24. Reckon Protocommune

There have been communes in America for 300 years. Timothy Miller has written two books which together are a survey of American communes that were in existence from 1900 – 1975.

Miller sets seven conditions for a group of people interacting to be considered a commune. A protocommune is a term I’ve coined. A protocommune is a group of people interacting but that falls short of meeting Miller’s seven conditions to be a commune. A protocommune sets the groundwork for, but has not quite reached the threshold of, being a commune.

Many actual communes historically were stable. People joined and stayed for extended periods. But many had a high turnover rate.

The Reckon protocommune incorporates the possibility of high turnover into its model.

1. Reckon Location
The Reckon protocommune house is in suburbia. The house has two floors. The address is on Bybee Street in Silver Spring MD if someone wants to go to Google and get an idea of what the neighborhood is like. It’s a corner house, which means it has parking space in the front and on one side. A yard surrounds the house.

The neighborhood is surrounded by forested land, is close to bus stops, and is not far from urban areas. Thus the location has notes of both rural and city life. It’s possible to live in this area without owning a car. Furthermore, ride companies like Lyft and Uber operate here. There’s a strip mall nearby that has rental trucks and vans, also.

The house is assessed by the county at around $400,000. The house is livable, but needs a bit of work before it can be used as a commune. So the starting date for this commune would be, conservatively, set for the Fall of this year. Improvements include a modular fence around the entire lot to improve privacy and allow camping out, and installing a loft for sleeping. The house next door is for sale. Ideally, we’d like someone to bhy it who will use it as part of the protocommune.

2. Reckon purpose
The purpose of the commune is self-improvement. Communards spend part of the day working, part of the day working on their character traits. One of the primary vehicles for improvement is keeping a journal to assist in making self-reckonings. Thus the name “Reckon” for the commune.

The commune is based on the idea of openness. Experience shows that openness leads to conflict. Miller’s books are full of examples. The Reckon commune will have some rules that are put in to minimize and eliminate conflicts between individuals. Repeat offenders would be subject to a review of their status as members of the commune. The rules are simple and easy to follow, and hopefully once implemented there would never be any need to enforce them.

The rules cover three areas: dress, speech, and behavior. The commune is broken down into two distinct zones. The main house, or just house, covers the house and yard. The public space includes the property between the street and the yard, and including the vans parked on the street.

The rules in place are designed to address two areas that can lead to conflict: the subjects of sex and religion.

The first rule is: No talking about sex or religion in the house. This means no one should speak of themselves or anyone else in terms of their gender, sexual orientation, or relationship(s) they are in. Someone should not be referred to as a husband, wife, spouse, partner, boyfiend, girlfriend, etc but rather as a “friend”.

The second rule is: everyone must speak calmly and softly in the house. This does not mean that only whispering is allowed, although whispering is fine. It means speaking at the lowest necessary volume. It means speaking slowly. It means taking breaks from speaking to allow others to respond. In line with this, all audio and video players should be used with headsets in the house.

The third rule is that the clothing worn in the house should cover the body as much as is consistent with the season.

The fourth rule is no one should touch anyone else while in the house.

The fifth rule is to avoid pronouns in reference to people such as “I”, “you, “he”, “she”, “him”, “her”, “it”, etc. Communards should address each other in the third person, and speak about others in the third person, avoiding all pronouns.

The rules are designed and are in place and enforced for a completely rational reason: to minimize conflict. If the rules aren’t working, they are subject to change.

For example, the rationale behind fifth rule, not using pronouns, is the following. In this example, we consider the case of two people. I hate terms like “Left wing” and “Right wing” but will use them here for the sake of illustrating how to avoid conflict in an extreme case.

Say one communard is a Left wing transgender and this communard wants people to address them using the pronoun “ze”. Meanwhile, another communard is a Right wing White Nationalist and under no condition is going to use the pronoun “ze”. How can these two people communicate at the commune, especially if the transgender person will get angry if the White Nationalist uses a pronoun like “he” to refer to the transgender person?

The answer is Rule #5: Use the Third Person
“Would Elizabeth pass me the salt, please?”

These rules are not hard and fast. Using gender neutral pronouns like “I”, “you”, “someone” will be acceptable as long as they don’t engender conflict. And the content on this website will not adhere to Rule #5 since technically the website is not “in the house.”

3. Practical aspects: living, work, common activities

I’m a big proponent of van living. Although I’ve never done it, a former commune member has. I live in the house, but meagerly. Anyone joining the commune accepts this kind of very basic existence. Communards live in vans that are parked here and use the house as a base. To avoid any violations of laws, communards have sleeping spaces within the house.

There are several businesses here.

One is part of the suburban agriculture movement: growing food on residential yards and selling it.

Selling baked goods out of a house is legal here. So a bakery is the second business.

Airbnb rentals are legal here. A third business involves renting out space in the house here, as well as at nearby houses.

The money from the businesses goes to pay for the upkeep of the house and for paying for the vans and fuel for the vans. The rest is saved, and distributed to communards for basic needs like clothing, food, and whatever else is needed. Decisions on spending are decided communally.

It should be noted that communards are expected to participate in daily meetings.

Everyone is expected to think and act independently while living communally. The sparse living conditions means that all one’s major belongings should be able to fit into a small car. Anyone can get up and leave any day they want.

In line with that, potential communards before moving in are expected to join in on regular teleconferences to familiarize themselves with life at Reckon.

Other communes that I’m reaching out:
– The Swan Lake Community
– Refuge — a Lakewood NJ protocommune

Joe Orlow