Friday, May 22, 2020

peace through polyamory

I'd like to understand better how monogamy evolved because I think it's one of those tragic cases that the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talks about, where something that has evolutionary fitness value does not necessarily make us happy, or only makes some of us happy at the expense of others (in the case of monogamy, women may be happier than men with how it works). J. Haidt¹ was referring to status seeking and how it's a zero sum evolutionary game, whereby those who gain more status do it at the expense of others who thereby have less status. Also though seeking status can give one a momentary dopamine rush, and winning at the status game might give us a momentary euphoria (and for men it's also an indirect way to obtain a mate), it fails to give us a more lasting feeling of satisfaction even when we win. These observations work also for monogamy, as we will see later. But before we get there, I want to revisit the empirical claims/hypotheses I made in this previous post , because they are not satisfactory as they stand.

Here is the main hypothesis I want to revisit and test against what we know: monogamy is correlated with more violence than polyamory, where polyamory* is defined as the mating system where both polyandry and polygyny are socially permissible (aka polygynandry), AND where women and men have roughly equal sexual choice (as distinguished from a patriarchy where men make most of the sexual decisions, or a matriarchy where women make most of the sexual decisions). I'm going to fine tune this hypothesis:  monogamy has a selective advantage in times of war and scarcity, while polyamory has a selective advantage in times of peace and resource abundance. The rationale for this is as follows: At root, offensive war and other kinds of violence occur partially because of male sexual frustration, either as an alternative outlet, or because it is a strategy to gain (compete against other males) or protect sexual mates for men (if war was just about acquiring non-sexual resources, women would be just as interested in waging offensive wars as men, even if they are not the combatants themselves). Concomitantly, when men are sexually satisfied, they are not only less aggressive (which makes them less effective in war, if all other factors remain unchanged), but also less interested in hard work with delayed gratification, which makes them less productive (and hence also less effective in war). The proximate mechanism might be testosterone levels, but it may be more complicated⁵. Lower productivity is not a problem in times of peace and abundance, but in times of war and/or scarcity, lower productivity means being outcompeted by more aggressive and/or productive tribes/nations (and in non-egalitarian cultures, being individually, not just tribally or nationally outcompeted). In times of peace on the other hand, polyamory offers the advantage of multiple men and women all teaming up to raise children and other cooperative endeavor,  and reducing intra-sexual competition for mates (compared to both monogamy and patriarchal polygyny). Why should polyamory reduce sexual frustration in men compared to polygyny and monogamy? In polygyny the lower status/wealth men can't find wives (they are taken up by the higher status/wealth men), whereas in monogamy, initial satisfaction is followed by frustration and cheating because of the evolved yearning for variety and adventure in men⁵. Without the norms of egalitarianism, polyamory too would become a system where only the high status males and the attractive and motherly women would get to have sex. And without cheating, sublimation and female prostitution (and pornography in the modern era), monogamous men would be even more violent than they are.

The argument for the advantage in warfare of monogamy over polyamory is not taking into account that though polyamorous men might be less aggressive than monogamous men, they might also be able to cooperate better in battle, because of their higher egalitarianism, and the evolved function of sex as a social lubricant or glue, something we share with the bonobos ( in monogamous systems the social unit is just the family). Roman legionnaires were less aggressive than celtic fighters, but still defeated them due to their stronger cooperative abilities (and there are other examples of how cooperation and organization in battle can override fierceness). So it's not true that a culture with a monogamous mating system will always win as far as warfare over a culture with a polyamorous mating system.

And there are other factors such as sheer numbers of soldiers--monogamous societies probably had more soldiers than polyamorous tribes.

The kind of polyandry where brothers share a woman is usually patriarchal, having to do with a scarcity of women due to infanticide of girls and/or where women are a commodity like cattle. Also the kind of polygyny where men are scarce due to death in warfare is usually patriarchal.

Testing these ideas at face value against Pinker's data² seems absurd, and partially why I said my previous discussion was unsatisfactory. Didn't he show that hunter gatherers were more violent than modern or even agrarian state run societies, at least as far as homicide? And if Ian Morris³ and others⁴ are correct that hunter gatherers were more egalitarian, and if I am correct that this extended to sharing of sexual and emotional "resources", then Pinker seems to have shown the reverse of what I'm proposing. However, the devil is in the details... Pinker's ethnographic data (which were originally from Lawrence Keeley) were not about hunter-gatherers at all, or were about hunter-gatherers that were partially agrarian or horticultural (and indeed as I discuss below, less sexually egalitarian than even our modern western cultures). Pinker's archaeological data (also from Keeley?) are consistent with a totally different interpretation than that hunter gatherers were more violent than state societies (though statehood could also be a factor in reducing violence). It could be, and I will argue that this makes sense in other self-consistent ways as well as tests of empirically testable predictions, that the violence found in the bones of these hunter gatherers was due to violence committed AGAINST them by more violent tribes, ones that were less polyamorous, or that they were such themselves, starting on a transition to less egalitarian mating strategies, driven by inter-tribal competition for resources and warfare.
Wouldn't we then expect to find layers under the archaeological carnage that showed more peaceful times? No, because hunter gatherers were nomadic.

My claims that monogamy is correlated with increases of violence compared to polyamory and that it has a selective advantage in warfare also seem at odds with this paper from Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson⁶, who (using GROUP selection) find that monogamy actually decreases INTRA-tribal crime rates. But it isn't at odds because what they are comparing monogamy to is patriarchal polygyny, or single men in a monogamous society. And consistent with my hypotheses, they find a correlation between effectiveness in INTER-tribal competition (which includes winning in warfare and higher productivity) and monogamy. This makes sense because compared to patriarchal polygyny, there are less sexually frustrated men in monogamous societies, and since they are competing less for females, they can spend more time cooperating on productive or military endeavors against other nations, villages or tribes. The least sexual frustration among men should be (if I'm correct) in a polyamorous culture though. Monogamy is OK at first, but after a while most men get frustrated with it and either sublimate their evolved tendency for variety into productive or violent endeavors (though not as violently or frequently as in patriarchal polygyny), or simply cheat, which can lead to further violence.

Also consistent with my hypothesis that polyamory has a selective advantage in times of peace and abundance is this paper from L. Fortunato and M. Archetti⁷ that (using KIN selection) makes a case that monogamy evolved (at least partially) as a result of optimization of private property and scarce land allocation to the next generation, i.e. in the transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to agriculture. As Keeley discusses in the book that Pinker bases his thesis on, nomadic hunter-gatherers had no incentive for warfare, with abundant resources/sparse population, and no resource-intensive housing or other property that they were attached to either for themselves or for the next generation. Their main source of security was from a sense of belonging to nature and to the tribe. If resources were sufficient there was no incentive for hoarding of any kind, including mates. Sharing with the tribe would be the preferred strategy for obtaining security. If resources were scarce or if another tribe was competing for resources, going somewhere else would usually incur less costs than warfare. Language made it possible to gang up on alpha males who tried to hoard females or non-human resources, and children were the responsibility of the whole tribe, thus egalitarian polyamory had an advantage over patriarchal polygyny as far as rearing children. But if the temptation for getting resources from another tribe or the land occupied by another tribe arose and was acted on, those tribes that had more sexually frustrated males would win in war or pillage, hence patriarchal polygyny would win over egalitarian polyamory. And later, during agrarian times, those nations or city-states that were more productive in food production and war implement design and construction would win over those who were less productive, with one of the reasons for the lower productivity being higher average male sexual satisfaction, hence monogamy would win over polygyny in other agrarian cultures and over polyamory in hunter gatherer tribes. I wonder if some of this can be tested against historical and archaeological data.

Check whether all the ethnographic data of violent horticulturalists (from Pinker) is consistent with either monogamy or patriarchal polygyny. The following are "positive controls":
Jivaro- It seemed to be a patriarchal polygyny, more recently (due to Christianity) a patriarchal monogamy. This book⁸suggests that men have most of the power in matters of marriage and sexual relations. The only power a woman has in an unhappy marriage in Jivaro culture is to commit suicide, which is quite common.
Yanomamo- These guys are a patriarchal polygyny on steroids. The more alpha a man is, the more women he can marry. Women have not much power, not only in sexual matters.
Mae Enga- Patriarchal monogamous or polygynous
Dugum Dani- Same as above, with a long period (4-5 years) of post-partum sexual abstinence
Murngin-patriarchal polygyny
Huli-patriarchal polygyny where women are treated like commodities (paid for with pigs and more recently with cash)
Gebusi--not sure yet. Awaiting a paper. They seem egalitarian, even in sexual matters, though "(wives) may be sporadically beaten without reprisal by husbands"⁹. Polygyny is only in 7% of men and mostly due to levirate (upon death of the husband, wife and other property go to brothers of husband).  On the other hand, they ARE mostly monogamous and highly jealous. This could be an exception to my hypotheses which is fine, since perfect agreement between theory and data is virtually non-existent in social science, due to multiple factors, as discussed below. Or else, their seeming sexual eglitarianism may be the reason (modulo other factors) that they have the lowest violent death frequency of all the other tribes in Pinker's dataset. The men may still be more sexually frustrated than in a polyamorous culture (none of the above is that), but less frustrated than the polygynous cultures above.

Having shown that my hypotheses are (mostly) consistent with already analyzed data, let's move on to NEW empirical evidence to test my hypothesis, that polyamory can thrive (outcompeting other mating strategies) in times of peace. What we need to look at are societies which are known to be polyamorous and compare their rates of self-violence or offensive violence to other societies. For now we only look for correlation, not causation. Besides the already discussed problem of distinguishing innate violence vs defensive, externally caused violence, testing the hypothesis is complicated by four things:
1. There are other factors besides mating strategy, such as whether the society has a "Leviathan"/state to potentially reduce violence (one of Pinker's factors), population density, the degree of egalitarianism in non-sexual matters (another of Pinker's factors), the religious views about the value of human life of people from the in-group vs the out-group, the cultural views on other people outside the tribe, gentle vs harsh child-rearing, being an immediate return hunter-gatherer vs settled horticultualists, agrarians, industrialists etc.
2. Some of these factors may not be independent. For example, being an immediate return hunter-gatherer (IRHG) does not overlap with a state society (but there are non IRHGs without a state), has a high influence on egalitarianism and mating strategy.
3. The violence has not been quantified for many of these.
4. In some cases, it might be difficult to tell if the mating strategy is patriarchal or egalitarian or somewhere in between, especially as historical circumstances change.

The first two complications can be dealt with by a proper factor analysis, which I might do at some point. The last two await some anthropologists with more resources than me. For now we'll have to content ourselves with a crude qualitative analysis of cultures that are listed in wikipedia as having polyandry.
                                          violence (as far as I can tell)
Piraha in Brazil                   low
ancient Minoan civilization low
Mosuo in China                 low
Masaai in Africa                low
Bhutan                               low
Tibet                                  low
Northern Nepal                 low
Rajasthan                          low until modern times, polyandry is patriarchal
Ladakh                              war is prevalent throughout history, polyandry may be patriarchal
Zanskar                             much defensive war, patriarchal polyandry
ancient Sparta                   high defensive, patriarchal polyandry
Trobrianders                     low
Aleut                                 high, patriarchal polyandry
Inuit                                  medium, patriarchal polyandry and polygyny
kanak                                defensive war, patriarchal polyandry
Marquesans                       high violence, at least since colonial times. Hard to tell if polyandry was/is patriarchal or not

So my hypothesis is supported by this crude analysis of the data.

After all this, I still get the feeling that I and all these evolutionary psychologists have missed something. What is missing is the observation that monogamy seems to work much better for women than men. This seems to be consistent with the INDIVIDUAL selection model of evolution, the one that I referred to in my previous post as ugly and somewhat false (because it doesn't take into account group selection). I don't understand why it is better for women, as this model claims, to have one highly devoted man, rather than several (less) devoted men and women in a tribe, if passing property onto next generation is not an issue (it isn't in a hunter-gatherer tribe). So maybe this model partially explains why it's better for women to have monogamy today, rather than cheating or patriarchal polygyny. But it doesn't explain how monogamy evolved from hunter-gatherer polyamory, or why monogamy is better for women today than polyamory (indeed polyamory seems to be gaining traction in the relatively peaceful, wealthy and somewhat sexually egalitarian western middle classes).  There is something else going on, which I think has to do with women generally caring more than men about peace and safety, their own and their children's. Perhaps the recent upsurge in polyamory is partially due not only to relative peace and abundance, but also contraceptives, which have made it safer for women to have sex, so they don't have to worry about having children every time they want a sexual connection. Also having economic means that are not making them fully dependent on men can also encourage more egalitarianism in the sexual domain.

In hunter-gatherer tribes women might have had peace and safety from being polyamorous but in modern times, polyamory usually leads to drama and conflict. Safety in modern times comes from having more money and a nuclear family, not from belonging to a tribe. So I suspect poly-pioneering women are going to have a hard time of it (and I have anecdotal data to support this). On the one hand, polyamory is encouraged by the relative abundance and peace (on a macro level). But on the other hand polyamory is discouraged by the (micro level) vestigial conflict that arises when people brought up in a monogamous culture try to be more tribal.
* The more common definition of polyamory is consensual non-monogamy.
1. The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt
2. The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Stephen Pinker
3. Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels, by Ian Morris
6. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2012) 367, 657–669 
7. Evolution of monogamous marriage by maximization of inclusive fitness, J. Evo. Bio. 23, L. FORTUNATO*1 & M. ARCHETTI

8. Sexual Paradox: Complementarity, Reproductive Conflict and Human Emergence by Christine Fielder and Chris King

Monday, April 27, 2020

Witch Hunts Part I: Child Molestation

Here in the SS (Splintered States) The Left wants to blame the conservatives, Trump, the "1%", Capitalism and Patriarchy for all our troubles. The Right wants to blame the liberals, SJWs (aka snowflakes), Obama, Soros, welfare mothers, drug addicts, Socialists, Communists, Feminists. But both Right and Left agree that the pedophiles are a big threat to "our way of life" and the purity and safety of our children. Maybe the SS will be united by the fight against pedophilia to become the US again?

I've had two intimate relationships with women who were molested as young girls. As adults, one had trouble with certain sexual acts and would get angry about sex in general. Another dissociated and heard voices later in her life and was insanely jealous and traumatized if I even talked to another woman. I'm sure sometimes the effects of being raped as a child (molestation is a euphemism for rape) can be worse than these two experienced. Why does being raped, especially as a child, produce so much psychological damage?

A friend of mine (who was molested as a young boy) thinks that not only are pedophiles lurking everywhere, but that COVID-19 is a covert operation (part of Trump's swamp clearance) to find them and arrest them. According to him (and how many others?) the pope and 100 cardinals or so have already been arrested, and Hollywood and the Clintons are next. Weinstein and Epstein were just the beginning. And they're Jews which proves to some modern day witch hunters that history's favorite scapegoat is still at the root of all perceived evil ;-). What is the source of the belief that someone is to blame for all our problems?

Another friend (who is in his late 60s) was arrested for possession of underage porn (I don't know how old the women or girls were, whether they were post puberty or not). He is one of the gentlest and caring people I know. He would never rape a child or an adult. He was just curious and downloaded stuff for free. He was also lonely and missing intimacy and sex. He spent 8 months in jail with mostly unsavory characters and was suicidal at times. He is a gardener and was confined in a concrete building. He now bears the stigma of having to register as a sex offender and is not welcome into many communities thus exacerbating his loneliness. In the 2013 Danish movie The Hunt, a school teacher is wrongly accused of child molestation and is subject to brutal violence from his friends and co-villagers. Where does the desire to severely punish and hurt people who are perceived as child molesters come from? Is it the same as the medieval desire to burn women who have gifts of healing and are less repressed than catholic priests with their sexuality? Why hasn't the same level of violence been directed towards the catholic priests who recently almost certainly did molest boys? Why is the catholic church such a breeding ground for child molestation? Why do actual child molesters do what they do? What motivates them? And how does rape of a pre-pubescent boys and girls evolve, if sex is mostly about reproduction and these children can't produce offspring?

An acquaintance who was a competent green builder and longtime member at a neighboring intentional community was accused of child molestation by a child known to confabulate and who had other cognitive issues. Some of the other children got on the bandwagon and accused him too. There were things like unintentional touching of genitals while throwing kids into the water, with everyone naked as was the community norm while bathing in the lake in summer, which immediately incriminated him with the police. He swears he never molested any of the children and is believed by half the community, while most of the other half hates him. He left and his life, the life of the children (even if they were not molested) and the community will probably never be the same again. I do not know if he molested anyone or not, and I am not condoning child molestation. I am curious about the hatred he experienced, where does it come from? Is it the same in other kinds of witch hunts? Is it just an immune response of the community to a perceived threat?

I will attempt to answer these questions with proposed hypotheses, some of which have some support, some of which are not supported by available evidence, and some which need testing.

1. Could the SS be united by pedophilia? That was a sarcastic question. The answer is almost certainly no. Though common enemies do offer sources of unification throughout history. Even if there was unification, it would only be temporary, as there are too many sources of real differences that will remain. Maybe if Jesus came back, or even Thomas Jefferson, we could become the US again.
2. Why does being raped, especially as a child, produce so much psychological damage? For two reasons:
A. Rape in general is psychologically damaging to a soul. Sharing our bodies and souls during sex is a sacred gift that is violated by rape, taken without consent. For children it may be especially damaging since they have not learned of the sacred aspect of sex yet, and so now all they know is this desecration of their bodies and souls. They do not know yet what it means to consent to sharing the gift of themselves.
B. The natural development of children proceeds towards individuation away from their mother and family. Sex on the other hand goes the other direction, towards a unification of two bodies and souls. So raping a child interferes with this natural process. However, the age of consent depends on the individual child. Government burocrats try to simplify their lives by coming up with a one size fits all age (18 in US, but it varies in other countries). I think if a post-pubescent child understands what sex involves, beyond the physical aspects of it,  and if their individuation process is mature, then they could consent to having sex, and this should not be legislated on a national scale, but on a small community scale. In some cultures, children under 18 are taught (by practice) about sex from more experienced adults. I'm not advocating breaking the law, but I think we'd have a healthier society if the law was changed, allowing small communities to legislate this.
3. What is the source of the belief that someone is to blame for all our problems?
Scapegoating is a useful way for people to feel better about themselves, to avoid personal responsibility for their shitty lives, and as mentioned before, to unify around a common enemy. But sometimes it really isn't people's fault, at least not fully, that they have shitty lives. In those instances, it's still easier and more satisfying to find somebody to blame instead of blaming a system. If the problem is a person or a group, it's easier to think that one could punish or reform them. The highest level of sophistication is action informed by in-depth analysis, not blame, even of a system. Analyzing systems one often finds that they have evolved as a way to solve problems and have had to make some tradeoffs. The conditions that led to their evolution may have changed, and some of those tradeoffs may no longer be necessary or acceptable.  This way of looking at things leads to tolerance, compassion and humility, instead of blaming, which leads to hatred. It also leads to a chance of actually being able to change things if one really understands the root of the problem. Otherwise one is likely to just cause more suffering without significant change.

Of course, if someone is molested as a child, they are more likely to want to blame child molesters for their problems than say, gypsies. So our early traumas influence our choice of scapegoats.
4. Where does the desire to severely punish and hurt people who are perceived as child molesters come from ?
Once we hate someone, we want to hurt them. It's a primal strategy that has served individuals and groups in survival situations and hence evolved, though hatred is not always about survival. On an individual level, the person who was molested and traumatized might grow up to hate all child molesters, not just the one(s) who molested her, at least until she is able to forgive. On a group level, hatred of child molesters is an immune response that has evolved to prevent free riders from destroying the group, and to keep the group competitive against other groups. Child molesters are a sort of free riders: they want the benefits of living in a group, without willing to pay the costs (e.g. reigning in their primal desires towards children). Or else being willing to do what is good for the group (not molesting the children), rather than what seems good to them in the moment (molesting the children).
5.  Is the desire to severely punish the child molesters the same as the medieval desire to burn women who have gifts of healing and are less repressed than catholic priests with their sexuality? 
Yes and no. Yes because they are both the same primal emotion for protecting either oneself or one's group from a perceived threat. But no, because child molesters actually hurt individuals and groups, whereas "witches" usually healed people, and only threatened the twisted egos of repressed priests.
6. Why hasn't the same level of violence been directed towards the catholic priests who recently almost certainly did molest boys? 
I'm hypothesizing because males in most cultures are perceived as being disposable (also for evolutionary, not moral, reasons). If the priests had been molesting young girls, they would have been metaphorically hung by their testicles. Males are disposable in war, in having dangerous or stressful jobs that kill them at a higher rate then women, in not getting nearly as much emotional support from social workers as women, in being massacred and not cared about when they are(see Boka Haram),  in not being cared about when they are genitally mutilated (aka circumcision), and in not being cared about as much when they are molested.
7. Why is the catholic church such a breeding ground for child molestation?
Secrecy, repression and loneliness. A free flow of information would discourage child molestation. Shame (from violating taboos) leads to secrecy for both victims, perpetrators, and the superiors of perpetrators who are thinking they are protecting the church from scandal. If people were able to freely express sexual desires with adults or even to have them (for adults or children) without shame and to either sublimate them into another creative activity (such as prayer) or masturbate, and were at least sometimes able to have sex with adults, they would be less motivated to have it with children, not always, but sometimes. I suspect that other times pedophilia is a particular kink or taste that some people have, and in those instances it may not help them even if they were able to have sex with adults. But surely there are cases where these men are not able to have sex with adults, and are able to have sex (albeit through rape) with children, and if only they could have sex with adults, the desire to have sex with children would be diminished. And maybe sometimes these men would be even satisfied with more intimate contact with adults that did not involve sex, to relieve their loneliness. Perhaps God can relieve some loneliness but not all?
8. Why do actual child molesters do what they do? What motivates them?
I suspect it's because they are lonely addicts, they have very little sources of non-destructive pleasure in their lives, and they are craving some sort of self-transcending pleasure that at least won't hurt them in the short run (like any addiction), and also because they are lured by the taboo/dangerous nature of child molestation (men are wired for adventure and novelty). The addict does not care about long term consequences to themselves, let alone to someone else. But before you think that you are somehow better than these poor folks, think about ways that you are addicted and seek short term pleasure despite long term costs to you or someone else.
9.  How does rape of a pre-pubescent boys and girls evolve, if sex is mostly about reproduction and these children can't produce offspring?
I recently heard the following hypothesis from a criminologist, but I haven't checked the source: Early sexual action lowers the age of fertility (puberty). This would not give a male who raped a pre-pubescent child (male or female) any evolutionary selective advantage, but it would make the child be able to have offspring earlier, and hence give the group/tribe an advantage relative to other tribes where child molestation did not happen, as far as the number of offspring in the tribe. But sex for humans is not just about reproduction, it has other evolutionary and spiritual functions. That's why we also evolved immune responses to child molestation, as mentioned above. Because it also damages individuals' and  hence groups' psychological and spiritual health (which should have evolutionary repercussions as well).
10. What should we do about child molesters and false accusations?
We should create conditions where people (including children) are getting their basic needs for connection and non-destructive pleasure met (see previous post). We should not have child molestation be a taboo, but talk about it openly to create better understanding. We should educate the children about it, instead of scaring them against boogeymen. If a child accuses a man of molestation, we need to investigate what happened without being motivated by panic and vengeance. We need to convince children that they are safe to tell the truth (even if a molester told them not to, or told them that bad things would happen to them or their family/friends if they told), and that they don't have the power to create drama or hurt someone just to get attention or because other needs are not being met (thus creating safety for men). We should provide healing (as opposed to punishment) for victims and perpetrators both if child molestation still happens. But resources for healing are not always available.
If a community can't provide healing, it should expel the child molester. The problem with that is that the child molester becomes someone else's problem and is likely to molest again unless they are incarcerated, which probably takes more resources than healing in the community.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

monogamy: sacred or profane?

In the following I will focus on heterosexual relationships, though one could generalize to homosexual ones. I don't know enough about trans people to say whether the following can be generalized to their situation.
Spiritual growth and genetic/cultural evolution
There are currently two hypotheses for monogamy that I'm aware of:
1. It is a function of early brain development, like sexual preference. Some people develop as monogamous and some as polyamorous, based on genetics and environment, similar to how some people are gay, straight or bisexual. This can be later regulated through hormones such as oxytocin. Aka "wiring".
2. It is a strategy that can benefit individuals and/or groups that adopt it, such as enabling them to survive in certain environments better than other strategies (and other individuals or groups that adopt different strategies).

These are not necessarily in opposition to each other, as often what is evolutionarily selected for has proximal causes. But the practical implications can be very different. If it's a function of early brain development, then it may not be easy to change, and then there is potential for tragedy when two people fall in love and they are not both monogamous or both polyamorous (as in I'm poly, she's mono, she wants a monopoly on my energy, and I want a mono-poly relationship ;-)). On the other hand, if it's a strategy that benefitted individuals and groups at one time when the environment was different, but may actually be harmful now, then there is much hope that it can change as to avoid misery, for example in the case of a mono/poly relationship. And of course the same can be said about polyamory: it may be that being polyamorous is not selected for in the current environment and it would behoove the poly person to change their strategy to monogamy, if the first hypothesis is not true.

However, there is evidence that hunter gatherer cultures are more egalitarian than agrarian cultures and also more than industrial ones ^^^, and it would also follow that this egalitarianism would extend to sexual satisfaction as well. Sexually frustrated men are more violent ^^^^^. If in addition there is not much competition for resources with neighboring tribes (as was the case throughout most of pre-history), there is not much reason for war. In theory, monogamy could lead to sexual satisfaction, but men are wired for diversity and so it usually doesn't. Polygyny could also lead to sexual satisfaction for men, but it can also lead to only the alpha males getting laid, the other men being frustrated, and unhappy women(which implies unhappy men). The system leading to most sexual satisfaction should be an egalitarian one, combining both polygyny and polyandry, aka polyamory ***. People often get so immersed in their own culture that they are blinded to the fact that certain things (like monogamy) are not universal and that different cultures see what we consider sacred differently. It is not pleasant then to see a correlation between what we consider sacred and violence (which most of us consider profane). Jealousy may be universal, but its intensity and the way different cultures deal with it are not. For some cultures it doesn't have the emotional intensity that it has for us, and it can be easily diffused^. The old testament on the contrary thought jealousy was an emotion worthy of God.

It's tricky to discuss this with people who believe that monogamy is either a choice they make that represents a sacred expression of their deepest selves or that it is ordained by God. One must tread lightly and with care to not hurt these people. I want to assure you, dear reader, if you are one of those people, that I mean no disrespect to either your deepest core or to God. I recognize that most of us, not just monogamous people, have a deep yearning for a deep love commitment, for someone who will adore us and let us adore them, for someone who will understand our deepest core and will allow us to reciprocate in an environment of safety, for someone who will grow with us and even challenge us spiritually, will stick with us despite our ugly parts and uplift our innate goodness, beauty and truth. And it may be that for some or even most people, such an ambitious goal can only practically be accomplished with one other person at a time, given the short time that we are given in this life, and how our bodies and souls break down with age and just living in a harsh and traumatic world. 

Even if all that is true, can we not try to let other relationships have more breathing space, and allow them to seek their own expression, at least once we have gotten through the initial "new relationship energy" with our life partners and we don't feel compelled to spend all our time with them anymore? Can we not try to deal with jealousy within ourselves (with help from our partner) rather than eliminating the possibility of it, or projecting our anger and insecurity onto others? Could jealousy have some value to teach us? I'm not talking only about sexual relationships, but also emotional or intellectual ones. Monogamous people are threatened by the intensity of the connection with others, not just sex per say, though sex can be very intense emotionally and many monogamous people (perhaps more in certain sub-cultures like French, or Yuppie) sometimes are willing to accept their partners having sex without much emotional bonding with others.

Why do we want to encourage good will, generosity, kindness, and consideration (this is an analogy, I'm not saying polyamory encourages these more than monogamy)? Two reasons:
1. They are good for group cohesion and we are creatures that live in groups (even if they are nations or global economies). They are useful, adaptive, selectively advantageous traits for the groups of which we are a part. They sometimes conflict with our more selfish needs, but on the whole the existence of these groups is also good for the individuals in them, even if there are particular discrepancies with traits that are good for the group but not the individuals.
2. There may be a tendency of life for more complexity and integration of disparate parts into wholes, and these qualities encourage that integration. This is what some people might call spiritual growth (or, mistakenly, evolution). Sometimes complexity is not adaptive though, so unless the previous evolutionary condition is met, spiritual growth will probably not happen. Also, sometimes more complexity at one level may be harmful to complexity at lower levels. There might be sweet spots to complexity.

We sometimes encourage people to outgrow narcissistic tendencies, or sociopathic ones that are natural in 2 year olds (but not always^^^^). We usually want the 2 year olds to become more generous, kind and considerate. Not always: some people glorify the greed that drives some people and can have a selective advantage in capitalistic economies (I'm not saying there are not other, more noble motivations for succeeding in capitalism). Another example is in our monogamous tendency to want to be adored by our lovers exclusively and possess and adore them exclusively. There is more to monogamy than that, as mentioned above, but a few psychologists have traced the jealousy and possessiveness to the primary relationship between a mother and her baby, up till 2-3 years*, (and sometimes later, if there are no siblings). As mentioned above, there is also a longing for safety, depth, reliability and spiritual growth, to understand more about one’s own system and the other’s through the relationship, and to build and grow the relationship, which is a higher order system than the 2 people in it.

However, this spiritual longing has not much to do with being able to love other people deeply or have sex with them, except in harsh environments where we just don't have time for such things because we are too busy surviving. People confuse this longing with the reptilian-brain-dominated, narcissistic tendencies of 2 year olds and fail to grow out of it, as we do in other areas of life. We can learn to love other people besides mom, we can learn that mom can love our siblings, and that we are not the center of the world. But unless we can create conditions that encourage higher fitness at the group level for loving more than one lover, it will not happen. There is no selective advantage to polyamory (though there is to polygyny) at the individual level, only at the group level, and only under certain conditions (mentioned below).

Given what I said above, I do not think of monogamy as just a choice that some people can make. I think of it as a currently advantageous adaptation at the group level (though maybe things are changing in certain environments and a certain kind of shallow polyamory is becoming trendy)**, that is spiritually a disaster for most people (but some people may not be able to help it if the "wiring" hypothesis is true, like being gay or straight), unlike some other choices like what clothes to wear or what color to paint the walls, which do not cause much harm either way one chooses. It contributes to unnecessary suffering for everyone, even people who consider themselves monogamous, though they adapt by trying to make meaning out of their suffering. It persists because of the advantages it confers to couples and higher order groups like nations and companies and armies, basically guns, germs, and steel (refer to the book by the same name by J. Diamond). Groups that were/are monogamous (or sometimes polygamous, but only the wealthy men are able to obtain one ore more wives) were also more sexually/emotionally frustrated and tended to be more warlike, as a way to work out sexual frustration, not just through killing, but through rape, and also through camaraderie (guns. There is much about the connection between violence and sexuality which I won't go into here, such as the amygdala being the center of both sexuality and violence). They also tended to be more productive (steel), valuing power relationships and productivity over more collaborative and connective relationships, or being able to just relax alone or with friends and lovers. And they would be able to socially isolate into the nuclear family instead of everyone in the tribe being exposed to an epidemic.

Advantages of Polyamory (in the right environment, not the current one)
If the environmental conditions of peace/safety, sufficiency of resources, and smaller scale economies are present, then it is possible that polyamory can have a selective advantage over monogamy. What advantages can polyamory have in such an environment? Mostly about more happiness and joy, which hopefully will make people want to join those groups rather than stay in the miserable groups (but maybe the price would be that we will lose great art because all the miserable, conflicted artists will now be too happy to compensate with art^^). Here are my 12 reasons for polyamory:

1. Sexuality does not need to die and/or be repressed, especially for older people who can be inspired by younger ones to also be more sexually interested in their primary life partners. For older men this is especially dire, because with their sexuality dying, their testosterone drops and so does their motivation, which can lead to depression. There are examples of other cultures where men used to be able to have sex with younger women, and then when it was taken away by monogamy they became depressed in their old age***.
2. More love and connection can flourish, not expecting one person to fill all our needs. For example what if one falls in love with and is compatible with a life partner in all ways except sexually? intellectually? emotionally?
3. Sensitive men especially do not have to be socially/emotionally isolated with only their primary partners, which is the current situation in monogamous societies. Less sensitive men, which are in the majority,  can bond with each other over sports, cars and sexual fantasies. Currently, sensitive men rarely find each other due to their scarcity, and can only bond with other women, but they are prevented from doing so by their partners or cultural norms (even if it's just about an emotional connection). Such men are faced with a Faustian bargain: either be alone, or sell one's soul and at least have deep connection with one person. Women  in monogamous relationships, on the contrary usually are able to bond with other women, their children or pets to satisfy their needs for intimate connection with others besides their husbands. 
4. Dealing with our childhood abandonment traumas of e.g. losing our mother's primary interest to siblings, disease or other competition, or our adolescent traumas of losing our fathers' time (especially for girls, because the fathers feel sexually uncomfortable with their daughters' emergent sexuality, but in general with fathers who are too busy outside the family either for survival reasons or because they are trying to escape the misery of the nuclear family) can be dealt with instead of repressed or shoved under the rug. 
5. Learning that we are not the center of the universe and we can be patient with our lovers. 
6. Learning how to self-soothe, and express to our lovers our need for love, sex and connection rather than lashing out in anger or jealousy at them.
7. Sexuality can be honored and celebrated as a spiritual force instead of repressed or becoming distorted into anger, control and violence****(yes, I know you monogamists will say that this can be done within monogamous relationships, and to some extent you're right. But I think especially for men who still have a libido, repression and sublimation into productive activities are the ways to deal with sexual energy in a monogamous relationship, though monogamous women would like to believe the fantasy that their men are totally satisfied.)
8. With sex not being repressed and distorted, people can focus on more or equally important things like other forms of love, depth, spiritual growth, community, grief, creativity, good work and building trust. Some things (like food, sex, water) only become obsessive and overly important when they are repressed or when there is a shortage, aka supply and demand. I don't mean to de-sacralize sexuality when making market analogies. Things that are sacred are usually out of the domain of markets. Still market analogies can be helpful for understanding.
9. Women can feel safe in other environments besides at home with their life partner, to not always be on guard against rapists and gossip, or need to focus so much of their energy on being attractive to men (if they're not already partnered).
10. A loyalty based on love can flourish, instead of one based on fear. Coming back to the same primary partner(s) not because of fear of legal repercussions or social sanctions, but out of love for the partner(s).
11. I am going out on a limb on this one, and may be totally off, but in a footnote here, and in a future post I'm going to mention several benefits that may follow if we had a different attitude towards child molestation, and I think this is connected to a polyamorous attitude***.
12.  Another market analogy: if we eliminate the monopoly of polyamory over our partner's energy, then friendly competition can improve the primary relationship(s) instead of people being stuck with an inferior behavior pattern. Friendly competition does not mean that we don't have "brand loyalty" to our primary partner(s), they just have more incentive to improve.

Even in environments which are not too harsh, these benefits above may not happen if only the most attractive people get selected for polyamorous relationships (which is what might be happening now with yuppie polyamorists. What about everyone else? they may not get any partners at all). It might take environments that have small tribes where people are selected based on other traits besides sexual attractiveness (which generally correlates with fecundity in women and ability to provide resources in men), or where there is a large variance in what's considered sexually attractive. I don't think the current environment (where people travel to work, are not interdependent with other people they know for their survival and thriving, are part of government and economic structures which are too big to promote interdependence for most people, and are not directly immersed in nature) will result in most of the 12 benefits above.

Faustian bargains and high cost signals
Sociologists have found that groups sometimes establish commitment and build trust by asking members for "high cost signaling". Examples include genital mutilation, praying towards Mecca 5 times per day, self-flagellation in some medieval monastic orders, saying grace before the meal or reading the whole Hagadah at Passover (even if one is really hungry or thirsty), and sexual exclusivity in monogamous pairs. If this cost was balanced by a benefit to the group, it would be worth it, but the main benefits are in times of war and scarcity as we mentioned above. And the cost is also to both partners' spiritual growth, not just their evolutionary fitness. Why ask for giving up something so sacred as sexuality with others or trying to monopolize it, one of the only transcendent Dyonisian expressions we have left (music and art being two others), and one of the best ways of connecting to other peope's souls and sharing our own? It is similar to asking each other to give up one's joy with others or one's faith. Similar to the jealous monotheistic God, who wants to be worshipped exclusively, coming from the same sort of evolutionary environment and the same sort of traumatized spiritual consciousness. Loving one god does not mean one could not love another god (as in Dionysus and Apollo), or a different aspect of the Deity (as in the father, son and holy spirit). Loving one parent does not mean one could not love another parent. Loving Mozart does not mean one could not love Beethoven (did Einstein actually say that?). The difference between these examples and sexual exclusivity is the trauma associated with sex, both individual and collective (for a better understanding of how sex was used to control people on a larger scale than within monogamous relationships, see ****)

The monogamists try to make it sound like they are making sacrifices in order to keep their relationship special and have more depth. I have not seen one monogamous relationship of more than 10 years where the people are happy in their relationship. Whereas there are a few cultures that encourage polyamory that seem happy. Happy polyamory within this late stage western Faustian (to use Oswald Spengler's term) culture also is hard to achieve for the reasons above, though supposedly some people do achieve it (*** and ****). The people who think they are monogamous also say things like: it's hard enough to make a relationship work with just 2 people, so how do you think limited humans can make it work with more than 2? That's like saying we should have a body with only 2 cells. Part of the REASON it's hard with 2 people is because of the social isolation of the nuclear family. Tribal cultures tend to be polyamorous and happier than us. For sure we are limited, but there are synergies of having more people whom one is emotionally (and/or sexually) intimate with, that can help ease those limitations. And it may still be that for most people, a certain level of depth and commitment is only possible with one other. Even in those cases, what if one person has only enough energy for 1 other person at a certain level of depth, while their partner has energy for 2 people at that level of depth? Why should the first person forbid the second from living up to their full potential?

Gender issues
I hypothesize that besides the ugly (and somewhat false, because it ignores group selection) standard explanation for monogamy, i.e. individual selection for such traits as promiscuous cheating and novelty seeking in men and seeking to suck out and monopolize men's energy and resources by conniving women (** and ***) there is the issue of safety. Cultures that are relatively peaceful with a sense of village or tribal belonging tend to be polyamorous, while more individualistic and violent cultures tend to be more monogamous (and this seems to be true of our closest primate relatives as well, the Bonobos and Chimps). So it's not that women are naturally more monogamous, but that in our culture women don't feel safe and monogamy is one strategy for increasing safety. Not just the safety of more resources, but of being protected by the husband from predatory men (the predations of the husband can usually be tolerated in exchange for all the other safety benefits). It used to be that women needed men for other forms of protection, from wild beasts, from marauding tribes, from hunger.... The dangers have changed, men are not needed in the same way, and yet there is still something in the feminine psyche that longs for that protection and sense of safety and being provided for in the form of a masculine partner. But then by that argument, more male partners would offer more safety. Unless male competition prevented more than one male partner at a time. Except that male competition is not as effective as sperm competition as a selection mechanism,at least in tribal environments. So more research is needed to figure out these matters.

Conversely, men generally need more variety in sex (for evolutionary reasons) and males of most species seem to need more adventure (not just in sex) than women/females, which is traded off with safety. Hopefully the variety and adventure offered in polyamory is sufficient for men, though of course they will seek out variety and adventure in other areas of life. Perhaps one upside to monogamy is that men learn the art of sexual sublimation, channeling sexual energy into other creative endeavors. Except sometimes they are just violent, not at all creative.

The cozy safety of the primary relationship: if we could really trust each other, we wouldn't need monogamy to guarantee that we won't leave each other for another person, or not care about each other if we feel like we need more energy from our partner due to their energy being spent on someone else. But it's easier to just be monogamous and not deal with such vulnerabilities.

I already mentioned that women can usually find other women to get their need for non-sexual intimacy outside of a monogamous relationship met, whereas sensitive men are more rare, and there are also taboos around it, so they will not generally find other sensitive men to get their intimacy.

Women might also generally be able to turn off sexual feelings outside the monogamous relationship. Though once they feel a deep connection with a man who is also attractive, they are just as pained by not being able to have sex with him as men are by the converse situation.

In polyamory there is no automatic boundary (enforced not only through verbal and written social norms, but through physical things like rings). It is even more important to be able to say no to either sexual or emotional advances with polyamory than with monogamy though. And if sex and intimacy are not scarce, then saying no is not the end of the world, shattering someone's ego. Saying yes might also be easier, even if it's to someone who is not physically appealing, because one knows that this is not a prison (or "crucible" in mono-euphemistic speak) and showing love and kindness to one person in one way, does not prevent us from showing it in other ways to other people.

Hope for the future
Many years from now I hope people will look back at monogamy as they look back at slavery, patriarchy (I know some folks think patriarchy is still a thing in western cultures, I think it's mostly vestigial in those cultures, though the 0.001% alpha males still have much power, but we won't get into that here), global industrialism or genocide, shake their heads and think: "how could people not only have tolerated, but ennobled monogamy?" How could people think that acting like 2 year olds was a good thing? How could they confuse the need for depth, safety and reliability with sexual or emotional exclusivity? And the answer is the same as for other mass human tragedies: they could because they were human, with all their fears and traumas and immaturities (some of which became hardwired into their brains early on), and because there was a time when evolution rewarded those things, in order to survive. Yes, I think for most people today, monogamy is still a better deal than polyamory, and it might take suffering for a few pioneers in order to change this.

* I don't know much about child molestation, except I've had two girlfriends who were molested as young girls (and were traumatized by it into adulthood). I hope I don't incur the wrath of those who wake up the dragons of their society's taboos. But I think that if we were able to be polyamorous then much less children would get molested. I think men who can have good, connective, intimate sex with women, would not be as attracted to children. And even if they were, they wouldn't feel compelled to act on it. The very nature of a taboo makes it more alluring for some people. Also, even if a child were molested in a polyamorous society, they would get less messed up by it than in our culture, because our culture does not offer much healing for such things (for both the children and the molesters). Instead, as with most taboos, people either don't talk about it, or use it to project their shadows onto the molesters, scapegoating them and expressing pent up anger and violence towards them.  Also, there would be less false accusations destroying people's lives who didn't do anything if there was no taboo around child molestation, but instead there was information on how harmful non-consensual sex (children can't really consent to sex since they don't understand it) can be for someone, and how children need to psychologically differentiate, which sex goes against, messing up their psychological development. If we had this attitude towards child molestation, it would be safe for men to express affection towards children(in a non-sexual way), who are naturally very affectionate and are hurt and confused when men rebuff their natural tendencies for affection. OK, I just watched the Hunt, with Mads Mikkelsen (so I am a bit shook up over this). And a good friend of mine (who was molested as a young boy) is falling for conspiracy theories about child molesters being the root of everything that's wrong, as well as the target of a covert operation by Trump, using COVID-19 as an excuse to arrest all the alleged molesters in Hollywood, as well as the Pope and hundreds of Cardinals (well, at least that last part has SOME basis in reality, given what was found out about the Catholic Church. But the repression of sexuality in the Catholic Church just supports my hypothesis). And my friend is not alone! So many people are going for this insanity! Where does it go next? Epstein and Weinstein were Jews! Aha! It's the Jews as scapegoats again! Not only are they disproportionately represented in the 1% and the liberals, but they are also the child molesters! The right and left can at last unify over this. Q.E.D. I also have a friend who spent 9 months in a horrible jail and now is black listed because he downloaded some free child porn (he would never molest anyone). The punishment is brutal and incommensurate with the crime. And someone I know from an intentional community also had his life ruined probably due to false accusations. So maybe I also have my scapegoat (monogamy), though as far as I am aware my critique is rationally based, not trauma-based. OK, end of self-disclosure and attempt at humor (I am jewish, btw, for those who don't know me)...And then there is the possibility that taboos actually serve a protective function for groups, preventing their disintegration, and that their violation elicits a sort of immune response. I hypothesize that in a polyamorous society, the taboo against child molestation would not be necessary, as there would be much lower incentive for molestation, and even if it happened, it would not destroy the family, tribe, village of nation, because it would be dealt with in a better way that offered healing for both the victims and perpetrators.


^^ There are other motivations for art besides the need for thwarted self-expression. See and

^^^ Ian Morris, in Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels.
^^^^ where the author not only seems to encourage narcissism but suggests that polyamory can be a personality disorder when one is not treated as the center of the universe in childhood and hence does not feel like they deserve to be narcissistic in adulthood, or else has masochistic tendencies to deny themselves the narcissism they should be entitled to.

* Stephen Snyder, in Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship, explains this as the 2 year-old-narcissistic-tendency of the "sexual self" (I think reptilian brain), and the Freudian psychologist Leo Bersani in his article Against Monogamy. Erich Fromm also hints that monogamous love is immature in The Art of Loving, an "egotism for two".
** At the individual level, some people have tried to explain monogamy in terms of advantages to individual males' genes, but the relative importance of those explanations can be at least reduced, because group fitness is at least equally important as individual fitness and for other reasons, see for example my comment on Brett Weinstein's talk:

*** Sex At Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá. They give examples of many societies that are polyamorous.  The archaeological data is consistent with warlike tribes (the ones where the men are not all sexually satisfied?) massacring more peaceful tribes, and warlike tribes being sedentary and having scarce resources to fight over, but I don't think we can know for sure whether they were monogamous, polygynous or polyamorous. The more recent ethnographic data needs to be analyzed, paying close attention to those people defending from western encroachment. The most warlike People in Keeley's (and Pinker's) charts turn out not to be hunter gatherers at all, but sendentary, monogamous or polygynous patriarchal horticulturists. This is data begging to be analyzed.

**** And They Knew Each Other by the founders of Tamera, for a perspective on this

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Principles for success of Intentional Communities

So I wrote about “communal-tragedies” , and other obstacles-in-communal-living, but I’d like to condense it all to one or a few root problems/solutions, from which the others all originate. Maybe that’s my scientific reductionist tendency. Or maybe it would be useful to prioritize these. It does feel like I’ve seen many ICs which repeat the same mistakes that cause them to break apart, or lose their potential as radical alternatives to the mainstream, either not attracting new people, or having a high turnover, with many people getting dissatisfied and leaving (while new ones come in). Elinor Ostrom already came up with 8 principles to avoid the tragedy of the commons, so do we need more principles?

Perhaps what I’m looking for is one or a few meta-principles to give a chance of success. Maybe the previous principles (including Ostrom) can be reduced to some higher level ones?
0. Ostrom These address mainly how to not overexploit common resources (land, people, houses, etc), which is also related to how not to be destroyed by free riders (or those who are looking out for their own individual and family good more than the community's).
1. Dynamic self organization. For example, many of the “tragedies” were about going too far in one direction or another and failing to achieve a balance. Living systems seem to be good at finding balance (homeostasis), and when they break down it is extremely difficult to maintain that balance from outside, as any doctor will tell you (or as I have experienced with my dad when he was dying, and many with serious illness or injury). So we need communities that allow for evolutionary processes to seek all these different balances, within individuals, and within the community composed of different individual needs. A rigid vision or dogmatic individuals will not allow for this to happen. Or maybe sometimes rigidity is warranted, when foresight says “this way lies disaster”, but not based on dogma. I’ve seen too much rigidity at the Brotherhood of Christ and other conservative religious communities like the 12 tribes or Bruderhof, and even the Possibility Alliance.

One of the main evolutionary mechanisms is competition, which happens both internally and externally. People inside the community must have a bit of friendly competition with each other in order to improve their contribution. And the community must have some competition with the outside word (and other communities) in order to figure out how to optimally deal with free riders.

Another (more recently evolved mechanism) is forsight/wisdom, the ability to learn from the past and somewhat predict the future based on different scenarios. Elders are usually better at this than youngsters, especially in their field of expertise.

In general the ability to have feedback from both other community members and outsiders/nature is what makes it possible to adapt and improve.

2.  Isolation. Not complete informational isolation, because the community needs to grow or multiply, and at least in the beginning it is not even possible to not need stuff and services from the mainstream (also see the next principle). More about being able to produce and use what people need in a sustainable way. Otherwise, the unity and interdependence is diluted when people give energy in the form of jobs or money or getting their needs met from the mainstream. Emotional and cultural interdependence may not be enough to keep people together. Economic interdependence is needed as well. Not only is interdependence diluted without enough isolation, but the mainstream acts like a gravitational well, pulling the community towards it in many subtle ways, because the mainstream too is a living system that tries to maintain itself. This principle is also general to life, using cell membranes to achieve a unity, an energetic and informational focus that can synergyze with homeostasis (previous principle). Most communities I’ve seen are not isolated enough and end up mainstream-like. Either they don’t value isolation, or they don’t have the skills to achieve it. One of the Ostrom principles addresses having a clear boundary.

3. A mythical orientation that is striving for something that is not quite present in the community. Life is an open system needing something outside (mythically sometimes, not just physically) of the organism or ecosystem to strive towards. There is the need for more people (from outside, since we have an overpopulation problem) in order to grow and multiply, but there is also a need for inspiration. I think Twin Oaks, Eastwind, and Dancing Rabbit have lost their mythical orientation.

4. An orientation of the people towards the community, willing to consider what is good for the community, not just what is good for themselves as individuals and families. Even better if they want to achieve some sort of tribal consciousness. Most secular communities lack this, most religious or spiritual ones have it. And most liberal people are worst at it than conservative people. This principle is important to avoid the community braking apart due to free loaders, an alternative to Ostrom principles, but probably not sufficient. Ostrom is probably also necessary. One way to encourage this orientation is to build trust and commitment. Besides engineering interdependence through commuity activities and economics, it is useful to have what sociologists call costly signalling (such as religious rites) that show how much members value being there, by doing things that are not easy.

5. An orientation of the community towards the individual and the family. Understanding that these subunits have their own needs, and tending to those needs. For example, individuals need to have some autonomy in their work, to feel productive and creative and appreciated for what they bring to the community, to have a sense of belonging to the community (and bigger forms of organization sometimes), to have good relationships with others in the community, to have good relationships with the natural world.  Families need to feel like they have some autonomy with their children, and a sense of prioritizing members of the family at least emotionally.

A list of communities I’ve been at, been told about by people who have been there, or studied from history, along with which principle(s) they fail at (binary for now, later we can make it analog):
Dandelion (now defunct, a secular community in Ontario, Canada)0,2,5
Twin Oaks 2,3,4
Acorn 2,3
Eastwind 2,3,4
Cambia 2,5
Sikh community near Boston whose name I forgot 1,2
Bruderhof 1,2
12 Tribes 1,2
Possibility Alliance 0,2
Dancing Rabbit 2,3,4
Sandhill 2,3
Red Earth 2,4
Bear Creek 2,3,4
Skalitude 2,4
Kripalu 1,2,3,4
Earthaven 2,3,4
Wild Roots 2
Dancing Deer 1,2,3,4
Blue Heron 2,3,4
Vinelands 0,1,2,4, 5
ONeida 1,2
Amana 1,2
Brook Farm 1,2,4, 0
Camphill 1,2,5
East Lake Commons 1,2,3,4
Open Space Church 2,3,0
Ganas 2,3
Catholic Workers 0,1,2,5

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Coordination Problem

What if we need to do something radically different than the status quo that requires the coordination of many people? There are several ways to coordinate people or cells or other parts into a coherent whole, each part with its own needs. The most common ones are persuasion, coercion, hierarchy, market (or evolutionary forces for biological systems in general), religion/ideology, rules and social norms.
There are costs to coordination sometimes. Whether the task at hand is building something, organizing an event, or sprouting a new economy. Liberals (including myself) are wary of giving up individual autonomy in favor of group security. They are wary of gurus that get corrupted by power and abuse their disciples. Liberals are also wary of advertisers trying to persuade people to buy a product. Conservatives are wary of governments trying to control people with too many laws. Nowadays everyone is wary of enslaving people or more generally coercing them to do something. And most people today dont have patience for long dialectic discussions, where the two sides dont initially agree. In modern day society we have minimized transaction costs and coordination in general. It still happens with cultural norms, government laws, and market mechanisms such as being paid, or even buying and selling. But in most of these cases people accept the costs because the benefits are not too distant in the future and they are more or less certain. It is no wonder then that people have found ways to try to evade coordination when the benefits are in the far future and/or uncertain. Here are some that Ive come across.

The Mystic Evasion
God, or Spirit coordinates so we dont have to. We can also avoid giving up our individuality if we align with Gods purpose, get out of the way, lose our egos/wills, etc.
Or, just meditate and introspect. And  somehow the barn will get built, the economic network will magically sprout, the complex folk dance will be danced because from a place deep within, everyone can agree.

The problem with this view is that even if the ontology is roughly correct (it may be instead that we have a biological need to be part of a tribe, or something bigger than our egos), people still need to coordinate, because we are not puppets in the hands of a benevolent God. Historically, communities with this view have coordinated through a charismatic leader (who supposedly represents God), and/or some other hierarchy. The charismatic leader usually gets corrupted by power and abuses people in some way. Or he dies and people wake up as if from a dream wondering why they are there. Or the hierarchy stifles people's sense of spontaneity and creativity. It might have worked in the past, before the newfound sense of freedom ushered in by the industrial revolution and Enlightment (a rare moment where I praise the industrial revolution). Now totalitarian (meaning in all parts of life, not only work) hierarchy is not very popular.
Anther problem with the mystic evasions is spiritual bypass, where people do not want to admit that they have indvidual needs, because that would make them egoic. Isn't it possible to have individual needs, yet at the same time want the best for other beings? And not only in a quid pro quo way, or reciprocal altruism as the sociologists call it, but in genuine caring ways? Once we get beyond the dichotomy of selfishness and egolessness, it is possible to have conversations about how we can all get our needs met, or even sacrifice some of our own needs for others.

The Cornucopian Evasion
Machines can help us become independent of others, (except when there are only benefits and no costs, in which case we WANT to coordinate). The problem with this approach is that we are wired to need each other and without that constraint we become anomic (Durkheims term, roughly meaning alienated). Sociology research has shown that suicide rates are correlated with lack of social connection and constraint. Social psychology research has shown that the interdependence gained by producing for each other creates stronger social bonds and stronger character than the dependence on a market for consumption. And system theory research into emergence shows that consciousness itself depends on constraints such as being embedded in an intersubjective social system. Much of our values and sense of each other come from material interdependence, producing goods and services for each other, not from having these things produced by machines alone. This can be generalized to our connection to and coordination with nature. If we dont need nature (e.g. because of machines), we feel disconnected from her and she does not coordinate with us, with such outcomes as floods, hurricanes, dust bowls, and loss of resources.

The Gandhian evasion
Lead by example. It only works when the project in question requires no coordination, only imitation, or at the next level of organization (see below). If I am able to grow some vegetables and 100 people imitate my strategies, it wont help to build a barn, or dance a complex dance. If I protest, and a million others protest, it can get the British out of India, but it wont help rebuild the village economy destroyed by the British Empire. Imitation can work at the next level however, once a village has been built, other villages can possibly imitate it. The village was not built by imitation/examplethe coordination happened through some other means. Once it has been achieved, the coordination strategies can be copied.

The anarchist evasion
Things get self-organized. This could be true in a sense, but it doesnt mean organized by magic. It means organized without outside help. If one looks deeper at examples of self-organization, one always finds one of the mechanisms mentioned above. For cells organizing into a multi-cellular organism, beyond a certain level of complexity, there is a hierarchy mediated by the brain at the top (or other simpler structures) and levels of hormones and other signaling molecules. For people, if there is no hierarchy or outside direction, there are negotiations, consensus meetings, trade, etc. I think this can work well enough for tasks where everyone agrees on what is to be accomplished already, but I dont know if it can work for a case where there are many ideas floating around and one must be chosen.

It would be good if we faced this head on instead of evading, and were willing to adopt one of the strategies above to coordinate for projects with far future and uncertain benefits, because they benefits might just be worth it. I'm thinking in particular about building a local economy/technology, and idea shared by the likes of Gandhi, Peter Maurin (founder of the Catholic Worker) and Schumacher. It's notsomething that can be led by example, it's not something that can be done by a bunch of homesteaders. It requires at least 100 people skilled in pre-industrial crafts and farming techniques. Coercion can be ruled out because there is too much individual freedom that is sacrificed. Persuasion is wasted on most people, given the Zeitgeist. Instead, it can be focused on one wealthy funder. Hierarchy and market forces (appealing to individual initiative and/or group fitness) can be used once the project is funded. I dont consider it ethical to use peoples spiritual emotions to coordinate them. Rather, such emotions, of partaking in something greater than ones self, can provide a glue once coordination has been achieved. So we form a non-profit, we pay people to develop their own skills and network with others, and then we see if this is selected for, but not in the capitalist global market. Instead we see if people can be happier this way than in the mainstream. How else could we coordinate people to do this? If you have any ideas, let me know.

The permaculture evasion

The only coordination needs to happen on a family homestead. We need to find new ways of producing basic necessities more sustainably, with less labor and then trade with our neighbors for surplus. The problem with this is that it’s not a viable model but for a few people who can afford (or who can inherit) lots of land, while continuing to depend on the global economy for most other things but food and the labor that goes into building shelter. Also, though innovation is great, people had known how to produce food and shelter sustainably before the industrial revolution. So innovation in food production is less of a priority than networking people with already known technologies and skills.