn't need a substantial cooking area, maybe just an area for preparing drinks and snackfoods.

And the individual would simply pay a flat rate for living costs. As of course, we do now. We now pay rent/mortgage, but we also pay bills, we buy food, we pay in our council taxes for our rubbish to be collected and our children to be educated.

So the flat rate for living costs would include the cost of these. But it would also include the other costs that living this way now meant could be handed over to the commune and the individual wouldn't need to worry about.

The Commune would have a domestic staff to cook and clean, do the laundry, maintain the property, etc. All these functions are now the responsibility of the commune. The individual actually no longer has to worry about doing ANYTHING. His/her life now becomes extra simple. S/he works, hands over one payment to the commune, and spends what is left on themselves. That's it. No need any longer to scrimp and save, life is now simple.
There doesn't NEED to be a family any more with this mode of living, not in the way we now have it. In a commune/hotel, there can be a creche and nursery which takes care of the upbringing of children with full time nannies and the individual can spend as much- or as little time- with their children as suits them. And the imperative for couples to live together or indeed, have any commitment to eachother at all for any other reason than that they personally want to, has now been totally negated. Indeed, even if people did choose to be in a couple, there wouldn't ever be any drama concerning a breakup, because each one would STILL have their own living space, and whatever they chose to do would have absolutely no impact on any children they had.

And the most important point is, of course, that huge part of the fruit of your labours that is drained away by 'ownership' of the building in question. The biggest part of the life costs of most human beings is simply paying for the right to have a roof over your head. Paying a landlord to get rich simply because he owns it and you don't, or paying a bank many times what the bricks and mortar are actually worth, for an asset which has been paid for many times over somewhere along the line.

If every adult on reaching adulthood is automatically deemed to own an equal share in each of these commune/hotels and have an equal democratic voice in appointing its administrators, than that vast amount of personal credit each individual sees being syphoned off in a kind of 'roof tax', will no longer be being syphoned off.

It's not unreasonable to think that the typical bill being given to the individual to live this sort of life- if we chose to look at it in modern cash terms and include everything we now get as a 'bill' or a necessary living cost of some kind- would be around three hundred pounds a month. Less, probably.

Moving away from a cash based system; It would give the individual a far higher quality of life, far more personal credit in return for the labours they put in, and a necessity for far less labour to be put in at all.

So- why DON'T we choose to live like that?


Anonymous said...

I understand what you propose in theory. I can't see it working because ulimatley individualism would prevail, especially if we are talking about the Western world. Our need for control and gain is too powerful.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this how the cavepeople lived?

I'm so not into this idea. But then, I'm in love with my three acres and house on top of a hill a good distance from my neighbors, my own vegetable garden and my big new kitchen that I like to mess around in. And I like not mixing my underwear with any strangers in the washing machine. Enough socks go missing on their own as it is.

Anonymous said...

The reason why we don't choose to do this is pretty much along the lines of what Aunt Reemy says. Individualism is instilled in the Western person (especially in the American, where we fetishize it) that collectivism in and of itself often seems evil--as if all collectives are cults (they aren't) or that they all fail in the end (some keep enduring).

The thing is we really haven't matured enough as a society to live with the incongruence of our dual nature as individual/minion. In order to do that, you would really have to change the nature of a significant number of people--enough to make your community viable. You also couldn't have a beneficent overseer. You would need checks and balances to authority.

Perha;s the book you really want to read is BF Skinner's Walden Two. For him, it's a matter of psychology applied to a sociological principle. If you had people who were psychological disposed to Skinner's conditioning, and if you didn't suffer tremendous deviance, then your society would probably be quite viable over a long period of time.

Otherwise, part of the conditioning process might require small scale repetition of a successful communal ideal. The type of living complext that you write about here might serve as a good start, provided that you can work out the kinks (and there will be kinks, most of you aren't able to imagine). From then on, it's a matter of making nail soup.

Anonymous said...

I dunno. I would think that most of the humans I know would hate being so close and personal with one another - It seems westerners anyhow really like their own personal space - clumping us all into a commune may work for some of the population and perhaps the benefits would outweigh the pitfalls, who knows.

It certainly is an interesting idea!

Anonymous said...

that would drive me nuts.

have you ever worked in retail, Crushed? you see people at their worst!

people are intolerant of other people. in my opinion, likes and wants and needs are too varied for us to all live together as you described.

Anonymous said...

We don't live like that because most people don't LIKE other people's smells, sounds, behaviours and speech!!

I would hate it crushed, really hate it.

even though I do get lonely sometimes in the evening and having someone to talk to would be nice...

Anonymous said...

Why don't we choose to live like that ?

Because the givers are always getting shafted by the takers.

Anonymous said...

Hey, OpenID!

You have just summarized "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and Asimov's robot novels, FWIW.

Not to say that you're unoriginal, you're not. Just that you might enjoy those thinkers.

Anonymous said...

As in the comments, there is your answer, some people would be happy to live like that and put their energy into the organising and others wouldn't like it even though they can see the reasonableness of it. Personally I would prefer the dope smoking hanging around in the fields and pretending to be farmers version.

Anonymous said...

We need to slowly ease into that.

I'm hoping as much as you are that capitalism in the raw form we know, and that the world has witnessed for the last couple centuries, is over. I think that new president of this nation has some ideas to help us begin to modify the current system into something more conducive to the life of people who are not born takers.

It has to be done, efficiency of living will have to be a main priority. We think this economic crisis is bad, but wait until the looming food supply crisis comes.

Things have to change, and a vision like yours is by no means a bad one, but it is a culture shock to many, as evidenced by the above comments.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Crushed. I like using my washing machine, tumble dryer, kitchen, dishwasher, shower, etc. when I want to and how I want to. It means someone else will not carelessly break them. I know they are clean and hygienic. Things get tidied up and not left horrid.

Having shared communal stuff in my time like washing machines and kitchens and irons and ironing boards I absolutely know what happens when you have communal stuff. People with lower standards basically force you to share those standards, or you end up being their dogs body.

Guess what? No way! Ew!

I do think guys are more likely to come up with an idea like that than girls. Why is that?

Anonymous said...

this was a lovely lovely post. thanks for bringing this thought to light.


Anonymous said...

Reeny- Well, the thing is it actually gives the individual greater freedom in many, many ways. S/he has his own living space, entirely under their control. In their own apartment, the individual would be entirely free. and of course, they'd still have full control over much personal credit above and beyond the miniumum they needed to contribute to the collective they chose to earn by putting the hours and skills in. But all that they earned over and above that, would effectively be disposable income- just for spending on themselves.

So actually, it would serve selfish interests far better.

VicariousRising- Not quite, no :)

I guess it would have less appeal, if you're less inclined to urban living. Me, I like to have my privacy, but still always have people around.

And they could do each wash load separately- or have your wash items labelled. :)

X-dell- I fear that's the main reason, yes. we're taught to see it as evil.
I wonder if this is why the right wing loony fringe like to accuse me of wanting to set up something dark...

The checks and balances are important, yes. This is whee my idea of continuous democracy has a part to play.

I admit, it would take a sea change in how we saw society and the individual, but this is partly why I'm so adamant the nuclear family is now an anachronistic model that we must dispense with, because it holds us back.

Cat- But we'd all have our own space. An apartment sized area that was your own private space. We wouldn't be living in dorms :)

I don't think i need much more space than I currently have- but I certainly have far too much domestic crap to worry about. That said, I'd like to keep my space my own.

This mode of living would provide that- at far less cost.

Projectivist- I used to work in a hotel, years ago.

Thing is, we do kind of all live together. Living like I describe would actually mean that you have MORE space than many people now have, because they actually share their PERSONAL living space. They wouldn't, if they lived like I propose.

Kate- So you'd go to your own persnal space.
But then when you wanted company, you'd just go downstairs to the bar.

E-K- But everybody would have to put in a miniumum contribution. Those not delivering their contribution, wouldn't be tolerated.

Basically, we'd all go out to work, but insteasd of having to pay bills, it would be like PAYE, the commune gets a portion of your earning on a flat rate.

8xyxxy8- I actually often find Azimov a little- unimaginitive.
Take Trantor. it covers a whole planet, yet has only 30 billion people. WE have 6 billion people now, and we don't cover 20 percent of this planet.
I can see earth suppoting 200 billion and still not being one vast concrete jungle.

Anonymous said...

Gingatao- Well, I guess this is it.
It's about getting most people to see that this form of altruistic collectivism actually serves SELFISH interestsbetter.

Well, I think most people PREFER smoking pot to working, it just gets less done.
Though I often write some good posts after a smoke. :)

Eric- i think it is, yes. We're in the death throes of the cycle.

And yes, it IS all about efficiency. Individualistic Capitalism is just an inefficient way to live; Paradoxically, it means the individual gets less.

Time was when not being ruled by Kings was a culture shock :)

Moggs- Well, that's why the Commune staff who did those things would be the ones best suited for those tasks :)

It would actually mean less work for members of BOTH sexes :)

Butterfly- Well, it just strikes me, it really is a more efficient, less time consuming way to live all round. a far bettr use of human labours.

I just think when people get their heads round it, they'll realise, life would be better that way. :)

Anonymous said...

You know what ?

I now think you're right that this is end of the fiat economy.

This is all much deeper than anyone realises.

Anonymous said...

No Crushed. You can't turn it around. Been there, done that, got the Tee shirt.

Like I said. You end up getting put upon or living in a horrible grubby dump, or make alternative arrangements...

I figure you are still thinking more about sharing a bathroom with some girls who forget you are looking... ^_^

Anonymous said...

"...all that they earned over and above that, would effectively be disposable income- just for spending on themselves.

So actually, it would serve selfish interests far better."

Right. So they would have jobs to earn this credit? And, some people would have more than others? Or we would all have the same extra disposable income???? It doesn't make sense. You just seem to make things up as you go along.

And, for the record, a system that serves the selfish is hardly the dawn of a new age, is it?

Have you noticed a theme that seems to be that your idea of the world seems to suit you only?

Anonymous said...

E-F- Yes, it is. It cannot survive any more, for reasons I've explained.

And that actually does mean that the usefullness of money at all is essentially gone.
All we actually need is a way of quantifying the relatives values of human energy to goods produced.

Moggs- Well no, because these tasks would be being done by the commune staff...

At the time of the morning when bathrooms are being used, I'm barely able to focus on getting my lighter to meet my cigarette...

La Femme- Yes it does. You just haven't read back posts.

The basic premise I put forward, is that there are two basic types of work. Not in the sense of what is done, but in terms of value.

A certain amount of human labour is needed to keep the whels turning- to power the infreastructure.

Basically, raw materials extracted, crops grown, food processed, transport happening, basically cogs going.
But human society flourishes and progressess because of surplus labour. That bit we put into improving.

Now it is my contention that due to vast inefficiencies and inequalities in the infrastructurwe, mmuch labour and energy is actually wasted.

My view is that if we had an infrastructure of equal efficiency across the globe and dispensed with the inefficienices of the capitalist economy, then the amount of human labour needed to keep the wheels going, is not much.

I would contend that about twenty hours a week would be needed.
So, the idea would be everybody works twenty hours a week to earn their living rights. Everthing that now ISN'T disposable income. And everyone gets the same here.
You do your twenty hours, you get your apartment in the commune and all the collective services society offers.

However. For everything over and above that you choose to do of your free will, you earn credit tokens. That you can spend on whatever goods, services, products that you want.

Yes, Altruism is the ultimate selfishness.

Hasn't the history of evolution PROVED that? That the selfish gene, is the co-operative gene.

Anonymous said...

It's official. I've stepped in to the third dimension.