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13 Why People Leave the excitement of building a whole network of Walden Two communities that Kinkade and others nurtured in the seventies has been a thing of the past for many years now.The fact that most of the communities inspired by the Twin Oaks interpretation of Walden Two failed to remain vibrant communities for long casts some doubt on the labor-credit system as a formula for communal success.Despite the demise of other communities,however , many members of Twin Oaks still trust that their labor-credit system is a sound basis for an income-sharing community. What are we to make of the community’s confident claim to have created a viable alternative to capitalism? At first glance, Twin Oaks indeed appears to be a communal success story. Many members of Twin Oaks find intrinsic pleasure in their work and state confidently that working for the common good is a strong motivator. Yet a closer look at the inner workings of the community reveals that the community ’s claim to have found a viable alternative to capitalism may have to be modified. It seems that the most central—yet often overlooked—factor in sustaining the noncompetitive economic system is the community’s rate of membership turnover, which was as high as 25 percent per year during its first five years (Ruth 58). This turnover fulfills the double function of constantly providing the community with idealistic new workers while allowing disillusioned members to leave. In other words, the cooperative system of work distribution seems to work well for many Twin Oakers, but only for a while. The appearance of permanence is achieved through the fact that the community is most often discussed as if it were a stable entity rather than a constantly changing body of people.Yet the vast majority of those who were motivated to work for the common good in 1972 are not the same as those in 1983, and a member who left the community in 1987 might well have trouble finding familiar faces if he or she were to return in 1999.As Ian Murray put it in an interview: “Every time I come down here, I don’t know who will still be here” (interview with the author, April 12, 1998). The crucial 03.79-132_Kuhl.indd 122 3/29/05 4:02:07 PM importance of membership turnover at Twin Oaks and its effects on work performance are perhaps best understood by focusing not on the community as a whole but on the passages of individual members through the community, including their reasons for joining as well as for leaving. Joining Twin Oaks is perhaps best described as falling in love. To the new communard, life prior to Twin Oaks appears gray, pointless, fragmented, and dissatisfying. Then, suddenly or gradually, by reading a newspaper article or seeing a documentary or meeting a friend of a friend, Twin Oaks arrives on the horizon and offers a way to leave the rat race behind. The vast majority of recruits thus attracted to Twin Oaks are white, middle-class, well-educated, and alienated. Explains Mara Rockliff, a former member of Twin Oaks: “My world had fragmented into career, social life, recreation. I worked sixty hours a week for goals that weren’t my own. I didn’t know how to have fun without spending money. I looked at my boss, and my boss’s boss, and his boss, and her boss, and contemplated taking their places in time. I wasn’t excited. But when I thought about leaving my job, it felt like dropping my identity. If I weren’t Mara Rockliff, Senior Editor, as my business cards proclaimed, who would I be? Would I be anyone?” (3). Rockliff found an answer: she would be Mara and defragmentize her life. The excitement of leaving behind a dissatisfying situation is coupled with a boundless enthusiasm and optimism for the new lifestyle. Remembers Kinkade : “Back in 1967, when we first realized that we were really going to come to live on a farm, we were almost as excited about farming as we were about communal living and Walden Two. Our ignorance was boundless. . . . I thought we should grow every crop that would grow in our climate and construct a greenhouse to grow the things that wouldn’t. I wanted a sample pair of every kind of farm animal. I grew ecstatic over ducklings and geese, delighted in feeding the pigs,grew personally...


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MARC Record
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