The Science not yet born -- Cultural Design
Life emerges from death. This is merely a fact from ecology — where the seemingly immortal flow of nutrients continuously passes from the bodies of the recently deceased into new forms as it is reconstituted in the bodies of the newly born.
I offer this metaphor as the starting point to discuss how we can apply biological principles to “guide the flow of nutrients” from dying institutional forms for education, research, and social change practice. In a recent article, I explained why universities are failing humanity to express that disciplinary-based solutions will not help us in a systemic-problem-based world. Only when we reorganize our efforts around the systems in question will effective interventions be found.
-- Joe Brewer
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Read Universities Failing
Can We Design the Future We Want?
As I’ve written elsewhere, humanity is creating a future that nobody wants. We have watched a global system of wealth extraction sweep across the planet consuming everything in its path — from nature’s bounty to the social fabric of our own villages and neighborhoods
What we haven’t done (or at least the majority of people haven’t) is create these conditions on purpose. It wasn’t what most of us wanted, to be strapped with debts and live through a rapid decline of opportunities… principally to enable the extremely rich to accumulate even more of the world’s wealth in their coffers.
The trillion dollar question is this: Is it possible to create the future most of us want? And if so, how do we do it?
I’ve grappled with this question in one form or another for almost twenty years. What I learned along the way surprised me. It gave me reservoirs of hope I scarcely imagined possible. And now I see how it is possible to collectively create pathways to a thriving planetary future.
The key to it all is culture.
That’s right, culture. We can guide ourselves forward in time by monitoring and actively evolving the ideas, social norms, values, beliefs, tools and technologies, relationship patterns, and organizational forms that constitute human cultures around the world.
I call this culture design and have written about the tools for practicing it and the formulation of Culture Design Labs for putting them to use. What I haven’t done — nor has anyone else at this point in time — is actively run one and work out the kinks for how it is done.
Time is of the essence and humanity is already in the deep crucible of change. Every one alive today can feel it. The turbulence of yet another disaster, the pain of one more outburst of violence, or the anxiety of one more thing we thought to be impossible that just happened before our very eyes. The impossible, it seems, is now par for the course.
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A condition where a conquering tribe or group dehumanizes themselves and commits horrific atrocities in order to acquire or wrest territory or resources from an existing group. Then, in order to make what the conquering group did seem normalized or 'virtuous', that group engages in deep mind trickery, and historical revisionism, as well as engage in delusions of superiority. Descendants inherit this pathology and may get defensive or play games with the truth. However, this act of self-deception then in turn sows the seeds of narcissism, delusional thinking, magical thinking, and other dysfunctions of judgment such that it plants the seeds of the conquering group's downfall. The rest that follows is simply a matter of time.
America today is a text-book example of this effect. America has become a "Reality-Optional" society, steeped in narcissistic delusions. America will not fall to a foreign adversary but rather succumb to its own internal fatal flaws that represent its own terminating gene. It's own internal corruption and lawlessness, under color of authority, will be its self-inflicted undoing.
Chris Hedges says it so well here: Downfall of The American Empire
Evolving the Future
The world has become a pretty weird place. We’ve lost the ability to intend something to happen and then make it so. Let us find that ability once more, shall we? This is what I mean by “culture design” — that communities of people come together and learn how culture is already changing so that they can co-create the conditions that will be needed to reach their intended goals.
For example, if a small town was wiped out by tornadoes they might want to rebuild on 100% renewable energy so they aren’t part of the problem of global warming that made severe storms more likely in the past. Or perhaps a city riddled with bullets flung between white police and black community members might want to shift the social norms and mental models that militarized the police force in the past. Changes like these can be made intentionally, but only if those involved know what the practices of culture design happen to be.
Here’s a partial list to stimulate discussion:
- Group facilitation can be done to convene workshops, run scenarios, cultivate consensus, or design action plans for a community of people.
- Discourse analysis can be done to study the language underlying thoughts and actions that were dysfunction in the past to reveal where problems in understanding get in the way of finding workable solutions.
- Social learning processes can be identified to see how particular cultural practices get reproduced in younger generations or are thwarted and altered by some kind of educational intervention.
- Pattern and trend analysis can be done to learn how things are changing in the social demographics of a particular community and for the larger social systems that impact them.
-- Joe Brewer
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Why Must We Design Our Bioregions?
Missing from most environmental policies is the question of scale. How DO we get environmental solutions to scale up from local to global? I have explored this question in the context of cultural evolution research where a powerful framework exists that is known as multi-level selection. Briefly summarized, it goes like this:
“Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. The rest is commentary.”
- David Sloan Wilson, Evolutionary Biologist
Note how the behavior of individuals at one scale (an isolated group) relates to the strategic impacts for how they relate to other scales (interactions among multiple groups). The insight from multi-level selection is that we have to look at the evolutionary patterns at multiple scales to see how each level interacts with the others.
Applied to environmental problems — as done brilliantly here by Timothy Waring and collaborators — it becomes clear that the social structures within a human society will strongly influence how policies are adopted and at what scales they can be effectively implemented.
In a society that strongly emphasizes the role of the family, social norms among those who are related to each other will be a powerful level for engagement. Contrast this with a society that has weak community ties (such as the United States where most people don’t know their neighbors and move far from family for employment) and it makes little sense to focus on families to get policies implemented.
The same kind of thinking can be applied in the opposite direction as well. Ask yourself which social structures are best suited to solve an environmental problem and see how you might contribute to changing the society itself such that the issue becomes tractable. This is where the bioregion concept really shines through.
-- Joe Brewer
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The modern conveniences we take for granted are but a thin fragile layer upon which we depend. Our society has lost much of its "Bootstrap" technologies and skills needed to operate them. If something were to happen to our current system, many would be plunged into perilous circumstances for a prolonged period.
Fortunately, many around the nation are attempting to revive a set of driven-by-hand skills and techniques of living that do not depend upon our current technology to function.
We present to you the Survivor Library. Much of the works in this library date from the 19th Century before electricity and the internal combustion engine. A wide range of topics are covered and I urge you to use this resource as a base of aquiring new (old) skills.
Please, if you use the library then consider making a donation to keep it running.