for Families and Single People
More Non-seasonal Articles
Part I - The Problem
Children in the Nuclear Family
Families in Other Times and Places
Old People, Single People, Different People
Individualism and Community
And Let the Rest of the World Go By
Part II - Alternatives
What is a Cluster?
Community of Goods
Final Word and Notes
The history behind the first bound edition of Clusters began when we were looking around for a variety of books covering the general description
to offer to our growing constituency. One of my personal concerns was how to create non-residential supportive
communities of people of different ages as an option to the isolation of the nuclear family. Hearing that a Stoughton, Mass. group
called Packard Manse had experimented with "clustering" and documented their pilgrimage, I ordered a copy.
What I read was exciting but Paul Chapman, then director of Packard Manse and editor of Clusters, said they had only a few copies left and didn't plan to reprint.
So we purchased what they had and in time got permission to print 200 copies on an old offset press. In a few months these were gone
and we received permission to print another 200. This batch sold rapidly also. Convinced of the importance of the extended family idea
and believing Clusters deserved a better vehicle than our homespun print job, we decided to publish 2000 copies in bound form.
Teri Grimwood of Washington, D.C. did our typesetting and Fran Johnson of Greensboro designed the cover and handled the layout.
The printing was done by Celo Press of Burnsville, N.C., which also prints the Manual of Death Education and Simple Burial.
In line with our attempt to eliminate the mystery surrounding items the public buys, this paperback cost us about $2 to typeset, print, promote
and mail. We have been told that commercial publishers multiply their printing cost by five to arrive at a retail price.
This would have meant charging $5 for Clusters, which is ridiculous. We hope you will agree that this book is worth the $3 postpaid price.
Profits from this second printing will be used to further our efforts in the areas of alternative celebrations and voluntary simplicity.
The public has responded so well to our publications that we intend to offer new material on a regular basis.
The Alternative Celebrations Catalogue (4th edition) sold over 100,000 copies. Our alternative lifestyle quarterly newsletter, ALTERNATIVES,
has 1500 subscribers. Voluntary Simplicity Study-Action Guide, our most recent addition, has two versions which probe the root causes
of consumptive celebrations and the social costs; offers alternatives to current practices; and challenges the group to organize
an alternative Christmas project. One version is written for Christian groups, the other is based on humanistic philosophy.
If this copy causes something significant to happen in your life, please write and share the details with us.
An excellent resource is Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (Science and Behavior Books, 1972).
Bob Kochtitzky, July, 1978, for Alternatives
2002 Note: Information on the many variations of Intentional Communities is available from Communities Journal at www.ic.org
Clusters: Lifestyle Alternatives
Part I: The Problem
To challenge the adequacy of the institution of marriage is to scratch at one of society's most revered and
legendary institutions. Church and nation alike spare no rhetoric to protect the "backbone of society." Church programs, magazines,
slogans reinforce the image of the family praying together to stay together. Soldiers, separated from their families for months at a time,
charge into the fray in defense of that sacred institution. A politician, who perhaps can't tolerate his wife and kids,
receives only cheers when he extols the virtues of happy family life. If he has a lot of children, he probably has a family picture
on his campaign flyer-a sure testimony to his integrity. The warm glow of families playing together, working together, eating together
or gathered around the hearth is reflected in subway posters, funeral parlor calendars and banking magazines.
Is there anything more to say about marriage and family? One bibliographer lists 12,000 books and articles published
about family life between 1900 and 1964, or an average of two new titles a day for the past ten years.' Anyone with access to a tape recorder
could write a book on family life-with emotion and authority-for everyone has had experience with families.
Statistics are inadequate for measuring family strength, but they serve as a clue and a warning that something
is gravely wrong. In 1900, when our grandparents were marrying, there was one divorce granted for about every thirteen marriages.
Today there is a divorce granted for about every four weddings performed. In 1962 there were 1,577,000 marriages in the United States
and 413,000 divorces. There are so many variables that the statistics can be challenged from many sides, but the trend is clear.
If anything the statistics only point to the surface of the problem. Annulments and desertions account for thousands more broken homes.
There is no simple way to measure the happiness or fulfillment factor in family life. A 1929 study reports that only one in four marriages
was "unequivocally successful."' Personal observation suggests that a truly happy family is a rare phenomenon in our society.
The high incidence of mental disorder-often traceable to early childhood days-speaks tellingly of family life.
Those who are sick now are often breaking under the weight of damage inflicted many years before by distorted family life.
No family, not even the one that poses for the cover of Together magazine, is safe from destruction. Last year's mother of the year may be next
year's divorcee. Eyebrows were raised when the New England chair-couple of the Christian Family Movement were divorced soon after their term was up.
Warning. Do we hear the warning that something is gravely wrong, or do we continue to add more lumber to the supports that are bracing
"family life." Building stronger defenses around a frail institution is not going to repair that institution.
Urging couples and children to be patient, to bear up, to try harder only avoids the big warnings.
Repair or reform is not only a matter of the inner dynamics of the marriage and family. Most of the handbooks deal with that dimension
of family life-husband/ wife relations, sex, the parenting and nurture of children. But family life is not simply a concern of two adults
and x number of children. There are questions about how society forms and uses family structure, and how family structure in turn contributes to
or helps relieve injustice and oppression.
What alternatives would be more satisfying to both the individuals involved and the society at large?
It is in pursuit of this question that our course is directed.
The Woman in the Family
"Ann, why should I be paying all this money to McGill for your college education, when in a couple of years you'll be married
and caring for a home? Do you need a university education for that?" This 1949 conversation between my uncle and cousin speaks volumes.
And fortunately volumes are being written to dispel some of the myths that imprison women (and men) in today's family structures.
From the earliest days of her childhood, Ann, like most girls in America, was being conditioned for a life in the home.
Dolls and a doll house, cooking set and nursing kit, all served to reinforce her self-image as a future homemaker and mother.
As she grew and became increasingly conscious of her appearance, she was subtly introduced to other facets of her expected role in the home.
She must be attractive and gently enticing to "him."
If Ann thought about a job, it was probably a job which would use her natural homemaking or mothering talents-a job which would almost
certainly place her at the service of a man. Nurses both care for the sick and serve doctors. Teachers, usually working for a male administrator,
share the child's nurture with the home. Secretaries do with appointment calendar and typewriter and flirtatious language what the loving wife
does with "his" slippers and highball glass.
Some worlds were completely closed to Ann. If she liked baseball, the best she could hope to be was cheerleader. If she liked mechanics . . .
"Well, I'm afraid it would be upsetting to the boys to have a girl in the shop course ... Besides, your cooking class meets then."
Day in and out she was reminded of what was expected, and even when she became deeply interested in an academic subject, anthropology,
it was thought of as an enriching hobby--a book club interest--and not a vocation.
Lacking the will or the vision to challenge her whole world, Ann gave in and started to fill the image. After college came marriage,
and after marriage children--one, two, three.
Now at 25 years of age, she has already achieved society's dream for her. She's a success: a lovely three bedroom house on three-fourths acre
of well kept lawn, and married to a promising young doctor.
Would it be tedious for you, the reader, if we should unmask that dream by tracing Ann's steps through a typical day? At least you have the option
of skipping the next pages-a tedium which Ann can't avoid.
Although the baby and the toddler wake early, Ann's husband has already left for his rounds at the hospital. Even before the night's diapers
are changed she turns on the classical music station -her adult companionship for the day. Then it's diapers and clothes, and warming the bottle,
setting out the cereal and milk and dishes, smiles throughout breakfast, and a minimum of spills. The children are fun and relatively peaceful.
There's time to start the washing machine before the oldest child's 8:30 pick-up for nursery school.
By nine the house is neat, yesterday's mess is reorganized, and Ann can look forward to 10 hours, more or less, of baby-sitting, something she used
to do at age 14 for 60 cents an hour.
Within the confining parameters of homemaking and child care, she does have options. She can pack up the necessary bottles and CHUX,
and visit a neighbor where they can commiserate together about diaper rash and other problems until she has to get back for her daughter's return
at 11:30. Or she can do up a big batch of homemade bread to delight her husband, Don, and his friends. And there are always Christmas cards
to answer and books to read.
Today, to her surprise, Don appears about noon with pizza for lunch. But his pleasant surprise has a hidden purpose.
There's an evening meeting at the hospital, which means he'll probably not make it home for dinner. At least the family has the hour together.
It's a welcome hour of play and laughter. He leaves, the children are put down for their naps. There's another wash, a little vacuuming,
a few pages of a book, a walk with the children in the afternoon, and then coloring, cutting and pasting, because it's too cold to stay out long.
The pilaf and fresh vegetable salad take a half hour to prepare and not that long to eat, followed by baths and pajamas and stories and sleep.
A hard day? Certainly not. In fact, Ann sometimes feels nostalgia for the hardships of her youth. A disturbing day? She's not about to break apart
in frustration and despair; she takes pleasure in the children and in the hours with them. Likewise she loves Don and respects his career
and the restraints it puts on him. An intern doesn't have many options; his time is not his own. The many extra hours he spends in the hospital
are necessary to meet the heavy debts which education and home have inflicted. She knows and understands all that.
But nevertheless, there's the gnawing discontent with her daily round, which hasn't changed appreciably for three years, and which,
unless there's a family earthquake, will continue for another five or so years until her youngest is in school. She has no intentions
of planning an earthquake, but some days she feels she's serving a long sentence.
And some days-usually a rainy day-Ann resents that the children are taking so much of her life and freedom. There's a flicker of dislike
for the children. But then suddenly, realizing her resentment, she feels guilty, and to compensate for her guilt, she works extra hard
at being a good mother, which means less time to herself-and the cycle repeats itself.
There are further complications. The measure of a good mother is not something the mother does, but is something the child must do.
The child's behavior with his friends or at school is the mother's report card. The child then feels the pressure to excel,
to justify the mother's efforts. Each is judged not by his or her own accomplishments, but by the performance of the other.
Of course there is some variety, some relief from the daily routine. Don has promised to be home at least two nights a week,
either so she can go out, or so they can be together. He also makes it a point to be home one day every weekend, except every fourth weekend
when he has hospital duty. And there are holidays and family visits and summer relaxation, which vary and highlight life.
Her free evenings she uses well. She's chairperson of a League study on solid waste disposal, which means looking
into both the technological alternatives to "dumping" and the political feasibility of introducing those alternatives to the town.
This task she does competently.
But dissatisfaction infects all that Ann does. Add her activities together--mother, wife, club woman, housekeeper--and the sum total
is not the Ann she longs to be. In five more years, with all the children in school, she'll be 30 years old, and can look forward
to up to 50 years of potentially productive life. Increasingly she recalls her longing to pursue a career in anthropology,
an interest which is hardly satisfied by the occasional Neanderthal she meets at hospital balls.
What does the family structure as she now experiences it mean to Ann? Despite the security it provides, it is also the structure
which stultifies her own growth. This eight-year child episode, instead of contributing to the career she wants,
may be establishing patterns which will atrophy her potential for growth and imprison her for the rest of her life.
Did Ann reach the apex of her life at age 25, and is the rest a plateau? Clearly she yearns for alternatives.
Not a desperate, but a deep yearning.
Any Hope for Ann? What kinds of alternatives would alleviate Ann's situation? The immediate reason for her confinement is the children.
Assuming there is a day care center available, Ann is uncomfortable about leaving her babies with someone else several hours each day.
She'd feel guilty of sacrificing her children to satisfy her own needs. And what about the daughter in kindergarten? When she gets home
at 11: 30 she's bursting with stories of what went on and problems which came up; the day's most important communicating takes place then
and Ann is needed at home.
One question which could be raised is about Don's responsibility for the children. He shared in the decision about having the children
and in their procreation. What about an alternative in which he accepts a bigger share in their daily nurture? Would it completely jeopardize
his medical career if he were to work out a less intensive program at the hospital? Would Don ever consider diminishing his vocational goals
for the sake of Ann's vocational goals, or does she have to fit into the spaces that are left -over after his decisions are made?
At this point Ann wouldn't consider any alternatives which might threaten Don's career. She believes that being a wife means being a helpmate.
Loyalty to Don means loyalty to his career, regardless of what it costs her.
Clearly, Ann has not considered that while Don is growing, changing, deepening, her interests have plateaued. He's currently content to be married
to a "housekeeper" and "baby-sitter" but in the long run it might be more interesting to live
with an accomplished "anthropologist" who also is growing and deepening.
Would Don be threatened to be married to a peer instead of a helpmate?
And what about the neighbors? From what we know so far, Ann has an almost desert-island independence of anyone else in the care of the children,
home and husband. Is it so necessary that she manage all that responsibility single-handedly, or would there be a way of sharing that would be
a step toward liberation? Ann is tied-in, not only by her image of herself as mother, wife and homemaker, but also by an image of being
self-sufficient, with which she's been imbued since childhood.
Some major changes in attitude and structure seem to be called for if Ann's situation is to improve. But these changes are well worth the risk.
Without them Ann may have to choose between an unfulfilled and dissatisfied life, and an incomplete and broken marriage.
The Man in the Family
Fifteen years ago a job in the electronics industry looked like a good deal. Chuck had always had an interest in things technological.
Or at least it seemed to him that he did. By the time he was six, his father had bought him an electric train set;
he made him a gas-powered go-cart for his fourteenth birthday. Although he hated math, technical training seemed the best option.
Besides, people with engineering backgrounds were being offered a variety of good jobs with good salaries.
Whether it was good sense or good luck, Chuck seemed to be well launched on his career almost without making any anguishing decisions.
Since Marge's job as librarian paid well, soon after their marriage they were able to buy into a new development in anticipation
of their eventual family needs. It was sound planning. They have a four and one half per cent mortgage which will be almost paid off
by the time their two boys are ready for college.
From the outside looking in, Chuck and Marge seem to have a very good situation. House and yard are equipped with all the gadgets
that social standards demand. Chuck has a respectable job and Marge is able to work part time in the library. The two boys do well in school
where music is their prime interest. But while it looks like a model American family, Chuck is a quiescent volcano, seething inside
with frustration and discontent. After he had been working in a promising job for Electron, Inc. for five years, the company was bought out
by a big corporation and eventually moved to new quarters about thirty miles away.
Gone forever was the "paternalistic family" style of Electron, Inc. There Chuck knew his bosses, they knew him, and trusted his work.
Now, in the bigger company, he is assigned work routinely, solves the problem he is assigned, passes it on, and picks up the next task,
almost without comment. To his chagrin, he has discovered you get assigned interesting tasks not because of your competence, but based
on a subtle unwritten social code: lunch at the right restaurants, interest in the right politics, right attitudes toward women and social issues,
membership in the right clubs. It is a Brownie-point system, a game he's obliged to play if he wants to advance.
But he refuses to play that game. The rules are repulsive to him. He prides himself in being frank and honest and straight, which are not virtues
in this milieu. For ten years his situation has changed very little. Chuck has come to see himself as one insignificant cog in a massive gear.
It might be tolerable if he liked the way the gear was turning, but he's steadily distressed to learn that his company makes half its income
on military contracts. Chuck's expertise is more and more applied to death and destruction, a situation he'd leave in a minute if he thought
he had any options.
But there is not nearly so much demand for his specialty as when he began. In fact, the market is flooded. He doubts he could find another job
anywhere, except perhaps in another industry that is equally destructive. So, to support Marge and the two boys, he bears up, even though it is
distressing. He closes his mind to the meaning of his work, and concentrates on providing for the family.
It's partly pride. All his life he's worked with images of himself as a strong, successful breadwinner, an ample provider for wife and children.
To admit to himself that he hates his job is more than he can bear.
But what a price he pays. The satisfactions of being husband and father diminish year by year. Though the family lives in the same house
and there's no outbreak of hostility, the distance between him and the others seems to grow. Occasionally Chuck has wondered if it would make
any difference to the family if he just mailed his check home. His check is his only contribution to family life, or so it seems.
Gone are the happy hours he used to spend with his boys. The sporting interest which he tried to cultivate in them
with baseball gloves and hockey sticks never came to flower. The boys followed their mother's interest in music, and are now forever blaring out
a noise which he can hardly tolerate.
One time when he was driving home late from work and knew Marge would be working and the boys would be off somewhere, he thought of the metaphor
of the barnyard. Calves and cows need each other, but since artificial insemination, a bull is not needed in the barnyard anymore.
Marge and he have made some attempts to improve their life together, but she's upset about the work he does; whenever world events are discussed,
he can't look her in the eye. The only safe things to talk about are the dog and the cat, and house gadgets and repairs. Not that everyone
goes around with a long face. There are jokes and laughter and trips and holidays together. But the family seems to survive by avoiding
some of life's most important issues. When Chuck is depressed, as he is more and more, he realizes that without him, nothing much would change.
But he has his pride; he will keep going, even if no one understands.
Any Hope for Chuck? Just as Ann's childhood play with dolls and dishes molded her into a mother and housekeeper,
Chuck's childhood prepared him for a truncated life of breadwinner and all-sufficient provider. What alternatives might be considered
that would soften the task of being breadwinner, and activate a capacity to strengthen human relationships? "What it means to be a man"
is being challenged on every side.
His kids like music and not sports. He can't stomach the competition for a better job at work, and can't even boast about his work
when he gets home. There's no correlation between the world he lives in and the way he thinks of himself as a man.
What alternatives could be developed to help Chuck alter his self understanding? What structure of support could be arranged to let him
risk quitting his job and look for something else? Would Chuck ever consider entering into a financial cooperative
with other families-assuring support for the family if he were jobless? Would that threaten his manhood? Would the alleviation
of heavy responsibility for supporting house, car, and family free him to think of himself in other ways?
Marge is employed. What if she should work full time, and he take on the household tasks and perhaps a part time job?
What alternatives might serve to reconcile Chuck to his boys, from whom he now feels so distant? He's hurt that his authority at home
is not respected. Would the introduction of other people into the household scene possibly mediate the present tensions?
Alternative structures might prevent this family structure from deteriorating into a somber, hostile boarding house, where life's potential
is denied and avoided.
For the Sake of the Children.
Parents have in their children a favorite excuse for their own actions. "For the children's sake" parents
take camping trips, move to the suburbs, or buy electric trains. "Concern for the children" is a frequent justification
for the satisfaction of parental whims. Most children I know are not very interested in trains.
Actually, it is very difficult scientifically to prove cause and effect relationship between what parents do and what happens to children.
There are just too many variables. We can say that broken homes are hard on children, but does that mean that the break-up of the home
caused the children's problems, or was it one of many factors. We certainly know that a broken home doesn't lead inevitably to a broken child.
The famous Midtown Manhattan Study of the effect of broken homes on children's mental health challenged any simplistic generalization
about the effects of parental behavior on the children. Let's hope it is as true of childrearing as it is of other situations that "love covers a multitude of sins."
In most families, a lot of energy and real care is focused on the children, their protection, their wholesome development.
Children become the bearers of the parents' hopes. They are to be spared the parent's hardships; they are the beneficiaries of the parents' labors.
A parent receives no higher compliment than when his children are praised. Every home is a private proving ground of the parents',
mostly the mother's, competence in raising children.
More than ever before, the care and welfare of the children are the standards by which their parents measure themselves and are measured by others.
The children and their well-being are a source of great distress or deep satisfaction.
In considering alternatives to our present life style, we must consider the effect on the children. If it is true that the nuclear family
is the best possible situation for children, then perhaps we can justify the sacrifices Ann is making. Perhaps even Chuck can be convinced
that his contribution is worthwhile. If, on the other hand, it looks as if children do at least as well, or even better,
in alternative situations then all the more reason to examine changing family structures.
Mothering Makes the Child. Without love, the child learns no love. In those frightening cases in which children have been raised
in complete isolation (by pathological parents)' observers found them incapable of emotions-either anger or compassion.
Nor did they demonstrate what we would call intelligence. The child is the product of the in-put he/she receives.
It is not what the child brings to the environment which influences development so much as what the environment brings to the child.
Besides the obvious needs for food and a favorable temperature, the family seeks to provide the young child with a milieu
from which a "person" can emerge, where potential can be realized, emotions expressed, language learned,
where intelligence develops. When we speak of "mothering" the child, we're thinking of these functions.
The "mothering" functions are usually, although not exclusively, performed by the child's mother,
thus reinforcing traditional sex role differentiation. Ann has known from her own infancy that it is her responsibility
to provide her children with the home where they can maximize their own potential. Not only does she give milk,
but an emotional warmth and a secure nest at the same time.
Fathering. Meanwhile the father's distance is being established. Although he may occasionally convey intimacy to the child,
he is more likely to be absent at the time of emotional needs, leaving their fulfillment to the mother.
Especially in Anglo-Saxon culture, where the overt expression of emotion and affection is limited,
the child perceives the father as a distant authority.
While "mothering" means many years of caring, the word "fathering" means little more than the few moments required at conception.
Perhaps Chuck has good reason to fear he's not needed anymore.
Must the Mother Do the Mothering? The evidence that the mothering function belongs innately to the biological mother is unconvincing.
Breast feeding advocates speak as much of the value of breast feeding to the mother as to the child. Whatever advantages it may offer the child,
breast feeding by the natural mother is not essential to the child's well-being. Surrogate parents - wet nurse or adoptive mothers -
can impart the emotional security which the infant needs.
The Father as Mother.
There's no biological reason why fathers couldn't be the bearer of emotional security.
To set the record straight on this, Una Stannard has written that fathers may even do a better job of it.
"Women have the babies, but men have the maternal instincts. If the maternal instinct is defined as an innate tendency to want children,
and to love, cherish, nurture and protect children, then history reveals that men have had more of a maternal instinct than women."
The article spells out in fascinating detail how man's suppressed maternal longings have been evidenced throughout history -
and that man's incorporating of women into his own life, is compensation for his own inability to bear children.
The pioneers in child care, pediatrics, the prevention of child abuse, child development, have all been men.
"If there is a maternal instinct, an innate drive to have children and to concern oneself with them, obviously men have it."
What about the question of substitute ability? If the father can be the "mother" for the child,
can several adults share what is thought to be the mother's task? Later we'll examine the effect on children of life in community,
but for now, what would happen if several people shared the mothering tasks?
Most parents have had many reminders that children between ages two and five are very dependent on a consistent ritual of behavior.
Not only does the child want the same story read again and again, but to vary a single word elicits a protest.
Likewise in dressing the child or setting his place at table, or arranging the bed, the child often insists that the routine remain constant.
Parents who pack a full bag of familiar toys and clothes, and a blanket, know very well that those objects will make the difference
between a contented or chaotic visit.
Shouldn't common sense tell us from this and many similar experiences that the young child will suffer if the parent is not always the same?
The psychologist Rene Spitz, in studies about 30 years ago, suggested it would be "most damaging for any young child to be reared
without benefit of a single mothering person who took care of him more or less exclusively." 3
Later studies along the same line by J. Bowlby confirmed the same proposition. Bowlby specifically deals with the issue of changing mother figures
during the first three years. This he finds to be detrimental.
But since both of these men were studying the effects of institutionalization on young children, their conclusions are perhaps not applicable
to the mother who has not permanently separated from the child, but who, because of other interests, gives less than full attention to her children.
The deleterious effects on the child of a working mother would be more relevant, but we would also have to know what was happening
to the child while the mother was working.
Sigmund Freud did some relevant studies. His conclusion, which he called repetition compulsion, is not that the mothering person
must always be present, but that the child must come to realize that even though absent, that person continues to exist.
A child's frequent playing of games of disappearing and reappearing ("I see you; you can't see me") is part of this experimentation
with what is real and what is dependable.
I know of no evidence that a child is damaged by a variety of adults participating in the mothering of the child, so long as the group
is small enough and consistent enough for the child to focus. Consistency includes similarities of permissiveness and discipline.
As long as that structure remains constant, the child can be secure about the ground on which he or she is walking.
Was damage done to the countless black children in southern rural communities who were raised as much by a neighborhood
as by a single parent or parents? And what about the children of immigrant families who found themselves crowded into urban tenements
with lots of adults comforting and disciplining lots of children? When strangers enter the house the young child is apt to cling
to those who are familiar-a parent, a grandparent, even a close neighbor-as a sign of a need for consistent security,
but those strangers could soon serve the same function for the child once the patterns of behavior are established.
In fact, if surrogate parents do not emerge, it is more likely to be the parent who has prevented it, rather than the demands of the child.
The socialization of the child is another way to describe the service that the family performs for the society.
It is in the context of the family that the emerging person learns how to link up to other people and to society.
Sociologists have written and studied a great deal about this. The family is where you get tied in to the rest of the culture and society.
Most of our human attributes don't belong to us innately but are imparted by other human beings.
This is socialization and it is a primary function of the family. What we learn there we'll carry with us through life,
as any psychiatrist can affirm.
Theorists have used a lot of ink to write about the problems of sex identity, especially in single-parent families.
Can a strong masculine identity be developed in a matriarchal home? But a prior question is what it means to our humanity
that we are raised by only one or two adults? Does that prepare us to relate to a whole community in later life?
The subsequent social significance of having been raised primarily by one mother is incalculable.
We get a lot of our freedom or many of our complexes from that situation. Robert Slater suggests that our whole notion
of "romantic" love may be strongly reinforced by the exclusive mother/child relationships which dominate our society.
Romantic love is rare in primitive communities simply because the bond between child and parent is more casual.
The child tends to have many caretakers and be sensitive to the fact that there exist many alternative suppliers of love.
The modern Western child brought up in a small detached household does not share this sense of substitutability.
His emotional life is heavily bound up in a single person and the process of spreading this involvement over other people as he grows up
is more problematic. Americans must make a lifelong task out of what happens effortlessly in many societies ...
Most of us learn early that there is one relationship that is more vital than all the others put together,
and we tend both to reproduce this framework in later life and to retain, in fantasy, the original loyalty. 4
Slater clearly implies that if we'd been raised by several "caretakers" it might be much easier for us in later life
to establish relationships with more people. The exclusive mother/child relationship of early life doesn't establish very adequate precedents
for collective life in later years.
Consider the socializing consequences of being a single child with a single parent. According to the last census
there are over a million families in the U.S. where the mother lives alone with one child, and another 167,000 families
where the father cares for a single child. This is the smallest conceivable family unit! Except as neighbors assume responsibility
for the nurture of the child, which occurs increasingly rarely in middle class society, one adult is the sole bearer of the responsibility
of socializing the child, at least until school. What an awful burden to impose on any adult, regardless of how capable.
But, in fact, is the complete two-parent nuclear or conjugal family so different? As we'll see in the next chapter,
in other times and places responsibility for socialization belonged to a community of adults. The father was more than just a stud.
Not only did he impart to younger people-his own children and others-the skills which he had acquired in his craft or labor,
but in his daily exchange with young people, mostly males, he transmitted traditions and beliefs as well. In that situation his authority was real.
Not only did the father have a role, but neighbors and relatives as well. There was no sense of "That's my child and don't you interfere."
The boundaries between families were obscure. Any adult accepted the responsibility of caring for the children he/she came in contact with.
In a tropical Brazilian neighborhood, where my family and I lived for several months, children on the street seemed to belong to everyone.
Children seemed to sleep wherever they were tired, and eat wherever there was food, and help with neighborhood chores, such as hauling water.
When I tried to sort children out according to their conjugal origins, our neighbors were amused at my standards.
Sometimes those standards were discordant. Our tendencies to separate and isolate created embarrassing situations.
Soon after we had moved to the neighborhood my oldest son invited three new-found friends to his birthday party.
Soon other children came by to ask about the party, as if baffled by the whole notion of having a party and not inviting everyone.
What a contrast with suburban America where children are close to very few adults and a limited number of peers.
During the first five years, it's mostly just the "mother"-and the father on weekends. Then comes elementary school and the teacher
becomes an important adult figure. I remember my embarrassment when I called the teacher "Mom."
But it was an easy mistake to make. These were the two adults that counted.
By the time the child has reached adolescence, relationships with parents and teachers have begun to weaken.
It is safe to say that most adolescents have very few adult relationships, as a consequence of the isolation of nuclear family life.
Peer relationships, which are important in a child's development, are also difficult to maintain.
Housing patterns keep children separated; school schedules allow a minimum of fraternization. As soon as school is over,
children either walk or are bused to their separate boxes and have to be aggressive about finding someone to play with.
A suburban mother may feel she's nothing but an after-school taxi driver, but she's also aware that, except for the telephone,
the automobile is the only way children will connect with their peers. If we look around we will see that most children develop
only one or two close friendships, and have to realize that's the way we've programmed the children in this society.
For 12-year-old Pippi Longstocking, living alone can be great fun, but for far too many children, life is lonely and isolated.
Part of the urgency for finding alternatives is so children can grow up in a bigger family and learn what it means to integrate
their lives with others.
It's almost trite to say that one of the reasons for the disintegration of society (war and violence) is that we weren't trained to get along
with others. We never even had the opportunity. A facility for cooperation, sharing, and integration will only be developed when our lives
are lived with others. We need alternatives that will facilitate togetherness for ourselves and our children.
Will the alternatives be any better? As the nuclear family discovers it is incapable of performing the tasks of socialization,
the temptation is to yield to the state or to private business tasks which were formerly family tasks.
Thus the family is even further demolished as the state's power grows. Education for most children formerly occurred in the family
in the context of the neighborhood. Public schools then took over in loco parentis, in the place of the parents.
Parental input in education is now often discouraged. The state has replaced the family in this function.
The 1960 White House Conference on Children and Youth spoke of other family functions now being performed by public institutions.
"The family as an institution has changed in many respects in the past several decades, with many of its earlier functions and activities
now met by outside agencies . . . Into the hands of the school has fallen a variety of educational, disciplinary, health and socialization functions."'
A commonly proposed alternative for some of the problems we have posed so far is a day care center program.
While it is true that day care centers help release the parent-more often the mother-and provide peer relationships for children,
the program renders the family even more expendable. When the state or private industry becomes the substitute mother,
then we can fear for the future of the child. There must be other alternatives.
Did God, in the creation of the world, ordain the living nuclear family with prototypes such as Adam and Eve
and the two boys, or Joseph and Mary and their son? We've come a long way since then.
The most cursory glance at the past will show that there are significant differences between the nuclear family in which we've been nurtured
and the families of other ages. Abraham's household included scores of people. Something was very different from today when we realize
that Mary and Joseph could travel two days from Jerusalem before noticing that Jesus was not with the group.
Although the nuclear family is as old as recorded history, perhaps the realization that it knows many forms will strengthen our freedom
to seek other alternatives. Its present form is certainly not God-given.
The history of families is the evolution from complex kinship systems to independent isolated family structures.
Probably we shouldn't use the word family in the former instance. When a clan or tribe or some other economic cooperative
was the primary unit of production, consumption, or ownership, then that was the unit of loyalty. It is only in more recent times
that we have abstracted one cell of that larger community and identified it as the primary domestic unit.
And there have been warnings against over concentration on that cell as destructive of the larger and more inclusive community.
Excessive familialism diverts energy from the body politic. Plato calls the family cell the enemy of justice and Calvin objects
to an over emphasis on the family and family relationships. In one of the introductions to Brave New World Aldous Huxley warns against
too much concentration on the family unit. What once belonged to all now belongs to an excluding segment of the whole.
Within this broad trend from larger kinship systems to the more independent nuclear unit, there is tremendous variety.
Surprisingly, very little has been written about the history of the family, and scholars disagree as to whether the extended family was
the universal background for the ordinary lives of ordinary people. Some assume that until a few years ago most people made their homes
in a much larger family than we do today. But a recent volume challenges the notion that a large and complex familial structure was
once the norm in western civilization. "The purchase over the minds of scholars of all kinds of the general assumption
about the large and complex family of the past seems to be a singular phenomenon not adequately explained."'
In his 1949 study of 549 different family systems around the world, Murdoch found that 54.8% were extended families and 45.2% were
nuclear or independent families. 2
In very few societies is the basic unit as large as 50 or 100 people. The Serbian zadruga has attracted a lot of attention
because it is of that size. There are a few Arab households with 30 or 40 members and perhaps certain wealthy patriarchal households
in pre-revolutionary China included many members, but the statistics seem to indicate that such groups are rare in recent times.
In the U.S., family size has shrunk from 3.67 members in 1940 to 3.17 members in 1970. Goody, in an article in the Laslett book,
says that in widely separated parts of the world "farm families, work units, or garden families, as they are variously called,
display only limited differences," from 8.4 to 5.3 in different parts of India; as high as 11.1 in one African tribe,
and as low as 3.75 in East Africa. "In India, the mean household size is 5.2; in Africa the figures range from 3.5 to 5.2;
only in rural South America do we reach figures of 6 persons in a household." 3
But for our purposes these figures have only limited value. It may not be nearly so important how many people are domiciled together
as it is how the people interact and depend on each other. In many primitive societies the hut is used only for sleeping;
the constellation of how people sleep isn't nearly as important as how they relate when they are awake.
Here the changes from the feudal villager to the modern commuter are immensely significant.
Farm Families in America.
The history of the farm family in America presents a very special case.
For centuries family life was affected by the existence of available land for householding. The family units,
which in Europe would have to be integrated into larger kinship circles, in America were freed by the frontier to spin off
into independent and nuclear units. "From the very beginning of settlement at Plymouth the family was nuclear in its basic composition,
and it has not changed in this respect ever since. One adult couple and their own children formed the core of each household." 4
As soon as children married they could lay claim to their own land a few miles beyond without having to share in the family homestead.
The nuclear family was differently constituted from today, as we shall presently see, but its independence is not a new phenomenon.
However, not everyone lived on the farm and we see in the towns that developed, and later in the urban areas, hints
that more complex familial structures also existed.
The Lessons of Architecture.
A stroll through a town whose history goes back a few hundred years, and which is now growing in population,
will reveal some trends in housing which say something about those who live there. Toward the center of town there are
some large three-story 100-year-old houses, a few with horse and carriage barns still intact.
What constellation of people lived in these 10 and 12 room houses? There is space for more than husband, wife, and children.
There is room for aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and hired hands. Perhaps it was only the upper classes who could afford
the luxury of extended families and poor families lived in less spacious buildings which are not distinguishable.
As we walk out of town toward newer housing, we notice that units built small enough for just a nuclear family don't appear commonly
until the 1920's. The Depression and war saw relatively little new housing. With the end of the Second World War there was a spurt of building.
Look-alike ranches, garrisons and capes have been built on every empty lot and in every meadow and field.
They look alike, not because of unimaginative builders, but because Federal guidelines have governed their building.
In order to qualify under the favorable loan provisions of the Veterans Administration or the Federal Housing Administration the dwelling unit
had to have a minimum of three bedrooms.
That guideline may be the most influential provision in the history of modern family development.
Before the war (1939) 45% of all new housing had seven or more rooms. In 1970 only 15% of the new houses had seven or more rooms
according to the Bureau of the Census. The typical house being built in 1970 had 5.7 rooms and was valued at $17,500.
As if in obedience to Federal guidelines, household size has decreased accordingly. In 1890 the average household included 4.93 people.
(This average includes single people living alone.) By 1940 household size had decreased to 3.67 and in 1970 was 3.17. 5
Size tells us some things about families in other times and places but there are important questions to ask about function.
We've just seen that when the clan was strong there wasn't much need for the family. In fact, the family undermined the clan.
But when the clan or the community began to default on its function as protector and provider,
as it did in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, then the family emerged as a more significant unit.
In the last two centuries another trend has developed which will bring us back to the stories of Ann and Don, Chuck and Marge, you and me.
As the state has gathered political authority, there has been a consequent weakening and contraction of the function of the family unit
until the present day when the family's function is considerably shriveled-the state having taken over education, "corrections,"
welfare and vocational training, all of which once belonged to the home.
Childhood in the Middle Ages.
In a striking book on the history of childhood we get a picture of how the functioning family has developed
in the western world. As the author notes, "the concept of family which emerges in the 16th and 17th centuries is inseparable
from the concept of childhood." 6 Before the 13th century, childhood was not a noticeable category in the writings and drawings of the people.
When children were depicted in art, as in the work of Breughel from the early 1600's, they look like little men and women, dressed as adults,
with adult features but of smaller size. A particular character of life called childhood which could be abstracted from adult life
didn't develop until the 16th century. Until that time children were propelled into adulthood and the roles of adults as quickly as possible.
Were there common bonds of affection between parents and child or mother and child? Of course there was affection, but there is
considerable evidence that affection was not conceptualized in the same way as today. If the practice was the same,
the description of it was different. The practice of abandoning children, especially illegitimate children, appears to be quite common.
In 1204 Innocent 111, "appalled by the number of dead infants fishermen found in their nets," opened a foundling hospital. 7
The common 15th, 16th and 17th century practice of "binding-out children" suggests a detachment between parents and children.
Aries quotes a 15th century Italian observation of an English family. "The want of affection in the English is strongly manifested
toward their children, for having kept them until they arrive at age 7, or 9 at the utmost, they put them out, both males and females,
to hard service in the houses of other people, binding them generally for another seven or nine years." 8
Binding-out was practiced in the early Plymouth colony, where as many as 10% of all children may have lived in others' homes -
for a variety of reasons but primarily to accelerate the child's development into adulthood. Childhood by itself had no value.
"Wherever people worked and also wherever they amused themselves, even in taverns of ill repute, children were mingled with adults.
In this way they learnt the art of living from everyday contact." 9
Breughel's paintings suggest that there is no separable zone between public life and private life-between family and society.
Most of the functions which we now seclude in private quarters, occurred in public yards, squares or streets.
The street was the locale for eating, dancing, love making, crafts, religious processions, cooking, sleeping, and all forms of communicating,
if we can trust Breughel. "The medieval street, like the Arab street today, was not opposed to the intimacy of private life;
it was an extension of that private life, the familiar setting of work and social relations ...
Streets were for commercial and professional activity, as also for gossiping, conversation, entertainments and games ... everything happened in the street." 10
Conversation was the primary means of communication-again occurring on the streets. Here both nobility and peasant shared a common space where,
in a small community, everyone was apt to encounter and converse with everyone else not just once, but many times a day.
Any definition of the family which isolates it from this bustling street would be artificial. The socialization of children,
the absorption of aged and deviant people, the caring for the sick, and countless other functions which we have privatized,
all occurred in public places. In fact, the notion of privacy is modern indeed for in the 17th century,
as in most of the Third World urban centers today, no one was ever alone.
"Until the end of the seventeenth century, nobody was ever left alone. The density of social life made isolation virtually impossible,
and people who managed to shut themselves up in a room for some time were regarded as exceptional characters; relations between peers,
relations between people of the same class, relations between masters and slaves-these everyday relations never left a man by himself."
Even love making was not a private act, at least until the four post bed evolved, permitting the hanging of a curtain
between the bed and the rest of the room's activity. The newly married couple knew no privacy in bed, for the wedding guests followed
and visited the newly weds at the bedside, and sometimes joined them in the bed.
If, then, life was lived always in public, mostly in the streets, especially when climate allowed, what was the function of a house?
To begin with, the house simply served as shelter, not from other people, but from inclement weather. All inside functions were performed
in the same space-eating, conversation, and sleeping in the same room on mats rolled up when not in use. Doors and gates in no way served
to isolate the members of the family from the outside world. "An equilibrium was established in the 17th century between the centrifugal
or social forces and the centripetal or family forces." 12
The Separate Family.
In the 18th century the family began to take refuge in their own privacy. Streets developed as thoroughfares.
As the speed of travel was accelerated, the space that had been the "common" often became the thruway.
"In the 18th Century the family began to hold society at a distance, to push it back beyond a steadily extending zone of private life.
The organization of the house altered in conformity with this new desire to keep the world at bay.
"Beds were no longer located in every room but rooms became specialized in their use. This specialization of the rooms,
in the middle class and nobility to begin with, was certainly one of the greatest changes in everyday life. It satisfied a new desire for isolation.
It was no longer good form in the late 18th Century to call on a friend or acquaintance at any time of the day and without warning.
Either one had days when one was 'at home' or else people sent each other cards by their servants. 'The post takes care of visits ...
The letter box delivers cards; nothing is easier, nobody is visible, everyone has the decency to close his door.' 13
"This evolution from the medieval family to the seventeenth century family and then to the modern family was limited for a long time to the nobles,
the middle class, the richer artisans and the richer laborers. In the early nineteenth century, a large part of the population,
the biggest and poorest section, was still living like the medieval families with the children separated from their parents.
The idea of the house or the home did not exist for them. The concept of the home is another aspect of the concept of the family.
Between the eighteenth century and the present day the concept of the family changed hardly at all.
It remained as we saw it in the town and country middle classes of the eighteenth century.
On the other hand it extended more and more to other strata. In England in the late eighteenth century,
agricultural laborers tended to set up house on their own instead of lodging with their employers and the decline of apprenticeships
in industry made possible earlier marriages and larger families." 14
Specialization of function meant increasing separation. Society began to default on its previous function of maintaining social relations.
Schools separated children from the rest of the townspeople. Crafts were brought indoors. Socializing took place in pubs
(which means public house) and clubs, because the pressure of society had become unbearable.
As public sociability decreased, the family accepted that function. Thus the family, thrown in on itself, became increasingly distinct
from other families. Family names became more important. The children of each were more noticeable.
But as if to confirm Plato's worst suspicions, a strong family structure meant a weakened body politic. It is behind the closed doors
of the 18th and 19th century homes that the seeds were sown for our present exceedingly unequal distribution of wealth.
These closed doors marked the end of the sociability of previous centuries. As Aries' volume concludes,
"Sociability and the concept of the family were incompatible, and could develop only at each other's expense." 15
It is in this historic trend that we see the origins of Ann and Chuck's present problems.
Their almost total isolation did not occur overnight. The trend from larger to smaller, from integrated to dislocated households,
is different on the farm and in the city; it differs from class to class. The waves of immigrants who came to America's shores meant generations
of people living in multifamily situations. For decades neighborhoods included all the members of the extended family - aunts and cousins
and grandparents-just a few doors away. Hence, for generations, there was a modified extended family living in separate housing.
But ultimately the trend of isolation seems irreversible. And unless Ann and Chuck and the rest of us develop some alternatives
we'll find ourselves increasingly isolated.
Mr. and Ms. Allison knew it was coming--the dreaded knock on their tenement door. For 35 years this same second-floor Dorchester flat
had been their home. Now they must move out for urban renewal, tearing the roots of friendship and familiarity that sustained them.
At their age could they bear to be transplanted? Without these roots they might wither and die.
True, they'd thought about moving when the children were grown and moved out and again when the corner store, where they'd shopped all these years,
was forced to close. A lot of their friends had moved out or died. The rent was rising. But where would they go? Whenever they thought about it
they concluded: "This is where we belong"-until that fateful knock left them no choice. In two months the house would be razed.
After a difficult search they found a two-bedroom apartment in Brookline, where they knew no one. They felt like refugees.
Moving out of the old tenement was like dying a little. Mrs. Allison would say later it was that move which led to her husband's sickness
and eventual death. They worked for four weeks packing, boxing, clearing the closets, and going through the notes and tools,
and Christmas decorations, and paraphernalia that had accumulated in 35 years. None of it had value except to them.
There was a fragile telephone table that their oldest son had made in junior high, the World Books which the family had bought at great expense
and almost never used, the pictures which had hung almost unchanged, leaving bright squares on otherwise faded wallpaper.
That picture of the Angelus had hung in the same place for all those years. No one looked at it a lot, but the prayer was part of the fabric
that kept life together. Throw it away, or take it? Would it be a prayer any place else? Week after week the trash men dumped the barrels
into the truck without noticing that here were the memories and symbols of a lifetime-that life itself was buried in that trash truck.
In Brookline the Allisons saw their neighbors only when they went down for mail or out to shop, and then they exchanged only a nod and a greeting.
Occasionally an old Boston friend would drop by and there were hours of nostalgic reminiscences of by-gone days but mostly the Allisons
felt like observers, tourists, homeless and unwanted members of a society they didn't understand. Except for those visits,
Mr. Allison found he had no reason to live anymore. His condition worsened until his wife could no longer manage and he had to be hospitalized.
How lonely and sad those final four weeks were. Under sedation to reduce the pain, he spoke occasionally and even then his thoughts trailed off
quickly. The tree that once stood so tall now was gnarled and soon gone.
After her husband's death, Mrs. Allison tried to stay in their Brookline apartment, but the month's hospital bills had wiped out their life savings,
and social security didn't allow enough to pay the rent. She tried to find a part time job but employers almost laughed when a 67-year-old woman
answered their ads. In a society which measures value by the work a person can do, she was called worthless, although she was still strong and able.
Finally her oldest daughter urged Mrs. Allison to move in with them at least for a while. Buying bunk beds and putting two of the children together
made one room that she could use. Although there wasn't really much place in the house for a grandmother, there was a place in the family's life.
The young grandchildren enjoyed her company and attention and the parents benefited from her help in caring for the house and children.
There were many advantages in having an extra pair of hands to cook on an occasional weekend.
But as the children grew, so did the irritations. Mrs. Allison didn't have to be a psychologist to realize that not infrequently
there were oblique references to her continued and constant presence. When the children complained about wanting a room of their own,
it was clear who was in the room now. And on her side, she didn't really enjoy the children as she used to.
She found herself increasingly intolerant of their taste in music, and clothes, and even conversation.
And since her daughter and son-in-law were less happy with each other than when she first moved in, Mrs. Allison concluded
that her usefulness had come to an end. It was time to move out. She contacted the administrator of Rockwood, a housing project
which the town had built for its old people. She had to wait several months but finally the letter came that there was an opening.
That was three years ago. Life in senior citizens housing is better than a nursing home but it's lonely-so lonely. Silence encloses her.
No longer the running and laughing of little children or the blaring of teenage records and squabbles. Only on holidays does she hear
the friendly noises of a family which she knows is hers even though she doesn't belong.
The emptiness which she and her husband felt when they lived in Brookline almost ten years ago is being relived. If she dies nothing would change,
except her Rockwood apartment would be available for someone else. At 74 she doesn't have energy to do very much except cook a meal everyday
and do some sewing. But mostly wait-wait for death. Will death be a welcome release from this emptiness?
Many old people in America don't fare as well as Mrs. Allison. She spent many of her "senior" years with her family.
For millions of old people there is no choice but to live alone-a choice which a federal publication recently praised as an indication
of progress in the growing independence of old people.
The March 1970 publication of the Bureau of the Census reports that in 15 years there was a 94% increase in the number of primary individuals
(individuals living without their family). This reflects "an increasing ability among older people to maintain their own homes,
rather than to live with relatives and other persons."
While the government measures progress in terms of apparent increasing independence, those who are thus isolated may not consider
their independence to be a blessing. In fact their new condition may not be independence at all but a greater dependence on the government.
As family function contracts, government function expands.
Mrs. Allison doesn't choose to be independent; she'd rather be part of a family. True, she took the initiative to leave her family,
but only to avoid aggravating a tense situation. If there had been an extra room, perhaps with a kitchenette, she would have preferred to remain.
The Census figures for 1970 show that of 62 million households in the United States, 10 million are households of one person living alone.
That's about one in six, and the majority of those are old people. Approximately three million men and seven million women live alone
in the U.S. compared to about a million each in 1940. 1 wonder if a poll would show they choose to live alone or if they would rather live
Family members with special needs.
The modern family is rapidly becoming husband, wife and unmarried children.
As the "typical" family unit grows smaller, it excludes not only old people, but everyone who deviates from the norms:
older single people, sick people, troubled people, dying people.
These who were once sheltered by the family are now either out on their own or institutionalized in one of the many public agencies
doing the job the family used to do. Not only has family size contracted but so has family function. No longer does family serve as the school,
the vocational training center, welfare office, hospital, and house of corrections. The family has become so brittle that it has yielded
to public and private institutions these functions which were at one time performed in the family.
Perhaps it is true that in certain cases institutionalization is a better solution than any attempt to keep the person with special needs
in the context of the family. But there is also a growing recognition that to send a person out of the family context and
into an institution-a prison, a mental hospital, a prep school, or a reform school-has been harmful to the person,
and has denied the family from which he/she came the possibility of its own growth and reform.
House of Corrections.
The current American practice of removing criminals from the main stream of society and locking them
behind prison walls is increasingly recognized as a destructive means of dealing with the person involved, to say nothing of the effect
on wife or husband and the children in the case of married prisoners. In many cases criminal behavior is a dimension of social behavior
which can hardly be cured by removing the individual from the normal social context.
The close correlation between poverty or economic need and criminal behavior should be indication enough that the causes of crime
are social as well as personal. Simply to remove the person to prison - and not to reform the injustice out of which s/he comes -
is not to hear what is being said by the event of which the crime is but a part. The society is not going to be reformed by sending
to reform school the person whose story most poignantly cries out against the injustice.
In the Plymouth Colony, before the construction of separate houses of correction, the formal function of correction was performed
in the "normal" homes. "The family was a 'house of correction.' Idle and even criminal persons were 'sentenced' by the Court to live
as servants in the families of more reputable citizens. The household seemed a natural setting both for imposing discipline
and for encouraging some degree of character reformation." 2
Although in Plymouth there's no indication that the Colony saw the crime as an indictment of its own injustice,
the community did at least accept common responsibility for restoring the guilty person to normal behavior.
"A certain 'Goodwife Thomas, the Welchwoman' was directed to work and live with the family of Robert Baker - he also to have control over
the management of her estate and to see 'that she does not live extravagantly as formerly.'" 3
Recognizing that youth corrections institutions do more harm than good, the Division of Youth Services in Massachusetts recently
and rather abruptly closed all of the "reform schools" in the state, creating a major need for families and homes where these young people
could be placed. A stable home, even without correctional expertise, would be a more helpful context in which to effect the necessary growth.
The search for homes for these youth highlighted again the inadequacy of existing nuclear family structures to deal with any problems
except their own basic consumption needs. So brittle is the present family structure that it cannot easily absorb the shock
of additional people with their needs.
The majority of the present inmates of adult correctional institutions could also be immediately released if alternative home situations
were available. A recent statement on prisons from the Archdiocese of Boston palls for the closing of prisons and the creation of a number
of correctional programs, including "relatively small community centers for housing selected prisoners," where trust and responsibility
can be encouraged. Our present family structure will be no help to that correctional reform.
Where is the "village idiot" these days? From my youth I remember several homes where they lived,
mixed in with the family-strange, bizarre individuals. Naturally, children, and sometimes adults, ridiculed them or cowered from them.
But there they were, at table, or in a corner of the living room, or walking the streets.
Undoubtedly a "village idiot" was treated with irresponsible cruelty. Even the name that describes him/ her is repulsive.
But at least this different person somehow had a place in our lives, inadequate as it may have been. At least the village tolerated and cared for
a person who deviated from our norms rather than incarcerate him/her.
Today, as pressure to conform increases, our ability to tolerate those who don't conform decreases. While the incidence of mental sickness rises,
under the pressures of modern society, the society is less able to absorb those who break under the pressure. And instead of the society
dealing with the problem we incarcerate those who can't take it. We've no place for them in our lives.
This avoidance of the problem of mental illness is a tragedy-for all of us. Illness says something about the person who gets sick;
it also says something about the situation he/she comes from. It may be a sick situation and that person bears the sickness.
Perhaps that person was more sensitive to the sickness around him/her and succumbed to it. Those of us who are insensitive, or too dull,
maintain our equilibrium while others tip over.
Why then should we punish, through isolation, the very ones whose sickness points to our familial and societal inadequacies?
By listening to the causes of their sickness we might be able to reform the situation. But in our present nuclear isolation,
the family and society are too brittle for that.
The case of Claude Eatherly, the pilot of the plane which dropped the bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, is instructive.
It was soon after this event that mental treatment became necessary, and Eatherly has wavered between sickness and health ever since.
Eatherly's illness is not a private matter. It is reminiscent of the German philosopher Lessing's statement:
"He who does not lose his mind over certain things has none to lose." To label this one man "sick," and thus spare our country
the burden of having to examine its responsibility for his sickness, is to avoid part of the reality.
But this we do with so many maladjusted people we incarcerate: we remove them from the mainstream of society and cut off all contact
until the illness is cured and the individual is readjusted.
What if Eatherly were to successfully return to a society which continues to drop bombs of equal destruction?
Does the society now take satisfaction that he is adjusted to that reality?
Wouldn't it be better for us if he were never sent away but spent the time raving in the streets that the society is mad?
Perhaps his cure is contingent on ours and until we face the reality which makes him sick there will be no cure.
The separation of sickness from the healthy society is futile. To treat the sick as if they were guilty and we innocent
is a gross over-simplification--for sickness comes from the society in which a person lives. Sickness says something not only about the person
who bears it but about the society which helped to develop it. One doesn't become sick alone.
Deviant behavior, instead of being sick, is perhaps a sensitive response to our sick norms and unless we can bear what is being said
about our situation by those who are outside our life, we may never know life. A prophet is one who himself suffers the harm done to others.
He is not indifferent to evil but cries out against the injustice that he cannot bear to see himself or others endure.
It follows from this that when there is no provision within the family to care for a sick person, then the family denies not only the sick person
but the possibility of its An correction.
Any consideration of life style alternatives must move in the direction of including - and even listening to - those whom we now exclude
because their condition is too painful for us to bear. New structures must be discovered which reverse the increased isolation and contraction
of the family group. Presently the brittle unitary family can't bear the burden of the presence of those whose condition is a criticism or judgment.
But perhaps a collective of families and individuals could not only bear, but hear as well.
Single people who are not old, who are not pathological, who are not physically handicapped, are often excluded
from normal family life as if they had been officially exiled or sentenced.
The norms of marriage are so pervasive that suspicion surrounds those who are not married. Have non-family people always been held at arm's length?
In 1669 the Colony of New Plymouth put the following order on the books: "Whereas great inconvenience hath arisen by single sons
in this Collonie being for themselves and not betaking themselves to live in well governed families It is enacted by the Court
that no single person be suffered to live of himself or in any Family but such as the Selectmen of the Town shall approve of."
-Colony of New Plymouth, 1669. 4
It seems to me--I've noticed it here more than in New York--that single people and family people are very much segregated from one another.
I can't say if this deprives family people in any way. I know it makes my life feel lightweight in some areas.
I feel in a vague way that it must not be healthy for any of us.
One thing I'm aware of is that family people often find me threatening to have around. If we're able to talk about it,
what usually comes out is (1) I'm seen as sexually available and therefore threatening, or (2) women, especially,
fantasize my life as free and involved in 'important' things, and therefore a reproach to them. It's a high barrier to breach.
All my contacts with children are filtered by the parents. When one young girl kicked me in the shin, her mother,
talking in both directions like an interpreter, was apologizing to me while scolding and pushing the child away.
I had been intrigued by the kick and was wanting to deal with the incident myself, but the mother thought a single person needed protection from children and vice versa.
I yearn in some way to be part of other people's lives-children, as well as married and single adults-without threatening or embarrassing
them or denying who I am. But I'm not confident enough to make a specific proposal. Let me hear what you think.
It would take a philosopher to clarify the tangled connections between the self and the group.
There seems to be universal agreement that the more developed the individual person the more he/she can truly participate in the lives of others.
"Love others as you love yourself" is a Biblical imperative which implies that the more you love yourself, the more you can love others.
Self hatred hinders or prevents love of brothers and sisters.
A person who hates self or is separated from self, i.e., sick, isn't free to elate to a group. It is clear that he / she really has to
"be someone" in order to commune with others. Perhaps there is a warning here against joining a group in order to find yourself.
Just as a musician doesn't join an orchestra in order to learn to play, so a person doesn't join a group to discover his/ her identity.
But, conversely, individuality can't be developed alone. It is only as we bump off of others that we discover ourselves.
If we are not living life in relation to others, we turn those others into objects, into "its," according to Buber,
and we regard ourselves as absolute. We become self-centered, selfish and egotistical - seeing ourselves in the center of the whole universe.
To prevent this we have to participate in the lives of others to discover who we truly are.
But the question is often raised: if I participate too much, won't I jeopardize my own individuality and freedom? The most common form
of the question concerns privacy. "If I commit myself to others do I sacrifice my privacy?"
It is indeed revealing that this question arises more than any other. We are much more protective of our individuality
than we are of our ability to participate in a group. Of education we ask: "Will this education enable me to participate more fully
in the life of others?"
In those countries where people are trying to develop a collective society-a society of sharing-the opposite is being raised.
Julius Myerere, President of Tanzania, has challenged the validity of colonial education which separated the educated
from the mass of the people. "It emphasized and encouraged the individualistic instincts of mankind instead of his cooperative instincts."
The point is that in our culture we are much more defensive about our individuality than we are about our participation.
But I believe we long to belong to others. Underneath our yearning for alternatives is a desire to participate more completely,
to temper our own excessive individuality by participation in the lives of others, to assuage our own loneliness by being a part
of a collective of individuals. For too long we've been a separate object in a lonely crowd. Perhaps in participation our own uniqueness
can really flower.
Rugged Individualism. Have you ever stopped to ponder how much our society is oriented to individualism? College catalogues proudly show
pictures of language labs: each student seated in a separate cubicle, receiving impulses through earphones. If we add food service,
plumbing and a folding cot to each cubicle, we have a metaphor of a safe and secure life in this space ship age: each person
totally independent and at the same time completely dehumanized.
Men like Daniel Boone or Scott Nearing are our folk heroes. They were able to survive in the wilds, independent of all other creatures.
We plan our lives as if Polonius' advice to his son Laertes was intended for us each individually: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry; This above all, to thine own self be true."
And the trend appears to be in the direction of increased isolation. Robert Weiss of Harvard, in predicting what will be happening to families
in the future, suggests that even the nuclear family is too much community for coming generations. The present isolation of suburban houses,
surrounded by split rail fences and connected only by telephone wires, and from which one emerges only in a closed car,
will yield to even more privatized structures-perhaps private rooms connected by intercoms. "The individual will be exhorted to attend
to his own development and graded on his own success in doing so."
This is but a further extension of the Protestant ethic in which each individual is responsible for testimony to his own inner light.
The problem of property.
Obviously there are some vested interests which benefit from our separation from each other.
I first became conscious of this when a church fund raising consultant urged that every member of the family be separately solicited.
In the same vein, Sony has ads showing members of the family each watching different programs on their private mini TVs.
It is in the interest of those who distribute material goods to encourage the disintegration of all forms of community,
including the nuclear family-every split meaning additional atomized consumption units. The rhetoric speaks for each person maximizing
his own individuality. The real goal is separate bank accounts and individualistic maximum consumption.
Goods in common.
Private ownership is an enemy of community. In times of scarcity when every ounce of energy was needed
to provide necessities for survival, community among people was entirely natural. The survival of one depended on the survival of all.
In many "primitive" societies, goods are held in common.
Although records of Native American life have been filtered by the selective subjectivity of the historians, we still have ample evidence
of common ownership of property. The sympathetic Moravian missionary, John Heckewelder, writing in the early 1800's, records
that the Native Americans thought that the Great Spirit made the earth and all that it contains for the common good of mankind;
when he stocked the country with plenty of game, it was not for the benefit of the few but of all. Everything was given in common
to the sons of men. Whatever liveth on the land, whatsoever groweth out of the earth, and all that is in the rivers and waters flowing
through the same, was given jointly to all, and everyone is entitled to his share.... They give and are hospitable to all,
without exception, and will always share with each other and often with the stranger, even to their last morsel.
They rather would lie down themselves on an empty stomach, than have it laid to their charge that they had neglected their duty
by not satisfying the wants of the stranger, the sick, or the needy.4
The controversial Thomas Morton of Merrymount, who dealt with native "New Englanders" for several decades before the separatist Pilgrims came,
wrote appreciatively not only of the communal life but of its attendant simplicity:
They love not to be cumbered with many utensils, and although every proprietor knows his own, yet all things (so long as they will last),
are used in common amongst them: A biscuit cake given to one; that one breaks it equally into so many parts, as there be persons
in his company and distributes it. Plato's Commonwealth is so much practiced by these people.
According to humane reason guided only by the light of nature, these people leads the more happy and freer life being void of care,
which torments the minds of so many Christians: They are not delighted in baubles, but in useful things ...
I have observed that they will not be troubled with superfluous commodities. Such things as they find, they are taught by necessity
to make use of ... their life is so void of care, and they are so loving also that they make use of those things they enjoy
(the wife only excepted) as common goods, and are therein so compassionate that rather than one should starve through want,
they would starve all, thus do they pass away the time merrily, not regarding our pomp (which they daily see before their faces)
but are better content with their own, which some men esteem so meanly of. 5
Exclusive human relationships were as unknown as exclusive property.
Since all are descended from one parent, they look upon themselves as but one great family who therefore ought at all times
and on all occasions to be serviceable and kind to each other, and by that means make themselves acceptable to the head of the universal family,
the great and good Mannitto. 6
John Demos records that there was an attempt even among the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Colony to hold all property in common.
But, as Governor Bradford records, private ownership was soon substituted for communal ownership, thus solving many problems.
"This community (common ownership) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been
to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend
their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense, And for men's wives to be commanded to do service
for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.
" The remedy for these problems was simply to restore a degree of private ownership-and in effect, to re-establish the connection
between family and property. The authorities "gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular ... and so assigned
to every family a parcel of land ... This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious." 7
So deeply was the principle of private property engraved on the lives of these early settlers that without the restoration
of private property the colony apparently might not have survived. But in this decision the possibility of a community of goods was put to rest.
In China, the heart of the revolution has been the redistribution of property. Wealth now no longer reinforces the power
of "important" families but has been redistributed in large communes (several hundred people) so that all families
have equal access to the land. Besides the common land and industry each family is also permitted access to its own "private" plot of land.
In western history, by the time we can identify the family as a distinguishable social unit, it is already
the unit of property ownership and control. Ownership and the orderly transfer of property to the next generation is one
of the primary functions of the family. Many of the early records of the family in the western world are wills and laws governing
inheritance. Primogeniture, the right of the oldest son to inherit his father's property, was the most common practice.
The daughters were married into other families, and the younger sons either worked under the protection of the oldest son or were sent
into the monastery.
It is in the family that we learn to build and maintain fences around our exclusive property; here we learn to define
and protect our possessions. What child hasn't learned to call out, "Don't touch it, it's mine." Once the milieu in which production
was learned-a trade, a craft, a profession-the home now teaches only how to possess and consume. Private ownership has become
one of the few functions of the nuclear family, and one of the last bastions of a capitalist economy.
Democracy in America.
That astute critic of American society, Alexis de Tocqueville, who was sent by the French government
to study prisons in America in 1831, has some warnings about the dangers of individualism.
Seeing individualism as meaning ultimately the same thing as selfishness, de Tocqueville writes:
Each of them, living apart, is a stranger to the fate of all the rest, his children and his private friends constitute
to him the whole of mankind ... he exists for himself alone ...
They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man, they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone,
and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands. Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors,
but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens
in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart. 8
And then, almost prophetically, de Tocqueville warns that such individualism makes Americans fair game for despots.
Despotism sees in the separation among men the surest guarantee of its continuance, and it usually makes every effort to keep them separate.
No vice of the human heart is so acceptable to it as selfishness: a despot easily forgives his subjects for not loving him,
provided they do not love one another ... He stigmatizes as turbulent and unruly spirits those who would combine their exertions
to promote the prosperity of the community; and, perverting the natural meaning of words, he applauds as good citizens those who have
no sympathy for any but themselves. 9
The tendency toward excessive individualism has been encouraged in America by the existence of apparently limitless space.
While other people have been forced to work out their destiny in close proximity to others, Americans could always avoid that necessity
by wandering off into new territories.
The leaders of the Plymouth Colony, who longed to create a community which would embody the ideals which brought them to these shores,
constantly sought to restrain their members from leaving Plymouth and dispersing to new settlements. John Demos quotes several records
which show that unlimited space deterred the settling of differences in the family or community and instead permitted an escape from such issues.
Governor Bradford blames the failure of Plymouth on the availability of free land to which free spirits could escape.
The town became "like an ancient mother grown old and forsaken of her children, though not in their affections yet in regard
of their bodily presence and personal helpfulness; . . . she is like a widow left only to trust in God." 10
Extensive space is one of the sources of American power. It is also a source of trouble. Few people have lived so exclusively and privately.
Even in the cities there is more space than in other times and places. Urban population density is two and a half times lower today
than at the beginning of the century. 11
Some studies have suggested that the more space we have, the more violence erupts. When space is limited, we must learn to live
within it in order to survive. In bomb shelters, as in England during World War II, internal violence was at a minimum.
There wasn't enough space to fight. An orderly coexistence was encouraged more by limited space than by limitless space.
Our preoccupation with private space and time is a function of our excessive individualism. In the middle and upper class we presume
that every child needs a private room, or at least a private bed. However, this transmission of the tradition of separateness
may be depriving the child of the necessity and blessing of learning to live closely with others.
A personal anecdote may focus the issue. When I go to the beach alone or with a group, I generally look for that location
which is the most separate and private. So I was pleased one day in Brazil to discover for my family a huge expanse of beach
we could have all to ourselves. But to our amazement, when an unknown Brazilian family arrived a few minutes later,
they settled almost on our towels. When I made some casual comment about this, they cordially responded that it was indeed good
for people to be close together. Enclosed in our moats, the moat full, the bridge drawn, we imagine we are free to be ourselves,
to "do our own thing." However, there is mounting evidence that we are as separate individuals manipulated into unprecedented conformity.
Individuality or conformity. Whether in fact western society has achieved the heights of individuality which it claims is a frequent question.
A great many social commentators are saying that we don't really have much human freedom at all.
They say that "as with primitive tribes, it is the society that controls the individual, not law, not politics." 12
Government and business have merged to effect control over the minds of citizens. Part of the impetus for control comes from the need
for business to control consumers. "Collectivization of public taste, based upon massive conditioning by advertising,
leads to involuntary behavior . . . Mass consumption requires that Everyman has an identical definition of the necessities of life." 13
The control mechanisms are very subtle. Citizens are not battered into conformity, but are gently enticed, and they quite willingly cooperate
in their own diminution. The principle means for this human administration is the mass media, primarily television.
Those who were appalled at the idea of "Big Brother watching" are often unaware that the effect
of "watching Big Brother" is the same.
During the first week of Sesame Street, I was in a number of homes where I asked the children to join with me in singing one of the jingles.
Parents were surprised to hear the children join with me in singing songs they hadn't heard. Every child I met that week had been conditioned
in a way their parents didn't even know of. In 1968, the average child was watching TV 54 hours a week. There is no question
as to how we are being conformed. We resist not, because the life to which we are being manipulated feels pleasant and because
we are still accorded certain minimum, although meaningless, freedoms.
As political manipulation increases, a pseudo political freedom increases as well. One is more free to engage in political action
that is either meaningless, designed to reinforce consensus, or concerned purely with distribution. Because political organization
Oust as mass production) does deliver the goods, one is more free to obey what he considers to be good, legitimate and beneficial control.
But in a manipulative political system the obligations of citizenship create merely a pseudo-involvement. Citizens are engaged in politics
in the same sense that transmission gears are engaged in a moving automobile. 13
We look back in history to the time when the necessity of survival and various superstitious beliefs seemed to proscribe human life,
leaving almost no choices, and we imagine that we are much freer today. But Phillip Aries, comparing the middle ages with our own time,
concludes that the middle ages imposed far fewer restrictions on its members.
The evolution of the last few centuries has often been presented as the triumph of individualism over social constraints.
But where is the individualism in these modern lives in which all the energy of the couple is directed to serving the interests
of a deliberately restricted posterity? Was there not greater individualism in the gay indifference of the prolific fathers
of the ancient regime? 14
Indeed unless we rediscover life alternatives that permit community, we may become completely shriveled up by the mutilated liberties
and satisfactions we defend in the name of individuality.
Children in Bruderhof.
What happens, to children who are raised communally? Do they lose their individuality? Or, to repeat a question
of an earlier chapter, is it harmful for the children to be subjects of alternative situations? Let us look at the effect of the individuality
of the children who have grown up in radical community, like the Bruderhof in America.
Created in 1920, the Bruderhof is a Christian community which bears witness through its daily life to the truth of the Christian gospel.
The loving care of the children and their nurture epitomizes the witnessing purpose of the community.
When a baby is born, the father and mother, released from their normal communal jobs, spend six weeks living in a separate house
alone with the baby. (Some other family cares for any older children.) After six weeks the parents return to their jobs - the mother working
from nine to five thirty, spending an hour at midday with the baby.
In the nursery babies are cared for by other women, usually older teenagers. "Work time is for the married woman a chance
to get away from the children, and for the unmarried woman a chance to be with children."
Individual Bruderhof families live together in the same quarters and have breakfast together and dinner one night a week.
The rest of the meals are communal. Most of the child's life is organized day and night with specific times designated
when the child is to be with his or her individual family. In this rhythm between the family gathered and the family dispersed
throughout the community the nuclear family bears far less socializing responsibility than the entire group.
The child remains in the community exclusively until high school and then goes to public schools, an experience which gives her or him
a taste of "outside life." This aids the child in making a decision about remaining in the Bruderhof for life or leaving.
The pressure to conform in this setting is undeniable, although the pressure is denied. Eberhard Arnold, the founder of the community,
writes that the community will allow the child to flower in whatever way its potential suggests. But this growth is allowed
only within certain very definite parameters. An hour seldom passes when the child is not instructed by example or admonition to conform.
The more structured the community, the more all-pervasive the pressure to conform, and the less deviation that is probably allowed.
In our society we are all admonished to honor father and mother. If we fail to do so, neglecting to contact parents for years,
we probably will not be punished, but we suffer the occasional pressure of disapproval. In an intentional community, however,
infraction of such a rule means, ultimately, dismissal from the community.
Is the person's individuality thus sacrificed on the altar of the unity of the collective? Clearly, the goal of the community is to bring
the restless ego into conformity with the missionary goals of the whole. The new member is asked,
"Are you ready to put yourself completely and utterly at the disposal of the Church-Community of Christ to the end
of your life-and with yourself, all your faculties and the whole strength of your body and soul...?" 16
As a sympathetic commentator, Benjamin Zabloski writes, "Whatever else he may possess, the Bruderhof member emphatically does not have
the freedom of individualism ... Community, which means bonds, obligations, and mutual interdependence, is fundamentally incompatible
The goal of the community is the renunciation of ego, in order that a person's own will might be replaced by the will of God.
The loss of individualism would not be considered a sacrifice, but a victory.
Do We Choose Community?
The highly disciplined life for children of the Bruderhof probably sounds excessive to most readers,
although a visit to Norfolk, Connecticut or Ripton, New York would surely improve the impression. But it is clear that commitment
to any community means individualism will be constrained.
Those who have spoken most profoundly of freedom have reminded me that I am only free to act within certain limits.
Obviously, I don't have the freedom to flap my arms and fly. Those who have the discretion to know that they belong to nature
and have ecological limits will discover the freedom within those limits.
Similarly, if I acknowledge that I am not an isolated island, but a member of the human family, then I shall not long to exercise
an excessive individuality which upsets that family. Within the confines of that family, there's plenty of room for growth
and individual expression. But this involves a conscious decision for the group.
Philip Slater concludes his essay on loneliness with a warning that if we insist on clinging to some ideal of individualism,
we shall never achieve goals of life together.
"Nothing stands in our way except our invidious dreams of personal glory. Our horror of group coercion reflects our reluctance
to relinquish these dreams, although they have brought us nothing but misery, discontent, hatred and chaos. If we can overcome this horror
and mute this vanity, we may again be able to take up our original utopian task." 18
Community and commune movements of the past two centuries have been thoroughly infused with utopianism, members believing
that humanity is perfectible. I share no such dream. No external circumstances can spare us from our own fallen nature,
or all the stubborn perversity of hubris or sin, or seeing ourselves in the center of the universe.
But a viable community of trust and forgiveness can be redeeming.
The following is a portion of an interview between Daniel Berrigan and Robert Coles.
Berrigan: If we are talking about which structure in our society seems to offer the greatest resistance to change I would say, yes,
it is the family ... In a consumer society the family is the means by which most people become tied to a cycle like this:
go along with things, so long as you get enough to buy more and more things even though the whole world is exploited
so that a relatively small number of people in this country-us-can live well.
Coles: What you would say therefore, is that what keeps someone like me from being more sharply critical of our society is not so much
the various ideological rigidities of my profession ... You claim it is because I am a husband and a father that I am cautious.
In another sense of the word I "husband" my resources and remain loyal to the system, the social system, the economic system, out of fear,
out of trembling for my children. I become increasingly tentative and cautious as I try to bring my children up, get them into the system,
preserve for them the privileges I've inherited or won for myself. As a burgher of sorts I've learned to control carefully my mind
and its particular persuasions, its beliefs. Regardless of how sincerely I hold my opinions, in the crunch I hold them not out of sincere
and open minded conviction but because I have to-as a land-owner, a householder, a husband and a parent who lives a comfortable life
in this particular nation. Hence I am very cautious indeed about criticizing the society too broadly, too vigorously, too thoroughly.
After all, I want all its advantages-for my children, of course! So I carefully, maybe semiconsciously, calibrate how far "out"
I dare go politically. Is that what you're saying?
Berrigan: Yes, and I think marriage as we understand it and family life as we understand it in this culture both tend to define people
in a far more suffocating and totalizing way than we want to acknowledge. There is very nearly universal supposition that after one marries
one ought to cool off with regard to political activism and compassion-as compared to one's student days, one's "young" days ...
I think that today young people come toward marriage as growing, searching men and women and suddenly marriage and parenthood
is respected as a stoppage of all that. I mean, young married people become members of a social community, and come under the authority
of a political community. Once children come even some of the more radical youth feel themselves no longer so free to protest various wrongs -
because they need work and--on their children's account--feel more dependent on and vulnerable to the power of a town or city or county.
They are expected to join with other consumers. They are expected to prepare the next generation for the next wars and for an expansion of the same,
the very same community...
I may be oversimplifying, but it does seem to me that, as the saying goes: 'we are what we eat.' And that is a cultural statement as well
which means the kinds of families that have been flourishing in this society for a hundred and fifty years, especially in the white middle classes,
have become what they have embraced: consumerism; militant self-interest; and wars to subdue 'natives,' obtain international power,
and control governments. 1
A Man's Home is His Castle. Until the 18th century, according to Phillip Aries, life was lived in public. We can still see
in the throbbing "souks" of Arab towns a reminder of street crowds of an earlier era in Western society-an era in which people were known
to each other, socialized with each other, depended on and related to each other, even though that relationship was often hierarchical
But when forces in the environment became too complex to deal with, people withdrew from the public realm into structures where they could control
and manage the environment. Personal piety replaced public ritual. Family sentimentality replaced public responsibility.
People, caught in the whirl of increased specialization and variety in the public realm, spun off to create protected and insulated neighborhoods.
Where variety could be controlled, discord could be reduced, and one's identity would be less threatened.
This centrifugal force of homogeneity was a consequence of the rapidly developing heterogeneity of American society.
The rapid change from a rural society to an urban meant some drastic change for family. In the rural community the continuity
between home life and community life was visible and secure. Single people, children, family people, knew and were known for what they were.
Life and the response of friendly townspeople to life was predictable.
But as cities replaced towns, with the threat to predictability and security, families scurried about to find residential enclaves
where they would know what was going on, and who they were. Suburban communities developed as a mosaic of enclaves of families
with similar religious, national, racial, or social characteristics. They became homogeneous, self-protecting communities,
intolerant of deviation in attitudes or life style. The appearance of affability, the friendly handshake, the welcoming cup of coffee,
extends only to those who share the same point of view.
Massive resistance has been mounted to protect the predictability of the neighborhood. When the 1948 Supreme Court decision banned
restrictive covenants, suburban neighborhoods had little difficulty in finding illicit ways to exclude those who were visibly different.
For years, suburban communities have been frantically delaying busing programs which would introduce variety into the public schools.
"Safe streets" has become a slogan to keep strangers off the streets.
And when these efforts at self-imprisonment fail, the family withdraws even further into the walls of the castle. As people
of different social classes organize and are able to demand higher wages, they are able to buy housing in white collar
or professional neighborhoods, threatening homogeneity and facing a further withdrawal until physical isolation is now almost complete.
So thick is the insulation, it is not uncommon for contiguous neighbors not to know each other's name and to see each other
only when disaster brings everyone into the street.
Costly Castle Maintenance.
The more the family withdraws, the more restricted its areas of freedom and responsibility.
Self-imposed captivity can lead to self-mutilation and a disastrous forfeiture of social responsibility.
Robbed of any significant freedom of choice in the public realm, the family's only choices are in what it consumes, or the image it projects.
And when these fail to alleviate frustrations, there are tranquilizers, sedatives, stimulants, narcotics. Or there is psychoanalysis,
which helps the person avoid societal issues by putting the blame on his psyche and its inadequate development.
In its escape from the real world into a world of its own making, the suburban family can no longer see the world as it really is.
The family has thus forfeited its possibility of responsible citizenship. The family is victim of a suburban captivity.
Those nurtured and conditioned in middle class seclusion have no facility to recognize and act upon social injustices.
Black ghettos are invisible to those who pass over them on high speed roads. Welfare is misunderstood by those who believe it's as easy
to "spin off" that cycle today as it was during World War 11. Vision has been seriously impaired. We are blind to any issue
which would threaten the myths which now protect suburban neighborhoods.
One pillar of American economic mythology is that all citizens have equal access to economic resources.
It's not quite like a race where everyone starts off together, since obviously some people inherit an advantage.
But it is still presumed that if Horatio Alger gets good marks in school and works hard, he'll some day own a Bimini villa
or at least a cottage at the lake.
Reference to this myth helps reinforce many normal middle class suburban economic attitudes. The myth has little foundation in reality.
The patterns of inequitable wealth distribution have long been frozen in this country, and no amount of education or hard work
or transfer payments in the form of welfare makes any significant difference.
According to the 1970 census, if all the 51.9 million families in the United States divided their annual money incomes evenly,
each would have received $11,106. If the net National Product had been distributed equitably, each family would have received $16,000.
But according to the census data, those 20 per cent of the families on the bottom of the pile received less than six per cent
of the national money income and those 20 per cent at the top received over 40 per cent.
Shifting from annual income to wealth or assets, we find far greater inequities. If we were to divide all the individually-owned assets evenly
among all the adults in the country, each adult would have an estate worth $10,800. But in fact, the richest fifth of the people
in the country own 77 per cent of the total wealth and the poorest fifth, nothing. The top five per cent of individuals in the country
own 53 per cent of the wealth and the top one per cent own 33 per cent of the wealth.
Because the family is the proprietor of wealth and because the family is protected by laws and customs which keep that wealth in the family,
the inequities have actually worsened generation after generation. In 1810 the richest one per cent of the families owned 21 per cent of the wealth,
in 1860, 24 per cent and in 1900, 31 per cent. The Depression raised havoc with personal estates, but most of those who were affected
recovered and the figure now stands at almost 35 per cent and is growing rapidly.
People on the bottom (except those receiving public assistance) make all their money from the sale of their own labors.
But people on the top don't have to depend on their labors for income. They have only to invest their wealth.
The concentration of income-producing investments is the most inequitable of all. In 1962, the wealthiest 20 per cent of the population
owned 97 per cent of the corporate stock and the wealthiest one per cent owned 62 per cent. 2
Those who are condemned to sell their labor in return for income will die in approximately the same quintile in which they began;
while those who are heirs to great estates will probably die with that curse. Even a highly sensitized wealthy family will discover that,
in isolation, it is virtually impossible to alter the wealth distribution inequities without also altering family structure,
which heretofore has been sole proprietor of wealth in the society. The cry for the preservation of family structure becomes the cry
to preserve the unequal distribution of wealth.
The State Takes Over.
Having herded ourselves into irrelevance, even when our vision does improve and we are able to recognize
the consequences of our social irresponsibility, we find ourselves relatively powerless to act. As has been noted, the state has filled the void
when the family drew in upon itself. And now the state is aggressive in maintaining its own power. It desires the isolation and impotence
of the family which it aggressively maintains under the myth of family strength.
For example, the family imagines that it has exclusive authority over the property it owns. In fact society itself defines property
and surrounds ownership with so many regulations that the "owner" functions only within the limitations which the state imposes
and is but the functionary of the state.
Political freedom is likewise circumscribed. In his grim prediction of new forms of totalitarianism in Brave New World, Aldous Huxley issues
a warning not unlike de Tocqueville's 100 years before.
A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive ... controls a population of slaves who do not have
to be coerced because they love their servitude. To make them love is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries
of propaganda, newspaper editors and school teachers ... Without economic security, the love of servitude cannot possibly come into existence
... The love of servitude cannot be established except as a result of a deep personal revolution in human minds and bodies.
To bring about the revolution, we require ... a fully developed science of human differences, enabling government managers to assign
any given individual to his or her proper place in the social and economic hierarchy. (Round pegs in square holes tend to have
dangerous thoughts about the social system and to infect others with their discontents.) 3
Several thousand miles southeast of the United States in the city of Salvador (Saviour), Brazil, on a street so narrow and steep that even
the donkeys have trouble descending, is located-in the midst of an urban slum of 40,000 people-a tiny palm-thatched home. The mud on the walls
is old and pocked and dried; the woven sticks which hold the mud in place are exposed like varicose veins, and the walls lean so that only
the wind seems to hold them up. One wonders how the door opens and closes. The yard includes several small sheds made of oil cans
(which have been flattened out) and palm thatching. The children are as threadbare as the house, and a wizened old lady seems always
to be at the door of her house, washing or ironing.
But Dona Maria Correira da Silva is not nearly as old as she looks. Gray hair, a deeply lined face, open sores on her skin
from the ceaseless menace of insects, and swollen legs that have seldom been relieved by a chair, reflect a life of tremendous hardship.
In this section of Brazil the life expectancy is about 27 years.
But Dona Maria manifests a wry cynicism rather uncommon to this community. Since my wife, Lois, my four young children, and I were living
for a year on that same Brazilian street, I often found myself walking by her door. One November day I was invited to stop and enjoy
the comfort of her "beautiful" house and neighborhood. Asked if I liked the area, I answered affirmatively as I'd been conditioned
by other neighbors to answer. "Of course you like it," Dona Maria responded. "You can leave anytime you want ... but at least
my house has advantages. I don't have to go out to know if its raining."
The house is home not only for Dona Maria, but for another family as wed. Each has a separate entrance. Mud walls about six feet high,
but not all the way to the roof, separate the families. Next to Dona Maria is the family of Dona Rita Sacramento,
who is Maria's constant companion.
I was early impressed by the quality of this friendship, deep and respectful. Names are seldom used in Nordeste, in family conversation
or narrative, an indication that what separates is less important than what unites. Perhaps everyone could be "X." But Rita and Maria
called each other by name or by using the phrase "Vizinha," which means neighbor. When one spoke to me of the other, she invariably talked
of my dear neighbor, almost as if she were saying Your Grace, or Your Honor. Whatever human dignity there was came from the spirit;
there was certainly nothing in the daily round to dignify life.
White folks' laundry was their survival. Dona Rita does the laundry of a downtown family living in the wealthy barrio. She has been doing
the same laundry for some years. She knows the family by the clothes she washes and by the brief encounters with the lady at the back door
as she delivers the finished clothes. I never did get the washing process sorted out, but it is painstaking beyond belief.
One bundle of laundry, the equivalent of perhaps two loads in an automatic washer, takes an entire week. Once the laundry is on hand,
water must be fetched-lots of water, enough to wash and rinse the clothes several times. The first day there is a preliminary soaping
with heavy brown or blue soap which disintegrated Lois' skin when she tried to use it. The next day wood must be cut and brought home
to make a fire, and a bleaching agent is made from certain kinds of leaves. The clothes are boiled in water and then again soaped
while they are still steaming; again rinsed and dried. They are spread on the grass or on fences. As they are drying, they are splashed
with more water since continued sun drying makes them whiter.
To prepare the clothes for ironing, a special root is dug and starch is made from it. The ironing itself is most laborious. Again wood,
hard wood, must be hauled. The better the wood, the longer the coals will last in the iron, an eight pound instrument with a little smoke stack
in front. Finally. the clothes are folded and bundled in a sheet or cloth which belongs to Rita, perhaps the best linen she owns,
which she saves just for the delivery of the laundry--laundry remarkably spotless considering the environment in which it is washed.
In return for this week's work, Dona Rita receives an equivalent of one cruzeiro, 50 centavos, or just about 55 cents. This for one week's work!
The lady has been paying one and 50 for three years, during which time inflation has been rampant in Brazil. Why doesn't Rita ask for more?
She has mentioned it to the lady, but as she told me, she has her pride; she will not beg. As I thought about it, I wavered between wanting
to weep and wanting to scream. Such blatant exploitation-and Dona Rita so totally powerless. Of course she can quit in protest.
But there are so many women looking for work. She might not find another "lady" and without that 50 cents weekly, she and her family
would starve to death.
Starvation they know already, but death they have so far avoided. "We never go more than four days without any food," she told me.
When each day begins there is no assurance that food will be found. Each day is new in the struggle for life. As Maria once said to me,
"Sometimes when I wake in the morning, I cry that I woke up one more time, and then I think of my children and my neighbors and I find
the strength to rise up."
The families, by a dozen different schemes, continue to survive. Both keep ducks; ducks are the most difficult to raise but they are
the aristocrat of barnyard birds when they are served. They bring a better price than chickens. As soon as the eggs hatch,
ducklings are brought into the house for safekeeping until they are old enough to wander the neighborhood. The chance of stepping on them
in the house is less than the chance of the rats eating them outside.
Dona Rita also boards two pigs for soldiers who work at the fort nearby. To supplement their meagre diet of Feijoada, boiled black beans,
a group of soldiers has bought the pigs and supplies the grain. Rita keeps them to maturity; there is some slight profit for her in this.
There are also fruits which can be found in the woods. Sometimes her boy is permitted by the guard at the gate of the fort to enter and raid
the garbage bucket.
No other adult lives with Maria; the man who had been with her left before the birth of their sixth child. Rita has a common-law husband, Lorival.
A clandestino, Lorival has tried many times to secure the identification papers which are essential to a marriage license or a job.
He has waited in line day after day in the mayor's office, but Lorival has no pistaloa (pull) and no money, the oil that lubricates
these bureaucratic processes. Even if he had these papers a marriage license would not be automatically forthcoming, for it also requires
contacts and money.
Almost every morning, Lorival leaves the house and walks for an hour to the center of Salvador where he waits with others in front
of a furniture store. Should someone buy a piece and want it delivered, they may call on him to carry it to their destination
in return for whatever they care to pay. So often when he returns at night, he has failed to raise even a penny to help support his family.
How the spirit survives such misery, I do not know. Although there is nothing to be said in praise of poverty, yet out of this life
of wretchedness and despair emerges a depth of character and a respect for humanity such as affluence and security seldom produce.
Somehow Rita and Maria do not let the priority of survival dominate their souls. From them I received so much and, though my coffers are full,
I seemed to have so little to give in return.
As Christmas 1967 approached, Dona Maria was preparing enthusiastically for her annual Christmas Eve neighborhood feast.
The preparations include saving what pennies she could to buy rice and quiabo for making a holiday dish, called caruru.
Several ducks were being fattened for the day. Even the inside walls of her tiny five by eight living room were replastered.
We arrived at the bottom of the hill about six o'clock on Christmas Eve, and waited in the yard with other early arrivals.
Ducks and dogs and pigs poked at our feet and gnats started their holiday feasting early on the children's legs. We rubbed on insect repellent
as inconspicuously as possible, but our hostesses knew that we weren't at ease. We wanted to be and they wanted us to be, but culture
and custom are such strict masters. At about seven Dona Maria scooped some water from her 50-gallon barrel into a big pan and provided soap
and a rag for hand washing and drying. Some incense was lit, and then food was placed in a large basin on the ground. Seven at a time,
the children kneeled down on the ground to scoop the food up and feast on it.
But suddenly a thunder storm, unheard of in this season, caused the heavens to open. The guests scrambled into Rita and Maria's cubicles
and there we stood for another two hours. The smoky kerosene lamps which lit each room had to be moved several times to find a place dry enough
to burn without sputtering from the dripping rain. The food was passed on banana leaves: fried duck, rice, cornmeal and caruru.
The children ate well; Lois and I couldn't eat. My ears and eyes were accustomed to the environs, although my nose will never adapt.
But it wasn't just that which prevented my eating. It was the sickening contrast between the spirit, courage, generosity and gaiety
of our hostesses and the abysmal destitution heightened by this Christmas Eve downpour.
As we stood almost in darkness, Rita said quietly, "Oh, the cruel life of the poor. But we keep gay. If we allowed ourselves to be sad,
we wouldn't have the strength to live." When I translated that sentence for my eight year old son, he cried. Later in the conversation
Rita said gaily, "Someday I'm going to live in a big house." My dissonant response: "Filled with servants!" But she turned to me gently
and said, "No, no servants. Just my husband, my children, and all my friends."
A week later Rita and Maria seemed uncertain whether to accept our return invitation. We finally persuaded them to come and bring all the family
for supper. Of the six children to which Dona Maria gave birth, three have survived. A beautiful girl of 19, Avani; a boy of 15,
whose name we did not learn; and a 14 year old daughter, Antonia Luiza.
Dona Rita's family is somewhat younger, as she is: Olivaldino is 12, Olivaldina, 10, and the baby, Regina, is only a few months.
It has been clear for some days now that the baby is intended as a present for us when we leave this neighborhood. More than once while Rita
has been feeding her, she has said, "Just see how fat and healthy she will be when it is time for you to go."
We spent a pleasant evening. Lois had prepared two large casseroles made with meat and fresh vegetables topped with buttered bread pieces
and cheese. It is a favorite with all of us, but they were as unable to eat our fare as were we theirs. We laughed together
about our cultural conditioning. With the pies Lois had baked, they had no trouble and they liked very much the cheap table wine we had bought.
They could not remember when they had last had wine.
We talked of food and its preparation. Both Lorival and Rita enjoy kitchen work, and when there is food available, Lorival often does
the family cooking on a Sunday or holiday.
As the hot long days of a January summer began to wear heavily on us, like sultry August days in New England but with a hotter sun,
I often sought to relieve the boredom with a visit to our neighbors down the street. One day Dona Maria, not hiding her melancholy,
was especially talkative. There is, for most women, an alternative to doing laundry, and that is to be an empragada, a house servant.
"Although a house servant may eat better, and at the end of the month she may have five dollars to send home to her family, a laundress
has her freedom and a home where she can live with her family. Empragadas are no more than slaves to the will of the master," she declared.
But she wasn't entirely convinced, for she too is very tied to this hovel. Though she has lived here eight years, her only claim to the home
is her occupancy. She gave me to understand that as long as she's there, she's relatively secure. But should she leave, even for a few hours,
the house could be dismantled and she would have nothing. She is what we call a squatter, with no legal rights to the home, except the rights
which laws give to squatters. She asked if I would take pictures of the family at the door, to be used as evidence that this was home.
Although I didn't get the details, someone was trying to dispossess her.
When I returned the next morning with my camera, Avani did not want to be in the family photo. It's the only home she remembers:
mud walls, an old suitcase for her clothes, a toothbrush on the wall, a damp dirt floor covered by a straw mattress on which she,
her mother and sister sleep.
Despite her love and gratitude for her mother, can you blame her for not wanting to be pictured in this scene? She'd give anything to leave.
In fact, according to her mother, a man has offered to take her to Buenos Aires to live with him there. It's a thread of hope for Avani.
But it leaves her mother distraught. The man has not offered to marry. If only he would do that, then Avani might be spared the misery
of desertion which has been the humiliation of Maria's life. Her mother sees little possibility that her gentle, sweet beautiful Avani,
the cause to which she's given so much of her own life, can be spared from a misery similar to hers.
Later in the summer, Dona Rita came by to bake a favorite neighborhood recipe. It is an ambiguous joy to have her in the house.
There are so many signs of our separation. We asked her to address us with "voce," the familiar form of "you,"
but she said she never could. We are of a different class and she could not bring herself to this intimacy. We argued that out of respect
for her dignity, we should therefore address her with the formal "Senhora," but again she resists saying this would be cold and unfriendly.
Once during the afternoon we commented on how beautiful her children were; indeed they are. But our difference is constantly on her heart,
and she commented almost unconsciously that in another setting they could perhaps keep their beauty.
Ideologically we are brother and sister; we all say "yes" to this. But life circumstance has driven such a wedge between us
that even during the spontaneous gaiety of an afternoon together in the kitchen, baking a cake and killing flies, we all agreed
we are on tenterhooks. It is not just the embarrassment that marks so many human relationships, but a deep human difference
which has damaged our sisterhood and brotherhood, perhaps beyond total repair. The equilibrium that holds us together has been upset
by centuries of unequal development.
Brothers and Sisters? A moving story, but what's the connection? Since long before the Monroe Doctrine was articulated, back into the days
when New England traders brought cargoes of sugar from Brazil and returned with cargoes of slaves to grow the sugar, even to the present day,
Brazil's economy has been ancillary to America's economy. Brazilian politics is a function of American foreign policy;
even Brazil's television is filmed in New York and Hollywood.
Dona Rita's and Dona Maria's ancestors were slaves, imported along with 16,000,000 Africans to sweeten the lives of those who live in the North.
But their enslavement did not end with the abolition of 1888. Their daily lives are still controlled by the policies of Wall Street
and the Pentagon.
The connection can be demonstrated on the national level and in terms of the daily lives of Rita and Maria. Not only is the government
of General Medici maintained by American military might, but some of the police in Salvador have American training.
Not only is most American industry in Brazil controlled by America and Europe, but the toothbrush on their wall is Colgate,
the razor Lorival shaves with is Gillette, the soap in the market which Rita can't afford to buy is Proctor and Gamble,
the medicine that the baby needs but can't afford is made by Winthrop Laboratories in New York.
Meanwhile American industry admitted to a one billion dollar profit in Brazil in 1968, and Josue de Castro estimates
hidden American profits at 15 times that much. The sugar and coffee and corned beef on our table may all come from Brazil.
When the price of coffee varies one cent a pound on the New York market, the economy of coffee-producing countries is affected
by about $65 million annually.
In 1969, Latin Americans were paying 16.4 per cent more for the manufactured goods imported from the United States than they were in 1960.
Over the same period, the price for the coffee they exported to the U.S. dropped by 2.6 per cent. A tractor which in 1960 would have cost
165 bags of coffee actually cost about 316 bags in 1969. 4
Many minerals are imported from Brazil, where workers' salaries are restricted federally to about $25.00 a month.
Brazilian impoverishment is a product of American affluence. Is there any way we can structure life that will not ultimately exploit
Maria and Rita and the millions of poor people around the world? It's easy to see how people slip into isolation and indifference.
How can we possibly be responsible to the whole world? Clearly we can't succeed as we desire, but we can at least start.
It is true that living the way we do has only served to continue the exploitation. It would be a bit much to blame the nuclear family
for all the world's economic troubles. But the nuclear family is part of it. And that's one area where we can begin.
Clusters: Lifestyle Alternatives
Part II: Alternatives
We've now listed some of the ways in which the family is inadequate, how it restricts men, women, and children; how it excludes
single and old and sick people; how it ignores the world around; how the family prepares us for limited human relationships
and inequitable ownership and consumption.
At the same time that we've been detailing family inadequacy, we've also been developing guidelines for alternatives.
There's no point in considering alternative life styles if the changes are not going to overcome some of the problems inherent
in our present structures.
Alternatives which provide people an escape from the realities of this world are of no interest. Similarly, those alternatives
which simply gratify the hedonistic tendencies of a frustrated people are indefensible. We take no satisfaction in six or 60 people
moving together to give vent to their own perversity, as Elia Katz describes in Armed Love. Our goal is justice and human fulfillment.
Ultimately, the new arrangement must have potential meaning for Dona Rita and Dona Maria, for Ms. Allison, and Ann and Chuck.
It is not uncommon to hear of people, who at risk of job and marriage, joined a commune, and two years later, found themselves back
in a nuclear family, scarred and discouraged. We would like some assurance that the steps we take are going to make a difference.
At least we'd like to think we're moving toward some solutions of personal and societal problems and not just sideways. We should
constantly test the alternatives we consider against the problems we seek to overcome.
Unfortunately, the alternatives mentioned here are not a panacea for the web of inadequacies in which we're entangled. Our push button mentality
has conditioned us to imagine that there are instant solutions to even the most complex problems. By joining a T group or a commune,
or converting to Zen, or popping pills, or winning a million dollars, or dropping bombs, or saying a prayer, we hope to effect rapid
and dramatic change. But assuming the human beings, including ourselves, are the problem and we are the product of years of conditioning
and centuries of tradition, then it is folly to think that this can all be undone in a twinkling of an eye.
Lacking alternatives commensurate with the issues we face, we can surrender completely to structures which now surround us, or we can take
little deliberate steps toward change, in the hope of soon walking more boldly. The following haltingly written material is not the answer,
but it is still better than to collapse immobile.
Robert Cole's statement should give us courage: "I wonder whether the most radical challenge to the values in a particular society
hasn't been made when families begin to reorder their living arrangements and the way they bring up their children."
We do have options.
Most of us have a lot more freedom than we normally exercise. We may imagine that fate and chance and luck
have brought us where we are. But all along the line we were either making decisions, or deciding not to make decisions.
Many of these decisions and indecisions can be reconsidered to see if the consequences are worth the price we pay.
The pressure to conform to society's norms is tremendous. Our lack of freedom now can be traced often to choices we have made
to conform to these norms. But it is not too late to reconsider.
The millions of families who were distressed by living conditions in their native European homes risked far more when they decided
to migrate to America. We'll have the courage to change in proportion to our need for change.
Many of our decisions up to this point have been guided by the norms of economic security. Decisions based on economic criteria can always
be reconsidered. Most middle Americans have more options with their money than they have exercised. Usually, an economic excuse for inaction
is a kind of smokescreen for saying, "I'm not yet ready to change," If the change is important enough, then usually a way
can be found to support it.
One participant in our life style discussions, who was making between $16,000 and $18,000 annually in a pollution control job,
came to the conclusion that the job did not suit him. The commuting restricted him; the job did not fulfill him. He negotiated
with his employer a half time job, which left him free the other half of the week to pursue family and community activities.
The resulting 50 per cent cut in salary worked some hardships, but did not leave the family impoverished; in many ways it enriched them.
We not only have choices to make with our money and property, but we have options in the realm of human relationships as well.
True, we develop dependencies based on existing relationships, but we are not so atrophied that human ecology cannot be deliberately altered.
Western religions have answered affirmatively the question which Nicodemus voices in Luke: "Can a man, when he is old, be born again?"
Just as the human spirit is able to accommodate to indescribable natural disaster, it can also adjust to profound changes in human relationships.
We can adjust to death; can't we adjust to the hope of new life?
New birth is not without pain and conflict and even the possibility of death. But without birth and rebirth, there is no life.
We can exercise options.
We have to start where we are. Our situation over the past years has made us who we are today;
we are not making new decisions from a void. To put it bluntly, we're locked into our present life style. We're constrained
by our individualism. When someone, considering an alternative, says, "What about my privacy?" the questioner knows full well
that sanity depends on certain patterns that are already established. Perhaps an 18-year-old who has not made commitments to others,
who is quite willing to abandon the style of life which has been imposed in the parent's home, has almost unlimited choices.
But most of us don't have that freedom. Even the recent divorcee, who is left with two small children and desperately longs for alternatives,
must take into account his/her own peculiar psychological needs. Changing the situation doesn't immediately change the person. We have
to start with who we are. As we have noted, change in order to avoid a problem is not a solution.
And we have to consider those around us. When those of us who are connected to others make decisions for ourselves, we make decisions for others.
Decisions which we make for others without their concurrence are usually decisions against them. Hence, new decisions must be made with them.
But what if "the other" is reluctant or opposed to change? Ann, who is really hurting from the present situation,
may be very determined to find an alternative life style. But Don, who benefits from the present situation, is reluctant to jeopardize it.
It is very rare to find two spouses who are equally eager to change life styles, if they have been together for some time.
Those-who have written about life style alternatives disagree as to which sex is more likely to want change. But it also happens sometimes that
the reluctant spouse accommodates to and grows from the new situation even more than the spouse who introduced the change.
Even little steps may produce volcanic reactions, as in the case of one of the families who participated in life style discussions for years.
The wife, Alice, decided to run for state office. Her husband, Edgar, concurred in this decision, and took considerable time off
from his highly successful law practice in order to raise money and otherwise aid the campaign. It looked like Alice would win,
but in the process Edgar began to develop hesitations.
Two months of living in his wife's shadow threatened his ego-not a serious threat, but a real one. He began vaguely to envison
what two years of being "the Senator's husband" would do to him. In business terms it might be beneficial but he really preferred to be the big shot in the family.
Luckily for him, she lost, although by a narrow margin. The problem never arose again. Before the next election he'd accepted a job
"he couldn't refuse" in a distant city. It is a bit dramatic to suggest that he made the decision to move in order
to nip her political career. But the effect is the same. Those who seek to institute changes in family ecology must appreciate
that there will be resistance and pain. For we are frozen into present patterns and there won't be a thaw without heat.
Who Thought of These Alternatives.
These alternative life style proposals came from discussions which have taken place
at Packard Manse since 1961.
In the first years, families came together for weekends to discuss the quality of family life in the light of our Jewish and Christian heritage.
One of the early questions was how the disciplines and commitment of monasticism could inform family life.
During a succession of weekends, about 18 families put their thoughts down in writing in the form of a discipline or rule
which would serve as a guide for participants. The Rule dealt explicitly with:
the family at worship
the family's relations to the local congregation
the family's use of money and possessions
the family's relations to neighbors
The participating families acknowledged the importance not only of the Rule, but also of a community of support.
The links between families (no single people were involved) were informal but real. Parents who lost a baby testified to the value
of a supporting community. During a year's study in Eastern Europe, another family leaned on the "Families of the Rule" for courage.
At first the concern of the group was solely the family's inner life, or neighborhood and church life. Slowly, however, we realized
societal implications of our life style. We began to look for ways to reorder our lives to break through the confining walls
of isolated neighborhoods and social class. All of the families self-consciously associated themselves with groups
that were dealing with today's social and human issues. Some moved to the black ghetto and bought houses there;
others joined churches in the ghetto and one established a medical practice in Roxbury, the black section of Boston.
Families for Interracial Adoption was established by some of the families who in this way were seeking to push back the confining walls
of family life.
Through the years we grappled explicitly with the problem of mixed marriage: the way in which religious institutions, divided among themselves,
have often been a barrier to family unity, especially when husband and wife came from different religious traditions. We initiated conversation,
culminating in the publication by the Archdiocese of Boston in 1969 of guidelines for "Ecumenical Marriages" in which marriage
between a Protestant and a Catholic is regarded as a positive reality and not just negatively.
No one is very enthusiastic about the word cluster. The word has been occasionally used by sociologists to describe a group of people
(usually a minority) living closely together. Basically, the word means "bunch." It is free of emotional or historical overtones,
which would not be true of "extended family" or "collective."
A cluster is a group of families and individuals living in separate dwellings, sometimes separated by miles, but committed to each other
and to the establishment of an infra-structure of interdependence for social change.
Commitment. Commitment may seem quite unnecessary to some people who say, "Friendship and love should develop spontaneously
and not be encrusted by the legalistic overtones of promises or vows."
However, we've concluded that the virtues of independence are so deeply embedded in us that there now needs to be an explicit affirmation
of life together. For a specified period of time the people committing their lives to each other are determined to challenge the movement
of independence. The centrifugal forces of individualism will now be consciously reversed by centripetal forces of dependence on others.
It takes an explicit commitment to undo the years of training in self-reliance. Normally, it is with reluctance that I borrow a neighbor's car
or leave my child with a friend while I go off sailing or ask to borrow cash. I've been taught to be neither borrower,
lender nor "leaner on others." One evening on a life style weekend, a woman, wife and mother of two, admitted that she was frightened
to think that their financial situation meant that they couldn't afford health insurance. Later in the weekend the other participants
were considering ways to support each other and proposed paying for the insurance. But that made the woman very uncomfortable.
Although theoretically she agreed, emotionally she resisted the thought of being beholden to others. When she finally agreed,
the insurance policy became a sign of the group's commitment to each other.
For How Long.
"I'll only be living in this area for about a year." That's the excuse we use in our mobile society
for not getting involved with others. But in fact a cluster doesn't have to last more than a few months. When we hear the report
that an alternative living arrangement folded after a year, we take that to mean the whole thing failed. We don't judge a meeting or a party
by how long it lasts, but rather by its quality. Likewise a cluster. A commitment of two months is enough to begin.
Size and Distance.
Unlike communal families, cluster families have the advantage of not living contiguously. We've seen in most
of our communities contiguity excludes those in a different situation. If the clusters are to have any variety, they will have
to include people who live some distance away.
Distance is inconvenient.
Tool and food cooperatives, baby-sitting cooperatives, children playing together, are more difficult
as distance increases. But they are not impossible, especially when a number of drivers are committed to the arrangement.
One cluster we know, which lasted for ten years, included people who lived 15 miles apart in the central city and in the suburbs.
Besides a variety of sociological perspectives, sometimes the physical distance provided the emotional distance which was necessary for survival.
There is no optimum size for a cluster. Two core families reaching out to others is a start. The maximum is determined by how many people
can gather in one place for meals and celebrations, still maintaining a certain intimacy. We've worked with one group
of twelve "cells" - who altogether were 60 people. They met one Saturday each month for the afternoon and evening.
The afternoon was for recreation; dinner was prepared in a church kitchen and eaten together in the church dining room;
after dinner the children were dispersed to various homes, eventually to go to bed; the youth and adults spent the evening in discussion.
Members in this cluster felt they had reached, perhaps even exceeded, the maximum size.
The most frequent guideline in determining alternative life style structures has been the fulfillment
of the interpersonal needs of the members of the new structure. But this may result in the creation of a larger "nuclear" group,
as excluding and imprisoning as the white suburban families which were described in the preceding chapter.
Since clusters are not communes, a comfortable and congenial daily pattern of life is not as important as other membership considerations.
Within the same cluster several families and individuals with markedly different styles of life can share
without "getting on each other's nerves."
The very process of discovering other "cells" will constitute a creative and unifying phase in the life of the participants.
Since we are walled-in by our social and economic situation, most of our friends tend to be of our own age and circumstance.
To break out of this may require deliberate and awkward effort. The initiation of friendships across cultural barriers is riddled
with possibilities of paternalism and rebuke. There is little likelihood that efforts in finding people from other situations
will be easy and immediately successful. Many attempts will fail, but that does not negate the importance of the attempt.
In order to assure a maximum age range, cluster members may have to seek out old people: discover where old people live,
what organizations bring them together, and perhaps learn about which old people are not touched by any community programs.
If most of the members of the cluster are young and mobile, the inconvenience of having to arrange for someone who does not drive a car,
or walk or see well, will help sensitize the cluster members to the confining realities of old age.
The reader may ridicule the proposal that a cluster composed of white people seek out black families and individuals.
White initiatives in black communities have so often ended in disillusionment on both sides. But unless the cluster is content
with the present impoverished separation of races, further initiatives are called for.
1 was once invited to a midwestern town to speak to several groups there about race relations. My hosts knew of no contact
between black and white within the community and suspected that any white initiatives would meet black hostility. On Sunday morning
I worshipped in a black Protestant church, where I was gladly welcomed. I was invited home to dinner by one of the families.
In the evening I went to another black church and there met a number of other people. By the end of the day I had compiled a list
of black-owned businesses, including a black-owned restaurant, four black churches, and a fraternal organization.
Through the week, in my talks I urged patronization of the black businesses. I entertained my white hosts in the black restaurant
and urged that they too worship in the black churches. If there was resentment in the black community at my initiatives,
I was too numb to detect it. On the contrary I was told that such initiatives had never been made before and they were welcome.
Obviously, it was a lucky week. But the walls of separation don't fall unless someone starts pounding on them.
Inclusion of poor families and individuals within a cluster can be very discomforting. Come Christmas, how can the middle class families
comfortably celebrate in their normal affluent way with the knowledge that a poor family of their acquaintance is very restricted?
Surely, the families of the cluster will not only be sensitized to the needs of others, but will want to take steps
toward redistribution of resources. Learning about and making the acquaintance of poor families may require the help
of public and private welfare agencies or other groups which have a program involving poor people.
From 1967 to 1970, Packard Manse arranged for about 700 middle class families to participate in a welfare food budget project.
In order to be more sensitive to some of the realities of poverty, we suggested that the families spend only an amount which
was roughly equivalent to a welfare food budget. No one was under the illusion that they were simulating poverty conditions.
It was a sensitizing experiment designed to reinforce our conviction that poverty is a debilitating condition.
It was our intention that during the experiment each of the families be in contact with a welfare family who could be consulted about
where to buy, how to stretch food, etc. Several of those friendships have continued to the mutual benefit of both families.
Middle class clusters will likewise benefit from including poor families within their orbit, thus breaking through some
of the economic isolation which is now so destructive.
Little steps toward wealth redistribution may result. One cluster is paying the college expenses of the son of a poor family
which is associated with it. Housing costs are being paid in another case.
A cluster committed to a more equitable society will seek to discover those divisions which dehumanize and will develop patterns
of life which fog the normal boundaries of separation. The adoption of a prisoner (over half of the prisoners in Massachusetts
receive no visitors) or transportation and hospitality for a furloughed prisoner is a possibility. Many institutionalized people
welcome relationships with those outside-relationships which often accelerate release. An administrator in Massachusetts prisons
recently said that more than half of the present inmate population could be paroled if there were alternative homes available.
A cluster can manage what one person or family alone can't.
It goes without saying that families and individuals with different demands on their lives will associate with the cluster
in different ways. Families which lack the resources of the majority will naturally not be expected to contribute equally.
A sliding scale of involvement should nevertheless be real involvement.
The cluster will be guided in its programming by the problems of powerlessness and isolation it is seeking to overcome.
Four mothers, each with little children at home, can rather easily arrange a schedule which will free them two days a week.
All the children, even eight or ten, will be brought to a different home each of the four days. Each mother will care for the children
two days a week, leaving her free the other two days. It usually takes some persuasion, but school administrations are capable
of transporting children to different homes on different days. Evening baby-sitting pools are also comparatively easy to arrange.
Cooperative food buying and preparation can liberate time and money. Although most wholesale foods don't cost less than supermarket prices,
fresh produce purchased at a farmers wholesale market can result in a saving. A fairly large number of people is required to use the cases
of fresh vegetables which are purchased in this way. But cooperative shopping can be a great convenience in this age when supermarkets
don't deliver. Cooperative cooking can also easily be arranged. It is almost as easy to make two or three casseroles as one - casseroles
which can be picked up when children are picked up.
"Could my husband and children eat at your house on Thursday night since my meeting will run late?" Sounds like an easy arrangement,
but difficult in our society, which demands self-sufficiency of every autonomous family unit. The cluster frees us to lean naturally on others.
The development of toy and tool cooperatives is mostly a matter of rearranging what the families already have in their possession.
Some toys last longer than the children's interest in them and could easily be brought to another house to be used.
Eventually they could be returned to revive the child's interest. Surely every house doesn't have to have a swing set of its own.
A tool cooperative begins with a cataloguing of the tools in the houses already. A power mower, a chain saw, an electric drill,
can serve many families who want to cooperate. A skill bank can also be catalogued.
A small task force of people going from house to house replacing washers or reupholstering can make a pleasant event out of what normally is
perpetually postponed drudgery. Barn raisings and quilting bees and husking bees are part of our heritage that can easily be revived in the form
of dusting bees, or spring house cleaning bees, or gardening and canning bees. More than one -cluster has painted a house in a weekend.
These superficial arrangements cam be the first step toward far more liberating structures, as we shall detail later.
As we have seen, private possessions divide family from family. Common possessions can break down those divisions. Three thousand years ago
Plato wrote that there would be no utopia without a community of property. The citizens would not have houses or lands of their own.
They will not tear the city in pieces by differing about "mine" and "not mine"; each man dragging any acquisition
which he has made into a separate house of his own ... As they have nothing but their persons which they can call their own, suits and complaints
will have no existence among them; they will be delivered from all those quarrels of which money ... is the occasion...
I hardly like even to mention the little meanness of which they will be rid such as the flattery of the rich by the poor,
and all the pains and pangs which new experience ... in finding money to buy necessaries for their household, borrowing and then repudiating. 2
As society removes us further and further from the fruits of our own labor (a Detroit computer programmer hardly regards the finished automobile
as his accomplishment), we are defined by what we possess and consume rather than what we produce. We are taught to believe
that we'll find security and happiness in our possessions. Any one who has tried to argue with a young teenager that he doesn't really need
to wear the same thing everyone else does in order to really "be somebody" will realize how effectively American advertising has connected
identity with possessions.
But our generation, which has accumulated more than any other, has also discovered that possessions do not bring security and happiness.
On the contrary we are aware (as Hillel put it) that the more we own, the more worms. The more possessions, the more
cares and fears and insecurity. Perhaps within the national fear of "hippies" with only the clothes on their backs is a hidden wish
to be free of the encumbrance of possessions. We used to believe it was scarcity which propounded the evils of our society.
Now we realize that abundance, super abundance, is destroying us and those whose lands we rape.
First steps toward a community of economic resources can be taken, even in temporary clusters. There are some real risks,
but we risk destruction in not seeking alternatives.
One of the burdens of isolated nuclear families is that one or two adults are solely responsible for the economic support
of that family. If the bread winner(s) drops out, there's no alternative but to seek welfare. Welfare is primarily a system
to support those families where the breadwinner has disappeared. The nation is so defensive about the importance of each family's
maintaining its economic independence that it punishes, by means of negative attitudes toward welfare recipients and inadequate payments,
any family that falls victim to economic dependence on the community. To be patriotic means to be economically independent.
Relief, even cooperation, is contrary to the American notion of self-reliance. The promise of America is a chance to work for oneself,
to be self-supporting and to win esteem through hard labor. The notions of public or private assistance are blasphemous.
Many lives are sacrificed on the altar of self-reliance. We saw earlier that Chuck's only reason for living was the economic independence
of his family. Lacking a national program which would change the methods of wealth distribution-such as a guaranteed adequate annual income
- perhaps a cluster can take small steps toward alternative methods of earning and supporting a family.
So long as I am solely responsible for the maintenance of my own family, I am locked in to what I know as a secure job.
But if I can share that responsibility with some others, then I can begin to take some risks. If I suffer some setbacks,
the family will still be provided for.
Examples of how clusters have allowed members freedom to escape the normal expectations of the job market are legion.
One breadwinner took a month off without salary to do some things he's long wanted to do, while the other families shared
the food and house expenses. Several families eating together spend less for food than when they eat separately.
In another family, the father decided to take a half-time job, spending the other half at home to allow his wife the freedom
to pursue her career on a half-time basis. Another breadwinner took himself out of the corporate job market altogether
and now supports his family piecemeal with odd jobs and repairs, which he enjoys far more. This has meant a sizable reduction
in income and moving to less pretentious quarters, steps which have been encouraged by the supporting clusters.
One mother, who didn't have special skills, but who was fed up with housework, swapped roles with her husband,
with the encouragement of the cluster. She went off and worked in a factory while he hassled the vacuum cleaner,
the stove and the children's boots.
In two cases the clusters have volunteered the sole support of a family for a year. In the first case eight families, who knew
of the life long dream of a friend to return to school for para-medical training, banded together to raise the necessary income
to maintain their friend. Each of the eight families outlined how much money they earned and how they spent it. In the budget comparison
they were able to "release" $8,000 for the ninth family.
In another case, a breadwinner was offered a year's freedom to help with a number of projects for peace and justice. The help
of several clusters was enlisted to provide the financial and moral support. In yet another cluster of three families,
a corporation was created and a house maintenance business established.
A comparison of budgets may reveal a rather serious inequity in the distribution of income within the cluster.
A first step might be for several families to join forces to meet the unusual expenses of another.
One way of testing the ability of the cluster members to cooperate in the distribution of money is to pool all the monies contributed
to charitable causes, then to make joint decisions about how this money should be given. The children might be included
in that decision-making process.
Since most of us have not had instruction in how to spend money, except as we are instructed by the advertising industry - discussions
of spending habits are worth the tension they produce. Why must spending decisions be normally so private, husbands and wives
often keeping their spending decisions from each other? One cluster has pledged that there will be no purchase of a major appliance
or any item over a certain amount without subjecting that decision to the scrutiny of the whole. As a result of this discipline
one family was advised against buying a new car; since another family had two cars, it became possible to arrange
all the necessary transportation using existing vehicles.
In one cluster, all money income is pooled and then redistributed to the participating families and individuals according to their need,
with regular review of how the money is being spent. The testimony of the participants is impressive. "I used to be very up tight
about lending my car. Not that I'm really a car nut, but that's the most expensive thing I own. If it got messed up, I'd really be
in trouble. But now that I'm with some others, I don't mind lending the car at all. If something goes wrong, together we'll figure something out."
The goal of new forms of money distribution is not simply to free cluster members from their private economic responsibilities,
but also to release some money for use by others. Joint economic planning hopefully will liberate some money to be distributed
to individuals in need and causes which will change the balance of economic power.
Economic sharing is not the road to utopia. Plato implies that altered external circumstances will allow a peaceful society.
By contrast, human Christian communities know or have learned that human beings are not perfectible, regardless of how congenial
the circumstances. Conflicts around property-sharing accelerated the decline of several of the 19th century utopian experiments in America. 2
The desire to possess is not just a bad habit. It is part of our fallible nature. But there is more likelihood we'll be saved
from our possessiveness in a caring group than we will in solitude.
If a cluster of families and single people is able to share economic responsibility for earning and distributing income, by analogy
should we strive for complete sharing of human relationships, including sexual relationships? Will this save us from our innate concupiscence?
Plato felt there would be no utopia without "a community of families."
The wives are to be common and their children are to be common, and no parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent...
everyone whom they meet will be regarded by them either as a brother or sister, or father or mother, or son or daughter...
Men and women are to have a common way of life such as we have described -common education, common children;
they are to keep watch together, hunt together, and always and in all things... women are to share with the men. 4
But make no mistake. We are not here considering alternatives that will allow humankind to reach a new level of perfectibility.
Rather, we are seeking human arrangements which redefine boundaries which will put controls and limits on our excesses and reduce
our exploitation of each other. There are many alternatives to the present hypocritical monogamy of United States society.
One can choose celibacy or group marriage or honest monogamy. Clusters heighten the availability of those options.
But they don't rescue us from our own problems. We need to be very aware of the dangers and have deep respect for our frailty.
Anyone who believes that alternative life styles can solve our sexual problems is naive.
There is considerable curiosity or suspicion about the sexual patterns of community life. Since our society is thoroughly drenched
with sexual illusions and hang-ups, an early question from both inside and outside a cluster will be, "What happens to sexual arrangements?"
We're so insecure and inhibited in our present patterns that the slightest alteration may release a flood of new impulses and problems.
There is ample evidence that sexual questions are uppermost in many peoples' consideration of alternatives. When a local association
of marriage counselors arranged a conference to consider alternatives to the present nuclear family (the whole idea of alternatives
made the counselors very defensive, since their expertise is the nuclear family), Robert Rimmer,
"novelist of the free love generation," came and proved to be quite a drawing card. Attendance was twice that of any other conference.
We have found that in panel discussions of life style alternatives, the audience is often most tantalized by descriptions
of communes which practice group sex or other forms of sexual exploitation. From such an evening, one might conclude that communes
are a screen for sexual orgies. But studies say there is probably less sexual promiscuity in communes than in society in general.
Recognizing that sexual experimentation can be dynamite, communes often observe an "incest taboo" rather than be engulfed
and destroyed by the sexual issue.
Most communities in Western society-notably religious monastic communities -have counseled members to take a vow of celibacy,
i.e., to avoid all physical expression of sex and to channel that energy to other ends.
Celibacy is acceptable only in order to give oneself more fully to one's neighbor with the very love of Christ. Celibacy calls
for the transformation of our natural love. Only Christ converts the passions into total love for one's neighbor.
When the selfishness of the passions is not surpassed by growing generosity... your celibacy will become a burden. 5
Except for Oneida, most of the 19th century communities practiced monogamy. 6 This reflects religious belief
in monogamy or a recognition that any alternative would be explosive. If some members of the cluster imagine that cluster
will allow experimentation in alternatives to monogamy, then for the sake of the whole group, they should surely articulate that expectation.
There is a cluster of 17 families which has been meeting weekly for almost two years preparatory to buying and moving into contiguous housing.
Never in all those discussions has the question of sex been raised. I know from private discussions that there is a wide range
of sexual expectations in the group, which forebodes trouble ahead unless someone dares to deal with the topic.
None of the rules which are available to the cluster will be easy. Celibacy is not easy, as religious rules attest.
In celibacy there can be a slackness which may veil the true meaning of the difficult yet joyous vow of chastity ... Purity of heart
is contrary to all tendencies of nature ... Do not display your difficulties, but do not seclude yourself either as though you
were superhuman, exempt from struggles. 7
Monogamy suffers similar temptations. It too is contrary to the tendencies of nature. It is extremely rare in the animal kingdom.
Of the 234 societies which Murdoch observed, 41, or 17 per cent, were monogamous. 9
As a river flows forward between its banks, so love which has chosen to remain within boundaries strengthens with time and movement.
As with all rules, marital loyalty means that distractions are deliberately avoided and growth occurs within the marriage.
Recourse to other partners is often a sidestep and a failure to grow.
But marital loyalty is not easy, especially in new communities where new intimacies revive the excitement of romantic love
which has tarnished in couples who have lived with each other for years. When the new intimacies replace, rather than revive,
the old loyalties, then love has become divisive rather than reconciling. The life of the cluster is threatened.
"What about more flexible, less possessive arrangements. Clearly they are not easy because of all the jealousies
and guilt involved. But do they ever work? Do they ever bring happiness and fulfillment?"
Perhaps if we were creating community life from a void, we could ordain patterns of life in which sexual relations were the logical climax
of social intercourse. We would not have to be restricted and confined by the boxes we now put ourselves and others in.
David Cooper, in Death of the Family,
advocates communal life in which "love relations become diffused between members
of the commune network far more than in the case with the family system, and this means, of course, that sexual relationships
are not restricted to some socially approved two-person, man-woman arrangement; above all, this strikes most centrally at repressions.
Making love is good in itself, and the more it happens in any way possible or conceivable between as many people as possible, the better." 8
But we do not begin from a void. We bring to the cluster, not only the patterns of a life time, but such psychological luggage
and human ambiguity that it is dangerous or impossible to move except along established routes. As one commentator speculated,
"I'm beginning to think that a 90-95 percent failure rate for group marriages might not be unrealistic. Most of those who have imagined
that new sexual arrangements are salutary have found otherwise.
"Sex caused a lot of brokenness, a lot of irreparable resentment, jealousy and hatred. We found in our commune that when sex became a sort
of free-for-all, we stopped relating well on other levels and it actually prevented us from getting to know one another well.
There was friction all over the house." 10
Even David Cooper suffered a profound crisis in writing the book about new family options. We do not come to these new possibilities unencumbered.
The first part of this paper leaves a cumulative impression of a society which reaches its hidden tentacles into every aspect
of individual and family life. Living under the illusion of freedom, we find we are highly controlled by the social and the economic demands
of the society. The very country with the biggest concern for privacy has the most sophisticated listening devices.
Isolated and alone, we have no choice but to accede to society's demands. We're dependent on the larger body for jobs, for food,
for education, for security. But with others, perhaps we have a chance at independence.
What is socially meaningful is taking place outside the established social order that is so dominated by the bureaucratic imperative ...
These persons are not acting in accordance with the occupational expectation of the bureaucratic game, and therefore traditional punitive measures,
such as threats of the loss of job, no longer carry with them once powerful sanctions. 11
The phenomenal growth of alternative structures during the past decade is an attempt to work free of the grip of the "system."
Those who are choosing to live outside of, or marginal to, the established social, economic and political systems are far less vulnerable
to traditional forms of control.
We've already seen how liberating it is to give the economic system the slip. The first step has been the sharing of incomes,
as we've described it. Further freedom will come as further steps are taken toward developing a counter-economy, with zero-profit businesses
that seek to distribute wealth according to need.
For many alternative communities, a return to a simple life has been essential; life's meaning is enhanced when the vital processes
of growing food or weaving cloth or building shelter or making dishes are within view. There is the impression that one has greater control
over one's destiny.
The extensive interest in alternative education for children represents a desire to be free of the socialization of the state.
New schools seize responsibility for the nurture of children from the central state authority.
But at this point, we should reinforce what we have been saying about clusters. At no point have we been talking about withdrawal
from the societal structures which we often find so offensive. We consciously resist the real temptation to set up a model society
on a distant isle. We deliberately do not send our children to private schools, but rather require of them the daily struggle
between traditional values of competition, which the schools teach, and cooperation, which we're trying to learn.
We want to live that struggle ourselves. It is we who are part of the problem and we won't solve that in the Vermont hills.
There's no value in thinking we can live the good life while others writhe in submission to the old.
Furthermore, unless we grapple daily with the values we so easily condemn, there is a danger that we will not experience a growing sensitivity
to many around us who know the pains of the present structures. They suffer from them. It is very easy to slip into irrelevance.
There's a clear warning in a statement of purpose which has just been published by a new community in New York state:
We foster community through the development of skill with hand tools, homesteading, a strong family life with the father as head
and the mother as heart of the family (not equal, but complementary roles), private ownership of land and possessions
(rather than communal divisions) and patriarchal village democracy; clearly it is God's plan that men should govern and lead;
this is confirmed from the story of Adam to Jesus' manhood and His selection of men for apostles. It is understood that in his leadership
a man is not to be brutish, but is to wisely listen to the advice of his wife and sum up the oneness of mind a family comes to in love. 12
That stark example of insensitivity to issues of the modern world is a warning that perhaps we too are denying in our alternate structures
the very needs we want to embody. There has to be constant questioning as to whether what we're creating is consistent with our own values.
It is not enough to develop alternatives just for the sake of alternatives.
Until this century, new communities often followed models of aristocratic or hierarchical eras. Decisions were entrusted
to a single authority (as in a patriarchal family) or to a community of elders. Some of the new communes and communities around the country
haven't departed from this totalitarian model. They are gathered around a charismatic leader who exercises almost unrestrained control.
At the other end of the spectrum are anarchical communities in which every person allows himself or herself decision-making authority,
untempered by the will of the group. We are by nature tempted to dominate and control the lives of others. A clear goal of the cluster
is to moderate this temptation. In the regularly scheduled cluster meetings, when adults and older children are gathered, new forms
of shared decision-making can be sounded out, respecting the will of every member of the group.
There has to be a way for the whole body to turn to any of its members and gently say, "You didn't communicate to us about that.
You made that decision without us. We want to trust you; we want you to trust us. Can we not entrust each other with the decisions
that affect our lives?"
Our facility at decision-making has become dormant because the administration, at work or school or home, has made all decisions for us.
What few decisions we do make are not entrusted to others because the others either have authority to say "yes" or "no,"
or have no interest in what we decide. It is thus in the process of community decision-making that the cluster will begin to pound out
a totally new way of life together, a way of trust and of love.
What happens when a major conflict arises in the life of the cluster? Is a chairperson appointed to organize a meeting according
to Robert's Rules? In the name of majority rule, all sorts of injustices have been allowed. There perhaps needs to be a differentiation
between an opinion which is intensely held and one which is moderately held. If a person with a contrary opinion feels very strongly,
then the majority will not act against him/her.
In a society that fosters secrecy and privacy, openness and trust do not come easily. But they are worth working for.
In the original Bruderhof community in Germany, one rule was posted for all to observe.
There must never be talk, either open or hidden, against a brother or sister, against their individual characteristics -
under no circumstances behind their back . . . The only possible way is direct address as the spontaneous brotherly service
to the one whose weaknesses cause something in us to react negatively. The open word of direct address brings a deepening
of friendship and is not resented. 13
Final Word and Index (click here)
� Creative Commons (originally 1978 by Alternatives, Bloomington, Indiana
Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 75-348-59
International Standard Book Number: 0-914966-4-1
First Revised Printing: December 1975
Second Revised Printing: August, 1978
ALTERNATIVES for Simple Living, 1973-2011
Gerald Iversen, Alternatives' National Coordinator, 1995-2007
Founder, 2011, Simple Living Works!
"Equipping people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly"
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