[P2P-F] The Economics of Monasticism by Nathan Smith

Michel Bauwens michel at p2pfoundation.net
Fri Feb 1 05:59:24 CET 2013

Thanks Kevin for these illuminating comments.

- celibacy must also be seen in the context of their times, i.e. where
unbridled sexuality with limited birth control technologies caused many
additional social problems (child killing, child abandonment, child abuse,
see the Institute for Psychohistory for their history of child abuse); the
majority of monks were surplus males from both feudal and popular
environments who could not benefit from inheritance mechanims, as well as a
huge number of abandoned children which were routinely deposited at
monastic doors (the famous 'tourniquet' were especially designed for that);
with their mutualizing of knowledge and resources, they were essentially
the intellectual class in their societies, next to the working farmers and
warrior nobility, and especially in christian lands, they were the
depositors and progenitors of technical knowledge and advancement

in premodern worldviews, spiritual work was not parasitic on the contrary,
it was seen as the pinnacle of civilization, and the population felt they
had a huge debt to the monks and the Church for these intercessionary
services; these apart from the fact that churches and monasteries were the
very centers of social life, for festivals, medical care, food reserves,
and the like; in times of routine feudal abuse, monastic lands were also
the refuge for widows and orphans

by the way, before the 11th cy, priests were married, and churches were
often private property, while monasteries were generally run by the family
members of the nobility on which lands they were settled  (it was called
the 'adelskirche' by historians)

You could argue that intentional communities are the pluri-gender
descendants of the monastic communities and they are doing quite well in
our times; given the huge number of empty church buildings, there is a huge
opportunity to create a new wave of spiritual co-working centers, such as
the Borderlands Augustine ctr in Melbourne, The Monastery in Manchester, or
the church building taken over by the p2p-oriented communautique in



Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2013 20:54:12 +0700
From: Kevin F <kev.flanagan at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [P2P-F] The Economics of Monasticism by Nathan Smith
To: P2P Foundation mailing list <p2p-foundation at lists.ourproject.org>
        <CACpSwUeeaExQQ26TCkBFSyzsJsJbq+7ZX+s_CNLsS1fAppK6XQ at mail.gmail.com>
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Hi Anna,

Monastics also provided services to the communities of which they are
a part. In the past the monasteries were great repositories of
knowledge. They were not limited to scriptural works alone. In the pre
print era scribes also produced copies of philosophical, technical and
historical works. They provided opportunities for people to educate
themselves and in turn those same people became stewards of that
knowledge which was of general benefit to communities that grew up
around the monasteries.
Now as you say it is true that as celibate institutions they fail to
reproduce themselves. However it can also be said that the knowledge
of which the monasteries were caretakers contributed to the
sustainability and in turn the re-productivity of the lay communities
and that seeing monasteries as socially valuable in this way was one
reason people from those communities chose to join.
Of course this is not the only motivation to join. For some it was to
pursue the spiritual life, for others it was to escape poverty, while
others joined because of social or family pressure.
One of the big rules was that monks and nuns should not own property.
If monks or nuns were to have families things become more complicated
as humans tend to look out for the welfare of their own before that of
the community as a whole. One of the arguments for celibacy in the
church is that it acts as an anti corruption measure. When Priests,
Abbots and Nuns have families it is easy for mini dynasties to emerge
as quite quickly it is the son of the Abbot who inherits his fathers
prestigious and influential role. This situation is avoided when they
are required to be celibate.
The other advantage of a celibate community is that its members have
more time to focus on intellectual work. When this is applied to
technical problems, inventive and innovative solutions can be shared,
improving the health and sustainability of the broader lay community.
All of these dynamics change as societies become better off. Today we
no longer depend on monasteries to preserve and reproduce important
texts. Nor do we depend on them for education or health. None of this
was true 500 years ago. As the quality of life improves for people
across the globe the appeal of monastic life is waning. Everywhere
fewer and fewer young people are taking vocations. The tables have
turned in a way. While at one time communities depended on monasteries
 today most monasteries depend heavily on charity. What they have to
offer society more generally has come into question and their futures
are indeed uncertain.
I do not wish to romanticise the historical role of monasteries, I
just want to point out that their social function has changed over
time. While I agree that today these institutions have become in some
sense parasitic my point is that it was not always so.
What I gained from reading this paper was more from the analysis of
incentives and motivations both of which can be applied to analysis of
intentional communities. Also worth considering is the power of shared
values that may be not be so strong in more secular arrangements.


P2P Foundation: http://p2pfoundation.net  - http://blog.p2pfoundation.net

http://twitter.com/mbauwens; http://www.facebook.com/mbauwens

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