Friday, August 17, 2012

When The Bullet Hits The Bone...

"Twilight Zone"
Nobody said it better than Golden Earring.  No, this is not the golden earring you fearfully imagine sprouting some day from your teenager’s nose or navel.  It’s the late ‘70s rock group and the song is “Twilight Zone”.  The question:  “Steppin’ out into the twilight zone.  Entering the Madhouse, fears that have grown.  What will become of the moon, and stars?  Where am I to go, now that I’ve gone too far?”…  The answer:  “You will come to know, when the bullet hits the bone!  Yes, you will come to know, when the bullet hits the bone!”

The Heartland....
The Amana Colonies, 26,000 acres of picturesque Iowa farmland, sheltering seven immaculate villages, are up Highway 151 about 100 miles east of Des Moines.  This is the Midwest, the Heartland.  The place where the Deere and the antelope play.  A warp in time through which, you may, perhaps, be able to catch a glimpse of the future – the future of the credit union movement.  

The Amanas were settled in 1855 by the Society of True Inspirationists.  The sect was formed in Germany; adopted a communal structure; and had unique, idealistic, and firmly held beliefs – sound vaguely familiar?  The communities were self-sufficient and prospered richly.  All things were shared.  Products, such as woolens, handmade furniture, meats and wines, were sold to the outside world.  A sterling reputation was built upon high standards of craftsmanship and a close attention to detail.  The “Amana” name – remember that refrigerator? – became synonymous with quality and value – sound vaguely familiar?

"Why don't you download this app..."
The Amanas appeared to be the true Utopia, the new Eden.  But trouble, eventually, always comes to Eden.  At first, the Inspirationists called it “The Reorganization”, then “The Change”, and finally, “The Great Change”.  It started as a murmur, became a grumble, heightened to an argument, and ended in 1932 as a split.  Eighty years of success forced onto the scaffold of change by a diminished intensity of beliefs, a cooling of religious fervor, a forgetfulness of original purpose and vision – sound vaguely familiar?

Their world, however, did not come to an end in 1932.  The Amana Colonies continued on.  The communal structure was abandoned; the religious and the secular were separated.  Homes and personal property were divided; stock was issued in the businesses and agricultural interests.  The Amana Society Corporation now controls and manages the businesses.  The Amana Church Society now deals with spiritual matters.  Today, the Amanas are on the National Registry of Historic Places and the Amana Heritage Society strives diligently to preserve the cultural heritage of the community and its descendants.  Today, the Amanas are still many things, but mostly the Amanas are a novelty, an oddity, a quaint museum of past hopes and ideas.  

Why did this happen?  The guidebook says:  The Amanas were… “a goal:  visioned through faith; created and established by faith; named for a faith and dedicated to a faith”.  And, “the first generation had an idea and lived for the idea.  The second generation perpetuated the idea for the sake of their fathers, but their hearts were not in it.  The third generation openly rebelled against the task of mere perpetuation of institutions founded by their grandfathers.  It is always the same with people.” – sound vaguely familiar?

Which credit union generation is this?  Are you still living for “the idea”?  Is your heart… still in it?  

"... destination unknown." 
“Steppin’ out into the twilight zone.  Falling down a spiral, destination unknown.  What will become of the moon and the stars.  Where am I to go, now that I’ve gone too far? 

...You will come to know, when the bullet hits the bone.  Yes, you will come to know when the bullet hits the bone.”


Anonymous said...

We seem to have lost many of our zealots. Thank you for reminding us often just how slippery our slope may be.

Anonymous said...

Communal societies are very much different from cooperative societies. Communal societies are based on Utopian goals which are inconsistent with human nature. They have the same life line. Some amazing success by the organizing zealots. They only fail when they can not get enough Kool-Aid drinkers to join in.

Cooperative societies especially in banking have been around for quite some time. The difference is how the profit is divided. Credit unions used to be based on traditional values of patronage. Sometime in he late 70's credit unions obtained bank like powers to off products much like Banks.

Traditional credit unions cooperatives will look back at this as their day of "Great Change". The Amanas opened a joint-stock company. Credit unions who change charter call them mutual savings banks. Amana's joint stock company
eventually went public and now is owned by Whirlpool.

There is no reason for a credit union with real values to make the change because their model is reflective of human nature and is a fair distribution of the benefits for traditional credit unions. Bank like share structures just makes the practice of traditional values more difficult.

When the "Bullet Hits The Bone" depends on when the volunteers and the executive staff toss values out the window to steal the accumulated value of the cooperative.

Cooperatives are not Utopian communial societies like the Amanas which are destined to fail.