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The Different Drum

July 15, 2007

I’m in the middle of reading a book by M Scott Peck called The Different Drum and it’s really knocked me over. I need to get this down so that I can move on to further chapters where no doubt I’ll have more to write. Basically though I think the book is going to be very important to me from here on in. 

A Different Drum is about building genuine community. In the book genuine community is defined as being much more than people with common interests or geography, it’s about creating a place where it is safe to be vulnerable. From the description of what takes place in the community building workshops that Scott Peck has run I’d say the atmosphere created during the period the group is together is the closest thing I’ve come across to the preconquest consciousness that is discussed in this essay by E Richard Sorensen. Naturally I’m quite excited about it, not just because I’ve often pondered about how good it would be to get into that state but also because it sounds like a hell of a good time. 

To be clear, what Scott Peck seems to be achieving is not the living in the moment aspect of hunter gatherer cultures so much as the creation of an environment where people are safe to let their defences down and where they can allow their true thoughts and emotions to interact with others. 

All through my life there have been momentary flashes of true community where I felt unconditionally supported, maybe with a circle of friends, or a design group at university or for a brief time living with other single people. I think my interest in living in a village stems from my desire to get those moments back or even better to make them semi-permanent. Life in civilisation has taken me in the other direction but I think that  A Different Drum might be able to provide a blueprint for myself and anyone else who wants to change that. I’m sure I’m not the first to have said this though. 

The book is reasonably old and I’m not sure if you will have heard of it or not. I’ve never seen any of Scott Peck’s books discussed in this circle of blogs although I have read two others (The Road Less Travelled and People of the Lie) which I found on my mother’s book shelf. I thought they were excellent books but I can see how they’ve gone under the anti-civ/primitivist/crashblogger radar. Scott Peck was an army psychiatrist who later became a christian and his  books were exceedingly popular, in fact The Road Less Travelled spent years in the NY Times bestseller list during the eighties – prior to reading the book I thought The Road Less Travelled was just a poetic phrase. Maybe it was. 

Anyway, that’s the background. Here’s some specifics. Scott Peck says there is a 4 stage process to achieving community: 

First is psuedo-community where everyone pretends to get along (I’m sure we’re all familiar with this) but it’s all quite boring and meaningless.  Then comes Chaos where people give up being nice and start to air their differences. It’s often characterised by people forcibly trying to help each other (something else we’re probably familiar with too). 

Third comes Emptiness but only if people are prepared to give up their pet issues and ego-projects. I think the point of the Chaos phase is to emphasise what happens if people aren’t prepared to put their egos to death and to provide motivation for moving to stage three. This may have similarities to what people have been calling anomie.

Finally comes true community where all members are in complete empathy with each other regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds and any previous disagreements. 

Scott Peck gives a multitude of examples of groups who go through his community building process and says that he can pretty much guarantee to bring any group (and any size of group) of people into community now that we have learned the rules that govern the process. 

After writing the book Scott Peck set up the Foundation for Community Encouragement in order to realise his aspiration of spreading community. Part of the organisation’s philosophy statement has this to say: 

There is a yearning in the heart for peace. Because of the wounds, the rejections, we have received in past relationships, we are frightened by the risks. In our fear we discount the dream of authentic community as merely visionary. But there are rules by which people can come back together, by which the old wounds are healed. It is the mission of the Foundation for Community Encouragement to teach these rules, to make hope real again, to make the vision actually manifest in a world which has almost forgotten the glory of what it means to be human. 

Frankly I can’t think of anything that I could add to that.

As I said at the start this book appears to be unknown amongst this circle of blogs but I think it will have some application for all of us. The more thinking that is done about a post-crash future the more people are coming to realise that being in a community may be the most important factor in ensuring an individuals survival. Not to mention it’s place as an indicator of health and happiness in the here and now.

Derrick Jensen started talking about a future ‘rebirth of community’ a while back and it seems to be a growing theme in Jason Godesky’s writing. I see it in his plans for the 2007 Mountain Festival unconference where they intend to use open source technology to structure the event – and in this quote from Tamarack Song which he has reprinted for a second or third (do I hear a fourth?) time, in the same article.

We come from a technological society, so we naturally think that substituting primitive technology for civilized technology is our doorway. The only problem is that Native people are not into technology. They spend only a couple hours a day providing for their simple needs, and they mostly use simple means. Look at their tools—few and crude, and their craftwork—basic and utilitarian. What a Native person excels at is what I call qualitative skills—how to sit in a circle with your clan mates and speak your truth, how to find your special talent so that you can develop it to serve your people, how to use your intuition, the ways of honor and respect, how to live in balance with elders and women and children, how to speak in the language beyond words, how to befriend fear and live love. Without these skills, you will surely die. Or else you’ll go back to the life that shuns these skills.

That’s only a part of the quote. I reprinted more of it in this article which, upon re-reading, seems to have sparked some very interesting comments pertinent to this discussion.

It’s hard to find a more compelling argument for community building in the entire primitivist back catalogue but so far there hasn’t been much action to follow the talk. I’m not accusing anyone of slackness here though, I think the whole things is a mystery to civilised people but A Different Drum could go a long way toward changing that and enabling us to ‘sit in a circle with our clan mates’.

In the book there were a number of comments by Scott Peck that mirrored what I have been reading from Primitivists including a comparison between the spiritual journey undertaken by healers in Fijian and !Kung societies and those taken by Christian nuns and monks, along with a brief description of the story of The Fall that made me wonder if he had been reading Daniel Quinn (or maybe it’s the other way around). Of course it’s not the main theme of the book at all but hopefully it indicates the potential cross-over here.

I know I could easily be accused of jumping on something that I’ve been desperate to find and building it up to be more than it is but it feels like the real deal. I also found an interview of Scott Peck done about five years after he set up the Foundation and he was still saying the same things then, albeit with a degree of refinement, so I’ll take that as a good sign.

And here’s another one. Reading this has triggered a memory of finding a website advertising the services of a couple who teach permaculture in New Zealand. I think I originally looked at it because these are the rather entrepreneurial pair who initiated the Eco-show in New Zealand. On the site they offer to lead a permaculture design course which spends some of the time focusing on building community using lessons learned from A Different Drum.

Brian Innes writes: The benefit of this approach is that it sets a basis for trust and risk taking which generates group unity and efficient decision making. This encourages flair and creativity in design and is reflected in the quality of output of the participants when doing design exercises.

I’ve written about the hard time I had at architecture school but there was one design group that I did enjoyed during my time there where we designed as an actual group rather than in competition with each other. It’s one of the glimpses of community from my past and because of it I had already been wondering if there weren’t possible application for doing awesome and effective design in community. But that’s another posting.

In any case I see serious potential to make use of this book. One of the recurring themes I am seeing, especially in the comments sections of anti-civ blogs, is the sheer frustration and loneliness that people are experiencing because they hold to a viewpoint that is so uncommon in our society. In fact it seems to be the one area in which we are all doing poorly.

This book won’t necessarily help with finding specific people but it does show that genuine community exists in spite of differences and that it may even build on those differences. If you get a chance to go to a community building workshop it would be well worth it, not only will it be a terrific buzz but in this situation people will probably be perfectly happy to hear your beliefs.

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