Friends of mine retreated from urban life in the ’60s, deciding that they wanted a touch of the bucolic. So they exited the rat race of the Boston metropolis for a commune in northern Maine. It lasted all of one growing season and into the hard freezes of January and February. Then one day around early March, they were back, not quite survivors of a brutal winter in a poorly financed and organized dream. They admitted that it was all a bit of a game until they ran out of gas for the machinery, the one car used by the commune broke down, and more serious social ills came to the fore.
As problems grew, a cadre in their commune insisted that the rough communal democracy was inadequate to lead through the crisis. So the cadre began to take control of resources, food, and money, just for the extent of the problem, of course.
Having read 1984, my friends were familiar with the concept that ” Some Animals were more equal than others.” So early in March, they decamped and were happy to return to the world of hot showers and pizza.
Hot showers and pizza. It’s interesting how some things can become central when you don’t have access. My friend’s experiences were a long time ago. But their absolute pleasure in a hot shower and the pizza dinner we put on for them when they first came home has stayed with me. And I am increasingly reminded that my friends had someplace to go where the gas water heater pumped out lots of hot water, and the local pizza parlor produced a tasty pepperoni and mushroom pizza. No apologies were needed, they were young and learned from their bad experiences.
There is a political and economic lesson to learn from the commune and the refuge my friends found. Bluntly, the commune members allowed a group of opportunistic individuals to seize control of the means of living. Lucky for them my friends had an out and a place to go. We, as a group, had the means, ability, and desire to help them. It was a small series of ripples occurring in a larger pond. These days, the pond is larger, and those eager to seize control think they can by subverting our primary institutions. If we behave like the commune members, there is little to stop them from succeeding. My friends only had to flee a few hundred miles to find relief and support. Where are we going to run?
“Civilizations die by suicide, not by murder” – Arnold Toynbee