The Case for a Flourishing of Men’s Cloisters

(c) 2012, Davd

Once upon a time, about two generations ago, on both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, marriage was the usual, preferred social condition of adult men. Some men still living, myself included, were married during that time. But unlike our fathers and grandfathers, men of my generation were betrayed by the Governments to which we had given normal deference, and many of us—about half—were then betrayed by the wives to whom we had given, and from whom we had received, lifetime vows.

Marriage as a word in law, was changed from a mutual lifetime commitment of fidelity and mutual support; to an easily revocable arrangement such that, if either party chose to end the marriage, it could be ended despite the other’s insistence that the vows made be kept. This was combined with existing practices that by then provided1 that if a marriage were broken, the woman normally was given custody of any children born to her [and presumably to her husband] during the marriage (Amneus, 1999: ch I), while the husband was obligated to provide support in money for those children, without having either any control over how the money was spent, or any assurance that he would be able to live as well as those children and his former wife, from what remained after paying it.

As one would expect from the concept of “cultural lag”, and the somewhat similar concept of social inertia, many men who married after the change (which occurred at different dates in different jurisdictions, mostly between 1970 and 1990), and most who married before the change, still held expectations based on the marriage customs they had observed as children and laws they had learned about in school or from older generations. Many were shocked when the vows they had made and had been made to them, usually in church2; and especially the lifetime character of those vows, were nullified in court. This nullification, and its very serious consequences, had the character of betrayal; since the men made their vows in good faith before witnesses; and since despite some archaic wordings, the vows were understood by all involved in the marriage ceremony.

As one would expect from their relatively privileged position after the changes, women were much more likely than men to initiate divorce, both in the formal sense of filing a legal application, and in the interpersonal sense of making the marriage decreasingly enjoyable for the spouse. The legal changes, it seems quite generally agreed by now, were instigated and effected by Feminist lobbying; and the same Feminism that lobbied for them, publicized their arrival to women who might possibly want to leave their marriages. Men, innocently accepting the language of marriage vows at face-value, were slow and reluctant to accept that the new laws made them second-class spouses in a marriage format more suited to the matrifocal Hopi than the societies in which they had grown up.

Many—intuitively, millions of men—would never have married had they known [or foreseen] the legal milieu in which they became divorced. Many who have learned about 21st Century “revised marriage” by observing the suffering of other men, have decided not to marry under the new terms. But men are still social animals: Most of us are happier living in human company than alone. What’s new, is that the companionship of a wife is less loyal, and more demanding, “on average”. The cost of marriage to men in total human terms is greater, the payoff is smaller—and there is an insecurity about married life that was minimal in 1960 and before then, virtually absent—not the threat of death, which will come eventually, but the threat of abandonment combined with confiscation of income and de-facto kidnapping of his children3.

The notion of “Men Going Their Own Way” has become popular, and fairly so. It refers to independence from women and especially from marriage; and it need not imply solitary living. It is true that bad “family laws” go against our interests, but this need not require us to go against our social nature. Humanity evolved in “Hunting and Gathering societies” (Ardrey, 1963; Lenski, Lenski and Nolan, 1991) where men hunted in teams rather than alone. Our evolutionary framework was made-up more of groups of men co-operating to bring meat back to the cave or the camp, than of the nuclear families now mistakenly idealized by some comments on websites.

Not only are men social animals, we are territorial—and we normally hold territories as groups, not as individuals (Ardrey, 1963; Tinbergen, 1968). Marriage and the nuclear family furnished a way for men and women to share small home-territories while remaining mobile, during the third quarter of the 20th Century when geographic mobility was in the career interests of husbands and the economic interests of their wives and children. But nuclear families are dangerously small: A nuclear family is too easily, and today, too often, destroyed by divorce (and 100+ years ago, was often destroyed by the death of one spouse4.)

A larger group, traditionally an extended family, has more resilience, more bonds to support those left when one person leaves. Its main strength comes from philios and charis, and eros is as the fancy jelly in a peanut butter sandwich: If the jelly runs out, the sandwich still nourishes; if the eros runs out, the philios and charis still sustain5.

Today, extended families are relatively few, nuclear families lack the protection of the law6, and many men cannot find a trustworthy and available example of either to satisfy their social and territorial nature. The practical problem for such men, is “How can I best arrange my life, given that marriage isn’t what it used to be and my extended family isn’t organized so as to be a co-operative ‘extended’ household?”

In figuring out, one might say in designing, a good answer, we might be wise to look to successful co-operative households of men. Hundreds of such households exist, and the men in them seem happier and healthier on-average than men of the same age who attempt 21st Century “revised marriage”.7 Many of these households have peculiarities that a majority of men would prefer not to adopt (while the men in them, enjoy and have voluntarily adopted those practices, such as 6-8 church services per day); but these peculiarities might not be essential to their success or the happiness of men living in them. The all-male households which specialize in liturgy are commonly known as monasteries, and i wrote earlier about one such monastery where i sojourned.

A monastery is one special type of cloister, or place of voluntary seclusion from the world at large. The seclusion need not be total, but is characteristic: A cloistered man [or woman] lives much more of his life inside the community’s territory than outside it, and calls the cloister his home8. His principal social milieu is a household of men who call one another “Brother” and mostly act accordingly9.

Notice that the above paragraph does not specify any religious ritual nor doctrine. Most monasteries include both in abundance—but the rituals and doctrines vary widely: There are [several kinds of] Buddhist, Orthodox Catholic, Roman Catholic, Sufic, and i have read, Anglican monasteries; and i would guess that other faiths have monasteries also. Given that monasteries do not all follow the same doctrines nor rituals, it seems quite reasonable to infer that the social-relations they carry out so successfully, can be enjoyed by communities of men who share other philosophies of life that emphasize co-operation, as well.

The social peculiarities of cloistered life include:

  • Select Company: Rather than “rub elbows” with all sorts of people during the course of day-to-day life, as most city residents do in the year 2012, one spends most of one’s time, day in, day out, year in, year out, with a few other men who together with you, have selected one another as compatible and agreeable enough to call each-other “Brother”. (Think about that: You’re not isolated, not all-alone, and the men you do meet are those whose outlook on life is especially agreeable with yours. Ever wish you could live among friends and let the strangers and enemies do their “things” well out of your sight? No wonder monks are so contented.)
  • Efficiency: It takes much less effort from each man, for the group to live well, than each man would need to put-forth to live as well alone. It also takes less equipment, land, and money per man. One good day’s work per week, once the community has itself “set up”, is likely to be just enough for a spare subsistence; and two days, so ample as to provide many frugal comforts1 and leave a surplus for charitable distribution. (Monasteries tend to spend much more time chanting Psalms and doing other liturgy, than doing their subsistence work; and they can well afford to spend their time that way because of the efficiency of cloistered living. Other kinds of cloister can find other ways to apply the time freed-up by efficiency.)
  • Self-sufficiency:  Cloisters tend to produce much more of their own subsistence “directly” with their own work on their own land, than most city dwellers and even more than many farmers. The two monasteries i know best both have huge gardens and grow most of their own food. A few teaching and social-service cloisters may be exceptions to this general rule… and to the general phenomenon that cloisters tend to be rural even in States whose populations are mostly urban.
  • Sexual abstinence:  (One-sex Cloisters; Roman Catholic monks usually call this “chastity” or “celibacy”). This peculiarity is not universal, but it is extremely common. An important reason for sexual abstinence is the great amount of work and equipment involved in rearing children; another is the one-sex population of most cloisters. The Hutterites (“Hutterian Brethren”) are not abstinent; they live in what are very close to cloisters and many would call cloisters, of 50-150 people, many of whom are children, and most of the adults are married, The Hutterites have been successful for over 400 years. (I expect to write about one-sex, sexually abstinent cloisters first and foremost because i myself am “past normal reproductive age” and have accepted an abstinent life.)
  • Security: The cloister feeds, clothes, and houses its members, so the Brothers don’t need much money, if any—and they know and trust who will look after them if they are sick or injured.

One might add, as social-psychological peculiarities, serenity and a lack of excitement. I have seen monks work hard, run, bicycle, and embrace, but not scream or act startled. The most excited behaviour i can recall11, among monks, nuns and Hutterites, was a surprised “[Name]! It’s good to see you!” (sometimes but not always followed by a gently-back-slapping hug.) If you have a need for frequent drama and excitement, a cloister may not be for you. If you think some women12 demand drama where serenity would be much better, a cloister might be your kind of place.

Having spent three weeks in one cloister and five days total in three others, plus a day among a community of Hutterites, i’ve become convinced that for me, cloistered life, with perhaps one to four trips per month “out into the world” for business, medical, and Good-Works purposes, would be preferable to a seniors retirement complex, to the Dating Scene as i read about it on men’s websites, to the last time i visited a woman with any notion of “courting”, (and were i younger, to a city apartment or a suburban house whether living alone or sharing with one or two other men.) Looking after my subsistence personally seems more promising than trusting the commercial world of 2012, but doing that alone isn’t as practical or as secure as doing it in co-operation with a few other men. My social satisfaction, for ten years or more, has been in things i do and talk sessions i have with other men, and occasionally with boys. I’m happier among friends than among strangers.

It does seem, with marriage much less man-friendly than it was two generations ago, with men belonging to a social species just as much as women, with misandry making the general life of cities less comfortable and secure for men, and with the efficiency and serenity of cloistered life, that not only are monasteries likely to grow in size in the next few decades, but also, that cloisters organized around other themes than liturgy and contemplation are likely to become home for a significant fraction of North American and European men as the 21st Century proceeds.

How many men today, as a proportion of the total, are living as happily as the monks of St. Peter’s were when i sojourned there in 2005? I cannot know exactly, but i would estimate that fewer than two-thirds of all Canadian or US men are equally happy for even one year, as the monks i got to know best, attested they had been for decades. It might well be fewer than one-third, even much fewer. If there are more than ten million adult men in Canada and more than 100 million in the US, then well more than 3,3 million in Canada and more than 33 million in the US—perhaps more than twice as many—are prospects for a life-improvement by choosing cloistered rather than conventional life-arrangements.

My best estimate is that in this century which has begun as both less economically hopeful (apart from the Depression) and more misandric, than the last was:

  • a few men will recognize the value and satisfaction cloisters offer them, starting very soon;

  • cloisters will grow in numbers and diversity; and

  • they will contribute far more than in proportion to the numbers of men in them, to the hopes and accomplishments of the next several decades.

In the next few weeks, i intend to sketch plans for a few possible cloister communities, and write some more about co-operatives as intermediate between cloistered and what, sadly, is today’s conventional living. Men evolved in co-operative hunting groups; living and working among friends is in our nature and has been since before writing began. At a time when misandry is common, going back to our natural groups makes a lot of sense.

I encourage readers who are less-than-satisfied with life in the everyday world of 2012, to seriously consider grouping up with other, like-minded men and going your own way—as a group with a common sense of life-purpose rather than alone.

References:

Amneus, Daniel, 1999. The Case for Father Custody. Alhambra, California: Primrose Press.

Ardrey, Robert, 1963. African Genesis. NY: Delta paperback.

Lenski, Gerhard, Jean Lenski, and Patrick Nolan, 1991. Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958. Minneapolis: Augsburg.

Tinbergen, Niko 1968 “On war and peace in animals and man” Science 160: 1411-1418

>and from my writings:

1978 “Brotherhood and ‘lifeboat ethics'” Bio-Science 28 (November) 718-721

1984 “Eugenics and the End of Population Growth” Mankind Quarterly XXV 1984) 163-168.

1988 “What’s it Worth and What’s it For? Some Summary Remarks” Proceedings: International Symposium Conference on Small Scale Forestry, Lahti and Evo, Finland, 1986)

1994 “Forest Homesteading: A Modest Proposal” International Journal of Ecoforestry, Fall issue

1998: “Homestead Land Tenure: An Option for Better Forestry” Ecoforestry 13:2 [September]26-30

2004 ”Ecology, tenure, and the mix of logging practices: Ecoforestry 19:2 (Summer-Fall) 36-38

2007 “How Social Arrangements Can Facilitate Ecoforestry” Ecoforestry 20:1&2 (Winter-Spring) 15-22.

2007 “The Future of Forests: ‘Whose they are’ will be crucial” Ecoforestry 20:3&4 (Summer-Fall) 49-53.

2009 “Wild Humans” pp 151-155 in Alan Drengson and Duncan Taylor, editors Wild Foresting: Practicing Nature’s
Wisdom.
Gabriola, BC: New Society Publishers.

http://www.everyman.ca/2011/08/24/marriage-and-family-reform/

http://www.everyman.ca/2012/01/11/co-operative-frugality-the-good-life-on-a-minimum-of-money/

http://www.everyman.ca/2012/01/24/prudent-gynophobia/

http://www.everyman.ca/2012/02/05/a-good-man/

… plus those web references hyperlinked above.

Notes:

* Men reading this who are interested in cloisters and co-operatives as possibilities for their own lives, are invited to write comments to that effect, giving an e-address and-or postal address for correspondence. Phone numbers are also welcome if you care to offer one.

1. Not “since time immemorial”, nor even since Christian influence, but for about one century. Before the mid-latter 19th Century, father custody had been normal in case of divorce, and divorces had been very rare (Amneus, 1999).

2. For example, from the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958 p. 272: “I take thee [name] to be my wedded [wife or husband], to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” The ritual vow is the same for both spouses. The book was published in the United States of America; but my copy was received from a Lutheran church in Canada which had used this edition for many years.

3. The threat is least if the wife earns significantly more money than the husband and has at least as much personal wealth; and there are no children. Some men, fairly few so far, have resolved not to marry any woman who earns less money or has less wealth than they.

4. The story of Abraham Lincoln’s mothers will do as a classic example: His birth mother died while he was a young boy. His father, Tom Lincoln, did not try to raise the children alone, but soon made one of the most famous and most practical marriage proposals in history, to the widow Sarah Bush Johnston. One version of the legend reads:

I need a wife and you need a husband,” he said. “If you’re agreeable, I’ll come for you with the wagon on Sunday.”

There was no need for erotic romance in their situation: Two young widowed adults with children, joined forces to combine two broken nuclear families into one strong one. A man often named as the greatest United States President, gave much credit for his success to his stepmother—without shame nor blame to his birth mother or his father. Whatever the sexual aspect of Tom and Sarah Lincoln’s marriage may have been, the practical childrearing aspect was excellent, and they seem to have been glad of one another’s work for the common good.

5. The Christian “New Testament” was originally written in Greek, a language that has four words which can be translated “love” in English. Eros is the sexual form of love—affection combined with (and many would say, motivated by) concupiscence. Philios is brotherly love (in which a good sister can also partake, and other kin.) Charis is the basis for our word “charity”; and Agape is selfless love which many people, so i have heard in sermons and read in books, never achieve.

6. In particular, the law does not support the lifetime character of the conventional marriage vows.

7. Many of these households have peculiarities that a majority of men would prefer not to adopt (while the men in them, enjoy and have voluntarily adopted those practices, such as 6-8 church services per day). These peculiarities do not seem as important to their success or the happiness of men living in them, as the fact that they were chosen by the men and are a shared, very important interest.

8. The monasteries i know best each include 2-3 dozen men, though much larger monasteries exist. Of those 2-3 dozen, perhaps one dozen from St. Peter’s, and fewer from the Trappist household, go outside the cloister regularly to serve “people in the World”, mostly as priests leading church services.

9. In the cloister where i sojourned longest, there were some relationships among the Brothers that fell short of the ideal; but the overall ‘level of harmony’ was noticeably greater than “outside in the World.”

10. Several fine cheeses, including Munster and Port-Salut, and several fine wines and liqueurs (including obviously Benedictine) are of monastic origin.

11. This is not to claim cloisters never experience excitement: A fire, tornado, or other disaster, or the miracles that are [very rarely] reported, would almost certainly evoke excitement—but such events are very rare.

12. Many comments i have read on men’s-interest websites have complained about women instigating needless drama. I can’t recall any comments complaining that women aren’t dramatic enough. “Excess drama” seems to be much more common among women than among men, not to utterly rule out a man having the tendency.

 

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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together “in peace and brotherhood” for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.

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