Individualist communities prioritize the self over the community. They value independent thinking over group mentality. Community members are loosely linked, but each person has personal goals that they will prioritize over the needs of the group.
Collectivist communities prioritize the group over the individual. They encourage interdependent thinking, with the belief that all group members are connected. Relationships with other members of the group are incredibly important.
It would make sense that people believe individual desires (that is, desires held by only one person) are best met in individualist communities since individuals are prioritized over the group.
But, can collectivist societies fulfill individual desires? If so, do collectivist societies fulfill these desires better than individualist communities?
The East Wind Community is a collectivist society located in the Missouri Ozarks. This community has existed in this location since the 1970s. It has almost eighty members now, who all share land, labor, and resources. They operate a multi-million dollar nut butter company, grow their own food in a community garden, and run a dairy ranch.
Most members carry some anti-authoritarian beliefs, with their personal autonomy being of the utmost importance. In fact, individual dignity is the core belief of East Wind. However, they believe that the individual is the most respected, most represented, and can make much more of a difference within the community when they are living in harmony with other community members. As a result, the individuals of East Wind prioritize the needs of the community, and, in doing so, find their own needs prioritized as well.
Each member chooses when and where on the farm they work as long as they clock 35 hours each week. Section managers have no authority over workers. There is no official leader of East Wind. Instead, each member has equal authority.
They function as a participatory democracy. During weekly community meetings, members can bring up issues important to them, on which the community can vote as a whole. Discussions surrounding topics on the meeting agenda can span weeks. Members are required to post topics they would like to discuss prior to community meetings, and votes normally occur a week after a topic has been brought up in a meeting. Members therefore have ample time to discuss, debate, and consider their own opinions on an issue before voting.
Members of East Wind feel that, with all of their basic needs provided, they are able to pursue their individual interests. Many members learn trades that they wouldn’t have otherwise, such as welding, accounting, marketing, or leadership skills. When some members decide to leave the community, they are able to find employment in these specialties. Another benefit is that members feel free to learn these skills without the pressure of profit-making. They don’t have to rush to learn in order to be productive. They are able to take their time to learn their skill fully.
Even within collectivist communities, members still form personal goals and pursue individual interests. Humans, at their core, are curious and don’t like to be bored. In this community, members find their work niche after looking at what the community needs to do. In this way, community leads to people’s self-fulfillment.
Interested in joining East Wind? It can take a long time to acquire full membership, with all of the benefits listed above. The first step to joining is to visit the community. More information on how to visit East Wind can be found on their blog (eastwindblog.co) under the “Visit Us” tab. Following the visiting period, you can become a provisional member and spend a year working in the community. After that year, your membership will rest upon a simple majority “yes” vote from the community. If you are granted full membership, you will also share equally in ownership of the land, assets, and will be entitled to food, shelter, and full medical care.
East Wind is a community-oriented society, prioritizing the needs of the group as a means of respecting and preserving individual dignity. Each member has an equal voice and the opportunity to meet their own personal desires.
This piece was edited by Lily Plowden as part of Professor Kelley Crawford’s Digital Civic Engagement course at Tulane University.