Central Leader Communities with “Evil Dictator” Paul Wheaton
Inside Community Podcast — Ep. 020
There are as many ways to structure a community as there are communities, but perhaps one of the most controversial models are those with central leadership. Is that even real community? Today’s guest and self-proclaimed “evil dictator”, Paul Wheaton, comes on to explain the benefits of top-down power structures and the great responsibility that comes with taking on the role.
In this episode
- Introduction and welcome. (0:03)
- The importance of community in permaculture. (5:15)
- The controversy of the controversial central leadership structure. (12:41)
- Leadership structure in an intentional community. (19:16)
- The third tribe of community. (25:21)
- What do you do when you’re not being cool? (34:27)
- The importance of trust. (44:22)
- Ownership of the bootcamp. (49:29)
- Rent for life vs. Rent for life. (54:56)
- How much does it cost to live in the camp? (1:00:44)
- What has been your greatest lesson from this journey of community? (1:08:14)
- Thank you Paul. (1:14:46)
About Paul Wheaton
Paul Wheaton is a powerful advocate of permaculture. He was dubbed the “Duke of Permaculture” by Geoff Lawton and Sepp Holzer, and the “Bad Boy of Permaculture” by Occupy Monsanto. Paul is the owner of permies.com, coderanch.com, richsoil.com, and Wheaton Labs. He has produced over 600 podcasts, 200 youtube videos, and a dozen feature-length films. He has presented at over 100 events around the US and has written dozens of articles and 2 books on topics ranging from luxuriant environmentalism to homesteading skills. The events he hosts at his property, Wheaton Labs, have resulted in the development of rocket stove and rocket mass heater technology, massive earthworks featuring extensive hugelkulture, solar food dehydrators, lots and lots of round wood timber frame structures–like a truly passive earth-bermed solar green house and a mega-cheap and luxurious home design called the Wofati–as well as many, many other permaculture innovations.
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Thanks from Rebecca, your podcast host
Paul Wheaton 0:03
I can ask people to leave whenever I want. But of course, at the same time, what I want is to grow a beautiful, lovely community. And so it’s like, if I get a little too crazy with the weeding, I’ll have a dirt patch.
Rebecca Mesritz 0:19
Welcome back communitarians. This is the inside community podcast. And I’m your host, Rebecca medcerts. I am so so excited to share with you today’s conversation with Paul Wheaton. Not only is it just a very fun and boisterous conversation, but we get into talking about some things that can be quite controversial in the communities world. Paul Wheaton is best known for his work in the world as a permaculture expert. And we definitely talk about that. But what I really have him on to talk about is what it’s like to run a central leadership model of community. He is a self proclaimed evil dictator, and what can be seen as the polar opposite of an egalitarian model. And you might be wondering why this would be an important conversation to have? Well, I meet a lot of people who are fed up with waiting for their community dreams to come true. They have money, they have resources, they have land, or they’re ready to buy land, and they just want to get this thing started. And kind of if you build it, they will come mentality, they want to move forward and then attract people to their project that have similar values as they do. I just wanted to talk with Paul about this because there are both pros and cons to this way of approaching community. You’re gonna hear me pushing into him a bit around certain topics, because obviously we come at community from very different ends of the spectrum. And I really appreciate how willing he is to be in the debate of these approaches. So if you are the kind of person who is sick of waiting around for your dream community to come together, and you think you have what it takes to be a central leader, this interview with Paul will be quite enlightening. We’re going to have a few words from our sponsors and then jump right in.
Rebecca Mesritz 2:07
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Rebecca Mesritz 2:43
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Rebecca Mesritz 3:36
Paul Wheaton is a powerful advocate of permaculture he was dubbed the Duke of permaculture by Geoff Lawton and Sepp Holzer and the bad boy of permaculture by occupy Monsanto, policy owner of permies.com, code ranch.com, rich soil.com and wheaton labs. He has produced over 600 podcasts, 200 YouTube videos and a dozen feature length films. He has presented over 100 events around the US and has written dozens of articles and two books on topics ranging from luxury and environmentalism, to homesteading skills. The events he hosts at his property Wheaton labs have resulted in the development of rocket stove and rocket mass heater technology, massive earthworks featuring extensive Hugo culture, solar food dehydrators, and lots and lots of round wood timber frame structures, like a truly passive earth bermed solar greenhouse, and a mega cheap, luxurious home design called the wolf body, as well as many, many other permaculture innovations.
Rebecca Mesritz 4:37
Paul Wheaton, welcome to the Inside community podcast. Thanks for being here.
Paul Wheaton 4:43
Thanks for having me, Rebecca. This is lovely.
Rebecca Mesritz 4:46
Yay. I’m so excited to talk to you. You are an incredible permaculture expert. You’ve got lots of fingers and lots of pots out in the world. But one of the things that you’ve been working
Rebecca Mesritz 5:00
Hang on doing developing has been building community there on your land and and as a part and inspired by your permaculture work in the world. And I would love for you to tell us a little bit about your community and what that looks like right now.
Paul Wheaton 5:15
Right now we have about a dozen people here, although maybe I shouldn’t say we have about 40 people here next week, we have a PDC going on right now. And we have many different ways that people can be part of our community, some are shorter term, and some are rather permanent, and stuff in between. We do something that is very unusual in the intentional community world. And I’ve got my reasons for that. But this unusual illness sometimes leads to controversy. So I’m, I’m I’m a little surprised and excited that you’ve asked me to be part of your podcast. I have strong feelings about community and I need community and I want there to be community. And I’ve traveled the consensus path I have served on a board to incubate forming communities. And I don’t I’ve done tons of work in that space. And in the world of permaculture. I think 90% Of all the challenges in permaculture are entirely with community. And it’s such a critical piece. And it’s so important to solve these problems that that there are with community that the 95% failure rate, how do we get that to get down to like, you know, 20% or something. All right, you asked me about this community, my community where I live right now. And we are, I don’t know very particular. And we have very high standards. But part of what we do is we do a lot to project what those standards are. And that filters out probably 99.99% of the people that are contemplating community, they’ll find that our community is not a fit for them. And they’ll decide that on their own and we’ll just never hear from them. I like what Dinah leave Christian says she says, make it difficult for people to get into your community, but easy to get out. And so I think that there’s a lot of truth in that. And I think that there’s an enormous amount of stuff embedded within that simple statement, like probably 1000s of hours of stuff. Did I answer the question, or did I dodge it?
Rebecca Mesritz 7:51
That’s pretty good. That’s a good, that’s a good start. Um, you know, I would love to hear a little bit more I know that, you know, your community is sort of centered around these permaculture ideals. And maybe you could talk a little bit about about, first of all, why that feels important. And also, what that actually looks like in terms of the practice of community as it relates to permaculture.
Paul Wheaton 8:18
Oh, well, first of all, if one person is going to buy the land and set everything up and get it all started, they kind of get to pick whatever they like. Right? So, so there’s Reason one, and then and then I guess, that transforms the question into like, Why did I pick this and as it has to do with, I started off with gardening and became absolutely obsessed with gardening. And I think that there are a lot of people where their gardening obsession grew to organic and then beyond organic and then beyond beyond organic which leads to I think, permaculture and next thing you know, you’re trying to think of like what is the ultimate gardeners way to build a home and what’s the ultimate gardeners way to power your home? And what’s the ultimate gardeners way to build community that’s my answer and stick could do it.
Rebecca Mesritz 9:29
There’s, there’s there’s so much in there. I know for for any of my listeners that have not sort of dived down the rabbit hole that is Paul Wheaton, there’s you’ve got so much out there around power and, and all of those pieces. I’m wondering if there’s a if there’s a structural element to the community that is related to permaculture like are there principles or things that you’ve learned from your interconnected systems, your zone systems, all of those kind of basic principles that kind of come back and point to how your community operates on a person to person level,
Paul Wheaton 10:09
I think person to person does exactly the right phrase, I think the thing is, is like, if you’re going to, if you’re going to plant potatoes, then each plant, if you plant 100, potatoes in 100, different spots, the potatoes will perform a little bit differently in each spot. And then if you’re going to try to grow community, it’s like, you have 100 different varieties of potatoes, and you’re trying to provide one environment, but some potatoes are going to like, this is gonna sound weird, I suppose some potatoes are gonna like what we call gratitude, which is where they want to live in a humble home by themselves with a magnificent garden. And some are going to prefer something that’s going to be a little bit more community asked Now, the good to the dirt. There could be 20 Gertz on a property, and that’s a flavor of community. And there could be 20 people living under one roof. And that’s a flavor of community. But again, each of these potatoes is a different variety, a diff. And they, they they love a different environment, they produce in different ways they do different things. Maybe I should have said tubers because there’s like 1500 Different known species of tubers. But the thing is, is that everybody’s very different. And some people are going to not be a fit, and which case, you’re going to not select those varieties or species to be part of your potato community or your tuber community. So there’s going to always be variety, there’s going to be so many different people. And the thing is, is that with diversity comes the best environments. So we don’t want everybody to be exactly the same. On the other hand, there are going to be some that are going to be not a fit, they will make the community less. And so it’s like, okay, well, how do we deal with that? And, and so and now, and now here, you you’ve asked a very simple, compelling question. And I’m, I’m worried that I have wandered off into a world of tubers and left behind the question, What was the question?
Rebecca Mesritz 12:41
Well, I guess I’m just wondering, I mean, you know, let’s just get right into it. You You mentioned it in your initial introduction of your community that you have sort of a controversial community structure that I actually don’t think it’s that controversial. I think there’s a lot of people that are out there. I personally know many people that are out there who are landowners who are deeply invested in permaculture ideals who are doing gardening, if not full on farming on their land, and who basically are operating with the central leadership structure, which I think is what you’re talking about is the is the controversy of of your reality. As opposed to a lot of what fic the foundation for intentional community and other communities movements might want to put forth which would be a more egalitarian, non hierarchical leadership structure. And I see that your decision to run that way has come from your experience in some way of being with people managing people, and this is what you found to be best practice for your particular patch of potatoes. And so let’s I mean, let’s talk about let’s just talk about that. You know, why, why does that feel like the best way for you and for your potatoes.
Paul Wheaton 14:09
When I was a young pup, I worked on a lot of ranches and farms, but it was different than it is now there was no wolf or anything like that. And a lot of the some of the places were like you live on your own house far away and you come here and you’re working during the day. And other places. They have a bunk house. And there’ll be like 30 Guys, and this bunkhouse and there’s there’s sometimes another bunk house for the gals and, and it’s like, so I live that too, but those were all all all ranches and farms. They were all central leader. There’s just one guy in charge, but we had some very wonderful experiences. And of course some some of the people that work there could be less than kind as well. And then as time progressed, I in this I wrote about this in my book, permaculture thorns. I had a moment where I realized here I was sitting on 80 acres that I owned. And I realized the only way that I want to proceed is with community. And, and I can go into an enormous amount of detail about that decision and how I got to that decision. But I know that in 2005, I dedicated my life to the study of community and it had to do with the fact that it’s kind of like am, I don’t want to go someplace and start doing permaculture and then choose to leave because there’s some level of unkindness within the community that is I’m uncomfortable with, or, or get kicked out, because the community is chosen that I’m the source of some flavor of unkindness. And so it’s like, that’s the risk with every community. And so it’s kind of like, okay, so I need to understand this better. So I can know what I can be a part of. And that led me to being part of several communities that were consensus based, and helping other communities to form. And then, and then I ended up joining a community that had a central leader. But there was no information available to find out more about this central leader, so I went in blindly. And then a year later, I realized, I made a poor choice. And so all the things that I dedicated my life to had to be on done, and then I moved on. And I decided, okay, I want to, I think the Senate, I decided that, based on my experiences and my history, and I had visited with people that had lived in convents, and monasteries, other communities that are central leader. And, and I went and I visited a dozen different communities, I visited so many communities, and I was even being asked to come into communities to help them mediate issues that they’re trying to resolve. And I decided that I wanted to try and do central leader where I was the central leader, whether I am worthy or not. The thing I wanted to try to do is also project who am I, what are my values? And part of that is, is like, Wouldn’t it be cool, if I set something up, I projected my values. And then 99.99% said, those values are stupid. But that point 00 1% said, this, these values are my values, or these values are cool, or something like that, like I want to go there, because of the values, then. So this is kind of what I’ve, what I’ve attempted to do. And I do know that there’s all sorts of places that are kind of doing this. But we don’t always call them intentional community. But I I like that path of it being intentional community. And I have, I feel like intentional community is critically important for the world. And most a lot of the world has is doing it with great success. But in the United States, the way that we learn things, and the way that we naturally do things, is in such a way to highly advocate for independence to live in a large home all by yourself or possibly with just your immediate family. What is it like five or 10% that will have extended family under one roof? It’s not very much. And then it’s like then the whole idea of four or more unrelated people living under the same roof. I think that’s where we’re start getting where we’re talking about intentional community. And yet, there’s, it’s I think it’s very rare. I mean, maybe we all do a little bit of that in college. And then we all have those stories to share as well. And that end of life that’s true. Oh, excellent example. excellent example. Perfect example. Oh, that is beautiful. I’m glad you said it and not me. But focusing on the college life for just To the moment, most of us had a difficult experience because there’s always that one person that just never washes their dishes. And, and yet there’s these other communities that we’ve observed. We’ve seen them. And this is a big part of permaculture is observation where it’s like one out of 10 of those communities. They went through college for four years, and everything was silky smooth with the same group of people the whole four years, I, I choose to call that a successful, intentional community that they were able to get along that well for four years, is to me that’s, that’s huge. That’s enormous. That’s, that’s worth observing, and documenting and studying.
Rebecca Mesritz 20:48
But that’s not solely what one would call a central leadership structure either. Like usually in a shared in a dorm or in a shared house. It’s it’s much more egalitarian. It’s not like I’m the boss, and you guys are not the boss. So I want to come back to this thing, because this is what I’m really like, curious about, you know, like the pros and the cons of this, of this leadership structure where you have a person who is in charge, ultimately, who has the final say, and not that other people in your community, don’t have a say, I don’t know, I would love for you to tell us about, you know, what kind of say, do the other residents of your community have? And and how does that even work?
Paul Wheaton 21:37
So, first of all, I gotta say that our decision making process is officially, we call it independent thought, consensus, dictator, hybrid. So in this case, I’m the evil dictator. And, but I’d say probably 90% of the stuff 90% of the decisions are made on the fly, you know, basically somebody’s like, you know, I have a decision to make, and I’m just gonna go this way, because I think no one’s gonna care. Or every or I think everybody’s going to agree with me doing this particular way. So that’s independent thought. And then consensus is where it’s like that, you know, maybe 8% to 10% of the time, or it’s kind of like, all right, there’s many ways to think about this. And some people are going to care, they’re going to want to chime in, they’re going to want to have some say, so I’m going to take it up with the people that I think are going to care and we’re going to want to so then consensus, and then of course, consensus can sometimes take a long time. And so once in a while, then it’s like, okay, we’re going to take it is this one’s taken a while it took longer than I thought, and and let’s take it to the dictator. And then, and then the dictator makes a decision. Now, here’s where it sucks to be a dictator. And that is that when these decisions come in, are laid before you, these very lovely people whom are they’re part of your community, and you like them very much. And you want them to like you, too. They’re going to present something and each of them are thinking that their position is the obvious choice. So you’re going to make a call. And to one of them, you’re going to say, no. Now, if you had to make 100 decisions with a person involved, that person may have heard you say, yes, 97 times and no three times. But I think it’s part of human nature to be certain that that dictator is a fool. Because they said No, three times. I mean, the other 97 times they made the obvious correct choice. But that’s just obvious and correct. That’s supposed to be what they’re supposed to do not do dumb things. But three times they did stupid, dumb things. They made stupid, dumb decisions. And this place is now terrible because of these dumb decisions that are being constantly made a 100% failure rate where it mattered. So it’s not great being this person to be it being this playing this role. On the other hand, there is consistency in the vision. There is less conflict everybody else gets along great.
Rebecca Mesritz 24:57
You’re a jerk.
Paul Wheaton 24:58
Yes. Yes, although a jerk will differ from person to person, which is really a reflection on those individuals. But, yes, so it brings them together to have a common enemy. Nothing brings people together like having a common enemy. Now, there are some people that have lived in community before. And they’ve been through the consensus process or some of the other more modern processes. And they have spent five to 20 hours per week in meetings and those communities. And I can tell you, those people’s love it here. And, and they respect 97 wins and three losses. They’re like, I got, I got it my way 97, they see that they honor that and respect that. And they’re like, life here is so much smoother than the other communities I’ve been at before. So I like to think of what we have here as a third tribe community. And I kind of feel like a lot of people go into community and they love, love, love, love, love, love community. And they’re there. And this is like, this is paradise. And then after, you know, some of those weeks that are 20 hours a week of meetings, then after a while, they are less Charmed, and I am looking into your eyes, your face is telling me you know exactly what I’m talking about. You get enough time in a community. And suddenly, it’s not the paradise you dreamed of before you arrive. Such that you even get to the point where you’re like, you know what, this, this turned out to be a bad fit. I’m gonna go down the road. But I love communities so much that, that now I’ve learned, and I’m gonna go to another community that won’t have these problems. And I’ll have checked on no better what to look for. Thanks to the mighty help of icy.org. The email@example.com is so glorious. But now I know what to look for. And now I’ll do I’ll do better the second time, and I can read it on your face, you can tell, you could say the next part, I know it, I can see it on your face, you know exactly what happens the second time, the same thing. It’s exactly the same, only completely different. It’s, it’s going, you’re gonna get a certain number of months and and maybe you made it for more months this time. But you still got to the point of thinking like, I don’t want to live this way the rest of my life, I need to move along. And that’s when we look great. So here on Taco Tuesday, everybody is required to attend a Taco Tuesday. And then as soon as everybody’s sitting down, and they’ve got their food in front of them, we begin. So begins community business. And I personally really celebrate if we can get the whole thing done in under three minutes. But we’ve had some that have pushed an hour, but we’ve never had one go longer than an hour. And I’m thinking that 90% of your listeners have now perked up. And they’re like, really. Because if somebody brings up an issue that needs to be resolved, then, you know, we can kind of talk about it. But I’m right there. You know. And basically, even though we are technically an independent thought, consensus, dictator, hybrid, the dictator can override all the other things. Now, of course, if the dictator is too evil, then the dictator will be a dictator over a ghost town. And so if the dictator wishes to build community, then an ad with standards, then what you want to do is to talk about your community to like, I don’t know, a million people. And then you end up with 20 Lovely people that are have been there for more than five years. That’s the dream, right? That’s what we all wish for. So the thing is, is that people can come here, and they’re not involved in much in the way of meetings, people that are deep roots or ant village. They come by once a week for for Taco Tuesday. And that’s it. In the meantime, we have all these podcasts and videos and books and everything else that kind of helps to describe what we’re all about and what our values are. Now if you started doing something that’s contrary true to our values, then that relationship can end. But the end that’s there, that is when people arrive, we tell them, this relationship can be terminated by either party at any time. And so of course, you know, for everybody listening to this, they may have left one community at least once. And it was easy. It’s like I’ve decided to move along, and poof, they’re gone. Easy peasy. But if somebody wants to stay, but they’re doing something, their behavior is such that it’s either not a fit or no longer if it for the community. And it’s like this content. Now. The people that are here are all confident that they will never bump into that wall, they have a clear idea of what the values are. And they’re perfectly comfortable staying within that. And they, they also love the idea that if the people that are living on all sides of them, deviate from that, then they won’t be deviating from it for very long. And so because people change, and you build community, and Diana leave Christian says the thing about being difficult to get in and easy to get out. And I think a corollary to that is people change. Another corollary to it is that people may have been able to navigate the system to get in and and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in communities where somebody went through the gauntlet to get in, and now they’re in and they say the first words out of their mouth, day one, now that I’m here, everything’s going to change. And you try to explain to them the consensus system. And they’re like, and I’ve actually had the said to me, consensus is where everybody agrees. And you’re gonna go tell everybody what they’re going to agree to, which is my way. And and then this person went on to explain that they’ve been to consensus training, and this is how it works. And I’m thinking, no consensus training in the world has ever said that.
Rebecca Mesritz 32:21
Thank you for being here for this conversation with Paul Wheaton. These kinds of interviews are really made possible by my incredible sponsors, they believe in this show, and they believe in the communities movement. So I hope you will take a moment and visit them and support them. We’re going to hear a few words from them now, and then we’ll get right back into this chat.
Daniel Greenberg 32:46
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Rebecca Mesritz 34:27
catice is not your everyday architecture firm. Their interest and regenerative and community supportive design has cultivated an expertise in intentional and cohousing communities with the focus on rich and healthy human experiences. Design Excellence and pragmatism are at the core of their work, as is an ethic of service to the client and natural or urban environments. Qantas is a leader in sustainable design, Zero Energy homes, passive house and delightful neighborhoods. They are x Burt’s and grassroots community engagement and apply attention sophisticated design and creative solutions to every project. If it’s worth building, it’s worth building it well find caddis on Facebook and Instagram. And at caddis pc.com That’s a C A d d i s pc.com.
Rebecca Mesritz 35:27
What do you do when the issue that’s coming up at the meeting? Is you, Paul, like when the the problem, because I mean, as you sort of mentioned, like, you know, making decisions about where to put a cistern or how this building is going to be what what what insulated Tory materials we’re going to use on a building, that’s, that’s very easy stuff, like actually building stuff is the easy part of community, in my opinion, the hard part of community is the interpersonal stuff is the the relational pieces when someone is, you know, not being cool or steamrolling your ideas or you’re not feeling heard, or you’re not feeling recognized. So my question is, in these three minute meetings, when someone comes and is like, benevolent dictator, it the problem this week is how do you address that?
Paul Wheaton 36:30
Well, first of all, I mean, what a beautiful question, what a what an excellent question. I’d have to say that I have been accused of sounding just like I sound in my podcasts. So apparently, my conversation with you right now is exactly how I sound when we’re talking about anything. So there’s that. So I’ve got that working for me, I guess, because now people, anybody who is thinking of coming here or not coming here, they have a pretty clear idea of what they’re getting into by listening to you and I talking right now, that kind of helps to mitigate that. So that when people are here, they’re less likely to think that I’m not being cooled by I, I wrote this down, because you said, what if you’re not being cool? And I want to, I wished I’d need to desperately explore that phrase for just a moment. And that is that. What does that mean? Now? What uh, so you’re, let’s suppose that here we are, you and I are having a conversation, and there is an issue to sort out, and you’re pointing at me and you’re saying, Hey, you’re not being cool, man. Okay, that’s, I’m pretending that’s coming out of your piehole. But, of course, it’s not really you’re lovelier than that. But let’s say that that’s. So I want to propose that 98% of the time that anybody points at another person and says, these words or something that smells like these words, that really what they’re saying is, I just told you what to say, or do or think. And you’re not being obedient to me. Therefore, I’m going to point at you and say, Hey, you’re not being cool, man. Now, so basically, to take that all and shrink it down a bit, that person is saying, obey, or else do as I tell you, or else I will say you are not cool. And I’m going to even escalate it further in a moment. Because what I need is your obedience. So, I don’t know, I came to this conclusion, like 10 years ago, and I realized I don’t want to point at somebody and say that hey, man, stop. You got to be cool. Stop. Stop being not cool. Stop being an ass. Stop being a jerk. Stop being a douche. Because these are words that are commanding this other person into obedience. And it’s like, that’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to live in a community where people are commanding other people into obedience. So I so yeah, I think that there’s, I think a lot of times went
Rebecca Mesritz 39:31
on. Because here’s the here’s where the rub is, though, is because if you’re in an asymmetrical power structure, where you have a benevolent dictator,
Paul Wheaton 39:43
you know, never benevolent, never benevolent that won’t work. Okay? Always got to be an evil dictator. Always hate
Rebecca Mesritz 39:50
where you where you have an evil dictator or any kind of when you have, we’ll just say you have an asymmetrical power structure. If you’re the one that thinks that the other person isn’t Being cool, you have the recourse to say, you’re obviously not the right cultivar for our potato patch.
Paul Wheaton 40:10
Right, I always carry the ability to say like, this isn’t working out, man. So, right,
Rebecca Mesritz 40:18
so then in that in that situation, you’re basically the one that is commanding obedience.
Paul Wheaton 40:25
I’m trying to nurture a community. And I think it’s plausible that there can be a person who’s either intentionally or unintentionally poisoning the community that I’ve put so much work into trying to build, to trying to grow. And so you’re right, I have this ability, I have this. But I think that and it’s kind of like, I think that if we make something clear, and then somebody chooses to do something contrary to what’s been made clear, then it’s like, and I call this patient communication, we need to sit down and talk it through. And if if one of the parties is like, not going to be that patient, then it’s like, well now, so you did a thing that’s contrary to what we asked, you don’t want to talk about it. I don’t have the only recourse I have is to say this isn’t working out. You really want me to play that card? I mean, this is a challenging conversation. I mean, that’s exactly why you asked it, you’re like, let me go right? For the most challenging stuff, this whole thing. Right? I can ask people to leave whenever I want. But of course, at the same time, what I want is to grow a beautiful, lovely community. And so it’s like, if I get a little too crazy with the weeding, I’ll have a dirt patch. And so it’s like, okay, you know, I got to be careful. And at the same time, the other potatoes are depending on me to do some good weeding here. And in permaculture, we don’t do a lot of weeding most of those things that other people call weeds. Those are our favorite, permaculture plants. Now I’m going to say a thing that you’re probably going to edit out. You and I, and everybody in your community, and everybody listening to this podcast, and everybody in my community. We are all a bunch of fucking weirdos. There’s no way around it. That’s what we are. I mean, we are deviating from deviating from the norm. We are so far away from the norm we are, we are way out. We’re like less than 1%. That’s the definition of being weird. We are all a bunch of fucking weirdos. So now, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna try and bring a bunch of fucking weirdos and put them together and see what happens. And now, in your mind, you know what’s gonna happen? And it’s like, okay, how do we? How do we get this to work while turning the drama knob from an 11? down to a point to how do we pull that off? How do we have there be less drama. And if the meetings where people are trying to sort things out, and they’ve been taught throughout their lives, that in order to get things to go your way, all you got to do is to say it louder, and over and over again. And add in a little hostility sauce. And now you get your way. Mostly because the rest of the group is like, I don’t want to deal with that. It’s like, Oh, it worked. It totally worked. And as like, but I don’t want hostility in my community. I don’t want to go to Taco Tuesday and have there be hostility our Taco Tuesdays are smooth and easy. The stuff that we talk about is lighten and stuff. And then then ideas come about, you know what would be cool. And that’s my favorite part. So all right, I know I forgot what the question was again.
Rebecca Mesritz 44:22
No, we’re in it. We’re in it. It’s so good. I just want to acknowledge you know, when I’m thinking for people who are listening to this, who are like, I really see myself as a benevolent slash evil dictator in a community, that really what their what their job is, in order for it to work is they need to be able to engender trust in the people that are going to come and be a part of their community because it seems like everything here really hinges on the idea that the members of your community have to deeply deeply trust that you have the community’s best interest at heart, and Ultra. So it really I mean, I feel like if if you start to do things to break that trust and erode that trust, you know, it would be the end of your community. So you do have I mean, this is I’m trying to see like, where this can be successful, because there’s so much about this structure, to me as a very independent person, as a person who sees myself as a community builder who’s very interested in ownership and equity and equality. And I’m more on the egalitarian side of those values. And so I’m trying to see, really meet you where you’re where you’re coming from, in in what you’re talking about here. So I see this really beautiful space of trust as something that seems really important to all of this. And so then where my next con, my next sort of thought goes, is into basically ownership and and, you know, part of what you’re also talking about, this whole system relies on. Again, this is an outsider’s perspective. So you’ll have to elucidate that. When you say, well, you can just if it’s not working out, you can terminate and you can leave. So part of what that relies on is basically more of a renter structure where people are living there, but they don’t necessarily have ownership. I would imagine that for someone who owns and is bought in and is investing deeply. their time, energy lifeforce, the idea of like, well, if you don’t like it, you can leave. It’s a bit more challenging.
Paul Wheaton 46:50
But we try to make it clear what it will be like before you arrive. And this is, this is not a community, that’s for millions of people. This is a community for 20 or 30 people. And so, and that’s 20, or 30, out of, say 10 million. And so it’s very few. But you’re right, we I can decide to evict anybody at any time. And, and then the but, again, I think part of it too, is is I kind of feel like I want to bring in two or three people from my community to sit here and say, Do you think I will ever evict you? And I know I’ve I’ve had people here who basically said, but you could evict anybody at any time? Who would? Who would ever be part of that? And that’s when I can bring in community members. And I could say, Do you think I will ever evict you know, that’s the reason why. And it’s like, I have the ability. But there have been communities all Tiana leave Christian has stories to tell. But there’s been communities where there’s been been people who have been lovely and community and after three years, they suddenly become this other person, and they’re very hostile. And and it’s like, so the community endures six to eight months of this hostility until they finally decide this person has to go. And so the whole community is kind of ruined during that whole time, the whole community and a lot of people have left a lot of good people of luck. And so, I mean, we can I could turn the tables and say, how do you resolve that without having a central leader? But I already know the answers. I think everybody listening this knows the answer. And you and everybody listening to this know, it’s hard. It’s it is difficult. It’s painful. So do we lose the community? Because of the process? So you’re right, this process is flawed. It is horribly flawed. It’s it’s, yeah, it’s terrible. It’s because part of what you said is that you’re depending on people to trust me. And it’s like, you’re right, which makes it so that I am required to be a this this rather perfect person. There’s all kinds of things I cannot do that everybody else in the community gets to do. Because it could be perceived as being less than trustworthy. I cannot slip into being a human as much as everybody else. And so because I need to be trustworthy at all times. I need to prove over and over and over again, that I stand by my words. I can’t be clumsy. In my words. I can’t be unclear. I have to be prepared for possible misinterpretations of what I was trying to say. A, there’s all these things where I have to be an excellent communicator. And I have to be above so many other things I have to be noble, to the highest levels that are expected of the lowest person in the community. I’m held to a higher standard, I have to hold myself to a higher standard. And yeah, that’s that’s a sucky things we talked about the pros and cons. Well, there’s a lot of pros and cons for being the evil dictator and, and I gotta, I gotta add the clarity. The moment is a benevolent dictator, like if you were to foolishly say I am a benevolent dictator, then anybody in your community can stand up and say, you must obey what I tell you, or I will revoke your benevolence card. You’re, you’re no longer benevolent if he will not obey me. And so, but if you say evil dictator, then you know, you get to go ahead and say whatever you want, you make whatever decisions you think are best, and nobody is going to revoke your evil card. So I think that the key is, it’s critically important for any of this dictators, stuff, you got to be the evil dictator. Now, granted, I’ve got like, 600 podcasts. And then of course, the permaculture thorns book describes my community stuff. And I’ve got a couple of other books out there that are doing very well, people have tons of opportunity to learn about who I am. And whether or not they’re a fit, whether or not they like, my standards. And so then they can know that the other people that are here are people that will similarly like those standards. So it brings together a bunch of similar weirdos.
Rebecca Mesritz 52:07
Well, I do I do want to come back to this question in all of those weirdos about how about the ownership? And how people? Like, buy it? Like, what is the structure there? Like, are people bought in? Do they own a piece of it, you know, in my experience, not operating an evil dictatorship. Sometimes it’s hard to incentivize renters to bring their generosity and bring their most to a project. Whereas when people are owners, they are much more likely to feel deeply invested in like, this is something that they’re it’s a project that feels generative to them. So So what is the ownership structure? And how do you incentivize people to bring their their best.
Paul Wheaton 53:02
So we have four programs. And, and so let me start with the permaculture boot camp learn permaculture through a little hard work. So people arrive, and they put in 40 hours a week in the boot camp. And we provide a bunk and food. And we provide some other things too, they get a an acre to play with and on their spare time and stuff like that. That’s okay. So that’s the bootcamp. We also have the separate program. And that’s where somebody rents a cabin, or maybe they camp or some of that. But they’re they’re here. And they pay a certain amount of rent to be here for a few weeks, a few months, something like that. And they will, they will participate in the boot camp as much or as little as they like. But they provide their own food, and they beckoning but if they’re in the boot camp, you know, all day, they get to share all the meals, the boots for that day, kind of a thing. All right. Then we have at Village, you spent four months in the bootcamp, you have earned a year of ant village. And so you have a bear acre of land now, and this kind of addresses your question, but some of the plots have structures and gardens built on them. And you could buy those improvements from the previous person if you want, or you can just start with bare land. Now, if you’re in the boot camp for two to three years, depending on what flavor you’re in the boot camp for, you get an acre of what we call deep roots. Now other people can buy an acre of deep roots. And what this is, is basically instead of rent by the year it’s over. rent for life. And so it’s still a rental situation. And so yeah, all the other terms apply, but you’re feeding yourself and you’re building your own structure. Now you’re saying, how do we get community involvement while everybody has to come down for Taco Tuesday. And, but outside of that, we don’t have any requirements for community, all of our infrastructure stuff is processed by the bootcamp. But, you know, some people who are here as deep roots or as part of ant village, they help out with community stuff from time to time as needed. On their own freewill, and some don’t. Some some, like doing that. Some, some good ideas, like you know, would be cool is if we did Berber Berber, and there’s stuff that’s cool. That happens all the time. And, and I never even know about it until it’s done. And it’s like that is that is cool. You guys did a great job. That is nice. And so there’s, but nobody’s required. And some of the ants and some of the deep roots people. They just coast, they just take it easy. And they never participated in anything except, of course, coming down to Taco Tuesday. And the key component of this design is, is that if we have everybody together on Taco Tuesday, then if anybody has anything to say, they’ll be heard by everybody. And most of the stuff doesn’t even need me to, like make a decision. It’s like, you know, I noticed this thing, and, you know, it’d be nice if everybody you know, prefer, and then it’s like, everybody’s calling Oh, yeah, that sounds good. Sounds fine. I could do that. Yeah. That was easy. So, but the key is, is that we have this one moment where everybody comes together. So everybody who needs to say something can be heard by everybody. And that’s, I think, a critical ingredient to getting this system to work.
Rebecca Mesritz 57:13
Are the people who are Are these like long term renters? Are they working for the organization? Or how are people sustaining themselves and making, like, paying their bills, basically, because I’m looking at, you know, if you’re in a situation where you’re, you’re renting, so you’re not getting equity, you know, you’re not actually building it’s not an investment that in the traditional sense. And then you also still need to be thinking maybe long term about or maybe you just see this as being a community for people between the ages of 20 and say, 50, or something like that. I’m just wondering, like, what the what the end kind of goal is for folks and how they’re able to support themselves, and see some kind of return on their investment of time and energy.
Paul Wheaton 58:05
The thing that I advocate for in permaculture and in the world of permaculture there are many schools of thought, and some people advocate for permaculture farms, which I think is a bit of an oxymoron, but Okay, fine. Some people like the idea of a permaculture farm. But there are many, many, many recipes. And the one I advocate for is what I call good attitude. And so the general design is something where a person and this comes from an article I wrote about 10 years ago, where there’s a friend who has a working job 40 hours a week and commutes and goes to restaurants and buys groceries and things like that. Versus Gert, who has a humble home and a big garden. And the thing that I suggest is rather multifocal. But one of the things I suggest is what would happen if I gave furred a million dollars and then of course his life would change dramatically. And then what if I give Gert a million dollars and in this example, I say nothing changes for Gert Gert continues on the exact path she’s already on. Only now she has a million dollars like under the mattress or in the bank or whatever. And so but she continues to live exactly the way that she lived before. And I then therefore propose that if this is the case, then is it fair to say that Gert is a permaculture millionaire she has reached her destiny or Final Destination she is now living what she was after all Long. So I wrote the article, a lot of people loved it. So now we use this word Gertrud a lot, which is a silly word. But I think within community in permaculture, we come up with a lot of silly words. And silly words helped add art to our lives and make things more beautiful. So how so Gert makes money because she has massive garden, and some people give her 20 bucks for a box of produce that they pulled out of her garden. And every once in a while she helps somebody with a small project and has a little bit of that, but she doesn’t really need much. All right. That’s good to know, to answer your question a little bit more directly. We have had many, many people here who come here, and they have a remote work a job or it’s a couple that comes in. And this has happened a lot a couple arrives. And one party of the couple has a full time working job that they do remotely. And the other part of the couple joins the bootcamp full time. And there’ll be here for like four or five months. And usually until winter comes I live in Montana. And and some people enjoy winter in Montana more than others. But that’s happened a lot where a lot of people have come a couple has come. And we’ve also had some people come where they’ve got like a bit of an online workI job that they do. And they are in the bootcamp like halftime. And so they’ll do that. Some people, they have money, and I have no idea where it comes from. And there’s like what how is it that they pay rent every month on a little cabin. And they’re here all the time, I don’t know. And you know, and once in a while I do know. And it’s usually like they’re able to do something over the internet. And there have been some people where they come here. So for example, right now in the boot camp, if people come and they join the boot camp, and they’re in the boot camp, we encourage them to take video. And if they make videos that will work on my YouTube channel, we are currently paying $400 A video. So some people have a little bit of Jingle in their pocket every week from making videos, we have the also the BR K. It’s a thing where people post like three pictures a day into a firstname.lastname@example.org. And then after 100 days of data, there’s a list of people that put money in I know that sometimes the payout has been as high as like $4,000. And it’s been as low as like $600. So I don’t know how much it’s paying right now tells you about how much it’s worth. But that’s there’s those kinds of incomes, I know that there have been people on up and village where they did a Patreon where they got like $600 a month just to you know, do whatever they do, and maybe post pictures, some I know there’s some of that. I don’t know there’s there are opportunities. I do know that like we’re having our summer events right now we have six weeks of events, and I buy food and if the people up at Aunt village or deep roots, or whoever is up there, you know, has grown a whole bunch of food and has access to sell I’m buying. So we’ve encouraged that a lot. So does this help paint a picture for you? It’s yeah, not people that are commuting,
Rebecca Mesritz 1:03:48
they’re piecing it together, they’re they’re piecing it together, they’re making, they’re making ends meet through a variety of sources, some of them are coming through the programming, and this the organizational structure that you’ve built, some are working remotely. And then I guess, you know, I just want to like kind of zero in on this piece around the around the equity and like are people like building some sort of equity? Like what is the plan for people to be there are people thinking they’re gonna this is where I’m gonna live for the rest of my life? Or is it I’m fine to rent here for 10 years, and then move on to my forever home.
Paul Wheaton 1:04:33
I think I think that there’s a buffet. And so, first of all, I mean, I think I think renting here is cheaper than a mortgage. But I think that there have been some people here who have come here to build and they weren’t sure if they were going to live here forever. Or traveling in their path later. And then when they they built a little home a little home Go home. And when they left, they would sell it for a couple $1,000 to somebody else who is like, and, and I’ve got, I have probably more than a dozen people that are willing to pay, like $150,000 if they could get one or two acres here, where it has a nice humble home and a big garden, and I can find gobs of those people. But I think that our homes at the moment are a little too humble. And our gardens are not yet quite robust enough. But, you know, there’s that the next thing is, is some people, there’s a lot of ways to save the world. And let’s just say that some people have somehow come up with the idea that what we’re doing here is really making a difference, that what we’re doing here is, is really changing things on a more global level. And they want to throw their shoulder and now maybe they’re going to come by for the rest of their life, or maybe they’re going to come by for a year or two. And then they get to an acre, and they grow it out a little bit. And they’re thinking, Now things here are a little bit better for the next person that comes along. And will and that person will also be moving things forward. I’ve gotten a lot of that as well. So I don’t know there’s there’s a lot of work that I do. And I’m trying to have a positive impact on the globe, and I reach 1.8 million people per month. And so can we get that to be twice as many, maybe. But I kind of feel like part of it is is the projects that we do here. The other thing is, is that the projects that we have done here, there’s a lot of them, there’s probably at least 20 or 30 projects that have been done nowhere else on earth, this is the only place and then there’s a lot of projects that have been done in many other places on Earth, but we did a little differently. And so some people want to come and just be here for six months or a year to learn about these things. Either to stay here and do more of it, or to do more of it elsewhere and go on their own path. I think I think that the key is is that for permaculture it’s it’s permanent. You want to plant that apple seed and harvest that apple that comes from it 10 years later. But if you’re going to end up someplace that you’re going to leave, you’ll never get to taste that apple. And there’s a lot of permaculture people that are experts at permaculture and they do amazing stuff. And they have never lived anywhere longer than three years. Yeah, so I know that there was a time when I was looking for community. And I couldn’t find what I was looking for. So I have now created something that my past self would enjoy. And there are it turns out there are others that are keen on this as well. So it’s not for everybody. But for some people. It’s a fit
Rebecca Mesritz 1:08:50
I want to honor your time. I can I ask you just one more question before we before we
Paul Wheaton 1:08:55
I have confidence in you. Yes.
Rebecca Mesritz 1:08:59
Okay, I’m just I’m enjoying I’m enjoying this conversation so much. So I just want to thank you for all that you’re sharing. And just before before we close out you know as you take a moment to reflect on your permaculture community journey and the intersection of those those two things because it seems to me that deeply they are intertwined in your in your soul and in your life’s work. And I would love to just hear a little harvest of what your personally not lessons for the movement lessons for permaculture but for Paul Wheaton, what what has been your your greatest lesson from this journey of community?
Paul Wheaton 1:09:44
That’s easy. I have been required to learn more about resentments than I ever wanted to know. And I’m at this moment moment, I can say there are an infinite number of flavors of resentments. And I will never learn them all. But I’ve got to, I’ve got to try to minimize resentments or poison on community. And it’s like, I need to navigate a path to minimize resentments. And for whatever resentment remain, to find a healthy path. So this is me. I feel like I’m an I’m an engineer. And the whole thing about resentments is like, not my forte. But, but for the role that I play here. This has been my greatest challenge, my greatest education, my greatest whatever. This is the number one thing that for me, and it’s like, I feel like I’m now pretty savvy at resentments, at least as how they apply to building community instead of poisoning community. But it’s, it’s infinite. And the hilarious thing is, much like some of the stuff we’ve described, we’ve talked about just a moment ago, people will say, I have heard you say that resentments are your number one thing? Well, if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I will resent that. And my responses, and I will covet that resentment. So that you’ll never eliminate it. And that is a rather evil form of resentment, which I’m glad to have. And it’s kind of like, because that’s not resentment, that’s a threat. And so, but this is the kind of communication where I cannot take the low road, I have to take the high road, even if they’re taking the low road. Because if you’re gonna do central leader, your central leader gets held to a much, much higher standard. And so resemblance, they are a slippery fish, they are 1000, slippery fish. You’ll never master it. All you can do is strike. All I can do is strike. What does that look like? How do you do it? I think of patient communication, I think of it’s good to have labels on things. So resentments. I think that when there’s a problem in community, then of course, it’s a whenever there’s a problem and two different people are disagreeing, there’s a sea of resentments already. And so my job is to try to find a way to I can, I mean, when I got a decision to make, I’m going to pick this one or this one. One of them’s going to walk away happy, I made the obvious choice, I did the right thing. And the other one, I need to do my best to minimize the resentment load. It’s gonna be there. And all I can do is to is to try to mitigate it. But it is it is not a tangible thing. And as I said before, it’s a slippery fish. And all I can do is try and I think trying is in 2023 trying is is phenomenal. It does seem like a lot of people don’t try. I mean, you are recording a podcast and you’re gonna do all this work later. You have signed yourself up for a whole bunch of work and you’ve made obligations to produce these podcasts and obligation is poisoned by you. You’re going to push through and you’re going to make it you’re going to do it you are doing and getting stuff done. And and when it’s all done, not only will you have this collection of things that you have made proving your value to others, but most importantly proving your value to you.
Rebecca Mesritz 1:14:46
Well, Pauline, thank you so so much for being here. Thank you for the incredible work that you’re doing in the world on permies.com and all the all the places that you are just a warrior for this His way of being it’s it’s really just an honor and a pleasure to talk to you. So thank you so much.
Paul Wheaton 1:15:06
Thanks for having me, Rebecca. I’m glad to have the opportunity to infect more brains with my gibberish.
Rebecca Mesritz 1:15:15
The virus is spreading. I hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation with Paul Wheaton, and that it’s left you either fired up or inspired, or maybe a combination of both. I’m going to link to all of Paul’s websites in the show notes so you can follow him and his work, and maybe even go visit his Wheaton labs and check it out. If you are the type of person who’s interested in joining a central leader community. Your donations to the inside community podcast helped make this show possible. So please visit ic.org/podcast and give what you can. We really, really appreciate your generosity and support of the work that we’re doing here. If you like what you’ve heard today, I’d love for you to share this episode with your friends and rate and review us on Apple podcasts. It really helps us to reach more people and just get this show out there. And if you’d like to reach out to me, you can find me on Instagram and Facebook at inside community podcast. I would love to hear from you there about how I can support you on your beautiful and messy journey to living inside community. Thanks again friends and I will see you next time.
Dave Booda 1:16:32
Who left the dishes in the shared kitchen sink. Who helps her Johnny? Melissa too much to drink. How do we find a way for everyone to agree? That Sinsa Can you it’s a podcast y’all
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The Inside Community Podcast brings folks along for an inside look at all of the beautiful and messy realities of creating and sustaining a community. We provide useful and inspiring content to support people on their quest for resilience, sustainability, and connection.
Meet Your Host
Inside Community Podcast host Rebecca Mesritz is a community builder living in Williams, Oregon. In 2011, Rebecca co-founded the Emerald Village (EVO) in North County San Diego, California. During her ten years with EVO, she supported and led numerous programs and initiatives including implementation and training of the community in Sociocracy, establishment of the Animal Husbandry program, leadership of the Land Circle, hosting numerous internal and external community events, and participation in the Human Relations Circle which holds the relational, spiritual and emotional container for their work.
In June of 2021, with the blessing of EVO, Rebecca and 3 other co-founders relocated to begin a new, mission- driven community and learning center housed on 160 acres of forest and farmland. Rebecca is passionate about communal living and sees intentional community as a tool for both personal and cultural transformation. In addition to her work in this field, she also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from San Diego State University and creates functional, public, and interactive art in metal, wood, and pretty much any other material she can get her hands on. She is a mother, a wife, an educator, a nurturer of gardens, an epicurean lover of sustainable wholesome food, and a cultivator of compassion and beauty.
The Inside Community Podcast is sponsored by the Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC). Reach out if you are interested in sponsorship or advertisement opportunities on the podcast.