Utopian Communities in a New Book — and a Note on Work

Writer Erik Reece has a new book, just released today, about his road trip structured around modern-day utopian communities in the U.S. Road trip and egalitarian communities? I guess I know what I’m doing with my day.

The Atlantic also published an essay adapted from the book (titled Utopia Drive), an episode in which Reece visits the Twin Oaks utopian community in Virginia. One idea in particular stood out to me. This is the idea of the “work.” Here, Reece quotes a member of this intentional, utopian community explaining how rare it is for anyone ever to shirk their assigned tasks:

[T]hey do the work because this is their home and this is the work that needs to get done.

Annie and I have a seemingly endless list of tasks that need to be accomplished (mainly before winter) — finishing the interior of the outhouse, putting a front wall and door on the outside, finding a wood stove, building the hearth pad, cutting wood, etc. — but, at least to this point, it has not felt overwhelming, nor has it felt like “work” in the typical, 9-to-5 sense. We’re certainly working longer hours than that, sometimes going until it’s too dark to see what we’re doing. It is exhausting physically but it doesn’t feel like a burden.

It is, very simply, what needs to get done. It’s what we signed up for when we made the decision to move off grid into a yurt.

But taking that idea deeper — that it’s what we signed up for — reveals the crucial difference between this work and, say, the “jobs” we have: by making this move we effectively assigned ourselves these tasks. They are not coming from an external source and thus we take responsibility for them and are invested in them in a more fundamental way. And further, the outcomes and products of the work are fully ours. Those outcomes and products are the payment, rather than being compensated with abstract wages as the product goes elsewhere.

The work is fully ours, as are the products, and it’s more rewarding as a result.

– Kevin