Friday, June 10, 2005

I'm all for the Community, as long as its the right sort . . .

For the first time since beginning this blog, I haven't been able to post for 4 days. I took a road trip to Wausakee, WI with two of my friends. It was surreal to be in the car for that long, and we hauled a trailer full of furniture on the way back. We had two days between the long trek, which we spent at a charming "club" in northern WI. The Wausakee Club was incorporated in 1890, by some Chicagoans (men) who wanted a place to hunt and fish. Soon after, according to my friend (let's call her Emma), the wives wanted to come along. So, the men built huge cabins surrounding three lakes. They put in the tennis courts and a golf course (I played twice, once barefoot!). What is really interesting about this club is that it is a "commons." Families have bought memberships and they hold all the property in common. They pool their resources to maintain the property, roads, and common buildings.

One of the features that I really loved about this club was the common dining space. Three times a day, a bell rings to alert the members that breakfast or dinner is served. Everyone eats from the same menu, and families can interact with each other and discuss how fishing went or what they are reading. The families, who are members, are descendants from the orginal 1890 families. So generations of these families have grown up intertwined. They have a newsletter and listserv. If you show up with your brood of kids, you can be certain that other children will be there to run around the property with--to go fishing, invent games, learn how to canoe, swim, etc. It's an idyllic place.

These families have set up a commune; a place where they can blend their families, appreciate unspoiled nature, support each other in crises, and share in caring for their patch of the earth. They have chosen to make decisions together and choose what is in the best interest for all the members. They have created a small version of Rousseau's ideal--hell even Marx's fantasy of pure communism. But, of course, these families are extraordinarily wealthy and probably very few of them advocate the politics of community. Perhaps they are more likely to be environmentalists, and even to see the benefit of social insurance programs. But, certainly, they have amassed their wealth through the unfettered free market, so that they can retreat to this idyllic community in a remote place in WI.

I couldn't help thinking about how ironic this all is. And, I am certainly making bold and unfair judgments about the members of this club. For all I know, they could all be voting for labor. But, my suspicion is that a good many of them are committed capitalists. Why is it that when you earn more money than any member of your family could likely spend, you would choose to create this kind of haven? A communal dining hall, acres of pristine and well cared for forest, unpaved roads. This retreat is unpretentious, rustic and disconnected (hence, I had no access to either the internet or my cell phone).

Can we count on the Wausakee folks to support legislation and policies that would give these same sorts of retreats to common folks? I honestly don't know the answer to the question. I suspect some would, but others are too insulated from knowing that this sort of life (a Walden retreat) is now a luxury.

But, it seems, that wealth allows you to embrace the very best of community, without having to share it with, well, the common folk.