There seems to be drama going on at the unMonastery. I know this from an email sent by @Bembo Davies, who must have been so upset by it that he forgot his password to this website. The exact details of the drama are not too interesting, at least to me. What does interest me is that the unMonastery is now a place where people do politics. They draft agendas, form coalitions, and maneuver against competing coalitions.
This is against Protocol. I am not even going to write “I think” or “in my opinion”. I am, for once, sure of something. Let me tell you why – it will be my meditation for the day.
One. The unMonastery aims to be an institution for self-development and local societal change. The elegant move is to achieve one through the other. We are not the first people to try it, and we will not be the last: it is a difficult task to achieve. The specificity of the unMonastery is the reference to monasticism as a template. We admire the sense of freedom and meaning that emanates from monastic life, even though a monk’s like is tightly regulated. Where does it come from? Provisionally. we conclude that it comes from (a) stepping into a different life (take on a new name, wear a uniform, be partly separated from the saeculum…) and (b) obedience. The Rule mandates obedience: obedience to the Rule itself in matters of interaction; obedience to the abbott in smaller matters, like how to allocate kitchen duty. I have been thinking long and hard about this, and I conclude that obedience, in a benedictine monastery, has the function of setting monks free from politics and squabbling. Free to do what? To work, and to pray.
My hypothesis is that monasteries worked because they selected for people that did not do politics. Politics is useful, but it hits into diminishing returns very fast. The Rule is very careful not to leave space for squabbling and idle debate: for example, monks are forbidden to either administer punishment or intervene in the defence of their brethren. The whole conflict recomposition burden is lifted off individual monks and moved over to the Rule and the abbott. For the organization, that is efficient, because it saves people time. For the individuals (the doers especially), it can be liberating, for the same reason. I served in the army, and really appreciated the bandwidth-saving way that small decisions are made for you (what to wear, what time to eat, how to share the burden of communal work etc.).
I don’t think you can improve the situation by democracy. Democracy just increases bickering, because people start bickering about democracy itself. Who gets a vote? What method to use? Etcetera. These efforts pay off only when the decision is so big that its outcome absorbs the cost of making them. But the unMonastery is small scale: I cannot think of a single decision where the improved quality in decision making are worth more than the time and energy we are sinking into this kind of discussion.
Two. Look, the unMonastery is an experiment into small-scale societal organization. At the heart of the experiment was the monastic idea of freedom in discipline, self-realization in service. It can succeed or fail. But if it is not run properly, it will be useless and wasteful. The job of the unMonasterians, Oblates and what have you it to run the experiment, not to design it. If you start redesigning it before it’s over we won’t be able to assess what good there was in the original idea, if any. After the end of iteration one, we will all discuss.
Conclusion and exhortation. I strongly ask that all unMonasterians focus on getting results. Results are defined by what you can show with pride to an external person. A school in Matera building an open source solar tracker is a result. Internal politics is not. If you need an external-but-not-really-external person to take responsibility for such a clear change of direction, I take responsibility. Don’t feel offended. Don’t take issue with the unBrethren. Assume good faith in them, and in me, and just get on with the work. The time to rethink the governance will come.