Nature and Nurture – Quote

It is human nature to have culture…. We can’t rely on our instincts; we need an instruction manual. And culture is the manual.

Only we can tell us how to live. There is nothing to prevent us from deciding that the goal of life should be to be as unnatural as possible. “Human nature” is just another looking glass.

from “The Looking Glass,” Louis Menand, The New Yorker, Aug 26. 2019, p. 86

The Democrats: What Happened to Equality?

By Wade Lee Hudson

Books and articles often show me new angles, offer new information, or deepen my perspective. Rarely do they change my thinking in a major way. Elizabeth S. Anderson’s 1999 tour de force “What is the Point of Equality?” is an exception. I’m still absorbing the impact of her passionate manifesto. No wonder colleagues have called that 50-page article “path breaking” and The New Yorker described her as “The Philosopher Redefining Equality.”

Anderson wants to end oppression by creating communities “in which people stand in relations of equality” to one another. Her thinking is rooted in numerous grassroots egalitarian movements, such as the civil rights, womens’, and disability rights movements.

Unfortunately, however, most grassroots political movements today don’t clearly reflect those social values. Rather, they focus on material reality. And, as indicated by what they said at the September 2019 debate, neither have the Democratic candidates for President absorbed her insights.

In the following review, which includes extensive excerpts, I place in bold her language that prompted new insights for me, and place in italics points that strengthened my convictions. 

+++++

As Anderson sees it: 

Recent egalitarian writing has come to be dominated by the view that the fundamental aim of equality is to compensate people for undeserved bad luck—being born with poor native endowments, bad parents, and disagreeable personalities, suffering from accidents and illness, and so forth…. This “equality of fortune” perspective [or “luck egalitarianism”] is essentially a “starting-gate theory”: as long as people enjoy fair shares at the start of life, it does not much concern itself with the suffering and subjection generated by people’s voluntary agreements in free markets…. 

[Their] writing…seems strangely detached from existing egalitarian political movements…[that have fought for] the freedom to appear in public as who they are, without shame, [and] campaigned against demeaning stereotypes. 

READ MORE

Systemopedia Report – 9/9/19

My first organizing was on sandlot softball fields. Boys would show up and two “captains” took turns selecting teammates, assigned positions, and set the batting order. Two of the better players, which usually included me, served as captain, but anyone could do it, and many often did. There were no arguments about this decision. Each captain was dispensable. The players weren’t dependent on a leader. Little did I realize that this simple, horizontal, self-regulating, self-perpetuating, peer-to-peer structure would become a community organizing model for the rest of my life — though, alas, I followed it imperfectly….
Eric Liu’s latest book, Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy, is eloquent and inspiring. His exhortations to be engaged in civic activism, beyond voting, are compelling. In the end, however, he comes up short. He neglects the need for new, holistic structures that nurture an energizing cultural environment…. 
Soteria (psychiatric treatment), wikipedia
Soteria is a community service that provides a space for people experiencing mental distress or crisis. Based on a recovery model, common elements of the Soteria approach include primarily non-medical staffing; preserving resident’s personal power, social networks, and communal responsibilities; finding meaning in the subjective experience of psychosis by “being with” clients; and no or minimal use of antipsychotic medication (with any medication taken from a position of choice and without coercion).
An impending psychotic break can be identified and prevented if it is recognized early and appropriate steps are taken to head it off.
An authoritarian fear of difference best explains the intolerance sweeping the Republican Party.
Process is important. So is product. Advocates for democracy who focus on mobilizing popular power can forget that the tyranny of the majority is a real threat. New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World — and How to Make It Work for You by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms acknowledges this reality, and offers a solution…. 
New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World—and How to Make It Work for You, 2018, Jeremy Heiman & Henry Timms
(see review)
When a group of workers at the video-game maker Riot Games staged a three-hour walkout in May over the company’s handling of sex discrimination accusations, they had help from a labor organizer named Emma Kinema. Ms. Kinema doesn’t work for a union, but she is part of a grass-roots wave of labor activism, filling voids where traditional unions lack a presence. 

My Story: Peer-to-Peer Community (Part One)

By Wade Lee Hudson

My first organizing was on sandlot softball fields. Boys would show up and two “captains” took turns selecting teammates, assigned positions, and set the batting order. Two of the better players, which usually included me, served as captain, but anyone could do it, and many often did. There were no arguments about this decision. Each captain was dispensable. The players weren’t dependent on a leader. Little did I realize that this simple, horizontal, self-regulating, self-perpetuating, peer-to-peer structure would become a community organizing model for the rest of my life — though, alas, I followed it imperfectly.

My second project was the high school chess club, which I initiated. After advertising, some fifteen students joined and met weekly. At the first meeting, we randomly determined each student’s initial position on a vertical ladder. Players moved up and down the ladder as they won or lost. Another peer-to-peer structure, this one within a larger, democratic hierarchy: the school administration.

During high school, as is common, I participated in a clique. Mine was a group of five boys who read and discussed iconoclastic literature such as H.L. Mencken and Bertrand Russell and frequently gathered at night to smoke pipes and play poker. That informal structure also nurtured a rewarding sense of peer-to-peer community. As Bob Dylan sings, “I wish, I wish, I wish in vain / That we could sit simply in that room again.”

When I entered the University of California, Berkeley in 1962, I joined a student co-op as a boarder.

read more

Sameness, Difference, & Tactics: Quotes

What Ails the Right Isn’t (Just) Racism,
Conor Friedersdorf

“parading, talking about, and applauding our sameness” seems wise when possible.

“showy celebration of an absolute insistence upon individual autonomy and unconstrained diversity pushes those by nature least equipped to live comfortably in a liberal democracy not to the limits of their tolerance, but to their intolerant extremes.”

Building a “Full-Stack Society” with “New Power”

A Review
New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World — and How to Make It Work for You
Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms
Doubleday, 2018, 325 pages

Building a “Full-Stack Society” with “New Power”
By Wade Lee Hudson

Process is important. So is product. Advocates for democracy who focus on mobilizing popular power can forget that the tyranny of the majority is a real threat. New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World — and How to Make It Work for You by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms acknowledges this reality, and offers a solution. 

As stated by the publisher, Doubleday:

New Power shines fresh light on the cultural phenomena of our day, from #BlackLivesMatter to the Ice Bucket Challenge to Airbnb, uncovering the new power forces that made them huge. Drawing on examples from business, activism and pop culture, Heimans and Timms explain how to build new power and channel it successfully. They also explore the dark side of these forces: the way ISIS has co-opted new power to monstrous ends, and the rise of the alt-right’s “intensity machine.” 

They make a strong case for dynamics that are “open, participatory, and peer driven.” Yet they also write: ”As we see with ISIS and the growing hordes of white supremacists,… the tools that bring us closer together can also drive us further apart.” Heimans and Timms argue we can avoid this danger by creating “a world in which all major social and economic institutions are designed so that [all] people can more meaningfully shape every aspect of their lives.” 

According to their vision:

It will be critical to actually reduce wealth and income inequality and change the material conditions of those who are left behind. But a subtler change is in how we create more meaningful opportunities for people to actively shape their lives and connect with the institutions that shape them. People need to feel more like owners of their own destinies, rather than pawns of elites…. We need something different: a world where our participation is deep, constant, and multi-layered, not shallow and intermittent.

To describe this alternative, Heimans and Timms use a term from computer programming: full stack. When the different components of an operating system “work together to make a product hum,” these layers “come together to form a coherent whole,” programmers call this “a full stack.” So Heimans and Timms describe the society they seek as a “full-stack society.” 

New Power also affirms personal change. In the second chapter, the authors highlight a key issue: identity. When an individual’s sense of self is based on top-down “old power,” it’s hard to engage in collaborative “new power.” 

To illustrate their point, they report on an internal conflict at NASA, the space agency. One group

had what we call old power values. They came from a world with clear boundaries between “us” and “them,”… This group believed deeply in the value of expertise. Their own identities grew out of a tradition that venerated individual moments of genius….

Another group affirmed Open Innovation, a collaborative practice. That method threatened the “core identity” of the old-power group. When a researcher asked members of that group about Open Innovation, they often didn’t answer the question. They only talked about themselves, their training, and their accomplishments. They were self-centered.

With this passage, the book strongly implies the need to undo restrictive conditioning. Heimans and Timms affirm the need to spread new power values with communication strategies that promote “a peer connection with people you care about or share values with.” This dynamic makes you feel part of “a like-minded community” that reinforces and deepens new power values, which involves personal change.

Subjective gut reactions, emotions, beliefs, norms and values shape behavior. Habitual thoughts and feelings call for careful self-examination. We can strengthen our effectiveness by undoing some of our conditioning. If we change ourselves, we can better change the world. New Power’s report on the NASA conflict reflects this critical reality. 

One example of a way to “accommodate and celebrate new power values” described in the book is the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, a church that utilizes “increased agency, flattened hierarchy, and a joyful embrace of diversity”—an example of a new power model, or structure, can encourage “mass participation and peer coordination.”

From my perspective, Heimans and Timms could have devoted more attention to intentional mutual support for self-improvement that nurtures personal and cultural growth. And they could have talked more explicitly about “social systems” or “the System.” 

But their image of a coherent full-stack society clearly suggests a desire for systemic reform. And their discussion of the problems with self-identity at NASA clearly suggests the need for widespread, deep personal change. So all ina all, it seems to me, this book promotes holistic, compassionate, systemic reform of the sort that is sorely needed. Regardless, it’s important and inspiring.

+++

Originally published here.

Recent Additions to Systemopedia.org

From “Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy”

By Adam Gopnik
The New Yorker, 9/2/2018

If there is to be a lesson taken from the literature of espionage, it is that the surfaces we see generally have the greatest significance, and the most obvious-seeming truths about other countries’ plans and motives are usually more predictive than the sharpest guesses at hidden ones. A corollary of this truth is that the best way to project power is not to do wrong secretly but to do good openly. How intelligent is national intelligence? Why, exactly as smart as we are. It’s a terrifying thought.