Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Modern Swadeshi in the US, or Why Local Production of Basic Needs is Better

Mahatma Gandhi is mostly remembered now for his non-violent resistance to British rule in South Africa and India, but he was a major critic of our civilization. His economic critique, as well as his proposed solution, expounded on mostly by his friend and collaborator J.C. Kumarappa, is still relevant today. Kumarappa was not only an environmentalist way ahead of his time, but an economist who saw an intrinsic violence to the industrial global economy. Gandhist economics is basically luddite, meaning the belief that a local, craft and agrarian-based economy is much less violent and better in several ways than a global, massive capital-based economy, or an economy split into a service economy in the west (and recently some third world countries like India), sustained by a product economy in most of the third world.

Swadeshi was an attempt not only to gain independence from England, but a way to create a better life for most people in India. At that point in history, England and other places were making products industrially that were undercutting native Indian products and destroying the existing village-based local crafts of India along with the communities that depended on them. It is interesting that the factories of England were not spared the ruthless march of industry, nor were those of the US. First the crafts and small farms inside the empire were mostly destroyed (with the remnants being craftspeople who cater only to the luxury needs of the wealthy instead of making functional stuff for all), then that fate moved on to the third world, then the nasty industrial jobs were destroyed in the heart of the empire and exported abroad, along with a few stupid (but not as nasty as the industrial jobs) service jobs. It is interesting that now the fringes of the empire are undercutting the center with not only material products, but services. I believe this race to the bottom is the fate of the global economy, which puts efficiency (and therefore price) first, and deep relationship last. A few jobs that involve creativity and connection were created too, in all fairness.

Below I discuss that and  summarize the advantages of a local economy over a global one.

1. Meaningful jobs
Yes, a few good jobs were made possible by the industrial fossil fuel economy, such as scientists, engineers, teachers, programmers, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, plumbers, house builders, electricians. But most jobs that were made available are stupid, dehumanizing, and disconnecting. The good jobs just listed and others like them can probably also be had in a local, craft and agrarian-based economy in a fossil fuel scarcer world, but maybe less of them. But there are hundreds of meaningful specialties that exist in a craft and agrarian-based local economy. If people can't express their life energy/will/creativity through meaningful work, psychopathology ensues, sometimes only in small ways such as random shootings, other times in massive ways such as the Third Reich or just the will to wage war.  There is more to meaningful than creativity and/or being able to directly contribute to one's community. Such as the following points:
2. More transparency
People can do awful things willingly and get away with it in places that tolerate nastiness. People can also contribute as consumers to awful things in far away places, either because they don't know, or don't care due to the abstract and indirect manner that their choices affect the far away people and nature. It is hard to hide what you are doing from your neighbor, who is also your customer. It is also hard to do nasty things to your neighbor if you are on good terms. So transparency also assumes good relations between neighbors.
3. Stronger feedback between production and consumption
If someone sees what it takes to make something that is at least partially handmade, they are less likely to take it for granted, trash it and just get a new one. If they themselves have to make something, it helps them be more conservative with consumption, but this works even if the neighbor makes it. The feedback in a global economy is very weak, through money. Local production solves the problem of unbridled consumerism.
4. Relationship with people
A vibrant economy is about relationships between people, and people and nature. Not about jobs that isolate people from each other or nature, which is what many creative jobs in the industrial economy do. A pure consumer to market relation is not as intimate as a consumer to producer relationship, especially when the consumer is also a producer.
5. Care of Nature
If production happens in one's "back yard" (YIMBY as opposed to NIMBY), then one is more likely to care about not dumping toxic chemicals or radioactivity.
6. Possibility for gift economy
It is much harder and much less meaningful to gift to strangers than to friends and neighbors.
7. Satisfy the need for craftsmanship
Not everyone can be a childcare, sickcare or eldercare provider, or teacher or other service worker. Some people need to make or grow stuff to feel grounded. It would probably be good for people who are either service providers or doing abstract work to do grounded crafty or farm work.
8. Resiliency
This is the favorite of the transition town movement or peak oilers, though they usually focus only on the food system. The point is that our current system is very efficient, but subject to easy failures based on political or economic upheavals. Too small of a local economy is also not resilient. There is a sweet spot where we can become independent of what happens in China, but also not be hit hard due to a drought or other natural disaster.
9. Peak and Decline of Oil Production
As oil production starts declining, transportation of goods globally becomes more expensive, starting to tip the balance towards local production and consumption, even as far as efficiency goes. Also other things that currently rely on petroleum become less efficient once petroleum costs to much (agriculture, factory production, etc). I put peak oil at the bottom of the list, because it was not an issue in Gandhi's time, and to my mind it is better to be motivated by the positive benefits of local economies right now, than by the negative effects of peak oil in the future.

The problem with current service economy:
1. The services are local, but the materials and tools are not.
2. Takes away services which are gifted (mostly domestically) and commoditizes them. Most services become institutionalized and the direct relationship gets degraded.
3. People need balance, to be involved in the physical world
4. Creates an aristocracy of privileged people in the developed world and factory workers in the third world
5. Creates incompetence in all but one's specialty, as people can't do basic things anymore.

OK, you say, but what about efficiency? That tractor gets the job done faster than the horses, and the chainsaw faster than the two man bucking saw. Well, life is about tradeoffs. I think I would rather have less efficiency in order to have more of the nine listed advantages. It is not just a rational choice, but has to do with values, which is the domain of religion. The religion of Progress has demonized the pre-industrial past. I don't think it was as bad as some people believe. Good work is a sacrament. Neither does the new religious sensibility have to demonize all industrial production. Some things could still be manufactured in factories with global inputs in a sane world. But we have gone too far. Let's get basic need production relocalized. Religion has a possibility to unify people around the 9 values listed above, and to give them the discipline to eschew the race to the bottom based on the value of efficiency alone.

There is also the possibility of increasing efficiency in a local economy, but the first step is to make the choice of putting our resources into it instead of continuing to fully support the global economy.

How is this to be done in practice? I can see two ways. One is for pioneers to sacrifice their privilege in the global economy and start producing basic needs for their communities. This is already happening  with the local food movement, but it needs to expand way beyond food. Tools for farmers, household equipment,clothes, hardware, transportation, medicine, education, healthcare are the next steps. This is an evolutionary process that could take generations, and could also be coopted by the global economy.

The other option I see, which relies to a lesser extent on evolutionary process and more on sapience, is for middle class and wealthy people who can be shaken out/deprogrammed of the cult/religion of progress to fund a think/do tank that would figure out first theoretically, then practically, how to build a sustainable local network of producers/consumers, what I already proposed in an earlier post on this blog:
first stage of think tank and whole project. As a renegade priest of the religion of Progress, I have hopes that some of my brothers and sisters from the priesthood would see this new light of reason and hope, but old religions die hard. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful: enlightened physicist.

Swadeshi. It's not just for India anymore.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

obstacles in communal living and ways to surmount them

For the past 8 years I have been trying to find or create an intentional community where I could both feel at home, and that would make a difference in the world. Many people have had a vision of a better life that would be possible in and through intentional community, but most of the attempts to implement such a vision fail. It is disheartening that many who have an inspiration for living in an intentional community do not bother to study the history of such communities, both past and present, and learn from it. It's been a while since I read Diane Christian's Making A Life Together, which also has a similar list. I need to check if she has any additional obstacles/pitfalls.

Here are my tentative conclusions about pitfalls and possible solutions (in no specific order), based on experience, history and interviewing people (please suggest additions if you think I missed something):

  1. Parents wanting something better for THEIR kids, as opposed to other kids. I noticed this at 3 different communities and was told about the phenomenon by a Hare Krishna explaining to me why their community is no longer communal. This might be generalized to say that the nesting instinct goes against communal needs. Nesting women have a hard time sharing kitchens and households with anyone but their mate and children, at least in our culture. Also babies and toddlers need constant care, and adults need to be able to focus and be coherent and not get down to the babies' level all the time. Babies and toddlers need to learn to become more like adults, not vise versa.
  2. Different standards of domestic cleanliness/order. This is hard enough to work out between just 2 people.
  3. Sex/jealousy. A strong human emotion that can break up a community
  4. Power/control/ego issues. One can pretend that these don't exist and that we don't share a common ancestor with social primates, but if not confronted head-on, they can wreak a community.
  5. Not enough privacy. Twin Oaks found this out early on. The needs of individuals for privacy vary. So do cultural norms between cultures (e.g. US rugged individualism vs Jewish cooperative sensibility).
  6. Not enough autonomy/artistic freedom. Red Earth was founded partially because there was not enough autonomy and artistic freedom at Dancing Rabbit. Same comment as #5.
  7. Not enough shared vision/spirituality. Wanting community isn't enough of a basis for maintaining community. People are later surprised that other people don't share their vision in enough detail. Earthaven folks assumed that sustainability meant the same thing to everyone, but it didn't. Vision and spirituality can counter the selfish motives of a human being, but the vision has to be shared or trouble may ensue. Even if the vision is shared, it needs to be maintained through ritual, outreach and inner work. If people don't have enough rituals which reinforce their common vision/religion/spirituality the vision falls apart due to all the countervailing forces mentioned here, and then the community follows suit.
  8. Not enough shared work/economy. Many cohousing communities suffer from lack of community glue. Common work is a strong community glue. It is not enough to live next to each other and probably not enough to even have shared vision.
  9. Not enough time together due to external financial pressures. If people work outside the community and their work takes a big chunk of their time, they don't get to bond and the community can fall apart. 
  10. No shared effective conflict resolution protocols, or ways to share feelings and stories and prevent conflict in the first place. 
  11. Not enough or too much cultural isolation. I have made the point in this blog and on my youtube presentation that some amount of cultural isolation is necessary so as not to be swamped by mainstream memes which work against community and other cultural changes. But too much cultural isolation can be a problem too because cult-like characteristics can arise, and because a community needs startup energy that may not be sufficient from its members. Also for celibate communities, new people are needed to replace the old and dying ones.
  12. Not enough competency/skills to make a living/survive without being miserable. I haven't seen alot of this, but supposedly many 60s communes had this issue. Also the folks at the community I started had some issues at first.
  13. Not enough study of what works and what doesn't. This seems to be true with alot of communities, not sure why but maybe people in the US have an aversion to the study of history.
  14. The small size of a starting community means it is fragile and susceptible to disruption from inside or out much more than a bigger organization of humans. One psychopath can destroy the community, or one hostile neighbor, or one drought or other natural disaster.
  15. Radical Income/wealth disparity. Usually the people with the most money or the title to the property make more decisions, have more power. This might be OK with some people, but revolutions were fought in the name of equality and going back to feudalism is still not palatable to most people.  Diane Christian had an article about this situation (at Earthaven) in Communities Magazine a while back. I have seen it in several communities and heard about it from others.

Possible Solutions:

  1. individual households or more community glue or patriarchy(not my preference) or celibacy. One or a few people can be childcare providers so as to free up the rest of the community, and they can circulate that chore with others so they don't burn out. As children become older they can participate more and more in adult activities.
  2. individual households or a protocol that is agreed upon and followed, where a compromise is made between the different standards.
  3. monogamous marriage or celibacy
  4. good governance that gives everyone a voice such as democracy or consensus. A spiritual path that keeps ego in check and values altruism
  5. individual households or rooms or places to go have solitude
  6. everyone needs to have a job that they have autonomy over or individual households
  7. make sure before someone joins that they share the vision/spiritual path. Then devise or borrow numerous reinforcing rituals both in daily life and special occasions to keep the vision alive.
  8. local economy and/or common cottage industries
  9. either a strong local economy or profitable cottage industries
  10. shared conflict resolution protocols
  11. The sweet spot of cultural isolation has to be found by trial and error. It doesn't have to mean geographic isolation, similarly to the genetic case or reproductive isolation, which can happen geographically or by other means. Memetic exchange has to be limited but not completely eliminated as there is a tradeoff between resiliency and isolation. Eliminating or greatly reducing media is probably a good idea, as is allowing select people to visit, having bridge groups in the cities. Greatly reducing dependence on the global economy and the industrial mode of production and distribution is another good idea in that direction
  12. Learn skills such as food production/farming and construction (but pre-industrial) and subsidiary crafts. Also if cottage industries are engaged in, learn those well enough to make a living.
  13. Study and be humble. Learn from historical examples and current experiments. Do not assume that you are the only one who had the idea to start a radical community or that your idea is better than anyone else's. There is no point in reinventing failures (or "square wheels" as JMG calls them).
  14. Community glue will help with resiliency and also maintaining some connection to the greater economy/culture as was mentioned above. But ultimately many startup communities will fail, similar to startup businesses or species. The more startups, the more some will succeed.
  15. If you have title to the land, donate it to a non-profit and either leave or make a special effort to give other people more of a voice. If you have alot of money, give it away or share it (this is not new advice. Supposedly Jesus had some such similar advice 2000 years ago). Not just to anyone, but to people who have a chance to create a sustainable community. I have done these things, they are not just theoretical, but the results are still tentative. Did I pick the right people? Only time will tell. The right people are those that will create a community that is sustainable and inspiring to others. What if they are just freeloaders with no vision except their own opportunity?Study, train, and implement democratic decision making techniques for small groups. It is possible to be a benevolent dictator, though power corrupts even the most benevolent.
The first 6 are specific to communal living situations, and the solutions are either unappealing to most people (e.g. patriarchy or celibacy) or involve satisfying our deep archetypal longing for community/tribe with family and a village setting rather than a communal living arrangement. Community glue is mentioned several times because it is a force opposing the selfish and short sighted human tendencies that conflict with community.
Note that I did not include the generic fact that people have different needs because it is dealt with in more specific ways in the list above. A strong community is able to thrive despite this fact, both by including only people with similar enough needs, and by having people be willing to sometimes sacrifice some needs for the community/other people.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Great Turning, or The Same Old Song?

It is the curse of prophets that they see the problems and  follies of an age, think they have a solution, but no one listens to them. In addition they are drowned out by a bunch of proposed solutions that come from the same state of consciousness as the one that created the problems in the first place, and then, to add insult to injury, those insane solutions are actually tried right in front of the poor prophet.

I doubt I am a prophet (not fanatical enough, or not full of enough hubris to think that what seems like no-brainer solutions to me would actually work), but I keep having this experience. Yesterday was an example. I went to an event supposed to promote an organization which funds local food businesses (but not startups!). I was expecting alot of farmers but most of the businesses were catering to the yuppie foodist market. The main motif was food distribution (with your favorite high-energy density unsustainable, greenhouse-gas producing fuel), packaging using fancy machines, which are connecting real producers in other countries to consumers in the US.

It is ironic that the main speaker mentioned how he saw the irony of organizations that were supposed to be environmentally friendly, but invested in companies that destroyed the environment.  What are the businesses he funds now doing that is taking us away from a destructive industrial present into a benign de-industrial future? They are mostly promoting a new consumer market, with very little production of goods happening locally. Mostly what is produced locally are services. Some goods are produced locally, but I bet if we looked at the percentage of calories coming from local, organic food, it would be small (because most of our calories come from beans, meat and grains). There is a big focus on ice cream, chocolate and a few vegetables. Moreover, most of the tools and materials used to process, package and distribute those goods come from industrial production, with all its associated nastiness, but high efficiency. For all this critique, these businesses are actually targeting an existing growing market and should make (if they are not already making) a nice monetary return in the near future. But don't pretend like this is part of the Great Turning that Joanna Macy and David Korten envisioned. It is nothing more than business as usual, and not surprising given the homeostatic nature of complex systems, as I've indicated in other posts on this blog and in this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTMwxUcqgqg. In other words, people will do what they already know how to do, which in the US is mostly marketing, computer programming, cooking, and growing some veggies.

There is also a market mismatch between the services that are offered and a a large percentage of the community. What is the market of people who would buy those goods/services? The kinds of people who want food gardens instead of lawns, or good food, would do their own landscaping and prepare their own food. There might be a little niche of elites who are too lazy or too old to get their hands dirty and get their sense of worth from their foo-foo high brow consumer choices of the fad du jour.

After sampling all the yummy food which I wouldn't normally buy, I talked to a guy who told me that the reason most people won't be able to listen to my Luddite Manhattan Project description is the same why people won't listen to his talk about free energy and the conspiracy by elites (or space lizards?) to suppress it. I didn't want to tell him that I already looked into free energy and found it to be bunk, explained more in terms of the psychology of people who are looking for scapegoats to deal with the failure of the myth of progress and are unwilling to let go of their attitude of entitlement than any sound physics. I didn't want to tell him that because that would guarantee that he won't be interested in the Luddite Manhattan Project. But it is not a good feeling that my ideas probably sound the same to most people as the paranoiac rants about free energy and space lizards.

We also talked about the failure of local currency and time-bank schemes (he initiated one of each himself). I think the failure of local currency is due to the misconception of money as wealth. Money is mostly a means of exchange. Real wealth comes from actual production of goods and services, not just consumption. We live in a society where most goods are produced somewhere else, subsidized by petroleum and imported here (5% of the word's population consuming 25% of the energy and 33% of the material resources of the planet) and so the importers of most of the real wealth are not interested in local currency because they don't spend most of their time in our town. There are a few producers of valuable services among us, but they rely heavily on imported energy and goods. This is an additional reason for failure of local currencies and a reason for failure of time banks.

Somehow printing local currency is supposed to work like a magical incantation to stimulate a local economy, but this only goes so far if most of the energy, tools and materials are still imported because people don't have the skills/knowledge to produce them locally.

Another source of wealth is land, and productive land is out of reach of most people. To add insult to injury, most people also have to spend a large part of their income on paying rent or a mortgage. Not sure how a significant fraction of people could make a living just by owning a 3D printer or CNC mill, or even renting all of these at a hacker space if land and materials are still owned by someone else.

One possible way to redistribute land and give people relief from the debts of rents and mortgages is simply for those who own it to give or share that land with those who don't. Not with anyone, just with others who could make productive, sustainable use of that land, who are eager to work, and who want to share with others. I have done it myself (gave away a house with land) with good results so far (it took several iterations to get it right). Land ownership is by a significant american middle class, not just a few wealthy upper class folks. Perhaps it is not so in other parts of the world.

Unfortunately, most philanthropy is towards "at-risk", "under-serviced" and such populations with the goal of educating them to be good consumers and workers of the empire (or at best to expose them to nature), not to produce basic goods and services in a sustainable economy. There are historical and biological reasons why most philanthropy focuses on disempowered people (and nowadays usually disempowers them further).

The historical reasons in this mostly Christian country are that Jesus (and probably other jewish rabbis before him) urged to take care of the least among us, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Those were times of brutal repression by the empire du jour (roman instead of american), but at least most people could still meaningfully contribute to the survival and even well-being of their community by applying practical skills. This is no longer true and a better strategy than helping those who are even more disempowered than us, is to learn useful skills (useful to a real economy, not the farce that is the global economy, the kind that probably don't pay yet), kind of like putting the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your baby in a plane. The best gift you can give a homeless, unemployed person is meaningful work and meaningful usually means being able to help your family and community in concrete ways.

The biological reasons of focusing philanthropy on the homeless, orphaned, "at-risk youth", etc are our innate need to nurture, which is a need that is not met very well in other ways in this culture. This is the same reason people get pets. There has been a massive breakdown of the family, women have become less nurturing, children more aimless and leaving home earlier, and men less able to work at jobs that are meaningful.

Another possible reason for philanthropy being primarily directed towards people in dependent roles and keeping them in those roles is that we can project our own helplessness to provide for our community and dependence on an empire to provide for us, unto other people. That way, as Jung understood, we don't have to look at our own shadow.

Of course investment is not philanthropy and aims to get a return, even if it is an indirect return from the government for supposedly helping "at-risk youth". Instead of aiming for a monetary return, why not invest in reskilling a community so that people can really take care of their community, instead of depending on the handouts from Empire, won through depriving other people and destroying our earth?  What a great ROI that would be! We might need to give up our sense of entitlement to most of the world's resources for that. Or our entitlement to using those resources to prop up an unsustainable health care system, or using those resources to not have to contribute when we are "retired". We might have to settle for a local doctor taking care of us with 19th centrury technology (adding anti-biotic production capability) when we are injured or sick, and the young ramping up their contributions to help the elderly while the elderly still contribute directly to the community in ways that they can. After the talk, an elderly man came to ask the speaker about his concern that investing in ethical companies is not going to give him a high enough ROI for a viable retirement. This might be true (the speaker denied it), but with this kind of attitude, there is not even a Small Turning.

In conclusion, a winning combination is reskilling towards pre-industrial technology, forming a network of producers (in addition to the already existing service providers and consumers), and sharing land.

Social Implications of 3D Printers and Open Source Manufacturing

Factor E Farm, Open Source Ecology, The Maker and Open Manufacturing Movements are moving away from the fringe and coming into mainstream awareness. There are some values that I am sympathetic to, common to all these organizations. They value the resiliency that comes from localizing basic goods and services, the distributist empowerment of individuals and small communities, and the transparency of open sourcing that is encouraged by localism (but possible even without it with open source technology).

But what I want to focus on in this post are values that trouble me. I hesitate to do this because I don't want to harm the open source movement, and hope that this opens up a constructive conversation rather than initiating a cyber war.

First, all these movements are what JMG would call "captive to the religion of Progress", or more precisely to the technological branch of that religion. They have a machine fetish typical of ROP, and I'll refer to them as "the machine fetishists". There are several questions that need to be asked relative to using a high tech machine to do the job that a human plus a tool could do:
1. Can the machine be built, run and maintained on purely local (solar, wind) energy?
2. Can the machine be built, run and maintained on purely local materials?
3.  Would allowing machines to accomplish a task that could be accomplished by humans with simpler tools produce more employment? More creativity? More satisfaction?

I think that the machine fetishists will answer all these questions in the negative if they are honest.

1. The energy from sunlight and wind is too diffuse to get a net gain of energy, once the costs of producing and maintaining solar panels (or wind turbines), batteries (and/or grids) and associated electronics are taken into account. It has been possible so far because petroleum is so energy dense, but it took a long time to store that much sunlight in such a small volume, and petroleum not only is becoming too expensive due to peaking production, but is non-local in most parts and has all the problems associated with importing global materials.
2. Most of these machines are using Computer Numerical Control (CNC) which demands an incredibly complex, capital, materials and energy intensive technology.  I don't see a way to localize the materials necessary to make computers.
3.  If we get beyond the beliefs that newer is always better, that manual labor is degrading and does not involve intelligence, that efficiency is everything (all standard beliefs in the Credo of Progress, see: http://culturalspeciation.blogspot.com/2013/08/credo-of-religion-of-progress.html) , then we can begin to see the advantages of agrarian and craft work over machine work. A machine operator has much less creativity than a crafsman in his work. This is more debatable with an engineer or designer, but engineers and designers are not needed in even a minor way in the scenario of the GVCS once the 50 machines are built. Even if there was room for a few engineers, it is a far cry from the full employment available with just farmers and craftspeople using human scale tools.

Perhaps the machine fetishists will say that there will be full employment, but not with making basic needs--that would be left to the machines. They might say that there would be more artists, entertainers and scientists.  I doubt this could happen because of questions 1 and 2, but even if it could, I don't think it is a desireable state of affairs. I think doing the work that connects us with nature and our basic needs, also connects us with our fellow humans and builds character and keeps us humble. Intentional communities where people do not share an economy of basic goods and services, do not become centers of enlightened scholarship and art with strong community bonds. They either become places of boredom and bickering (standard ICs), or cut-throat competition for status and grants (standard academia).

The other problem that is not considered by the machine fetishists is the fact that acquiring land with enough resources to produce one's basic needs is still too prohibitively expensive for most people and this won't be solved by machines.

In effect, what the open source movement is saying is that the only problem with the industrial mode of production is that it concentrates the means of production in the hands of a few wealthy individuals and the way to fix that is to distribute the means of production to everyone. But as I show above, this ignores a bunch of other important problems. The fate of the open source movement is probably the same as that of all other society bettering movements that did not get to root memes: it will be coopted by the present socio-economic system with 3D printers cranking out extravagant consumerist doo-dads, land and resources being concentrated in the hands of a few, community and family no better than they are now.

It would be presumptuous of me to outright condemn this movement, but I think my concerns are addressed better in a return to agrarianism and craftsmanship, perhaps with a few modern technological additions.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Credo of the Religion of Progress

This post is an attempt to summarize some ideas discussed in JMG's blog. He was probably not the first one to say these things. Wendell Berry and others may have said them before him.

The ROP is the most popular civil religion of our times. It is non theistic, although Progress has some characteristics usually attributable to gods. Both conservatives and liberals embrace this religion, conservatives focusing on the economic aspects and liberals on the technological and moral aspects. Liberals refer to those who are not believers as "regressive" or "backward", and to themselves as "progressive".

Here are the tenets of the ROP. These seem to be common to most practitioners, but there might be variant credos. It is good to become aware of unstated beliefs and it is even better to come up with alternatives. But if the alternatives are just opposites of the original tenets, it becomes an "anti-religion", which is still within the framework of the old religion. Examples are Satanism-Christianity, Communism-Objectivism, and ROP-Primitivism or Apocalypticism. I'll work on an alternative credo, which is not within the framework of the ROP soon.
1. Science keeps improving our knowledge of the world and all that came before science (or offered as an alternative way of knowledge) is inferior (superstitious, ignorant, etc). 
2. Industrial technology is an improvement over other technologies that preceded it because it is more efficient, and hence saves labor and increases comfort, health and creativity (other things don't really matter, and the creativity of the small scale farmer and artisan is quaint, but not of much significance). Manual labor is degrading and requires almost no intelligence. Energy and material availability needed to support industrial technology keep increasing. Finiteness of energy or material resources will be transcended because "they'll think of something", or they'll be a "singularity" (akin to the Christian Rapture).

3. Centralization is a good thing. To make it work we need hierarchies. 

Corolaries from 1, 2 and 3:
A The priests of ROP are scientists, engineers and doctors, aka experts. Experts know more than average people in their field of expertise, and should always be followed. If it doesn't ring true, it's because you aren't smart enough, not because the expert is wrong, or their model is wrong. Experts are required for every daily activity, even if you think you know how to do it. Eg, you should consult experts for childbirth, child-rearing advice, breastfeeding advice (unless you're really progressive and use formula), relationship advice, etc. (Please ignore the fact that humankind has been birthing, feeding, raising children for centuries without said experts)

B. Every "problem" has a technology solution. Eg, small boys fidgeting in school has nothing to do with being young and energetic, or lack of sufficient time at recess, or any problems in the home life. It can and should be easily solved with an attention-deficit pill.

C. The full force of gov't can and should be used to enforce progress to improve the world, and guided by experts, despite the protests of any group or individual.

4. Progress is not only good and inevitable but logical and rational.
D. The experts who are guiding progress are therefore logical and rational (like Spock), and devoid of any personal motivations like greed, envy, lust, cover-your-derierre defensiveness, etc. 
E. Anyone who opposes progress is irrational and emotional and cannot be trusted to make informed decisions. Any criticism of experts can be safely ignored.
5. We can't go back to either a religious worldview or a pre-industrial one because they are "regressive" (less leisure time, more disease, shorter lifespan, harder labor, and other demonizations), and there is nothing that will come after science and industrial technology unless it is barbarism.
6. Economic wealth keeps increasing and will continue to do so.
Corollary to 6:
F: The highest and best use of real property is that use which will generate the most profit.
7. We become morally better (freer, more loving, more altruistic) people as time progresses. Society keeps improving on the moral front. There is an inevitability about this just like in the case of technologies. This is a favorite of new agey types, who frame it in therms of evolution, whereas biological evolution has nothing to do with progress.

8. The opponents of progress will inevitably be defeated, as they have been in the past by the heroes of progress.
9. Things must always be improved. If things are not getting better (staying the same or "slipping back") then this is a failure and a problem. We need a permanent avant garde.

The ROP has apologists to assure its believers that everything is alright. They will tell you that lifespan has increased, that education, leisure time, medicine, economic welfare have all progressed. They ignore the relatively high lifespan of peasants who were not engaged in warfare or the effect of medieval city slums on sanitation and lifespan, or the effect of war on, say, Iraqui lifespan. They ignore the fact that most moderns only know a bit about their specialty and a few abstract things but not about how to live a sane, sustainable life. They ignore the fact that most moderns no longer have much leisure time, and those who do do not know what to do with it, feeling stress, alienation and meaninglessness, whereas most medieval peasants and hunter gatherers had plenty of leisure time. They ignore the fact that new diseases have cropped up as a direct result of the kind of life that industrial production/consumption promotes, and that a stupendous amount of non-renewable resources that will not be available to our descendants are used to prolong miserable lives in old age. They ignore the fact that economic wealth is mostly concentrated in the west, that it is mostly a result of a finite bubble of petroleum that has peaked, and that family, community, connection to nature and ability of small groups to produce their needs provides another kind of wealth that might be more valuable. They ignore these things even when presented with concrete evidence to the contrary, as in a living, existing village where people are much happier in a pre-industrial setting such as the Possibility Alliance. This is one reaction to cognitive dissonance, to just ignore, to not even see something that doesn't fit one's religious narrative.

I used to believe in the ROP. Most people still believe in it though they are not even aware of it as a religion (which besides having faith-based beliefs that motivate people, also has rituals, and an anti-religion where the good is inverted to be bad, and the bad is inverted to be good). I suppose I still believe in a modified form of #7: I'd like to think that individual humans can become more loving and increase in other virtues, and that during certain times there could be more humans who are virtuous than at other times. But I don't think that virtue has to increase, and that at certain times it might actually decrease. I don't believe in the perverted view of evolutionary theory that sees evolution as leading to more morally evolved humans.

The problem with the ROP is not that it isn't true. It is as true as any other religion, but it isn't adaptive at this point in history. It increased human misery. Of course there are scientific and technological developments and some of them help some people (e.g. anti-biotics). But every culture does some things better and some things worse. To believe that our western culture is at the pinnacle of evolution and that the goal of life is to control nature is not only hubris, but it prevents us from seeing better ways of living in this world.

Attempt at formulating an alternative (Luddite, or maybe just Iuval's) Credo:
1. The universe is not always deterministic. Free will exists.
2. Matter exists concomitant with Spirit. Spirit has qualities like information, love, creativity, spontaneity and fundamental unpredictability.
3. The equations of Physics and abstract math are spiritual, non-material.
4. Humans can live well on the earth with much less material goods, and much more spiritual ones: love, freedom, deep relationships, scholarship, music, art, play, dance, engineering of simple tools.
5. The material world is good to engage with when it doesn't take over our minds and hearts, but when it places us in relationship with nature and each other.
6. Sometimes mistakes can be made in the collective choices of a society, or the powerful elites of that society which then become the choices of most others in that society. For example the choice to adopt industrialization which placed efficiency and comfort above all else. Newer is not always better. Efficiency is not everything.
7. Local economics is better for the planet and most people's souls than global economics. The particular form (socialist, free market, gift or other) would naturally vary from place to place, from soul to soul.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Justice for Divorced Fathers in Empire

This is an essay exploring the nature of injustice in a particular case which is used to illuminate general principles. I write this as a story that has burdened me by not telling it. There are three tendencies that I have, which I may share with some of you. First there is a tendency in males of our culture to endure and suffer which I am trying to overcome. This is my psychological motive, through writing, to heal. If at times, dear reader, it seems as if I am whining or complaining, please know that this is furthest from my intentions and the fear of seeming to do that has kept me from telling this story. There is another tendency which I have overcome, which is to not believe an injustice is happening until it happens to me in an obvious way. I have always stayed away from politics because I would rather take positive steps in my own life to correct situations and offer alternatives than complain about them. Politics is a dirty business that corrupts the soul, and very few are able to engage in it without a severe toll to their soul. I am probably no exception to this, but I decided that not to act is at this point more damaging than to act. The third tendency which I have overcome is to only want to engage in politics when I have a personal stake in it. I don't have a personal stake in what has happened anymore (except my relationship with my son), but I do feel a responsibility to the hundreds of thousands or millions of divorced dads who are still suffering from an injustice, and the ones who are not with us anymore because they have taken their lives, unable to endure this suffering. Then there are the millions of children (including my dear son) who suffered and still suffer from a system that pits their parents against each other and severely punishes the losers, usually the dads. I hope for a better way for future children and that healing can happen for those who have been hurt. I also have some hopes that by becoming engaged in the political process, that more justice can be had in the future for those who have not been married yet. I offer suggestions of how this could happen in the conclusion.

Before data can be gathered, it must be seen, or at least the possibility of it must be seen. The biggest obstacle to seeing new data, is preconceived ideas about what is. I've had several objections to my conclusions based on preconceived ideas:
First, people think that my case is unique and not indicative of a general trend. This case is not unique. The first version of the uniqueness hypothesis is that my ex wife is a psycho and most ex-wives aren't. My ex wife is not a psycho, despite having done some terrible things to my son. The second version of the uniqueness hypothesis is that my case is unique because otherwise some things we believe to be true, like white male privilege, come into question. Because men (particularly white men) have been in a position of power, the main recipients of the benefits of Empire for a long time, it is hard to see why that would have changed, and so my case must be an aberration. There are things that are unique about my case, but there is a commonality with millions of other cases (based on the statistics that 85-95% of divorces award primary custody to the moms (there was a time when it was about 100%, not so long ago), that there are about 7 divorces for every 1000 people per year, and about 300 million people in the US). That commonality is a systemic discrimination against divorced fathers. When the feminists pointed out oppression and injustice against women, it was at first only evident to the women who could feel this oppression from personal experience. Many people at first did not see this oppression. Many people ridiculed and discounted the experience of women who insisted that they are being oppressed because it was a cognitive dissonance for them. I am sure they pointed to more obvious or “bigger” injustices in their ridicule, such as: “you think you have it bad, look at (insert the slum dwellers, the factory workers, the native people, etc)”. The same phenomenon of cognitive dissonance and consequent ridicule and discounting of experience must have happened with slaves who wanted freedom or blacks who wanted equal opportunity and treatment during Jim Crow days. In those cases, it was not fashionable to ask for statistics to prove that women, slaves or blacks were being persecuted. After the initial resistance, most people could start seeing oppression where before it was invisible. But now, either because people only see each other through the media or statistics, or because of the fashion of backing up claims with statistics, it is important to provide statistics. This I am gathering and will keep updating this essay with statistics, but hope to make an appeal to the heart, not just the mind. How can you know only based on statistics? If I show you statistics that 85% of custody ends up with moms you could claim that most dads don't want primary custody and they like working jobs that rob them of their humanity in order to to pay most of their money to their ex wives (a bit of sarcasm inserted). You will need to see data showing a high percentage of custody going to moms in contested cases, but then you could come up with another objection. It is a moving target. Just listen to the stories. You will not see this injustice with your mind alone, you must open your heart.

Second, people think that if someone complains of discrimination against men, then they must dislike women in some way and hence shut off their ears or eyes from that source of data. Let me dispel this right away in saying that I consider myself a feminist, in the simple sense that I want people to be treated well and justly regardless of their gender. I have no beef with women, even my ex wife. There may be men in the Men's Rights movement who see feminism as the enemy, but I am not one of them.

Third, people may shut off when they are confronted with their own hypocricy, in this case in the form of a double standard. If you believe in biological determinism, then you can't both object to or be offended by the claim that most women are selecting for power (in whatever form, whether status, money, or both) in their mates, and condemn fathers who want equal custody. You should also condone rape, given the way reproduction happens in our closest primate relatives and the nature of testosterone. If you don't believe in biological determinism (I don't-I think we have souls), then don't make claims about how women are naturally better parents. Females being the primary care givers to infants in some primate species is no indicator of what humans can and want to do (maybe we can say that since men don't have the capacity to nurse, that mothers need to be with their infants a large portion of the time, but we can't generalize beyond infancy). If you use the biological analogy to justify courts automatically awarding primary custody to women, then you can't be offended if someone points out a pattern of women selecting for power in their mates, since that is also a biological analogy with some of our primate ancestors. You must also not have any ambitions for women beyond child rearing and nest building in that case. I happen to not believe in biological determinism. I see other forces at work in the human being, including cultural and spiritual. It grieves me to see people of both genders behaving in biologically deterministic ways, whether it be men selecting for mates on the basis of beauty or child-rearing capacity alone, or women selecting for mates on the basis of power alone. It grieves me when a judge or a lawyer believes it is “in the best interest of the child” to be primarily with his mom, just because of a biological determinism bias, because they think women are better parents in general. Where are the studies showing this? On the contrary, if men are given a chance, they do quite well either partnering in child rearing, or being the primary care giver, as modern trends show. I make the claim that most women (in my experience and some other men I know) select for power in their mates, not because I like that state of affairs (who knows how accurate that statement is), but because I want to shock liberals into thinking about how we can start acting like humans with free will, rather than chimpanzees or preying mantises following a biological script.

Fourth, it is true that sometimes people use “oppression” as an excuse to avoid looking at their responsibilities in a matter. To distinguish when this happens vs when people are genuinely being oppressed is everyone's task. It helps to keep an open mind and really listen to the person claiming to be oppressed. Make a judgement, ridicule or discount only after you listen to their story, and not before. I am sure that there are worse oppressions and it is no fun being an average poor black woman, but that doesn't discount the common experience of divorced dads.

Last, there is the idea that the present injustice against divorced dads is but a correction to the past injustice against divorced moms, an overcompensation, or an overshoot of the pendulum, as it were. Be that as it may, the injustice will not get corrected on its own. It is up to us. It seems to be true that many moms found themselves in a bad position to be able to support not only themselves but their kids in the days when moms worked at home and that some dads did not care as much as they should have about their ex-wives and kids, and so acccording to the pendulum overshoot theory, the present  laws and attitudes of judges are based on those days. But things have mostly changed, and the system is still treating fathers like ATMs and giving custody mostly to mothers even when mothers are making more money than the fathers. Many times allegations of spousal abuse or child abuse are aimed at fathers and apparently these allegations are enough to award custody to mothers and deprive fathers of visitation, even without substantial evidence. The data has shown that women instigate violence at least as often as men in domestic relationships, and so this is just another instance of crass discrimination against fathers. The problem with the pendulum overshoot theory is that it assumes that a centralized justice system will eventually reach justice, that the pendulum will find a just equilibrium. I don't believe this to be the case, as I try to show below.

General Injustice with historical examples.
Free will and potential
There is a belief that justice means equality and therefore injustice means inequality. But humans are naturally far from equal, physically, psychologically, geographically, historically. Closer to the truth is the assertion that justice means equal opportunity. But here again we see a problem with this definition when we try to apply it ad absurdum, for example to animals. We can say that justice (not to be confused with humane treatment) should apply only to humans, but let's dig deeper and find out the unique feature of humans that should make justice uniquely applicable to them. It seems to me that this feature is free will, the ability to make choices based on one's unique abilities, gifts, constitution and vision. Though different individuals can be subject to different historical and geographical circumstances, justice consists of allowing their unique free will to flourish, and injustice consists in trying to inhibit that free will, to harness it to someone else's will or to a social or biological purpose. We do not complain of injustice when the female preying mantis eats the male's head after copulation. There is no free will involved there, just a biological script. If you don't believe that free will exists for humans, then skip this essay, as there is no meaning to justice or any ethical concept for you.

Even if the male preying mantis had free will and wanted to sacrifice his life for his mate, it would not be an injustice. Only if the mantis male was forced by the female or some external force to himself to let the female eat his brain would we consider it an injustice, though a weak one, since a male preying mantis has not much potential for doing anything else. So it is a combination of limiting both will and potential that can rightly be called injustice. Let's see if this definition works for human societies. If we have a slave in antiquity or ante-bellum US who is discontent with his station in life, we would cry injustice. Both his will and potential are being stifled. It is a bit tricker if the slave is content with his station. In that case his free will is not stifled, though his potential might be. I would argue that this is not unjust. What about women in a patriarchal society who are expected to fulfill certain roles such as making and caring for babies, providing sex for their husbands and performing domestic chores? Again, if the women are discontent with their roles, we cry injustice. But if they are content, then we must respect their choice and not consider it an injustice, unless information about different ways of doing things is withheld from them. This applies equally well to islamist societies as western ones. It is only when women became aware that they have choices that are being repressed by their societies that the feminist injustice was born. Neither pre nor post-feminism, was there a problem with women who chose to be housewives and mothers. Whether women have a natural biological propensity in that direction is irrelevant to whether an injustice occurs when a woman is forced to be a housewife and/or mother against her will.
But what if a woman is a mother and she does not want to care for her baby? This is where the concept of responsibility comes in, which unlike the concept of justice, goes beyond individual free will and potential into the area of human relationships. A mother is responsible for taking care of her child. Why? Because by not taking care of the child (at least in a non-tribal society) she takes away from the potential of the child. Someone could have chosen something that is no longer possible because of an irresponsible action. We are limiting their free will (the case of a young baby is special because one might argue the baby has no free will) and their potential and thus committing an injustice against the other person. It is important to pay attention to this (so far negative, but see below) definition, instead of using responsibility as a cold prickly word designed to club someone into submission or make them feel bad. Also, responsibility involves an active sense of debt to someone that by entering into a certain agreement such as parenthood or marriage, one has to actively care for the well being of a child or a spouse. Sometimes one may choose to trade off one's potential in order to be responsible to someone else. This is not an injustice as it done with free will. An injustice occurs when one person or group has a different idea of what a particular responsibility involves than another person, and tries to limit that person's will or potential based on their idea. For example if a society believes that a wife's responsibility to her husband involves providing sex any time he is in the mood, regardless of how he treats her or how she feels, and the wife has a different idea about her responsibility regarding sex, and if the wife is coerced to society's idea of responsibility, or fears punishment if she doesn't go along, that is an injustice. Both her free will and potential are limited in ways she didn't sign up for with her understanding of the responsibilities of marriage. Similarly, if a wife is forced to get married (knowing full well what society expects of her regarding her marital responsibilities) or blackmailed into it, that is an injustice. If a mother wants to share parenting with her husband and devote some of her time to her spiritual growth, to social activism, or a career but society thinks that motherhood means sacrificing all her time to her children and husband and takes punitive measures against her, that is using responsibility as a surrogate for injustice.

Another example of responsibility being used as a surrogate for injustice because of different understandings is taxation without representation. The British government understood the colonists responsibility to be paying taxes. But the colonists understood that if they pay taxes their concerns would be taken into account by the government. The government tried to use coercion to enforce its idea of responsibility, thus committing an injustice.

Natural vs forced responsibility
Before culturally defined responsibility, there are biological dependencies that have hormonal and other instinctual supports for their enforcement. We can call these natural responsibilities such as parents have for their children or mates towards each other. In addition to biologically-motivated natural responsibility, there is natural responsibility based on love. When one loves someone, one naturally wants to help them and one feels responsible to that person. Our culture often assumes that individuals are not capable of choosing to be responsible out of love or can be motivated by natural responsibility, but must be coerced into responsibility. As I explained above, this involves an injustice, by limiting a person's free will and potential.

When responsibility is based on free will, natural biological tendencies and love, it can be a beautiful thing. When it is based on coercion, fear, or blackmail, it is an injustice.

One can act in ways that open one up to injustice from empire. Sometimes this is a tactical mistake, and sometimes not. It does not mitigate the injustice to claim that choosing to challenge empire was done with one's free will. One can take partial responsibility for being crucified, but that does not make the crucifixion less of an injustice. The meme network of empire encourages people to seek money and power and crucify those who oppose these, but individual people can always choose a different way. A positive definition of responsibility then (as opposed to being the opposite of the negative definition in terms of irresponsibility) is seeing and attempting to understand how one contributes or has contributed to any system or event, as opposed to merely blaming others or the circumstances, or abstractions like empire. We can call this personal responsibility.

Double standard
The examples above of injustices against wives and mothers may seem obvious to us now, but they weren't before feminism. Feminism exposed a double standard—women were much more limited in their choices and potential than men and many women didn't like it. Just as important, feminism affirmed the humanist claim that people have value beyond their social roles and responsibilities; that a mother could also choose to have a career and explore her spirituality. Or that a woman need not marry or have children to be a happy, valuable and productive human being

The double standard I want to talk about though, is a more modern one. This one assumes that husbands are only or primarily valuable as providers of money for their wives, ex-wives and children; that men are not equally capable as women in raising and taking care of children, and hence are usually not awarded even partial custody; that husbands are not naturally responsible to their children, wives and even ex-wives, and must be coerced into that responsibility; and that the responsibility of being a father is to maximize his income. If he is divorced, his responsibility is to maximize his income and give it to his ex-wife, regardless of how much he is allowed to contribute to the upbringing of his child. By the criteria above, this is an injustice not only towards divorced fathers, but also their children, who are limited in their potential for a father who can give of himself with love to his child, with other things besides money. It is also an injustice towards the divorced mothers, whose relationship to their ex-husbands becomes adversarial instead of loving and supportive. But first and foremost, the brunt of the injustice is against divorced fathers.

We might understand this injustice based on the history of some fathers who abandoned their children and partners without offering financial or other assistance (the so-called “deadbeat dads”). I am somehow skeptical of this narrative (given the fact of natural responsibility, and the nuance of real life as opposed to abstract categories of people, and the assumption that only dads are capable of not caring enough about their children and moms are always perfect), but let us concede that there might be at least some truth to it and that the court system is acting in an un-nuanced way to right a past or even present injustice towards women and children. Then, as we have heard before, two wrongs do not make a right. It is an injustice for men to view women as means to sexual ends and to not participate fully in the upbringing of their children. It is an injustice for divorced dads to not be concerned with the welfare of their ex-wives and to provide assistance to their ex-wives, especially if the ex-wives have not been in the job market for a while. But these injustices do not cancel the injustice of treating the dads like meal tickets, money trees, ATM machines or male preying mantises, and not being concerned with their welfare as well. We can attempt to make laws which are more humane towards divorced dads, but if the consciousness of most people remains the same, thinking of divorced dads as described above, the laws won't help and may in fact make things worse. We have to start really caring about each other (and all life), more than we care about money and power. We have to start thinking not only what we want, or what we feel entitled to, but what other people want and need and how what we want affects others and all of life.

To understand why the courts and everyone else would pick on divorced dads, we need to delve deeper into the system of which they are a part, that is motivating their narrative.

The Consciousness of Empires
You've sown the worst fear, that can ever be sown, fear to bring children into the world”-Bob Dylan from Masters of War.

The injustice against divorced fathers precedes laws. The laws are unjust because the consciousness of the people creating the laws is unjust. To change the laws, we must first change the consciousness. I expect it to be a long, drawn-out battle, just like the feminists had to face, with no guaranteed victory for justice. Also, there are vested powers who benefit from the injustice against divorced fathers, first and foremost is the family court system. It could have benefited from imposing an injustice against divorced mothers too, but it is more acceptable to oppress fathers in the present social consciousness that sees white men as the oppressors. The lawyers and judges benefit from the adversarial system. They would not benefit if the default was equal custody and taking care of the child by each parent to the best of their ability, in financial, spiritual, and psychological ways. Because men are more likely to take punishment stoically, they are a better candidate for the kind of streamlined, efficient, one-size-fits-all system that all burocrats (e.g. judges) like. It is true that many mothers have devoted their lives and work to being a mother and home maker, and are not in a good position to get as good of a job after divorcing as their husbands. It is just in those cases for the dads to help the moms to the best of their ability, without trashing their own lives. But justice can't be achieved when there are winners and losers. It has to be a win-win situation, and this is not how the judicial system is set up right now.

It is not only because there are vested interests who benefit, that oppression of divorced fathers is so widely practiced and accepted. In a culture where money and power are sought after and worshiped as gods, it is no surprise that the value of a father is measured by his child support payment and earning potential. It is no surprise that thousands of divorced fathers are saddled with unpayable debt, because debt is a good way to control people. Also, just like periphery states are seen by empires as tools for the enrichment of the empire with no purpose of their own, divorced dads are seen as tools for the family court system and the moms with no purpose of their own. The goal of empires such as present day US is the accumulation of power/control over other life and the net flow of wealth from the subjugated to the subjugating. If it were as simple as the 99% model that the Occupy movement made popular, the US empire would have collapsed long ago. In this empire, everybody tries to get a leg up over everybody else, and oppression is ubiquitous and sometimes unnoticed. From time to time resistance to that power comes from individuals and groups who want love and freedom to flourish (such as the early feminists). Empire furthers its goal with money, laws, centralized government, debt, prisons, a strong military/police, an attitude of getting a leg up over everyone else, and two more that we'll talk about below. Human beings further love and life with heroic acts of resistance, with song, with compelling writing, with random acts of service and kindness.

Why has Empire decided to pick on males now? I can think of 3 reasons. First, because males in the west are trained to be stoic and not complain or protest, it makes them easy targets. Second, there is an opportunity now to pick on white males, as they have been blamed for some of past mass oppressions. It has become the fashion du jour. Third, empires use the strategy of divide and conquer not only abroad to extract wealth from periphery states, but internally. This is a two faceted strategy. First, it makes the local populations easier to control if they fight and fear each other, than if they unite against the empire. Second, the empire has a protectionist racket, allowing it to extract tribute in exchange for supposed protection from the scapegoats. In roman times it was the barbarian hordes. The British empire “protected” the Palestinians from the Israelis and vise versa, the Hindus from the Muslims, etc. The US empire has already picked on blacks, Hispanics, moms, gays, Jews, Muslims, Irish, etc., so it isn't personal with divorced dads, just currently convenient. But note that the US empire doesn't pick on all dads, just those who challenge the status quo. The good boy (i.e. the ones who go by the rules of empire) white male married dads or single males get privileges. The courts have a protectionist racket, supposedly protecting divorced moms and children from those barbarian hordes of Deadbeat Dads.

Empire, as I define it, is not only a social and economic institution, but a meme network which exists in most people's minds (who are living in the social, political and economic empire), with the main memes being money and power over others/control. The main challenges to the meme network have come from Jesus, Gandhi and MLK, trying to substitute gift economy/individual freedom and loving relationship for money and power.

Having children could be a joyful affirmation of life, but in this empire it has become at least partially a sort of self-imposed, gritted teeth doom for parents. There is no middle ground between the total selfishness that is promoted for non-parents and the total self-sacrifice that parents are expected to perform. It is really another sort of selfishness, except family-centered instead of individual-centered. Love cannot flourish this way. Parents need to love their children AND themselves and if they are not too burdened financially, they may even be able to love other people and even nature and animals and Life itself.

I will now tell my personal story, as an illustration of the general principles explained above.

Love and Punishment
Marriage and Divorce
I married my ex-wife because I loved certain things about her. But she did not understand that scholarship and contemplation were important to me and became more materialistic as time went on. She started expecting me to just be her servant and make money. She became violent when I disobeyed her or had my own needs. I thought (erroneously) that having a child would make things better for us. I was reluctant when we had our first baby, because I was not ready. That baby was miscarried. But by the time we were pregnant again I was ready and looking forward to raising a child. After spending a year in Austin, (where I worked at Motorola as a semiconductor engineer) my ex found a job in ATL, left and asked for a divorce. I started the divorce proceedings but she was adamant that she wanted most of our assets (two houses and a car and all the money she had saved while we were married) and 5% of the sale price of the house I paid for with my own money and labor. I met a woman whom I fell in love with and wanted to follow her to NC, but I needed to sell my house, since I had to (and wanted to—see below) quit my job in Austin and needed the money. I also wanted to pursue a passion I had developed to study and do research in biological aging. The divorce was a prerequisite for all that, and so it became a way to blackmail me to my ex-wife's unjust terms. My lawyer warned me that if I got a lower paying job I would still have to pay the same child support payment because the courts do not approve of fathers decreasing their income for personal reasons. I would have liked to raise my son with at least partial custody, but she threatened to use the fact that I believed in polyamory as an enlightened ideal (though didn't practice it because my ex-wife was not polyamorous) in court against me if I would try to gain partial custody of my son. I talked to a few lawyers who all advised me against it. So I was forced into a divorce agreement that was unjust to me and to my son. This was the first major injustice, but more were to come.

Child Support and Neglect
I felt bad for my son that he should be raised by a woman who was full of anger and violence and a culture I did not like but felt powerless to stop it. My son did not choose to leave me, but was forced to by his mom and the legal system. At least I was allowed to spend time with him on some holidays and part of summer vacations. I suggested to my new wife that we move to ATL to be closer to him, but she did not want to do this for several reasons. It would have been difficult to find jobs for both of us in ATL. I was working at UNC as a molecular biologist researcher, and she was working at the EPA doing research on the impact of climate change on the economy. It worked out OK for a few years while we were married, and my son appreciated her as a sane step mother. But after we got divorced (she left for greener pastures) he was badly hurt and his relationship with his own mother got worse. One day I came back home to find a pathetic message on the answering machine (this was when I decided to get a cell phone) from him describing how his mother beat him to a pulp, kicking him while he was crying on the ground. I called the school and asked the nurse to make sure he was OK, and the school called the child protective services. His mom was upset with both of us, but she never beat him again. He had told me a few times before when she beat him, but it never sounded as severe as this last time. I had kept a log of it and recorded the message he left.

My ex-wife was making a decent income and my parents were helping pay for my son's private school, so I didn't think she needed $1000/month from me but I continued to pay it for 10 years even though my job at UNC payed an average of only about 30K/year, and after that I either made no money, or less than $12K/year. I was making about $70K/year while I worked at Motorola.

Attempts to Make Things Better
I left my UNC job because I wanted to figure out how to create a better life, for me, for my son and for other people who wanted an alternative. I became convinced that a better world was possible through the efforts of people in intentional communities and wanted to add my talents and energies to this effort. Part of the problem was the choice people often had to make between their work and their families, or their families and their community. It seemed to me that it would be saner to have the kind of work that families and communities can do together, at least in the same place, if not actually the same work, and that this would also synergize with common recreation. The feminist ideal of parents being able to be whole human beings was just not possible in the present socio-economic situation where work is abstract, done away from home and community, and fragmented. It seemed to me that work can bring us closer to nature instead of alienating us from it and making it convenient for us to destroy it. Another problem was the gross imbalance in resource use between the first and third worlds and the terrible working conditions of the people who made our stuff for us. (Eventually I came to the conclusion that the industrial revolution was largely a mistake, and that craft and agrarian-based work would solve many of these problems, but that is another story). The problems of the comfortable life I had shared with my second wife became clear and I wanted to do something about it.

I had sold my house at a loss and paid a bunch of money to my second wife just because we had made an agreement that she would accrue equity by living in the house I bought (rent free). She contributed 2K. I contributed 198K. I paid her 13K after she lived in the house for 4 years. Our agreement also involved her sharing any potential loss with me on selling the house. I sold the house at a loss of about 8K but she did not want to honor that agreement. I did not want to make a fuss, especially since I still loved her dearly. She changed her mind later about staying together, but I could not trust her anymore. My experience with most heterosexual women I've had romantic relationship with in our culture is that they select for long-term mates based on their income and social status (power). This is not surprising either from a biological point of view or from a point of view of empires. Ever since I have chosen to dedicate myself to Life instead of money and power, I have not found a long-term mate. This seems to be a common experience among most men I know, and also agrees with the findings of sociologist and journalist Susan Faludi in her book Stiffed. This is not an injustice per say, just a sad state of affairs. The injustice occurs later as a consequence of this selection process, when couples get divorced. Then dads are forced to maximize their income which takes away both from their choices and potential, and even with no kids, men are treated like money bags. Before I broke up with a girlfriend whom I thought was going to stick around, I gave her $4K. After we broke up (because I prioritized my son over our relationship) she stole $5K from me.

I worked at starting a community with a couple in Florida for about a year. My son came to visit once and we took a memorable canoe trip down a local river, but he didn't like that I was sharing a house with what were strangers to him. I asked him if he wanted me to move to ATL or if he wanted to come live with me but he said no, because he knew I was doing something that was important to me. I told him that he could soon decide if he wanted to live with me.

The next summer he came with me to Mississippi and then we took a trip on my bus to an intentional community where there was no running water or electricity in most places. I had some electricity on my bus (solar panels) but he didn't like being there so much. He had to do agricultural work which he also didn't enjoy. The summer after that was even worse for him. He came to visit me at a community that was even more remote and primitive. I did take him to a rock festival which he enjoyed and to town for a week, but we started growing apart. After he got kicked out of his school for cheating, I cut down my child support to 500/month both as a protest for the way my ex wife was raising him, and because she started sending him to a public school and didn't need as much money. Even before she sent him to a public school, she didn't need as much money because she was making a lot of money and my parents were helping her. From the point of view of the legal system, I was not fulfilling my divorce agreement and was being irresponsible. But we've already established that contracts which are made under blackmail are injustices and do not reflect any irresponsibility when they are broken. My ex wife protested but her affluent lifestyle was unaffected.

The next summer I wanted to give him my car but his mom vetoed that idea. I visited him for a few days, but he was not much into being with me. My search for an intentional community seemed to come to an end when I found the Possibility Alliance in Missouri. I was ready to settle down there but he called me and asked me to come help him after a stranger held him down in the car sear, yelled at him in tongues for 10 minutes, interspersed with calling him the spawn of the devil and spitting at him, while his mom watched consensually. I came to ATL as soon as I could and started spending two days a week with him, mostly tutoring him in math and physics but also just finding out what was important to him and trying to instill my values. His mom apologized for the incident with the stranger, but said that it was only 5 minutes and that he had been rude to her beforehand, as if that was an excuse. If the same incident had happened to a woman, it would come awfully close to being considered rape, because rape is more about power than sex. Perhaps this is not a fair comparison, but my son said it was the worse experience of his life.

I was living on my bus when I first got to ATL, in my friend's back yard. I first tried to find housing next to my son, but gave up, due to price and unacceptable middle class unsustainable living conditions. I had gotten used to simple, environmental living, so I couldn't bear the thought of using flush toilets on a regular basis, having no space or permission to garden, using lots of coal and petroleum generated electricity, having no community, no good bike paths, no close public transportation, and paying a landlord's mortgage just because she owned something (a house in this case) and doing almost no work in order to provide me with all these things I didn't want or like. I found an ad on craigslist about starting an urban sustainability project and eventually bought a house with a group. We started a non profit and I donated the house (I donated a total of 95K, almost the rest of my savings) to it, while living in it with a few others. We worked hard to make it so that there would be no bills and we would grow much of our food. We installed solar panels, built chicken coops, goat sheds, planted lots of food, cleared kudzu, built efficient and low pollution wood burning heating and cooking stoves, a rain catchment and water distribution system, 3 water heating systems, an innovative environmental sanitation system. We had only taxes and a bit of grocery bills. I got a job for the little expenses I had, including my $500/month “child support” payment. The part-time job paid $1000/month and allowed me to spend time on the sustainability project. It wasn't an ideal job, but it paid the bills. Empire wants divorced dads to sacrifice everything in order to make money (supposedly to care for their children, but as I show below, this is bogus). Dads who care not only about their children, but about themselves and other things besides money are accused of being selfish (who cares if you like your job?). But as the feminists pointed out, it is possible for a human being to devote themselves to more than one thing, to care about themselves as well as their children (although this may be difficult or impossible under the current socio-economic conditions).

Injustice and Crucifixion
My son had a party at his mom's unused condo which she was trying to sell and the neighbors complained about the noise. She came down and everyone ran away. She confiscated their backpacks and threatened my son if he didn't reveal their names. He didn't and she kicked him out of the house. I brought him over to my house, which was not ready for him because there was still no source of heat. I borrowed a gas heater from one of the members who lived somewhere else, but it leaked and I only found out when my son became nauseous. I fixed it but he did not want to come back the next night and he stayed with a friend for the next few days. His mom called the police who escorted him back to her house. At that point we both agreed that I needed to gain custody of him. I hired a lawyer who turned out to be unhelpful (but nice). She advised me to stop paying child support (later she denied this) in order to expedite the hearing, which my ex-wife's lawyer kept postponing. He actually managed to get a new case started against me because I stopped paying child support and got it heard before my case. I got thrown in jail without being able to explain the situation and bailed out by one of my collaborators. This was another injustice, one that men are supposed to endure stoically.

I started paying "child support" again and that case got dismissed (and I got my bail money back). But a few days before MY case was heard, my son changed his mind, because his rugby coach advised him against staying with me, based on my hippie appearance. It would have been difficult for my son to commute to his old school from my house, and from conversations with him I suspected that his mom offered him a sweet deal if he stayed with her.

My son came to the hearing but was asked by the judge to sit outside. I was not allowed to present my log of the beatings by his mom. Her lawyer made me sound like a deadbeat dad who did not care about his son. He asked questions like “Is it true that your parents had to help your ex wife with my son's school fees and you didn't?” which was true but the fact was that I was paying 1K/month in child support, she was getting financial aid from the school and my parents were paying the rest, so she didn't have to pay much if anything at all. But I didn't have a chance to explain that. I could just answer yes or no, and I answered yes. He also brought up the incident with the gas heater, making it sound like I was irresponsible, whereas I did the best I could given the short notice after my ex wife kicked him out. He made it sound like I couldn't handle working at Motorola and that I chose a job as an assistant facilities manager at a low pay just to avoid paying child support, neglecting to mention the job I had as a molecular biologist after Motorola and how I had not only given up my career in science but also my savings to devote myself to a passion and a vision. He made it sound like I wouldn't be able to support my son, but in reality the 1K/month would have been plenty, especially if his mom would pay me a bit of child support. The judge ordered me to quit my job and get a higher paying one, in order to pay my ex 1K/month (there was only a year left till he was 18) and the money I owed her because a year earlier I started paying 500/month. She also brought up medical expenses that she either hadn't sent me or that I disagreed with (like the medically unnecessary but expensive orthodontics). I was also ordered to pay her lawyer's fee. My savings were already gone after paying my lawyer's fees. The total was about 25K and my monthly installments were set higher than my salary. My ex was making about 140K/year at that point. This shows that the courts are not concerned with the welfare of the children (financial or otherwise), but with enslaving and punishing divorced dads. The judge had privately told my lawyer that dads should have 3 full time jobs to take care of their children. My lawyer made no attempt to challenge any of the lies that her lawyer hurled at me, she didn't bring any money to pay the $40 that was due (I can't remember for what) at the hearing (I had to lend it to her), and she didn't rehearse with me any of the questions she was going to ask me like she said she was going to, which weren't very enlightening anyway. The transcript, which I got later, only contained the private discussion between the lawyers and the judge after the hearing. None of what was said during the hearing made it onto the transcript. It was more of a circus than a serious legal proceeding.

When my son had changed his mind, I saw all this coming and I was contemplating a hunger strike. I had heard of a few dads who did this or committed suicide and I wanted to bring attention to the discrimination and dehumanization of divorced dads. I decided against it based on realizing that this was not a cause that was ready to be understood by the mainstream and that my jailers would feed me intravenously, but my post on Facebook was seen by my son who told his mom, who told her lawyer, who used it against me to make me look like a lunatic. The whole proceeding felt to me like a crucifixion. This is not an isolated case. I think similar things have happened to thousands of divorced dads. From the point of view of empires, our responsibility to our children consists of maximizing our income (and hence minimizing the time we have for anything else) and giving about 20% of it to our ex wives. From our point of view our responsibility consists of caring for, loving and participating in the upbringing of our children. Money is a part of it, but not the only or major part. The fact that the courts can take away our choices and potential based on this different view of responsibility is an injustice, as explained previously.

My Personal Responsibility
Rudolf Steiner and others have noted that the opposite of an evil is not always good, but could be another evil, and good is often a balance between two evils. Perhaps in my life I have been too rash and ready to jump in too quickly into situations where more caution would have been better (at least for me personally). Perhaps I made some tactical mistakes in my external battle with empire and haven't dealt sufficiently with the imperial memes that I have internalized. I am trying to improve my reckless tendencies and fight the internal battle, not just the external one. I admit there were times when I wanted to annihilate people who were trying to control me or other divorced dads, projecting my own imperial memes onto them. Perhaps I should not have married my first wife, or at least not involved the state. Perhaps I should have been more patient before getting divorced from my first wife, in order to be with my second (future) wife and tried to negotiate a better divorce agreement. Perhaps I should have continued pay the $1000/month for another two years (till my son was 18), rather than cutting the payment in half when I did. Perhaps I should not have given the judge a discourse on the flaws of our educational system, which prompted a deputy to tell my lawyer that the judge was annoyed that I sounded smarter than him. I could have forgone the pleasure of speaking truth to power and my punishment could have been less severe. Perhaps I have been too idealistic and not practical enough. But I never stopped caring about my son, and I deserved to be treated like a human being. All divorced dads deserve that, and all children deserve to have their dads happy and fully in their lives.

A few days later, I bought my son a used car with my parents' money so he could get away from his mom if he needed to. He said it improved his life drastically. I had not had a car for a while by that point. I looked for some engineering jobs but there was nothing that I had a remote chance to get, or that was not nauseating to me. My parents paid off my ex, and as a result I did not end up in jail. I became depressed for about a year after that. A few months after the hearing, my main collaborator had an accident that left him brain damaged. A few days before his accident, he confided in me that he is lucky to not be making much money now, because if he were, his current wife might divorce him and sue him for child support, just like his ex wife had been doing, since he was a manager at a big company when he was married to her. I believe that his accident was partially caused by the stress he was feeling to pay an unjust debt to his ex-wife as well as to try to support the extravagant lifestyle his current wife demanded. Another collaborator was killed later in a motorcycle accident in front of my eyes and ears. The people who were left were not really understanding the original vision and I thought they were mostly freeloading, though perhaps that was not their perspective. My relationship with my son was broken. The friend with whom he had stayed after his mom kicked him out had died in a tragic accident. It didn't seem possible at the time to fix our relationship.

I have not been able to get back to the Possibility Alliance. They have refused me internships ever since. I had another heartbreak with a woman I fell in love with who changed her mind about getting married at the last moment, twice. I found an engineering job I could stomach, but I could not get into it when she didn't come with me to Seattle. It all just seemed meaningless. I wanted to serve a woman, my son and a vision, but there was nothing left, except my love and faith in life and wanting to have work that was consistent with these. I continued to seek work that contributed to life instead of empire, even when it didn't pay. I went to help some friends in Florida and was grateful for the opportunity to help them just with little acts of caretaking. I went to work as a caretaker, weaver and domestic helper at a community that served mentally handicapped people. I was able to help the community not just with the daily work, but in fixing a dysfunctional interpersonal situation. The community in Atlanta seems to be thriving. People think I should charge them rent, or try to sell that house, but I've arranged it so that this is impossible. The best payment to me is for them to thrive and show an alternative to empire. I am working on another sustainability/intentional community project, as well as trying to eke out a livelihood in the short term with work that I believe in. Things are going relatively well for me, but I cannot forget all the fathers who do not/did not have wealthy parents to rescue them, as I did. I cannot forget all the children who are estranged from their fathers and brought up in a culture that is absurd.

I mention these incidents not because they are injustices (they are not), or to elicit pity, but because none of this was important to the court the day of my crucifixion and probably thereafter. I know that none of these things that happened were caused by my decision to help my son instead of move to the Possibility Alliance, or by the hearing that felt like a crucifixion, but it sure feels like I have been punished by Empire for wanting to serve Life and my son.

It's here the family's broken, and it's here the lonely say, that the heart has got to open in a fundamental way, democracy is coming to the USA”-Leonard Cohen in Democracy.

I hope for healing in my life, for reconciliation with my son, for being able to love and serve a woman who does not treat me like a money bag, for working on the vision of the Possibility Alliance and my vision of local technology and local village economies. But I also hope for justice for all the fathers who are still treated like preying mantis males/ATMs and saddled with untenable debt while being torn from their children. Let us love and raise our children from the love that we feel from them, not from the money you think we should make. Let us be part of their upbringing and support. Do not assume that we can't do this because we are male. Let us spend loving time with them and teach them how to do the things that we love to do. Do not use labels such as “Deadbeat Dad” which are a way to avoid knowing real people, and serve only as a fear-producing, scapegoating abstraction. Find out the real circumstances that the supposed deadbeat dad has had to face, find out what they experience and feel before judging them. I have never met a Deadbeat Dad, a Greedy Jew, a Lazy Black person, a Welfare Mom, or any other abstract category of people. Real people are much more complex and humane and they are doing the best they can in an inhumane system of empire. Sure there are dads who are somewhat selfish, there are moms who milk the welfare system, etc, but underneath all that is a real human being who deserves to be seen as such and not treated like a category. I extend that reasoning to my ex-wife, to the judge and to the lawyer who nailed me. If I say they are only tools of Empire, I dehumanize them. They have internalized the meme network of empire, but they can also be kind and thoughtful and many other wonderful things. I harbor no bitterness towards any of them.

We are not tools for our mates and children. We are humans. The feminists brought to our attention the dehumanization of women that occurs when they are treated as tools, as social roles. Shouldn't we apply the same standards to men? We have a right to our own happiness. It does not make us irresponsible to care for our happiness as well as that of our mates and children, or to care about other life. Do not use a definition of responsibility which dehumanized us, and punish us because we have a different understanding of what our responsibility to our children is. This is a grave injustice, as explained above.

The court system makes an assumption that the best way to serve our children is with money. They have learned nothing from the damage inflicted by missing dads who just focus on making money. It is not enough for people to say that the court system is trying its best to deal with complex situations as best it can anymore than it was when Jim Crow or Apartheid laws existed. Either the court system stay out of family life (my preference), or it must stop being biased against dads and have a default of equal custody, even if a mom is opposed to it. Another possibility is to give people the choice of equal custody or primary custody, but without a financial incentive for the custodial parent—let the non-custodial parent decide what they want to pay. A fourth possibility is to localize justice with efforts like Restorative Circles, which put the power and responsibility in the community, not in the state or the individual and get away from an adversarial system which is by its nature unjust to the losers. For each situation, there is a sweet spot between global and local governance, and I believe that for family conflicts that can't be resolved within the family, that spot is the local community, whose power is harnessed in Restorative Circles. They can make decisions that fit individuals and families much better than the burocrats of the state, who can only think in terms of one size fits all, and generally are more concerned with their own job security than the well-being of families and individuals, as Kafka saw long ago. Local community members can take into account the real needs of the parties involved. In most cases I think dads would want to share custody, especially if it means they can take care of their children while being spared the injustice currently inflicted on them by the state. Another possibility is to avoid giving power to the state with a marriage commitment in the first place. If a couple makes a commitment to each other, they might be able to explicitly exclude the state from that agreement, though it might be tricky legally, as the state wants to insinuate itself even when it is not wanted. I don't really know what the solution is. I have proposed several possibilities, and maybe you have some other ideas. I do know the current system is hopelessly broken, not just failing in a few isolated cases.

The guy who wrote that being a white male is the easiest difficulty level IF life is like a video game whose goal is to make the most money is right, but what if one is a dad who gets divorced whose goal is to take care of himself and his children? Then one is severely punished, and being male is not a privilege. Similarly, if one is a revolutionary who has a different goal than that of empire (money and power) then one is severely punished and there is no advantage for being white or male. In fact, there is a selective disadvantage to being a white male who challenges empire, which in its latest manifestations has mostly served white males. Dare to step outside of white male privilege and challenge empire, and your memes and genes will be selected against. Your employment opportunities will be greatly diminished, you will be treated less respectfully by strangers, and most women who would have considered you a potential life partner will not be interested. No wonder most white males stick to their privileged position. There is no extrinsic reward or justice for challenging empire. If you don't play by the rules of empire, do not expect justice from it, unless it be the kind of “justice” given by bullies to thugs. I would like to think that divorced dads who are not challenging empire too much can be spared some injustice, but the structure of empire demands a scapegoat, and if it isn't divorced dads, it's going to be someone else. So while the external battle to spare divorced dads is important, equally important is the internal battle to cultivate a different kind of consciousness, one that values justice and is motivated by love.

Postscript, several years later: 

The movie The Red Pill came out, which documents the systemic nature of the oppressions of fathers in our times, and shows that this is far from an isolated case. Thanks Cassie Jaye for your courage and compassion in speaking truth to power and helping show what is going on--not just the statistics but the suffering and love.

The wage gap disparity that femists have used to bludgeon men has been debunked:

In a development that parallels the "buying" of Manhattan by the Dutch from the native americans (or other treaties between europeans and native americans), and the founding of Israel by people who wanted a safe haven for Jews (but disregarded the Palestinians who were there already), the community I founded in Atlanta , through deceit (documented here) and legal maneuvering, has managed to take over the board of trustees and exclude me and the other members of the original board, in order to pursue an "LGBT safe space", that apparently excludes straight men. There has been so far no support from the activist community in my wish to confront them with the pain I have experienced as a result, and an attempt to answer these questions:
1. Why do you feel entitled to take my life energy without consent?
2. Besides scale, how is this different than the history of colonialism and Empire?

Doing The Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City” (University of California Press; $29.95), by Edin and Nelson 

United States. Census Department. Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009. By Timothy S. Grall. Census, 2011. 05 Aug. 2012 [http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60240.pdf].


Martin S. Fiebert
Department of Psychology
California State University, Long Beach

Last updated: September 2008

SUMMARY: This bibliography examines 246 scholarly investigations: 187 empirical studies and 59 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 237,750.

And the research continues to show that men are battered and abused in equal, if not slightly greater numbers. The science is settled. What is NOT settled, is the agenda of profiteers in the domestic violence industry, where monetary and political profits lure them into denial of the truth.