There is nothing new about the idea of an entire community intentionally working together within the confines of a particular geographical area toward a common goal. The idea has existed in very many variations and incarnations, from business structures, to cults, to scientific experiments and even entertainment, and it is so thoroughly ingrained in human culture, because it is a trait that gives the species an advantage. We have understood for millennia that we are greater, united in purpose, than the sum of our parts. Yet, somehow we’ve managed to lose our way. Our social need for competition has rendered the dominant portion of most communities unwilling to co-operate with each other, with even the small variations of functional intentional communities(big corporations) having private intentions that are harmful to the balance of the rest of the system.
Intentional communities, in their most literal sense today, are those communities attempting to unite individuals in order to find alternatives to the current socio-economic paradigm and all of them have the same geographical isolation-based limitations (their other shortcomings will be discussed separately). Any given community requires a variable quantity of resources that are not available within their geographical location and must be sourced from elsewhere. Shipping and taxes, as well as supply chain value add-ons push prices past sustainability thresholds, and the communities become unfeasible from an economic standpoint, often requiring higher and higher community ‘donations’ and ‘capital injections’, or the more likely decrease in quality of goods and services available to the given community, since all goods and services within the community are traded for external resources. The result is a repetitive cycle of people uniting, being thwarted by a systemic problem, and then parting without having identified the problem, leaving the next community to make the same set of mistakes, and the cycle just keeps repeating. Something’s gotta give.
We are now, however, becoming firmly entrenched in the digital age, where a virtual universe grows exponentially every day. It is in this universe that the latest incarnations of the intentional communities have emerged. Through social networking and cloud computing, we are quickly establishing a myriad of communities that often do not require any particular geographical commonalities, but are still able to achieve a common goal. Examples like Kickstarter or Avaaz are just the tip of a very large ice-berg. But as yet, there has been no tangible move toward a Virtual Intentional Community linking to and governing a real-world community (that I know of).
What is needed is a combination of the advantages of intentional community goals, with virtual intentional community de-limiting to produce a community model that can be applied anywhere (Even existing urban and suburban populations) so that a viable alternative to the current socio-economic model is available. My proposition is a Virtual Intentional Abundance Access Community.
VIAAC – A community using virtual connections to intentionally create resource abundance which the community may then access openly.
The first key is buying-power, and the second is pure-cost. By combining community wealth, individuals are granted buying-power by proxy. Buying-power allows the consumer to purchase in bulk, thereby reducing cost without a reduction in quality, which in turn gets distributed at pure-cost. The cumulative savings throughout the community are then available for sustainable use.
In any community of diverse interests and consumption practices, the key to effective purchasing for bulk-order pricing is to identify the clusters of buying trends. In a computer-based networked system, resource and trend tracking becomes a simple task, albeit data-intensive.
As with production of goods, with procurement of goods the quantity and price are inversely related. The effect is hardly noticed by the average person, since their individual buying power only affords them access to the final links in a resource’s supply chain. However, large companies (with the strongest buying power) purchase these goods at low cost and then inefficiently redistribute the them. Subsequently, prices are driven back up after bulk purchasing occurs as Value add-ons and Value Added Taxes get attached at each link in the product’s supply chain, and the further a supply chain can be extended, the more value can be added on artificially.
But if all the consumers of a product within a community united, their cumulative purchasing quantity reduces the purchase price per unit. This ‘savings’ margin will fluctuate from product to product, but can never be less than zero, meaning that you can ONLY benefit from communal purchasing. And since the VIAAC is doing this with a network of goods procured external to the community, the effect is two-fold. First, is the obvious reduction in cost, but second, and perhaps even more important, is a reduction in wastage.
Because exact quantities would be accounted for, there should be an immediate decline in the amount of resources being procured needlessly or speculatively. This reduction in wastage as well as cost of resources means an increase in savings.
The need for profit in a transaction is based on the need to procure wealth with which to meet one’s own needs and wants. Therefore, a reduction in the wealth required to meet these wants and needs would result in a reduction in the need for profit in a transaction. Since all goods are being purchased at reduced cost external to the community, the reduced cost, and hence the need for profit, can be maintained within the community by simply removing profit from all transactions that occur internally. By purely accounting for cost and maintaining a profit-free internal economy, a VIAAC is able to distribute its resources efficiently, promoting abundance
The Sustainability Margin is any ‘savings’ or ‘profit’ generated by bulk external purchasing and a pure-cost internal structure for the community. This Margin should be used to establish sustainable systems, further reducing external costs for the community.
These systems include, but are not limited to, sustainable permaculture in appropriate areas for community food supply, or alternative farming (aquaponic/hydroponic/vertical), sustainable energy units(solar/wind/methane-steam) for both home and industrial use, sustainable architecture and building remodelling for urban communities.
The communal Sustainability Margin is calculated by combining all the community’s resource Sustainability Margins. A sustainable community requires a positive CSM.
A resource’s Sustainability Margin is calculated using the subtracting the cost of distribution per unit and the bulk order purchase cost per unit from the market retail price of the given resource per unit.
Community Distribution Network
In order for the VIAAC to work, the difference between the discount of bulk purchasing and the cost of distribution within the community has to be greater than zero. This means the creation of dedicated distribution networks that are product/product group/consumer/consumer group specific, to minimize on inefficient resource distribution.
The goal of the Community Distribution Network is to supply a pure-cost, profitless network, which accounts for the expenditure of transporting goods, without capitalizing on the inherent need for the transportation by adding profit margins on at each link in the supply chain. If the final cost of distributing the resource is more than the savings generated by purchasing it in bulk, it is either not viable as a resource for the community and an alternative must be found, or it may need to be associated with a product/product group whose savings are ample enough to account for the distribution cost. The latter option is only available if the secondary product/product group has a matching or complimentary distribution network.
As an example.
In a community with 5000 members, 4500 have sugar on their weekly distribution cycle. The 500 members that don’t require sugar, are not on sugar’s distribution network. Since sugar will have a large enough demand to order in bulk, the savings are ample enough to justify distribution. The same is not true for sweeteners, since only 50 people in the community require them, their bulk savings do not justify distribution, and since the people drinking sweetener are not on the sugar distribution network, sugar cannot take up the slack. But coffee or tea, have a network that covers the same area as both sugar and sweetener, and since coffee has a strong bulk savings, it can easily account for thedistribution of sweetener.
By this reasoning, a complete network of interlinked products and product groups are able to best identify the distribution network suited to the resource. Once the required network has been identified, the resource can be distributed according to the relevant distribution cycle.
There are three main distribution cycles: Daily, Weekly, Monthly
And three secondary distribution cycles: Quarterly, Bi-annually, Annually
The consumer is of course free to purchase anything not on the pre-ordered cycles, since the subsequent fiscal savings would allow for liberal spending on the various ‘wants’ of the community.
By defining these distribution cycles, and identifying the consumer groups, communities are able to purchase relevant resources outside the community at bulk prices for technically accurate quantities, allowing for efficient zero-waste distribution. If the community then distributes the resources internally on a zero-profit, pure-cost basis, and the resultant savings are invested in sustainability design and application by community members, at an ever lowering cost of living, the general standard of living throughout the community increases. In turn allowing for improved community service and goods standards and delivery.
Obviously at some point, actual transport of goods must take place, and this requires vehicles. Unfortunately, the global energy paradigm reduces the number of options available to a community in need of transportation for their goods. Since this is a practical solution, I will not endeavour to go into alternative transportation options, but rather focus on community buying power to finance a fleet of trucks and trailers along with strategically placed warehouses and distribution centres. Depending on which distribution cycle and network a product/product group is on, it would be either delivered or available for collection at the appropriate times.
Of course, none of this accounts for individual taste and habit. Homogenous societies all wearing the same clothing have long been connected with socialism and communism, and simply do not align with human nature. We are unique individuals, or at the very least believe ourselves to be, and this perception requires that any governing system allow for this individualism while providing stability.
The question seems to be one of freedom of choice, but fortunately that is only a perception. The current consumption cycle gives the consumer a set of options, pre-designed to cater to certain tastes and psychological profiles and advertised to stimulate the primal urges that are most likely to result in a desire to purchase the given product. The subsequent buying trends are not freedom of choice but an aspect of predicted behaviour patterns, since the consumer is never truly aware of all his/her options. This then means that the perception of free will is a false perception and thus cannot be the actual question. The actual question is one of valid and valued alternatives. Alternatives that are invalid according to the laws of nature, as well as those that hold no value to anyone, or indeed hold negative value to anyone, need not be considered. This reduces the list of alternatives we have available to us in any given ‘choice’, and what remains are those alternatives that are valid and of value to individuals and the masses alike. Thus by prioritizing alternatives according to their achievability and public opinion of value, and providing consumers with relevant, accurate and detailed information about all alternatives within any given choice, we provide a means for the ‘wisest’ decision making paradigm.
Nobody, given the alternative of freely using a superior product, would settle for its knock-off counterpart if that item were vital to their health. A diabetic would rather use insulin from a reputable pharmaceutical company than from a back-alley drug dealer, even if he has to pay more. Thus, we can deduce that the only possible explanation for the plethora of piracy and counterfeit goods is due to monetary limitations. These limitations can be reduced through bulk purchasing or zero-profit distribution or cross-resource cost covering (as with the coffee/sweetener example) and allow for the reduced production and consumption of unwanted and wasteful resources. This does not mean the complete elimination of competitive products, but removes the inferior and thus wasteful products from the competition.
So, given a society that provides all the elements required for survival at the absolute minimum cost, and the purchasing power to make the most beneficial consumption choices, we are left with a relatively small, but succinct, array of consumer desires to be fulfilled, and a very large resource base with which to procure or produce these fulfilments. Thus, little Jimmy or Janey wanting to buy a telescope, is free to do so, a check with the community will probably show one or two others equally interested, and a price reduction might be achieved, but since such purchases would be relative rare, there also would not need to be a price reduction, beyond the zero-profit internal economy.
Community Food Network
Using modern sustainability principles like permaculture, alternative agricultural techniques like aquaponics, hydroponics, vertical farming and guerilla gardening, an abundance of food can be created to sustain any given community. Maintaining the zero-profit, pure cost distribution principles, and localising production to according to planned distribution cycles, communal food costs can be reduced to almost negligible levels.
Community Product Network
All goods produced internally should have internal preference before being considered for external trade. The result being that only surplus would ever be sold in transactions occurring external to the VIAAC economy. Also the ‘profit’ from selling the surplus would simply add to the Community Sustainability Margin
Community Service Network
Obviously a VIAAC is only capable of offering services internally based on the skill-sets of the VIAAC’s members. If there is no doctor as a member in the VIAAC, then offering a medical service is not possible. Therefore, the fundamental services would need to be covered before a community would be viable. These services include:
- Doctors and Nurses
- Engineers and Scientists
- Technicians (All Major Types)
- Agricultural/Permacultural Experts
And these would need to exist in numbers that adequately provide for the whole VIAAC. One doctor cannot have 10 000 patients, the ratio of doctors to potential patients is actually set by international laws, and the number of doctors required then, would depend on the VIAAC’s size.
The same principle would apply for all the fundamental services, and would thus indicate a minimum number of people required for a VIAAC to be considered viable. Fortunately, since these ratios are quantifiable, and they can be assessed when a community is created.
Community Waste Policy and Management
Zero Waste, Upcycling and Recycling while implementing sustainable systems and sustainability programs, will reduce or even eliminate the waste generated by a VIAAC
In effect, at the end of a collection day, the stores would be empty, and all consumables would have been distributed. So wastage would only really occur after distribution, thus placing responsibility firmly in the hands of VIAAC members.