Toward a communitarian paradigm of life satisfaction

Someone on the national cohousing discussion list recently made the following interesting comment:

I think the trend toward “working at home” is especially important in cohousing since “home” is where everyone else is, too. I love having people at home more. Even though they are very careful to reserve their work time, the vibe is different. It reminds me of the 1950s when children came home for lunch and there were enough people at home all day that the neighborhood was always alive.

The manifestation of feminism in modern society was, as with so much else, a less-than-satisfactory experience. There was some hope at the beginning of the second wave (circa 1970) that, as the lives of women were transformed toward a better balance between the social and the domestic, the lives of men would be transformed toward being less “the modern male way” (driven, workaholic, competitive, remote, away all the time, institution-oriented).

I grew up during the 1950s and do remember that I liked coming home for lunch. One day a friend would come with me to my house, another day I would go with a friend to their house. And I liked that someone was around when I got home from school.

Then, after 1975, instead of a healthy re-balancing for everyone, the mothers went off to work all day and we started to hear about the “latch-key kids” phenomenon. The neighborhoods were hollowed out, devoid of life between 9 and 5. Things became even more institution-oriented (fathers out working for some institution of the system, mothers out working for some other institution of the system, children at school and then at daycare).

* * * *

Our social-change movement had advocated a revamping of work life. Laboring for the institutions of the Leviathan in order to make a living is dreary. The disparaging of “1950s life” had justification when addressing the role rigidities that consigned women to domesticity. But the idea of ameliorating the consignments of both women and men never got very far. The “liberatory” response of having everyone go “the modern male way” was less than enlightened.

Right livelihood should mean working with and for our households, families, and communities directly. Stop the miserable commute to the remote office-within-an-institution. Yes, the economies of scale involved with that productive paradigm give us (some of us) a high material standard of living. But there would be more soul satisfaction in living more simply, downscaling our material aspirations, and working directly to sustain life together in our local communities. Then cohousing would be more than just a residential joy, it would be a whole-life collaboration. A side-benefit is that we could all be liberated from rigidities of role constraints and consignments. The adults could stick around; the children could participate. Working together to provide most of life’s necessities could enhance our sense of interdependence-in-place, could yield direct appreciation from familiar others, and could shift things toward a communitarian paradigm of life satisfaction.

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).

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Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).