What I Know Would Fill a Thimble

Is it “natural” for heterosexuals to seek out partners with whom they share living quarters and with whom they conceive children and live rather isolated lives within a nuclear family? Or was that practice embedded in our brains (and, ultimately, in our DNA) through the social and familial pressure created by the industrial revolution?

It seems to me the history of extended families living under one roof (or, at least, within a single compound) argues against the “natural” explanation. Put another—and less convoluted—way: Are nuclear families or extended families more “natural?” Or, perhaps, are agrarian lifestyles better-suited to extended families, while post-agrarian life is a better fit for nuclear families? Taking it a step further, is the adhesion of individuals to the extended family simply a substitute for tribal cohesion? And did that tribal cohesion wither away during the industrial revolution? Regardless, would we all not be safer, with greater cohesive depth, if we took steps to encourage people to live in either extended family units or in co-housing environments in with participants serve as substitute members for an extended family?

Our “natural” propensity to break off of larger family units into tiny clusters of couples seems short-sighted and inefficient. It would make much better sense for groups of couples who are collectively compatible to form substitute extended families and to live together, with the privacy most people crave incorporated into the living arrangements.

I mentioned heterosexual couples only because they are (usually) encouraged to pro-create and become independent operators of their own little familial empires. Homosexual couples can do the same, of course, but involving considerably more red-tape. The same questions apply; would gay couples be safer, with more cohesive depth, is they were part of an artificial extended family? In fact, wouldn’t the world be a safer, more civil place if these artificial extended families included both straight and gay people? And people of different colors? And from different cultural backgrounds? Yes, but… People tend to feel most comfortable, especially early in the life-cycle of social interactions, with other people who are “like” them: same sex, same color, same ethnicity, same sexual orientation, same background, etc. So, at some point in the transition from a society of prominently single-families living in single-family dwellings, that tendency toward “likeness” would have to be overcome. In my view, the discomfort early on would be worth the expansive understanding unlocked and unleashed from the experience. Yet convincing people to abandon the familiar for the unknown is a monumental task. And if it one for which I no longer have sufficient stamina nor passion to undertake. But there was a time when I had both. Yet I sat on my hands and wished I had done something about it, rather than acting on my interest and belief. Another lesson. Yes, I learned that one can be inclined to take action but equally capable of reining in that inclination. Talking the walk, as it were.

People mock me for promoting the concept of co-housing while, at the same time, expressing an overwhelming desire for isolation and privacy. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Private living quarters, separated by both “vacant” space and space with common uses (e.g., kitchen, gathering/game room, etc.), can be sufficiently secluded to provide privacy, while close enough (and properly designed) to ensure a sense of community. A private compound, even a small one, can be designed to provide both privacy and seclusion; public space and places in which one can be (and feel) completely alone.  Admittedly, the people with whom one might share a co-housing arrangement might be better “fits” if compatibility measures were taken beforehand. That could be arranged, I am sure.

But maybe the thing is this: perhaps each of us needs the opportunity at some time in our lives for a re-set; a chance to start over, in some form or fashion, without the baggage of our own histories to weigh us down. Maybe living with other people, and especially a group of “compatible” people, goes against our needs for individualism and independence. Perhaps we might need, at some stage, to break all the ties that bind us and go it alone. That becomes much harder to do when all those ties, twisted together, become a rope with enormous tensile strength.


A few birds squabble over access to enough seeds to feed several flocks for three generations of the winged creatures. They are like humans: greedy, selfish, short-sighted. For some reason, the idea of sharing is anathema to these birds, these tufted-titmouse birds. The Carolina wrens and Carolina chickadees pop in occasionally when conflicts between the tufted-titbirds cause the latter beasts to launch into mid-air assaults followed by relentless retaliatory strikes. These battles, of course, leave the bird-feeder unguarded, giving the Carolina clans easy access to massive quantities of seeds.

I wonder why the feeders in front of and behind my house are so attractive to State-named birds? Why the Carolina birds? Why not Alabama warblers or Mississippi swallows or Louisiana pigeons (whether those State-named birds exist is immaterial)? I think I’ve seen some Kansas condors nearby, along with New Jersey parakeets. And, of course, you can’t walk outside without being dive-bombed by a Florida sparrow. What would those Carolina birds have been called by birdwatchers who were active in the sixteenth century? My guess is that the terms would have been from an indigenous language no longer spoken around here. Or anywhere.

The importance of bird names pales in comparison to the history of genocide, a societal behavior upon which this country was founded. And, apparently, it was acceptable at the time. Because people who “are not like us and do not speak our language” cannot be decent human beings. No, they must be subject to slaughter and subjugation in the name of all that’s holy. It’s both embarrassing and freeing to recognize and acknowledge that this “greatest country on earth” was crafted out of a combination of stolen mud and indigenous ashes. Our ancestors told a tale of bravery and adventurousness and risk, only slightly altered from the reality of cowardice, fear, and recklessness. And we bought it and continue to buy it today. But, like today, many people who did not participate in the genocide are guilt-free; except their silent complicity permanently stained them with ugly responsibility for the acts of their brethren. It’s hard to tell whether I’m referring to history or to today. Or both.


Damn. It’s almost 9 o’clock. I have much to do and little inclination to do what must be done. I hope I’m eligible for at least one day of pure, unadulterated sloth. I feel like I need it. Though not as much as my oldest brother. He broke a foot when he slipped on mud while walking his dog. He underwent surgery yesterday, in a clinic in Ajijic, for repairs. Ach! I hope he heals quickly and completely. I’ve worn out my intellectual curiosity and its attendant ability to motivate my fingers to process my thoughts. So, I’ll stop wasting my time talking to myself here. Enough for now. Perhaps for the rest of time. Time, alone, will tell.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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