The Neglected Merits of Fraternal Households

Social Efficiency is Not Trivial
(c) 2017, Davd

Three of the best weeks of my life were spent in a small cloistered Benedictine Abbey in rural Saskatchewan. There were a few unoccupied “cells” in the “Enclosure”, and i was housed in one of those for my stay. It was much like a large university “dorm” room, with a sink for washing my hands and face and toilets and showers down the hall; and the monks and Novices had rooms of the same kind. (I think one or two of the most handicapped monks may have had their own toilets.) Most of my waking time was spent at work, in Chapel, or studying and writing. Compared to the Canadian statistical averages, it was pretty austere housing; and the food was good rather than gourmet in quality: The monks ate better than they were housed, in material terms, because they were and are housed so plainly.

Yet they and i lacked for nothing. We had what we needed; what we didn’t have were costly conveniences, duplications, and luxuries. There was a reading room on each floor of the Enclosure, where we could sometimes meet and talk; we were all clean and free of contagious disease, so sharing showers and toilets was no threat to any of us; the main work of the place was prayer, mostly ritual prayer, and the best looking best furnished “room” in the whole Abbey, was the Chapel.

The monks were not perfectly saintly but they came much closer than the general population. Austerity did not harm their character, and many who know monastic ways believe that austerity improves character. (I do still tend to take less rather than more in the way of conveniences and luxuries, since my sojourn there; and some people think my life is also austere.)

The monks were not perfectly happy, but they came much closer than the general population. They had chosen a life of part-time subsistence labour and more prayer per day than the average Roman Catholic prays per week; and the Abbey was well-organized for that life. In the terms they had chosen, they were very successful! They prayed, they supported themselves, their needs were met, they had security… and they did no bureaucratic paperwork, worried over no investments, feared no layoffs from their jobs.

The only women i saw during those three weeks, were two or three cooks who helped with the mid-day meal, one Anglican priest who took a meal among the monks, and several women who sat in the public part of the chapel during weekend Masses. I didn’t notice anyone flirting, much less kissing; it was a place from which sexuality was absent.

(Which proved to me what i’d come to suspect, that eros is not a necessary nor a sufficient cause of happiness.)

So these approximately two dozen men lived well, and happily, on 2-3 hours of work per day, averaged over the year.1. They had ample, good food; solid well heated housing in a part of Canada that is quite a lot colder than where the average Canadian lives, quality clothing, good friends and fellowship.

The “refectory” (the cloister dining room) was comfortable and adequate, and the talk was good2. There was a library, and the reading room on one floor of the Enclosure had a television set from which many Brothers watched the news. The kitchen, where i did some of my volunteer labour, was efficiently laid out with quality equipment.

The chapel was the largest and best room in the monastery, and i spent more time there than in any other except where i slept. About six hours of each day were spent in liturgical ritual. The monks could afford to worship so much more time than they worked, precisely because their work was applied with great—social efficiency.

To provide all those working and social spaces separately to each monk and Novice, would have been impossibly costly; to provide them once to about two dozen men, was economical—precisely because about two dozen men benefited from the social, cooking, eating, and worship spaces. The cost per man, in my estimate, was less for this quality space and equipment, than what a bachelor with a mediocre apartment “by himself”, pays for his much inferior “kit”.

Shared space is more efficient than solo space, with the possible exception of the bedroom where you sleep. Sharing a kitchen, eating table and area, social sitting space, and usually, working spaces be they bathroom, garden, kitchen, laundry, library, woodworking shop, even car garage and the vehicles in it, is more efficient than “having your own”.

Is that obvious? Perhaps for many of you, as you read through this blog, it is obvious. I agree that it’s true, and if i don’t use “obvious” as much as i might, it’s because so many men “live alone” in spite of its painful inefficiency.

Fraternal home sharing is obviously efficient. Not quite as obviously, it’s socially enjoyable, if you team up with men who you like to eat, sit, and work with. The two main reasons i can see that it isn’t common already, are:
‣ marriage is sold to men as the normal way to share a home. Many men live “by themselves” because they expect, or expect to be expected, to marry some time soon. Men who expect to marry should learn about the risks of divorce and the misandry in this century’s divorce laws. They should arrange ahead of time, for their marriages to be stronger and more secure than average.
‣ “social inertia”: Having a home all to yourself is more conventional for unmarried men, (except dorms and fraternity houses at universities, military barracks, monasteries, student house sharing, and work camps. Notice something? All those places are places where men make especially good friendships.)

I argued for “co-operative frugality” before, in 2012, in a blog styled for a readership of ordinary men rather than idealists. The cost numbers in that post were valid for Northern New Brunswick at that time; costs today in Alberta or B.C. or the richer States of the USA, would be higher… but still well below the costs men would pay for the same amenities if each man “owned his own”.

I don’t expect to marry again; i do enjoy the company of good men (as i learned long ago and confirmed at that monastery in 2005). I am willing to correspond, talk on the phone with, then meet and organize to share a household with, like minded men. I am willing to help men who don’t match my style well enough to share a house with, to find men who match their styles. This website has a contact link, and you can use it to send me a message.

Some week soon, i intend to write a follow-up blog on the time efficiency of fraternal households. Not only is finding yourself a household of brothers by choice rather than birth, efficient use of your money, it’s efficient use of your time.

You’ll have more free time as well as less need for money. The monks i met in 2005, chose to use their extra free time in liturgical chapel services. For them, it was an enjoyable choice, and i bless it because they chose and enjoyed it. There are many other good uses of the time and cost efficiency of fraternal households, and there ought to be many more fraternal households enjoying them.

Notes:

1. The famous Misandry Bubble blog says much the same thing in different terms: “A single man does not require much in order to survive. Most single men could eke out a comfortable existence by working for two months out of the year.”

2… unless, i should perhaps mention, there was some reading from the Bible, a Church luminary, or an edifying book chosen by the Brothers in council. This happened at one meal, some days.

 

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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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