Sitting in an old chair behind the school, I watched the sun set over the garden. I had a Huber Bock in one hand, a pen in the other, and my notebook on my lap. After a long day of work, everything was quiet and at peace. The beer had relaxed my sore muscles just enough, and I was writing a letter to a distant friend that painted my life at Dreamtime in broad, idyllic strokes. In the tail of my eye I saw someone walking around the far side of the School, towards me. I didn't recognize the man. He was tall and had a kind of ambling gait. I watched him walk into the garden looking like a drunk or a child, surprised at everything he saw.
This wasn't alarming in itself; strangers weren't all that strange at Dreamtime. But next, a cop emerged from the same side of the school, and appeared to be in pursuit of the first man. I sat there like an audience of one, as if this was being staged for my amusement. The first man, noticing the cop approaching him, began walking in my direction. "Come on, Robert," the cop said, loud with authority, "they don't want you here."
"This is free land!" he shouted back, "I can stay here forever if I want!" At this, he turned to me and said, "Isn't that right? This is free land, and he doesn't have any authority here." His eyes were wide and seemed to be looking in different directions. He and the cop were both now standing in front of me.
"Hold on, hold on..." I was saying.
"Who's in charge here?" the cop asked.
"No-one's in charge here," I replied.
Stephen Freer appeared in the door of the gym and hollered to our first guest, "You're crazy!" He lingered there, watching the proceedings.
"Are you in charge?" the cop asked.
"This is free land," Robert said.
"Did someone call you?" I asked the cop.
"Yes, we were called and asked to remove this gentleman. Apparently he hasn't taken his medication."
Robert asked, "Can't you explain to him that he's got no jurisdiction here?"
"Look," I said, "I don't like having the police here, but as far as I'm concerned, if someone doesn't want you here, they have every right to ask you to leave."
After some mild disputation, Robert left in the company of the officer. As I heard it later that evening, the man had been a friend of Stephen Freer's, and Freer had once offered him the land that had become Dreamtime, the very garden that he was seeking refuge in. He was a harmonica player; he'd been recorded and had had some success, but began to suffer breakdowns and went on lithium. From time to time, he plagued Dreamtime, and Stephen Freer in particular. He didn't seem like the violent type, but there are some people who you can't be sure of. Feeling just this, Dave had called the police. This decision surprised and even disappointed me a little.
The incident made me think about authority at Dreamtime. The policeman's comic inability to understand that there was no one person "in charge" highlighted the absence of hierarchy, but many more issues were at play. The policeman's uniform, badge and baton gave him one kind of authority; my presence as a member of the community gave me another; Dave had exercised some control over the situation by calling the police. As with nearly every social encounter, we were all jockeying for control of the moment.
There is a gap, however small, between my accounts and the accounts of other Dreamtime residents, as well as between all of these accounts and various ideals at play. Especially in a community that has at least some anarchist or anti-authoritarian principles, authority becomes a very interesting issue. In general, Dreamtime is not very dogmatic about things like this, but there is still an ideal being sought. The most important question is to define authority, and to look at the definitions of authority that have led some to reject it. Here, it is best to return briefly to the communes of the 60's and 70's. In their outlook, we can find the core of the counterculture's definition of authority.
Taking along a "highly experienced organic farmer," Abraham Zablocki visited several communes in the early 70's. He found that
"many commune members resented and would not accept his advice on quite elementary but serious mistakes they were making in their first attempts at vegetable gardening. They accepted and loved this man as a person, but mistrusted any knowledge not gained through their own trial and error." (Communes, 168).
By way of explanation, Zablocki points out that, in the commune movement, "A curious element of... anarchism is the inability or unwillingness to distinguish between authoritarianism and authoritativeness" (ibid).
Authority is defined very loosely, not just in the counterculture, but American culture as a whole. Why do we have difficulty making the distinction between authoritarianism and authoritativeness? The concept of the authoritative person, as opposed to the authoritarian person, seems to hardly exist in our culture, either among authoritarians or antiauthoritarians. A leader is generally seen to occupy a fixed position in a fixed hierarchy. Instead of the practical categories of skill or wisdom, arguments about authority are based on moral and ideological imperatives. Not all human societies have shared this way of thinking.
In "post-scarcity"-influenced anarchist circles, the hunter-gatherer band is often seen as the ideal social form, and it might be worthwhile to compare Dreamtime Village with such groups. Hunter-gatherer societies are small, often semi-nomadic groups with social structures that appear to be simple at first glance. In general, they lack laws and fixed hierarchies. The absence of these things is not a vacuum; in their places are other categories somewhat different from our own.
Elman R. Service describes the minimal structures of authority among hunter-gatherer groups in his book The Hunters. He finds that there are two basic problems that the social order must address: "the control of deviant behavior and the directing of concerted actions [such as big-game hunting]" (47). Service divides the duties of authority in the hunter-gatherer society into three categories: reinforcement, administration, and adjudication. These categories are useful, and can contribute to our understanding of authority.
Reinforcement is the maintenance of community norms. Service uses the idea of sanction, "a much broader term than law" (49), in his discussion of authority structures. He indicates that leaders do not serve the purposes of law-making and law-enforcement in small hunter-gatherer societies, since social sanctions are enacted on the personal level, keeping people "in line" without necessitating an agency such as a police force. In comparison, we can look at two cases at Dreamtime in which group sanction has not been applied to some potentially threatening behavior.
One long-time friend of Liz, Miekal and Eric aroused suspicion each time he visited. He was a sharp thinker and eloquent talker, but tried to use his intellect to justify his violations of other peoples' boundaries. In times past, or so I heard, he precipitated the disintegration of a Madison co-op by masturbating publicly and "stalking" two female residents. Group disagreement about how to handle the problem led to the breakup. At Dreamtime--again, I got this second-hand--the man once masturbated in front of a visitor, then asked her out. Apparently the only action taken was on the woman's part: she immediately drove back to Madison. How could the community have used its sanction to prevent this from happening or confront the man afterwards?
While morality is surely fuzzy and multifarious here, how much eccentricity can anyone foist on guests? Perhaps to criticize such behavior would risk being labeled a reactionary prude. In a sense, I appreciated the sexual openness that he and others had fostered, but I always had my doubts about their motivations, especially when issues about who is more "free" or "liberated" came up. Such behavior can cultivate fear between people. It can be a power game, a blatant hypocrisy for anarchists.
Stephen Freer, as I have said, was something of a hazard to the community. Part of the price of sale of Dreamtime was that Stephen would eventually get a room in the Beaver House if he wanted it. I think that the reluctance to really take him to task may come from the fear of making an enemy of him and then having to live with him.
He carried an air of authority, and would sometimes pace around the garden like a drill sergeant at inspection, watching over everyones' work, rarely offering help. The night I met him, the night of Melissa Jones' birthday party, he was talking loudly and confidently. I sensed that he was somehow important, and later realized that this was precisely what he was trying to project.
His altercations with others usually were over something he had hoarded in the School: stacks of slate tiles, moldering polyester clothes. Cleanup efforts in the School meant inevitable confrontations with Freer. Voices were often raised, and fistfights--though they never happened--never seemed far off. Freer was thus an obvious scapegoat, and a favorite mealtime conversation topic was how he had made your day more difficult.
He was especially difficult with the opposite sex; to speak perhaps too tactfully, it was clear that he had unresolved issues with women. Sandi told me, "In dealing with situations with guys like Stephen, I think: if I lived in the city, and the guy next door treated me like that, I wouldn't put up with it." She was right, and she made me realize that this is perhaps one of the greatest failings of Dreamtime. While I was there, Stephen was never dealt with by any group action other than gossip.
At least according to Elman Service, the appearance of administration--or leadership roles--in hunter-gatherer societies may be misleading. That is, people only lead others in temporary arrangements based on their degree of expertise in certain fields. Leadership positions are rarely permanent, and bossiness "is not tolerated, and humility, as in other contexts, is valued" (51). The sanctions against bossiness prevent jealousy and conflict.
That is not to say that hunter-gather societies are without recognized differences in status between people. However, these differences are complex and mutable; they cannot be mapped in a pyramidal scheme since they vary according to context. Service uses the term "prestige" to connote the superiority in authoritativeness that one may have over another in different settings. Hence, "influence" is a better word than "authority" to describe power that comes with prestige, at least in these societies (53).
Dreamtime most resembles the hunter-gatherer ideal in regards to the character of its administration. Apart from the (ideally) weekly general meetings, there were occasional meetings of the board of Xexoxial Endarchy, which seemed mostly concerned with fiscal and organizational issues. The only truly specialized roles I saw at Dreamtime were those of the hypermedia and permaculture apprentices, of whom one--Patrick--left the community, and the other--Mark Ludwig--ended his apprenticeship precisely because of its overspecificity. In exchange for free housing, an apprentice would become the most knowledgeable in their field, but would be asked for longer hours and narrower focus. In general, different people had prestige in different fields: Mark Ludwig, Mark Shepard and Miekal in gardening, Ken and Eric in carpentry, Liz in natural medicine. It was rarely clear, however, that any one person was a supreme authority on any subject, or that any one person was not worth consulting.
Adjudication, or conflict resolution as we might call it, is an absolutely vital function in small societies. Intra-group feuds would be so costly that most small groups would not survive them. A brief glance back at the history of intentional communities provides ample evidence. Service found that "the adjudication of a quarrel between two persons will ordinarily be handled by an elder who is a common relative of them both" (57).
Open arguments were rare at Dreamtime. Subtler conflicts, as in any group, were constantly squirming just beneath the surface of everyday life. When these threatened, one of the parties would simply move on. Here is one of the main differences between Dreamtime and the hunter-gatherer band and other social groups. It is not a closed system; it can be left very easily, since food, clothing and shelter can usually be gotten elsewhere. Besides a fairly cheap cost of living, the incentives for living at Dreamtime are mostly ideological ones, different reasons for taking pride in the community. If those incentives are outweighed by other factors, then there is nothing else keeping a person there. In the longest-lived intentional communities, the individual's identity has become so tightly bound up with the community's world-view that to leave would open a massive rip in the fabric of a person's life. The existence of effective conflict resolution may be the hallmark of a group that is both highly complex and highly independent.
Authority changes shape, size and location depending on situation and context. At Dreamtime Village, this was especially true. In asking Dreamtime residents about their roles in the community, some of the longer-term residents' answers touched on the subject of unofficial authority in the community. The answers given by Liz and Miekal were some of the most interesting. I was surprised to hear that they thought of themselves as leaders. Neither they nor anyone else had suggested this before, except as a cynical or tongue-in-cheek remark. They stand in contrast to the views of nearly everyone else at Dreamtime.
The sacred clown Miekal was talking about was himself, and he referred obliquely to the fact that he rarely participated in weekly meetings. Later in the same interview, Miekal said disparagingly of another resident's position in the community, "he's happiest squatting on the edge of things." These two very different valuations of "the edge" brought up a lot of unanswered questions for me about the nature of "edge" and "center" at Dreamtime. Miekal went on to say that,
"...with a lot of people who come here, it's hard to get them to acknowledge the fact that everybody needs to change and that the process is very difficult and painful. And that there has to be an acceptance of the wisdom of experience."
Miekal wanted to be respected as a spiritual authority, but few seemed to feel this way towards him. On the contrary, his presence in most peoples' lives did not seem to be exceptionally large or powerful; paradoxically, this seemed to be deliberate on his part. While Miekal spoke of the ideal, Liz focused more on her current role as she saw it.
The roles I play are mommy, psychologist, police woman, treasurer, landlord, bill collector and bookkeeper. Eddie calls me the matriarch and control freak. Every morning I wake up with a list in my head of things I have to get done. My goal is that a lot of the tasks that I take on will be done by others. The role I see myself in in the future is a teacher.
As it is right now, the leaders are too fucking busy taking care of the nuts and bolts... If other people were motivated by the thoughts or concerns of the whole project, on a future or visionary basis, then our burden would be shared. What's important is to be visionary and to act. What we need are natural-born leaders who share a vision... Mark Ludwig's a good example. He just does what he sees needs doing and ultimately I respect that. Me and Miekal have to support what everyone's doing, but people also have to go ahead and do things.
Young people transfer their feelings towards their parents and teachers to us. A lot of it has to do with ego. To learn and be open you have to let go of your ego.
In the context of Dreamtime's anarchist politics, Liz's "natural-born leaders" might sound a little reactionary. But I think she was saying this: that she wanted to live with individuals who were confident and competent enough to think for themselves, and to teach others. "Leaders" do not always imply "followers." I deeply respected Liz and Miekal, not because they had filled some abstract role, "leader," or "mommy" or "shaman," but because of the dedication and strength it took to get Dreamtime started.
I saw many of the same strengths and weaknesses in Dreamtime as Liz and Miekal. For the most part, the younger a person was, the less dedication they had to the project. However, as easy as it was to cling to this generalization, it was not very constructive. A large part of "the Vision" was the idea that Dreamtime would be a kind of school where people would not only acquire skills, but also develop knowledge of different kinds. Living and working with these younger people on a somewhat closer level than Liz and especially Miekal, I saw more of this kind of learning going on than I believe they did.
Mark Ludwig, as Liz mentioned, was one of the more self-directed people at Dreamtime. He was a vocal presence at meetings, and coordinated most of the gardening we did in West Lima. His involvement in student government in college shaped not only his politics, but his personal style as well.
I'm a kind of chronic caretaker and general troubleshooter, especially since I stopped doing the permaculture apprenticeship. I find my role in any organization drifts toward... reality enhancement, for lack of a better term. Pointing out folly where I see it and not being afraid to speak up when I think things are going awry. It doesn't always make me popular, but I do think it makes me valuable. I've done that in other organizations: in student government, one of the things I did was double the tax we charged. This was in spite of the fact that the newspaper was against it .
I'm not a Christian, and I don't believe in always turning the other cheek. But I think over time I've gotten better at that kind of thing. I've been learning to build consensus with people who I often profoundly disagree with. In co-ops, basically everybody's a leftist, so there's much more common ground, but in student government, I'd be interacting with serious conservatives. Now I seem to be on the right wing at Dreamtime.
In general, Dreamtime seemed to be in denial about many aspects of authority. There were quite a few people who saw things clearly, who distinguished the authoritative from the authoritarian. But there were too many times when eyes were averted to situations in which power and authority were at issue. When the community as a whole becomes more comfortable with using its sanction, it will gain the strength to solve its own problems.