• Peter Macfarlane

Communing with Nature, Part III: Society

In Part I and Part II of Communing with Nature, Pete focused on the practical considerations of his move to a self-sufficient community. In Part III, he explores the benefits of its social structure and dynamics.

Over the last few weeks, I have finished my yurt and settled in on the land. As my connection with the community grows, I have come to see our group as its own society.


But what does society mean to us on the land?


so · ci · e · ty

noun

1. the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.


Before moving to the land, I associated society with organized systems: rules of governance, corporations, and spiritual traditions. Now I see ‘society’ as its people. While systems and people evolve together, they exist as separate concepts.


We do not have organized systems on the land. We view our society for what it is: the people. There are no plans, procedures, or rules, only common goals.


Most societies share a common goal: to do what is best for the group. As a small group, our society considers individual needs and does our best to meet them.


My picture of an ideal society is primarily concerned with providing the bottom two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The pursuit of psychological needs and non-essential luxuries comes only after everyone’s basic needs are met.


For many established societies, the social structure does not value its people first.


Instead, it prioritizes the needs of the system. A system-centric society leaves many individuals without their basic needs and others with an extravagant quality of life. I recognize I have the privileges of the latter group. By moving to the land, I hope to share some of these privileges with the others.


In sociology, the ecological model provides an interesting alternative. Individuals are placed at the heart of the model and organizational structures in the outer layers. Each layer influences the others, yet we are encouraged to recognize our own influence. We must recognize how we contribute to our own well-being, to that of other people and society, and to the health of the environment we live in.


This model is central to the land.


On the land, we prioritize people over systems. As a self-sufficient community, we work together to meet our basic needs. As an individual, I contribute value to our society by helping provide heat, shelter, food, and water for the community. This enhances my own well-being and that of others.


The lessons of the land can carry over to other societies.


For some, self-sufficiency is a way to prioritize the individual over the system. This solution may only appeal to a small portion of the population. However, we can apply the theory more broadly by recognizing why systems exist, who they intend to serve, and who is left behind.


If the goal is to do what is best for society, the aggregate of individuals in the community, we can organize systems to accomplish that goal. Instead of optimizing towards limiting costs and maximizing profit, we can optimize towards limiting ecological damage, meeting basic needs, and maximizing how many people share in the benefits.


As more people move to the land, it may be necessary to develop a more organized system. A growing population will not only increase our collective knowledge, expertise, and ability, but also complexity. This complexity must not impede our commitment to valuing the people first.


While I have a vision of an ideal society, the path to achieving it is unclear. In our community on the land, we have a blank slate to build on. Our society is just beginning to take shape, and we are each involved in directing what we create. I have found value in the simplicity of our current methods. I am hopeful that as we grow, we maintain that simplicity and learn how to apply it on a larger scale.



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