We love TikTok videos that are out of the ordinary and the latest craze is the @treeisalive TikTok page. It started out as an innocent account sharing videos of 100 percent sustainable living in an eco-friendly community, but TikTok users quickly equated their unusual lifestyle to being a cult.
Many people started asking Treeisalive questions on TikTok and reading into their answers. Treeisalive is actually representing on TikTok a community called The Garden, a “leaderless (leaderful)” commune “propagating a culture of sharing, freedom, and cooperation" located in Lafayette, Tenn. on the fringes of Nashville. They are completely off-the-grid as far as utilities go, but does that mean they are a cult?
Many people think that the Treeisalive TikTok account is a cult.
Treeisalive posts videos on how to live sustainably by recycling waste, using rainwater for showers, and living off of the land and some chickens. While this looks like an easy form of escapism — just imagine no rent, no bills to pay, no job, and an end to climate change — it’s clear the members of this commune don’t have it so easy.
They have to work all day in order to get the basics — food, water, and shelter — by making it happen themselves. They also sleep in tiny shared bunks with other people. Because they all live together and need to do unpaid labor in order to live there, many TikTokers believe that they are a cult.
Not only that, but they were recently under fire for eating a stray cat, claiming that the cat killed their chickens so they killed the cat. Without wanting the cat to go to waste, they ate it. One TikToker, thomasedisonhatepage, has now dedicated her page to pointing out the discrepancies in the Treeisalive group. Another TikToker claims that they are using cult techniques such as mind-numbing activities, encouraging new member recruitment, and living together.
While the Treeisalive TikTok can be concerning at times, it does not seem to be a cult by the standard definition.
According to a Rolling Stone piece detailing the difference between cults and communes, Treeisalive is definitely a type of communal living, but they're not necessarily a cult. It can be easy to mix up the two, but there are two main differences. The first main difference is that a cult has a leader. Many TikTok comments have compared them to Jonestown and the Manson Family, which both famously have leaders. Treeisalive has no leader and makes decisions as a group to come to a consensus.
The other main difference is that a cult follows some sort of belief system on a path to enlightenment. Many cults follow their leaders in order to reach a certain level. For instance, with NXIVM, the cult members were encouraged to reach leader Keith Raniere’s level of wearing a white sash. In the case of Treeisalive, they say they welcome everybody, which is normal, but don’t seem to follow one set of beliefs.
Just because the Treeisalive TikTok may not be a cult does not mean that they are all good.
In the same way that not all communes are cults, not all communes are good. It is definitely a different type of living that can be exploitative. It’s true that they may be painting a prettier picture on TikTok than the harsh realities of day-to-day living. Not only that but one TikTok user, okayhawkins, who lives near the commune, claims through hearsay that they seem disingenuous.
While most people who join a commune do it for political reasons to move away from capitalism, or for green reasons to truly connect with nature and make for a more sustainable world, this commune seems to attract people for short amounts of time. People seem to go as a phase to do something they think is cool and be a modern-day hippie. This also might be why the Treeisalive account is trying to recruit through TikTok.
There are also many safety concerns about the Treeisalive TikTok. Their garden is apparently located next to so-called sundown towns, which are places that are notoriously unsafe for BIPOC after sundown. And the commune’s sign reading “Violence-Free” is, sadly, an invitation to violent people to attack an unarmed, disconnected community. A similar model in Denmark called Christiania is often considered unsafe after dark for similar reasons.
Maybe it's a good idea to stay away from this one and go for a hike when we're craving nature instead.