A Hestian Map – the sacred hearth not at home in an authoritarian world

I’ve been having a very exciting time discovering and building on the many connections between my scientific method for studying the development and organization of Natural Systems, and the wonderfully radical scientific feminism of Pat Thompson’s “Hestian Home Economics” (1,2,3).   They both center on what is at the heart of the liveliness of natural systems, the living culture and the home it makes for itself in its environment.  The protector of that home and hearth fire for the families of pre-ancient Greece was Hestia, the first of foremost of their personal archetypes of divinity, charged with protecting the **SACRED FIRE of HEARTH AND HOME**.  From a physical science of natural systems much the same can be said for the continuity any systems “seed of self-organization” around which it has developed its way of using the energy resources of its environment.   Same statements, two different wonderfully interconnected languages!   ;-)

To pre-Aristotelian Greek culture HESTIA was the first of the children of Cronus, charged with the first duty of civilization, protecting the sacred flame of hearth and home.   In how families still work today, that’s the continuity of their living culture, their ability to exercise their family traditions and practices, inheriting and passing on it’s joys and forms of knowing, adapting to their changing world as a bridge between their generations.   It’s that  CONTINUITY, then, that IS the living flame of a family home and the animating heart of any living culture, the *cont-in-uity* it develops and follows as it branches out, forming new expressions, that hav always been, and clearly still are today, the center of human life, the foundation of all our cultures. They are today also *quite threatened*, by our devotion to rules for demanding ever more productivity from these living cells that make our lives lively, driving everything sacred to us toward “make bricks without straw”, as it were, for the sake of misunderstood authoritarian rules…!

1) for her books look up “Patricia Thompson, Hestia” on Amazon. 2) PDF of Pat’s simple scientific systems thinking, that unlike virtually all other systems theories other than mine has living things and their archetypal living roles, included not excluded 3) How she deconstructs Roman historian Fustel’s history of Greek culture, that replaced the original (Hestian) cultural language with a commercial (Hermian) dialectic.


Let’s look at the territory,

and the basic maps of home economics and political economics


The basic map of home economics is a work of caring for the home culture. 

For political economics it’s the battle in the public sphere to gain advantage over others.  Pat Thompson calls them “Hestian” and “Hermian” systems, after the representative Greek gods, and we need to understand the action principles defining them.

The primary duty of the home maker, considering a family as a link on a chain of living culture, is to be the guardian of its flame of life and continuity as a culture.  Its living culture illuminates the home with its light and life, as the home serves as the commons within which the family culture inherits and passes on its traditions as family members live for each other, sustaining an “all for one” life of a true commons (Hestian culture).  

Keeping the home light alive has historically been the primary role of the women of the family, whether they got credit for it or not, as 1) “they are there”, 2) have in abundance the particular talents and interests needed and 3) the men generally have duties elsewhere, serving the authoritarian business cultures of the society’s public space, working their ability to extract wealth from others as “the rulers rule” for serving their authoritarian systems, organized around an “every part in opposition”, way life (Hermian culture), a boom and bust machine.

So it’s a split between the free sharing of “profits” that one naturally finds wherever there is “private space” and the invasive cultures using profits to claw more profits, that came to dominate the “public space” of our society.  The “domus-centered” (domestic) life evolved first, and “polis-centered” (political) life second, exhibiting starkly different principles of economics.  One naturally balances resources in the interest of its whole culture; the other maximizes inequities for an invasive culture.

As an authoritarian organization, a business rewards employees who are good at helping the business owners succeed in exploiting others, for serving the greater greed of others, defined clearly in “the rules of the business”.  The business sets its goals according to how it determines its “profits” measured as a one-way taking from its environment.   In modern business it’s not just the % rate of profit that matters.

What’s often more important to the investors who determine which are the most exploitative businesses to invest in, is the % rate of growing profit.   That comparison of profit options is what’s colloquially called, “the bottom line”, and is now programmed directly into business computers since the 1970’s.   It automates how businesses play one competitor off another, to maximize their growing domination of the living cultures around them, with ever growing demands for increasing performance from those serving the rules, and becoming unmanageable as it remains the only available work.

The key is how the two cultures display opposite principles for using the profit, living cultures “caring for themselves” and the invasive cultures “taking for themselves”.    It defines a sharp and clear difference between “home economics” (caring for the home culture) as a principle, and “political economics”(winning battles in the polis), using family cultures to sustain the people serving the authoritarian rules of the polis cultures, for becoming ever more invasive for the home cultures.

As all invasive cultures they use what they take to multiply what they take, exploiting the family cultures caring for themselves that actually hold society together.   It leads to violating the home culture’s essentially spiritual purpose of “keeping the light within” as “the sacred flame” shining through the continuity of their loves and living traditions.

Here then is the problem for us and our remarkable little groups of transformational change agents that our “commons movement” is a part of.    Our “movements for change” started springing up all over the place in the 60’s, in the midst of a culture heavily dominated by ideas of profiting in opposition to others, and some ways “ended up doing the same”.   Not understanding the difference, the transformational communities based some “action principles” on “us v. them” economic approach (exploitive/Hermian).   They “said” opposing the bad was a “new home economics” for the earth, (sustaining/Hestian), but the action principles kept using the same old oppositional logic and authoritarian rules.

At the deepest level, the difference is whether the culture using an action principle regularly tests it with “the precautionary principle”, always asking “what better use might we make of the profits”.    The math clearly tells the difference, whether you measure your success only by your take, or for the whole culture of give and take.    With the one, using the precautionary principle for one’s own action principles is a natural, automatic, and positive thing to do.   For the other it’s a seeming great offense, to question the principle of profit approved by the group as a social unit, or by an authority, same rule based authoritarianism,… either way.

Because what a system does with its profits maps its physical path into the future, those choices serve as its efficient steering mechanism.  Learning how to steer means getting people to rethink the use of the profit; to stuff one’s pockets or care for your world. That’s where the difficult rethinking will turn up… as well as the open paths to real societal transformation!            jlh


One thought on “A Hestian Map – the sacred hearth not at home in an authoritarian world”

  1. Another good way to introduce the idea, (2pp’s cut from an email today) also responds to the idea that accounting for all the unpaid services, that women or the environment itself do for us would hardly account for it.

    Responding to Leland on it — I think the “tell-tale-discrepancy” that opens this up is that bringing things home to give away is the energizing principle of economies, so monetizing what is naturally given away might be seen as a “red flag” for understanding the natural ways of the systems involved. I think it should be thought of as a question, about why “love economies” (also a ref. to Henderson’s use) are connected to “trade economies” in the first place.
    — One of many characteristic differences between “Hestian” (home) and “Hermian”(commerce) economics would be how one responds to contradictions that arise, as things to heal rather than to take sides with… For example, a mom might whip up a batch of lemonade to distract a brood of over-excited kids starting to fight, rather than take sides with her favorite miss-behaving child… !! ;-) … and things like that.

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