Okay, okay. I know that you guys are all waiting for my report on my experiences at the famous (or infamous) free-love/ecology commune ZEGG.. But I got to tell you.... It's not going to be like my accounts from last year in France, staying with Sylviane. This was a very different experience, and I'm having a much harder time writing about it. ZEGG
Well, I did write up one report that I sent out to the members of the small group that I was assigned to at Zegg.
This group was the English Speaking Group, except that a few Germans decided they also wanted to come to our group, and we also had one person from the Netherlands. Well, no, during the second week we actually picked up two more from Amsterdam, but they were not Dutch by origin. And two from France, although currently living in the US. And then aside from us there was another different group of Americans and non-Germans, because they were part of a special longer Community Building Course, of which summer camp was only one part. And this second group included my friends Noreen and Mika from Hawaii. But my group was the official "English Speaking Group."
Besides, in any case, "English Speaking Group" is really a sort of euphemism, since almost everyone in the summer camp spoke English. So what it really meant was "People Who Don't Speak German." Except that this is also not quite accurate, since two of the Brits in my group spoke fairly fluent German, and one in fact was actually living in Germany.
Okay, look, you guys are going to have to sort everything here out as best you can. I can see that it's just not going to all come out in a nice orderly fashion. And if you get the impression that the whole two-week Zegg summer camp was extremely confusing, well.... I can only say that it's going to sound a lot more confusing than it was.
Anyway, the point is that the "English Speaking Group" was one of the small groups, less than twenty people, within the summer camp called "Dorf groups." ("Dorf" = "village," for those of you who are German-impaired). And what happened within this group was a very important part of the experience. It was within this group that we did the Forum, which I will explain later (I hope!) and which was one of the most important parts of the experience. The Forum, where one day I stood up in the middle of the group and cried.
Well, lots of people cried. No, correct that. Several people cried. Me being one of them. But I think maybe that's one of the things you're not going to hear about.
Anyway, what I started to say is that I did send out one account of my experiences to my Dorf group. But a Dorf group is a little like a marriage. A very intimate thing in its way. Well, I exaggerate. But anyway, some of the things I said to my Dorf group are things I don't necessarily want to say to some of my friends out here in the world.
Yes, "out here in the world." Because summer camp at Zegg is a sort of Never Never Land. (I speak, obviously, only for myself. And for many others. But I don't claim that it's like that for everyone.) One has these relationships, of various sorts, and feels this warm bond with a number of people, and then one leaves, and it's like.... No, not like it was a dream really, which is the thing I started to say. But it's gone. I mean our Dorf group set up a mailing list, so that everyone could communicate with each other, but after a few exchanges of messages.... It's all gone now. What would we have to talk about now? That was then. That was summer camp. This is now. This is life.
Okay, let me try and start over again from the beginning. Zegg is about several things. And summer camp is also about these things. But summer camp also becomes, for the participants, something else. Something that's really not about Zegg at all. Or at least it's only vaguely related to what Zegg is as a community.
So. Start with Zegg.
One can look at their web site. But basically I think it's accurate to say that Zegg is about three things: community, ecology, and sexuality. Where all three of these words should be interpreted somewhat broadly.
To start with, I soon learned that the word "commune" is now out of vogue. The new word is "community." (In German, "Gemeinschaft.") Or, if one wants to be more precise, one can say "intentional community" to distinguish the concept from that of some city which people just happen to live in because that's where they found housing and jobs.
Oh, there's so much I could write you just about this one topic! Do look at the list of alternative links on my web site. Previous to this, I had experiences with two communities: Summerlane and Green Valley Schools in the late sixties and, more recently, "More University," which exists in a diversity of locations (mostly "More Houses") but has one main "campus" in Lafayette, California, near San Francisco. (It's not a university, but don't say that to the More University people!)
It's like there's a whole different world out there, a world of people who are dedicating themselves to a different sort of life. A world which is not completely non-technological, but where the basic organizing principles of life are very different from what we've learned to think of as the normal world.
No, they're not like the "communes" that were so infamous during the Sixties, although some of them started out as communes.
And in fact, all "communities" are different. There was a guy in my Dorf group who has spent the past ten (or however many) years of his life traveling around from one community to another, mostly in the US, and who is currently making a film about them. And he said that it's almost impossible to find any feature that all communities have in common. Almost all of them are organized around some idea or shared vision, but he says he's found a few exceptions even to that.
Anyway, discussion of this sort of thing is one aspect of the summercamp. It's what I think of as the "political" side of summercamp, in the sense that the focus is on changing the world. Each morning we had a lecture, usually in German with excellent simultaneous English translation provided by three of the German summercamp participants who had lived in the United States. Lectures on communities, political issues (anti-globalization being one of the most popular), on gender politics, ... Well, more about that later.
This was not what I had come to Zegg for. But there were a large number of people who were there primarily because they were interested in communities. Many of them were living in various communities around the world. Several members of my Dorf group came from a community in Scotland called Findhorn, which I had heard a little bit about before and had (wrongly) assumed was a lot like Zegg.
I slept through a large portion of each lecture. Trying to be awake was a major problem for me. Eventually I realized that the lectures were not what I had come for. Some campers (well, I don't know quite what to call people; "students" is certainly not quite right) stopped coming to the lectures altogether. But since they were a time when it was easy for me to go to sleep, I decided that I might as well accept them as a valuable resource for that purpose.
Anyway, despite the fact that I slept through a large portion of most of the lectures, I did hear enough to get some interesting ideas from some of them. A historian and philosopher named Heide Goettner-Abendroth gave two lectures, with two afternoon follow-up discussions, on matriarchal societies. And while this is not a topic that I expected to have any interest in, and in fact almost nobody much liked her talks, I did get some interesting ideas from what she said. Which I would very much like to tell you about, but if I do, I'll never get to the end of this account.
Well, let me just say that Goettner-Abendroth basically gives the word "matriarchy" her own definition. So that the mere fact that a Queen Elizabeth or Maggie Thatcher might at a particular time be the ruler of England doesn't make England a matriarchy at the time. But rather, for Goethner-Abendroth, the word "matriarchy" refers to a completely different societal structure, which was vaguely familiar to me from having read Margaret Mead's books on Polynesian cultures (although I'm not sure that the societies Mead wrote about quite fit Goettner-Abendroth's paradigm).
And one of the things that occurred to me (to go on about this longer than I should) is that in fact all societies have aspects which we traditionally think of as patriarchal, or masculine oriented, and other aspects which are traditionally thought of as feminine oriented. And so when we say that our present society is patriarchal, this is because we are focussing only on certain aspects of it, which are the ones we consider important. They are important because they are the ones that are involved in historical development and are written about in the newspapers. And what are history and newspapers, after all? They are a part of the patriarchal side of society. So to the extent that we allow the patriarchal side of our society to define what is considered significant in our world, yes, unsurprisingly we come to the conclusion that our society is patriarchal.
Historians write about things like politics and wars. But there were a lot of things going on in the past besides politics and wars. To find out about these things, about daily life, don't look in history books. Look in historical novels, perhaps. (I'm thinking of novels such as those written by Norah Lofts, which are based on extensive background research. Of course the serious scholar would want to consult the primary source documents in question.) Historical novels tend to deal a lot more with what one might think of as the matriarchal side of society. (But then in a historical novel, one doesn't know what is accurate and what is made up. And does this matter?)
And then I think about this same consideration in terms of the Communities Movement. There are thousands of intentional communities around the world now, some of them short-lived, some of them (such as the Amish, for instance, to take an extreme case) which have been around for quite a while. They are experimenting with different ways of organizing society. Of organizing the world, in fact. But they are not part of "the world" as we know it. They are not newsworthy.
So what is it that makes us consider George W. Bush newsworthy but ...?
Okay, enough. The other lecture I have to mention, because it was so fascinating and (in my opinion) extremely important and extremely newsworthy, was given in English by Scilla Ellworthy, who founded an organization called the Oxford Research Group devoted to fostering world peace by promoting communication between all sorts of people involved in the various aspects of war. Not the prime ministers and party chairmen, so much. But rather the O.R.G did things like taking a group of British top military men to meet military leaders in China. And bringing about a meeting between leaders of Greenpeace and some of the leaders in China. Ellworthy was a very interesting woman.
Two things in particular I remember her saying. (I'll combine them into one sentence.) "We in the peace movement have tried to promote the idea of peaceful, cooperative resolution of conflicts. But traditionally our approach to trying to bring this about has been very belligerent. If we really believe in our principles, and if we want to be effective, then we have to find cooperative non-belligent ways of promoting our ideals. You cannot expect to change someone's behavior if you start out with the idea that that person is evil. You cannot expect to have a meaningful discussion with some group if you take it as axiomatic from the beginning that you are completely right and they are completely wrong. Over and over again, when we talked to groups of people whose attitudes and behavior we considered appalling, we wound up discovering that some of the things we outselves had been firmly convinced of were simply not correct."
I do have to say though that I did find her talk a bit annoying, since it was so interesting that I was not able to sleep at all.
Okay, so I can see that I'm never going to manage to fit everything into a single message. So far, I haven't even got to the interesting part. Let me just finish Part One by saying that some people came to summer camp primarily for the political part (especially as relates to ecology), many people came because they are involved in the community movement, and then a whole lot of people like me were mostly just there for the sex.
And I didn't get any sex. So what's left to write about?