Domination, Autonomy, Interdependence
I love my family for a lot of reasons. And one is that we all have agency. My partner and I have been gradually working out over the years how to each have our own voice, collaborate, sometimes do things independently, and support each other. There’s a lot we have in common in our attitudes to parenting but also a world of difference based on our dispositions which are almost polar opposites: I am laid back, risk comfortable, extremely flexible, and a great fan of “done is better than perfect”, and she is organised, structured, has great attention to detail, and tends to plan to get things right the first time to avoid double handling. Our son is eight, and he has both of those things in him. He’s also highly agentic: we parent him, support him, and educate him, but sometimes he supports and educates us. He’s a better version of us whose emotional intelligence is way higher than what we would have been when we were that age; it’s great to be superseded! We are working on building a degree of food sovereignty, growing our own food as much as we can and building the capability to do so, and repairing reusing etc as much as possible. We try and support our neighbours and family friends as much as we can and in turn they support us.
I really like how everyone in our tiny family of three, the smallest human unit beyond a couple, has some agency, some ability for self-determination, autonomy, but also a high degree of interdependency. Nobody is dominating or controlling anyone else. In “The Dawn of Everything”, a book I’m referring to more and more nowadays, the authors consider at great length questions of autonomy, self-determination, and how these have been traded away as humans have organised into structures such as nation states. For a long time, in an era often written off or dimly described as “pre-history”, humans lived often in small groups, with little heirarchy, and high degrees of both autonomy and interdependence. As power became concentrated into individuals and small groups, we’ve seen more and more oppression and pacification, both of the majority of people, and the environment, with disastrous consequences and impacts.
And yet we do know how to live autonomously, in equal partnership and interdependently with our fellow humans. I’m curious and hopeful about a future where this is more widespread and commonplace in global society. We aren’t without examples, many of which are captured in “The Dawn of Everything”: for example, the Basque commune of Saint-Engrace:
An interesting question to consider is “why the pyramid and not the circle more often?” Perhaps the answer has to do with ego and control. And our ideas of leadership and power are so “baked in” in modern “developed” countries; and what “developed” means is called into great scrutiny in the book; there’s an interesting theme about how our academics tend to relegate other ways of organising as “primitive” and the current modes as “civilized” but the authors illuminate how people of all ages were self-concious, reflective, and often more innovative and agentic than most people in modern “developed” countries now.
How might we “unbake” our assumptions about leadership, power, determination, and interdependence? We can see the incredibly damaging consequences of our current ways of being which are hanging over from “western enlightenment” (another fascinating revelation in the book is that “The Enlightenment” was probably triggered by an indigenous critique of feudal european society that was encroaching through colonisation). How might we then self consciously choose a different way to be with each other, both more autonomous and interdependent? There’s never been a better time!