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Kerista was a utopian community that was started in New York City in 1956 by John Peltz "Bro Jud" Presmont. Throughout much of its history, Kerista was centered on the ideals of polyfidelity and creation of intentional communities. Kerista underwent several incarnations that later became known as the "Old Tribe," which was associated with a fairly large, but fluid membership. What was called the "New Tribe," a period of more stable membership and ideology, began in 1971 based in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco.
- 1 Founding
- 2 Old Tribe
- 3 New Tribe
- 4 Dissolution
- 5 Kerista, Robert A. Heinlein, and Stranger in a Strange Land
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Kerista was founded by John Presmont after an auditory-hallucination telling him that he was the founder of the next great religion of the world. After time spent in New York in the 50's, and several island experiments in Dominica, Honduras and Belize in the 60's, Jud settled in San Francisco at the end of the 60's.
Kerista-inspired storefronts and communal houses existed in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco Bay Area throughout the 60's, and was moderately popular. The ideology shared by the Old Tribe was remarkably simple: 'Wash your own dish', 'No one belongs to anyone else', 'Kerista is freedom and love'. The main tenets of the Old Tribe embody the hippie ideals of 'good vibes' and the 'righteous high', racial and sexual liberation, and a strong tendency towards dropping out of the straight-world and living a non-conformist life of idealism, spontaneity, and fun. In addition, Old Tribers started the use of a Ouija-board for wisdom and guidance, and use of the 'alphabet-board' continued in the New Tribe.
One division occurred in the Old Tribe over the Vietnam War. Jud was a patriotic WWII ex-soldier, and he supported US military intervention. However, the vast majority of the Old Tribe were anti-war. Jud's pro-military beliefs were unpopular in leftist circles, and regularly surprised visitors who expected Jud to be left-of-center.
From 1971 until 1991, the community was centered at the Kerista Commune (not a single physical building), founded in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco, California. The Keristans maintained a very high profile which included publication of a popular free newspaper and several national media appearances.
When it was active, Kerista was a focal point for people interested in alternative and non-monogamous lifestyles. The terms polyfidelity and compersion were coined at the Kerista Commune. The commune developed an entire vocabulary around alternative lifestyles—for example their term polyintimacy in their literature was similar to the term popularized as polyamory years later. Entrance to the commune was extremely selective and included a 6-month waiting period and a screening for STDs.
Social contract standards
Kerista accumulated a codified social contract over its history that all members were expected to agree and comply with, at all times. Starting with a few unwritten rules in 1971 to 26 standards in 1979, the social contract evolved to 84 standards  by 1983. There were over 100 standards in 1991.
Examples from the 84 Standards include:
- Total Rationality at All Times
- Search for Truth through the Elimination of Contradictions
- No Jealousy, No Anger, No Rivalry, No Sexism, No Ageism, No Racism, No Classism, No Duplicity, No Alienation, No Profanity, No Flippancy
- Social Tolerance, Equality, Verbality, Participatory Democracy, Accountability, Conviviality, Graceful Distancing
- Positive Attitude towards the ‘Toggle-Switch’ Mode of Decision-Making
- There is One and only One Objective Reality
Gestalt-O-Rama / Utopian Psychology
Kerista used a group process called Gestalt-O-Rama, loosely taken from Fritz Perls' concept of gestalt ("enhanced awareness of sensation, perception, bodily feelings, emotion, and behavior, in the present moment.") For Keristans, gestalt consisted of a lot of conversation in groups. Maintaining personal 'resolve-on-the-lifestyle', a euphemism for being aligned with the social contract, was a daily task for many Keristans. Being 'unresolved-on-the-lifestyle', even momentarily or temporarily, was worthy of immediate gestalt and possible expulsion from the family or commune. Practically, a member could be "called out" on any standards violation or non-utopian thought or action by anyone at any time, and then the whole commune would join in. If a gestalt was started, and someone was in the 'hot-seat', most everyone in the commune would either come and participate - or run and hide. Typically this resulted in a roomful of people discussing one member's transgressions late into the night, and always had the potential for the hot-seat shifting focus to another Keristan.
Kerista produced zines that included drawings and comics. Some concerned day-to-day life. Others presented a lighthearted polytheistic mythology which revolved around a pantheon of benevolent and technologically adept goddesses and gods. The comic Far Out West, written by one of the founders Eve "Even Eve" Furchgott, claimed to be "The First Utopian Comic Strip." Features presented in the zine included articles and essays concerning life within the community and their proposed World Plan to establish a functional Utopian society on a larger scale. The volume of publications and art work produced by Kerista Commune was quite a bit greater than other groups that were active in the Haight Ashbury during this period. Kerista claimed singer Joan Jett as the "Matron Saint" of their community.
Work Life / Abacus
The Keristans shared income and could choose whether to have outside paying jobs or work within the community (which operated several businesses, a legally incorporated church, and an educational non-profit organization).
The most successful of the businesses was Abacus, Inc., an early Macintosh computer vendor in San Francisco, which eventually offered a variety of computer hardware, training and services. At its height, Abacus employed over 250 people and had offices in five major California cities. Voted the 33rd and 42nd fastest-growing privately held company in America by Inc. Magazine in 1990 and 1991 respectively, Abacus achieved revenues in excess of $25 million per year. Prior to Apple Computer Corporation abandoning the Value-Added Reseller in 1992, Abacus was the top reseller of Macintosh computers in the Bay Area in 1991.
The official[according to whom?] website lists 44 people as having joined Kerista at various times during the community's history, though more than this number passed through briefly. The commune population numbered 5 at founding in 1971, and numbered 25 at dissolution in 1991. Before dissolution, there were closer to 30 Keristans in residence.
The commune maintained a very active program of social events and Gestalt-o-rama rap groups, which were open to the public 3-4 nights a week, and were mandatory for Keristans to regularly attend. The commune functioned a lot like a religious order and was an important focal point for a larger community of people in San Francisco interested in alternative lifestyles. The events sponsored by Kerista were almost always free and non-commercial.
In 1979 and 1980, two children were born in the community. Beginning in 1983, the adult male Keristans had vasectomies to deal with birth control and address global population issues. All male members subsequently had the requirement of having a vasectomy within a set period of time after joining the community.
Family Life / Polyfidelity / Sleeping Schedule
The family structure of Kerista was composed of fidelitous groups called B-FICs (Best-Friend Identity Clusters). Keristans practiced non-preferential polyfidelity. Polyfidelity requires consensus to accept a new person into the group, either a man or woman.
Non-preferentiality was an important concept of Keristan polyfidelity, and had lofty goals but was more intended to keep people from coupling-up. Non-preferentiality proved very difficult to achieve. Keristans had a transitional celibacy period after joining a group of three months, sometimes waived.
A single B-FIC was composed of men and women who rotated sleeping with all of the opposite-sex members on a balanced rotational sleeping schedule. The sleeping-schedule assigned each family member to sleep with a different opposite-sex partner each night. Since the BFICs were rarely balanced between men and women (typically more women than men), on any given night several family-members would have no partner to sleep with and were assigned a 'Zero-Night' - when they slept alone. In addition to the programmed sleeping schedule, it was permitted to sleep with any opposite-sex family-member at any time, which was termed a 'freebie'.
Jud as leader
Jud exerted clear leadership and unparalleled influence over the daily life and direction of the commune and its members. He was a highly verbal and charismatic man, and had boundless confidence in his own opinion. As the oldest Keristan with many marriages and communal experiments behind him, he dominated member's lives with his experiences, attitudes and beliefs. Keristans constantly defended that 'Jud is not the Leader'. But in real life, Jud acted like the Leader, with broad pronouncements, absolutes, and imperatives, even over mundane matters and other people's lives. Jud typically got into fights with famous people who came to visit or study Kerista, like Steve Gaskin from The Farm, Mario Savio from the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, and the researcher Robert Weiss. With women visitors, Jud was more charming and most interested in recruiting for his B-FIC.
One discernible difference between Jud and some other commune leaders is that he never cared about personal appearance or material comforts.
After an arranged visit to Kerista by three professors, the New Tribe was criticized for not being egalitarian, notably in Bro Jud's dominance of many commune matters. The same professors questioned whether Kerista was feminist, and whether Kerista made only token contributions to philanthropy. A separate dissertation, written by an ex-Keristan, argued that Jud was not the primary problem, and instead criticized Kerista for institutionalizing '...a fetish for purity', describing 'the core psychological process in Kerista was anxiety-producing and ultimately destructive because it centered around the toxic value of purity, which made the commune a bad place to live.'
In November 1991, Bro Jud left the Purple Submarine and the Kerista Commune after sharp divisions were exposed within the membership. The conflict between Abacus and Kerista had grown more acute, as Abacus became more successful and difficult to manage. There was an internal movement to allow 'lay-people' into the commune, which Jud vociferously opposed, but 'lay-people' included undeniably close-friends for many years, like Qes. A new member wanted to keep his legal name and not take a Keristan name and Jud would not tolerate it. A member had located an article describing the logical fallacies of different techniques of argument ('How to Win an Argument'), and many fallacious techniques Jud used regularly. A longtime Keristan decided to leave the Commune but reported her intentions first, and her dissatisfactions were reasonable and widely shared. One day, a light bulb needed to be replaced at the Growth Co-op, and Jud yelled at a member for 'not being interested enough'....
After many incidents with members beginning to confront Jud's behavior, Jud left Purple and Kerista. Within a few months, the community was dissolved by vote. Bro Jud went on to create The World Academy of Keristan Education. Several former members of the commune still live in the San Francisco Bay Area, while a number moved to Hawaii and purchased a block of adjoining parcels of land.
Kerista, Robert A. Heinlein, and Stranger in a Strange Land
I recently learned that it was considered the "New Testament" — and compulsory reading — of a far-out cult called "Kerista." (Kee-rist!). I don't know exactly what "Kerista" is, but its L.A. chapter offered me $100 to speak. (I turned them down.)
The person who invited Heinlein to speak may have been Kerry Thornley, co-founder of Discordianism, who at the time lived in Watts. Thornley had joined Kerista in 1966 and was known[by whom?] to be a lifelong science-fiction fan.
Kerista's polyamorous sexual practice was influenced, as was that of the Church of All Worlds, by Robert A. Heinlein's (1907-88) science-fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), in which the Martian-raised human Michael Valentine Smith founded The Church of All Worlds, preached sexual freedom and the truth of all religions, and is martyred by narrow-minded people who are not ready for freedom.
- Furchgott, Eve. "Polyfidelity - description of a new type of family structure:". Retrieved 2011-03-12.
- Miller, Timothy (1999). The 60s communes : hippies and beyond. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. pp. 134–5. ISBN 9780815605508. OCLC 249089620, 45730879.
- Knull, Roger (2005-11-23). "My Brief Encounter with Kerista; An Outsider's Account". Kerista.commune. Retrieved 2018-06-27.
- "Basic 17 standards | Communal Societies". communalsocieties.hamilton.edu. Retrieved 2018-02-16.
- "Utopian Social Contract of Kerista Village". 1979. Retrieved 2018-01-12.
- Eve, Even (1984). "Social Contract of the Gestalt-O-Rama Do-It-With-Friends Mental Health System". Retrieved 2018-01-12.
- "Far Out West at Comixjoint.com". comixjoint.com. Retrieved 2018-02-26.
- Bull, Bart (April 1989). "Saint Joan in SPIN". books.google.com. Retrieved 2018-08-15.
- "An introduction to utopianism | Communal Societies". communalsocieties.hamilton.edu. Retrieved 2018-02-16.
- Cummings, Michael. "Tale of Two Communes: A Scholar and His Errors". Fellowship for Intentional Community. Retrieved 2018-06-14.
- Hamelin, Lawrence (2015-08-03). "And To No More Settle For Less Than Purity: Reflections on the Kerista Commune". Academia.edu. University of Colorado at Denver. pp. 57–73. Retrieved 2018-06-27.
- "World Academy of Keristan Education, Inc". 1993. Retrieved 2018-01-12.
- "Kerista.commune - Historical Home of the Kerista Commune:". Retrieved 2011-03-12.
John Peltz Presmont passed from this life on Sunday Dec 13, 2009, in San Francisco, CA.
- Heinlein, Robert A (1990). Heinlein, Virginia, ed. Grumbles from the grave. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 9780345362469. OCLC 556652452.
- Cusack, Carole (2010). Invented religions : imagination, fiction and faith. Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate. ISBN 9780754693604. OCLC 694146872.
- Official website
- Kahney, Leander (2002-04-23). "Free Love and Selling Macs". Wired. New York, NY: Condé Nast. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
- Luv, Nu (2005). "The Dark Side of Community: Hidden Limits to Lasting Groups". Kerista.commune. The Historical Record. Retrieved 2018-06-14.
- Newitz, Annalee (2006-02-17). "Test Tube Lovers". other magazine. Archived from the original on 2006-02-17. Retrieved 2018-06-14.