Pros and cons for this need are outlined in Chapter 1 of the novella and http://www.hermes-press.com/CCC/egalitarianism.htm. I agree with the basic premises that "only competent, successful persons are capable of effective participation in cooperative ventures" and "a person or a couple would need to have exceptional reasoning capabilities and substantial net holdings to be involved in the commonwealth community they were building.... They didn't want to be forced to deal with irrational, incompetent persons who had not been intelligent and resourceful enough to attain a high degree of personal development and success."
And, I agree that screening and training are necessary to ensure that appropriate persons are accepted for membership and that members receive the same orientation toward membership plus training in dialectical interchange, which is not common in most social milieus. Comments on specifics are included in the next section.
Processes of Screening and Training
As presented in Chapter 1 of the novella, screening begins with a 15-question survey. Questions are in multiple choice and true-false formats. The reading level of this survey is not excessively high. However, it would seem to select in favor of those who had spent some time on conspiracy forums (fora?), alternative news websites, and/or The New Enlightenment web site. The questions assume a fairly high degree of disillusionment regarding the U.S. government and society. This is not inappropriate, especially in the early stages of community creation and development. However, this approach assumes that members will be selected from a population of those who have already had the "scales fall from their eyes," so advertisements will probably yield more successful applicants (in terms of screening scores) if placed on websites dealing with alternative news and analysis (rense.com), peak oil, localization, transition communities, and other sites visited by politically awakened and partially awakened people.
The suggested screening instrument rejects those who have the potential for political awakening but have not been exposed to alternative news. It could be tempting to preface the screening test with an instruction cycle, probably links from a provided page to articles on New Enlightenment or custom-prepared for applicants. However, the planned approach protects against would-be "intruders" who might make clever screening responses based on information fed to them before the screening. This is especially valuable in the startup stages, and might be something to relax in later stages when leadership is already in place and a faster rate of community growth is sought.
There should probably be some basic validation of the screening instrument. I can't think of a way to test for false negatives (people who failed the test but would have made good Commonwealth members) but it would be possible to see if particular questions were missed by those who became good members later despite missing a question on the test or who "washed out" later.
From the initial screening, it is proposed that candidates immediately read an article on dialectical interchange, remember the content, and then take a test. This phase of the screening selects for scholars--those who read well enough to complete the article, are comfortable manipulating abstractions in print, and have good retention of relationships among concepts presented in the article. While members of the CCC must be intelligent, I don't believe it is realistic to expect that several of the characters in the novella who were selected into the early community would have passed such a pre-reading and test. As a matter of fact, I doubt that many of the members who primarily worked in investigation, law enforcement, or with their hands (construction, mechanics, farming) would have passed.
While scholars are a necessary part of any community, do-ers are equally important, so the screening process must allow them to be accepted also and subsequent trainings must address their particular learning styles. This is not inconsistent with the novella, since the training summary in http://www.hermes-press.com/CCC/BC_training_prep.htm allows room for the proverbial miracle to occur--"They had condensed and concentrated the essence of the Perennialist instructional program into a powerful, compact system of training that was capable of engendering transformation within a very short time."
Perhaps those who passed the screening survey could receive some kind of a brief skills survey to see where they might fit best or even a level-of-education/curriculum question with a mini Myers-Briggs or even mini-IQ (abstract reasoning) inventory to determine what testing might be delivered after that. I'm personally a follower of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory and believe that while verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities are the highest intelligences, that people who score high in other intelligences (spatial, mechanical, interpersonal, and even the artistic and musical intelligences) can still make unique and excellent contributions to a community as long as their character is strong.
And speaking of character, a naturally good character and strong ethics must be a part of every CCC member and certainly Perennial Wisdom training addresses that. However, I believe that this area too must be addressed in a less abstract way for those who aren't comfortable reading philosophical articles.
I see the goal of training as similar to the goal of training in a "good" corporation--to build a cohesive, productive community and at the same time to maximize the potential of each individual within the community; to prepare each member for leadership at increasingly more responsible levels. And, just as it might not be practical to prepare all company employees to sit on the executive management team, so it might not be practical to prepare all community members to participate in the highest level of community decision-making. However, that can certainly be a goal and all members can be trained in the skills that are required for such participation.
Process of Building Small Communities Instead of Transforming the Nation
I heartily agree with this proposal. To expand outward from cohesive small groups is always the way that massive transformation has occurred (e.g. the spread of Christianity). Attaining political leadership in an existing town is probably more difficult than suggested in the novella, involving a lot of influence-building and friend-making by the commonwealth community There are interesting strategy articles available on the Web describing how Republicans managed this in the 1980s and 1990s with varying degrees of integrity, and it can still be accomplishing even by taking the high road. As pointed out in the novella, the CCC leaders and in fact the whole commonwealth community must be absolutely spotless because there will be extreme attempts to smear any newcomers who attempt to unseat established power, especially if those newcomers are as secretive and exclusive as the CCC appears when it first "comes out" in a community. The CCC must be perceived as genuinely helpful and positive, even though its members don't immediately jump into community church and school activities. As described in the novella, the commonwealth communities have a share-and-share-alike basis that appears to be non-authoritarian socialist. Clannish small-town communities, which are those where CCC startups are most likely to occur, will quickly see the newcomers as "Godless Commies", so community builders must do a lot of PR and reframing work to counter these accusations if any kind of community political influence is to be accomplished. And, of course, CCC startup settlements must begin in communities that are as open-minded and positive as possible or the effort actually could be dangerous.
Decision-making/Consensus Process: Dialectical Interchange
Dialectical interchange with a goal of consensus appears to be an ideal technique for problem solving and decision making. In fact, similar processes are already working under capitalism in rare places.
Interestingly enough, large West Coast software companies such as Apple and Oracle foster processes similar to dialectical interchange and also support consensus decision-making. Starting at the individual contributor level, team leaders bring issues to their teams for open discussion. Usual ground rules are that everyone can have a say without criticism and then each idea or suggestion is discussed objectively. Those the group prefers are discussed at deeper levels, and ultimately the suggestion list is narrowed and taken to a cross-discipline team where the process continues. Ultimately, management at an appropriately high level comes to agreement on what is to be done, based on information provided from below, and buy-in is secured down the chain. Even in huge corporations, there might be only five or six levels between an individual contributor and the corporate CEO. Most managerial levels have an open-door policy where people lower in the hierarchy can make appointments or even drop in and freely discuss something that is bothering them or an idea for an improvement that has come to mind.
As an aside, I've always felt this is the reason the oilmen triggered the dot com bust by jacking up energy prices in California in the late 1990s. The "liberal" and "humane" software executives weren't playing the game right. They were paying their employees incredible amounts, giving them superior benefits and work environments, and on top of that were making exorbitant amounts of money for themselves and their companies--all without towing the party line (except for Bill Gates and a few others who weren't paying as well and were working their employees extremely hard). I mention this here, because I believe the commonwealth communities can expect similar attacks if they and their related ventures become recognized as viable alternatives to Vulture Capitalism.
Given all that, I agree in spirit that consensus through dialectical interchange is the way to go. The important thing to work out is to determine an ideal size for decision-making and feedback groups. Most group facilitators put 12 + facilitator as the magical maximum size. This suggests that as communities grow larger, they need to split into committees, functional groups, residential districts, or similar so that members can meet in subgroups for easy discussion as well as all-hands groups. Initial interchange and consensus could take place at lower levels and then roll up into higher levels.
I also support the notion of "Philosopher Kings"--that ultimate decision-making for a community or group of communities should reside in some steering group or executive committee of the wisest and overall best within the community. And, while they should have consensus within their group and should certainly take account of information brought to them from lower levels, I think there still needs to be some leeway for command decisions, especially in cases of emergency. There must be acceptance of decisions throughout the whole community at some level, but not necessarily wholehearted agreement from every last member. Otherwise some decisions would never be made, or else an inferior decision might be made because of pressure from those who were not as wise, knowledgeable, or well-informed.
The work credit system seems workable, especially the limit on extra credits. However, there may need to be some education around that limit for those who are used to having exceptional achievement rewarded with increased spending capabilities. I assume that achievement in CCC communities would be rewarded with opportunities to assist the community through working at a higher level. This should be satisfactory, especially considering the selection criteria and training that members will have undergone and will continue to undergo.
Relation of CCC Enterprise to the Perennial Tradition
The fact that CCC enterprise should be related to and grow out of the Perennial tradition seems like a "no-brainer," since the Perennial tradition is a continuing source of real wisdom in the world. In the novella, the founding group included Perennial Wisdom teachers, who had exceptionally balanced and "wise" approaches to problem solving and group dynamics, as well as Perennial tools like dialectical interchange for use in community development and enhancement.
It also seems appropriate that there should be a subgroup within the CCC enterprise for those who are especially attracted to the Perennial wisdom teachings and have attained facility in their practice. Likewise, all members should be exposed to the teachings in the context of becoming better able to function in and support the growth of the community. I don't believe it's reasonable to expect all members to be able to read and absorb original sources, but there should be accessible lessons for all that summarize the essence of the teachings.
Financial Prerequisites and Phases of Funding
In my opinion, this is one of the most difficult areas of CCC development as outlined in the novella. A net worth of $100,000 is not extreme, and yet it is not something to be taken for granted either. Several years ago, it was not uncommon to have that much available on a fairly liquid basis as home equity, should the home be sold. With the tremendous drop in home values, equity has dropped along with liquidity. Some value, even considerable value, might remain in a home and yet that value can't be realized through a quick sale.
Financial education has been almost nil, so even middle and upper middle class individuals have not realized the value of saving for the future, especially in the face of cultural influences encouraging people to express themselves materially through their clothing, living environments, and possessions such as cars. It has been easy to succumb to the lure of credit and get in too deep.
Those who are most likely to have amassed money are those with very traditional values--"the salt of the earth"--who have scrimped and saved as a matter of course and those who have dedicated considerable energy to accumulating and holding money and property.
The former group is likely to be true conservative Republicans, distrustful of the "New Age" and socialist-appearing values of the CCC communities. The latter group is apt to be involved in or on the fringes of Vulture Capitalism and not interested in sharing their wealth with a community so far outside of mainstream America or remote from the capitalist elites.
When I think of those who would both meet the financial criteria of Phase I and be interested in joining, I think of progressive academics, successful artists and musicians, a few progressive entrepreneurs (Paul Hawken comes to mind, and even Nell and Paul Newman), some successful publishers and writers. By and large, these people are progressive and oriented toward improving society, creative, highly intelligent, community-minded, and above all successful in their chosen endeavors. They are definitely "la crème de la crème" of progressive society and fairly scarce.
While there are enough of them to form the backbone of communities throughout the country, I don't see there being enough of them to populate ever-expanding communities and eventually entire states, especially in the face of a deteriorating national climate that seeks to shackle those who advocate intellectual freedom.
I believe the CCC enterprise plan must allow for more interaction between the cooperative community and "townies" who aren't part of the community. For example, having "All-marts" included as part of the CCC enterprise is an excellent idea, but I don't think it's realistic to expect all the staff--janitors, food service personnel, cashiers, sales people, stockers, etc.--to be CCC members. I just don't think there will be enough members to spread this thin, nor would it necessarily be appropriate to do so considering the capabilities of those involved. And to me, it seems possible to pay nearby residents outside the CCC to work in CCC establishments without replicating capitalistic exploitation, assuming they meet community criteria of character, intelligence, and ethics.
For example, California's own In N Out Burger chain has consistently managed to outclass other similar chains by paying top dollar, hiring carefully and then training thoroughly to maximize production, limiting product selections to save costs and retain quality, and offering flexible hours to retain good workers. Imagine what could be accomplished by having enlightened management, an overall orientation toward elevating workers as well as providing good service to customers, plus health care, child care, and a decent profit-sharing system. To me, this seems far less exploitative and more beneficial than having understaffed enterprises serve a community that can't afford to buy anything because all those who used to work at the All-mart were laid off when it went bankrupt and there aren't any more places to for them to work. And, if employees were also given financial instruction and encouragement they could save enough to become members.
Once the hurdle of finding Phase 1 members is overcome, Phase 2, with members supporting larger initiatives, seems reasonable. Phase 3 might be harder for whole cities and states of members to understand. American culture at its best fosters generosity, particularly when a cause is as good as the CCC, but giving one's entire possessions to the cause harkens back to monastic orders and other extremely idealistic "all for one and one for all" ventures that aren't part of our rugged individualistic culture. It might take a generation or two of training and acculturation before this could be accomplished successfully on a large scale.
Spiritual Dimensions of Community Membership
With the entire CCC enterprise rooted in Perennial traditions and each member receiving training in these traditions, it is natural that a spiritual component should arise and gain importance as members gain experience in Perennial practices of dialectical interchange, meditation, and more. I believe it is natural that formal spiritual groups should start small and unobtrusively, yet be available to all as they become ready for them and interested in further growth and deeper practice.
On the surface, it seems dogmatic to refuse to allow members to retain vestiges of older religious beliefs as long as they don't interfere with respect for and practice of Perennial teachings and a sense of oneness with other members regardless of their original creeds. It is difficult to see how intelligent people exposed to Perennial teachings could retain their old, limited beliefs but there are times when a prayer or practice might be comforting. I would have to look deeper to see the harm in allowing such practices in a peripheral way. However, the dominance of the Perennial teachings must be accepted by all members as a requirement for membership to maximize the potency of community endeavors working within a spiritual framework.
Independent Societal Stage
This effort seems reasonable but challenging, and somewhat contradictory. It seems reasonable to set up a stewardship on a tract of land, as independent of the surrounding culture as possible. There are challenges in doing this, though, since the society surrounding the tract seems--in the novella--to be in a state of collapse, a police state undoubted strapped for income and heavily into control. On what grounds can the community assume its property will not be seized pursuant to existing executive directives that authorize FEMA/DHS to confiscate land, animals, and crops if emergency conditions warrant it. At the very least, one could assume that prohibitive taxes would be levied. Some protection against these threats would have to be devised.
The notion of including all ages in the independent community is laudable but confusing. Even children are required to meet the original financial criteria. Are children of existing members automatically part of the community? Presumably yes, because if their parents have turned over their entire net worth to the community, the children will have nothing with which to buy their way in. As for children and adults currently outside the community, one marvels that any person sharing community values would be able to afford membership, given the state of society. In a time of social collapse with martial law imposed and dissidents being sent to camps, how can we hope that compatible parents, let alone children, will have preserved $50,000 each for admission.
There are many places where such an independent community could stay below the radar of a hostile fascist government, although a thinly populated state like Idaho or Montana might offer a more hospitable political environment than central California.
Interpersonal Relationship Patterns
The freedom experimented with in the community, as described in the novella, appeared to help community members know and appreciate each other to the fullest. In such an open environment, though, I believe it is still important to honor those who prefer monogamous or celibate relationships if that is truly their preference. However, feelings of possession, control, and jealousy are not acceptable and must be transcended regardless of their context and all community members should be encouraged to explore alternate arrangements.
Concerning homosexuality, I have seen it within my own family and it appeared to manifest as a preference well before puberty. That is, the gay male I know best was quite sensitive and feminine as a small child and ultimately ended up preferring male partners despite attempts to bond sexually with women. (He does have great respect for women as a whole, and has many women friends.) Hopefully, the community would remain open-minded when faced with individuals who seem to genuinely prefer sexual relations with their own gender. True, this violates joining within a male-female polarity, but the alternatives--to force those individuals to have distasteful sex or leave the community--seem harsh, considering the overall spirit of honest experimentation.
While I support the community philosophy of not having a legal form of marriage, there might need to be some kind of civil union contract in case of contact with the outer world--particularly in institutional settings such as hospitals or prisons. If a person had an accident outside the community, there might need to be proof of "marriage" or "next-of-kin" status to allow someone to receive status reports or bedside visitation. Likewise, if someone were captured and detained, a legal relationship status might be required for communication until release could be secured.
The educational processes discussed in the novella seem appropriate and beneficial to both the students and the wider CCC community. If society is truly as deteriorated as presented, with over 2 million people initially sent to retraining camps and more presumably being imprisoned or disciplined all the time, I wonder about the wisdom of sending students into the capitalist culture to work. This seems somewhat dangerous in that their forthrightness and other cultural differences might make them targets of suspicion. Likewise, it seems somewhat dangerous to allow outside students to participate in community education when thought crimes are viable reasons for incarceration. As with other community efforts, however, initial experimentation would seem to be the rule, coupled with good communication and a willingness to change course if necessary.
I agree that virtually all present cultures seem insane compared to Perennial ideals and that Eric Fromm's writings appear to be a good basis for alternatives. On the face of it, Chris Hedges' "lifeboat communities" seem better shielded from persecution by a surrounding police state than CCC communities involved more actively with the outside world in closer proximity to it. However, if we assume that the commonwealth communities contain spiritually advanced individuals who are connected to similar individuals and the spiritual realms, this gives the commonwealth communities an advantage that can help them navigate dicey, even dangerous, political shoals.
[As an aside, I'd like to know more about the illustration from Chapter 17 of the novella of the winged woman borne on the shoulders of those who appear to be laborers. I found the quote to be somewhat authoritarian and somehow sinister: "To know the Good though dialectical insight and embody its Forms by ruling directly over the social order." It implies that those who know the Good and who rule are somehow higher than and not a part of the social order. And the effect is enhanced by the fact that CCC is written in a typeface where the C's appear to be 6's at first glance.]
Overall, the concept of a Cooperative Commonwealth Community is exciting and seems workable. My greatest reservations focus on the selection criteria, with other questions about the relationship of the commonwealth communities to the greater State surrounding them.
I estimate that a candidate would need to be in the top 2% intellectually to comprehend the essay on dialectics and pass the screening test on it. Then, passing candidates must have a net worth of $100,000, be willing to give $50,000 to the community, believe that capitalism and the two-party system are not working and that the United States has become a fascist banana republic, and then have a sterling character and a desire to join with others in creating a cooperative commonwealth. It doesn't seem realistic to imagine that there would be enough passing candidates to fill numerous communities and staff a variety of business ventures in each one. In my opinion, either financial and intellectual criteria will need to become less rigorous as communities expand, or some kind of associate membership must be created for those who fall below current financial and/or intellectual criteria but who still have good character and could make real contributions to the community in other ways.
Assuming that communities can be formed and staffed, I wonder about their survival as public entities in a time of witch-hunting and, ultimately, outright martial law. I know the lesson of the Sufis manifesting invisibility by appearing to be part of a marauding mob, but wonder if that has a limit in terms of community size. Given existing Executive Directives, it seems likely that successful communities would be stripped of their valuables through taxation and confiscation. And, if a community appeared too successful in the midst of desolation, rioting mobs might take it as a target of their aggression. However distasteful, it would seem to be necessary for the communities to have strong self-defense mechanisms even as they avoided participating overtly in armed revolts. I'm guessing some of the defenses would be spiritual, in terms of strengthened attitudes of community members as well as non-ordinary guidance available to them.