Nick Sellen

Autumn Kanthaus Evaluation

21 November 2020

This is the text I read out at my kanthaus evaluation on 3rd November 2020. I lightly edited it afterwards for clarity and added the reading list.

I see this more as an evaluation of kanthaus in the context of me and my experiences.

I almost never felt like I fit into groups. It’s a lifelong pattern, right back from being a little kid.

The lifelong question to go with it is whether the difficulties I experienced because of this are for me to take on, or to address structurally. But, to address them structurally means I would need to be part of the group, so that’s a kind of catch 22. I mostly chose the way to deal with them within my abilities. And that often means leaving.

This characteristic of mine that’s always been there leads me down the path of individualism, self-sufficiency, etc… which also ties into masculinity narratives, lone warriors, and all that. Being a bit distance. Or the eccentric outsider. Or many other identities that make the individual understandable by society. In various times and places I’ve played various roles like that.

But that’s bullshit. For two reasons.

One, personal, I am not a lonesome individual, I crave connection, and bonding, closeness with other people. There is almost nothing more sublime to me than connecting in matters of mind, body, or spirit.

Second, privilege, I was never operating as a self-sufficient individual. I just happened to have a nice bag of privileges that enabled me to feel independent. I could walk out of my work, with no plan, and know something will work out. I never even asked for work, it always came to me. I can walk down the street alone without being harassed or looked at. I can use my money to get invisible people far away provide for my needs, and somehow pretend they aren’t there, as if it was all down to me.

I’ve been in the process of trying to dispossess myself of privilege. It’s a work in progress, maybe goes in a few stages from using the privilege for myself, to living without using it so much, and finally to embracing it to redistribute it to others (given I can’t actually get rid of many aspects of my privilege).

So, without the invisible people to provide for me, I need community. And this journey reveals the parts of me that have been shadowed by privilege.

It’s taken me a long time of pondering and reflection over the last few years since becoming involved with yunity. Experiencing many catastrophic emotional meltdowns. I previously interpreted them with the individualist model, maybe I can just limit my activities to not trigger them, find some things to ask for to help me with me and my troubles. To write long messages explaining why I suddenly went weird, to comfort you all.

But now it seems simple. I am probably autistic to some extent. It’s not a simple binary diagnosis. It encompasses a diverse range of experiences. I have no desire to be labelled or medicalised, but maybe using the word as a communication device is useful. I don’t know. But this comes with needs and those are often hard to meet in the context of community, they even work against each other, autistic characteristics makes social interaction more complex, yet community life is based on that.

So, onto the experience in kanthaus. One analogy I came up with is to see social interaction like food. Let’s see how it goes. Every time I see/interact with people it’s like eating food. And I love eating food. Normally about 3 times a day. With a conscious intent to eat something. Ideally preceded by hunger. Maybe a little snacking here and there. Occasionally a big feast. Sometimes a little fasting.

In kanthaus (or other community places) as I walk around, I’m forcefed little pieces of food. I get full. But it keeps on. I’m stuffed. I need to throw up. I’m sick. I can’t think. Now I can’t stand the sight of food. It makes me feel sick. It’s so sad, as remember, I love food and eating food.

Transposed into kanthaus (or, again, probably any community) I love people, probably all the people, I don’t think there is a single person here I wouldn’t be able to create a nice and rewarding connection with. But as my “social appetite” is already overwhelmed the people become objects to avoid. And it breaks my heart. How can I just walk past people and not connect or acknowledge them? I can’t do it and don’t want to live in a community like that.

I know there are other people that have related experiences, and perhaps they can manage. “Just walk through the house with headphones, it’s OK we understand if you don’t want to connect”. If that works for you, I won’t tell you otherwise. But understand for me that a social interaction occurs whether or not I directly interact with the person. If I’m sitting in a room with other people in it, even if we don’t talk, this is a social interaction for me.

So, now where am I? Using my economic privileges is out. The lonesome self-sufficient individual was always a lie. The community overwhelms me.

I gave up on kanthaus being a place for me long ago. I don’t look for solutions here, but I put this out there for you to decide what you want to be.

Actually, normally I would just contain myself to short visits. If I arrive high on energy, it can last me a week or so. This would be ok. I will still take care of my own life.

But two mind shifts make me more interested to share this.

I learnt that other people have struggles, maybe related, or not to mine. I would leave those people to tell their story, but from where I see it this is a white masculine house and that has consequences. My story is just one. But who is not here? And why? I think it’s important to not interpret these things personally, but understanding the depth of the structural imbalances involved in expressions of gender, race, class, neurotype, sexuality, and whatever other aspects. They creep up with the best of intentions. My mind is polluted by these structural imbalances and so is yours.

So, this first mind shift is to realise this general pattern of how to understand the experience of others. We split into oppressor/oppressed groups all too easily and remain trapped. The oppressed internalise their oppression, become tired, and give up on change. The oppressors remain clueless. When the oppressed finally burst, the oppressors are shocked and defend their good intentions, re-centering the story on themselves again.

Myself, I am mostly the oppressor. But occasionally the oppressed.

So I plead with you, as white people we need to sort out our racism, as men we need to sort out of sexism. These are two big society-wide aspects of domination that should be hard to ignore (especially given half the population are women), I feel they are a nice pathway to more generally understanding the experience of others in all its wonderful diversity. If I don’t care about these most basic aspects of domination and liberation, why should people care about my particular nuances?

Ok, the second mind shift (which is really the same as the first) is for me to really stop with this individualised bullshit and point out that there is nothing wrong with me. I am not broken, I am broken by the structures within this place. In every structure some people are enabled and some disabled. I won’t justify myself just to make you comfortable, and I don’t want others to do that for me. I want to invite your anger when I fuck up with my sexist patterns. I want to feel the rage of the non-white people that don’t even make it to the front door here.

So, how did we get here? As yunity, we threw away the blueprints of society, and started with a blank piece of paper, to write the structures afresh. But whose hand holds the pencil that draws them? The hand connects us back to the existing society, our built-in programming survives intact, and we merely recreate much of the same bullshit with a different twist.

With a singular focus, we get very good at fixing that particular aspect. Here, let’s say resource efficiency. Keep costs and energy usage down, saving lots of stuff. The success here from that is a real achievement, very inspiring and great. But any singular focus will always fuck up. Even capitalism has given us many good things, almost everything we use is a product of capitalism, but that model (basically infinite growth) fucks up too as you already know plenty about.

How much does the resource efficiency of one house matter? In itself obviously not at all. It doesn’t move the global stats in any measurable way. It does show that it can be done, and it is inspiring, but at what cost to achieve? What other needs are sacrificed in the process? There is sometimes a division arriving of peoples needs/emotions versus efficiency/effectiveness, but I can’t see how anything is efficient or effective without being grounded in peoples needs/emotions. Instead of opposites to balance, they are layers, one building on the other.

This is a much bigger topic, but it’s slowly dawned on me how much what seemed to be technical topics actually are resting on a social foundation. Software is my main domain for exploring that, but I think it probably applies to a experimental house project too. Social existence as primary.

I think kanthaus is very successful on its own terms. I found some notes I wrote back in 2018/2019 after my longest visit here where I struggled to see whether my negative experiences were due to me or the house (realising there is no clear answer) but I noted that all the positive points I made were true when evaluating the house on it’s own terms, but when I include myself, not so much… (although I never finished the sentence in my notes).

So, what are those terms in which it exists, and who gets to decide them?

Upcoming on my reading list to dig further into the topics:

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