Why our community succeeds where others fail - episode 1 - Individualism

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Ramin Farhangi- co-founder of the democratic school « école dynamique » and co founder of the democratic eco village « Village de Pourgues ».  Author of TEDx and book "Why I created a school where children do what they want" (published by Actes Sud in September 2018). Ramin offers training for project leaders from Sudbury-inspired schools and villages.

In March-April 2017, the first 10 members of Village de Pourgues moved in. One might think that this reunion of 10 friendly personalities in a heavenly setting with 100% free time had everything to live in harmony. However, if you ask them the question, they will answer the opposite:

"We had endless debates on the name of the village, the freedom for children, nudity, where to place the compost with poop ... conflicts took up so much space that daily life often became painful." One or two months more to live that way and many of us would have left the adventure upset and maybe even permanently disgusted with community life."

From June to September 2017, 10 new people settled and the atmosfere improved significantly. One year later, in September 2018, we will be 30 inhabitants (including 9 children from 1 to 10 years old). Today, you will hear them say:

"I have never been so happy, I live in the best place to be, I feel a deep respect and love for the others, including those whose behaviour may sometimes upset me,I am totally confident that community life will continue to run smoothly. "

We often hear that 90% of community projects fail because of what is usually called the FHF (fucking human factor). This has been confirmed by the many experiments conducted since the 1970s. They are enough to demotivate the most reasonable of us to embark in a community living. Why did I feel 100% confident to found a community anyway? How to explain the resilience of the Village de Pourgues? 

In this article, I would like to provide a first explanation: individualism as a basic ideological choice.

The reader may hastily translate "individualism" as a selfish spirit of "every man for himself" or "all against all" that is usually known in academic or economic competition. Actually, I am talking here about a possible vision according to which one can organize the relationship between the individual and the group in order to make society in the most efficient and happy way possible.

For example, almost everywhere in the world, the school system is designed according to a collectivist bias because the activity of the actors (teachers and students) is planned and administered. The economic system, on the other hand, is rather conceived according to an individualist bias: each actor makes his own choices and evolves freely within a framework where the rules of the game aim only at avoiding abuses. Supply and demand meet spontaneously in a self-regulated market that no one has planned upstream. 

Today, in our western society, I think that a local community based on a purely individualistic logic is more likely to be inclusive and resilient than a collectivist group that, sometimes, plans and dictates all the actors.

For example, in a community where cooking, housekeeping or gardening tasks are distributed equally, some people who do not like to do these activities will have to comply with an obligation (and doing so live in self-sacrifice) to satisfy the needs of the group.

This can only be if there is the submission of all to a strong authority (be it a tyrant or the whole group) and hold over time if the practice is engrammed in the culture, when the individual has totally integrated some constraints as obvious.

The so-called mandatory follow-up of a school program from 6 to 16 year old is a good example of self-sacrifice that is now a consensus in our culture.

In Pourgues, individuals try to make community while they come from very different cultures. Some people sometimes have a small idea of ules to generalize to make our entire community more ecological and fairer. 

Discussions about livestock and meat consumption are a good example of dissensus. Some argue that we should respect animals as much as our children, others want to continue gardening with manure, eating yoghurt, cheese, honey and meat.

In a context of dissensus on a large number of topics of daily life and the vision of an "ideal world", any administration of individual activity by the group would be experienced as a sacrifice. Individualism is thus the realistic and non-violent ultimate choice.

In Pourgues, our democratic functioning is a mirror of this choice.

Our Weekly Village Council only serves to ensure respect for individual freedom, not to administer individuals. It only sets the limits of a framework the least constraining possible in which each person evolves freely. For example, regarding cooking and the household, there is a strong temptation to set up an egalitarian system, and we did it at the beginning, conditioned by the idea that these activities would be duties and that no one would want to assume. Today, cooking and housekeeping are provided by those in whom it generates meaning and motivation.

Much of the village does not touch the broom or pots, which has led many of us to question the guilt and judgment that this could cause. Gradually, each of us makes his way out of a prejudice that there would be freeriders or lazy people.

In fact, there is no need to judge individual choices or evaluate the performance of colleagues. Rather than imposing on others a vision of common sense, we assume that each person contributes to the group in his own way and that everyone's activity makes sense,  whatever it may be. 

We trust the individual to be the best person to choose his own activity and to self-evaluate.

We apply this logic to the whole day-to-day activity of the place, so that we can honestly claim to be a village where everyone does what he wants. And you, what do you think of this culture of full freedom and non-judgment of the choices of each? Do you think you would be happy to live in such a place?

Tagged: pourguesvillagedémocratiqueindividualismesudburyécovillageariègeéducation