As anyone involved in cohousing will know, chance encounters, with people or ideas, can quickly turn your thoughts to the community you are living in or trying to build and to the life you are making within that community. Recently, I came across an article on education with the arresting title of ‘Teaching against Idiocy’ by Walter C Parker (1). Parker points out that the original meaning of idiocy in ancient Greece was not someone who was stupid or mentally deficient, but someone who was private, separate and self centred – myopically concerned with private things and unmindful of common things. An idiot’s self centeredness is self defeating as they do not appreciate that privacy, autonomy and liberty are dependent on community. As Aristotle put it, ‘Individuals are so many parts equally depending on the whole which alone can bring self-sufficiency’ (2). Parker quotes with approval Alexis de Tocqueville, ‘These people think they are following the principle of self-interest but the idea they entertain of that principle is a very crude one; and the more they look after what they call their own business, they neglect their chief business, which is to remain their own masters’3. Idiots are idiotic precisely because they are indifferent to the conditions of their own freedom.
As a senior cohousing group, we are not indifferent to our freedom. We know that, as we get older, our autonomy, dignity and friendships are maintained by our actions within a thriving community. If we look at the five primary principles of cohousing, they are practically a charter against idiocy, a hymn to social engagement and maintaining control of personal circumstances:
● Cohousing is co-designed with intentional communities
● Cohousing includes both the provision of private and common facilities providing a balance between privacy and community.
● The size and scale of cohousing is appropriate to support community dynamics for easy informal communal contact; this is usually between 10-40 households.
● Cohousing embeds collective resident control and stewardship into its legal form and decision making
● Cohousing communities are inclusive and part of the wider community
This is not a commercial relationship where you pay tribute and expect services, it is a democratic commitment where you work together, towards the common good, and in doing so, are changed by the experience. You develop and thrive as citizens as your community develops and thrives.
Phil McGeevor, Cannock Mill Cohousing, Colchester (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(1) Parker, Walter C. (v86 n5 p344 Jan 2005). “Teaching Against Idiocy”, Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappan.
(2) Politics of Aristotle, trans Earnet Barker (OUP, 1958, p6).
(3) Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Doubleay 1969, 540.