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Intentional communities

Auroville, and a few other communities around the world, hold many of the keys for the improvement of our civilization and the survival of humankind. Among these keys I would count the attempt to affect an evolution in human consciousness, the use of education as a means to transformation, the placing of curbs on materialism, the adoption of sustainable practices of food production, nonviolent and democratic governance practices, embracing of pluralism and heterogeneity, abandonment of sexism, racism, homophobia and the attempt to live in greater harmony with our environment. Not all of these keys will be expressed in every intentional community, and no doubt there are others that I have forgotten. My own community, Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom, for example, focuses on showing that two peoples who are in conflict can change the nature of their relationship to one of working together for peace. It does not try to address environmental issues at a community level. So it holds "some of the keys", but not others. Still, it is very easy to take a contrary view of communities. One can say that nobody is listening, that such communities are too few and marginal to make a difference. One can say that, even on a small scale, communities are incapable of living up to their own ideals, that human beings are imperfect, and the negative qualities of the larger society tend to affect communities more readily than the communities spill their positive qualities over into society.

Communities are a bold but naive experiment, doomed to failure of one kind or another: at the very least, to failure in any aspiration to affect a change in the macrocosm, and probably to various degrees of, or even complete failure even at a local level. But then it is also true that our societies are in a state of social and economic turmoil. Large sections of the population feel alienated, economic disparities are growing, wars continue to rage, ecosystems are threatened, a mass extinction of species is underway and humankind as a whole is on a path that is leading towards self-destruction through climate change. This is an incontrovertible fact, accepted not only by scientists but by nations. We know it, yet do nothing significant about it. Governments, if they eventually wake up, can decide to exploit scientific knowledge and channel resources into solving our problems and generating change.

It may be true, as some experts say, that the answer is not to try to go backwards, but to develop even more sophisticated technologies that address the challenges. But these are things that the powerful can do, if and when they decide to act. This still leaves us with the question of what we as individuals can do. We can decide to party till the end of world, since anyway we are capable of achieving very little. We can vote, be a thorn in the side of our congressmen, join or contribute toward causes, etc. But we can also adopt lifestyle practices that support solutions. If the solution involves more than just reducing our energy footprint, but overhauling our way of thinking, restructuring our relationships with each other, with our environment, etc, then these are factors that require action at a community level. So in this sense the seeking out of alternative models like Auroville, or formation of new ones, constitutes a worthy field of personal endeavor, regardless of the constraints mentioned.

Every time we want to make a deep change, we are up against impossible odds. But this doesn't mean the struggle is joyless and the defeats are all bitter. Doing nothing and surrendering all personal responsibility are signs of despondency and depression. Taking part in an effort to create a better world is fulfilling in itself. We embrace models of human and environmental interaction that make even the present more livable and enjoyable. Alternative communities tend to be places in which people continue living over the longterm, in spite of the challenges. And they are places that people love to visit and keep coming back to. That's what I see both in Auroville and in Wahat al-Salam. In the end, to the extent that we fail, the regrets are about our failures, not about having made the effort.