Funny/horrifying tales of community implosion
October 13, 2020 8:02 PM   Subscribe

This article posted on the blue today about a would-be libertarian utopia undone by the totally predictable outcomes of having that many libertarians in one place plus bears scratched a deep itch I didn’t even know I had. Please give me more media about similar groups of oddballs undone by combinations of entertainingly petty human drama and consequences that seem patently obvious to everyone but those involved.

-I am looking for all types of media. I especially love books, long form articles, and podcasts, but I’d consider anything.
-It helps if the undone groups are right-wing, but I’d also be interested in stories of non-political organizations. I love things that act as a counter to the idea that only the left is a circular firing squad tearing itself apart over tiny divisions.
-Something the above article does really well is acknowledge the deadly serious consequences of a given action (in that case gutting a town’s budget and feeding wild bears) while also acknowledging that a lot of the smaller particulars are pretty damn funny. More things that strike that balance.
posted by ActionPopulated to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Do check out the story of Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott.
posted by Melismata at 8:08 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

It hasn't imploded, but there are about a zillion articles about the Park Slope food coop that get into the details of petty infighting and rich people trying to avoid their obligations. They might suit you.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:13 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]

There are a lot of good books about communes imploding. One that I don't think gets enough attention is We Are As Gods: Back to the Land in the 1970s on the Quest for a New America by Kate Daloz. In it she discusses just how one group of idealists both thrived and then fell apart. It's readable, and interesting and has a lot of class consciousness to it, it's not really "the left will tear themselves apart". Going Up The Country is another book, same timeframe, some implosions but not as much. I'm a fan of the book Utopias on Puget Sound about a number of planned/intentional communities in what was then US territory (i think) and how they worked or did not work, mostly not.
posted by jessamyn at 8:19 PM on October 13 [7 favorites]

In 1893, there was a Depression in Australia, major strikes, and a split between moderates who would go on to found the Australian Labor Party (the current centre-left major party), and revolutionaries/utopians. Several hundred of the latter emigrated to Paraguay—in an even worse depression after a terrible, depopulating war—where they established a communist Utopia, led by journalist-activist Billy Lane, along the lines of communal ownership, prohibition of alcohol, despotic justice, and whites-only racial exclusion. It rapidly fell apart, the Paraguayan government had to step in to create private allotments, and Lane moved to New Zealand where he became a pro-war, Imperialist journalist. There are still, apparently, descendants of utopians in Paraguay who identify with Australia.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:20 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

You might like the Nice Try! podcast.
posted by catquas at 8:23 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]

The Oneida (yes the silverware people) Community was actually quite successful operating from 1848 till 1881 (especially considering it was a religious community that practiced communalism, complex marriage, male sexual continence, and mutual criticism). It however declined after a nasty inheritance fight, disagreements on when children should be introduced to sexual relations, eugenics, leading members fleeing charges of statutory rape, reversion to simple marriages and founding membership aging out.

Stuff you Missed in History Class has a pretty good episode on it.

Oh, and the founder Noyse thought the second coming happened in 79AD.
posted by Mitheral at 9:07 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]

posted by sebastienbailard at 10:21 PM on October 13

I quite enjoyed Budding Prospects by T.C.Boyle.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:37 PM on October 13

There is the excellent Netflix documentary "Wild wild country" about the Indian guru Bhagwan and his commune in Oregon in the 1980s.
This little experiment and resulting dysfunction lead to the biggest bioterrorism incident in the USA!
There are many parallels to your story, they also tried to overtake the local government, and the bears in this case were homeless people and drug addicts they invited to swell their numbers to get more votes.
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 1:24 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]

If you'd be up for fiction, Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist is a fine read.
posted by zadcat at 5:44 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

More fiction: T.C. Boyle's Drop City
posted by Bron at 6:33 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

I had the same reaction after reading that post last night! Scratched the itch with this article on RationalWiki, "Libertarian Paradise".
posted by stinkfoot at 7:34 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

The novel Bethany, by Anita Mason, is about an experiment in communal living that doesn't go well.
posted by orange swan at 7:41 AM on October 14

Here's an article about Galt's Gulch Chile, mentioned in the Libertarian Paradise page.
posted by adamrice at 7:57 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

While not actually funny or "oddballs," you may enjoy Mating by Norman Rush. I know I did!
posted by nkknkk at 8:43 AM on October 14

I'm pretty tickled by all the stories about Disney's attempt to create a town (Celebration, Florida), and what went wrong. The town is still there, but Disney no longer has anything to do with it. This book was a good longread on it, but I think it was published before everything truly went south.
posted by Mchelly at 8:44 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance is based on his own actual experiences in a utopian community in the 1840s.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:52 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]

For small hits of lower-stakes versions of this sort of thing, I like to poke around the Hobby Drama subreddit. It's not particularly balanced and it leans towards online hobbies, but it is fascinating to get these peeks into communities that I'd otherwise never think about and read about issues that were so important for this small group of people and had almost* no impact on anyone else.

* It was very satisfying to get all the backstory about why the Legacy of the Force Star Wars EU books sucked so hard.
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:00 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]

Also on Netflix is the comedy series Documentary Now! (which does excellent parodies of actual documentaries) and their two-episode version of the Oregon commune that's the subject of the abovementioned Wild Wild Country was one of my favorites.
posted by TwoStride at 12:31 PM on October 14

Policeman turns cottagecore Jesus in backwoods Russia, pisses off government. This light article makes it sound as though the prophet is a scam but the settlement might not be, huh. And I can’t imagine it’s going to end well.
posted by clew at 3:19 PM on October 14

The Modern School in New York. Short Atlantic article. The book by Paul Avrich is a great read.
posted by perhapses at 6:38 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]

Are you interested in fiction? Max Brooks' recent book Devolution is about a high-tech commune that gets cut off from society and attacked by Bigfoots. More horror than funny, but I loved it.

On a non-fiction route, Political has a story about how libertarian Colorado Springs dealt with the budget crunch of the last recession. I still think back regularly about their streetlight problem. (Colorado Springs is home to Focus on the Family, in case that helps your schadenfreude.)
posted by lilac girl at 1:04 PM on October 15

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