Cooperatives and Butler’s Communities pt. 2

Remember those Rochdale Principles I wrote about in that earlier post? Here they are again:

Voluntary and open membership


Motivations and rewards

Democratic member control

Member economic participation

Autonomy and independence

Education, training and information

Cooperation among cooperatives

Concern for community

Regardless of how many of these (arguably progressive) community traits are found in Butler’s communities, it’s possible the only thing that’ll be revealed in applying these principles as ethical litmus tests is that Butler’s communities all yield some tenuous balance, some intention to do the best thing, the most right things, that can help to balance the bad things within them which, in each case, they couldn’t help in the first place.


In this blog post I am interested in one principal in particular: Democratic member control. There is scant evidence of democracy in Butler’s works which we read in this course. Although, as laid out in part one of this post, every community in Butler’s fiction is operating cooperatively, in none of these cases do the members of the community collectively have power. In Fledgling, the Ina answer to a council of elders that addresses Shori’s claims. It is evident throughout the book at the Ina’s human counterparts are entirely left out of of the Ina’s decisions. They are a community within the surrounding Ina community with no representation, no rights besides those which the Ina choose to grant them. In Lilith’s Brood, the humans have functionally no say whatsoever in the procedures of the Oankali.The Oankali wield centuries of patience as coercion. In Clay’s Ark, Eli is the ringleader who calls all of the important decisions. The entire colony is of his creation and design, and he is it’s patriarch.


I am graduating this semester, and my sights are set on moving to Austin, Tx. I have been searching online for cooperatives to live in. One, Whitehall Cooperative, I found very appealing until I noticed one key difference between their house and the cooperative I live in: They take democratic member control one step further by introducing consensus. In American education, we are raised to believe that majority rule is sufficient in attaining the democratic solution. Speaking to sizes of cultures and how they impact cultural beliefs, I would say this observation provides a counterbalance to my earlier-stated conviction that larger communities allow for homogenized opinions. While I do believe that that is true often, our country is evidence enough that it is possible to have a population large enough that widespread agreement on anything is a fairy tale. So, if consensus means prolonging a democratic process until everyone is in agreement, why should I write off this cooperative as an option for my prospective future home?


In the operations of this course we also worked with consensus. Specifically regarding the class demands that Professor McCoy encouraged us to take, the class needed to reach a consensus first. In practice, this meant that a minority of the class desired one thing, and the remaining majority was impartial enough to allow for the appearance of consensus. I wrote in my class journal after the initial class demand that the only truly radical move on this front would be the ability for individuals to make demands. If individuals do not have the power to be heard and to have their needs respected and answered to, then they are just as beheld to the power of the group en-masse as they are to whatever figure of authority that the group is appealing to.


Cooperatives enable communities to collaboratively achieve common and shared goals. Democratic process by way of majority rule enables individuals an amount control and voice in the decisions of a group. Consensus can be an impediment to this control and this voice by halting progress and process until certain voices are coerced or swallowed by the demands of some.


All of this goes to say that group decision making is always going to involve cost. This course and the communities illustrated in the literature has taught me that there is so much at risk in joining any group. To my fellow classmates, I say: Good luck. Engage with organizations that enable groups to be aided, helped, enriched, etc. But don’t be blinded by the illusion of consensus regarding good intentions. As we go forward in this cursed century, let us all hold onto our individual voices. Let us forego one tenuously-reached demand as a consensus body, and make billions of individual demands. It is the only way to elevate all our voices.

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