The comments here inspire me to think a bit more about covenants, which may have value after all, or at least, they may point in the right direction. I really like what Rebecca says about a “solemn promise” within “an intentional community”, and I hope that I can learn more about what she means by that. What I understand the phrase to mean is a commitment on my part to Rhizo14, for instance, to bring my value to the conversation and to be part of the space within which others can bring their value. This is quite different from traditional educational courses which are legalistic contractual arrangements managed by a syllabus which describes the obligations of the contracting parties, usually a school, a teacher, and some students. Whereas a contract spells out the path which all all parties must trace during the limited terms of the contract, a covenant creates a space within which all parties make a solemn promise to engage in good faith and mutual support for the benefit of the intentional community without specifying the terms too precisely. Thus, I can commit to Dave, Maha, Rebecca, and Simon to bring my value and to be open to their value-add, without specifying up front what I expect that value to be. This is critical as it allows the community to define itself from within, rhizomatically, rather than from without, contractually. Rhizo14 could not have been that rich, warm, supportive, creative space that it became if everything had been spelled out beforehand. In some ways, a contractual course is a soccer match played only after all the details of the game, including the final score, are agreed upon. A covenantal course is a soccer match played for the love of the game and the engagement with “an intentional community”.
This is a commitment than is sustained, even enforced, not legalistically by terms of a contract but emotionally through love, affection, and mutual respect, by what Simon calls desire. This desire, I think, is critical, for it is what fuels the commitment to the community and enables us to survive the inevitable conflicts and tensions within a community. It allows us to continue to engage even when the community doesn’t want to discuss Deleuze and Guattari they way we want. Such tension breaks a contract, but it tests and even strengthens a covenant.
Such commitment defines a group much more like Dave’s guild, which hearkens back to a time when covenants were still treated seriously. I think we are all pointing here to something that we can see and feel but don’t quite have the modern concepts to describe. Guild might be a fine term for it.
Finally, I like Alan’s notion that modern covenants co-evolve, or co-emerge. To my mind, this addresses the problem of inequality inherent in the ancient views of covenants between a god and his people, a king and his subjects, a father and his children (yes, ancient women were always on the unequal end of covenants—receiving not making). The value that I commit to Rhizo14 is not specified nor is it up for negotiation. Rather, Rhizo14 provides space for me to offer what I have. I alone am responsible for the integrity of my value and for my own good-faith. I commit what I have, and this puts great responsibility on me. But Maha, Rebecca, Simon, and Dave are in the same situation. They, too, have great agency in the value that they commit to the community. In this sense, we are all equally responsible for the community with equal agency within the community, while individually responsible for ourselves. We are both individual and group, and agency can only be understood in the tension of between individual and group. There is always a tension in this dialogic relationship—at best, a creative tension, but sometimes a destructive tension. When the community co-emerges and co-evolves as it did in Rhizo14—for some—then it is magic. But some walked away. They didn’t find it.
Thanks again for the chance to discuss this more.