I’ve never rough slept, though I’ve had plenty of friends who were rough sleeping at one point or another. For the most part, they were the types you would least expect to need to. Two of them were one time students at Cambridge. Sometimes I laugh a little bit internally whenever I hear anyone describe Oxbridge students as ‘poshos.’ They are ultimately people, just like any other person. I’ve never gone to an Ivy League school, but I think that’s probably a generalizable sentiment.
In my past professional life, I’ve worked at a charity for what we term ‘the homeless.’ Even now, my day to day experience mostly amounts to holding people’s hands while they’re burning in hell. Let me assure you, this is an experience that makes you ask questions.
In case you’re curious, I have also sofa surfed before. I don’t necessarily allow myself to say I’ve been homeless, because I think that might undersell the suffering of my clients.
A note on my experience: while it’s fun and life-affirming to realize you can depend on your friends and associates to cover you in a time of need, it is not fun to constantly be re-negotiating the possibility of a warm, soft object to sleep on, and that isn’t avoidable when you’re homeless.
Domicide is not so much the idea that you don’t have a physical location that’s secure to sleep in. It’s more the idea that some force, personal or otherwise, has murdered any hope you have of a secure physiological connection to a place and a people. I like reading about societal decline. Maybe that’s because it’s winter. I suspect I have SAD, and depressive states of mind can lead to attentional biases. For an example, see this study, among many others.
But let’s not talk about environmental and economic decline. Lets talk about social and cultural decline. One thing that fascinates me about theories of societal decline is the emphasis on cultural decline in certain schools of thought.
Imagine a world where not only the economic chain of being has broken down, such as during the Great Depression. Now instead, imagine a world where the chain of culture has broken down too. I mean the hierarchy that organizes who is more important than whom in accordance with some idealized individual. I think that’s not a bad way to model value structures. A value structure can be expressed by the exemplary member. What do we do when we have nobody to look to? That’s silence is a form of domicide.
If we think about it from a Jungian perspective, male children of single mothers might be at risk for experiencing this form of domicide. That might go some distance towards explaining why the crime rates work out the way they do. Though I don’t want to venture too deep into that debate, because frankly, it gives me the heebie jeebies. I don’t want to get cancelled.
The model of domicide that expresses itself in terms of a lack of ideal pursuit is something I see expressed every day in my work with the homeless, at least those who can be described as part of ‘Britain’s Underclass’. That’s not a characterization I’m particularly fond of. I think it’s not as sympathetic as it could be. I’m a big proponent of the idea that all people are just people. I don’t think social class is a particularly adequate measure of personal worth in any sort of inherent sense.
I could probably expand this section, but instead I’m going to avoid referencing client details, and I don’t want to get in stuck into the debate about Socio-Economic status and all of its many correlates. There are two things that scare me: the first is the aforementioned getting-of-cancelled, and the second is being barred from my professional world for a failure to maintain confidentiality.
It is well-noted that things like culture can affect such phenomena as tendency towards aggression, and that has been observed even at the level of physiological reaction to perceived aggression. What’s more interesting is that Cohen and Nisbett argued that this was even a function of geography and way of life, with the pastoralistic ancestral lifestyle of those we would now describe as denizens of the American South leading to a prevalence of what they called Honor Culture. We can see that come through in the cultural heroes portrayed in the Western film genre: the quiet, gruff, individualistic stranger from out of town who shoots first and asks questions never.
There is arguably some adaptive capacity in that. If I need you to stop rustling my cattle, I’d better be ready to shoot you if you try. I’d better live in a society where that sort of thing is acceptable, in the American South judges are notably less likely to convict defendants whose crimes were of an honor-oriented nature*.
This is one of the things that scares me about the present. It doesn’t seem like we have any particularly adaptive role models. This might be because our culture is now non-specific to factors of lifestyle. Globalization is cool for developing sweet new supply chains, optimizing running shoe production, and making your company look really big and powerful in terms of global impact. But I think it’s pretty difficult to imagine one culture hero covering all of that.
Christ was a great culture hero for a time. Arguably the brotherly-love aspect of Christianity is what enabled it to have such far-reaching impact. Religions of peace and love notably spring up in contexts where multiple cultures smash into each other, such as in the first century Levant*. The adaptive function of these belief structures are pretty straightforward to understand.
But we don’t have those any more either. We need a hero. Could we even have one now? Would that even work? What would it look like? I’m not sure how we could even conceptualise it.
Lino Cut by Shellie Lewis
That’s a way of conceptualizing homelessness and domicide in terms of an absent ideal, without which there is no-one to govern our cosmic residence:
‘There is No King in The Castle.’
Here’s something I’ve noted that I find fascinating in my work: there are plenty of homeless people who sleep in graveyards. These are often those who are most deeply involved in the procurement and use of heroin, which leaves them looking not unlike corpses.This makes me think about the idea of communion in the Catholic church. To be out of communion with Christ for the Catholics is to be ‘spiritually dead’.
That’s a metaphor that carries a lot of weight, though it might not seem like it on the surface. To understand that, let’s look into it more deeply. What is it to be alive in any sense? Vervaeke argues that life is defined by continual self-creation, or autopoesis.
That makes perfect sense to me. A living being is a being that can perpetuate its own existence through the appropriation of other matter into it’s own formal organization. If you consider the Ship of Theseus in connection with this, you can start to conceive of a form of life that is primarily formal. So then, life is the ability to keep a pattern rolling.
What do we call a pattern that replicates itself across time, defines the function and operation of a living being or living beings, and seems structurally-functionally interested in replicating itself not only across time, but also across individuals? I don’t know if we have a term that encompasses all instances of that intersection of qualities. ‘Meme’ might come close. But at least one instance of that confluence of quality is a Religion, or even better, a Mythology.
Say that an ideal lives or dies on the basis of its functional effectiveness. That’s a very pragmatic conception, but it seems to me to not be inaccurate. If it doesn’t work, people stop sticking with it. The question now is, what is it for an ideal to work? It seems to break down into a question about ultimate aims. That in turn becomes its own real quagmire, because without ideals, we can’t evaluate anything, least of all ideals. There seems to be nowhere to start if you want to choose an ideal.
There are also real functional consequences of choosing effectiveness as your meta-ideal. Meta ideal:the ideal that assesses ideals or the value that judges values. It seems like this is one of the problems with Capitalism. It seems to accidentally optimise against producing real value at a certain point.
Maybe this is because in Capitalism, values are completely replaceable. There is no longer a line of succession or a genealogy of values. There is no monarchy of values. Now we have a democracy of values, where a new king can be elected every four years. I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to internalize a robust mode of being over such a short time-scale, so to speak.
At one point, the downtrodden in society could count on the love of God. That was one luxury that slave-morality afforded them. I think Nietzsche would shudder with fear if he was looking at the modern day. We don’t even have slave morality any more. No slaves, no gods, no masters. Only Moloch. That is certainly worse than either. I guess one complaint you could make is that our value systems have ceased to value us as people. That’s a complaint I’d make regarding the replaceability of the average worker. I don’t think I’m the only person that worries about not mattering to the power-structure that maintains his ability to eat.
What about those people who matter so little to the power-structure that maintain them that they don’t even need to work for their food? I think that’s the sort of lifestyle that could destroy somebody.
A general principle cliche that seems to have something behind it: you are what you eat. That which feeds will influence what you become. One question I’ve asked before is: on whose values are you dining tonight? Who will you become by virtue of the way that resources are currently flowing into you? In biological terms, what context are you adapting yourself to?
Homelessness and chronic poverty are two contexts that you’d better not let yourself get accustomed to. I’ve seen the British Welfare system up close, and it really does seem structurally hell-bent on keeping people in bad circumstances.
What sort of values can you internalize if you lose your money the moment you try and reach for an ideal? The message seems to me to be ‘keep yourself valueless, and then we’ll feed you.’ It’s not a good state of affairs. You do not want to have that form impressed on you– that form of chronic formlessness. It’s not liberating, it’s actually just a trap.
But maybe it gets worse. What if No King entails No Castle? How long can we live in a ruin? How much longer can this state be maintained? At what point does a castle become a graveyard? When we are sleeping corpses, what will our opium be? And how on Earth will we feed ourselves now?
* I desperately wish I hadn’t given away my copy of the exceptional Behave by Robert Sapolsky. Then I would have been able to find references for these points.
This essay was originally published on the author’s own website.