Fungus and the vulnerability of community

I’ve just released a new set of printable paper miniatures on DriveThruRPG, featuring some fungus people. At the moment the pack is US$1, but I’ll put it up to a regular price of US$3 in a couple of days. (I’ve also tried out making some tokens with the same illustrations, and I’m wondering if those are useful for people using virtual tabletops for their games?)

I’ve been using fungus people (in Dungeons & Dragons they’re called myconids) a little bit in the Out of the Abyss adventure I’ve been running for my Thursday night D&D group. There’s been a young myconid accompanying the group for most of the adventure, but in our most recent session the party came across a group of myconids who were acting quite unusually.

In D&D myconids are presented as peaceful creatures who live an idyllic existence in small, subterranean communities where they dream together and seek higher consciousness. This works because each community of myconids submits to a leader. In Out of the Abyss, the close-knit communities of the myconids are used by the demon lord Zuggtmoy to spread her maddening influence through the subterranean realm of the Underdark. This demonstrates that, while we tend to think of ‘community’ as a good thing, it can also be used to spread malevolent influence. (i’f you’re interested in reflecting more on the tensions between community and freedom, I’d suggest looking up the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman.)

Zygmunt Bauman, social division and flesh golems

A couple of weeks ago I was reading Zygmunt Bauman’s book Community – Seeking Safety in an Insecure World in preparation for a book review. It was the same week that I first tried streaming my illustration process on Twitch. In a conversation with my friend Nicholas Moll (from Owlman Press) I mentioned that once I’d finished reading Bauman for the night I’d probably jump on Twitch and start drawing requests. Nick suggested I draw a flesh golem, and somehow we ended up with the idea of a Zygmunt Bauman flesh golem. (A flesh golem is basically Frankenstein’s monster – a person made from the parts of deceased people and animated through the power of ‘science’.)

I decided to draw the Zygmunt Bauman flesh golem with a third eye surgically added in the middle of his head, suggesting that his mind has been awakened. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the ‘monster’ is more enlightened than the scientist who created him by the end of the novel. From reading Bauman’s book, I think he is also pretty awake to our current global situation. Bauman talks about how global elites have refashioned our society to suit their own ends. The problem is that because society has become very fragmented it is now very difficult to organise effectively. I think what my own country’s government is doing at the moment is exploiting some of these divisions through the public debate about marriage, in order to distract from the growing economic inequality, which I think is the real threat.

Growing a garden of solitude in the desert of loneliness

In a few weeks our household is hosting a learning circle on the idea that hospitality is ‘making room’. Our thoughts about this have been influenced a lot by the writing of Henri Nouwen – in particular his book Reaching Out. Some of us used to draw on his ideas when we were working in the city. I thought I’d some blog posts over the next few weeks explaining ‘making room’.

In Reaching Out, Nouwen described a spirituality that helps to sustain hospitality. Nouwen was coming from a specifically Roman Catholic perspective, but I think his ideas could be useful to people from a range of different religious or non-religious locations. From Nowen’s perspective, spiritual growth involved reaching out in three different directions:

  • reaching toward ourselves, by moving from loneliness to solitude
  • reaching toward others, by moving from hostility to hospitality
  • reaching toward God, by moving from illusion to prayer (this one comes across as the most religious, so feel free decide whether that is or isn’t for you)

When describing the movement from loneliness to solitude, Nouwen noted that our globalised society doesn’t make space for solitude. The normal mode of operating is to try and fill our space with people and busyness. We think that we’re going to escape loneliness by crowding ourselves in with people and activity. Nouwen reckoned that by expecting other people to take away our loneliness we’re actually putting an unreasonable burden on them. By expecting other people to take away our loneliness, we doom them to disappoint us.

Nouwen believed that what we actually need to do is come to terms with our aloneness. This was how he believed we could move from loneliness to solitude. He talked about entering the desert of loneliness and gradually beginning to grow a garden of solitude there. Nouwen said that if we can become content being alone, this prepares us to be part of community. Coming to terms with our aloneness allows us to participate in hospitality without burdening others with our demands.

Work before industrialisation

The last two weeks I’ve written a bit about growing a sense of community at work. On Thursday I mentioned that working locally, from home, alongside neighbours and family, is the way that people worked before industrialisation. My friend Dylan said he was interested in reflecting more on what work and family were like before industrialisation. I thought I’d write a brief summary of my limited understanding of this topic:


Before industrialisation, most work was farming for food production. In pre-industrial Britain, nobles had responsibility for areas of land. They would get local people to live on and work the land. No-one had a lot of incentive to improve the land. The nobility couldn’t sell up and workers couldn’t go looking for better places to work. Most production was for consumption within the extended household of the manor where it was made. It was often too risky to try and take goods to cities to trade, because of the cost of transportation, tolls that needed to be paid and prevalence of banditry. Local exchange was controlled by relationships of obligation.

One of the factors that began a move away from this system was a movement toward private ownership of land. In England, the nobility began to push for the ability to enclose the land they were responsible for – to claim ownership, and the right to sell it. Previously a lot of the land had been held in common, so all the local people could use it. Private ownership gave the nobility the incentive to develop the land and sell up. This meant that many tenant farmers were no longer needed and became displaced. I think this meant more than just geographical movement – it meant a severing of the relationships of obligatory exchange that bonded feudal communities together. Many displaced workers ended up in big cities, providing the labor that allowed industrial work to begin.

Hopefully think it’s obvious that I’m not arguing for a return to pre-industrial economics, but I wonder if there is anything we can learn from pre-industrial society?

6 ways to grow community at work

Last Thursday I wrote very briefly about growing a sense of community at work, and I asked what you think is the best way to do it. I thought I’d post your suggestions today:

  1. Steph suggested we should make sure we notice people and mention things we appreciate about them. In workplaces it can be easy for people to go unnoticed. If we consistently notice people, we’ll create community over time.
  2. Dylan was saying he’s just started a new job, and he’s just been looking out for opportunities for informal, spontaneous coversation.
  3. Steve suggested letting community just happen organically. He said he’d seen bosses try to enforce community from above, and it never works. He was telling us about an attempt one boss made to get everyone to cheer at the end of meetings, which sounded kind of awkward…
  4. Lucas kept it simple: ‘Humans being nice to other humans!’
  5. Jacqui’s suggestion was simple as well, but I think there’s also a lot of depth to it. She suggested sharing food, which is actually something I was talking with some students about yesterday. I think sharing food is really good for developing a sense of community and mutuality, because it’s a reminder of our shared dependence on food and on the land that provides it.
  6. Shae was saying he has no idea how to develop community at work because he’s lucky to work with someone who is already one of his best friends. They’re both already part of the same community in a lot of ways. What he was describing reminded me of the fact that before industrialisation, that’s more what work was like. People would work locally, often out of their homes alongside family. Because of industrialisation many of us now travel out of neighbourhoods to work with people that we don’t see except at work. I think this means we have to be more intentional about growing community. If we have the opportunity to work in our local communities, it can male it more straightforward.

If you have any more suggestions, please feel free to keep adding them!

How do you grow community at work?

We had some visitors today, folks who support the work our household does. One of the first things they asked was, ‘What do Aboriginal people mean by “mob”?’

We said ‘mob’ is your family. Not just a nuclear sense of family, but an extended sense of family/ You might talk about your whole community as your mob.

At my old workplace, we spoke of ourselves as a mob. It wasn’t just a workplace, it was a community. We couldn’t do community development without a community to invite people into.

Our visitors today were talking about their workplace in a similar way, as a community where people look out for each other.

What do you think is the best thing you can do to grow community in a workplace?