How do we come up with a more optimistic, pluralistic, democratic account of how people can create a shared sense of home together?

December 23, 2016

Advent is the season where we remember that Jesus was born on the road, in a place the family was pausing, while they lacked lodging.  Many others are homeless in various respects, some driven by drought and climate change, others from land-grabbing by multi-nationals and the more powerful, from places that formerly supported them.  We also remember that Pope Francis calls us to a culture of courage, encounter, and going out to the margins but also care of our common home.  The following essay was forwarded to us.  See link at the bottom.

From technology to immigration, urbanisation and climate change – the idea of home is central. Fears that we are losing our place are rife. We live in a restless, rootless world that prompts nostalgia, a yearning for an impossible return to an imagined home. Perhaps that’s why there are so many books in English about the Danish idea of hygge, how to make everything cosy and warm. (It involves blankets, fires, sitting in circles, chatting and not breaking out on your own.)

The spread of dementia – soon to become a global epidemic – will sharpen this unease. Old people are most vulnerable when displaced from their homes: they lose the props they need to keep everything in order. As people with dementia lose their short-term memory, so longer-term memories of where they grew up and their lives in childhood become more important. One woman I know with dementia now anchors her identity in repeated wartime stories of sleeping in an Anderson shelter with her mother. Those are among the few memories she can still conjure up. Home is a place long ago, as much as it is the flat she now lives in, which holds almost no meaning for her.

Tensions over the meaning of home will only intensify; if people feel thwarted in finding their place in the world, they can become angry, depressed, defeated and sad. Many of them will support measures to exert greater control over their homes, to build walls, erect gates and keep at bay unruly forces that threaten to take their homes from them. They will want to restore an orderly home, however imaginary. At the moment, politically, only the populist Right seems to fully understand the power of this idea, when what we need is a creative, shared response to remake our sense of home.

It could be too much to hope that we might have a homely capitalism, with homely capitalists but, in a sense, that is what people are asking for: an economic system that helps them build a shared sense of home. After all, that’s exactly what far-sighted 19th-century capitalists did in the days of Robert Owen’s New Lanark Mills and the Cadbury factory at Bournville. In the wake of the Second World War, modern capitalism was at its most successful and productive when it built not just factories but millions of homes, from Dagenham to Detroit; homes that were filled in an orderly fashion with consumer durables brought by a capitalism organised around national democracies. Capitalism needs once again to give people an orderly sense of home, rather than pitching them into insecurity, as if anything they have might be taken from them in a moment.

Equally, the progressive Left will renew itself only if it comes up with a more optimistic, pluralistic and democratic account of how people can create a shared sense of home together. Perhaps the lead will come from places such as Canada and Denmark; or from cities that grow and yet remain liveable; even from new approaches to caring for the elderly, from shared housing and from new technologies for building homes cheaply using 3D printing.

We need a new kind of shared home economics, of home-making and building. The route to power to change society starts at home.