About 100,000 people in the United States lives in so-called “intentional communities.” Via the Atlantic, as mainstream society atrophies, Anna Spinner looks at now-gray hippies migrating back to the utopian communes they left 40 years ago, to live out their days:
In late June of this year, Kathy, now 50, and her 62-year-old husband Bob drove with their 28-year-old daughter Joyce from Charlotte, North Carolina, to the Farm. Kathy visits about three times a year, but this was a special visit. It was the Farm’s 40th reunion, but it was also, more importantly, the visit when Kathy would finalize plans to build the home where she and Bob planned to spend the rest of their lives.
On the drive down, Kathy’s phone buzzed with texts and updates from the Farm Facebook group. Friends were posting photos and status updates. It was a big party and Kathy couldn’t wait to get there.
Crossing the Tennessee border, Bob, usually a quiet man, shouted, “Welcome to Tennessee!” The family cheered. Kathy’s stomach fluttered and her heart beat faster. She sent a text to an acquaintance, “the closer I get to my true home, the better I always feel.”
Kathy and Bob Connors are among a handful of former Farm members who are moving back in middle age. This choice reflects that of a growing number of Baby Boomers who are choosing to retire to intentional communities, an umbrella term for living situations organized around a common value structure or vision.
Although hard figures are impossible to determine, Laird Schaub, the executive secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, estimates that the United States has about 4,000 intentional communities with a combined population of about 100,000. The number and population of intentional communities grew most dramatically between 1965 and 1975. Some were artists’ collectives, religious communes, or self-help oriented communes, says Timothy Miller, a professor of religion at the University of Kansas, in his book The 60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond. Others were born out of a broader idealism that aimed to rebuild the world from the ground up.
In his book The Hippies and American Values, Timothy Miller,writes:
They questioned the very rationality upon which Western culture has been built. To the counterculturists, reason had run its course; now it was time to return to the mystical and intuitional. The products of centuries of reason-dominated cultures were thrown into question as well: the hippies rejected the industrial for the agrarian, the plastic for the natural, the synthetic for the organic. Finally they challenged the formidable Western tradition of seeing the individual on a pedestal; for the hippies, communal values stood over the rights and privileges of individual persons.
The Farm’s recruitment book, Hey Beatnik!, published in 1974, largely reflected Miller’s observations. It referred to America’s economy as being on a “speed trip,” criticized overconsumption, meat-eating, organized religion, higher education and politics, and rejected individualism:
We say that we’re like a mental nudist colony, and you have to take off your head clothes. We just don’t believe in that level of privacy, because we’d rather be sane than be highly individualistic.
Communes began dropping off in the 1980s, although why that happened is hard to say, said Schaub.
“It doesn’t really match up with recessions or boom cycles in the economy or which party controls the White House or whether the Berlin Wall was standing or falling,” he said.
Read the rest at the Atlantic