Feminism as Power and Love:
Realigning Humanity with Life

Miki Kashtan
39 min readFeb 21, 2023

(An abridged and modified version of this is available in the Mother Pelican journal under the title: “On the Other Side of Separation: Individual and Collective Steps Towards a Post-Patriarchal Way of Living”)

One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. … What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go from Here?”

We live in dark times. Even asking about a feminist vision takes courage and determination. Putting forth the idea that humans can live well with each other and all of life is taken as naïve. Suggesting that this may be how we lived before patriarchy, that this is our evolutionary makeup, and that we can realign humanity with the deep principles of life without any coercion or imposition is, in many contexts, an active invitation to not be taken seriously. And yet this is what I am doing here, willingly and lovingly taking on the risks that come with it.

In this article, I present a feminist vision of a global maternal gift economy and pathways to moving towards it from where we currently are, in the grip of patriarchal systems and conditioning. I believe that our stunted vision is one of patriarchy’s immense impacts on us.

I want us to rise up, defiantly reclaim visioning, and proclaim the radical possibility of shifting from the patriarchal social order built on scarcity, separation, and powerlessness to living, again, in alignment with life’s flow. I see with detailed clarity the possibility that all of us can respond to life in nonreactive discernment; that choice can flourish within togetherness as we collaborate to care for all of our needs with available resources while minimizing impacts; and that we can orient to the flow of life and care for all of life, not only humans.

Our glorious past: the biology of love and the maternal gift economy

If changing patriarchy requires going against human nature, we are doomed. This is why the radical feminism I love and see myself as part of rests on different assumptions from the steady diet of bleak views of human nature we have been fed for a long time: that we have a “dark” and “base” side; that our nature is selfishness and competitive; that violence is inevitable; and that needs and feelings cannot be trusted, because, when left to our own devices, we only care about ourselves.

This is core to why we are so often dismissed when suggesting that humans used to live in flow with life and can come back to it. As Marija Gimbutas said: “A serious and continuous obstacle in the study of ancient societies is the indolent assumption that they must have resembled our own… the existence of ‘a different world’ is the hardest thing to admit.”¹

While everything any of us say about the past is fundamentally unprovable, I want to ground the vision I present here in some picture of our evolutionary makeup. I lean, first, on work started by Gimbutas and now carried forward by brave women such as Heide Goettner-Abendroth. They draw on abundant findings pointing to peaceful, egalitarian societies flourishing in Europe during the neolithic period. They show that such societies were complex and partially urbanized and still maintained the mothering principle. Their demise and transformation into patriarchal societies took three waves of progressively more violent invasions by nomadic pastoralist Indo-Europeans that Gimbutas dubbed Kurgans based on their burial sites.²

In speaking about this past, I draw on two additional bodies of work that describe what such societies might have looked like and how some few remaining ones still function: the evolutionary framework of Humberto Maturana Romesin that posits a “biology of love,” and the “maternal gift economy” framework developed by social theorist Genevieve Vaughan. My own explorations and experimentation in actually restoring our capacities that were lost to patriarchy confirms and complements their work. These frameworks point to what I believe is still imprinted in us on the cellular level, perhaps our true human legacy: love and embeddedness within the web of life.

The biology of love. Maturana has been a pioneer in terms of reshaping our understanding of how evolution works, proposing what I see as a feminist path that is profoundly relational while remaining consistent with genetic theory, aiming to reclaim our earlier orientation to life and nature and integrating it with modern science. He collaborated with psychologist Gerda Verden-Zöller in writing The Origins of Humanness in the Biology of Love, where they argue “that human beings belong to an evolutionary history in which daily life was based on cooperation and not domination and submission … [and] the basic emotion or mood was love and not competition and aggression.” Humans, in other words, evolved separately from chimpanzees, forming a different lineage which conserves the loving nature of mother-child relationship into adulthood, while for many mammals the prevalent mood of adulthood is one of dominance-submission relationships.

The maternal gift economy. As Genevieve Vaughan reminds us, infants cannot survive without the gift of mothering. In pre-patriarchal societies the mothering principle of orienting, from within trust in life, to the needs of others is central, revered, and paradigmatic. This orientation has profound consequences. Such societies have no structural differences in access to resources. Power is based on entrustment of those with natural authority, often “the person who cares the most for everyone.”³ Everyone’s needs are included when allocating resources. Intricate and ongoing cooperation happen, as Maturana and Verden-Zöller describe it, “in the domain of mutual acceptance in a co-participation that is invited, not demanded. … its realization occurs in play … in the enjoyment of actually doing things together.”⁴ The early and indispensable unilateral giving orientation towards the young continues into adulthood and forms the basis of all social arrangements.

The possibility of peaceful, loving, collaborative societies thriving in balanced relationship with all rest of life and each other, where women, men, and children live in relaxed trust of self and other, is a challenge for modern human sensibilities. This is so even though this was what settlers encountered in North America, even though Iroquois self-governance, based on nonviolent and cooperative principles, has been in continuous operation for a thousand years within extreme conditions imposed by colonial settlers in the US, and even though the notion of an original matrilineality preceding patrilineal arrangements was quite common among archeologists and others in the 19th century.⁵

What patriarchy has done to us

Patriarchy, as I understand it, is an assault on the biology of love and, by extension, on life itself. I see it as unfolding and reproducing itself in relation to how we care for our material needs, more so than based on ideas or specific arrangements about gender.

Individually, patriarchy is reproduced through socialization. As new humans, we breathe, move when we can, make sounds, look this way or that way, smile, cry, drink milk or turn away from milk, touch this or that, and anything else from within the simple flow of life energy within us. As Maturana and Werden-Zöller suggest, “A baby is born in the operational trust that there is a world ready to satisfy in love and care all that he or she may require for his or her living, and is therefore not helpless.”⁶

Within patriarchal societies (almost everywhere now), our flow is perceived as incompatible with the social order and in need of control. The story of patriarchal socialization is a story of trauma because we encounter the harsh reality of scarcity, separation, and powerlessness recreated freshly as each of us arrive here, full of trust, as “a bundle of needs,”⁷ as a small body, fully dependent on others to care for our most basic needs, and alone.⁸ Instead of being nurtured, we are regimented, told what to do, and especially what not to do. We often cry without anyone attending to us, left alone in baby cages (aka cribs) that limit our movement and keep us away from the continual physical contact with other human bodies which our biological makeup screams for. We have no chance. Even when we valiantly fight against accepting the basic messages of patriarchy, we internalize them.

To one degree or another, we lose trust in life and in our own flow and accept the mindset of scarcity that is the root of patriarchy: there isn’t enough for all of us. This fear weakens us and we more easily accept the separation within patriarchy. Once separate from life and from each other, we lose the elemental belief in the power of our actions and in our own mattering to bring about outcomes that work for us. Additionally, we experience the shock of discovering exchange after being, early on, the recipients of unilateral and unconditional giving. Tragically, we end up accepting the negative view of life and of human nature, often including our own nature, that patriarchy rests on.

Collectively, patriarchy is reproduced through explicit and implicit political, economic, and cultural agreements that maintain and reinforce scarcity, separation, and powerlessness. These include private property, accumulation, and exchange as primary mechanisms for allocating resources. Instead of resources flowing to where needs are, they flow to where resources already exist to be exchanged for what the needs are. Needs themselves have lost their power. With the appearance of capitalism, relational and communal bonds are severed, leaving us to fend for ourselves as individuals outside of the thick web of interdependence for which we evolved.

Understanding patriarchy as an experience of individual and collective trauma that repeats itself intergenerationally is key to understanding how humans, formed in the lineage of the biology of love, live in chronic war and aggression. Even within our lineage, the possibility of dominance-submission relationships remains, especially within conditions of trauma activation. Genes do not determine outcome. They only provide the range of possible behavior. The “manner of living” conserved from generation to generation shapes behavior through epigenetics and ongoing interaction between organism and medium. Though our lineage still makes it possible to have dominance-submission relationships, the biology of love lineage has been around long enough that we suffer within them, to the point of actual physical illness.

I focus on reclaiming vision, as an antidote to remaining trapped within patriarchal means while working for transformation, an example of which is the common and tragic idea of smashing patriarchy. The way out that I see, if it still exists, is to lean on our evolutionary makeup and surround the patriarchal field with sufficient love to be able to integrate pre-patriarchal wisdom and practices with everything that we have learned from living within patriarchal social orders in order to create a post-patriarchal social order in which we thrive again.⁹ I come back to these themes after dipping into what a feminist vision could look like.

A feminist future: a global maternal gift economy

Given where we are, we need a vision that is strong enough to carry us through mourning the unspeakable gap between the evolutionary makeup that shaped our past and our current extractive mode leading to environmental degradation, social divisions, and massive suffering. We also, I believe, need a vision that is material and practical rather than ideological.

In Reweaving Our Human Fabric I painted a detailed picture of the vision, including twelve fictional stories to give it a vivid sense of lived reality. This section expands, specifically, on the description in that book of the economic system:

The economic structure in the world I envision is neither purely local, nor market-based, nor centrally planned. … Instead, I see a system that is distributed and coordinated. Whatever can be decided and handled locally is, and everything else is communicated and coordinated by matching up requests and offers at the lowest level possible. In that sense the system I envision operates on the basis of supply and demand and replaces the ruling power of money as the only mechanism available to mediate supply and demand. Instead, sophisticated systems can support resource flow from where it exists to where it’s needed based on ongoing input from all who participate (p. 371).

Being able to dream what human life might look like when humanity is fully realigned with life is a clear precondition to liberating ourselves from patriarchy individually and collectively. To support us all in stretching our imagination and to truly sink into it, I offer this possible blueprint in present terms, as if it’s already happening. I want to invite readers to consciously imagine, with me, that “… there is no money and no exchange …. That everything that is done is done voluntarily and coordinated with everyone else’s actions. … That there is no government as we know it, and no coercion except under conditions of imminent threat to life” (p. 282). Here, in more detail, is what this might look like:¹⁰

Maternal gift economy

The biology of love is restored. Humanity is functioning as one interconnected whole. We meet our material and non-material needs as members of a global interspecies web through maternal gifting in regenerative communities and in reverence for life.

We all have full opportunity to participate directly in all decisions that affect us locally and through various mechanisms that feed into less local circles and more complex decisions. We share resources locally and through intricate mechanisms of matching resources to needs across regions globally. Given that resources are re-localized, the scope of decisions that we can make locally is significant. Given massive restoration of individual and collective capacity, all of us who want to, everywhere, are participating in shaping the way things unfold in our regions and beyond: our local involvement is integrated with global care. We have access to any information from anywhere in the world that is relevant to our needs. We live in an ongoing web of learning and attunement through local and inter-regional impact sharing and other forms of feedback. And we continually increase our capacity to attend to existing conflicts and reduce their prevalence through engaging locally, regionally, and globally. With the degree of trust, flow, localized resource use, and commitment to living within the means of the planet and in reverence for life that now exist, very few decisions reach the global coordinating circle that local circles flow into.

Instead of money, exchange, accumulation, ownership, and thinking about who deserves what, resources move from anywhere in the world to anywhere else in the world based entirely on what’s needed, what’s available, and the impacts of moving resources from where they are to where they are needed.

We each discern our own needs, and all our needs are visible. Impacts are known and measured directly. Our essential needs are attended to before anything else is. Whenever we have more resources than we need locally, we make them available, rather than any of us storing them away. We encounter finitude collaboratively and none of us stretches to give beyond our willingness.

With the shift from technologies of protection, control, destruction, and distraction to mobilizing our collective human ingenuity to attend to human needs within planetary limits, we have found ways to have enough food, water, and shelter for all of us. Aggregate requests rarelly exceed aggregate availability. When it does happen, we handle such instances as emergencies if the discrepancy is about a basic life-sustaining resource and as deep calls for creative learning if what’s at stake is less essential needs.

There are no fixed solutions and no coercion. We attend to each such situation as the unique configuration that it is, knowing that it involves specific human beings who are in distress because of there not being enough of something to attend to their needs. We know we cannot decide ahead of time the path for aligning available resources with needs, because human ingenuity is necessary for that. As we release and peel away layers of attachment wherever they might exist, and as we discover and expose the actual needs and make them clear and known, creative solutions emerge.

I think of this vision as feminist because it is grounded in the maternal gifting paradigm and applies the deep principle of integration in relation to what we have learned through millennia of patriarchy that is now making it possible for us to engage, collaboratively, on a global scale.

The gap: living within patriarchal systems

The systems within which we currently live function in scarcity, separation, and powerlessness and rest on core patriarchal assumptions: that there isn’t enough for everyone; that needs cannot be satisfied; that each of us is separate from everyone else; and that dialogue and mutual influencing can’t work to solve problems. These assumptions shape how we organize human life, including how resources move around. This resulting system has several features that are entirely disconnected from life.

Ownership. Owning inverts our relationship with life. Instead of recognizing ourselves as part of life, we make it into a thing, divide it, take control of it as if it is part of us, and convert it into property, usually backed up by the power of the state. I am not surprised that indigenous people around the world couldn’t grasp the horrific threat to their existence when European colonizers came. The idea of control and owning land was simply non-existent.

Exchange. Within exchange economies, relationships become instrumental, we give in order to receive, and anything has value only because it can be exchanged for something else. This is why “net worth” equates someone’s value with the assets they have. Since patriarchy took its accelerated extractive form of capitalism, most of us have also become commodities. Without direct access to what we need, we sell ourselves, as bodies and as minds, and accept rules, norms, and money as ways of distributing resources.

Money-based supply and demand. Patriarchal systems, especially in their capitalist form, make it nearly impossible to distribute resources based on needs and impacts: even when we would want to base decisions on full information, only substitute measures exist.

Instead of needs, we only have access to what economists call effective demand, which is a poor substitute for needs. It measures what people are willing to pay for something, which hides from view needs for which people don’t already have resources to exchange. These needs are then systemically left unattended.

Instead of impacts, we only know what things cost, which is a poor substitute for impacts, because it only measures what is exchanged, hiding all impacts that don’t “cost” money, which includes pollution and impacts on communities and people whose needs aren’t visible.

Instead of clarity about what resources are available, we only know what is up for sale. This is the big theft that capitalism continues to create. We have lost direct access to land, to food, and to each other’s generosity and we don’t know what is truly available.

Who deserves what. Economics is defined as the study of the allocation of scarce resources rather than of finite resources. Paradoxically, even though we produce and consume more than ever before, both in total numbers and per capita, more of the totality of what’s available on the planet is held within scarcity. Within the scarcity produced by accumulation and exchange, orienting to needs is literally beyond capacity and we lean on rules and norms even if they mean that needs remain unmet. Most especially, we are trained to think in terms of who “deserves” what, which is the exchange mindset added to the commodification of human beings, whatever our access to resources is. “Deserve thinking” cements in full the separation from self, other, and life. We don’t know or name our needs if we have even a hint of not deserving. We close our hearts to people whose access to resources is far less than they need, justifying it by saying they don’t deserve more because… — take your pick: they didn’t work hard enough, they don’t dress the right way, their religion or skin color or manners are the wrong kind — without stopping to imagine, fully, what it is like to come home, if people even have one, without enough to feed everyone.

Incentive. When we are not able to forage for or grow food and depend, instead, on the market economy, we cannot sustain ourselves without money. Since money is not a naturally occurring substance, we become dependent on somebody giving us money. This is an existential trap for all except the very few who could live out their days — even at levels of consumption that are unimaginable for the vast majority of people on the planet — and still never spend all they have. Both high and low-wage jobs have profound instrumentality built into them, as David Graeber describes in Bullshit Jobs. Untold numbers of us go every day to do work or study without intrinsic meaning, sometimes work that is degrading and even dangerous, solely to attend to material needs. We accept mistreatment silently just to keep a job. We are friendly to people even when we despise them — as many more than I could bear to fully take in do every day of their working life — so that they will continue to give us money.

Moving towards vision on the material plane

We cannot, ever, go back to life before patriarchy, only forwards, as conscious evolution in response to patriarchy, taking an integrative pathway that leans on everything we have and have learned. Even though collectively bridging the gap between current reality and feminist vision seems unlikely to happen given the formidable external obstacles and the deeply entrenched internalized patterns, imagining what this transition would entail is part of reclaiming vision, without which movement towards vision is less likely.

Elemental conceptual shifts

Restoring the life principles of flow, togetherness, and choice means shifting each of the features of patriarchal systems into an element of the vision, offering a path of realigning with life instead of only opposing and criticizing.

From owning to belonging. Restoring flow means rekindling our trust in life and recognizing that we belong to the earth. All that we need — to sustain ourselves, to give ourselves shelter when we need it, to eat what we need, to care for others, to care for ailing bodies, and everything else — ultimately comes from life. Leaning on collective capacity, we can restore the commons, so we and the non-human world function as one integrated whole, evolving in mutual care.

From exchange value to reverence for life. Reverence for life arises, spontaneously, when we orient to the intrinsic value of all that lives and behold with awe the enormously intricate nature of the mechanisms that sustain life, from the minutest creature to the giant mammals of the sea and to the largest organisms that extend over kilometers. Nothing is useless within the intricate web of relationships that sustains all life. Nothing can be removed or changed without cascading impacts.

Restoring flow includes slowing down sufficiently to notice life, within and around us; to connect with our needs fully; to take into our being the needs of other humans who are now woven into an interconnected web of billions; to orient to the depth of desire to live present in all that lives; to consider impacts on all that lives into the unknowable future; and, through all that, to find mindful choice.

From money-based supply and demand to matching resources to needs. Even while money still exists, we can learn to care for needs directly, not through exchange. Resources are already flowing all around the world and we already have mechanisms to estimate what’s needed where. The only change needed is shifting from leaning on money to collaborative calibration of needs.

From who deserves what to caring for everyone’s needs. We live on a finite planet, which makes a relaxed and trusting attitude towards finitude essential when caring for needs. Orienting to all needs pulls us towards finding collaborative, creative, and caring ways of attending to needs within the means of our precious planet. Restoring flow means recovering from the brutal self-fulfilling prophecy that all we really care about is ourselves and that we can’t collaborate. A livable future invites us to learn, again, how to open our hearts to everyone, regardless of where they are and what their needs are, and to surrender to the trust that others will care about our needs, too.

From incentive to wholehearted willingness. Doing things for intrinsic reasons based on the natural unfolding of generosity in response to needs is stamped out of us early on. We learn, instead, to orient to extrinsic rewards, which interferes with knowing what we want, what we are willing to do, and what is within capacity. Because extrinsic rewards are generally unrelated to true needs, we all too often develop attachments, habits, and addictions, including to comfort itself, that make us easier to manipulate. Restoring flow means learning to recognize what we truly need materially, satisfying nonmaterial needs through relationships rather than money, and finding, again, the joy of giving, even to people we don’t already know. When we learn to take only what we need, not more and not less, we are more likely to experience enough-ness. Enough-ness leads to more generosity, willingness, and honoring of our limits, and, ultimately, to more of the social stability that indigenous cultures and matriarchal societies knew for so long.

Design principles for supporting the flow of gifting

Although the practical aspects of matching resources to needs in flow rather than matching supply to demand in exchange are in principle quite simple, the pathways are clogged by our cumulative actions over millennia. The original simplicity of flow is no longer available to us. At present, I still believe the pathways are openable, with significant collective effort. Leaning on specific design principles and anchoring them behaviorally could, potentially, work globally. For now, they can be useful for setting up transitional practices at scales larger than a household and smaller than global.

Making information available and accessible. As a sweeping generalization, the biggest un-clogging that is necessary is to un-hide information that makes possible matching resources to needs with the least amount of unwanted impacts.

Despite deep conditioning against making needs known, on the material plane this is entirely doable, because the mechanisms already in place for online shopping are quite adequate and we already have algorithms for statistical prediction of fluctuating requests for different items.

Knowing impacts is potent and requires us to exit market economies, as they aren’t set up to measure actual impacts, only what counts as “costs.” I want us to have this information, and it is possible. As more of us find willingness and capacity to make impacts directly visible and as we release the grip of scarcity, separation, and powerlessness, we are also invited to trust that we would collectively take impacts seriously when making decisions. When we are no longer beholden to profit and the sacred cow of “growth,” this is one key pathway for producing and consuming with the least impact possible.

Once we remove the dependency on money for attending to needs, a dynamic, interactive system, based on technologies that already exist, can support us in deciding what to grow or produce where that will sustain the entire global population within willingness and capacity. All of us could work less and still attend to our collective needs. It’s in our hands.

Grounding choice within togetherness. Even now, solidarity often arises spontaneously in emergencies, when needs are exposed and when existing mechanisms cannot address them. People then come together to make things happen in care for the whole, without centralized planning or authority telling anyone what to do. A sense of “we’re all in this together” permeates such situations. Full choice within togetherness is essential for a livable future to be possible. At any scale, sufficient choice, sufficient togetherness, and sufficient leaning into trust in life are a path to restoring flow. The rest is an engineering problem.

One of the persistent pushbacks I hear about basing everything on needs is that we don’t have a way of defining or measuring needs. Indeed, life is inherently unruly. Needs vary widely. Even though we all both over and underestimate what we need under conditions of patriarchy, the experience of having a need is internally strong and incontrovertible. No one can tell anyone else they don’t have a need they experience themselves as having. I don’t believe any pathway to a livable future can proceed through telling people what they need because they fit this or that category; are this or that height, weight, or skin color; or have this or that many children. I do see the possibility of holding all needs in some complex kind of togetherness, until the layers of patriarchal protection soften and we can hold everyone else’s needs alongside our own. That is what allows choice to happen within togetherness.

Staying within capacity and willingness. Another pushback I often hear about establishing a full gift economy is that incentives are needed to do what’s necessary to sustain life. Who, for example, would continue to collect our garbage if they had better options? How do we sustain any conviction that all that truly needs doing can be done within willingness and capacity?

The answer, for me, is that willingness grows when we know we are contributing to needs, when we know we matter, and when we trust the mystery of collective capacity. Much of what is now produced isn’t necessary for human wellbeing. Much work currently being done is only there to limit access to resources. And much happens only to compensate us for the losses that come from scarcity, separation, and powerlessness. Almost none of us truly know that we matter. Who can tell what will happen when all we do is to care for needs, including of those who do the work?

Distributed, collaborative decision making. Another frequent pushback is the persistent belief that the “invisible hand” brings about the best possible social benefit as we each pursue our self-interest, with some concessions for situations in which regulation and control are needed. And yet, even within the context of patriarchal systems, other pathways are present: emergencies bring people together¹¹; unilateral giving is necessary for any of us to be alive¹²; and commons continue and are growing despite hundreds of years of enclosures¹³. Matriarchal societies and indigenous principles of life have preceded patriarchy and sustained us for hundreds of thousands of years and were still present when colonizers encountered them¹⁴. On larger and more current scales, we have the examples of the self-organized communities of Catalunya during the Spanish Civil War, and, at present, the Zapatistas and Rojava, also functioning collaboratively outside state control. And I myself am part of successful small-scale experiments in distributed, collaborative decision-making and resource flow that I share about next.

What makes distributed, collaborative decision making possible is the presence of mechanisms for holding differences in preferences within togetherness, especially when facing finitude, which is a descriptive, material feature of life, so that we don’t recreate scarcity, which is fear-based relationship with finitude. This is where the stark gap between the abstract concept of the “Tragedy of the Commons” and the actual reality of how commons function¹⁵ points, still, to a possible future. When we can approach finitude with trust in our collective care for all, we regularly and consistently arrive at creative solutions¹⁶.

Case study: gift hubs as beacons of possibility

The purpose of including this case study is to increase capacity by showing that perhaps not all is lost. Within certain conditions, with sufficient vision, commitment, and behavioral anchoring of intentions, it is possible even now, within patriarchal systems, to restore human capacities that were lost to patriarchy.

Since 2017, I have been part of the Nonviolent Global Liberation (NGL) community (which I founded), whose purpose is “to integrate nonviolence into the fabric of human life through ongoing live experiments with truth focused on individual and collective liberation.”¹⁷ Here I summarize the results of our small-scale experiments in distributed, collaborative decision-making and resource flow that have been unfolding since we started functioning.

As an online community, we have been establishing a micro-version of a global maternal gift economy. This includes making information about needs, impacts, and resources available and accessible; finding mechanisms to support full choice within togetherness as the information is shared and decisions are made; and creating pathways for distributed, collaborative decision making for the flow to sustain itself and get stronger over time.

At present, the community includes about 300 people from five continents. Aside from a few “pods” living together, currently only money and human energy are shared. About thirty of us depend for all or part of our sustainability on money freely gifted to NGL. We have no bosses, no employees, and no board. No one tracks anyone’s time or contribution; all that happens, including distributing money, emerges from connection to purpose and needs, is based on willingness, and is within capacity¹⁸.

As part of experimenting and learning, we coined the term “gift hub” to capture what we were doing. A gift hub is made up of agreements to implement gift-based resource flow beyond tightly knit, high-trust small groups in which personal awareness of everyone’s needs, impacts, and resources is enough to sustain ongoing flow¹⁹. We call it a “hub” was chosen because gifts both come from somewhere and go somewhere, and the hubs support that flow.

Once we had a name, we started seeing gift hubs everywhere in relation to learning, logistics, care and support, and money. In the case of money, where the deep entrenchment of the outside economy is so powerful, strong containers are needed to subvert exchange patterns, all of which exemplify the design principles named before²⁰.

Making information available and accessible. Our money distribution happens three times a year.

The cycle starts with asking those who participate to name their needs. Given patriarchal conditioning, everyone also receives one-on-one support in working through barriers to giving an accurate and complete assessment of their needs.

When we name our needs, we are also asked for the impacts on us if we don’t receive the money we are asking for, with clear examples to support us in naming them (e.g. stress, needing to take on a regular job, etc.).

Both the needs and the impacts are made visible when we ask for contributions, and people are reminded to give only within capacity and willingness, which means we have accurate information about available resources, too.

Grounding choice within togetherness. We have no criteria for needs, only our own assessment. The range of what people name as their full need is between zero and about $5,000 per month, varying independently of how much life energy we give to NGL. We all know what each of us asks for. As our awareness of becoming one shared-risk group increases, we are beginning to orient to each other’s needs spontaneously, outside of specified distribution times, within the whole.

Staying within capacity and willingness. The limitations we bring with us as we liberate ourselves and each other from patriarchal conditioning, and the obstacles to our larger influence are immense. Still, we continue to uncouple giving from receiving and ask everyone for money, including those who contribute significant life energy to the functioning of NGL. Simultaneously, everyone is welcome to join NGL and have access to all that we have regardless of capacity to contribute. The result is that more than half of those engaging with NGL contribute neither money nor life energy, while others contribute significant amounts of both.

Distributed, collaborative decision making. Since the pandemic started, we have been doing three cycles a year of asking for, receiving, and distributing money. Each time, we have taken baby steps towards vision that have supported the entire community to walk through fear, shame, accommodating others, and other such patterns. At present, we name our needs at three levels based on anticipated impacts: minimum, restrained, and full. Not once have we received the full amount requested from contributions. Still, we have continued to contribute our life energy to sustaining the NGL community and sharing with others what we are learning in the process. So far, we have always received enough for everyone’s minimum needs, which we attend to before giving anything else to anyone. Even as we mourn the stretch, we also experience a gift in reducing our collective consumption as part of planetary adaptation.

Given that thirty is too many to participate directly, we entrust to a small group the careful, meticulous artistry of distributing the money so that the impacts won’t devastate anyone (we are always invited to join the group if we don’t find capacity to entrust). This group interviews each of us so that the needs and potential impacts for each of us are held within their visceral experience. They then come together, review all the requests and the available money, and decide, for all of us, what we will receive. The process is recorded and made available to all to watch and feedback is invited for continued learning.

Beyond the either/or of capitalism and communism.

Before closing this section, I want to address one more pushback that comes when any of us express significant misgivings about capitalism: we are assumed to be espousing communism, as if those two exhaust all possibilities, and dismissed on the basis of capitalism being the best there is, even when people see its limitations. I am quoting from my article “Why Capitalism Cannot Be Redeemed,” where I question the dichotomy:

Capitalism relies heavily on strong state mechanisms and yet pretends to have as little as possible to do with states. Capitalism inexorably leads to concentration of wealth and yet we hear the myth that no one has power and everything happens through open competition that brings forth the best possible outcome through the invisible hand.

Communism, on the other hand, at least as practiced so far, relies on coercive and centralized mechanisms that discourage local capacity and flow even while pretending to be a “people’s republic” as some call themselves. When the people of Catalunya self-organized in collaborative and distributed self-governing structures during the Spanish Civil War, it was the communist party, not Franco’s fascist forces, who brought that chapter to an end. As far as I understood, it was the party’s inability to accept anything that wasn’t ruled from above.

What I am proposing is entirely different from both and yet integrates features present in each of them.

Unlike communism, when decision making is distributed, there is no central planning and no one is in charge. Just like capitalism, and yet entirely differently, people decide for themselves what they need and what they are willing and able to do. Unlike communism, no one decides anything for anyone else without their participation or full entrustment.

Unlike capitalism, when decision making is collaborative, decisions are not individualized. Unlike communism, no one tells us what to do, and no one is going to solve our problems without our empowered participation. Unlike capitalism, we are not simply free to do as we please without regard for impacts, others’ needs, and what is actually available. When decision making is collaborative, care and mutual influencing are integrally built into the process. Just like communism, everyone’s needs and capacity are in the picture, with an intention to care for all the needs within overall collective capacity. Unlike capitalism, no one is free to accumulate at the expense of others. Unlike communism, there is full trust in life that people, on their own, without anyone deciding for them, can engage with each other and reach decisions that optimally flow resources from where they are to where they are needed, based on full willingness and capacity, and with the least unwanted impacts.

Preliminary notes on starting where we are as individuals

Despite growing awareness that what we have isn’t working, despite decades of feminism, despite centuries of resistance to capitalism, despite the availability of sustainable material technologies for solving global challenges, and despite the availability of social technologies for bringing people together to solve problems, we lack the true collective capacity to come together to change course.

We cannot, at present, create anything that is entirely free of market dependence, state control, and patriarchal conditioning. All we can do, at present, as individuals and within small groups, is take small steps from where we are towards vision. We can consciously choose to shift from “life-style” choices within what capitalism can absorb to microscopic revolutionary action oriented to interdependence and thus at odds with the individualizing force of capitalism. Such action is more likely to support the formation of larger networks that may potentially become the seed of a post-patriarchal maternal gift economy.

A future that works for all starts with a deep commitment to liberation for all, without any exception, even those committed to what we now have. Restoring flow, the biology of life, and the mothering principle means, to me, aligning our means as much as we know how with the future we want to create. This, to me, is the essence of feminist nonviolence.

When we restore flow, in growing pockets, we learn as we go what supports us to rediscover our long-lost trust in life and surrender to what then happens as we move from instrumental relationships towards becoming interdependent beings who know their needs. The journey itself becomes a defiant celebration of life as we establish islands of flow, without knowing if we can reach our destination.

Embracing the soft qualities

Patriarchy, emerging from the scarcity that came after we lost trust in life, resorts to control to ground domination and submission. Patriarchy functions in separation, leading to either/or frameworks, right/wrong thinking, and blame and shame as core motivators. Within patriarchy, the soft qualities are looked down upon. Feminism, for me, rests on the power of the soft qualities to transform patriarchy. I quote from my article by that name²¹.

Vulnerability and humility soften patriarchal habits of protection and control as we restore choice. That strength makes possible deepened awareness of interdependence, and tenderness for self and other, as we restore togetherness. Mourning together what we have lost, and celebrating what we still have, may support enough capacity for restoring flow through embracing generosity and receptivity.

Two of the soft qualities are particularly significant for restoring flow and moving towards a feminist future of a global maternal gift economy.

Mourning. Once we take in that the present reality is not inevitable and that another world is truly possible, we face the gap between what we have and the depth and luminous vitality of our vision. Mourning is a way of holding softly and bringing tenderness to the gap. Without mourning, we are more likely to try to “close” the gap by resorting to strategies that separate us from ourselves (numbness, addictions, self-ridicule as naïve), from others (anger, hatred), or both. Mourning allows us to move towards vision with nonreactive discernment.

Mourning is soft and connected with life. It connects us with our needs, giving us fuel to stay connected with life. Mourning aligns means with ends, acting on the vision in the very moment of facing the gap. Mourning supports us, in particular, in moving towards acceptance of what is, including our collective global limitations.

Tenderness. When we fully open our eyes to what patriarchy has done to us, we often respond with outrage, anger, judgments, and even hatred. This may well be what has resulted in associating feminism with hating men and, more recently, is fueling cancel culture. Where, then, would tenderness come from when we are all so deeply wounded? Precisely from making visible the degree of violence and trauma that has gotten us wounded. When I say “us” here, I mean every last one of us. No matter how much impact, damage, or harm our actions resulted in, none of us was born that way. Taking this in, at the cellular level, we are less likely to judge self and other when our actions, choices, and ways of being make visible our low capacity and resulting impacts.

Personal alignment

Starting where we are, we can aim to align our lives with the vision of a global maternal gift economy. This includes restoring gifting by uncoupling giving from receiving and making each unconditional, reducing our consumption to align with planetary limits, and de-accumulation to restore flow.

Unconditional giving. Restoring this capacity reconnects us with generosity and frees us from instrumental tit for tat relationships. This challenges the deep scarcity and separation that modern capitalism relies on, especially in the Global North. We can grow this capacity over time by consistently finding opportunities for unconditional giving and stretching ever so slightly beyond what is comfortable to give.

Unconditional receiving. Restoring the capacity to receive without giving back usually feels vulnerable because it exposes what exchange hides: our needs and our dependence on others to fulfill them. There are historically deep reasons why unilateral receiving registers as “owing”²². Again, baby steps can support us in growing capacity over time.

Reducing consumption. The practice of reducing consumption is only relevant for the minority of us who have access to resources beyond our basic necessities. Despite the allure of consumption, it is debatable whether it actually contributes to our well-being beyond the point of enough-ness. Even from this point of view, consumption may well be a problem to be solved rather than an ideal to imitate.

Facing the impacts of our choices on all of life, including ourselves, is often a long, complex, painful, and liberating journey. Soft qualities are key to sustaining it without shame or guilt. Aligning with our needs and values as is within capacity is a gentle goal that supports capacity growth over time. For example, bringing more relationship into what we consume may quench a bit the bottomless craving for more that is a substitute for connecting with real needs and with each other. The more we can befriend our needs, the more we stay in togetherness with ourselves as we mourn our strategies to attend to them and look for strategies that don’t require buying anything.

De-accumulation. Like reducing consumption, de-accumulation is only relevant for those of us who manage to accumulate resources beyond what we need and beyond what our planet can sustain. Accumulation removes resources from circulation, converting finitude to the twin phenomena of artificial surplus and manufactured scarcity. When we de-accumulate, we increase circulation and directly restore flow.

Unlike philanthropy, de-accumulation reorients us to our actual needs and entails shifting from ownership to stewardship of resources and releasing all that we have and don’t need. It’s likely to backfire if it isn’t entirely voluntary because of how much it challenges the basic loss of trust in life that is the root of patriarchy.

We begin with identifying and quantifying our needs with full tenderness, and giving away any new income that is beyond that, without any pressure to need less. When we do this year after year, our trust in life may grow and we may organically feel less need even without doing anything to reduce consumption.

When we also recognize that life cannot be owned or controlled and that our collective and cumulative efforts to do that are threatening the continued existence of life on our planet, we can take on the deeper journey of releasing previously accumulated excess by shifting towards seeing ourselves as stewards rather than owners of the resources we have.

Choosing to give away resources as an individual outside anything systemic and collective is a huge responsibility that cannot be escaped and brings up its own dilemmas: How to know what use of resources would have the most impact for restoring flow? Who would decide, and why?

We start where we are, remembering that staying within capacity grows capacity over time. We rigorously do only what is within capacity, regardless of how big the vision is: we give away only resources we can part with, without any attempt to control the outcome, without resentment, and without overstretching. Whatever we decide — so long as it points to our vision, aligns with our values, and is on purpose — is what we do with this portion of our resources. Another day, another time, we find capacity for another chunk of the challenge. Our only commitment is to continue and to learn from each experiment.

From the outside, it’s hard for most of us to see the degree of fear and aloneness that is at the heart of wealth accumulation. All we can see is the comfort, the ease, and the air of entitlement that are outward manifestations. From within, losing the power to create the incentive for others to do the work of caring for the needs of the powerful is too big a leap for the powerful to make. This is where surrounding the patriarchal field with love is most needed and hardest to access.

Integrating power and love

Restoring the flow of material resources has been elusive for humans overall. I don’t know of a single situation in which those with significant access to resources have released them willingly on any significant scale, with the possible exception of a few extremely rare individuals. Simultaneously, nothing can be imposed out of existence. The paths taken so far — imposed regulations, imposed redistribution of resources, or imposed change of regime to accomplish such transitions — are, themselves, an expression of lack of trust in life. Some needs remain unintegrated and are seething in an undercurrent looking for an opening to reassert itself. Patriarchal means will not bring us together to create a post-patriarchal future.

I want to shift from repeated cycles of changing who is in power to new ways of approaching power, so that it rests on relationships and internal resources and is used to share rather than control external resources. This is why when working on the global governance model that much of this article expands on we adopted the stringent criterion that everything had to work for the least powerful and for the most powerful.

My faith in possibility rests on practices that bring in sufficient holding capacity so that information about needs, impacts, and resources can be shared and received by all, regardless of access to resources. This is where integrating power and love is so deeply needed: so those of us who have absorbed the material impacts of accumulation can speak truth with love and bring forth with sufficient courage our needs, the impacts on us, and our vast unused gifts.

When this feedback finally comes forward, pain and discomfort are inevitable, especially for those of us who have had their needs met at the expense of the overwhelming majority of the rest of us. I want us to find sufficient love so that there is no unnecessary pain, so that the engagement brings us together rather than further apart. Genuine shifts that last without reverting to habits as soon as the confrontation ends are more likely when we are supported to open our hearts to the impacts of our actions on others.

Paulo Freire reminded us that the oppressors don’t have the power to liberate themselves and only the oppressed can liberate everyone. As those of us with much less access to resources find more love and tenderness through remembering that the drive to accumulate is instilled in all of us, regardless of access to resources. All of us have been trained to desire more resources and more comfort. All of us have been trained to separate from self, other, and life.

I hold a deep sense of reverence for small-scale experimentation that focuses on releasing us from dependence on market and state. Even when material conditions are challenging and even if the rest of the world continues unchanged, when we begin to depend on non-monetary means to attend to our needs in direct relationship with land and people, and as the web of interdependence begins to weave intimacy and care around us, a sense of freedom and well-being may arise that can give us an early taste of what, with grace, may be in store for us as we collectively integrate what we have learned from patriarchy and realign with life: surrendering to finitude, to where our needs encounter reality, naked and unadorned, and engaging with each other to find creative pathways to care for all.

— — — — — — — — — Notes — — — — — — — — — —

1 Gimbutas, The Civilization of the Goddess, p. 324. Joan Marler, who quotes Gimbutas in her article “The Myth of Universal Patriarchy: A Critical Response to Cynthia Eller’s Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory,” adds: “there is absolutely no evidence whatever of competition between households or male domination in pre-Indo-European Neolithic cultures. The assumption that competition and struggles for power are forever ubiquitous is the primary source of such interpretations when no other evidence exists. This is a prime example of ‘presentism’ (the projection of contemporary conditions and expectations onto the past).” (p 177) This perspective requires an active maintenance of patriarchal assumptions that is constantly fed into us individually and collectively.

2 See Cristina Biaggi (ed.). The Rule of Mars: Readings on the Origins, History and Impact of Patriarchy, Marija Gimbutas, The Civilization of the Goddess, and Heide Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies of the Past and the Rise of Patriarchy: West Asia and Europe, which also explores in great depth how patriarchy arose in the very first place, before the invasions that expanded its reach.

3 Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Across the Globe, 108, quoted from one of the few remaining present-day matriarchal societies, the Mosuo in China.

4 Biology of Love, 56.

5 According to Nicholas J. Allen et al., in Early Human Kinship: From Sex to Social Reproduction, this notion was rejected once adopted by Marx and Engels.

6 Biology of Love, 214.

7 Alice Miller, Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries, 48.

8 See “Social Structures and Socialization” for a fuller description of this process.

9 For one way of imagining what such integration could look like, see “Social Evolution in Summary,” a table that looks at twenty-six variables in terms of how they may have existed in the matriarchal world of our past; how they appear within the capitalist patriarchy that we currently live in; and what they may become in the possible integrated world of the future.

10 I worked out the specifics of much of what’s described here as part of participating in an international competition about a global governance model to replace the UN (in 2017). As part of that work, I engaged in a collaborative process with people from multiple parts of the world. We also engaged with feedback from many more, including people from indigenous cultures, people from the global South, and people from the UN. The submission was called “Local to Global Collaboration.” A more detailed description that is free of the constraints of the competition is included in “Working for Transformation without Recreating the Past.” Both form the basis for the vision described here.

11 See Rebecca Solnit, Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.

12 See, for example, her edited collection, The Maternal Roots of the Gift Economy.

13 See David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State.

14 See Heide Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Across the Globe.

15 See Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons, which refutes Hardin’s famous conclusions. Ostrom received a Nobel prize for her work and, still, Hardin’s is by far more quoted, as it fits patriarchal views of human nature.

16 One inspiring example is the acequias, a system for collaborative stewarding of water, the quintessential “scarce” resource, primarily in the Southwest desert of the US, that’s been operating, uninterrupted, since the Spanish colonization. It involves collaborative and distributed management of water access through somewhere between 700 and 800 gravity-fed ditches that average about 6 km (3.7 miles) in length, for a total of about 4,500 km! Everyone knows when they can use the water and when not. Some people have specific roles such as switching valves. Dispute resolution is built in. Instead of the predicted war and degradation, this system has been a robust support for local people whose economic existence is precarious, while supporting the local vegetation which is more abundant than in areas of the desert where people are not using the water.

17 http://nglcommunity.org/about/vision-mobilisation/#Purpose

18 Given that we all carry pieces of patriarchal conditioning even after much work of liberation, we sometimes lose the rigor of leaving things undone rather than motivating ourselves from “must,” “have to,” or “should.” Over time, the rigor has grown. We have many known “voids” and usually see them as an accurate reflection of our collective capacity and as leadership opportunities.

19 It is important to me to publicly acknowledge how we got to this term. When our experimentation was solely about money, we were using the term “money pile,” which came from work developed by Dominic Barter and others in Brazil, aspects of which influenced our early experimentation. His primary focus was system building and an original approach to conflict which he named Restorative Circles (see http://restorativecircles.org). Within this work, Dominic also developed what he refers to as “a sister dialogical social system,” which he named “Financial Coresponsibility,” of which “money piles” are only one part. As our work expanded, “money pile” was no longer relevant or descriptive.

20 More details can be found in “Practical Aspects of Resource Flow.”

21 See “The Power of the Soft Qualities to Transform Patriarchy.”

22 See David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years.

— — — — — — — — — Image Credit — — — — — — — — — —

All images are by Leslie Becknell Marx with images from Pexels.com,

with the exception of:

“Maternal gift economy”, by Sabrina Kley

“We’re all in this together”, by Carl Schulz on Flickr.com CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“The Soft Qualities”, by Sabrina Kley



Miki Kashtan

Miki Kashtan is a practical visionary pursuing a world that works for all, based on principles and practices rooted in feminist nonviolence.