Memories of Monte Capanno 1970, Page Four: Governance: did Anarchy Work?

(Residents' comments are in RED).
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Several themes are explored below on this page four of our memories:
- Governance of the community at Monte Capanno;

- the Educational approach used at Monte Capanno, a conversation that also is addressed elsewhere at Monte Capanno 1970 insofar as it concerned the Tutorials Program and the New College of San Jose State;

- Property related issues in this community at Monte Capanno

- Conflict within the community at Monte Capanno;

Governance: "the first rule is that there are no rules."  If Monte Capanno 1970 was an experiment in anarchy, what do we recall about making decisions about who would do what?  or who would have what living quarters, chores, etc.?  Did anarchy work as a way of life?
Overall: Did Anarchy Work?  "Governance- did Anarchy work? Well, consider our predicament in January 1970.  Few of us had ever traveled abroad, and fewer still could speak Italian at all.  As Californians, our only exposure to snow had been in proximity to a ski-lift.  We found Columbella Bassa on our own, in small groups or individually, and trudged up that muddy road with our packs and suitcases in hand, an achievement in itself.  No hot water or toilets in the big farm house, minimal electricity.  Phones, televisions, even stereos, were nowhere to be seen.  Cast adrift in the middle of winter, in rural Umbria. Food?  In bulk: pasta, potatoes, olive oil, salt, unsalted bread, and (on occasion) eggs.  Vegetables and meat were delicacies that had to be procured from the open market in Perugia, miles away.  Take 30 average American 19-year-olds today and drop them into similar circumstances.  Need I say more?   So did our governance system work?  Well, maybe the Monte Capanno experiment was indeed the late 60s writ small.  A few unselfish and enterprising people stepped forward for the common good.  We all didn't contribute equally, I am ashamed to say.  Many of the women, without complaint or resentment, exercised what were regarded in those days as "female skills" by creating a kitchen where there was none, and actually supplying these 30 refugees with hot meals.  Unbelievable.  And our budding lumberjacks, the guys who hewed those scraggly Italian trees and created roaring fires every night.  If 'Anarchy' worked it was due to a number of people who put the community ahead of their own comfort and interests.  You know who you are." (by Mark F., November 2000)

The Problems of Anarchy:"...The thing about how we are here is we not only have to get along, we have to work... [T]hinking over the meeting and some other things I feel a little of the Mussolini in me.  One thing that might happen here is I will decide between being a romantic and a contemplative.  But for now if we don't get a system going..." (from the Diary of David Zack, Feb. 17-18, 1970, go here to read more)

"I've come to the conclusion that anarchy is not a viable solution." (from Gordon's letters, April 15, 1970, go here to read more)

Zack's view of the decision making process: "Haven't yet begun to describe these students from California.  So you will have to imagine for yourself the meeting we had in the room in the small farmhouse where we've been cooking and eating for the past week or ten days, waiting for more people to arrive and the big farmhouse to be ready with hot showers and toilets and a stove in the huge kitchen there and beds and some heating.  We had eaten a lot of pasta and drunk a lot of wine.  The salad was particularly fine and the fire was going well, with two people sitting right in the fireplaces on the warming benches on the side.  Then we picked two or three people to be specialists, resource people, in each job.  Gardening, cooking, garbage disposal, cleaning, cutting firewood and making fires, chemical heating with kerosene and bottled gas, buying supplies, and keeping track of everything, or as we say secretary treasurer...This was a fine meeting since [it] involved almost no discussion.  People knew what was to be done.  I was juiced enough to give a short sermon on the joy of garbage disposal, and gratified by response to it." (from the Diary of David Zack, Feb. 17-18, 1970, go here to read more)

Remembering actual decision making:

"I found that Mary Zuccaro had similar views, but couldn't quite understand why nobody else thought that this all was really, really sick.  It began to dawn on me why and how this was so when David Zack arranged a group meeting to address my concerns, got most of the attendees loaded on hashish before anything was said, and then went on into a smooth-as-silk portayal of Mary and me as purveyors of paranoia.  In 1970 you could squelch just about anything by calling 'paranoid!'  I thought 'Holy shit!  We've got a pipe-smoking tweed-clad sociopath for a leader, and we're in Italy, marooned on a farm.  I gotta get out of here!' " Darrell Jones, April 2002.

"I really feel like crying when I see so much venom in the people I consider to be my brothers and sisters.  I really love them individually - every single one is a beautiful person - but together we create bad vibrations.  It's to the point where all I can do is sit in the corner at the meetings with my head on my knees biting my lip to keep from crying.  Why can't we open our eyes and see another human heart?  I want to run away..." (from Cathee's diary, March 23, 1970, to read more please go here)

"Fighting over which room to occupy and staking our claims with the dripping shutter paint [from] the kitchen." (from Cathee's diary, May 19, 1970, to read more please go here)

"I say to Maija, 'sure is a paranoid building.'  She tosses that around in her head for a while, then says, 'Fortification. No privacy without fortification.' (from Joel's diary, May 21, 1970, to read more please go here)

Education and Educational PhilosophyInteresting background on the Tutorials in Letters and Sciences Program, its founders, and its relationship to the New College of San Jose State, can be found in letters to this website posted here.  The Experiment at Monte Capanno built upon and expanded key parameters that guided those San Jose based programs.

"David Zack, of course, was emulating Thomas Woolfe in early 1970, and it was no coincidence that The Electric KoolAid Acid Test was one of the books we shipped to Monte Capanno for our seminars. And I recall David taking notes on what we said to locals, what adventures we had, etc., & then he  sort of exaggerated them, in a literary version of Maija's art. He actually let me read some of his 'novel'." (by Mark F.)

"The thing about how we are here is we not only have to get along, we have to work.  Together where possible.  And enough so the mind can wheel into this thing called education, which is why we are here.  More on that.  Education is a racket I've been in as work... for ten years, but just never found a good way to talk about it.  So forget about it.  Imagine the meeting by candelight (sic), the way everytime there was a break and I asked for questions Craig Morem would stand up very blond with a bottle and say, 'Does anyone else need more vino?' " (from the Diary of David Zack, Feb. 17-18, 1970... go here to read more)

John Dean: "for me , as non student, Monte Capano was like a summer camp with sex and drugs , I 'learned' as much, or more,  there as in any credited semester anywhere .  What exactly I 'learned' is difficult to say.  MC was not an exact science.

"I remember reading the book 'Sumerhill' while staying in the small farm house and imagining that Dave was attempting to adopt that anti-system for mc. Today, rereading the introduction which can be found here: in conjunction with the mc2000 pages kind of makes me feel that, if so, he was not entirely off the mark.

"Whatev.....I have no real clue as to what Dave actually thought he was doing (if anything) and as to his character I will lean on good old Uncle Oscar/ 'It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.'  IMNSHO dave was mostly charming , as were you all.........." (John Dean April 2002).

John Dean's girlfriend, Cindy Rippey: "I knew Zack at The San Francisco Art Institute in 1968 or 9. He was my English teacher. I was just what you all were in Italy. I was straight from the suburbs, rich parents, and brighter than the average. I was his anti-heroine. I asked banal questions from the framework of the unenlightened cloistered youth. By the time I got to MC I had been around with some people who had given me a little more insite. I'm afraid Zack was right, you were spoiled brats. You weren't suppose to be waiting for anything from him. Griping wasn't going to get you what you wanted. Mom and Dad weren't there. The experiment was to find out how the the cream of society would survive. Can they survive? Can they survive well? Has society gotten too decadent to suvrive? (Cindy, May 2002)

Our Seminars: "We have our seminars all arranged. There are 30 to pick from and they range from serious drinking to eastern religions to needlework and pottery, and on and on.  It should be pretty interesting!" (from Linda's letters, February 21, 1970... go here to read more)
"There are times when communal living is so trying that it hardly seems worth it.  Our seminars are finally getting under way, sort of half-assed.  I'm learning more about how to chop wood, make garden tools, break up earth, and sow crops than anything else.  Still, that's an education which to me seems valuable.  I guess I'll be concentrating on Psychology for the term, inasmuch as this living arrangement lets me evaluate the intensely close elbow-rubbing of a large group.  My book Joy by William Shutz will help me in the encounter group I'm leading." (from Gordon's letters, February 27, 1970... go here to read more)

"David, Maija, Tall Terry, Sandee, Mary Miller, Chuck - all in my room having a Blake seminar.  Wes fiddles with the fire between intervals of reading Man and His Symbols.  Rick is engrossed in Etruscan Places.  He seldom looks up or shows signs of distraction... If it comes off, tonight will also be 'encounter group night' for Mike, Mary, Wes, Rick and me.  But why speculate on that now?  (from Cathee's diary, March 17, 1970... go here to read more)

"We've started seminars, but they're all David Zack Monopolies.  Where are the dialogues?  The creative exchanges?  I have to grit my teeth to keep from wanting to run away.  Tutorials spoiled me.  Learning is a moving process.  It should be exciting, filled with discovery.  We shouldn't feel self-conscious about what we don't know.  We should ache to FIND OUT.  Dictatorships make people feel small.  I hate intellectuals.  It's a phony kind of wisdom.  I can't run anymore.  I need to push through this.  I need to make peace with myself and everyone around me.  I need to be okay with this kind of learning.  I need to shut my mouth and just listen.  Perhaps I'm not being fair.  I'm pretty ignorant about the whirlwinds of life.  Slow down.  Watch.  Clear this cluttered mind.  Understand this situation, even in its chaos...  Most importantly, I'll do everything as best as I can.  I'll be my most ardent observer.  I will observe this landscape.  The people in it.  I will observe the workings of our professor and figure out what it is he wants from us." (from Cathee's diary, March 17, 1970... go here to read more)

"At present, I'm reading Kafka and Jung, with an occasional novel to spice up the action.  Our seminars have taken shape, and I'm active in the Psychology and Play Reading ones.  A lot of them I find totally irrelevant (i.e., Eastern texts, Aesthetics, etc.)... [I've b]een looking at Etruscan arches and tombs.  Looks as if they have been attacked by archeologists, etc.  Not much original stuff remains.  I've yet to go to the underground city beneath Perugia, but will soon.  ...Snow capped Mt. di San Francesco still dominates the sublime elegance of rural living.  Each day as I feel Spring approaching I know that it all will work out. (from Gordon's letters, March 18, 1970... go here to read more)

"My recollection of why I left is pretty specific, but probably not completely accurate.  Pretty early on it occured to me that:

  • We were in Italy and given little or no contact with Italians (outside of the farm help and some contact with the Contessa's family).  The Zacks got to do the village shopping runs exclusively at first, which was one way we would actually have interaction with Italian people, language, etc.  David Zack's idea of student contact with the Italian people was to organize a kazoo concert for a neighboring village.  We were nothing more than objects in his little tableau quite honestly.
  • We were in Italy and given little or no contact with Italian art or culture.  What we had was a goddamn coffee table art book and Maia's stupid beasties.
  • We had lots of wine but not always enough food.  We were getting cold, hungry, and sick.  The finances didn't seem right.  Did DZ's guests ever pay squat for the prime places around the fire, food, and lodging?" Darrell Jones, April 2002.
"Monte Capanno, home of kings, brings surprises to you: a laughing Gordon upon returning from Firenze, Pisa, and Siena, a garden of new Spring lettuces and carrots, and more disenchantment with the ideal of communal living.  God am I sick of lazy people.  Some of our guests do more than some of the students who bitch about how the guests are screwing up the 'quality of life'.  Our 'professor' has split.  He comes back now and then to hold utterly irrelevant seminars on James Joyce or William Blake, or some other prophet of anarchy.  All of this disgusts me.  ... Linda and I remain happy, though we both find little academic stimulation when surrounded by preachers of Taoism, Astrology, Anarchy, Health Foods, and Yoga.  All 'Rational' minds (i.e., students of History, Psychology, Sociology, or Literature, etc.) have thrown up their arms in despair and fled.  At the minute the one lad who I can converse logically with is in Rome and the hocus-pocus of all the followers of mysticism and illogic has doubtlessly colored this letter overly negatively.  I have become more sure of my own direction, at least.  Though I'm not willing to commit myself totally yet, I think Political Science is what I would like to study in the Fall.  ...I've been thinking of my course of study in the next two years much, for it will, more or less, determine the nature of much of the direction of the rest of my life.  Insofar as governments are concerned, I've come to the conclusion that anarchy is not a viable solution." (from Gordon's letters, April 15, 1970... go here to read more)

"Seminars in our faraway school were and weren't.  Originally fully fifty different ones were scheduled, mostly led by students, though Prof. Dave led the pack with roughly 10 booked.  By March, the workload was pruned to 28 seminars, of which five or six ever occurred.  Some of them were held nearly daily, others weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, as interest among the students lagged during travels of seminar members.  'Serious drinking' by far was held the most often, and once it was warm, 'Frisbeeing for Health" enjoyed near daily classtime.  Both of these were jointly attended by Craig and myself. 'Serious drinking' was broadened to include 'Other Euphorias' when a friend of Dave's, John Dean, arrived via Amsterdam with plenty of smokable goodies." (from Gordon's diary, May 28, 1970, go here to read more)

Anarchy and Property at Monte Capanno: Everyone at Monte Capanno possessed personal property: passports, spending money, backpacks, clothing, razors, hairbrushes, etc.  So, it overstates to say the experiment was entirely a commune.  However, many things were possessed and consumed jointly as in a true commune: the pasta, the wine, walnuts, the dishes, the uncut wood, etc.; and many other things were shared or collectively used: garden utensils, saws and axes, propane heaters, etc.  Some residents generously treated their motor bikes and cars as available to the group, and this reinforced the impression of a new type of society.  These features all blurred the lines between the capitalistic notion of property and alternative arrangements.  But some misunderstandings developed when residents had differing perceptions of what was personal property and what items were shared property; and some Monte Capanno attitudes toward property seem to have spilled over into residents' dealings with the world outside the little community.

"I have one or two of the original Monte Capanno paperbacks from that shipment.  More of mine, however, disappeared from my room in the farmhouse, whilst [several of us] were [away]... there was some resentment at me (and a few others) for "disappearing", etc.  The removal of the books was (along with some sullen glares upon my return) "payback", I gathered, from folks who were unhappy with me." (by an anonymous resident)

"Craig & Cindy & John & I went to town to see about transferring Topolino's  services from Craig to John."  (Cathee's diary, May 21, 1970)

"Craig and Linda and Gordon stole a candle apiece from the church [in Gubbio]." (from the Diary of David Zack, Feb. 17-18, 1970... go here to read more)

"Stealing bread in the hostels." (from Cathee's diary, May 19, 1970, to read more please go here)

Conflict at Monte Capanno: Idyllic as the setting was, and positive as most community members' attitudes were, collisions of interests, values, and personal styles did occur.
"... in answer to your question about 'why there are only 15 students' is because people are out traveling.  It's a great thing to do and also a necessity.  Living with as many people as there are here, it an be very fun, but it can also be a hassle.  Most of the time we have lots of interesting guests that come and stay.  They've all been great and interesting people...(from Linda's letters, April 3, 1970... go here to read more)

"I woke up Maija lying next to me.  She got mad the night before on account of I left her alone with 20 students while she cooked.  Also, she drank a lot of Monte Capanno red wine... [B]ooze and Maija are a bad combination for me.  So she threw some mineral water and then the bottle.  Packed some things in a little leather hand case with the initial ìGî on it.  Stands for her maiden name, Gregarious.  Including her passport and half her round trip ticket from Luxembourg to New York.  And now she was packed and wanted to be dropped off at the train station... The bottle Maija threw broke the way bottles do on tile floors, a bit noisy.  And though a bit of feeling for her, since she likes the privacy of two people in a room and made a lot of having her own painting studio to work in.  But she cooks fine and paints beasts, and people certainly didn't want her to go to California and leave me alone.  I was of two minds about this.  Nobody likes to have a bottle thrown at him.  Though there are a l[ot] of worse things one can do with a bottle.  Like break it and come on slicing, aiming jugularly."  (from the Diary of David Zack, Feb. 17-18, 1970... go here to read more)

"The food situation for the group is getting worse.  Money is very scarce and people's stomachs are growling again.  A lot of really heavy hassling is going on - to the point where a bottle was thrown at one of the meetings.  I was so shocked and blown out, I had to leave and take a long walk through the fields to dry my tears and set my head straight.  Mark F.  later took me for a midnight motorcycle ride to help ease the tensions within us both.  It was good -- really good." (from Cathee's diary, March 23, 1970, to read more please go here)

"[I went r]iding on Little Mark's bike on the night of his birthday after that [other] heavy scene." (from Cathee's diary, May 19, 1970, to read more please go here)

"I will admit that doing physical work can reinforce the chip already on a young guy's shoulder, and relations between residents and some guests did get strained over the matter of how the work to be done fairly could be distributed.  One Spring day, after listening for several hours to Tall Terry play recorder [a small flute-like instrument] while Craig and I sawed, split, and carried wood, I confronted him.  The argument was short, and at the end of it, his backpack had been 'airmailed' out the second story kitchen window of the farmhouse by me, with the clear suggestion that he next could go by the same route if he'd like.  That was the day Tall Terry left Monte Capanno, in fact, that was the moment of it.  Nobody had asked me to throw him out, and I think the violence or threat of violence that was involved surprised some of the residents.  I was not, and am not, a person who waits for others' instructions; I had reached my limit with what I regarded as 'freeloader'.  Since there was no operative system of the group 'deciding' such matters, I took direct action." (by Gordon)

"A widening rift separates our esteemed professor and me.  I think he is completely a flop as an instructor.  He's been hired at University of Sasketawan next fall and isn't very concerned with repercussions of his lack of organizing and his subsequent lack of a style of seminar which he can dominate.  We still hold our own, but he doesn't come any more... Of course the jerk hasn't yet paid he and his wife's $500. (approximately) rent and board." (from Gordon's letters, April 18, 1970, to read more please go here)

"Re. David Zack, I do recall a spring meeting we all had with him at MC. Our message was, 'Pay up NOW'!  Emotions were running high.  David's response was (and I remember this quite clearly) 'You're a bunch of spoiled middle-class brats who have never experienced a villain in your life. Well, I'M going to be that villain'! This delivered as if it were the greatest gift to us. And in David's mind (what was left of it after 30 straight days of LSD by his admission) I imagine he felt it was. Perhaps an unkind way to remember one who has left this earth but I felt a little balance was needed as other writers seemed on the verge of cannonizing the guy. Bottom line, not a guy to be admired. Not sour grapes, as one might suppose. In fact, I didn't even remember being cold or hungry until reminded by other writers. Br-r. I actually remember the trip quite fondly. There by the grace of God we went. How else can you explain me (and unnamed innocents) running around the medina in Marrakech braless and in cutoffs-up-to-here and coming back to the western world unscathed?  Others would have countless other (and better) tales to tell.  Actually, I see Hollywood being interested in our story. Probably wouldn't need much embellishing, eh? Do we have a screenwriter in the group? (Look at the "HAIR" revival).  And we DID have GREAT hair!" (by Jan Hammond Gentes, September 2001).

"There was, I believe, a general consensus among the students that some gap was present between the statements of tolerance and 'whatever's right' uttered by our esteemed professor, and the undeniably selfish style of life the man lived, discriminating against students he didn't like (e.g., Mark Cohen), criticizing continually the manner of affairs at the farmhouse, and resorting to personal attacks when confronted about the $480 rent which the man never paid.  Such problems divided the two classes of folk at Monte Capanno, nicely mirroring the Monarchists and peasants who lived in the area permanently.  Dave and Maija, flanked by bodyguards Chuck Egof, John Dean, 'yes men' Katie and 'Tall Terry,' effectively became known as The Elite.  All students, excepting two or three at all times, were at odds with them from about April first until June.  Physical violence between the two classes erupted only twice.  Once between myself and 'Tall Terry' upon my requesting the man to leave our house, and once when Chuck beat Terry MacDonald up, due to John Dean's tape being lost.  Considering the national background of all the students (American), the adverse climatic and sanitary conditions (lack of functional toilets for a month, lack of hot water), and a mere four burners and one oven to cook for 25 plus people, I consider this amount of violence very low." (from Gordon's diary, May 28, 1970, to read more please go here)

"I missed the actual punchup between Chuck and Terry... . If memory serves it happened not long after dinner in the big farmhouse.  Everyone was sitting around listening to bland pop music on cassette.  When it droned to a close I heard the last few beeps of an electronic composition of mine and realized Terry had taped over it.  I remember becoming agitated and angrily yelling at Terry.  Here's where it gets a bit fuzzy. I think there was a quiet interval then violent noises just outside the dining room where it seems Chuck had punched Terry out and thrown him down the stairs....?..... If you would like this straight from the horse's mouth.  I believe Chuck lives in Burlingame California." (John Dean, May 2002)

"But if money was what divided Monte Capanno, it was sweat that brought us together." (from Gordon's 1970 diary, to read more please go here)

"[Many at MC were] into 'spirituality.'  I, too was deeply rooted in many spiritual teachings, but learned later (at MC) that 'spiritual arrogance' had nothing to do with being 'spiritual.'" (by an anonymous student resident).

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