Consciousness of Community

One of the great questions of our time, or any other for that matter is: “what is consciousness?” Some think it doesn’t exist. Others think it’s everywhere. Regardless, we are nowhere near to solving this seemingly unsolvable question. But why should it be unsolvable?

Now a new project currently under review hopes to close in on some answers. It proposes to draw up a suite of experiments that will expose theories of consciousness to a merciless spotlight, in the hope of ruling out at least some of them. The initial aim is for the advocates of two leading theories to agree on a protocol that would put predictions of their ideas to the test. Instead of each camp championing its own view and demolishing others: researchers, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation will collaborate and agree to publish in advance how discriminating experiments might be conducted — and then respect the outcomes.

According to the cognitive scientist Stanislas Dehaene of the Collège de France in Paris conscious behavior arises when we hold a piece of information in a “global workspace” within the brain. This argument assumes all of cognition, including consciousness, is merely a form of computation; just an algorithm. This view is dominant in scientific communities worldwide. It also provides the basis of motivation for the technical community who thinks we can create an artificial brain since with enough processing power – it’s only a hack away. This hypothesis is called global workspace theory (GWT).

Dominant doesn’t mean consensus though. The other view competing for viability is one championed by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Tononi and his collaborator Christof Koch, chief scientist and president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. To them consciousness is not a product of just inputs and outputs but rather an intrinsic property of the right kind of cognitive network, one of specific features in its architecture. Tononi calls this view integrated information theory (IIT).

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The Consciousness of a Community

Personally I’m a proponent of Tononi’s integrated information theory; but not just as it relates to individual human consciousness. I can extrapolate and envision it relating to how a community is designed and develops. We can’t just “hack it to get it where we want.” We have to have an architecture or foundation to start with: and how this foundation is designed will determine what can be built on top of it. From this architecture will come a serendipitous synthesis that will be a product of its components. These components consist of a mash-up of a community’s values, norms and the expectations of its residents created through both overt and subliminal means. Think of it like the genetic makeup of an offspring. They may or may not directly resemble their parents – but the parts are in there; whether they be dominant or recessive, they’re just waiting to show themselves down the line when paired in the right combination. We can’t just wish something into existence by adding a few more inputs and taking away a few others.

Over the last few years, the philosophy or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari has dominated my societal thinking as I’ve attempted to “find a better path to an evolved society.” In their treatise One Thousand Plateaus, written in 1980, Deleuze and Guattari introduced the concept of rhizomes as a metaphor for the constructs of a society.

“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus)

I distilled this rhizome metaphor down to the community level in my piece Growing an Evolved Society. One of the main tenets of this rhizome hypothesis is the assumption that the workings of our society (or community) lie on the Smooth Space, or underlying social architectural of a community and its foundational definitions or components.

The platform or naked infrastructure on which the community and in turn the array of “need and opportunity based activities” operate is called the Smooth Space. This platform is not formally defined, but rather takes the form of the influences that inhabit it. These influences can include meaningful communication, actions of existing organizations (government and other) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of my model, Community 3.0, the Smooth Space includes the small business community, non-governmental organizations (Front Porches), the members of the community who are their customers and members; along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and how it creates its Smooth Space will determine its personality and the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the Rhizome structure and its Smooth Space to accommodate and nurture the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community that best serve the collective (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization).

Upon the foundation of the Smooth Space a community is built. The Smooth Space will take either an intentional form … or an accidental one if no conscious effort is made to create otherwise. As with Tononi’s theory of consciousness, you can’t create something if the right ingredients aren’t present to build it on.

The subsequent actions of the community are then dependent on the norms and expectations first established in the development of the Smooth Space. Deleuze and Guattari call these actions the Body Without Organs.

Body Without Organs is what happens, the actions. It is the result of what the Rhizome social philosophy using the Nomadic actions of its components operating on the Smooth Space. In itself the Body Without Organs has no form until the variables of the community infrastructure are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its residents. The individual and collective projects and serendipitous acts of goodwill (or malice) that result from the values established in the development of the Smooth Space compose its Body Without Organs. If empathy, inclusion and connection isn’t a norm of the community – what happens there will reflect it. You can’t build on what isn’t there.

We can all organize annual cancer marches and fundraising efforts until we have no more free weekends; but they will still only be one-offs, single events that don’t leverage beyond their singular purpose – if there isn’t a deep foundation of benevolence built into the community in the first place (Smooth Space components). If we still find reasons to exclude people based on where they used to live, what color they are or how old they are – our efforts will produce little lasting value; and can often do more harm than good. Our primary focus must first be to create our Smooth Space, our foundation where our seeds of goodwill can grow rather than just consumed at the moment.

But what are the components that we’ll need to create this fertile ground?

Every community must be responsible for its own Smooth Space and making it unique to that community. This is your community’s personality. That said, certain elements are nonnegotiable. These elements must transcend political, geographic and ideological differences.

  • Every member of the community is unique and adds to fabric of the community. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no mater their age or social standing. It should be responsibility of all us to help everyone realize their own worth and where they can contribute.
  • Tradition and the static nature of institutions cannot be revered to the point of impeding flourishment. Existing structure and archaic systems are too often the foundation and reinforcement of ideologies, prejudice and exclusion. The value of the status quo and its trappings must continually be assessed.
  • The ideal of resource maximization must permeate all our actions and reactions. ”Don’t worry about what you don’t have … use what you have.
  • Conservation and environmental constraint must be held at the highest of priorities. Unfettered growth and consumption must be curtailed. Every action we make, macro and micro, must be looked at in so far as what effect it has within the larger ecological system, societal and environmental.
  • Wealth is not just about money. It’s about quality of life: and your “personal currency” can take any form.
  • Cross pollinate – personally and professionally.
  • The future of the community is its youth. We nurture them and things will take care of themselves.

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Constructing the Smooth Space

How do we create this foundation for our community though? How do we establish the values and norms to guide ourselves and our children; and help them build the type of places we will all be proud of? But we can’t just sit around and have conversations about it. Talk is easy, but most often it’s fleeting. Conversation seldom roots anything beyond more conversation. Action begets more action – and with it the behavior that sets community norms.

We need to create community ideals and norms that are based on action and engagements among residents; ones that nurture environments and gives permission to everyone to venture out and attempt whatever they choose. This society of permission is made up of residents who don’t just lobby for services, services they feel the government entitles them to – but rather actually go out and act to create their own solutions. Our communities must be workspaces of action, not just talk. It’s from these actions and the relationships they create, will come the norms, values and expectations we need to create the architectural foundation of community will sit on.

Our paradox is that in order for us to create these actions; we need the space that contains the components that are best created from these exact actions. It’s the chicken or egg first dilemma. How do we rectify this? We must force the seeding of interaction and engagement— specifically by using peer leaders. I imagine the mechanics of this seeding process below:

  • Build a team of peer-leading evangelists to anchor the efforts. Often hidden in weeds are the true leaders of the community – the ones people really follow. Fight the urge to fall back on community icons from the status quo; instead identify key community segments (often underserved, ferret out the influencers and solicit their input. Find that one key member that will contribute in outsized proportions: and when you find them:
    • Create a web page announcing your collaborative intention (brand accordingly)
    • Breakdown target segments and research peer leader prospects
    • Recruit
    • Meet people where they are using their physical hubs (Front Porches)
  • Build your community’s Front Porch network:
    • Identify locally owned centers of current activity that can be transformed into civic hubs of engagement working from your peer leader efforts
    • Use a combination of direct sales (via evangelists), public relations and covert guerilla marketing
    • Leverage the owners, employees and patrons to build your effort’s member base and network
  • Build your community participant base via the efforts of your Front Porch network:
    • Provide member acquisition training and guidance to Front Porch management and employees
    • Reach out to and organize in local high schools and colleges seeding a cause-specific young generation movement (e.g. green and conservation actions)
    • Social media, public relations focusing on community specific causes
  • Template civic volunteer projects, specific to your community, designed to kick-start the emotional momentum for a new street-driven empathetic civic engagement attitude (Body Without Organs)
    • Use your Front Porch network as the physical presence and your evangelists to bring in a diverse offering of participants
    • Create a clearinghouse for ideas from all people in your community to be implemented now and later as appropriate
    • Engage with other communities adopting the Community 3.0 model by sharing your ideas and execution techniques
  • Construct/acquire a communication platform/vehicle that will maintain the emotional momentum and upkeep of the Smooth Space foundational components. The building process must be ongoing to combat outside influences fighting to undermine transition to a more evolved inclusive community (often from traditional sources of power – corporate, government, etc.):
    • Community-wide guerilla organization and participation
    • Content-driven Front Porch based communication
    • Civic-focused content and messaging
    • Database-driven customization and personalization

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Call to Action

Putting the above tasks in play may seem like a lot – but it doesn’t have to be. Just take each one at a time. Building your initial team of diverse peer leaders is step one. This is recruiting function is not unlike that a headhunter would use. I did this for fifteen years. The process isn’t magical: it’s methodical. Patience is not just a plus … it’s mandatory. So strap in for the long haul; but it will be well worth your effort.

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Creating a New Healthcare Paradigm

The healthcare community has been abuzz the last couple weeks over the Apple Watch’s ability (or not) to detect irregular heartbeats in attempt to predict atrial fibrillation. Enthusiasts, naysayers, survivors, Eric Topol, and everyone else in between have been giving their assessment of the results of 400,000+ person study done in conjunction with Stanford University. Some praised the results, others obsessed on the chance of false positives causing unnecessary alarm in apparently healthy young adults. I’m guessing where someone’s opinion fell is pretty much where it started out.

That said, the new Apple Watch, Version 4 is not a FitBit. This is not about adoption of a new-fangled gizmo that after a month will end up in the top drawer of your nightstand next to the (no offense to the FitBit). This is the next generation of that smart device that never leaves your side, or your wrist. I’m not trying to be an Apple commercial … rather just acknowledging a bellweather fact of a societal shift in how we view health and what it means to take care of it.

This is a serious entry into a market by the largest, richest example of capitalism the Western world has ever seen; one whose iconic founder’s last corporate directive was to disrupt healthcare in a way he successfully did to computing, telecommunications, music, retail and essentially culture as we now know it. And it’s one that its current leader has fully taken to heart.

In an excellent piece on digital health usage among young people, Susannah Fox, former Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found these teens (14 to 17-year-olds) and young adults (18 to 22-year-olds) making extensive use of a wide range of digital resources to access health information, tools, peer support, and providers online (Digital Health Practices Among Teens and Young Adults: Key Findings):

  • Nearly nine out of ten (87%) teens and young adults say they have gone online for health information: the top five topics searched are fitness (63%), nutrition (52%), stress (44%), anxiety (42%), and depression (39%).
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) say they have used mobile apps related to health, including for fitness, sleep, meditation, and medication reminders.
  • The majority (61%) say they have read, listened to, or watched other people share about their health experiences online, whether in podcasts, TED talks, or YouTube videos.
  • About four in ten (39%) say they have gone online to try to find people with health conditions similar to their own, using methods such as participating in online forums or closed social media groups on specific issues, doing hashtag searches on social media, or following people with similar health conditions.
  • One in five (20%) young people report having connected with health providers online, through tools like online messaging, apps, texting, and video chat.

To the old guard firmly ensconced in their white coats and stethoscope technology conceived 100 years ago … ignore at your peril. Retirement may best be had earlier than later.

James Rizzi - Summer in the City

The world is increasingly becoming one whose inhabitants have never been without a smart phone – a computer in their hand. Texting and social media isn’t something they take breaks from – anymore than eating or breathing. And that’s not just your teenage kids … it’s becoming everyone. Imagine your life without a car. It’s no different.

The healthcare industry in the traditional sense can longer be debating whether they should acknowledge these gizmos in their patients hands anymore than we can debate that climate change is real. Denial only shows an allergy to change and says little of the context and everything of the person. Physicians and providers will very soon need to put forth all available resources in integrating these digital tools into the process of their patient’s care. If they resist … well, I’ll say it again: it’ll be at their own peril.

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Consumers of Health

We can’t just limit our attention to that of cardio health technology though. The Apple Watch and its siblings competing for our attention and our dollars represent much more. They are an emblem of the empowerment to take control of our health. Being constantly reminded of your health status transcends the once a year check up by putting it front and center on demand. The level of our potential awareness is omnipresent. And with this elevation will come modification of our behavior; maybe not always overtly, but at least covertly. Consumers of cheeseburgers can now be consumers of health. And with that will come changes in what the marketplace offers. For example, McDonald’s just announced they’ve removed artificial ingredients from their seven classic burgers, including the Quarter Pounder and the Big Mac. While no bastion of healthy eating, McDonald’s actions show a recognition that health plays a role, an increasingly larger one, in the decision-making of their patrons. These same people will also demand the same empowered recognition from their physician and health provider. And with each day their voices will grow louder. Patient collaboration improves self-efficacy. If patients think what they are doing is going to help their outcome … they’re much more likely to do it. And the act of “doing” is power in itself.

To accommodate this new paradigm, healthcare providers will have put forth resources, both financial and attitudinal, to accommodate the movement of patient health data; or as they call it in the industry, interoperability. This interoperability must extend from within the confines of their clinic walls to other providers (often competing ones) to the personal data gathered by the health consumers themselves. In their new empowered state, patients and consumers will want access to their health information no matter where and how it’s gathered. And if the healthcare provider wants to maintain market share, they will have to oblige. The OpenNotes movement is making strides raising awareness and organizing patients to demand their providers give them access to the notes physicians take during and after their visits. At last count over 26 million consumers are represented by healthcare providers who subscribe to this process … and this number will only increase exponentially. Just yesterday, I was involved in a Twitter thread on the realism of recording patient/physician office visits.

Even with this data flying in all directions – a true health collaboration runs the risk of being siloed in the domain of only the technical assessment of the physical body. We are much more than that. We are an accumulation of our experiences; our environments, and the actions and reactions we make in those environment. We are products of how we grew up, our education level, the work we’ve done, where we’ve done it – and maybe most of all who we’ve done it all with. This is our narrative, or as I call, an Engagement Narrative. The idea for this came from many inspirational discussions I have had with the patient engagement leader, Jan Oldenburg – as she puts her interpretation of it to use in real life. This narrative must be taken into account when looking at our health and well-being – and what we should do about it going forward in our lives.

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The Ivory Tower Must Go

The days of the patriarchal middle age white male in a white coat standing in front of you as sit on a hard exam table in an open back gown, stripped of all power and dignity, are fast becoming a relic only to be seen late at night on second tier cable television. Today’s physicians are not different from the people we see everyday. Many are just as tuned into technology as their most informed patients. They’re health consumers and patrons of Apple and Amazon just like us. They reflect the population. Women and ethnic minorities represent an increasing portion of the demographics making up the industry (though not nearly enough).

It’s not just that our physician demographics have changed; so have the societal conditions around us. Our population is aging and with it is the increasing role played by caregivers. With the prospect of Trump-induced knee-jerk governmental austerity measures looming daily – our mental health is constantly being put to test. Health happens outside the clinic walls more than it does within them … and someone has to be there to assist. In most cases this role is played by spouses, adult children, grandchildren and other family members. But we can’t discount the part played by other stakeholders outside immediate family. Friends and neighbors should be considered an active part of the support solution. This will be even more the case with the government trending towards abdication rather than responsibility. These components of a changing technical and sociological health landscape are demanding a new vision … a new paradigm.

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A Collaborative Health Paradigm.

We must create a national movement of empowerment, one of New Power, revolving around health and well-being that transcends our current definition of “healthcare.” The traditional position of fee-for-service reimbursement is coming to an end – though not nearly fast enough. In its place I hope will be compensation models that reward healthcare providers for their role in elevating the health and well-being of not only their patients, but also the communities they operate in. And this new role will require collaboration from parties beyond the constraints of “healthcare” itself.

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The Health Consumer as a collaborator

If we, as health consumers and patients, don’t look to ourselves as being the main source of  health – the actions of our healthcare providers don’t really matter. Past are the times when your physician was the only source of good health. And gone are times your annual checkup is the only times you even think about your health … if you even do that.

The first step in taking control of your health is creating an Engagement Narrative. The Engagement Narrative is much more than just your story though. It’s an exercise in self-awareness. The very act of writing something down makes it real, something you can refer to and build on. Creating the Engagement Narrative also gives you an unprecedented opportunity to involve those close to you to shed light and become more involved in your life. This collaboration will provide more insight and commitment than if you just composed it yourself. And with it carries accountability. Not only are you writing down where you’re at and where you want to go … it’s being shared with your closest confidants. There’s no escaping now. Whether you like it or not – you have a team behind you.

Even with an enhanced physician relationship brought on by your Engagement Narrative, your path to health involves much more. Inspirations for well-being comes from everywhere. Just your normal day-to-day comings and goings give you a multitude of opportunities to better yourself through simple engagements – however insignificant those engagements may seem. Participating in a local clean up effort gets you off the couch and gives you an opportunity to meet new people; taking you out of your comfort zone and building synaptic connections. Deciding to walk to the store rather than … well not, can start a habit that literally can change your life.

Your positive actions will also have an effect on others – contributing to their health and collectively that of the community. A simple compliment in line at the grocery store can not only make a person’s day; it may cascade into the validation of a decision they made (say a new hair style) that empowers them to carry themselves with confidence before an important meeting or job interview. No act of kindness is too small. No engagement is insignificant.

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Healthcare providers as a collaborator

My idea of the healthcare provider isn’t a physical clinic at all, but a relationship; beginning with one person, a concierge, who would direct me to who and where I need to go (including transparent options) for specific situations, including prevention advice. Imagine a human health interface. Accompanying this human component would be comprehensive AI functions integrating and managing my care, as well as suggestions to elevate my self-efficacy. All administrative functions would be hidden from me (appointment setting, forms, etc.) – synced with my personal data wherever its origination, and available on the technological communication conduit of my preference. In addition to my technical data, my healthcare provider (physician and any support staff) would refer to the Engagement Narrative I provided them (personal and professional history, etc.). We’re all on board recognizing health is a function of my environment and my interaction with it as much (if not more) than anything happening between the four clinic walls.

Being a healthcare provider, we need you to lobby for our communities to be places that prioritize people and relationships – not cars, parking lots and box stores. We need you to take the money you don’t pay in taxes and invest it in community gardens, farmers markets and street fairs that showcase local art encouraging creative engagement. We need you to lead the way advocating for healthy eating by including cooking and nutrition as an integral part of our treatment. And while you’re at it – include our stakeholders. We need you to be advocates for engagement and “getting out of the house.” Communities that encourage something as simple as allowing dogs in parks will boost their residents’ collective health and well-being. Why not propose that at a city council meeting?

But however substantial your clinic’s direct efforts may be, whether it be setting up a farmers market in your parking lot or organizing mentor groups for current cancer patients – we need you to do more. We need you to use your stage and your megaphone to reach the entire community. We need you to be vocal when you see politicians and government not doing what they should to improve the human condition of our communities. You should be a regular contributor in the OpEd section of the newspaper. You can’t hide behind the nonpartisan label just because you’re afraid of losing a few ideological wayward customers. Losing them is nothing compared to losing your integrity and human decency. And believe it – there are people out there like me, who can write better than I can, who aren’t afraid to call you out on it … publicly.

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The community as a collaborator

Our actions and reactions determine our physical, mental and even social health. We our products of how we interact with our environments – as well as choosing what environments to put ourselves in. In the post A Saturday in May … a study in engagement, I chronicled a day of incredible experiences I had entirely due to breaking outside my comfort zone.

We need to use our daily routine as a source of good health and well-being. Everywhere we normally go has the opportunity to nudge you in a healthy direction – we just have to look at it that way and engage. We have to be present and mindful. I call these physical sources of opportunities in your community, Front Porches, named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. Only in this context, they’re very often small businesses … places we probably already frequent, like the corner grocery store or our habitual morning coffee shop. But it’s not just businesses that can be Front Porches though. It’s anywhere where people gather than can be turned into hubs of social interaction and civic engagement; schools, parks – even our neighbor Bob’s garage with the big screen television. From this engagement we can create home-spun volunteer efforts that mend the social safety net commonly let to fray by our traditional institutions. These efforts can range from to fixing a school playground, to organizing an elderly outreach effort, to even spearheading a high school mentoring program.

Ivan Illich argued that it is not a case of ‘either/or’ (community or institution), so much as a question of, which comes first. He contended that an institutional inversion had taken hold in modern societies, through which the community role becomes that which is left after the institutions and their professional helpers have done what they think they can do better or more expertly. Illich contested this inversion, and argued for its reversal whereby the institutional and professional role should be defined as being that which is left after the community has done what it can and wants to do. (Cormac Russell in “Does Medicine Make Us Sicker?”)

Ecovillage

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Today … looking forward

Healthcare is changing. Reimbursements are now starting to be tied to community health metrics. No longer is it only about number of procedures and tests. But still – this progress is slow. It needs to be turbo-charged. It needs all parts of the community working together for individual and collective goals. The days of the silos of healthcare and looking at health from only the perspective of medicine are numbered.

We must create a societal “wave” of health and well-being. It will be up to all parties, including healthcare providers, to decide which side of the societal evolution they wish to be on. Profits and revenue can be very fickle … and fleeting. Pleading ignorance or thinking that substantive change is beyond the parlor rooms of their ivory towers isn’t a viable option.

The barbarians are at the gate … and they’re the ones who are paying the rent in those ivory towers.

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Rekindling Community

Anyone who’s a parent can probably concur with me. You’ll do anything for your kid to get good grades in school. In a perfect world it would be straight “A’s.” If you have the resources, you’ll pay for tutors or whatever other leg up it’ll give your little genius. Straight “A’s” means getting into a good college – and for many that’s everything? And don’t get me going on the recent “pay to play” college scandal.

Mitra, my ex-wife, and I split up when our daughter Alex was young. She spent time between us and both Mitra and I cared a lot about Alex’s school performance (as would be expected, of course). My GPA in high school was about 3.9 (back when 4.0 was all you could get). While I don’t remember what Mitra said her’s was, I know she got a 4.0 in college. Grade point average was obviously a big deal to us.

That said, Alex was her own person and had her own scholastic agenda. She rebelled within the excepted norms … for the most part: and she didn’t necessarily hold our views of GPA. If she didn’t connect with a subject – she didn’t see any real reason to work extra hard to get that “A” (and there wasn’t a lot of moving her on that). Instead she concentrated on the classes that resonated with her. Instead of being satisfied with an “A” – she wanted to do even better. Instead of competing against the grade scale – she competed against herself. Personally I grew to accept and embrace her philosophy. Mitra … not so much: “GPA should be the goal.” In the end Alex did what she wanted (no surprise there) and focused on writing and Mr. Marx’s classes (government and economics); leaving math and whatever else was left to whatever little time and cerebral energy was left.

Alex played to her strengths rather than just hone up her weaknesses.

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“Discoverables,” Not Deliverables

Recently I’ve had the privilege of previewing Cormac’s Russel‘s new book, Rekindling Community: Democracy Redefined. Cormac is the Managing Director of Nurture Development in Dublin Ireland, as well as a faculty member of the ABCD Institute. Cormac’s work spans the continent of Europe. I look at Cormac as a visionary in the thought space of local empowerment and decentralized civic engagement. His views transcend the normal soundbites and rhetoric, instead diving deep into the nuances and unintended consequences of policy.

Cormac’s vision of society is a collection of unique communities rooted in principles of self-sufficiency and citizen empowerment. At the core of Cormac’s vision is the concept of “playing to the strengths.” He coined the phrase “Discoverables,” Not Deliverables. Cormac believes communities have the resources they need, they just have to “discover” them, nurture them and put them to the most effective use for the collective good.

“Communities are all around us, close at hand, awaiting the community building that will make the invisible assets within them visible in all their abundance.” – Cormac Russell

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at society as a runaway train careening ever close to a fate of Armageddon. Whether it be climate change, increasing income inequality or the threat of authoritarian governments; it’s all doom and gloom. Regardless what end of the political spectrum we reside, we’re looking to the man “on the white horse in the white hat” to ride in and take us away from all this. We’ve seen the trends throughout the world; whether it be populism on the right or grand plans such as the Green New Deal on the left. What they both have in common is they both defer to some overarching force, whether it be a strong-arm ruler or the omnipresent federal government; we’re to be recipients … not producers of the solution. Thomas Hobbes vision of the Leviathan is alive and well.

Hobbes Leviathan

On the contrary, as Cormac lays out in his book; “the underlying goal is start with what is strong, not what’s wrong, then to liberate what’s strong to address what’s wrong, and to make what’s strong even stronger.” This is a far cry from the usual institutional way of doing things. The map an outside agency has of a community is never the same as the one that actually exists – and communities do not work in silos with institutional goals primarily in mind. Much of the work of what makes a community healthy and well is being done by those who don’t even know they’re doing it.

Cormac introduces to us to his concept of White Swans and Ugly Ducklings. He contends most communities are the latter, not because they’re in need of repair or a make-over, but because we don’t see them as what they can be, White Swans; made up of relationships where relatedness can flourish – not just of strangers in a shared geography. The reason they haven’t transformed is that we haven’t seen their potential and we haven’t nurtured them to realize it.

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Rekindling Community

In United States, before World War II, our neighbors were our support. They were the doctors, the midwives and the handymen. They were where we could go to get food when we needed it. It’s what got America through the Great Depression. But with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, the government became America’s de facto support system. The help of your neighbor wasn’t as important as before. The New Deal was needed at the time, but as a result reliance on the township, the community, the neighborhood and in turn the nurture of our Middle Ring of neighborhood relationships … began to wane. It wasn’t so evident at first. But the chinks in the armour, so to say, were beginning to show, even back then. Now we’ve seen the full effect of it. We have turned into consumers … consumers of services of most everything. In turn, we’re no longer producers; not of the support we once provided our friends, family and neighbors. And this transformation from producers to consumers wasn’t isolated within the borders of the United States. Unfortunately, like a disease, it’s something we to other nations worldwide.

The Cargo Cult

“The island of Tanna is one of the world’s most remote places. Prior to World War II, its inhabitants had few encounters with the outside world. That all changed with the arrival of American soldiers who set up their military base on the island. They arrived en masse in ships and planes brimming with cargos of medicine, clothes, food and equipment to sustain the troops across the Pacific. They also arrived with their military customs, their uniforms, radios and a myriad of other behaviors and regalia previously unseen by the inhabitants of Tanna.

On Tanna the American soldiers regularly shared items of cargo with the local inhabitants. Then war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, and Japan surrendered to the U.S. on September 2, 1945. While the rest of the world celebrated, the inhabitants of Tanna were bereft. The soldiers systematically left and with them took the “cargo.” Not surprisingly, after the soldiers left, in an effort to invoke similar favor from the gods, many of Tanna’s inhabitants took to imitating the militaristic “rituals” of their visitors – [literally forgetting their traditional ways cooperation, collaboration and self-reliance].

The name “cargo cult” is used to describe those imitations even though it is a pejorative one. The term impugns the motives and intelligence of the island inhabitants and carries little critical comment about the behaviors of those who landed on the island and then abruptly left, having forever altered its culture.” (Cormac Russell from “Rekindling Community: Democracy Redefined”)

Is the cargo cult really a metaphor for the United States? Has seventy years of a service-oriented entitlement mindset, increasingly more austerity-leaning government policies and corporate bombardment of convenience and solving our every problem; created a society void of community and only of individuals looking to the next “box”?

All is not doom and gloom though. Cormac remedies this community deficit by preaching the “small is beautiful” concept coined by E.F. Schumacher in his work promoting the Global South. This concept of “small” is at the root of community production. Cormac then elaborates on it by giving us a prescription for designing our communities around their residents by focusing on what they inherently bring to the table.

Included in this far-ranging treatise, Cormac delves into building a health system that is citizen centered, using the community as the center, not the institutional healthcare system we’ve become addicted to.

The evidence clearly shows that it is not services and programs, but our community assets that primarily determine our well-being––that is, the extent to which we are well and how quickly we recover when unwell. (Cormac Russell from “Rekindling Community: Democracy Redefined”)

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The Science of Deepening Community

Most discussions about community speak on platitudes; instead Cormac dives deep into the sociology of what it takes to actually create community. He introduces us to Connectors, Conductors, Circuit Breakers and Dynamos. For all those familiar with Malcolm Gladwell and his seminal book, The Tipping Point, and his definitions of Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople – Cormac’s philosophy will be easy to grab hold of. Aside from Gladwell and Russell though, few burrow down into the mechanics of how community actually happens.

Cormac also bring up inspiring examples of connected groups banding together to address community issues. He gives us the citizen-organized Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA). BACA is a worldwide organization that fights child abuse but doesn’t only approach the issue from a punitive traditional hierarchical approach (as most do). They also stress having the perpetrators “take ownership” while providing support in conjunction to local authorities and NGOs. This is using the strength of a common connection to be there for one another and not just sitting by waiting for the next box to arrive.

After Cormac outlines how to meticulously rekindle our communities, he takes us through the process of unlearning the habits of acting subservient to the metaphorical Leviathan. This process could almost be viewed as a detoxification or civic rehab.

After we set the stage in our own communities, designing them from the bottom up to be rekindled – we look beyond our individual borders to how we can collaborate with the state to spread our model nationwide and even further. Cormac gives us instruction here too.

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Two things ring true in Cormac’s book. The first is that we are not problems to be solved, waiting passively to be served. Each one of us are opportunities to be realized, both for ourselves and in the context of those around us in our communities. It’s not that our government needs to be participatory … our society needs to be also.

And second, Cormac continually uses the word rekindle.” He doesn’t propose revolution or disruption, so often bantered around in reformist communities. Anyone who’s spent time camping knows that gathering kindling for the camp fire is the management of the resources at hand, a process in itself – and one of continual exploration. It’s using what’s nearby to provide heat, warmth and sustainability. Whether conscious or not, Cormac is using this metaphor in his vision of an inclusive resourceful society.

Sticks

When Cormac’s book comes out, it isn’t enough to buy it and read it. It has to be read, and reread. It has to become dog-eared and full of notes in the margins. It has to be stained with pizza droppings from late night strategy sessions with fellow community activists and builders.

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Living in a Time of Identity and Entitlement

Here in the United States (and in many other western countries) we live in a society overwhelmed by the victim mentality, fueled by identity politics. Maybe some of it is justified, but only some of it. Political parties have become conduits for this. Candidates on the stump fall over themselves offering up an endless array of “gifts” to different groups of constituents; whether it be African-Americans, Latinos, students, suburban moms, laid-off Rust Belt white males, etc. – all reduced a single demographic or socioeconomic characteristic. Most often these characteristics highlight weaknesses. Collective strengths seldom come into play.

Whether it’s the “identities” liberals target pacifying those in the inner cities, or conservatives rallying MAGA wearing Trumpites in the rural heartland; this country has taken on the role of the victim as its default collective identity. With this alleged victimization (some legitimate, some not so much) comes a feeling of powerlessness that has permeated through our entire psyche. We wait impatiently for someone to save us from all that ails us – real and imagined. And now the political rhetoric and pigeonholing has shifted into high gear with the 2020 presidential election squarely in the media’s cross hairs. There can’t be enough promises, no matter how wild and unrealistic. How we pay for it – we don’t bother with that now. “They” will pay for it … whoever “they” is.

Our obsession with identity and “entitled services” leaves no oxygen left in the room for developing the skills we already have; the skills we need to build our communities so they can shine in their own light (regardless what group we’re put into). Instead we ignore our strengths and focus only on our collective group weaknesses.

We render ourselves functionally impotent.

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The Advantage of Empowered Inclusion

“Every member of your community is unique and adds to its fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. It’s up to us to find it and help them see it.” (Cross-pollination and Creating You Own Renaissance)

Wouldn’t it be safe to say that the confidence of excelling at something, making a contribution to your community (no matter what it may be), has a good chance of spilling over in other areas of life? I would think it does. But if these talents are never uncovered and developed … we’ll never know.

We need to create community ideals that nurtures an environment for everyone to venture out and attempt whatever they choose. This society of permission is made up of residents who don’t just lobby for services, services they feel the government entitles them to – but rather celebrate their capabilities and create nurturing bonds with family and friends building on everyone’s strengths. Our focus must be on managing relationships for synergy, not just maintaining the static status quo, often one of dysfunction. Your community should be a workspace of relationships, not a finished relic. It’s a collective journey … not a destination idealized by a select few.

The flow arising from our appreciation for this situational awareness of inclusive engagement will be the basis of our community’s success. Below are its pillars of support.

  • Journey of Engagements: We must value the incremental journey of permission and engagements that specifically benefit the individual and collective health and well-being of the community … not the plan and destination.
  • Unique solutions: There are no “best case” solutions (since there is no one context); only engagements specific to one of multiple contexts. The specific engagements that prove to be most beneficial are the ones most applicable to the parties involved and the situation at the time.
  • Stories of engagements provide context: Proper context is best arrived at through stories and anecdotes of our engagements as they depict unique alternatives that lay on the matrix of our community’s workspace. It’s with these stories we can manage the relationship that make up our community’s every-changing intermezzo.

Whether it be Cormac’s Nurture Development, Michel Bauwens’ P2P Foundation, Community 3.0 or any of the other projects that have been created worldwide – their success has and will rely on local execution, inclusive participation and most of all a commitment to the idea that solutions are best created by focusing on unique assets and strengths of the community … not waiting for a Leviathan in an ivory tower far away to bestow you with a litany of services you feel entitled to.

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Related Posts:

The New Green Deal: Moving Beyond the Hype

A couple of weeks ago we saw the unveiling of the New Green Deal. In the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with a second from Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts, stood in front of the media and laid down an ultimatum to the American public and political elite alike.

The New Green Deal makes a compelling case that we have to act now on carbon emissions or face the consequences of climate Armageddon. I agree with this. In fact I’ve been saying it for years. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s plan outlines several broad objectives. Among them; our electric grid must be powered entirely by alternative energy by 2030, and by 2050 our nation’s automotive fleet is to be converted to electric power. There are several other ambitious environmental goals, including retrofitting buildings for conservation. You can dig deeper here for the details.

GND-PR

The New Green Deal isn’t just about combating climate change though. If it was maybe it wouldn’t be seeing such an outburst of resistance from the right. Equally highlighted are the foundational tenets of the Bernie Sanders platform – free college and free healthcare for all. It didn’t take much for the GOP to stamp the scarlet letter of socialism on its front cover. I’m not going to do a deep dive into the specifics of the New Green Deal here and hypothesize what it’ll take to accomplish it and whether it it’s even doable. Let’s just say, I don’t think anyone else did either.

This brings us to Ocasio-Cortez, or as the media has dubbed her – AOC. The New York  based national media can complain all they want about Hollywood celebrities, but their fawning takes no back seat when idolizing their own. One only has to look to our current clown in chief, put there in large part by the unrelenting (New York) media coverage of his every move and tweet; and this continues to this day, as we get a double dose of his antics as clown in chief as well as those who are fighting to terminate his rule. As a counter balance to Trump, the media has now created AOC.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against her and I don’t disagree with the premise of her far-left proposals. I do take issue with her tactics. They’re straight out of the Bernie Sanders scorched-earth playbook – which isn’t surprising since she worked for him. I don’t believe in spewing policy options that have little possibility of being implemented, regardless the accurate articulation of the problem. This is exactly what Bernie did three years ago; and what Ocasio-Cortez is doing now. I believe a lot of supporters of Ocasio-Cortez acknowledge this now, but apparently don’t care. Their rationalization is that by bringing attention to the dire predicament of climate change, the fine print of actually “doing it” doesn’t matter: “We’ll figure that out later.” The proposal is Ocasio-Cortez’s idea of a protest, only without the marching in the streets and the risk of getting arresting. I question the value of the publicity for publicity’s sake. Why do our proposed solutions need to be just hyperbole?

I just wonder if a realist road map for implementation was put forth along with the rousing speech and sound bites – wouldn’t we be a littler better off? Why not take a month or two and get it right first; incorporating insight from people who would actually have to implement it. When Charles Darwin unveiled his epic “Theory of Evolution” he first prepared to such a degree that he became his own biggest critic. He anticipated every conceivable objection; and researched and rehearsed his response to each. Understand his adversaries were the hierarchy of omni-powerful and omnipresent “church.” Odds against his theory being accepted by the submissive public were daunting at best and the personal risk he took could not be overstated. But with all this – he succeeded. His process should be a case study for the preparation of movements everywhere, regardless the context. And make no mistake, his “theory” was a movement.

Instead Ocasio-Cortez went off half-cocked, even inadvertently exposing a draft version not intended for public consumption. The proposal has put many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in a difficult position; either support the New Green Deal or risk the brazen ire of the Bernie/AOC fanboys. Whether she knows it or not, Ocasio-Cortez is emulating the GOP Tea Party strategy. Look where the Tea Party is now; virtually gone, relegated to the scrap heap of ill-fated political over-reaction. And if dividing the Democratic party isn’t enough, she did it all less than a month before the Conservatives’ annual convention, CPAC. Conservatives and kooks alike now have a common villain to unite around. Nancy Pelosi has been replaced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Socialist who wants to take not only our guns, but our airplanes and hamburgers. Every speech at the convention had Ocasio-Cortez in the crosshairs. The GOP and Trump couldn’t have laid out better strategy. Who needs Russia when you have AOC.

It’s not just with ardent conservatives are we seeing the backlash. Both of the nation’s two major farm groups, even the left-leaning National Farmers Union have come out against the New Green Deal. They say it blames farmers for the climate crisis. While I don’t necessary agree with their assessment, I’m not one of them in the Midwest who is critical to the 2020 election. These are exactly people the Democrats are banking on to take back the White House from Trump. That said, farmers have a lot of room to improve in making the impact they have on the environment less so. I can’t see how the nation’s current crop selection bloated with corn used for processing  (including ethanol) is a good thing and has anything to do with the industry’s manta of “feeding the world.”

If the Tea Party was a testament to lack of staying power, then Occupy Wall Street is one that exemplifies the peril of having no plan, “after the flag is raised.” No matter how much someone agrees with you on the problem, at some point the details of solving it becomes relevant. You would assume Ocasio-Cortez, being from New York City, would realize this. But apparently not. For her, it’s the protest that matters; the noise – Bennie-style. Throwing out a premature proposal of aspirations can do more damage than good if we aren’t organized to combat the inevitable push back. We saw what happened after the Sandy Hook massacre and the resultant mobilization of the NRA and its minions. Troops were rallied, more lobbying money was raised, more guns were sold … and no legislation was passed. These are the same people. They’re just waiting for reason to hate on liberals (aka socialists) and a villain to focus on. And now they have it.

Now let me establish something: I am not a “green Luddite.” On the contrary, I was on the front lines of the alternative energy movement before Ocasio-Cortez was born. In 1978 I even had a giant bubble solar panel on the back of my home in North Dakota. During this time, while in college at the University of North Dakota, I sold solar and wind systems and created a Fortran code (remember that) model on the college’s IBM 306/370 mainframe using punch cards. My model predicted the economics any of solar or wind system installed anywhere in the Unites States. And if that wasn’t enough, I wrote a state legislative bill for net electrical billing (with future North Dakota Attorney General Sarah Vogel). Unfortunately, the national lobby for the REC (Rural Electric Cooperatives) flew in from Washington D.C. in force and hammered it to oblivion. Now forty years later net billing is ubiquitous throughout the country.

It’s time we get past rhetoric. I’m exhausted thinking a grand vision is enough, a start that goes nowhere else. Most of these pontifications are little more than lip service, vacuous political promises; kicking the proverbial can down the road isn’t going to do it. It’s just an excuse for not doing what it takes to burrow down into the details of execution. It’s lazy policy making and it’s lazy on our part buying into it – not requiring more of ourselves.

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Diving Deep Beyond Rhetoric

Now enough of the naysaying.

I believe we can make this happen, but it won’t happen by only looking to Congress and some airy proposal created by people with none of the requisite skills needed to pull it off. A truly progressive society that is dedicated to creating a better world needs to differentiate between pragmatic policy outlines and protest slogans. It just needs to be tactical, not just ideological. We need to sweat the details.

Now for details.

The government should provide large subsidies to green-energy companies; including solar power, batteries and electric cars, as well as mandating the replacement of fossil-fuel plants with zero-carbon plants. It shouldn’t require the decommissioning of nuclear plants (regardless the objections of what’s left of the anti-nuclear movement). It should also provide incentives for higher density in urban areas, since sprawl contributes to emissions. It should also implement a carbon tax (or cap-and-trade policy). This would engage corporate polluters and encourage them and their factories to reduce carbon output. A carbon tax (or cap-and-trade policy) would also encourage air and sea travel, as well as other sources of emissions, to search for lower-carbon alternatives. It should also remove the incentives for farmers to not grow food; and where needed help build out the logistic channels for changing crop selection to real food.

The United States government’s role in environmental restoration should extend beyond its borders also. American companies, with the help of federal research dollars, should strive to discover cheap ways of manufacturing cement, concrete and other materials used in building without carbon emissions. Along with reducing emissions from agriculture, this will give developing countries a way to reduce carbon output without threatening their economic growth. This would leverage the technical innovation expertise here in United States empowering it to become a leader in the “new world” – all while working to save it. This is the new economic opportunity

“Large-scale problems do not require large-scale solutions; they require small-scale
solutions within a large-scale framework.”

Even with an aggressive far-reaching federal government commitment, we also need a decentralized approach that will spread locally and takes advantage of expertise distribute throughout the communities of America. We need to uncover and support local leaders who can spearhead efforts in their respective communities. This nurturing needs to start in our schools. Just preparing our young people for gainful employment might have been a noble directive in the past; but today we need leaders to inspire their peers to act with purpose and rapid commitment to restore the environment around us.

We need an abundance of deep thinking and expertise in supply chain management – supplies of everything, tangible and other. We need a thousand community activists and logistical virtuosos to coordinate all the moving parts making our aggressive goals a reality. We need not only the public sector, but even more so, we need the private sector – specifically the business community. We need businesses that see that abundant economic opportunities can be had from “greening their communities.” And we need local elected leaders to understand their position isn’t a reward … but a responsibility.

We need citizens and consumers to form the foundation of support. We need them to use their purchasing power to force businesses to green up; and we need them to use their power at the ballot box to hold their public officials accountable by making decisions that are not only economically prudent, but environmentally vigilant.

Decentralized solar needs to spread like a wildfire. For that to happen we need rate payers to in buy and buy. We need to force utilities to support green energy and offer financing to make it a reality – not fight tooth and nail to protect the bad decisions they made in the past. We need zoning changes, and where we can’t get long-term policies, we need situational variances until we can. We need private financing options. That means banks not being conservative to a fault while they “hold onto yesterday.” We need people to install the millions of solar panels we have to sell – which is no easy task in a time a low employment. We need schools to catch up and be the labor conduits. Trade schools, community colleges and even high schools need to partner with private companies, develop curriculum, ramp up instruction and training, and create apprentice and intern programs. And maybe most of all, we need the manufacturing capacity to create the products we need to evolve to a “green economy.” This means companies and production capabilities to make and sell them, and the banks willing to finance the production of these systems.

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Moving Past the Movement To Reality

Represent.Us is a non-profit organization that is on a mission to reform our election process. Rather than using the tried and not-so-true methods most activists use (March For Our Lives not included) – their road to national reform winds through the state and local levels. In the following video, their spokesperson and board member Jennifer Lawrence introduces us to what she calls the line (at the 7:45 mark). This line represents when an issue, say gay marriage equality, reaches a tipping point of state adoption. At this point support spreads exponentially to eventually force federal law. This local and state approach not only anchors key grassroots support in a plethora of locales – it strengths its ability to fight any anecdotal overturn in the Supreme Court.

 

This is the approach our “green campaign” should take … and we have two models we can emulate.

First is the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives who draft and share model state-level legislation for distribution among state and local governments in the United States. ALEC is a big reason the United States is run by a conservative minority. Their successful efforts to commandeer state legislatures has resulted in gerrymandered districts in key states that resulted in the Trump presidency and contributed greatly to the House of Representatives turning red in 2010. While the Democrats completely abandoned state and local politics during Obama administration, the Republicans through ALEC filled the void. In addition to losing the national House in 2010, Democrats lost control of over a 1000 state and local seats. And with that, America ushered in Trump’s reign of terror in 2016.

To appreciate ALEC, we have to look past the context and what they advocate for. I’ve brought them up before in social media and was most often greeted with open hostility. People on the left can’t look past the objectives of their operations to appreciate the logistics they use and the success that has resulted from it. Unless the “green movement” turns these 1000+ seat back over to Democrats, how are state and local governing bodies going to pass the legislation that is needed for the movement to succeed? And how will we be able to build the momentum to achieve the tipping point (the line Jennifer Lawrence alluded to) we need to generate rooted national legislation? It’s all about operations and tactics, not context.

The second case study I want to look to is March For Our Lives. Last year, high school students from Parkland, Florida turned the deaths of seventeen of their friends and teachers into an incredible example of how to use local organization and social media to build a movement. In a piece I wrote last Spring, I contended the real value of the MFOL movement is its ability to uncover, nurture and give confidence to young leaders through the establish of local chapters (currently in over 200 cities in America). The potential of these groups and their leaders transcends their mission of gun legislation. Not only have they continued the push for sane firearms control – they’ve rallied for student mental health and voter registration by launching Vote For Our Lives ahead of the 2018 mid-terms. This effort is continuing on through the 2020 presidential election. Leaders of the green movement should take note and engage with these young leaders. Their networks could be invaluable as their members are the exact demographic who would be passionate and organized enough to invoke change.

A bunch of kids (actually young adults) won’t necessarily lead the charge for zoning changes – but their parents can. Also, there are millions of rooftop solar systems that are needed to be installed. Who is going to do that? Logistics aren’t glamorous and don’t get the press – but without it, the protests, press and AOC’s vision of a perfect world is nothing but a sugar high. We need young people to participate on multiple fronts. We still need the vocal activism and loud protests, but let’s make sure our message is succinct. That was the beauty of March For Our Lives. They articulated four bullet point objectives; specific legislation they wanted passed – not just generic gun control, but four specific objectives. Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal lays out only very broad climate change remediations. Add in the boilerplate socialist-depicted talking points – and the message is muddied, opening the proverbial oppositional can of worms.

We need to use young people to spearhead this green movement, but their action need to be directed and pragmatic. They have the most to lose in future and least amount to sacrifice today. Their lives haven’t been built on the oxymoron of material wealth and well-being. We need their out-of-box ideas, sweat equity and urgency. However incomplete it may be, a lot of the Green New Deal came from the minds of young people. We just have figure out how we can take the pertinent ideas, work out the logistics and do it.

Now we can sit around and expect the federal government to come riding in to save us — which they have absolutely no recent history of being able to do; or we can add them to the mix which includes us and our kids all working in concert in our neighborhoods on solutions fitting the specific places we live, utilizing the strengths each of our communities embody – all while taking into account the obstacles that may exist due to local social, cultural and economic baggage put there by us and our ancestors.

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Solutions, Suggestions and Front Porches

Now of course we need a national and even an international plan – but we can’t expect that to be all. We need to be able to act without approval from some elected body. We need to create hubs of civic engagement independent of government. These hubs will be where the real expertise and leadership will surface; the exact expertise and leadership required to succeed at this monumental task ahead of us. It’s too big to entrust to a single entity that may or may be up to the task or even if the want to undertake it.

I call these hubs of civic engagement Front Porches. These informal meeting places, most often locally owned businesses, are named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. Through our community’s Front Porch network, we can create environmentally restorative civic Solutions that bring us together – regardless our political affiliation. It’s through this network we can establish new community norms of conservation and environmental stewardship; creating expectations of each other that will empower all of us to succeed individually and collectively by taking advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves as well as ensuring our children and grandchildren have a hospitable world to live in. We have to re-condition our thought processes. No action or decision should be immune from what effect it will have on the environment and how best we can conserve and economize. Consider the adage; “Think globally, act locally” … only on steroids.

Every candidate we consider for public office should be scrutinized on their commitment to the implementation of our green agenda. Schools need to be pressured to include “living a green life” into the curriculum — from the earliest ages. All of this means we have to think. We have to engage with the world around us. Shut off your autopilot – and pressure those around you, young and old, to do the same. Stories of the successes we achieve in our own communities need to be shared with other communities. Any efforts we make will be all for naught if they’re not synthesized with those of others.

Even though we might take solace in the litany of promises by our many public figures (current and want-to-be) – the societal measures we need to fight this demon of environmental destruction we’ve created will come through our personal and professional efforts, and those we persuade in our communities to join in.

Complacency is not an option … but pragmatism is required.

Now is the time to build a clearinghouse of ideas on how we can restore our world to place we can be proud to bestow to our children and their children. Check out the Community 3.0 site for how we can create a network of environmental accountability that put our habitat first. We invite you to respond at the end of “If not us … then who” with your ideas. Or if you prefer, just comment below.

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Related Posts:

Will We Ever Stop Dragging Our Knuckles?

Update January 18, 2019: I wrote this post seven years ago. It’s every bit as applicable today as it was then – maybe more so. That said, even with the transgressions on the inhabitants of the White House, I have hope that by the uncovering of the evil that is possible at high levels of government we will wake up to the need for us reassess our personal role in society and how we influence.

The references I make to several of the tech companies are also relevant as are the questions … as we are still awaiting answers.

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Neadrathal

From February 23, 20011

Yesterday I commented on a provocative blog post by my friend Greg Rader, “The Future of Status – Conspicuous Production.”

Imagine if there was no money and no things to buy. How would you show the world your worth? Or how would you show yourself?

Would your value lie in the number of friends you have – physical or electronic? Would it lie in the quality and depth or your relationships with these friends (kind of three-dimensional assessment)? Maybe it would lie in the number pieces of art you produced, or books and articles you’ve written.

Or better yet … what about the number of karma points you’ve accumulated by doing random acts of good? Haven’t we reached a point on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where we can at least flirt with self actualization?

Over your last couple posts, I think you’ve been us leading to this. It’s obvious, the standard societal measurement of wealth and worth just isn’t cutting it for you. I join you brother.

Maybe this is the first step – discontent. Only then we can find our own “store of value.” and from there truly maximize it’s worth. Maybe this is what mean when I talk about “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” Thanks for pointing me the way. 🙂

I viewed the focus of Greg’s piece as: “Isn’t there a way of presenting our value to world other than just through the money we make and our consumption habits?” As you can tell from my comment above – it’s a topic that’s been on my mind also.

Recently, in light of the sky-high valuations of several dotcom 2.0 stocks, such as Facebook, Groupon and Twitter, this matter seems to be especially relevant. Recent investments have Facebook worth $52 billion and Twitter at $10 billion, while Groupon recently turned a $6 billion offer from Google.

But I ask you … on what are these values based. In the first two it’s their ability to act as an advertising platforms and Groupon is worth what it can take as a cut of the pie. Isn’t there more though … more than just money and advertising, more than just a vehicle to accommodate more and more consumption. God I hope so.

Let’s put Groupon aside, they are what they are – a group buying coupon service … nothing more, nothing less. Eventually they will fall prey to another ‘new and improved’ version of the same.

But Facebook and Twitter are different. To label then as just advertising platforms is to vastly understate what they really are – what they’re really worth. One needs to look no further back than one month. Only thirty days ago the political environment in the Middle East was much the same as it’s been for the last thirty years. No longer. Tunisia is liberated. Egypt is liberated. Libya will be in a matter a days, and whoever is next is anyone’s guess.

While Facebook and Twitter didn’t overthrow these dictatorships … they played an integral role. They facilitated strategic and tactical communication that was on the level of a sophisticated military sorte, only performed primarily by young civilians. These social networks provided something that wasn’t there before … coordination. The results to this point have been the liberation of tens of billions of dollars and ten millions of people, people who now have the prospect of governing themselves and having a say in their future.

What’s that worth?

How can you put a monetary value on person’s freedom? How can you say in dollars and cents what it’s worth to know you have something to get up for in the morning; to know that just maybe your children might just have a better life than you … a life you could only dream of.

Why does everything have to be based on money and what we spend it on. Just because you drive a Mercedes 450SL (and I drive a Ford Taurus) – does that make you worth more than me. I could make a case on the contrary. We focus so much on our children making sure they go to college and get a job that pays a lot of money. How many us even discuss any other options – any other means of worth? This valuation system seems Neanderthal in the light of what’s happening in the world these days.

I have been there and done it. I’ve had the nice car, the apartment on the water, the original art on walls. But it sure wasn’t “the be all end all.” The car’s gone, the apartment gone and the art … well, Blake, Brody and Sydney are enjoying it. The memories are good, but now it time to move on.

It’s like the pursuit of possessions had put me in a cloud. I had other pursuits, but the almighty dollar reigned supreme. No longer.

My valuation lies not in my financial net worth, but rather in what Greg says, “my conspicuous production” and what results from it. Production can be anything. It could this blog post. It could be the comments that result from it. And as I said in my comment above, it could be in the karma points I accumulate by doing good things. So here it is, here is my definition of “my value:”

My value is the sum total of all positive synaptic connections I have a role in creating, both in myself and in others. In other words, the more I can get people thinking in ways they wouldn’t otherwise think in – and correspondingly act in ways that benefit themselves and others … the more I’m worth.

There you have it.

Now it’s time to pick up my hands … my knuckles are bloody.

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And if you like this … please Tweet it and follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg

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What If Things Would Never Be The Same?

Update, January 15, 2019: I wrote a version of this seven years ago during the midst of the Occupy Movement. The change that many of us hoped for never happened. What is happening in the United States today is a whole different matter. It’s struggle for the definition of change. Some believe it’s a retreat to a time we can never go back to while others are pushing for an idealistic version that is fraught with unrealistic implementation and unintended consequences. But one thing I know is that the status quo isn’t an option – and it shouldn’t be.

As I write this, America’s federal government is in the midst of a three-week partial shut-down; a result of a vanity legacy project concocted by a president who has created the exact crisis that he contends this “beautiful wall” is going to solve. Like a petulant toddler, he’s threatened to declare an unprecedented national emergency by diverting federal funds from the Puerto Rico and California national disasters to build the project. Aside from the grave effects this diversion will have on those affected – what precedent does this create? What next will this president … or any other president do in aim of feeding their ego and thirst for power and eternal fame.

change cloud

Will things ever be the same?

It’s obvious that we are in a period of transition; a period of change. And whether we like it or no … there’s nothing we can do about it. But what if the change was so profound that, “things would never be the same again?”

It’s becoming painfully obvious that humanity’s addiction to fossil fuel is leading us down a path of extinction if we don’t make drastic changes in our personal and collective behaviors. But to make this happen, we’ll have to move past political rhetoric and attempts to appease those stuck on a life cemented in the past. Politicians have made it habit appealing to the lowest denominator of human rational and those exhibiting it.

When will the realization finally set in that a college degree no longer provides that fail-safe career protection with a Fortune 500 company and iconic the gold watch after decades of service? Instead of the promise of a BMW in the garage and an ever-increasing 401K – you get a five-figure plus school loan debt. When will the societal norms we put on our young people instead release the shackles of past expectations and let them live for the realities of today and the future they want?

What if investing in that “white picket fence” doesn’t provide that retirement security it did for you parents? What if that possibility no longer exists? And what if that mortgage you’ve sacrificed everything for instead anchors you professionally in a world where flexibility and mobility is a prized commodity? Your “white picket fence” now surrounds not your security, but rather imprisons you in a sinkhole of geographically restrictive professional stagnation.

Unfortunately too much of the time, we evaluate ourselves by the money we have in the bank, the toys we have in the garage and the school on that diploma on the wall. As we will find out, during times of change – monetary worth is fragile and often irrelevant. We may try to hedge, set up backup plans and do whatever we can to preserve our “things” – but we can’t stop the wheels of change. And often our “things” get run over in the process. What will you do to break your addiction to “things” and evolve to a state beyond personal consumption; one where the contribution to our relationships with our friends and neighbors dictates our real wealth?

If we choose to pursue a life based on security and the preservation of the status quo, we have to make assumptions, assumptions based on the past and the value systems of prior generations: Energy is and will always be plentiful, college is a safe bet, buying a house is your retirement and success is “things.” These are life views that may no longer be relevant.

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What would you do?

A few years ago, I saw a movie about life after an economic and societal meltdown. I don’t remember the name of it, but the imagery still sticks with me. The things that were valuable before, were no longer. And what wa taken for granted, such as water and gasoline – were invaluable.

Now I’m not predicting Armageddon, but it’s obvious that we’re staring right in the face of change – not just here in the United States, but worldwide. Just ask my friends in Great Britain. The things you hold near and dear, may soon be gone. That economic and societal security that was always first and foremost in your mind, may now become nothing but a memory of “the good old days.” All the constants you believed in … are now just more variables, variables you have to figure out. What are you going to do?

You have two options. You can attempt to hang on to yesterday – a yesterday that most definitely will never be back. Or you can look forward to living life differently – shedding yourselves of the same, the convenient, the comfortable – and replacing it with the unpredictable, the inconvenient and the exciting. Rather than fearing the inevitable change, what if you embraced it? What if you built your life and raised your children to expect the unexpected?

When I say unexpected though … I don’t necessarily mean bad. Not having rock-solid security is not a death sentence. In fact it may be the key that unlocks the door of your self-imposed prison. Imagine every morning you looked forward to what the day could bring you; who you could meet and what opportunities could unveil themselves to you that could change your life forever.

One thing we know for sure, change is a constant. Tomorrow is not going to be the same as yesterday, no matter how much you may want it to be. The only question will be is how you handle it.

” The mind can make heaven of hell … and hell of heaven.”

Personally I don’t do well in the heat, how about you?

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Creating Communities of Permission

In Giving Permission,”(posted December 20, 2018), I did a deep dive into what I believe it means to have a community of inclusion; one that is built on giving its residents permission to be and do what drives them. While it can be, we cannot assume that this permission is implied. Permission requires engagement. It is the antithesis of indifference, which is too often commonplace. It’s taking the time and exerting the mental energy to acknowledge that your fellow residents, whether or not they hold the same demographic characteristics or social standing you may (for better or worse) … still warrant your attention, reaction and respect. Without this acknowledgement, your community has little chance of equitably moving forward in a sustainable way. Through this acknowledgement we build healthy communities founded on neighborly engagement that can act as an ad hoc social safety net; one to compensate for the one too often left to fray by our decaying institutions.

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The first step to achieving this model of embrace is for us to individually reach out and actively make it a point to include – to give permission, to our neighbors and fellow community members . Every encounter is an opportunity to “raise the collective tide.” And the more we engage, the easier it becomes. Turn acknowledgement and benevolent engagement into new community norms and expectations. Through these norms and expectations of inclusion we are giving permission for others to feel comfortable in being who they are and pursuing what they may dream. We are making engagement and permission contagious. We’re creating an ecosystem of strength and support under the assumption that engaged diversity will benefit us all. Repeating what John Kennedy famously said: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

The higher our levels of engagement are individually and collectively, the more well; physically, mentally and socially we will become. Engagement creates agency and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as the extent or strength one believes in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. The more a person believes their actions will help their situation, the more likely they are to try. The more a person does, the more they’re likely to do. And the more they do, the more they feel what they’re doing is helping … creating a cascade of positive results and well-being.

Our community focus should be to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity – personally, socially and civically through behaviors that benefit us physically, mentally and socially. 

The question is … how do we create this ecosystem that nudges people towards this positive activity? Forcing people to be benevolent and kind will probably only produce the opposite effect. Our efforts must be rooted in action, not just conversation; physical engagement that organically grows from the individual and collective needs and desires of the people. We need to create a journey where all citizens will travel together … all pursuing our own dreams in parallel – but also in collaboration for the good of the community.

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“On the Road” … Embracing the Journey

About twenty years ago while building my recruiting firm, I coined a term, “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” In a nutshell it means; in life and all its nuances (including work): it’s the journey that matters not the destination. It’s our experiences that create the human beings we are. But maybe more than that – it’s how we think about those experiences and most of all … how we react to them.

Not being tied to the destination through an overly rigid plan can provide a sense of relief; a freedom to act, assess and adjust; a going with the flow. All the best laid plans will eventually go awry. Being unnecessarily shackled to an arbitrary figment of utopia creates a detachment from what’s happening around us. As community leaders and change instigators we too often relentlessly pursue control; trying to stay meticulously on task in pursuit of this utopia. Regrettably this “utopia” was probably conceived under circumstances far different what we are confronting today – bringing a disaffected approach to the issues of current relevance.

 

“The difficulty we face is that the ecology of the biosphere is at odds with the ecology of our institutions.” ~ Nora Bateson

Decision makers and the researchers they depend on have an overwhelming habit of thinking in terms of functioning parts (especially those in the academic, scientific and medical communities). Our human tendency is to deconstruct our complex world into smaller, digestible, independent parts. These “parts” are much easier to understand in isolation rather than in their entangled, chaotic whole. This is misleading for our future inquiry of living, co-evolving systems.

We must evolve to a modus operandi that can appreciate the messiness of uncertainty and contextual interconnectedness. Our mission can’t be control – but rather the management of ever-changing relationships. Nora Bateson has led pioneering work in the world of this “messiness.” Like with my “On the Road to Your Perfect World,” Bateson looks at the world as journey of relationships – and the actions and reactions needed to respond to the volatility and unpredictable nature of them. All we can do is prepare best we can and adapt accordingly. By no means should we trash our goals and objectives, but see them in more nebulous terms; more of a guiding force than an equivalent of a personal and civic GPS unit. The destination we’ve plugged in may not be anything like what we’ll see when we arrive there, assuming there’s even a place to arrive to. We must be always collectively learning and readjusting as we go. Batesom calls this phenomenon, Symmathesy: learning together. It’s imperative we understand that all parts are connected and the learning opportunities due from changes in circumstances are available to all parties.

Just as a virus is constantly adapting as the immune system trying to defeat it, the change movement must learn to evolve. Being wedded to the form that leads to early success is a sure route to failure. Unless the change effort mutates to fight the organisational anti-bodies, its legacy will be nothing more than a sense of what might have been. You may not be able to plan in advance just when or how you will need to change the way you change, but you need to be very aware that at some point you will have to. What you end up with may not be what you first envisaged, but it will be real and lasting.

The key is to see change as not simply about moving from A to B. The key is to see it as a much more fluid and organic process. You never really know where it might end up. As the organisational identity acts to re-assert itself, the rebels and radicals need to morph their efforts into something else. The approaches and energy that provoke the response are not the same as the approaches and energy that overcome that response. The leadership that manages the status quo is not the leadership the moves into a radically new space. (How the Organization Subverts its Subsersives – John Atkinson)

A primary obstruction to the “fluid and organic process” Atkinson described above is silos. Traditional institutions and conventional organizations are built on hierarchy and the silos that support them. Communication, let alone collaboration is seldom fluid in these situations. Their structures are built for preservation and the illusion of certainty. What we need is the antithesis of this – a phenomenon constructed to accommodate uncertainty and a flow that optimizes resource maximization, taking advantage of the situational skills and abilities of those in our community.

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Building a Rhizomes-based Decentralized Ecosystem

How can we design our communities in a way that we encourage an inclusive journey of contribution and well-being for all our citizens. How can we create environments where everyone has an opportunity to realize their place – whatever and wherever that may be. Just resorting to traditional social and civic institutions and the hierarchies that reinforce them is not the solution. We need new alternatives: and what better place to look than in nature.

Biologists say trees are social beings. They can count, learn and remember. They nurse sick members, warn each other of dangers by sending electrical signals across a fungal network and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through roots. (Marije van Zomeren)

One of nature’s most effective means of sustainability is the rhizome. The rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow perpendicular to the force of gravity. The rhizome also retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards if resources permit. If a rhizome is separated into pieces, each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant … and a new node of above ground activity.

Plagiotropic-rhizome-sampled-for-lepidochronology-at-the-colonized-side-of-patch-4.png

In 2016, during my construction of the blog series On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” I came across “A Thousand Plateaus” and the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari – specifically their concept of rhizomes and how their actions in nature can be extrapolated in terms of an alternative view of societal development.

“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus)

Deleuze and Guattari broke down their rhizomatic social philosophy into components. From these components we can engineer our version of a locally based civic engagement platform that nurtures inclusion, self-expression and most of all permission.

  • Rhizome: Rather than using the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the single origin of “things” and looks towards conclusion of those “things” (the destination); a rhizome continually establishes connections between threads of meaningful communication, organizations of power, and other influences (including arts, sciences, and social struggles). The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and formal organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and proliferation. In this model, influence and application spreads like the surface of a body of water; spreading towards available spaces or in the application of community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of the type.
  • Nomad: Nomadism is a way of life that exists outside of the traditional organizational or societal norm (at least in modern times). The nomad is a way of being in the middle or between points. It is characterized by movement and change, and is unfettered by systems of conventional organization. The goal of the nomad is only to continue to move within the “intermezzo.” (the journey rather than the destination). This constant state activity prevents itself from existing for the sake of existing as organizations and institutions most often do. The goal is to make things happen; to find opportunities and solutions, not just to “be.” This nomadic behavior also lends itself to the individual focusing on what interests them and where they can contribute the most, rather than just working within the constraints of a pre-defined, often inefficient role or job. In short, being a nomad can greatly enhance ones sense of engagement and well-being. Or according to the Danish philosopher Søren Kiekegaard, be the evolved man.”
  • Smooth Space: The platform or naked infrastructure on which the community and in turn the array of “need and opportunity based activities” operate is called the Smooth Space. This platform is not formally defined, but rather takes the form of the influences that inhabit it. These influences can include meaningful communication, existing organizations (government and other) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of Community 3.0, the Smooth Space is the Front Porch network (the small business community), healthcare providers,NGOs and the members of the community who are their patrons, along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and creates on its Smooth Space will determine the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the rhizome structure and its Smooth Space to nurture the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community (e.g. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization) that produce positive societal outcomes.
  • Body Without Organs: Body Without Organs is what happens. It is the result of what the rhizome social philosophy using the nomadic actions of its components operating on the Smooth Space. In itself the Body Without Organs has no form until the variables of the community are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its members, organizations and businesses; it is its Body Without Organs. It can take a conservative form or a progressive one; NIMBYism and gated communities, or more communal; tolerant and welcoming, or closed and siloed; Wall Street or Main Street. This is the community’s personality. But rather than the personality being dictated by those in the high rungs of a traditionally mandated hierarchy (e.g. government) – it will come to form through the participation of those who live there … those on the streets, no matter their social stature. How the community directly responds to its needs and opportunities will be what it is.

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james rizzi city main
James Rizzi

Nurturing a Societal Evolution

How do we tie all this together into a functioning array of response to needs and opportunities while not resorting back to traditional top-heavy hierarchies? Our focus must be on the empowerment, not just the management of our civic ecosystem. The Smooth Space is your community’s desktop, its workspace. Let it take form as the situation dictates.

“Too many algorithms are centrally designed with a singular philosophical view of the world, using contextual data but via a single lens” ~ Indy Johar

The flow arising from our appreciation for situational awareness and adjustment will be the cornerstone of our community’s inclusive success.

  • Journey of Engagements: It’s about the incremental journey of permission and engagements that specifically benefit the individual and collective health and well-being of the community … not the plan and destination.
  • Unique solutions: There are no “best case” solutions (since there is no one context); only engagements specific to one of multiple contexts and delivered in a decentralized manner. The specifics of the engagements that prove most beneficial are the ones most applicable to the parties involved and the situation at the time.
  • Stories of engagements provide context: Proper context is best arrived at through stories and anecdotes of our engagements as they depict unique situational alternatives that lay on the matrix of our community’s Smooth Space. And it’s with these stories we can manage the relationship that make up our community’s every-changing intermezzo.

“Our challenge is not bringing order to successful chaos but creating successful chaos within a well-ordered failure.” ~ Charles Marohn, ‘Strong Towns’

Let the journey begin …

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