Communal Living at Twin Oaks

Read an account of the authors' visit to the still-operational Twin Oaks Community in 1969, including details about the commune's power structure, source of income and interpersonal dynamics.

| January/February 1970

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    A Twin Oaks member tends to a cow.
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    Two members of the Twin Oaks Community relax in one of their handmade hammocks.
    Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
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    Children from Twin Oaks help out with daily chores.

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They publish a little booklet titled The Revolution is Over: We Won, or as the subtitle says, The Radical Commune Approach to Revolution.

All of which is a good introduction to the Twin Oaks Community quietly thriving in its third year down in the heart of Virginia. They live on 123 acres of what used to be a tobacco farm — the first year on the place they even raised a crop of the noxious weed under the direction of a friendly local farmer. But now farming gets less attention as their hammock manufacturing industry grows large enough to satisfy much of their "outside" economic needs. When we visited the place there were 13 actual community members along with five or six visitors. These visitors were part of a never-ending stream of people who come to see the new life at Twin Oaks and their presence raises the actual population at Twin Oaks to about 20 people at any given time during the summer.

Visitors from the outside, like we two, are very important to the revolution they speak of. Because, although Twin Oaks was designed to be a living experiment in community, it also aims to stimulate others to do the same. As one member said, "We generally hold to the opinion that people who don't start communities are slightly immoral." It's all part of the revolution being over — they define revolution as a "radical restructuring" of society, both economic and, more important, cultural. (But, maybe you can't really separate the two.) One member summed up a desirable post-revolutionary society as, "A society that creates people who are committed to non-aggression; a society of people concerned for one another; a society where one man's gain is not another man's loss; a society where disagreeable work is minimized and leisure is valued; a society in which people come first; an economic system of equality; a society which is constantly trying to improve in its many will, of course, dismiss all of this as mere rhetoric claiming that communities are escapist or that, if they ever did become a real threat to society, then society would destroy them.

But Twin Oaks people see themselves as only the beginning of what they expect will become a very large movement — a movement of young people forming groups so alternate social structures may be experimented with to find the structures that produce the things that people value. Twin Oaks people will tell you that the size of this movement and its obviously better way of life will make it impossible to repress. You can get the impression — because of the strength of their belief — that some of them even get kind of religious about these notions. But religious or mystical they are not. Their first and foremost belief is that answers to social questions come only from social experimentation and scientific observance of the results of these experiments. They think of philosophers and politicians as being on the same level as religion — dead! The ideas behind Twin Oaks originated in behavioral psychology and the community is in a great many ways modeled after psychologist B.F. Skinner's Walden II, which is a description of a fictional utopian society.

Twin Oaks was started by a group of people who met while attending an "academic" conference during 1966, at Ann Arbor, Mich., on the formation of a Walden II community. (Former Grinnel professor George Eastman was a committee chairman of this 1966 meeting.) One of the Twin Oakers related how this conference resulted in a very elaborate, academic type plan on how to get a Walden II community going. But when the conference was over the professors all returned to their teaching posts and nobody had any idea where they would get the several million dollars that the plan called for to start the thing. So, eight people decided to start right away with whatever resources they could get together. One of the original founders had enough money to purchase the farm where they are presently located — he has since left due to a disagreement about the way the community was being run, but he is leasing the farm to the group on a 12-year lease at the end of which time he will deed the farm over to the community.

Twin Oaks Community either already is, or is working toward, all of the above — hence, the members think of themselves as a post-revolutionary society with the ability to create happy, productive, creative people.

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