The Ballad of Twin Oaks

by Craig Kurtz

What dreamers want to hear
that socialism is a farce?;
’tis nicer to hear fairy tales,
cozy on your arse.

Come and join our commune
and be the change you want to see;
don’t let the squalor get you down —
just disregard reality.
If only socialism
could be this, or would be thus;
then perhaps you’d engineer
utopia for all of us.
Equality, my friend,
is an honorable aim;
and worthy of achievement
if we’d only be the same.
Everyone agrees with you
that fairness is a noble goal;
except, of course, those saboteurs
so here’s the rub — some heads must roll.
It’s easy to complain
about the “corporate mainstream”;
and call McDonalds and Walmarts
a mephistophelian wet dream.
But there are alternatives to the
bourgeois ponzi scheme —
no Big Macs will torment you
in Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Ah! but that’s not socialism,
that despot’s got it wrong;
egalitarianism is when
all people get along.
But, lucky you,
there’s such a place
on earth — totalitarianism
with a human face.
It’s called intentional, which means
everyone’s a Leftist;
“meat is murder, soy is joy” —
I think you get the gist.
It’s long-haired and tie-dyed,
polyamorous and pagan;
this would all be very quaint,
if not totalitarian.
The problem with equality
is no such thing exists;
imposing fairness on disparity
requires clever tricks.
This is where the State comes in
with by-laws by decree;
equality distributes someone else’s
fairness evenly.

This procedure takes some care
and often proves a riddle;
planned economies require
trying to plan people.
But! It’s interesting to observe
how complaisant people are;
especially when hungry, unemployed
and with no car.
It’s amazing how sincere they get
when their only bet
is “sign right here” or do without —
only later comes regret. ¹
Nevertheless! It is truly curious
how folks suspend judgment;
they wholesale buy chimerical
utopias not worth a cent.
Self-deception can assuage
or even foster happiness;
the promise of a better life
will stave the wants of having less.
So! There’s alluring formulas
of “social justice” as nostrum;
come and join the Twin Oaks dream
and you’ll be on the road
to intentional serfdom. ²

Most prospective communards arrive
with a duffle bag or two;
’tis not likely jet-set success
is what they’re trying to eschew.
Yes, ’tis easy to condemn
the “capitalist rat-race”;
especially when one is a mouse
who calls a hovel a palace.
Severe amateurism informs every move
that is made at Twin Oaks — it’s manifestly a law; ³
folly perhaps, but there’s a sound reason for this —
amateurs work for hardly nothing at all.
Parsimony is prosperity,
accepting the miser’s dire creed;
and what counts is the infrastructure —
not what the people may need.
Most members show up with little in hand
and when they depart, they leave with no more;
whatever their labor brings to Twin Oaks, stays there —
however hard they may work, they always stay poor.
And this is classic, alienated labor —
all talents and skills go into “the business”;
what workers receive just keeps them alive
and only the fief enjoys the surplus.

The quotidian standard of living is squalid —
as for myself, my room has no heat;
for half a decade, the kitchen leaks snow
which seems apropos when there’s nothing to eat.
The windows seep air, in the winter they frost —
we set the faucets to run so the pipes do not burst;
luckily for us, the journalists all visit
during the summer so they don’t see the worst.
Ten or more people crammed into cheap barracks
with only one potty for all residents;
the carpets are moldy, there’s rats in the rafters —
in the “corporate mainstream,” we’d refuse to pay rents.
Amazing how “slumlords” don’t apply to this place —
when it’s called “egalitarian socialism,” it’s Not Utopia Yet;
the courtyard is crumbling, it’s the new member ghetto —
uptown, the swells have rooms far less decrepit.
Now, where’s the democratic voting, you might want to ask —
if egalitarian, where’s the ballot box?;
sure, there’s “input” on minutiae, gossip and such dross —
but economic planning’s for elites in secret talks.
Inspired by Walden Two — now, that’s quite a laugh
as if B.F. Skinner would last here three weeks;⁴
not that his “science” is credited with much
except brainwashing pigeons
with totalitarian techniques.

Now, in a planned economy,
incentives can be scant;
you’ll hear a lot about “the common good”
and other trite tidbits of cant.
Supposedly community
will curb the urge to shirk;
but as they say in Cuba,
they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work.⁵
“We’re all in this together,
we share holdings in the State”;
but patriotism never goes
beyond one’s dinner plate.
“Money is the root of evil,
a false gauge of false success”;
when emolument’s communalized
you get a raise when you work less.
Production’s down, morale has tanked,
the status quo is what prevails;
luckily, there’s immigrants
who still believe in fairy tales.
New communards will pull the weeds,
pack tofu and mop the floor;
and when their revolution wanes,
they leave — replaced by hundreds more.⁶

Now, almost everyone who thought
that poverty was virtuous
has left Twin Oaks behind
to live a life less credulous.
All the people who extolled
a lack of privacy as good
now live where they can shut a door
and talk unheard, as well they should.
All those dreamers who presumed
their neighbors likewise would be saints
have since discovered self-reliance
less stressful, with less complaints.
Everyone who took on faith
that strangers would make good comrades
decided that went out with hemp,
blue-green algae and such fads.
To all those dreamers who believed
in socialism against advice
and saw their efforts evanesce
I do salute your sacrifice.
I know good will inspirited
your aim to improve humankind;
I know the anguish that you felt
when you had to change your mind.⁷

But I have nothing but contempt
for those who would bamboozle youth
with rhetoric and flummeries
they know contain no mote of truth.
Is it but coincidence
“non-violent language” does suppress
the criticism of a system
needing us to acquiesce?⁸
Our propaganda promulgates
patriotic gasconades
and oft I think ’tis patriots
most need to hear such crass charades.
The advertising never stops,
the microphone is always on;
odd how there’s no bad PR
from any members who have gone.
Those who put in the most years,
they are hardened pragmatists
cajoling pigeons with stale bread —
they’re the flagrant pessimists.
You’ll always find an upper crust
that profits from an under-class;
whatever politics you choose
won’t wish away that vast impasse.

Perhaps you will call me “right wing”
for flaunting socialism’s hoax;
if you’re so sanguine, my friend,
then try a decade at Twin Oaks.

ENDNOTES

1.“[A]bout a quarter of our population leaves every year… Sometimes people who have complained about our not being simple and rustic enough end up moving to an apartment in the city. People who have urged the community to have a lower material standard of living have frequently gone on to enroll in a university. People who say their main desire is to do more traveling go and get a job that gives only two weeks’ vacation per year. […] New people come to the Community, full of their own enlightenment, ambitious to see Twin Oaks reflect their ideals, and ready to commit their energies to this end. They try to make changes, and they meet resistance. Old members object to their presumption, maybe, or are simply not impressed and keep on doing things in the old ways. Some newcomers become quickly discouraged and move on to plant their vigorous enthusiasms in less stony soil.” — Kat Kinkade, Is It Utopia Yet?, 1994, pp. 166 & 170-71.

2. “Each ‘generation’ of communitarians contributes to the pool of physical wealth that we own in terms of land, housing, soil improvement, dairy herd, and so forth. In the early years the apparent ‘costs’ of providing housing for people we hadn’t met yet disguised the fact that we were, in so doing, accumulating a kind of wealth. […] I came to see that my ideological purity, though a hardship on other people, wasn’t any hardship on me. […] I coveted for the Community every dollar anybody could find, and every hour they could contribute.” — Kinkade, ibid., pp. 69 & 47.

3. “Amateurism is, I believe, at the core of what Twin Oaks is and is likely to remain for some time.” — Kinkade, ibid., p. 135.

4. Three weeks comprises the visitor (prospective member) program at Twin Oaks. In his 1983 autobiography, A Matter of Consequences, Skinner waives off any challenge to put his proverbial money where his utopian mouth was by actually living at such a place as Twin Oaks (or Los Horcones, another “Walden Two” community), suggesting in a footnote that he would have done as much if not for his implicitly posh wife who would reject such rusticity, if not oppilations to personal liberty. A few years later, Skinner disavowed Twin Oaks entirely.

5. National Geographic, “Cuba’ s New Now,” November 2012.

6. Although Twin Oaks houses no more than 100 people at any one time, there has been over a thousand members since 1967 — an attrition rate of 90%. “The biggest complaint [is] the lack of personal spending money.” — Kinkade, ibid., p. 167.

7. After more than three decades of communitarian living Kinkade, the founder of Twin Oaks, told The Washington Post she “considers [Twin Oaks] a failure,” adding “I don’t think egalitarian communities are a good idea” (“The Other American Dream,” November 15, 1998).

8. “We expect members to conform.” Kinkade, ibid., p. 195.

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