Thursday, November 15, 2012

Musings on Marriages

I read this recent blog entry by my friend Rachel about the topic of marriage and I am left feeling uncomfortable with it. This is because what is said here about marriage simply does not seem true to me, it does not mesh with my experience of the whole thing. It seems to me that what is being talked about here is an old out-dated model for “marriage”, and hence as a result by default it seems to me that this argument presented has become somewhat of a straw-man argument. What bugs the most with this piece is that I see this attitude reflected here as being one that is common within a lot of radical circles.

Let me say a bit more about where I am coming from here... I grew up, like many people did, with this idea drilled into my head that getting married, having children, yadda yadda yadda, is what I and everyone else should do with their lives. But then also, at the same time that that message was being conveyed to me, I saw what real-life marriage looked like for people. For my mother’s parents it looked like my grand-mother being disabled and my grand-father being the care-giver as well as the money-maker. For my father’s parents it looked like the two of them living in two different parts of the country and never seeing each other. For my own parents it looked like the two of them hardly ever being in the same room at the same time and then ultimately getting divorced, and subsequently each of them having such very different memories of their marriage that it is hard to believe that they are both talking about the same thing. For my mother and step-father it looked like my mother working two jobs and my step-father doing whatever it was that he did. In other words, the images that mass media was giving me for how "marriage" was supposed to look like was not matching up with what real-life marriages looked like before my own eyes.

Also, as a child, I grew up seeing many many many of the people in my parents’ generation getting divorced. I mean, seriously, I saw *A LOT* of divorces! Aunts, uncles, people in the Baha’i religious communities that I grew up in, friends’ parents, coworkers of my parents, you name it, everybody was getting a divorce. This left me with the impression that, despite claims to the contrary, marriage is just something that people do for a period of time, and then one goes on and does other things. Sort of like being in middle school or high school, but with more intense heart-breaking emotional pain involved.

Now, fast forward to my adult years, and I’ve seen some other kinds of marriages on display. I have seen first-hand unmarried couples, singles and groups of people have and raise children, people getting married for legal reasons to get citizenship, for financial reasons to get medical insurance coverage, I have seen polyamorous marriages, intense NVC-oriented emotional processing-based marriages, married couples living in income-sharing communes, married couples running Camphill-style homes, marriages based in weird obscure religions, marriages based on mutual Vipassana Meditation practice, same-sex marriages, and probably some other kinds of marriages that I am forgetting about at the moments.

This all leads me to a certain conclusion about marriage – thanks to the contributions starting mainly from the Baby Boom generation in the West, the old notion of marriages necessarily looking similar to each-other and being an institution of patriarchal domination is over. This is not to say that that way of having marriages no longer exists. I think that in many places around the world that old patriarchal model is still is how marriages are usually carried out. I also think that a lot of my peers in my generation, probably even some people I know, are having marriages done in that old way. The thing is that I do not think that marriages have to be carried out in a uniform pattern in the old patriarchal way any longer, at least in the West.

When I think about it, I suspect that this is very much related to the crumbling, shrinking and changing that has been taking place within organized religion as well. Organized religion is no longer the big social force that it used to be, and within many of the religious institutions that do exist nowadays an intentional process has been taking place to eradicate the old modes of patriarchal top-down domination. I think that it was probably the Baby Boom generation again that contributed enormously to initiating the demise and changing of traditional religious institutions and this probably relates to the parallel shifting of how marriages have been carried out as well.

Marriage as an institution is something that I see as being potentially valuable as not only being a public expression of love between people, but also being a kind of commitment of ongoing support and active involvement in each-other’s lives. Yes, this can happen outside of “marriage” per se, but the advantage to marriage as an institution is the legal and financial commitment and protection that comes along with the institution as well. That is, as long as we still live in a world where the concepts of “legality” and “finances” are still the norm!

Ideally I would like to see the institution of marriage be expanded and experimented with more as well. There should be same-sex marriage, of course, but also marriage between more than two people as well. Marriage, in a way, has some of the same advantages that the 501d tax status has, which is the same legal category that monasteries are put in, and that the income-sharing intentional communities within the FEC use as well. The differences between marriage and the 501d status is with marriage the couple has the right to visitation and involvement with the other when one is hospitalized, and has a say in what happens when the other one dies.

I do recognize that relationships based on guilt, shame, duty, obligation, fear, etc., as well as domination itself, can very easily exist within marriage. However, I see this as equally being the case for non-married romantic relationships, as well for relationships between people residing within income-sharing communities as well. These kind of social dysfunctions and psychological neuroses do not necessarily recognize the distinctions between “married” and “unmarried” people. This is something to be consciously worked on regardless of one’s relationship status.

Marriage as I see it now is basically a legal and financial structure for people to be more closely involved in each-other’s lives, as well as a social signifier of ongoing love and commitment between these people. Aside from that, it is basically a blank slate that the people involved can fill with whatever they want. You can choose to fill it with the old school stuff of patriarchal domination, social inequality, guilt, shame and obligation. Or, you could fill it with any number of different new, creative and interesting arrangements, patterns and relationships. It is up for the people involved in it to decide, for now, thanks to my parents’ generation, the old gods are dead.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Long View

As most everybody knows, the whole Election thing recently happened, with the highly entertaining Professional Sports-like atmosphere pervading the whole spectacle. Immediately following that, more drone strikes occurred and a high-profile sex scandal went public, topping off the whole thing. Also in the news is a new study that was released which says that "Climate Change Is Probably Going To Be Worse Than Any Of Us Expected". This particular piece of news was generally ignored by the public, along with the news of mass violence everywhere, in favor of the usual Bread and Circuses of everyday life.

I find this kind of thing to be totally discouraging for any kind of profound positive widespread social change.

It is in times like this that I see it as being helpful to step back and take a look at the bigger picture, to get a better sense of perspective on the whole thing. Being too fixated on the current state of the world can be a bit stifling, I think. It's best to keep in mind a bit of the context that we all find ourselves in here.

With that being said, let's start at the beginning! Anatomically modern human beings came about around 200,000 years ago. From that time until around 10,000 years ago people have lived together and organized their affairs in basically the kinds of ways that I advocate: anarchistic, based in decentralized small-scale groups, sharing resources, sustainable, tribal, with a high degree of intimacy with each-other as well a strong connection with the natural world around them. So basically, the crazy, extremely radical, totally out-there world that I would like to see has been how humanity has lived throughout most of its history, it has been the norm for human relations. It is only relatively recently that human social life has been so very alienating, aggressive and authoritarian.

With this in mind, let us also remember - human beings have survived dramatic global climate change before. It was a difficult period, the total human population got to be very small, but humanity survived it. If humanity was able to survive that time of drastic global climate change and the resulting inhospitable conditions before, humanity can very well be able to survive it again.

However, even if humanity survives this next round of global climate change, eventually the Earth will be destroyed by the Sun. Who knows what the state of humanity will be like by that time, if there will even be a human race around, or if humanity would have moved on to other places by the time that event occurs. Any number of different random and inane things could have wiped out the human race by the time that occurs.

Recently in the news it was announced that another planet was discovered which could potentially be habitable for life. This means that now about a dozen planets have been confirmed to be possibly habitable, a further 54 candidates have been identified to be looked at further regarding this, and current estimates indicate at least 500 million such planets exist in our Milky Way Galaxy. And outside the Milky Way Galaxy, who knows! This all is to say that other Earth-like planets do exist out there that could potentially hold life that is similar to our own, possibly even similar to human beings.

This then ties in with the ideas of Buddhist cosmology which says that there are worlds upon worlds out there to be discovered and explored. Likewise, there are also Buddhist notions of different epochs throughout history, that everything (including "Buddhism" itself) is created and is likewise eventually destroyed. The idea of Buddhahood is to be both enlightened as well as to bring the means of liberation to a people in a time in which it does not exist. The idea behind being a bodhisattva is to be committed to sticking around until that has been achieved.

I bring up all of this Buddhist stuff because I see it all as informing an outlook on radical social change: the world that we live in right now is simply just one world among many, and it is just one epoch among many. All of it, whatever it is, no matter how entrenched and permanent-seeming it appears to be, it will all go away sometime.

The role of an anarchist revolutionary in all of this then is to spread the understandings and practices of a truly free life, for a truly free world - regardless of where the world is at at the time. There should be no attachments to the free world happening now, or ever. It will happen if, when, and where it will. That is not for us to determine, but the actions that we take to get there are. Like the dedicated bodhisattva, continuing on life after life for the liberation of all sentient beings, so should an anarchist go. There has been and will be global anarchy - if not in this world-epoch, then in another.