The Evolution of the Theory of Evolution

Darwinism and the Paradox of Altruism

During the mid 1800s Charles Darwin upended both the scientific and religious worlds by releasing his seminal theory on biological evolution. Darwinism states that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Since then Darwinism has been a foundational part of our world, science and elsewhere. However social behavior, specifically altruism, has posed a bit of problem for Darwin and his universal theory.

Every altruist has their own motives, of course – some are emotional, responding to fellow humans in desperate straits, while others are more rational, thinking about the kind of society they’d like to live in and acting accordingly. Does that imply a level of self-interest? Selfless acts often attract accusations of hidden selfishness, suggesting they’re not really altruistic at all. This wasn’t the problem for Darwinism. After all, humans have culture and religion and moral codes to live by – maybe our altruism was more to do with that than biology.

It was altruistic ants that posed a particular problem for Charles Darwin. Natural selection is often described as ‘survival of the fittest’, where fitness means how successful an individual is at reproducing. If one individual has a trait that gives them a fitness advantage, they will tend to have more offspring than the others; because the advantage is likely to be passed on to their offspring, that trait will then spread through the population. A fundamental part of this idea is that individuals are competing for the resources they need to reproduce, and fitness includes anything that helps an individual reproduce more than the competition.

But as Darwin observed, ants and other social insects are not in competition. They are cooperative, to the extent that worker ants are sterile and so have literally zero fitness. They ought to be extinct, yet there they are in every generation sacrificing their own reproductive ambitions to serve the fertile queen and her drones. Darwin suggested that competition between groups of ants – queen, drones and workers together – might be driving natural selection in this case. What was good for a nest competing against other nests would then outweigh what was good for any individual ant.

Group selection, as this idea was known, was not a very good solution, though. It didn’t explain how the cooperative behaviour evolved in the first place. The first altruistic ant would have been at such a huge disadvantage compared to the rest of its group that it would never have got the chance to breed more altruistic ants. The same was true of humans – natural selection was intrinsically stacked against any altruistic individual surviving long enough to pass on their altruism. (The Story of George Price)

This left a paradox: the evolution of altruism appeared to be impossible (under Darwin’s definition) … yet clearly altruism had evolved. If this couldn’t be resolved, what would it mean for the whole idea of natural selection?

Luckily, a young man called Bill Hamilton came to the rescue with a slightly different solution in 1964. He proposed that altruism could have evolved within family groups, whether genetically or through shared environmental habits and tendencies. An individual altruist would seem to be at a disadvantage, but that was not the whole picture because other individuals who shared the same genes associated with altruism would all influence each other’s “inclusive fitness.” We see this in human families also, as parents instinctively sacrifice themselves to protect their children, the upcoming generation. In fact, to not do this is considered socially malevolent.

Evolution and the Community

Hamilton’s extrapolation of Darwinism, while seemingly radical – made complete sense. By choosing to open the door to new thoughts on evolution – we’re not necessarily kicking Charles Darwin to curb, but expanding on his work based on new levels of research and observation. Consider it letting the theory of evolution evolve. Any scientific discovery should be looked at not an end – but rather the journey down a new road to another level of enlightenment.

The same should be said for social sciences and economic philosophy. We’re still relying on the theories and assumptions of Adam Smith and Thomas Hobbes from the 19th century – with our politics following. Why shouldn’t our thinking in this area evolve also. The societal conditions faced by the inhabitants of 1800s are nothing like that we face today in 2017. To assume the models developed then would wholly apply now is naive … if not just intellectually lazy.

“I believe that the community – in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures – is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a  contradiction in terms.” – Wendell Berry

If we espouse Hamilton’s idea that evolution can occur in family units as well as in individuals – what’s saying we can’t take it a step further and extrapolate to that of the community unit. In fact, while technically ants socialize as a family, being from the same queen, they also (if not more) act as an active part of a community.

Recognizing that your community is an evolutionary ecosystem is fundamental to its prosperity and even survival.

Evolution ecoysystem cloudIf we view our community as an evolutionary unit, then we must look for and address the components that can either contribute to its sustainability or to its demise. A community is really nothing more than the accumulation of individuals and the interactions between these individuals. 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. If they are not included int he conversation – they still will be heard and it may not be in a socially accepted way (e.g. crime). Prejudice, bigotry or even indifference hurts not only them, but us as part of the overall community. All of our actions, or lack there of – have collective consequences.

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” ~ IroquoisConfederacy

We must confront the societal questions that threaten the long-term sustainability of our communities – not just the immediate issues affecting the adult population . Far too often communities concern themselves only with protecting the status quo. This may not even be intentional. Informal power cliques that continue on by monopolizing public office and solidifying their positions of influence restrict the accension of new blood and new ideas in the community. For these civic leaders, they view the pain of changing greater than the pain of staying the same. Public policies, ideals and conventions are there to be preserved – often at all costs. New ideas meant to provide opportunity to new or young residents are resisted if not outright rejected … just because: “if it ain’t broken, then don’t fix it.” Unfortunately for those not in the top echelons of the ivory towers of power – it is broken. This needed new blood will either retreat into the shadows occupying a lower hung on caste system … or move somewhere else where opportunity is more available and their assets are welcome. Neither alternative is conducive to the prosperity and sustainability of the community.

Small town decay

Enter Darwinism! Those communities that embrace ideas from other diverse sources and talent with different experiences will evolve, sustain themselves and flourish. Those that “hold on to yesterday” will whither away. These communities and their residents will suffer from isolation, and lack of economic and social opportunities as they put forth precious time and resources resisting rather than embracing. By the time the pain of staying the same becomes more than that of changing … it may well be too late for them.

However hard it may seem for community leaders, they need to be willing to loosen their grip on power and traditional structure. They need to realize that what they invest in the outliers of power and influence today will be the capital that builds the future of the their communities in the future. Without this investment – the homes, businesses and everything else they’re trying to hold on to will be yet another example of the dark side of evolution – decline and eventual extinction.

We still need structure, but that structure needs to be flexible … and directly participatory. Our current form of local representative governance is seldom more than an ego-driven career path for the few. We need a structure that is more a platform; one of inclusion and participation. This platform must be designed to identify the needs and opportunities of the local community it serves while addressing them using whatever resources are available … whether monetary or not. Think of this “resource maximization” drawing from the times of our grandparents when neighbors and community members were treated as extended family and relied on as the primary “safety net.” This was a time when no one had the luxury or sitting by idly expecting a city council (who meets once a week) to act on their best interest – assuming they even took the time or had the ability to know what those interests were.

Rhizomes

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)

To find a model for organizational structure built around resource maximization and decentralized civic participation and collaboration, we need to look no further than our backyard – in nature. 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 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.

Rhizome
Credit: Debi Keyte-Hartland

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 non-sign 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)

This phenomena of decentralized activity in Rhizomes was best articulated in the philosophy or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the ’60s. 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;” 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. This is a perfect alternative to the governmental morass of dysfunction we’re currently immersed in.

Front Porches

At the foundation of this evolved, altrusitically-based society are its Front Porches – physical hubs of civic gathering and serendipitous engagement. The goal is to take the principles of resource maximization and provide the conduit to incorporate them with the naturalistic examples of the Rhizome organization articulated by Deleuze and Guattari. This result is a platform or space for community engagement and sustainability built around informal but operationally significant gatherings, otherwise know as Front Porches. While these Front Porches can form anywhere, say even in your garage, the ideal locations will be in the locally owned businesses of our communities.

Rather than myopically obsess on economic growth as almost all civic governments do, a Front Porch network will focus on destroying the silos that retard our communities’ evolution while improving its inhabitants physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual healthPeople will gravitate towards what they want to do … and in turn do what they do best. This lifestyle of self-management of interests and activities will not only benefit them, but also their community. Lives based on economic status will be replaced by those of self-actualization, self-efficacy and well-being. Civic participation and altruism will elevate them and empower them to evolve as humans – individually and collectively.

It will be the priority of these Front Porches to create environments in our communities that nurture hope by empowering avenues for us to engage with our world and express our creativity through a Solutionist mindset – letting the inherent benevolence inside us bloom. By making “helping others” our societal norm and expectation … we will supplant that of the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system; countering the tribalism and jingoism that has reared recently shown itself to be in vogue.

Evolution through Diversity-Driven Serendipity

Rather than abide by a top-down governance model run by those embedded in the status quo (often of sustained mediocrity) – we must create platforms of serendipity where civic matchmaking happens organically through interaction uncovering commonalities between the participants. Think of a synergistic mixing bowl of opportunity; indirect, organic relationship building.

What if we designed our communities around the idea of maximizing engagement from those in the streets? The more engaged our residents are … the more empowered they would be. They would feel more in control of their health and their futures. Imagine if a chance to engage, whether it was physical, mental or social was just around the corner. What if our physical security and well-being was not dependent on government assistance or the whims of a fickle market driven economy. What if our neighborhood was our safety net, a safety net that knew best in our time of need. What if the streets of our community became melting pots of diversity-driven serendipity – places where curiosity was bred. What if engagement, well-being and self-efficacy was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity often distorted through the one-dimensional filter of irrelevant statistics. And what if getting up in the morning was a chance to nurture our hope … and engage with others to help them do the same.

Breaking Free of the Pendulum

It’s easy to just bash our present political economic situation and run the other way, rose-colored glasses in hand – ready to embrace the polar opposite. We saw this with the election of Donald Trump. Anything was better than Hillary Clinton and the establishment, however bad that might have been or not. We see it in economics with the pushback against neo-liberalism … for good reason. But does the answer lie on the other end of the pendulum and minimum basic income? Does it lie free college education for everyone, even though it’s becoming more apparent traditional college may not be the best alternative?

We need to be brave and think differently, not just vacillate between Smith and Hobbes or Marx. Not that those and others icon of the past don’t have positive offerings to contribute. But they don’t live today. Society changes, as does the economic conditions and requirements that forms it. And with that so must our ways of looking at the best way to patch together a workable societal strategy for all. We need to grab from the past, morph together solutions … and try them out. Not all will work. But some parts of the some of them will. And then we take those and combine them together with new ideas – all specific to our individual locales often brought to the forefront by our newly embraced outliers. Jeff Bezos from Amazon calls this Day 1Everything is always in beta – always in search of improvement. Always evolving. Never focusing on maintaining the status quo.

Bill Hamilton showed us how we need to accept alternative ways of looking at our world; even down to the most basic level – Darwin’s theory of evolution. I propose we take it further to the community. We don’t live in silos. While genetics play a vital role in ability to sustain ourselves individually and collectively … so do the interactions with those we share a physical space with. Any efforts to nurture empathetic and altruistic behavior is evolutionary beneficial.

It’s not enough to wait for a societal evolution to take place and expect other to generate the change we need. We can’t expect to sit back and reap the benefits from it after-the-fact. We need to all need to be our own local Bill Hamiltons, think differently … and usher in these evolutionary changes ourselves. We must look at our responsibility as being more than a periodic trip to the voting booth only to perpetuate yet another ineffective version of status quo.

Because we have reached a time when “the pain of staying the same has become greater than the pain of changing.”

Special thanks to John Caswell for inspiration on this post. 

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Rhizomes and Front Porches: “A Cure for Societal Dysfunction”

“Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises.” Demosthenes

In my last post, “Recognizing the Problem,” I vented my frustration, dismay and utter anger over the current political situation in the United States. But if I lived somewhere else, such as Great Britain, I’m sure my response would be similar. Regardless of the geography – it seems few governments can be considered worthy of the populace they supposedly represent.

Most can agree, the presence of Donald Trump and his circus put in a position of national power represents something malignant. But is he the cause or the symptom of the cancer? It’s probably safe to say it’s both – but I believe the latter holds greater weight. Our economic, physical and psychological dependence on government or some other sort of greater force to look over us has all but made us prey to any charlatan or clown, regardless the party, persuasion or power. Our current situation firmly underscores this fact. 

In several previous pieces, I have attempted to make the case for a societal effort to boost our collective self-efficacy.  In other words, we need to do a better job taking care of ourselves. And a “better job” should mean more than just us as individuals – but also our neighborhoods and communities.

Our government has proven to not only not be up to the task … they’ve morphed into a big part of the problem. But fortunately, the model for an alternative, one that emphasizes “we the people” not a self-serving hierarchy, may lie only as far away as our back yard.

Rhizomes and Decentralized Civic Engagement

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)

To find a model for organizational structure built around resource maximization and decentralized civic participation and collaboration, we need to look no further than our backyard – in nature. 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 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.

rhizome
Credit: Debi Keyte-Hartland

“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 non-sign 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)

This phenomena of decentralized activity in Rhizomes was best articulated in the philosophy or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the ’60s. 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;” 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. This is a perfect alternative to the governmental morass of dysfunction we’re current immersed in.

First we must build the vehicle. This vehicle is not a place or even a thing, but the collective journey of our community. It’s about movement. This journey happens on a metaphoric road or as Deleuze and Guattari call it, the 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 my model, Community 3.0, the Smooth Space is largely your community’s small business network or Front Porchesthe members of the community who are their customers, and the societal norms they create. What a community does and creates with its Smooth Space will determine 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 (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization).

The vehicle is just a shell. Who we allow in and what we put in it is really what matters. Any shell can house extraordinary activity … or none at all. Those included must not be limited by the title and organization on their business card – but rather be a diverse array able move freely like a Nomad traveling where the food and opportunities lie.

  • 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 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 conventional 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.”

Once we have the vehicle and the people … we need the fuel. The fuel is the processes, the sociological assistance and prodding needed to propel the vehicle down the road. It’s not so much a thing, but the result of a community’s past behavior and the systems put in place to modify or continue on in the future. Deleuze and Guattari called this formless set of influences the 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 result of the interactions between its populace and businesses; it is its Body Without Organs. It can take a conservative form or a progressive one. NIMBYism and gated communities or collaborative and communal. Closed and silos or tolerant and welcoming. 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 – 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.

Front Porches

At the foundation of this evolved, altrusitically-based society are its Front Porches – physical hubs of civic gathering and serendipitous engagement. The goal is to take the principles of resource maximization and provide the conduit to incorporate them with the naturalistic examples of the Rhizome organization articulated by Deleuze and Guattari. This result is a platform or space for community engagement and sustainability built around informal but operationally significant gatherings, otherwise know as Front Porches. While these Front Porches can form anywhere, say even in your garage, the ideal locations will be in the locally owned businesses of our communities.

Rather than myopically obsess on economic growth as almost all civic governments do, a Front Porch network will focus on destroying the silos that retard our evolution while improving physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health.

People will gravitate towards what they want to do … and in turn do what they do best. This lifestyle of self-management of interests and activities will not only benefit them, but also their community. Lives based on economic status will be replaced by those of self-actualization and self-efficacy. Civic participation and altruism will elevate them and empower them to evolve as humans.

It will be the priority of these Front Porches to create environments in our communities that nurture hope by empowering avenues for us to engage with our world and express our creativity through a Solutionist mindset – letting the inherent benevolence inside us bloom. By making “helping others” our societal norm and expectation … we will supplant that of the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system.

Melvin and Sel-Efficacy

Amazon’s digital personal assistant is called Alexa. To say it’s been a runaway success is an understatement. Originally created to help you buy more Amazon products easier – if that was even possible, Alexa has turned into a repository of over 10,000 possible lifestyle automation uses and applications. It controls the heat in your home, it gives you a word definition and provides recipes for the finicky guests at your next dinner party – all by talking to you. And everyday its applications only multiply.

Melvin posterize 3

Imagine if you had an Alexa for personal and social engagement. Imagine if you had a virtual assistant that gathered possible ways you could engage with your body, your mind and socially with your community. And imagine if these were sorted, prioritized and forwarded to you to motivate you in positive ways. These communications could be based on advice from your doctor, your relationships with your neighborhood small businesses or even alerting you of volunteer opportunities. Your notifications, whether they be via text or email, would be your conduit to engaging with the environment in and around you. And at the center of all this positive prodding and empowerment is your community’s Front Porch network – all this designed to enhance your level of self-efficacy.

I call this Alexa for community-driven personal engagement, Melvin. For a full discussion on the power of engagement how it affects our health and well-being and how a non-assuming bot named Melvin can be the conduit to your community’s transformation, please check out its website, “Navigating the Road to Your PERFECT WORLD.”

Well-being, Hope … and Changing Your Mind

What if we designed our communities around the idea of maximizing engagement. The more engaged our residents are … the more empowered they would be. They would feel more in control of their health and their futures. Imagine if a chance to engage, whether it was physical, mental or social was just around the corner. And what if opportunities to help others realize the same were part of the fabric our daily lives. What if our physical security and well-being was not dependent on government assistance or the whims of a fickle market driven economy. What if our neighborhood was our safety net, a safety net that knew best in our time of need. And what if the streets of our community became melting pots of serendipity – places where curiosity was bred and benevolence was the norm.

What if engagement, well-being and self-efficacy was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity often distorted through the one-dimensional filter of irrelevant statistics. What if we fixated on what we “could” and “will,” rather than what we “can’t” or “won’t.” And what if getting up in the morning was a chance to nurture our hope … and engage with others to help them do the same.

Your community, where you physically live, will turn into one of problem solving where everything and everyone is a resource. Your community will be revitalized. New businesses will be created. Not those derived from Wall Street chains and franchises, but ones of ideas born in your community and run by people from your community. These will be the businesses that provide the genesis for the future to build on by turning into Front Porches – ensuring your legacy and prosperity.

ChangeYourMind.jpg

It’s obvious the human species must evolve. But to do this, we will have to change our thinking. Instead of relying on past expectations, cultural assumptions and metrics as our guides — we have to envision what could be, not just what always has been.

But the vision is only part of the journey. We have to look past how things in past have been done. No longer should government and traditional institutions be looked at as the first line defense … rather should be looked at only as a last resort. Our reaction should be to assemble our friends and neighbors at our local Front Porch, organize and do what has to be done — developing self-efficacy along the way.

We can make the change we need — but it won’t be by thinking the way we’ve always thought and doing what we’ve always done — the way it’s always been done.

“If not us … then who? If not now … then when?”

If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo that will inevitably take anyone and anything down with it … please check out Community 3.0, my vision of an evolved society where self-efficacy and the well-being is priority. Or even better email me, at clayforsberg@gmail.com and we can set up time to have a conversation.

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Life during Trump, Part 1: “Recognizing the Problem”

“The mind…can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” ― John Milton

It’s hard for people to empathize with you when you’re going through chemo. I’m not looking for sympathy and I’m not saying people don’t try. It’s just one of those tough subjects. There’s always that specter of death that hangs over the conversation. This possible prognosis, correct or not –  supersedes any discussion of “how you’re doing.”

It’s hard to explain that things just change. And it’s more than just physically. The nausea gets all the attention, But that’s never been an issue with me. It’s a lot more than that. My senses has changed. I don’t smell, or hear, or taste or see like I used. Whether or not they’ll come back  remains to be seen. After my first “rodeo” my senses recovered some, but not entirely. And I’m sure with this latest group of treatments (I hate that term) this sensory wet blanket that I’m dragging around will probably be my new companion for the foreseeable future. Linus has nothing on me.

Mainly what people can’t understand is the mental changes that occur. I guessing it’s not unlike what PTSD sufferers deal with. Around every corner, there’s a trigger that can set off a memory that’ll send you into reactionary tailspin. In a wonderful book by Debbie Hampton, she re-accounts her recover from a suicide attempt where she injected over 90 pills. She literally fried her brain. It was so damaged she had to relearn how to live and with that her impulse control was severely impacted. Because of her frequent outbursts, her friends and family such had hard time dealing with it many just stayed away – including her mother. She had to rebuild her life mentally and physically, block by block, encumbered by this new uninhibited broken brain as its foundation.

By no means am I dealing with anything like what Debbie did, or probably still is. But I do get the brain change thing as my patience and tolerance level has been affected … big time. My world has triggers everywhere now. Most of time we go through life and just let irritating things pass us by without much notice – at least not letting it affect us. Such is not the case with me since chemo has fried my brain. I like to describe it like an archipelago. During normal tide, only a few of the islands are visible. But now I’m in a constant state of low tide. Everything is visible and everything affects me.

All this being said … it bring us to the insane asylum on the east coast, better know as Washington D.C. What’s happening in our political wasteland is having a big effect on me right now – culminating with the latest antics of the Republican Congress and the clown boy in the White House. For many the healthcare legislation ramrodded through the House by Paul Ryan is nothing short of a bus hitting us. I try to get my head around all of it and inject some reason into their decision making process – but I can’t. The group think that has reared its grotesque head is a modern-day tulip mania of Sherman’s March to the Sea (how’s that for a mixed metaphor). The insane mindset that has taken over this party is completely void of any compassion, empathy or even basic humanity. The days of Bob Dole and even Ronald Reagan are long dead. The zombie that has taken its place bares little resemblance.

Unfortunately I can’t just turn off the television, quit looking at my Twitter stream or let my newspapers pile up on the front porch and wait for it to all go away. I’m front and center on the preexisting condition issue. If all this comes to fruition (as in the poison fruit), I’ll be at the mercy of my greedy insurance company. Combine this with the crazy state my brain is in right now, and I’m spending time figuring how to stockpile and freeze chemo drugs from my current treatment sessions while I’m still covered – to be used if I need them in the future, if (more probable when) my insurance company drops me or prices me out of the market. Welcome to life in Montana, land of cowboys, guns and extremely limited healthcare options. I have to constantly remind myself of the John Milton quote, “The mind can make heaven of hell or hell of heaven,” to keep from digressing into obsession.

The man on the white horse, the man in the white hat … well, neither one of them are coming.

Running of Trump’s Lemmings

Regardless of my personal situation or more accurately, my perception of it … we can’t dismiss reality. If the picture couldn’t get any clearer – looking to these clowns in political zuit suits for the answer is pure insanity. Even someone with chemo brain can tell you that. Yet Trump supporters still support him and Republicans are, and probably will always be Republicans.

But not to be left out of the delusion soiree, Democrats still think that if they put someone of theirs in the White House, the federal government will magically become a bastion of implementation prowess. Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office – our country’s, and more importantly our individual problems will not be fixed.

Last Thursday night, I had very disheartening conversation with my daughter. Now Alex is a bright young woman in the midst of a very successful career with tours of duty at Apple and Amazon. She is grounded and informed, but her logical mind is having a very hard time understanding how this country, one that she has always felt even in times of craziness – will do the right thing. But after Thursday, those assumptions have been shattered. For her it was like realizing there’s no Santa Claus. With the this healthcare legislation, the Republicans have not just targeted the “outsiders” – but rather the very people who worship them and put them in power. The level betray is unprecedented. At least Hitler didn’t kill the Germans he viewed (in his demented mind) to be his true countrymen.

It’s safe to say “we the people” are on our own. We can only hope we have enough resolve individually and collectively to fend off the daily assaults waged on us by those we’ve entrusted to look after our interests. May today be the day we take our institutional naivete′ and bury it with the illusions of Santa Claus and the blanket we slept with when we were two years old.

Since Trump has taken the reigns as leader of the free world (theres’s so much wrong using those words together in one sentence), the mental health industry has seen a dramatic rise is suicide calls and psychiatric activity. Bluntly speaking, people are depressed. Normally optimistic people are seeing their world view might have been based on flawed assumptions.

Personally I’m not ready to throw in the towel on humanity. I’m still an ardent believer in David Hume’s philosophical premise that people are intrinsically good – not that of Thomas Hobbes and the need for a Leviathan overlord. I believe we just need to reset our social and civic perspective. No white anything, hat nor horse, is going to pay our house payment or make us healthy. That is up to us. The sooner we admit to this, like the alcoholic or the ten a hydrocodone a day housewife – the sooner we can get onto fixing what needs to be fixed.

Self-Efficacy and the Road to Recovery

In the past I’ve been accused of assuming people have too much control over their own destinies. Upbringing, environment, genetics or even belief in a higher being I’m often told are the determining factors – no matter what their own efforts. If you’re not white, probably male and connected – the deck is stacked against you. Getting dealt a “bad hand” is grounds for government intervention and assistance. Most recently, the in vogue means of this assistance is basic income – getting paid for basically existing and being a member of society. I’m all for the betterment of all people. Anyone who knows me or has read any of my 200+ posts on this blog will attest to that. In fact, that’s probably the one common tenet that runs through the entire site. That being said, I can’t believe a reward with no incentive to accomplish anything is the best way to achieve it.

Shouldn’t the road to our Perfect World be paved with the something that will produce a longer-lasting effect than just a monthly sustenance? Shouldn’t we base our societal actions around the assumption if we better ourselves good things will come for both us and those around us? It’s the “giving a man a fish vs. teaching him how to fish” thing in the Bible. And I don’t believe this is even a political issue anymore. Regardless of your ideological affiliation, relying on the government (or any other institution for that matter) to actually deliver is naive at best.

Shouldn’t we strive to create communities and social constructs that move us in a direction that empowers people? Shouldn’t we be teaching people how to fish – working with them to obtain the physical, mental and social tools they’ll need to not just persist, but flourish on a long-term basis? At the core of this empowerment is building a communal sense of 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 key is to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity and engagement – personally, socially and civically. 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.

In America there is little effort put into getting people to engage directly with their health and personal well-being on the part of the established healthcare industry. Maybe providers are reluctant to relinquish control. Maybe it’s they just can’t be bothered. Regardless, the country lives by a healthcare methodology of reaction and “fixing things” … not proaction and “maintaining things.” It’s no big stretch to believe that transferring some of the responsibility for our own health to the ourselves will prove beneficial to us. And it’s not just focusing on the physical that creates impact. Developing one’s mental acuity is not unlike getting into physical shape. Having a stronger mind is the key to having better resolve and making better decisions in the first place. And schools should not have exclusive rights to that. Opportunities to learn and strengthen our minds are all around us all the time. We need to engage with our surroundings (people, places and things) to take realize the benefit though.

We can’t leave out the social component of well-being either. Using altruism and benevolence as a cornerstone by doing good things for others takes your mind off of your own ailments and gives you purpose. And even if you can’t actively participate in hands-on volunteer projects, you can at least feel you part of the solution by experiencing the joy of giving vicariously through passive attendance and moral support.

What we need is not a society where we look to institutions for the answers – whether it be the government, the healthcare industry or any other. We spend all our time and energy arguing over which institution and which version or it is best for us. And even if we agree, we never even discuss whether our interests are best served by any institution. The thought of responsibility and by association, self-efficacy, is too often mis-interrepted and dismissed as heartless libertarianism. While the personal responsibility calling can go a bit far … so can and has the leviathan of the institutional overlord. 

We need to resist the extremes. Full-on libertarianism isn’t the answer anymore than being beholden to the keeper of the keys of the Ivory Tower. We need to decentralize and deconstruct our current support structure but yet be vulnerable enough to depend on our neighbors and communities. We need to reach out and grab those close to us where we live and help … and allow ourselves to be helped. To do that, we need to engage. And the perfect model for this type of engagement may be only as far as our backyards.

Part 2 will take us into the “life of plants” and how patterning our lives around a model of engagement designed after a rhizome root structure found in our backyards might be the solution to the personal, civic and political malaise we’re presently immersed in. Out on May 16.

If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo that will inevitably take anyone and anything down with it … please check out Community 3.0, my vision of an evolved society where self-efficacy and the well-being of the populace is priority. Or even better email me, at clayforsberg@gmail.com and we can set up time to have a conversation.

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What if things would never be the same again …

Update, January 24, 2017: I wrote this five years ago during the midst of the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring. The change that many of us hoped for never happened. What is happening in the United States today is a whole different matter. Our federal government, and many of the state governments, are hell-bent on imposing upon us their version of change which is nothing more than a dictatorial societal retreat. While not identical, the message of this post parallels our situation today. The status quo isn’t an option – and maybe it shouldn’t be. Progress is not linear. It’s a series of lunges forward, steps back and deep breaths. Patience and persistence must always be with us.

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Published December 15, 2011

Yesterday TIME magazine came out with their “Person of the Year” award. It wasn’t really a person, well not just one. TIME’s “Person of the Year” was “the Protestor.” By it’s very definition a protestor objects to the status quo. Protestors want change. We saw this in the Middle East and the “Arab Spring” and we’re seeing it here – first with Occupy Wall Street and now occupations across the United States and the world.

“Are you ready for change?”

It’s obvious that we are in a period of transition, a period of change. And whether we like it or not, there’s nothing we can do about it. But what if the change was so profound that, “things would never be the same again?”

What if unemployment didn’t drop? What if our “do nothing” government did nothing? What if corporate America didn’t start hiring – but rather continued to ship jobs oversees and spend their ballooning profits on productivity  rather than people?

What if the realization finally sets in that a college degree no longer provides that fail-safe career protection. Instead of the promise of a BMW in the garage and an ever-increasing 401K – you get a five if not six figure school loan debt. And no longer does getting a higher education land you that decade long dream job with a Fortune 500 company.

What if investing in that “white picket fence” doesn’t provide that retirement security it did for you parents. What if buying that house did nothing but turn you up-side down, and send you underwater because of that reworked mortgage you thought was such a good deal at the time. And what if that same mortgage not only strapped you today, but also anchored you to an area where employment opportunities were slim at best … far away from the new hotbeds economic success.

Unfortunately too much of the time, we evaluate ourselves by the money we have in bank, the toys we have in the garage and the address on that diploma on the wall. As we’re finding out now, and as our predecessors found out, times of change, “times when things aren’t the same anymore” – monetary worth is fragile. 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.

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. Unemployment will drop, college is a safe bet, buying a house is your retirement and success is “things” – may no longer be relevant.

But “what if things would never be the same again.” What would you do?

A few years ago, I saw a movie about life after an economic and societal meltdown. Things that were valuable before, were no long. And those 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, but worldwide. What you hold near and dear, may soon be gone. That 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 hang on to yesterday – a yesterday that may never be again. 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 and be prepared for it.

When I say unexpected though … I don’t necessarily mean bad. Not having rock-solid security is not a death sentence, it’s not a cancer diagnosis. 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 – that opportunity that could change your life for the better. Imagine this … rather than worrying about what wasn’t in place or what could happen when you retire.

One thing we know for sure – things change. They’re not going to be same tomorrow as they were 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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Dugnad … The Next Chapter for the Progressive Movement

“We have to be idealists, thus we can make man what he is capable of being.” — Viktor Frankl

It is striking how many of the world’s problems are created by leaders who lost their way and fail to live up to basic idealistic principles. Somehow idealism is perceived as weakness in current times and not as a sign of courage or integrity. In the words of author and thinker Peter Block: When we defend idealism, we defend imagination. We defend possibility. We defend the world of ideas.” The argument against idealism is an argument against democracy, an argument against love, an argument against justice and equity, and all the things that our culture has abandoned in the name of privatization and economic profit maximization. 

Earlier this year we saw a movement in the United States spearheaded by young people. Bernie Sanders, with no help from the media nor the party establishment (in fact just the opposite), made a serious run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Seventy-five years old, bespectacled with white disheveled hair, visually he was the not the prototypical candidate to embody the hopes and dreams of the Millennial generation, those fifty-plus years his junior. But in many states garnering over eighty percent of that demographic’s primary vote … he was.

While many pundits attach Sander’s popularity with his campaign promises of free college education and universal healthcare (whatever that’s means) – I’ve believe there was something less concrete behind it … something more philosophical. Even though he was a self-proclaimed socialist, he attracted people who would never have referred to themselves as that. I believe what drew people into Sander’s lair was his nebulous aura of idealism. He represented something that could be; something different from what currently is. His primary opponent Hillary Clinton embodied the status quo. Sanders did just the opposite.

Unfortunately for his supporters, and for idealists everywhere, his campaign couldn’t make up deficit it was put in by those in power in the Democratic National Committee. How different things might have been if Sanders and Clinton entered the race on even footing. Thus was not the case – so here we are with our presidential options consisting of a career politician who is the very definition of a Washington insider … and an orange clown who nobody knows what level of Dante’s Hell he could relegate us to. To put our future in the hands of either, thinking they will lead us to the “promised land,” is well … not very idealistic.

But this doesn’t mean we need to throw in our civic towel and spend the next four years licking our wounds. I’m afraid to say, Washington probably won’t be much different then than it is now. Regardless of party, who we put in the White House is going to have to stare down into the same abyss of governmental dysfunction.

“The man in the white hat, the man on the white horse … he ain’t coming.”

What we need to do is not waste this momentum of “striving for something different.” Rather than let our idealism whither with the defeat of a candidate, let’s rejuvenate it by taking it to the streets – and turn it to reality ourselves through action … not just voting.

We are in a precarious position right now, both as a nation and worldwide. Most of all it affects our young people. The Millennial generation is often looked at as being entrepreneurial and breaking the mold. In actuality, this is not true. Millennials are less entrepreneurial than their parents. The reason for this are multi-fold. The societal obsession of higher education for everyone and the debt that accompanies it has created a generation more risk-adverse. Young people are so loaded up on school loans they have to get regular jobs to pay for it. And maybe even more so, a stifling preponderance of mega-corporations owning the business landscape has left little opportunity for a fledging entrepreneurial idea to take wing. America has become much the same as the oligarchy-ridden Gilded Age of a century ago or even Russia today. No presidential candidate, no matter the promises and well-intentions, is going to change this. 

“The man in the white hat, the man on the white horse … he ain’t coming.”

Change will have to take place in the streets by those who live there … not in the ivory towers of Washington D.C..

Ecovillage
Evolution Institution

Dugnad is one of those concept type words. You know the ones that cannot be defined by a few sentences on paper because they embody so much more than that. They are words with cultural resonance that represent a way of life or an expectation, which is not easy to translate.

Dugnad can best be described as a type of civic and communal mindset where people get together and volunteer to fix, clean, paint or tidy things up for the betterment of their community. If you live in Norway I am pretty certain you will have already heard this term or even participated in one. Dugnads are organized in neighborhoods, blocks of flats, at summer homes, marinas, mountain cabins even at schools and especially places of work. The dugnad knows no bounds! It can be summed up as a time of coming together and contributing to the community that you are a part of. Most of us belong to several communities or groups so it is possible that your presence is required at multiple dugnads throughout year.

Last month the World Economic Forum released a study ranking countries on their ability to convert economic growth into well-being for their citizens. Norway came out on top. While there are many reasons for this, I’m sure no small one is their focus on community engagement in the form of dugnads. Not only do these civic gathering entities mend the social safety net, they build the Middle Ring, or neighborhood relationships that transcend ideologies and politics.

It’s around the concept of dugnad that I’ve organized the Community 3.0 platform for civic engagement. It’s time we all pull out our sewing kits and get to work mending the societal well-being safety net our alleged leaders have so negligently let almost fray to the point of no return.

Our call to action must be one of taking to the streets, not to protest but to act … to implement our idealism ourselves. In the Community 3.0 model, the dugnads take form in the Front Porches of our communities. 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. These Front Porches are where the Middle Ring or neighborhood relationships flourish. This is what the French political philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, observed as the source of America’s “exceptionalism” of the 1800’s.

As a part of the Community 3.0 platform we’ve put together a roster of several examples of what can result from Front Porch collaborations. These examples represent Solutions to many common needs and opportunities a community may encounter. By no means is this roster complete, but it’s a start – enough to get your synaptic connections firing.

The Solutions I listed above are mainly the products of the volunteer work of an single independent Front Porch. But that doesn’t mean multiple Front Porches can’t band together for a larger more community-wide common cause. An extreme example of this is the Let’s Do It! worldwide clean-up effort I mentioned in a recent post. But regardless of the size of the project, this dugnad approach to civic engagement involves a significant change in societal thinking: “one of doing rather than waiting for someone else to do the doing.”

Rather than myopically obsess on economic growth as most all governments do, the Community 3.0 Front Porch approach focuses on destroying the“silos”that retard our evolution. This bridging of chasms improves the overall well-being of our community including the physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health of its citizens.

The priority of these Front Porches is to create environments that nurture hope by empowering avenues for us to engage with our world and express our creativity through a Solutionist mindset – letting the inherent benevolence inside us bloom. By making “helping others” our societal norm and expectations … we will supplant that of the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system.

Build … Don’t Tear Down

I know it’s frustrating to think that our options look bad and worse. The seeds of optimism that took hold with the Bernie Sanders campaign are running the risk of being starved of the emotional momentum they need to survive. And without metaphorical food and water, it’s doubtful they will withstand a another four years until the next election.

Never doubt that a small group of committed, citizens can change the world. It is the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead

But this is the case only if we view our only option is turning over our lives to someone sitting in the White House. Our real solution lies right here in our home towns – both large or small. It is us who must make the change, not the government. It’s always been that way … whether we realize it or not.

But being committed does not mean marching in the streets demanding those in the ivory towers change their ways and all of sudden adopt policies of empathy and altruism. However noble this cause may be, Don Quixote best be left to the annuals of fiction past.

Rather than tear down … we must build. We need not walk into the lion’s den and challenge the lion. We starve the lion. After all, the lion is a captive of ours. Our problem is that all along we have been feeding him through our habitual actions, creating a societal mega-corporate personality we’ve let dictate our world.

At first there will not be many of us. But as our success stories spread – others will want the same (i.e “starving the lion”). They will see there is a road other than the one they habitually travel without thinking. We must find ways to work with those intrenched in the status quo. Direct conflict will only harden their cemented views … accomplishing nothing.

There will be defeats. There will be times we want to throw up our hands, let our impatience take over and rush head long into the lion’s den. These are the times we need to continue to build, meticulously one societal brick at a time. Eventually our evolutionary construct will be complete.

Only each one of us can make the decision if we are willing to stand up straight and pull our knuckles off the pavement and reach for the sky. And to do this we all need each other.

The movement of idealism and “hoping things can get better” will only wither if we let it. It will only starve is we assume its success is dependent on others and not the direct volunteer action of us in the streets. The Norwegians made this part of the their communal mindset and even coined a term for it, dugnad.

Maybe it’s time we follow their lead and adopt it for ourselves.

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Join me in building your own neighborhood dugnad … and create your own societal evolution.

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Related Posts:

 

Ask yourself: “If not me … then who?”

Update 7/9/2016: I originally posted this piece after the Orlando massacre at the gay club, Pulse, thinking its content was relevant. Only three weeks later – that seems like old news. In just the last few days we’ve had the questionable police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in St. Paul (who both were black) – and retalitory Dallas sniper attack killing five police officers. Thus it’s time again to “Ask ourselves …”

Sunday morning, June 12 of 2016, Omar Mateen walked into the Orlando club, Pulse, and executed 49 people. This massacre now qualifies as the most horrific gun crime in the history of the United States. Pulse is known for being a popular gay club. While the news media and most politicians want to label it a terrorist attack, fueled by allegiance to ISIL; make no mistake … this was first and foremost a hate crime. Mateen’s hatred of gays was well know, even to his father. “He had hatred deep inside him,” said the elder Mateen.

For Donald Trump, Sunday’s mass shooting in Florida was a moment to redouble his call for tougher action against terrorism and to take credit for “being right” about the threat. For Hillary Clinton, it was a time to reiterate her call for keeping “weapons of war” off America’s streets. And then later Clinton proclaimed, “For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad.” It seems like this disaster was an opportunity to reinforce political ideologies. But in both cases – it was “us versus them” whomever them may be. Of the statements from Montana’s congressional delegation, none mentioned the shootings happened at a gay bar or that it was a hate crime. All three mentioned terrorism however.

I don’t wish to discuss Trump’s misdirected xenophobic blame on Muslims, nor do I want dive into the debate on gun control, even though I believe the guns laws in this country are absurdly inadequate. Neither conversation will do anything but further cement the country’s polarized views only sending us deeper into the abyss of “government needs to fix the problem.” Isn’t it obvious that government isn’t doing a very good job fixing much of anything? Why should we assume more rhetoric about yet another gun massacre will produce any different results, especially when it’s automatically blamed on Muslims and terrorists. Both camps will simply just circle their respective wagons, doubling down on their existing positions.

Where I’ve seen hope though has been with people in the street in communities, literally all over world. While I’m sure these vigils of solidarity were organized by leaders in gay communities, their participation has by no means been limited. On the contrary, these mourners have used the bloodshed as a uniting factor for inclusion. It seems like the ones that don’t get it are the politicians. They’d rather extrapolate this incident to paint an “us versus them” picture. While of course there are exceptions and I’m sure there’s many who have put down their ideological battle axes for a day or two. We’ll see how this lasts though. 

urban decay

If all this isn’t enough to make us wake up from our cerebral stupor … then what will?

It’s time for us to assume a new role, a new place for us in our communities and in the world. It’s up to us to use the massacre in Orlando, this hate crime, to evolve – and make it more inclusive by setting new societal norms. Ideology based policy and zero-sum political games must be relegated to the boneyards of the past. In this war of “us versus them.” The “them” may very well be us ourselves. It’s not enough to just agree to the status quo isn’t working and move on expecting someone else will fix it. We must assume the power ourselves. We must be the guides to show the collective a better way – one where the direction is set not by federal mandate and legislation, but rather by community expectations of behavior and thought.

In his brilliant piece from 2011, “From Patterns of Emergent Cities: 1. The Founder,” Seb Paquet gives us, those who must be the shepherds, a philosophical guide to what we must provide those in our communities in our efforts to lead society to a new evolution.

A departure: an escape route from the old and tired, into an open space with few constraints;

A sense of possibility— the promise of a new freedom he has had a glimpse of, but has not yet experienced;

Mystery, adventure, and challenge— an experience; danger, even!

An opportunity to contribute his unique talents towards creating something meaningful that, in his eyes, deserves to exist;

And finally, the chance to design a new ‘home’, a new life for himself and others.

This departure from “the old and tired” of the our current civic malaise must be replaced not with just new faces; because the problems lie much deeper than just “who.” The problems stem from decades of systemic decay of an institution never designed to solve all that ail the 300,000,000 of us in the United States alone (and billions more worldwide). The foundation of all society (both here and abroad) must rest on the underpinnings of direct civic participation and “sweat equity.” And by participation I mean volunteerism – whether that “sweat equity” be manual labor, expertise or organizing those that can.

We must use what we have and maximize it – following the Indian practice of jugaad innovative fix using few resources. We must not ask “what something is going to cost,” but rather what resources do we have to get it done – and then do it. We must not limit our perceptions to solving problems … but broaden it to include seizing opportunities. We must use well-being and hope for all our fellow residents as the standard-bearer for societal advancement. We must be Solutionists!

I paved a road to my version of this Perfect World in the post “Orion … a Feline Metaphor of Hybrid Governance.” Rather than assume the only way to reform is rehashing the tired old economic debate of state vs. markets, I explored a hybrid alternative pulled from the philosophies of 19th century Scottish thinker David Hume and Nobel Prize winning American economist Elinor Ostrom. Both stressed that the people can best govern themselves within the bounds of the community. Only in the event of large civic applications such a mass transit systems, national defense and power grids should overarching hierarchy be preferred.

The vehicle for the community governance expression I have chosen is the phenomena of decentralized activity in plant rhizomes observed by French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari in the 1960s. 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.

The “nodes” at the center of this rhizome organization are the Front Porch gathering spots in our communities and neighborhoods. Most often these Front Porches reside in the locally owned business community of our communities. From these often informal, non-structured gatherings will come collaborations that solves the problems and realize the opportunities our communities encounter. The peer-to-peer structure of the Front Porch governance model empowers all members of society – regardless of their social or economic status. This emphasis on diversity will ensure our communities will be able sustain themselves in the most inclusive manner possible during the most adverse times.

Imagine …

Close your eyes and think about where you live – your neighborhood. What does it look like? Imagine walking the streets, looking at the broken playground at the elementary school down the block, the vacant lots riddled with weeds, the elderly woman outside the blue house that hasn’t been painted in years.

Imagine looking inside the local middle school where you know there are children that have fallen behind, and could catch up with just a little extra help – but won’t get it. And think about how they will probably drop out … forever handicapping their future.

You walk down Main Street. Remember when it was “the place” to go, whether you wanted a gift for your niece’s birthday, those few special grocery items or even that “once-a-month” night out. It’s not the same now. The Walmarts, Wall Street chain restaurants and big box stores have made those memories a distant thing of the past.

In 2013 Marc Dunkelman wrote an excellent book on the evolution, or should I say the de-evolution of the American neighborhood, The Vanishing Neighbor.” In his book Dunkelman introduces the concept of the Middle Ring. The Middle Ring is what Dunkelman calls our neighborly relationships. This is in contrast to the inner-ring of family and close friends, and the ever-expanding outer-ring relationships fostered by the digital age and social media. Unfortunately the “middle” is not holding, collapsing from pressures on both sides. Social media sites have brought our closest contacts closer and expanded our reach to include ‘weak ties’ that we know only through cyberspace. Compound this with the proliferation of politically and socially segregated cable and internet news outlets, we have little time or attention for anyone else, physically or philosophically. And what suffers are our neighborhood acquaintances, our communities and the memories of what they used to stand for.

Our new society, our “Perfect World” of civic participation, will use the sociological premise of the Middle Ring as the foundation for us to build on. A society should be a construct of people’s dreams and plights. And it is the purpose of this society help its people realize the former and assist in alleviating the latter. From these efforts, we will weave them into a unique tapestry that are the communities we all live in. And from the Solutions we create through our local collaborations – we will scale the effects to evolve society on a broader scale. Or as the societal thought leader (and he is one of the few deserve the acclaim), Indy Johar, professed: We need first mile solutions for our last mile crisis.

“For an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope.” – Albert Einstein 

I believe most of us want to leave the world a better place than when we found it. Or as I like to say, “Leave person, every place and everything … better off from you being there.” How we do that depends on our stories, chapters of our personal journey on the “Road to our Perfect World.”

Mine was never what you’d call conventional. Whether it be promoting rock concerts in college or raising my daughter, Alexandria, as a single father … my road was often less than smooth. I feel my life has been like a box of chocolates, as my Australian friend, Annalie Killian says: “Sometimes it’s good and … well sometimes, it’s like those awful ones with the cherries in them.”  Thank God for a waterproof tent and: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Just ask Alex (her side seem to leak more than mine). And just last year another of those ones with cherries popped up again as I a spent the year battling lymphoma. But as before I had a waterproof tent (this time metaphorically speaking) and I’m in remission.

I have had the opportunity to rub elbows with those in ivory towers, the ones that built those towers and the ones that clean them. And often the ones that have given me the greatest insight have been the latter. What all these experiences, these people and this “road” has taught me (potholes and all) is that it all comes down to community. Because without community, no matter how big or small; or what rung on society’s supposed ladder of success you are  – it’s really all we got. This is why I’m here, and why I think you’re here reading this.

And how I want to leave this world … is using community to make it better for all of us.

Good morning full.jpg

I ask you – let our roads intersect and we travel together. I ask you join me in helping our world, our society and our communities in making them places where we really want to be and live – not in places other people tell us we should live. I want you to travel with me, combining your journey with mine; joining me in an effort that alone we cannot accomplish.

If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

When you’ve circled back to here … contact me.

Because hopefully you’ll see …

“If not us, then who … If not now – then when?”

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Clay Forsberg

Growing an Evolved Society

Our true destiny is a world built from the bottom up by competent citizens living in solid communities, engaged in and by their places. – David W. Orr

In my last piece, What do the genetics of a Bengal Cat and the evolution of economics have in common?”, I proposed a hybrid type of governance as an alternative to our current political malaise and civic ineptitude. But thinking about it maybe governance isn’t really the right term. Governance implies more a state of control. What I really propose is more of a change in mindset – a mindset of community empowerment rather than a dependence on hierarchical forces housed in institutions rendered grotesque caricatures of their former intent. But to realize this new alternative we must first shed ourselves of these relics and the constraint incumbent in their archaic system design created for much simpler times ages ago.

This new hybrid is based on the conceptions of 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume synthesized with the pragmatic research on the commons by Nobel Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom. Working off the premises of these two scholars, we can bring this hybrid civic mindset to reality using a set of societal and economics tools we have in the form of community Front Porches or informal neighborhood gathering places. In my model I suggest these Front Porches can take hold in the small and locally owned business community of our towns and cities.

This direct participation civic mindset is illustrated by the “wild side” (the Asian Leopard Cat) of the hybrid model I metaphorically call “Orion” after my daughter’s hybrid Bengal Cat. This mindset and the resulting direct engagement model is not focused on maintaining itself as a static organization or institution, but as a dynamic situational platform. The participation platform is designed to identify the needs and opportunities of the local community it serves while addressing them using whatever resources are available … whether monetary or not. Think of this “resource maximization” drawing from the times of our grandparents when neighbors and community members were treated as extended family and relied on as the primary “safety net.” (The other half of the hybrid, the traditional governance half, is reformed via the methods of Transpartisanship).

This is the first of five posts outlining my game plan to make this evolved civic mindset a reality. In this piece, Growing a Societal Evolution, I lay out the philosophical and structural foundation of the direct participation model I analogized in the “wild side” of Orion.

Kevin Beiler rhizome network

Rhizomes and Decentralization

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)

To find a model for organizational structure built around resource maximization and decentralized civic participation and collaboration, we need to look no further than our backyard – in nature. 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 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.

This phenomena of decentralized activity in Rhizomes was best articulated in the philosophy or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the ’60s.

“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 several components. Below are several that are applicable to a community based construct. From here we can extrapolate to arrive at our version of a locally governed civic participation platform – the “Asian Leopard wild cat” of our hybrid.

  • 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;” 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 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 conventional 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. As outlined above, 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 small business community, Front Porches, the members of the community who are their customers along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and creates with its Smooth Space will determine 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 (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization).
  • 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 and businesses; it’s 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 silos. 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 – 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.

A contemporary version of this Nomadic Rhizome organizational approach is referred roughly as Open allocation. Open allocation is a management style in which employees are given freedom to choose what projects to work on, and how to allocate their time. They do not necessarily answer to a static manager, but rather to the specific project they are working on within a company or organization. They can transfer between projects as they wish as long as they are providing value. Open allocation has been described as a process of self-organization. Rather than teams and leadership arrangements existing permanently in the organization, relationships form as they are needed (around causes and projects). When the projects are completed they disband. (excerpts taken from Wikipedia)

Types of Open allocation arrangements are happening in various organizations globally in the form of peer-to-peer movements. A main societal proponent is the P2P Foundation headed by Michel Bauwens. On the corporate side, attention should be paid to the Holacracy consulting practice founded by Brian Robertson. Their highest profile client to date is the Las Vegas based internet commerce firm Zappos owned by Amazon. Zappos is an interesting case of injecting a radical systematic change into a workplace that may or may not have been culturally ready for it. There are lessons than can be learned from their transition that I cover in an upcoming post.

But probably the biggest success story for a corporate self-governing organization is the Dutch home-care organization Buurtzorg Nederland.

Buurtzorg founder, Jos de Blok, has a critical role in the company. He exerts practically no formal power or control over the decentralised teams who deliver the services and innovate new ideas. It works incredibly well and Buurtzorg easily outperforms its traditionally structured counterparts in the healthcare sector.

However, de Blok’s presence is clearly strongly felt by all. Without even needing to codify a ‘mission statement,’ there is a powerful energy in the organisation around his founding vision of transforming community healthcare by operating with a very different organisational model. De Blok is holding the space for his vision to emerge, yet allowing the thousands of employees to have all the power they need to make it happen, sometimes in ways de Blok would never have conceived himself.

Without de Blok’s direct control, they develop more and better ways to realise and expand his vision, growing Buurtzorg’s impact over time in ways he could never orchestrate as a traditional top-down leader. But he still appears to be holding the vision for the whole, at the very highest level. This is most evident through his practice of personally participating in the induction new recruits, so they truly understand the purpose of the organisation. Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia does this too. These founders know that if they have made the overall vision clear, they can set their people free to realize the vision autonomously, using all of their creativity. (Tom Nixon “Resolving the awkward paradox in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations“)

Evolution Institution
Evolution Institution

Front Porches and Societal Evolution

The goal of Community 3.0 is to take principles of resource maximization and incorporate them with the naturalistic examples of the Rhizome organization articulated by Deleuze and Guattari. This result is a platform for community self-governance and sustainability built around informal but operationally significant gatherings, otherwise know as Front Porches. While these Front Porches can form anywhere, say even in your garage, the ideal locations will be in the locally owned businesses of our communities.

Rather than myopically obsess on economic growth as most all civic governments do, Community 3.0 Front Porches will focus on destroying the “silos” that retard our evolution and ultimately improving the overall well-being of our populace including physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health.

It will be the priority of these Front Porches to create environments in our communities that nurture hope by empowering avenues for us to engage with our world and express our creativity through a Solutionist mindset – letting the inherent benevolence inside us bloom. By making “helping others” our societal norm and expectation … we will supplant that of the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system.

People will gravitate towards what they want to do … and in turn do what they do best. This lifestyle of self management of interests and activities will not only benefit them, but also their community. Lives based on economic status will be replaced by those of self-actualization. Civic participation and altruism will elevate them and empower them to evolve as humans.

This is Community 3.0 … and welcome to our next societal evolution.

“The capacity of communities to solve problems may be impeded by hierarchical (whether public or private) division and economic inequality among its members. This is a perfect reason for practicing empathy and well-being as a main tenet. Inequality of income (as measured only in its limited sense) cannot be solved … but maybe inequality of attitude (and self-defined wealth) can. ~ Tom Reeves

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If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+.