posttitle = Fractal Home titleClass =short len =12

Fractal Home

I’ve just moved into a new home (just north of Victoria, BC), and it seemed like a good time to publish a piece of writing I drafted in January about the nature of Home.

In the terms of my previous blog post, it could be summarized as something like “Home is where you have non-naive meta-trust”.

Naturally, people really really want this sense of Home, although they may think it’s impossible, theoretically or just pragmatically. In general, most people don’t have environments where they have deep meta-trust, and don’t have a workable roadmap towards creating such environments. But it’s possible, given enough shared attention and an adequate toolkit, to co-create this sense of Home.

And, moreover, the process of a group consciously co-creating Home can itself produce the feeling of relief that being Home produces, [[in the meantime]], if everyone feels a sense that the group is doing its best to take into consideration the careabouts of each group member—before it has actually solved all the problems. This is a collective version of what Mark Lippmann calls the “Handledness is Already Success” principle.

When I use the word “need” or “want” or “careabout” or “desire” in this piece of writing, I’m pointing at, fundamentally, a cybernetic control system set point. What makes something a need, vs a want, might be essentially, as my friend Catherio put it: “if this goes unmet, I will make substantial changes to my life”. These careabouts include things on every level from psychological safety & self-actualization & meaning, to food & water & shelter… and probably stuff Maslow forget to mention!

I am Home to the extent that (and in the ways that)

  1. I can relax knowing that the systems around me aren’t going to subvert my needs & wants (whether malevolently or carelessly) and will in general support them.
  2. I feel, and am, empowered to make changes to the situation in order to care for my needs.

This applies to any context, not just to a house. In particular, it can also apply to a group of people or a relationship. So I’m not talking about “home” as contrasted with “work” and “third places” here.

This applies to all sorts of meta dimensions but it’s also very concrete:

When I’m at my home, if I realize I don’t like upholstery, I can redecorate. When I am at a restaurant, I can’t. The restaurant is not my home! It’s also not supposed to be my home. That’s okay! But I will feel more at home at restaurants whose furniture & vibe I like, because I’ll have less sense of error so the fact that I can’t change it won’t be relevant or meaningful.

There is an interesting implication here which is that there may be limitations to how at-home one can be in an apartment where one can’t paint the walls or redo the floor. As with anything, the object-level situation as well as the having-the-right-to-make-such-changes-regardless-of-whether-one-needs-it is a dimension that will matter much more to some people than others, meaning that pragmatically, one person might feel more at home in an apartment than another. This is obviously true about nearly everything—some people like hot climates, some cold, some don’t care. Etc.

An apartment-style living situation can create external constraints on realizing Home, although ironically so can an overzealous HomeOwner’s Association. Home self-own-ers Association, amirite? And general things like zoning laws create constraints even if you technically “own” a property.

When people arrive at Burning Man, the greeters say “welcome home!” no matter whether it’s your first time going or your 20th. This reflects, in part, the experience of increased autonomy that people have at Burning Man. You may be limited by skill or preparation of how comfy you can feel, but there’s way less of people getting in your way. If you want your home to be a giant octopus, go for it! If you want to walk around naked, or wearing a swordfish costume, nobody’s gonna stop you.

Here are a few kinds of internal constraints:

  • skill (I might not know how to fix the sink)
  • money (I might not be able to afford the furniture I want)
  • motivation (I might have unconscious schemas that say that while I would like a sodastream, I don’t deserve one)
  • other unresolved internal conflict (part of me might want my housemates to remind me to work out, but another part gets triggered when they actually do)

Relatedly, some people have a kind of learned helplessness around actually making their homes feel like home:

Instead of tidying the counter myself, and accreting a small amount of resentment, I suggested to one of them that she think of the things on the counter as things that were in her power to arrange however she liked, to suit her taste, selfishly. (“Just as you might optimize your text editor to suit your workflow,” my other colleague chimed in.) She took this suggestion, and spent a few minutes arranging and rearranging the items on the counter. She put away the knife in the knife block.

A puzzle. She noted that she doesn’t usually think of the items in her home this way. Instead, household chores feel as though they are impositions from an abstract, outside authority. She was capable of accessing this other, more pleasant way of working on the things around her. Why wasn’t it natural for her to feel that way in her own home?

— the opening of Ben Hoffman’s There is a war.

Sharing Home

However, sometimes people need or want to share Home, on various scales.

Very boringly-literally, sometimes people live in the same house! On larger scales, inasmuch as a given city is my home, I’m sharing that larger home with thousands or millions of other people. And this planet, at present, needs to be home for everybody.

And so say you and I are living in the same house. How can it be my Home and your Home at the same time? We potentially have separate bedrooms or offices, where we have clear autonomy to manage things as we want, but what about the common space?

To the extent that we have shared needs/desires/preferences, whether that’s about paint color or cleanliness or sound levels at certain times of day, then such Home will be there naturally—to the extent that both of us are individually able to actually care for those needs, as discussed above.

To the extent that one of has a careabout and the other is indifferent, this is even simpler and easier than shared careabouts, with one condition: we need to be able to notice that the indifference is indifference. It’s common for people to confuse indifference with opposition. So it’s worth checking when you find yourself in an apparent conflict. I once thought my housemates were heathens who hated floor mats to keep feet from getting cold in the bathroom, and I finally rebelliously decided just get some anyway, and they were all like “these are great”. I have very little idea where I got the idea that they actively didn’t want them (probably some sort of dream mashup projection).

But what about actual conflict? Say that we have different set points for some aspect, with no overlapping range. For example:

  • I feel too hot if the air temperature is above 20°C; you feel too cold if it’s below 22°C.
  • I feel at Home listening to loud music at 8am; you feel at Home meditating in silence in the morning.
  • Home for me means keeping the kitchen consistently clean; Home for you means not having to worry about it, and just cleaning whenever feels good.

There might be a meta-level solution to some of these, or there might not. The existence of a solution depends on our resources and our creativity, and on the underlying needs that these needs are meeting. So any of these might be an utter dealbreaker in terms of us being at Home in the same building. In order to both feel at Home without some sort of compromise, it might be necessary for us to have more space!

This great quote points at part of the kind of mindset needed in order to figure out it: how do we fully care for both of our needs? As long as compromise is on the table, it means we are opponents in a tug-of-war. I’ll write something up about the issues with compromise later, because that’s a whole topic that needs exploring.

But for now, suffice to say you’re not going to get very far with creating Home together without everybody doing their best to find a a win-win or omni-win mindset that says “I want ALL of us to be COMPLETELY satisfied. We may not be able to achieve it, but that, not compromise, is the actual goal.” This is key for getting everybody on the same side. I’ve written out a little exercise that may help with getting into a samesided headspace.

There may be a set of inevitable tradeoffs, but ideally we can at least come to a place where we’re on the same page about which tradeoffs to make for the time being, rather than anybody feeling like they’re losing.

This is not always easy! But it’s usually not a thing people even try, and it becomes easier with practice.

For example, a solution to the air temperature problem might involve different temperatures in different rooms or at different times of day, using perhaps more precise heating technology like in-floor heating. Maybe it turns out that a huge chunk of what makes one person cold is their feet being cold, and having in-floor heating allows them to be even more comfortable with the air at 20°C than they usually would be with the air at 23°C but no in-floor heating. Maybe the person whose face overheats in warm air also loves the in-floor heating! This is a good example because it highlights a real zero-compromise solution to what could seem like a totally intractable conflict on the level of temperature preference. And it might not be possible with the resources available! Retrofitting in-floor heating into an existing building isn’t free (although I just looked it up and it’s not nearly as expensive as I imagined!)

A huge part of what gets in the way of even discovering such a solution, [[in the meantime]], is the compromise-based mindset, which necessitates constantly defending one’s own needs from a perception that others will try to undermine those needs getting met. However, this protective energy is to others the very threat that one is oneself defending from! And it invites it in return.

Compromise and Home are thus in some essential sense incompatible. However, what feels like a compromise is partially a function of what options are available. Most of us can’t imagine living the kind of life any of our great-grandparents lived. Or sometimes the move that feels best as an individual may be to give up one careabout in order to make Home with someone who will defend your other needs from external threats etc.

NVC (“Non-Violent Communication”) has stuff on this re “needs” vs “strategies”, that can probably be usefully incorporated into this stuff, but needs a larger meta-protocol frame like the Non-Naive Trust Dance to hold it. Otherwise in some low-trust situations it devolves into frame battles that can’t easily be talked about within the frame of NVC.

There remains a question of what to do if you find that pragmatically you seem unable to achieve satisfying resolution in the meantime with people you’re trying to create Home with. Sometimes, you may have enough slack together and enough of a sense of moving towards a better attractor, that it makes sense to keep trying to figure it out together. Other times, the answer is to take more space and create more slack for yourself. A good learning environment needs to be tracking the slack reserves of the people involved and only making short-term-costly moves to the extent that there’s capacity to weather those stores.

At any rate,

We are Home together to the extent that:

  • We can relax knowing that our individual needs aren’t going to be subverted by each other or by agents outside our collective systems.
  • We feel, and are, empowered to make the changes we need to the situation in order to care for our individual needs, without compromising each others’ needs.

Fractal Home

Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”

— Prentis Hemphill

I like having my own room, both bedroom & office. It’s fun to cosleep or cowork with a partner or friend sometimes but it’s also really nice to have my own space that I can arrange as I please. I also like living with other people, sharing a kitchen—and more paper books than it makes sense to own as one person. There are some people I wouldn’t want to share a house with, for various reasons, but I’d love to have them living next door! There are other people I’d prefer not to have as next door neighbours, but I like living in the same city as them so we can hang out periodically. I’m not going to hang out with everyone living in my city, but I’m glad there’s a diversity of them so they can run all sorts of different restaurants, stores, and other businesses or projects, or create art or music that I enjoy.

The citizens of my country need to somehow coordinate to decide answers to questions like “what shall our taxes look like?” and “shall certain molecules be made legal or illegal?” and “who pays for healthcare?” Ideally, we can make sense of that together rather than fighting over it. There are people who live on the other side of the world from me and with whom I have almost no causal connection with, and that’s fine. For the most part, I hope when I buy products, no matter which country they’re made in, I hope that the people making them feel like they’re getting a good deal with their work life.

These are all different scales of Home, and they contain each other in a giant messy fractal. Jordan Hall mentioned on a recent podcast the concept of “intrinsic indigenous”—that all of us are indigenous to this precious planet Earth, which is our collective Home, and we need to figure out what to do about that. He makes the interesting point that humanity in particular, as a species whose niche is niche-transition, is a species whose natural home is the whole globe.

One way I’ve sometimes articulated a vision for the future is “how do things need to be set up so that I can be eat a banana every day in Canada, and everybody is okay with how things are arranged?” Currently I have plenty of bananas in Canada, but there are a lot of people in poverty, working bullshit jobs, or otherwise getting terrible deals with the systems they interact with, and systems as a whole are fucking up the climate and so on. I don’t imagine a future that looks anything like going back to a world where bananas are an exotic novelty—not a good future, anyway. So how do we go forward?

We need to find ways for people to create deeper experiences of Home for themselves and each other on all fractal scales.

Ba-ila fractal village, photo and graphic generated using this tool
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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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