Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Neo-nuclear families and sustainable systems

You should know by now that I'm a systems kind of thinker (you should also know that it's rare for me to post as many entries as I have in the fall and winter months). I've probably hinted at what I think the ideal living situation is, and I thought I would take some time expand on the train of thought I've developed. (I'd also like to apologize for the infrequency of updates... life keeps me busy, and the drudgery and monotony of the school system keeps me unmotivated in the way of words).

As I was walking home on this drearily drizzly day, I thought about what I would call this living arrangement that I had floating around in my head. I finally decided on "neo-nuclear family." The problems, for me, with traditional nuclear families are A) the focus on consanguinity (blood-relations) and B) gender roles.

There are several problems with dividing people into groups by blood-relations. The whole process takes on an exclusive tone, the whole "our people are better than your people" mentality. I know that my bloodline has contained heroes as well as thieves, so this division is egocentric for all of the wrong reasons. There are blood-relations who are such bad people that I don't consider them family. Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there are people who are not related to me by blood, but are the most loyal and loving people I know: these people are my family. The neo-nuclear family is not about consanguinity, but rather, about mutual support and complimentary skills, values, beliefs, etc. This doesn't implicitly include or exclude blood-relations. It is a system whereby individuals are judged by their deeds, and by their character, rather than who they are in relation to anyone else.

Speaking of skills, values, and beliefs; those I things that I think the traditional nuclear family model got right, at least somewhat. Some people are going to be better at some things than at others, and so it makes sense that those people would do those things, and other people would do the others. The problem with the traditional nuclear family model is that it tended to divide these skills/jobs on gender lines, rather than on what the individuals are actually good at. Obviously, recent years have shown a proliferation of stay at home dads and working women, so the traditional division obviously hasn't done justice.

In this way, neo-nuclear families are blood-agnostic and gender-agnostic; that is, the role of blood-relations and the role of different genders or gender-relations aren't implicit in the definition of a neo-nuclear family. Neo-nuclear families can either contain blood-relatives, or not. They can either contain a working man and a stay at home mom, or they can not.

But a neo-nuclear family is also number-agnostic. In fact, given current socio-economic concerns, the ideal neo-nuclear family tends toward more than 2 adult members. One of the major problems with the traditional nuclear family is that both parents have had to start working in order to provide the needs of the family, or one of the parents have had to take on more than one job. This should be an unnecessary stressor, which also results in a necessity to hire a caregiver for children, or for children to provide their own care. (In fact, I just got done reading NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children and it shows some of the consequences of children being left to raise themselves.) Not to mention, when both parents are working, it becomes difficult to stay on top of things like cleaning, doing laundry, maintaining houses/cars/appliances/etc. It also makes growing ones own organic food nearly impossible. Gardens that can provide any reasonable amount of ones own food would be difficult, or impossible, to maintain while working full time. In a two-parent household, it would be impossible to fix this imbalance.

Add another adult or two and the picture begins to change. House payments, car payments, utility bills, etc. are easy to tackle if there are two or more incomes working together to tackle those payments. But, there's also the freedom to have one or more stay at home parents/adults. This person or group of people can be responsible for household chores like cleaning, laundry, preparing meals and whatever shopping is necessary, as well as for caring for the children and maintaining a sizable garden.

Let's think about this. One isn't spending all of their money on child care, housekeeping, and eating out. The family gets to enjoy delicious home-cooked meals made with homegrown organic produce. The children aren't being left in the hands of strangers, or left to their own devices. The family unit is saving money on these expenses, while still bringing in two or more incomes, and without having to stress about getting everything done. The family might even decide that, instead of having anyone work a stressful 40+ hour work week, each adult with will work some smaller number of hours a week. In any case, there are always adult members either bringing in income, or taking care of children and household duties.

On top of this, one would add the forest gardening model. I believe I've mentioned it before. One grows their food in layers, like a temperate forest or tropical rainforest. This type of gardening is not only less work to maintain (because it mimics natural growth habits) but also provides greater variety. I haven't read How to Make a Forest Garden, but it has gotten good reviews. This "permaculture trio" on Google Video also features Robert Hart's world-renowned forest garden.

Combining this neo-nuclear family with a forest gardening model does a couple of beneficial things. First, it makes the family responsible for their food, and makes food both local and organic, and sustainable in a way that traditional gardening techniques fail to accomplish. Second, it keeps people from spreading out. Most people live in more home than they actually need. Even if houses were bigger to accommodate the extra people, there would be more people per living room, kitchen, etc. The houses might be bigger, in general (though, not necessarily), but they would take up less space and fewer resources per person. Not to mention the tremendous relief one would have from living in a supportive community instead of trying to make it on their own.

And am I going too far to suggest the Eat-a-bug Cookbook? Currently I'm not eating critters, regardless of size or species. A lot of this stems from the destructive methods used in the livestock industry, and also from the poor treatment of the animals. But, I recognize that so-called super foods like soy can't be grown everywhere. Does this mean that some people won't be able to get all of the nutrition they need from plant-based foods that they are able to grow locally? I think plant foods do a lot more than people give them credit for, but it is possible that in some places people won't be able to get everything from them. And, since insects, arachnids, and the like have more protein and nutrients per serving than meat, and because we don't have to level land to raise bugs (just go outside and pluck a few up), it seems like a reasonable way to augment one's diet. It does seem like a weird concept to me as an American... bugs have just never been a part of my daily diet. But, in many places bugs are considered a delicacy. If we learn to pay attention to our neighbors abroad, we might learn a thing or two about creating something out of this abundant resource.

Wow. So much information here... but that's the thing with systems thinking; it's all about how the different pieces work together. This post hasn't even brushed the surface of how all of these and many more pieces work together.

Hopefully I'll stay motivated to write more in the coming months, and then I'll expand more on these topics, and well as including others that mesh with these.

Blegh. That was a mouthful. Digest that, and I'll be back with more information... hopefully in bite-sized pieces.

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