From The Tribe, a soon to be published novel…
At a quarter to three, my phone rang. It was Jenner Doyle, down at the highway with his photographer and wanting final directions.
“Drive straight up until you see a large meadow and gravel parking area. I’ll be waiting for you there.”
A few minutes later, the car appeared out of the forest. I climbed out of the golf cart to greet them.
“Jenner Doyle,” he said with a shake of my hand. “This is Sara Willoughby.”
I shook her hand too. She was a slender young blonde with gray eyes and no makeup. Jenner was a craggy veteran of the forty year cultural war.
“Quite a spread you have here,” he said. “Is this as far as it goes or is there more?”
“It goes another mile in every direction. Come on, jump in and I’ll show you around.”
I took them first to see the cottages.
“Oh wow, we’ll have to get some shots of this,” Jenner said. “You don’t mind do you?”
“Just don’t give out my address.”
He laughed. The two of them went about framing up various photos.
“Can we see inside?”
I opened up one of the unoccupied cottages.
“Wow,” Jenner said. “This is truly classic craftsmanship.”
“Look at this, Jenner,” Sara said from the kitchen.
He went out and marveled with her over the beveled glass doors and old-fashioned dishes.
“This is quite something,” Jenner said. “And every cottage is like this.”
“Wow. You’ve really done something here. And this was all done with your own money?”
When they were done inside we started off through the forest again. Jenner asked me to stop several more times so Sara could photograph the exterior of the cottages.
From there, I took them on a quick tour of the waste recycling plant and the power grid. Finally we arrived at the tech center.
“Come on in. This is the temporary home of National Roll Call.com.”
“Temporary?” Jenner said.
“Yeah, long story. Come have a look and I’ll explain everything when we sit down for the interview. Hey, everybody!” I said, going inside. “It’s the folks from Rolling Stone. Put out the joints.”
“Hey, we want to be on the cover,” Ashley said.
“Yeah,” Tara said and made a pose with Ashley.
Jenner nodded at Sara, who went to work taking shots of them.
“You just might make it,” Jenner said and continued around introducing himself. As he did and asked questions, Sara followed, clicking off photos.
“Okay, how about a group shot?” Jenner said.
I stood back while Jenner and Sara arranged everyone.
“Let’s get you in here, Steven,” Jenner said. “Sitting down in front somewhere.”
“No, no. This is about them.”
“No, I insist,” he said.
“Yeah, come on and get in here,” Tara said.
Reluctantly, I did.
While Sara was photographing, Tara posed her baseball cap on my head in various stupid positions.
“Are we good?” Jenner said to Sara after a few minutes.
She nodded. I stood up.
“Okay, we’re off to new adventures,” I said.
Jenner went around shaking hands with everyone and expressing thanks as we headed out the door. I took them up to the yurt next.
“Wow, what a trip,” Jenner said on our way up the steps. “So this is your ceremonial lodge.”
“Basically. It’s where the council meets anyway. It wasn’t my original intention but necessity being the mother of invention and all.”
Jenner stared at me with a curious smile.
“Like I said, I’ll explain everything once we sit down for the interview.”
After several photographs of the yurt, I took them up through the fern grotto and along Chaplin’s fence. Sara had me stop for photos along the way.
We came to the maintenance shed next and the garden. Dale was working away with Jason on the other exterior walls. Camellia and Kyler were working in the garden.
“He doesn’t talk much,” I whispered about Dale.
Jenner nodded and had Sara take a few photos of him working with Jason. Then he had Kyler and Camellia pose together in the garden.
“All right! Cover of the Rolling Stone!” Kyler said when they were done.
“Page 41,” I said. “Maybe.”
Kyler introduced himself before we drove away. Back at the meadow, I stopped and explained about the plans for the arts and tech centers.
“That’s what I was going to tell you. Everything was put on hold because the prick next door filed a complaint with the Coastal Commission. I was stuck in the mud until yesterday. I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
“Oh, I’d love to hear that story.”
“You will but let’s head over to my place and we’ll knock things around over some refreshments.”
“Oh wow!” Jenner said when my treehouse came into view. “This is your place?”
I nodded and pulled to a stop.
“Oh wow, yeah. We’ll need to get several shots of it from the outside here.”
“Here, let me pull the golf cart back out of the way.”
“No, no. Pull it up closer. Let’s get it in the shot. It plays nicely into the green angle.”
Once they were done photographing from the forest floor, I led them upstairs. Sara was clicking off photos the entire way.
“Wow,” Jenner said. “It just makes you want to move in.”
I opened the door and waved them through ahead of me.
“Enchanting,” Sara said. “May I?”
“Go right ahead. Photograph whatever you want. My bedroom and office are upstairs. I even made the bed.”
“Drinks you two?”
“Uh, juice will do,” Jenner said.
He looked to Sara and she nodded her head.
“You’ll forgive me if I have a Scotch.”
“Go right ahead.”
While I made the drinks, I heard the doors to my upstairs balcony open and close. A minute later, the two of them came back downstairs.
“Please, have a seat. Your juices are there.”
The three of us got comfortable. Jenner turned on his tape recorder.
“So, you were saying about this neighbor.”
“Okay, turn that thing off for a minute.”
He did. I explained about Chaplin.
“So, never mind his parading around the old Hollywood name, like anyone gave a shit at this point, or his great white hunter BS, he had dug up this dirt and figured it would set me back on my heels.”
“And what was the dirt?”
“I’m guessing you already know that.”
“Are you referring to that boating incident over in the Balearics?”
“And you said?”
“Knock yourself out. I don’t give a damn what you do. I had assured him at the start that I could outspend him a hundred to one, and that I was fully prepared to do so, if that’s what it took to put an end to his bullshit but that didn’t seem to faze him. He went right ahead with his complaint, so I went ahead with my development plans and suddenly he got real cooperative.”
“How much of this can I print?”
“That he filed a complaint against me with the Coastal Commission and that the two of us were ultimately able to work things out.”
“It makes for a far better story the other way.”
“Sure it does, but if I rub dirt in his face, I risk him reneging on our deal.”
“So, what else did you want to know?”
Jenner pointed at the tape recorder, I nodded and he turned it back on.
“So,” he said with a wry smile. “What the hell got into you?”
“I know, huh.”
“Look, I had these ideas where, it was just easier to do something than try to explain them.”
“So, explain. What does this place represent to you?”
“You name what’s wrong with this world and this is my alternative to it. Greed? Corruption? War? Overpopulation? Addiction to oil. Destruction of the environment? More greed? Egotism? Many of these problems are as old as the sun but I can’t see us surviving much longer on the path we’re headed down.”
“And that path is…?”
“Well, I think it’s essential to get off oil, and Brazil has proven that you can do that, but I think there’s the larger question of capitalism. I mean, to me it’s a Ponzi scheme. You have to keep producing crap endlessly or the whole thing collapses. Which means you’re dependent on an ever increasing population, and any fool can see where that’s headed. We’re already seeing it in climate change and the collapse of entire ecosystems. Shit, we’re next in line. It would almost be funny, except billions of people are probably going to suffer and die before the light goes on.”
“And this is your answer to all those problems?”
“Well, a stab at it, anyway. A sustainable lifestyle, where the focus is on quality of life, not on consumption. Something more akin to the medieval pace of life, where you could take a week to make a chair, but with the best of modern technology still at your fingertips.”
“There are some pretty big organizations out there, already doing some pretty important things to help change this world. Why not just throw your lot in with them?”
“Because I don’t see them getting at the basic problem.”
“Fragmentation, I guess I could call it. It’s a function of how capitalism works, isn’t it? We pretend to play nice but we’re really at each other’s throats. So, this is my alternative. Our alternative. At least it’s an actual thing. Not an abstraction. We’re a growing tribe of people who remain individuals, with our own separate goals, but working around a common core with some common aspirations.”
“Well, setting aside the specifics of how it’s run for the moment, we’ve got ‘billionaire starts alternative community.’ How is the everyday guy or gal going to emulate what you’ve done here?”
“Look, you can take a hundred people anywhere and if they throw their lot together, they can get something like this off the ground.”
“Is that the number you’re working with?”
“It’s a nice round number.”
“Look, it doesn’t have to be a hundred but I think you need something along those lines. Where you have a good cross section of skills.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
“Right. The point is, it doesn’t take a billionaire. I just happen to be one, so put yourself in my shoes. I had the money to make this happen. What? I wait around five, ten years for the thing to mature? I’m too damned impatient for that. Anyway, the real question was, could I find a group of people who would be willing to take part and work together in this way and from that standpoint it’s been a resounding yes. You saw those folks down in the tech center. They gladly took a cottage and twenty grand a year to be a part of this, when they could be out making three, four, five times as much in the corporate world.”
“But to be part of what? I still don’t get it. So you have a green platform and you’re working together as a community…”
“Okay, a tribe, but with your National Roll Call, you’re still basically operating in the capitalist system…”
“Look, let’s stop right there. I got into this same discussion with George Cross the other day and you know damned well, there’s a world of difference between old fashioned commerce and the function corporations serve today. Not to mention this wild west BS on Wall Street. What we have today are the greediest, most avaricious and unenlightened human beings holding the levers of power and I’d be real ticked to have someone compare me to people of that ilk. So, no, we’re not above making a buck, and I’d be the last one to stifle free enterprise. Nor am I trying to promote a communist state here, where everything has to be equal, but when our commercial interests are so at odds with the basic needs of humanity, something is terribly wrong. It’s the spirit of it, you know? The enlightened spirit. Thrive, sure, but as part of a whole. We belong to a tribe and our tribe is part of the greater global tribe. Whatever you want to call it, there’s no question that what we’re doing here has brought out the best in everyone.”
“So, can we call it a form of Rousseaunian idealism.”
“There’s that word again.”
“Look, Rousseau’s noble savage was just a rehash of what Plato had said, and Confucius before him, up and down the line. This belief that there is some essential goodness in mankind and that it only needs to be nurtured.”
“And you’re saying you disagree?”
“No, I’m only saying that they’ve taken it out of context. You take an individual and place that person within the safety and security of a group and those instincts will flourish. Take them out of the group and those instincts wither. Or, worse, go very, very awry. Think of all these horrible mass killings. They start digging around into the killer’s past and it always leads back to same thing. A complete separation from any sense of community.”
“And that’s it? Simply provide a sense of community?”
“That’s a lot. I think Joseph Campbell got at this when he suggested the Earth rise shots from the Apollo missions could be a new mythic symbolism. It was like an evolutionary moment, right? Like, wow, we are all just one tribe here on our little blue planet. And you’d think our direction would reflect that process, but no. Forty plus years later and we’re more fucked up than ever.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“I told you. Fragmentation.”
“Explain what you mean by that.”
“Look, I’m just following the archaeological evidence. We’re going back to Lucy here, right? Millions of years in this tribal framework and suddenly, in relative terms, civilization yanks us out of that structure. It’s like asking wolves to eat salad. They’re not designed to digest it and we as a species are not meant to be loners. For the most part. Obviously some individuals thrive better in solitude, but the vast majority of people are happiest when functioning within the fabric of a group. And we’re all connected anyway, no matter how goddamned independent we think you are.”
“Any wars break out here so far?”
“Differences, sure. I’ll give you an example. There was some fractious energy on the night of our first tribal council. Actually after the council had concluded. The specifics aren’t important. The point is, there was some weird energy in the air and I got up the next morning thinking, I’m going up to the garden to work. I need to get centered and guess what? Everybody was already up there when I arrived. Nothing had been said among us. It was just a communal sense welling up within everyone independently. Like, hey, this garden is core to our physical and spiritual well-being and there we were. By the way, there’s some real solid hippie energy here among our members so who knows where that will lead us. I’m sure there’ll be a pottery shop at some point and stuff like that. Classes in organic gardening. The website has helped move us towards financial sustainability, but this isn’t about money. We’ll be working with the greater community on an organic level. You know, try to produce everything we need and barter for the rest. Whatever it is, it has not been necessary for me to explain what I mean by a tribe. Everybody around here just got that instinctively.”
“And what about rules?”
“I think we’re up to three of them at present.”
“Yeah. A super majority of the tribe is required to vote someone in. The same to vote you out and everyone’s time is of equal value.”
“Well, it sounds like it’s a hell of an experiment. Any regrets so far?”
I smiled acerbically.
“And my options were? Build a couple of castles? Jet set to Monaco? Whatever the hell billionaires do with their money these days.”
“I suppose you still can.”
“Sure, I can do whatever the hell I want, but this is really a matter of life and death to me. I really do believe that as a species we’re headed into the abyss. Meanwhile, 99% of the people on this planet get up every day, facing a life and death struggle. So I feel it’s my duty to get up every day and struggle along with them. To do whatever I can to help turn this thing around. I am my brother’s keeper, when all is said and done.”
“That’s a hell of a burden to place on yourself.”
“It’s no burden.”
“No. It’s life. I’m definitely losing hair. Prematurely gray is next but I have my Zen moments too. In one sense, it’s all in a dream, right? But the cat still climbs a tree and we have to deal with the problems we face.”
“So, I imagine you’d like to see more of these tribal units spring up.”
“Sure. I hope it turns into a movement of sorts. Again, it’s not a belief system. It’s just people working together in a sustainable way. To anyone listening out there, I would say, hey, it’s fun. It really is. We have a dynamic, malleable core that can go wherever we want it to go. I’ll be the first to admit that we’re winging it, which has led to some awkward and hilarious moments, where this or that person’s ego gets in the way, mine included, but the spirit of cooperation quickly brings you back in line. You humble yourself and go with the flow and what’s best for the tribe, because the sense of harmony and brotherhood is ultimately more rewarding than having it your own way.”
“Well, look, before we get any deeper into this discussion, I’d like to ask you a few questions about your personal history. Your family, your relationship with your father and how you got from there to here. You don’t mind, I hope.”
“No, I was expecting it.”
“By the way, how does it feel to wake up and find out you’re a billionaire?”
“I suppose that depends a lot on your state of enlightenment.”