Monday, April 25, 2016

It's alive! And communal!

So, just to make my life more complicated, I am taking on one more blog.  In addition to this blog, and my very silly blog about a fictional commune in an unnamed Green Mountain State (which may give you some idea about how silly the blog is), I will be part of a crew that will start a blog focusing on egalitarian income sharing communities, called Commune Life.  I am going to be one of the main editors.

The scope of the blog is on anything about living in income sharing communities.  The structure of the blog is that we will have a new article focusing on communal living every Monday, a photo essay featuring an income sharing community every Wednesday, and a previously published article (from various blogs--including mine) every Friday.

If you follow the link above and go to the blog now (like anytime in April, 2016), you will find a note saying “NOTHING FOUND”  (their caps).  The blog doesn’t start until May 2nd.  But please come over and check us out in May.  Here’s your chance to learn all about communal living.  And there will be pictures.

Quote of the Day:  “Communards are not immune to the range of human experience of birth, death, love, loss and the like. People have still ended up hurt, sad, and lonely. We are far from perfect. It is important to remember that perfection is not the goal. Progress is.” - Cel Free Farm

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dealing with Alpha Males

Continuing on with my exploration of ways we can deal with aggressive males--human males in this case--short of poisoning them all.  (See the end of my last post, Baboons and Culture Change, for an explanation of this this statement.)

My question is whether we can channel this aggressive male energy so that it can be used for something other than domination.  Like the baboons in my last post, can we create a culture that supports a less hierarchical way of being?

In his novel, Island, Aldous Huxley talks about how his utopian paradise deals with what he calls “Muscle Men”; “...why don’t they turn into Stalins… or at the least into domestic tyrants?  First of all, our social arrangements offer them very few opportunities for bullying their families, and our political arrangements make it practically impossible to domineer on any larger scale.  Second, we train the Muscle Men to be aware and sensitive, we teach them to enjoy the commonplaces of everyday existence.  That means they have an alternative--innumerable alternatives--to the pleasure of being the boss.  And finally, we work directly with this love of power and domination that goes with this kind of physique in almost all its variations.  We canalize this love of power and we deflect it--turn it away from people and onto things.  We give them all kinds of difficult tasks to perform--strenuous and violent tasks that exercise their muscles and satisfy their cravings for domination--but satisfy it at nobody’s expense and in ways that are harmless or positively useful.”

One important thing to remember (at least for me) is that this kind of strength and power is useful, if used in good ways.  I think we should train the more aggressive males (sometimes referred to as Alpha Males) to use their strengths to support a more egalitarian and cooperative culture, rather than for domination.  We should praise and support those men who use their power and privilege for constructive purposes.

For example, I’d say that my colleague and comrade, Paxus, is pretty much an alpha male.  He was raised in an upper middle class culture and groomed to climb the corporate hierarchy.  Yet he turned his back on it.  Still, he doesn’t farm or meditate or act quiet or shy.  He can be quite charismatic if he wants to be.  What he does is to use his strength and skills to help support social change and create community.  He could be in a position of dominance, but instead he is using his power against the very system that gave it to him.

I want to be part of creating a society that has a place for everybody.  And I think we should support the ‘alpha males’ in supporting an alternative culture.  Rather than poisoning them, we should value them--while encouraging them to use their strength for change. (Personal note: I am a cis-man, but hardly what anyone would call an alpha male.  I was a victim of male aggression as a kid.)

Quote of the Day: “Macho doesn't prove mucho.” - Zsa Zsa Gabor

Monday, April 4, 2016

Baboons and Culture Change

In my last post I summarized the differences between chimpanzees and bonobos as “chimpanzees are hierarchical, patriarchal, competitive, and violent, whereas bonobos tend to be more egalitarian, matriarchal, cooperative, and much less violent. “  It’s a generality, but there’s a bunch of truth in it.  Unfortunately most other primate groups (except for humans) seem to be more like the chimps than the bonobos.  (I think that human beings have the potential to be like either--or both.)

We often see biology as a certain kind of destiny.  While humans have the freedom to change, it sometimes seems like we are fighting our biology.  And most animals (unless trained by humans) seem to be locked into a social/behavioral styles.

However, one study of baboons found something interesting.  Baboons, as I said, tend toward a patriarchal, hierarchal culture.  The scientists in this study were observing a troop (their term) of baboons that were near a tourist lodge and foraged in their garbage dump.  More importantly, it was only the most aggressive males that were able to forage in this dump and when some meat in the dump was infected with tuberculosis, it was all the most aggressive males in the troop  that died.

This totally changed the culture of the group.  There were now more females than males and the males that were left were less aggressive toward less dominant males (although apparently not toward their peers) and toward females.  

For some reason, the researchers lost interest in this troop that they were studying, and they began studying another baboon troop--although they kept informal tabs on the first troop (which they called the Forest troop).  The deaths of the dominant males happened between 1982 and 1986.  Observations of the group stopped around 1986.  In 1993, the researchers began studying the Forest troop again and were surprised to find out that the less aggressive culture persisted.  This was surprising to them because male baboons, as they age, leave the troop they were with and bond with females in another troop.  By 1993 there were no adult males that had been with the troop in 1986, yet the behavior change that happened with the death of the aggressive males persisted.

As the researchers put it: “A decade after the deaths of the more aggressive males in the troop, Forest Troop preserved a distinct social milieu accompanied by distinct physiological correlates. Critically, as noted, no adult males …  had been troop members at the end of the tuberculosis outbreak. Instead, these males had subsequently transferred in as adolescents, adopting the local social style. A number of investigators have emphasized how a tolerant and gregarious social setting facilitates social transmission…”  The more tolerant and less aggressive culture persisted as incoming males adopted or were socialized to the new culture.

In some ways it’s as if the baboons shifted from a ‘chimp-like’ way of relating to a ‘bonobo-like’ way of relating and that difference persisted through a complete shift in the male members of the troop.  I wonder what that says about ways we can change human society--short of poisoning all the aggressive males.

Quote of the Day:  “In summary, we have observed circumstances that produced a distinctive set of behaviors and physiological correlates in a troop of wild baboons. Moreover, these behaviors were taken on by new troop members...
“Finally, these findings raise the issue of their applicability to understanding human social behavior and its transmission. Human history is filled with examples of the selective loss of demographic subsets of societies... The present data suggest that demographic skews may have long-term, even multigenerational consequences, including significant changes in the quality of life in a social group.” - Robert Sapolsky and Lisa Share