The strange hybrid of Findhorn

How an intentional community can never be a world apart

We have an estate agent’s ‘For Sale’ notice up next to one of the big eco-houses here in the community. Big deal, you might say, isn’t this the normal way people sell houses? Well, in intentional communities, in fact it is not.

Think about it. An intentional community is a place where people with a shared base of values or common commitment to a project or ideology choose to live in the same place. How does that idea stack up with the reality of the market economy as mediated by the estate agents? The theory of intentional community is that the housing stock is allocated according to the needs of the community and the worth or contribution of the members. The market, of course, recognises only purchasing power.

To understand how we have reached this interesting juncture, a little historical perspective is required. Traditionally, intentional communities were highly egalitarian and communitarian in nature. So, following the lead of the Israeli kibbutz, there was little or no private property and most of that was held in common. Income was divided equally or allocated according to need.

Over the last several decades, however, society has got economically wealthier and more individualistic and these trends have spilled over into intentional communities. So, in common with the broader society, communards now want to own more things and not to have to negotiate for their use with those among whom they live.

In consequence, with some noble exceptions, the economies of intentional communities have become more or less privatised. Communards today are generally responsible for making their own income and what they earn, they keep. Findhorn, in fact, is a fascinating mix of the old and the new. At the heart of the community remains a more or less common economy – comprising about a third of the community, around 120 people – with a highly egalitarian ethic. Most of us, however, are responsible for making our income where we can.

When land here in the community came up for development in the early 1990s, the communal heart of the community had neither the cash nor the desire to develop it – its core purpose, after all, is education and spiritual enquiry, not real estate development! So, the land was parcelled up in plots that were sold to those who could afford to build.

Today, as a result we have a field covered in beautiful and highly energy-efficient houses. However, those who can afford to build ain’t necessarily those who have put in years of devoted love and care to make this such a great place to live – though, sometimes they are. Also, we lose control over future allocation of housing when those who built think it is time to move on. This has put a certain strain on the fabric of the community.

The first time a For Sale notice went up, I was very much involved personally. I had been part of a group renting a beautiful big house for a couple of years when its owner decided it was time to cash in her chips. It was not easy showing strangers around what felt very much like my home. One couple from London who were just passing saw the sign and asked how much it cost. £280,000, I almost spat out, in disgust that anyone could have access to so much capital. ‘What!!’, the woman exclaimed, barely able to contain her disbelief, sharing I imaged my own incredulity at the exorbitant price. She finally managed to catch her breath and finish her sentence: ‘So LITTLE!’

I heard a visitor recently compare Findhorn to a medieval village, with a monastery at the centre with a village clustered around it. This feels like a very appropriate metaphor. We are a strange hybrid.

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
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Jeremy Corbyn's speech on terrorism will do him more good than harm

The Labour leader's criticism of police cuts and western foreign policy will resonate with voters.

The election campaign, if there was any doubt, has resumed. In his speech responding to the Manchester attack, Jeremy Corbyn did not limit himself to expressions of sympathy and solidarity. He squarely targeted Theresa May on her home turf: policing and security.

The Conservatives' repeated warning is that Corbyn is a "threat" to his country. But the Labour leader countered that only he could keep it "safe". Austerity, he declared, "has to stop at the A&E ward and at the police station door. We cannot be protected and cared for on the cheap." May, having been warned by the Police Federation while home secretary of the danger of cuts, is undoubtedly vulnerable on this front. Under Labour, Corbyn vowed, "there will be more police on the streets" (despite Diane Abbott's erroneous arithmetic), while the security services would receive whatever resources they need.

Corbyn swiftly progressed to foreign policy, the great passion of his political life. Though it is facile to reduce terrorism to a "blowback" against western interventionism (as if jihadists were Pavlovian dogs, rather than moral agents), it is blinkered to dismiss any connection. As Corbyn noted: "Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home" (the Tory-led Foreign Affairs Select Committee is among those who agree).That the former Stop the War chair has long taken this view absolves him of the charge of crude political opportunism.

Corbyn was also more careful than his pre-briefed remarks suggested to caveat his criticisms. He emphasised: "Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform.

"And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre."

But he maintained his central charge: western intervention has made the world more dangerous, not less. "We must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working," he said. "We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism."

Though Corbyn's arguments have appalled Conservatives (and some in Labour), they are ones that will likely find favour among the public. Polls have consistently shown that most voters oppose western adventurism and believe it has endangered the UK. Corbyn's words will resonate among both the anti-interventionist left and the isolationist right (this is, after all, a country which has just voted to retreat from even its closest neighbours).

The speech, given at 1 Great George Street (in the room where Ed Miliband gave his resignation address), was marred by Corbyn's refusal to take questions. But it was unarguably well-delivered. "Let’s have our arguments without impugning anyone’s patriotism and without diluting the unity with which we stand against terror," he warned in a pre-emptive strike against the Conservatives.

Corbyn's decision to give an overtly political speech four days after the Manchester attack is being widely described as a "gamble" or even a profound error. But the election will now rightly focus more closely on the issue of security - nothing should be beyond democratic debate.

Many of Corbyn's life-long stances, such as unilateral disarmament, do not find favour with the electorate. But there was little in his speech today that the average voter would contest. The Conservatives will hope to turn the heightened security debate to their advantage, ruthlessly quoting Corbyn against himself. But on this front, as on others, the Labour leader is proving a tougher opponent than they anticipated.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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