Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-5

Part 5: The Possibility Space of Disability Justice and Advocacy in the DJCAS

I have focused on individual and small group advocacy, but the entirety of The System of supports , in all it’s political, financial, social, and personal dimensions is the possibility space for our disability justice work. Our advocacy can change what is already realized in the possibility space, as well as introducing novelty into that possibility space.

The details of this macro-CAS should not be the drivers of that advocacy work. Instead, we need to recognize our journey to Disability Justice as an exploration of possibilities that are not preset. This is a very different process from a sequence of operational advocacy plans that start and stop with success or failure. I’ll try to illustrate this critical difference below.

Most advocacy work uses operational planning as a framework for change. Logic Models are a specimen example of how this type of planning rolls out. The model uses chains of causal links to show how we get from here to there. The models often contain intermediate endpoints to clarify the flow from here to there. The final outcomes are the result of the links being implemented in order, and must be measurable to qualify as real outcomes.

There is nothing wrong with such models, but their competent use assumes that the advocacy plan arises from a true strategy, of which the logic model is a component. Unfortunately, Strategic Planning in modern organizational work (including advocacy work) has come to mean a great big logic model and a disconnected isolated analysis of forces acting on the organization (often called a SWOT analysis). While I will post later about how real strategy is distinct from operational planning, I need to first distinguish the space in which disability justice strategy operates from the closed systems of operational plans which should be, as it were, local manifestations of our strategy.

In future posts, I’ll use different perspectives as a way of pointing toward the concept of a disability justice possibility space, as opposed to causal link models:

First, though, I’d like to talk about the differences between a space of causal link plans, and a space of possibilities.

I would describe a logic model or any other operational plan based on mapping causal links into the future, as a closed system, regardless of the intentions of the creators. Causal chains linked to outcomes don’t really admit of other possibilities (and generally discourage them as distractions or loss of focus), except, of course, for failure to reach outcomes. This is also the ordinary way we view the fulfilling of intentions (the realization of the intention being the final outcome). The idea of a “bucket list” is a pure example of the limitations of this kind of thinking.

One way of seeing the problem with this simple take on the fulfilling of intention is to look at the successes and failures of the philosophy of action in recent years. In Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System, Alicia Juarrero argues that traditional framework for action theory is just such a logic model of causal links, and that it has never been up to the task of representing human intention or the way that actual human beings realize their actual intentions.

Dr. Juarrero sees conceiving of an intention as creating a possibility space for its realization. This kind of possibility space is a complex adaptive system (CAS), where the dynamic of realizing it creates alternate possibilities at each step of the process, and thus choices for the person in continuing to realize any intention. As an intention arising in a networked community of intentions, the CAS of the possibility space can potentiate a huge space of alternate next steps. In much the same way that the realization of a personal intention can produce events that cloud or interfere with the realization, so a large possibility space (say one arising out of the many intentions of the disability community and its allies) can generate, for example, counter-intentions by providing energy within the CAS that can be seized upon by opponents of our community.

There is no optimal causal path to the realization of an intention, whether personal or community. Instead there are the unique, path dependent, sets of choices in pursuit of the intention. Or in the case of disability justice, the pursuit of our dream.

Here is a simple story about how the same intention can result in very different paths to realization. Imagine two six-month old infants, maybe fraternal twins with the same parents and the same rough environment, but different genetics. Each infant has their own playroom. The parents decide to get each an identical ball that makes sounds, flashes lights, and moves. They place the ball the same distance from each infant, trigger the lights, motion, and sounds, and watch how each infant goes to get the ball.

One child is impulsive and has boundless energy, and charges off as fast as possible to get the ball, stopping to reorient to the ball and correct the path of realizing the intention. The other is careful and precise, checking almost constantly to make sure of the path. Both finally reach the ball, grasp it, and play with it.

In the causal links view of intention, each deviation by either infant from the most efficient approach to the ball is an error, a mistake, a waste of resources. Behaviorism, for example, would use its ontologically based “logic model” assumptions to try to program the infants to not make these “errors”. In fact, something like this reasoning is the basis of most of our attitudes toward the realization of intention, whether we buy the ontology of behaviorism or not.

The question I would like to raise is, “What else is happening to the child’s development as it takes it’s child-specific approach to realizing its intention?”. It is those differences that constitute the possibility space for each child and, writ large, the differences in the possibility spaces of each of us as we work our way through the realization of all of our intentions, including the ones we cherish for the realization of disability justice.

I’ll close with some ideas from Kurt Vonnegut that he offered to a high school student:

“Practice Becoming.

Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on.”

To me, this is the most important purpose of Disability Justice and our pursuit of it. The realization of possibility, not just intentions, but the fuller possibility that lies in the choices of each and every one of us for our lives. While intention might be a tool to facilitate this purpose, it is a tool, not an end in itself. Becoming is the end in itself.

Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-4

Part 4: The Clash of Design and Actual Engagement in Advocacy

Although we use the System As Designed (SAD) (irony intended) as a context for our advocacy, anyone who advocates quickly understands that the relationship between SAD and System As Engaged (SAE) is, shall we say, dysfunctional. It is always important to remember that the conflict between SAD and SAE is built into the way we plan and implement all designed systems, not just those that obviously impinge on the lives and possibilities of the disability community.

The experience of reality is different for a person working from outside the SAE than it is for a person working on the inside of the SAE , not unlike the difference between your experience of your self and the experience of another person of your self. Inside the SAE for example, student rights to an FAPE are a set of constraints that are part of a large universe of constraints, including scarce funding and the competition between special education funding and all other financial aspects of the school district, political competition and conflict over everything of value in the district, the impact of personal relationships on decisions, labor agreements, local electoral politics, national views of education as a political football-and so on.

From outside the SAE, The SAD guides the presumption of value for that same universe of meaning I described above. And these two perspectives on that universe of value are very, very different. The biggest upshot of this unavoidable reality is that any conflict over an issue of advocacy has many threads that branch out from the apparent issue into the respective perspectives of the advocate and the district insider. These perspectives are not aligned to one another. They can be made mutually coherent for resolving the advocacy issue by negotiation, but the terms of the negotiation are still very different for the two parties. For the SAE, put somewhat simply, negotiation is about the distribution of resources that the SAE sees as “theirs”, both as “owned” and as demanding allocation for the common good of the SAE, and are a part of a universe of negotiations about those resources extending well beyond the specific advocacy issue or policy. For the advocate, the negotiation is about assuring the allocation of resources sufficient to produce a FAPE and the effective continuation of the  values in the disability educational rights framework.

Engagement between advocate and insider can produce better mutual understanding and make negotiation easier, but it can’t erase the pain points of the differences in perspective. This is generally true wherever SAD and SAE engage, regardless of the system (rehabilitation, healthcare, employment, community living, etc.). It is also true of for-profit corporations. The differences in perspective can be tweaked but not fundementally changed.

As I mentioned earlier, the meta-drivers of the dynamic decisions in any CAS are:

  • The unavoidable uncertainty of the future, and the necessity for hedging against the unpredictable
  • The universal scarcity of resources (not just money, but every kind of resource)

It is the different views of the value of the various resources and the level of risk that is assigned to uncertainties that maintains the conflict between advocate and insider. These constraints operate well beyond the kind of advocacy for disability justice I have discussed so far. I’ll carry along and expand this notion as I discuss more sophisticated and system-like forms of advocacy and social justice change.

Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-3

Part 3: Engaging the Fuller Reality of the DJCAS

Advocacy (especial advocacy on behalf of individuals or small groups) forces a very distinct realism and depth in any view of the DJCAS as a support system. No knowledge of the DJCAS as imagined or designed can provide this.

At the same time, this deepened perspective is created by specific engagements (analogous to the engagements between parents and child in the clinic model), not by the model of the support system as it was designed.

In fact, the basic model of individual advocacy shows this. The model:

  • The goal of advocacy for an individual is to force the system to operate as it was designed.
  • The fulcrum of transformation to achieve this is to threaten the support system with a forced larger change in its operations if it doesn’t agree to operate as it was designed in this instance.

Individual advocacy incrementally changes the subject system and can benefit an individual or a small group fairly quickly. (The issue of how much permanent change there is in The System is complex. I’ll start to address it later in other posts.)

What is usually called systems advocacy tries to benefit a community of persons impacted by a policy inconsistent with the system as designed. Using organized pressure (political or legal) the focus is altering that policy to insure access to support by a community of persons within the system as it was designed.

Disabled communities also use advocacy to imagine new dimensions in the design of systems of support. These efforts use techniques of legislative advocacy, community organizing, protest, political pressure, and so on, to build new models of how support should be designed. When successful they can change the way support systems are actually implemented.

Finally, disability communities can build alternate systems of support using designs that fit support needs of our community better than the larger social institutions of The System. Getting good at these kinds of advocacy should be a part of every disabled community’s efforts to build real support for its members. Such advocacy skills are more easily generalized through intersectional community organizing, as well, supporting real collaboration across marginalized communities.

At the end of the day, though, The System will, as part of its normal dynamic, operate to devalue and institutionalize (incarcerate in one way or another) all marginalized communities. Advocacy experience is a vital tool for fighting these mechanisms of oppression.

But there is another dimension to DJCAS that requires a deeper take on how The System operates. Getting at this dimension requires a more nuanced exploration of the difference between the System As Designed and the System As Engaged through our advocacy.

Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-2

My  First Glimmerings of System Understanding

Because the clinic organized its support around childhood and brain development, I gradually came to see systems through those lenses.  Both the Brain and Childhood Development were viewed as too complex to understand by the medical community at the time, but there was a cottage industry in models of development in both. Mostly the models were for understanding some part of those parallel processes. Then the model would generalized to be a basis for understanding all of the development.

I grew up in Midland, Michigan, the home of Dow Chemical, and I understood the limitations of general theories based on abstract concepts. But, the concepts in these models were still useful as analogies.  I just didn’t sort them into true and not true, but tried to juggle them all without dropping any. My hope was that I would eventually see further into these parallel processes if I chose this tactic.

This led me to try to understand the overall and developmental arcs of both the brain and human development. Neuropsychology became a bridge for me in trying to merge them.

Neuropsychology (the study of brain activity and development through assessment of a battery of standard skill and task performances) had been developing since the early part of the 20th century because of case studies of individuals with specific brain injuries in the 19th century onward. In the west, neuropsychology remained a research tool based in universities and teaching hospitals until fairly recently. But in the Soviet Union, neuropsychology was an active, clinical investigative tool starting in the 1920s. Two early bright lights in this were Alexander Luria and Lev Vygotsky. Both saw development of brain and cognitive skills as happening through active effort by the person, using the social and practical affordances in the environment. I didn’t see it at the time, but this was a basic way of saying that brain and personal development were a dynamic complex adaptive system, a process of change and adaptation that continued throughout life. Also, though I didn’t realize it then, I would follow a path of understanding complex adaptive systems and disability justice to the present day.

A friend of mine, a student of urban planning, pointed me toward the next rhizome of my search by loaning me a book, Notes on the Synthesis of Form. This was my first real introduction to system thinking, and it led to my exposure to the thought network that was called General Systems Theory.  Also, Alexander’s focus on design seemed to mesh well with my growing interest in how development of brain and person could be facilitated through engagement. Finally, the book also primed me for the dead end that was standard systems theory if my focus was real life individual development.

There was a large body of ideas about how systems worked, including Systems Dynamics, a way of modeling complex systems that used a stock (bathtub) and flow (water tap) mathematics to be able to predict changes in a whole system. I thought that such modeling would work well for machine-like systems, but not the complex open system that was human development. But I didn’t have something better to replace this framework, so I began to play with models as a way of seeing more clearly the implications of system interactions. There has been a steady growth of apps that can model these dynamics over the decades and I still play with free ones to get a sense of how a system is put together.

But coming to grips with the realities of complex adaptive systems and their evil twins, wicked problems, has required that I deepen my appreciation of the impact of future uncertainty and scarce resources on the flow of these systems, including The System (my term for the large socio-technical CAS in which we all act), and how this flow affects our change strategies.

Parallel to this process of conceptual deepening, i was also entering a new phase of my career in Disability Justice-a full time job as an advocate at Disability Rights Michigan (at that time, Michigan P&A). My experiences as an advocate (the complexity of individual and small group advocacy and the depth of the learning available from an organization that dealt with every level and every dimension of disability justice support in Michigan) would give me a much deeper understanding of the difference between the system as imagined or designed and the system as I engaged it in my work. The deepening of my engagement was a fairly steady result of my effort to understand my lived experience and that of all the other people with disabilities I got to know over the decades.

Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-1

Part 1: My Initial Steps on the Path to an Understanding of the DJCAS

“Our minds are finite, and yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by the possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of life is to grasp as much as we can out of that infinitude…the limitless variations of choice, the possibility of novel and untried combinations, the happy turns of experiment, the endless horizons opening out.…

And nothing is easier to lose than this element of novelty. It is the living principle in thought, which keeps all alive.”
(Whitehead, 1934-1947/1954, p. 160)

I returned to the US in December 1970 from 21 months in Vietnam without any meaningful purpose. Over my first year back, I gradually developed moderate PTSD, and experienced the “blossoming” of a moral wound that currently , while less emotional, still impacts my life experience, now in my 75th year.

I tried singing in a bar band that was good musically but bad as a business (more performance art than enterprise). When it crashed and burned after 6 months, the keyboard player found a medical clinic where we could volunteer, and my journey toward a deeper understanding of disability justice began. I am still expanding and deepening that understanding of DJCAS.

The clinic was run by a retired family practice doctor, and employed a PT and an OT. The focus was helping parents of children with brain injuries (whether genetic, chromosomal, TBI, neurodegenerative, etc.) support those children in their homes and communities. They were all parents who had not followed the universal advice, “put them in an institution and forget them”, that was the only support available in the early 1970s. This experience was the first of many that told me how The System overdetermines the segregation of real support to a system that it can control and use for its own purposes (political, financial, etc.).

And I mean institutionalization was the ONLY support alternative. There were none of the currently available supports. Parents watched their social relationships disappear over time as friends abandoned them to their struggles. Doctors largely held them in contempt (and said so) for having the nerve not to institutionalize, and often refused to provide healthcare at all.

A common first goal for the families was to build a minimal alternate support system so that the parents could, say, go on a date without having to fear the medical harm of their child. That meant a well-trained babysitter. No typical babysitter would take the job because of fear and disability stigma about managing tasks like suction or seizures. Home nurses were incredibly expensive and no health insurance covered their use as a babysitter. Our first jobs were to be trained to do basic care tasks and crisis intervention for families to put their personal relationships back on a more normal track. The support tasks involved were not difficult to do. When I realized this, it was my first introduction to the almost universal cultural devaluing of people with disabilities and their families, with The System of non-existing supports being a vehicle for achieving this.

In the early 1970s, there was the beginnings of a movement to deinstitutionalize people with (what today) are labeled as having intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) or cognitive disabilities. The clinic began to receive contacts from families whose children had been returned home from institutions without explanation. Some investigation showed that these returns were in the institution’s interest, not the family’s. One group included children that the institution thought might die, forcing a report with cause of death from an official investigation. Since there was growing scrutiny of these institutions, they thought it prudent to send them home to die. Another group were individuals whose behavior (and the medieval responses by the institutions to that behavior) were prone to evidence of abuse like bruises or broken bones which would be obvious to inspectors.

So, my growing understanding of the appalling place of people with severe disabilities and their families in The System’s social order of the US began. It took me decades to arrive at my current understanding, and I participated in practices that I would view now as abhorrent (the use of shock or confining approaches to force behavior change), but I was beginning to see the truth and the truth expanded over time as it does when you pay attention to the reality of indivudal human experience.

The second dimension of disability justice that I began to understand was how real support is a more ecological than the medical procedural approach that was the practice of medicine at the time. The support logic of the family support clinic ran like this:

Parents of children with severe brain injuries can’t see what their children are trying to do because the children don’t look like the developing children they have been exposed to in their social communities (i.e., they were institutionalized and never  a part of the ongoing local social community)

While support for the families was certainly focused on the child’s developmental acquisition of skill and capacity, the parents also had to learn how to see what their child was trying to do and facilitate it in real time.

This kind of perception can’t be educationally taught. It is only absorbed by real-time engagement in the task, supporting the child in the moment to succeed in skill and understanding expansion, and simultaneously building a deeper understanding of the child’s efforts.

Thus, the parents were learning to see their child as an active agent, trying to develop like all children do.

This dimension is a very deep idea that applied well beyond the clinic’s borders, the clinic’s mission, and the times in which I worked there. But, I only slowly became aware of the astounding potential impact of this “clinical” insight.

The Geography of Disability Justice Advocacy

Anytime we build a disability justice advocacy strategy, we use some process to lay it out in a way very similar to mapping a journey. While we tend to focus on the specific procedures that we will use to implement an advocacy initiative, we actually create a kind of spatial CAS that is fractal and could conceivably extend to the entire disability community globally.

The usual way we do this makes the actual impact of our advocacy largely implicit except for the focus of our procedural advocacy. This has the effect of making it more difficult to see the impact of our advocacy (for better or worse) outside the limits of our perception of procedural actions.

When we implement an operational plan as a strategy, this limited perception of the dynamic of our advocacy is a major source for the unintended consequences which often follow.

One way to help avoid this trap is to recognize the more and less abstract nature of the system we are affecting, so we can deliberately include the dynamic context of our advocacy as we develop our strategy. Doing this requires real reflection and dialogue, mostly because we aren’t in the habit of taking the extra time to deepen our understanding. We are also not inclined to take into account those barriers and trends in the larger environment and not directly a part of our advocacy plan activities.

Individuals involved in an advocacy initiative tend to have a “most comfortable” role in pursuing advocacy outcomes. We all choose a level of engagement for any system with which we interact, a level with which we are comfortable, and which reflects our strengths in advocacy. In the Disability Justice Community, people are commonly:

  • Tactical engagers: Procedural problem solvers. Use of bricolage to develop tactics. Solve big problems by repeating successful tactics.
  • Operational Engagers: Link tactics through organizing. Logic Model solutions to problems. Required alignment realized through coordination. Coordination is viewed as the imposition of rule-based common procedures.
  • Strategic Engagers: Viewing the dynamics of a system as though from the outside. Focusing on the larger trends, to the exclusion of individual problem solutions.

As you can probably imagine, such distinct roles in an advocacy initiative can produce very real conflicts over every aspect of planning, outcomes or any other part of advocacy must be made coherent (not aligned, just understandable across the different roles).

So, “geography” in advocacy has several dimensions:

  • An abstract dimension from Tactics, through Operations, to Strategy. This is not some kind of control or logical hierarchy. It is a difference of focus, and doesn’t imply that one kind of abstraction is “better” than another. Rather, people are more comfortable with one kind of abstraction than another.
  • A scope dimension that reaches out from the focus of advocacy to the unexpected consequences unseen by the attainment of the immediate advocacy outcomes.
  • A coordinative reach dimension, which reflects how coherent your dynamic communication is among the roles in the advocacy work.

Creating a way to act across all of these dimensions coherently needs to be the expanding project of disability justice advocacy.

Next: Scaling Disability Justice Advocacy


What Advocacy Strategy Is and Isn’t

This post is a basic overview of the dimensions of strategy that can impact our choices in advocacy approaches and community organizing:

Any Strategy is an integration of the ways (methods), means (resources of all kinds), and ends (the whys) of your advocacy. This integration provides you with a strategic web of meaning that helps you make decisions about your advocacy especially when the inevitable uncertainty of the future and scarcity of resources tests your limits.

  • The coherent integration of ways, means, and ends is your theory of victory
  • The context of your strategy is your Grand Strategy even if you never think about it, or your theory of security, how you keep the doors open and your advocacy continuing.
  • Your theory of victory requires decision-making heuristics (rules of thumb) based on the web of meaning created in your coherent integration, in a context of uncertainty and scarce resources.

What a strategy is not:

  • Strategy is not a simple extension of successful tactics.
  • A strategy is not a big complex operational plan.
  • A strategy is not a SWOT analysis

Defining levels of advocacy strategy implementation:

  • A Tactic is a plan for making a measurable change. It has a start and a stop.
  • An operation is a network of coordinated tactics, and can be judged to be more or less coherent. Whatever planning goes into an operation, once it starts, it will have to be modified on the fly.

So, since significant advocacy plans never survive the beginning of the CAS disruption effort intact, the implementation becomes a dynamic intentional complex adaptive system for the duration of the advocacy effort, ever shifting, and full of surprises.

Examples of Strategies:

  • Western Allies “Unconditional Surrender” in WWII: In WWI, the strategy was to force combatants to sign a peace treaty. Because this was so ineffective at preventing WWII, unconditional surrender became the guide to decision-making. This choice of strategy increased war deaths and injuries by a large amount, but stopped the post war combatant rearming, at least for a while.
  • Local disability organizing of complementary services and supports to The System. Such a strategy allows for the incremental expansion of an alternative support system while maintaining pressure on the current system to improve. This is a more resilient long-term strategy in the face of political and funding cycles, and the passive acceptance of how The System sees itself today.
  • Imagine two 6-month-old fraternal twins using different approaches to getting to and playing with a ball that has sounds and lights. One might choose an approach of careful movements, with lot of checking to see if the ball is closer; the other might choose an approach of wild, large movements, also checking less often to reorient and continue to move closer. Both achieve their goal, but the implicit learning they do is different and points to a difference in personal strategy, that we might call temperament or personality in other circumstances.
  • Intention is often viewed as a strategy. Intention creates a specific explicit outcome, and a possibility space of various potential choices. The strategy lies in the possibility space, not the outcome.

To expand and deepen the impact of the disability social justice agenda, our strategy must include the following dimensions:

  • Viewing The Health Care Industrial Complex (HCIC) as a box of tools rather than a source of solutions to healthcare and social support.
  • Organizing around the creation of real time supports that can respond to the extensive lack of such in the HCIC without allowing the HCIC to absorb them. If we allow the NCIC to absorb our alternate support system, bureaucratic and elite logic will alter that system in destructive and devaluing ways.

Keep this basic framework in mind as we go forward.

Next: The Geography of Disability Justice Advocacy

Disability Justice in the Macro-CAS: Overview of Implications

In the last series of posts (Our Entangled Insurgencies), I hope you got a feel for the flow of the large scale Complex Adaptive System in which our advocacy operates.

Most of the social justice community has become aware that using only repeated procedural frameworks to change injustice has deep limits in the Macro-CAS:

  • Systems that are our advocacy focus will evolve to meet our challenges when we use the same tactics to change them, over and over. They do this in order to blunt our impact. They will also respond to our efforts politically, both inside the system of focus and in the larger social context.
  • This tactical advocacy cycle of give-and-take results in a self-sustaining advocacy/bureaucracy system incapable of transformative change.
  • Our use of Operational planning for Advocacy, (for example the Logic Plan framework) prevents us from understanding the impact of trends in the environment and emerging constraints (warm data) that we can’t directly change, but could take into account in our overall strategy if we paid attention to it, reducing the effectiveness and resilience of our successes.
  • The more deeply the CAS supports something we want to change, the harder it is to implement a transformation. This is mostly due to our lack of real experience with transformational change. But it also reflects our focus on commitment of resources as somehow proportional to the impact we will have when our strategy is transformational. But you can reduce the size of a hill with 1 million spoons, or you can change the context so rain showers do the work for you. One is brute force advocacy and the other is catalytic transformation.

Over the course of this series of posts, I will work to deepen our understanding of advocacy strategy and transformational work. The first place to start is expanding the usefulness and necessity of creating a real advocacy strategy.

Next Post: What Advocacy Strategy Is and Isn’t

Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Eight

Entangled Insurgencies: A Summary

I listened to the six Dune Novels written by Frank Herbert recently. It had been several decades since I read them, and I found many new insights this time around. These insights were triggered as much by the changes in our global environment since the series was written as anything in the novels.

Herbert wrestled with the ideas of wholeness, power, and social/cultural insurgencies in deep ways, without having the benefit of the conceptual scaffold of complex adaptive systems (CAS). My listening expanded my sense that he was telling a Deep-Time story that resonates now, with the same issues and choices that we face in struggling with our Entangled Insurgency-a wicked problem if ever there was one.

We operate socially and politically within a Macro-CAS whose major interacting subsystems are a right and a left insurgency, and a centrist elite with its own internal insurgencies. The boundaries of this Macro-CAS are strikingly porous. Individuals, families, small social groups, and communities shift where they are in this CAS all the time, internally consistent with their individual and community sense-making and way-making. It may seem inconsistent to others, but it isn’t.

There is no dynamic symmetry among any of the stakeholders of the CAS. Any attempt to conceptually impose symmetry might be useful for PR or political points, but will always be falsified by the ongoing dynamic of the Macro-CAS.

For all intents and purposes, any political victory alters, but does not eliminate, the fundamental tool of the insurgencies (sabotage) or the elites (exploitation of the society for personal gain, globally sabotaging the hopes and dreams of the exploited).

These dynamic dispositions (attractors) implicitly “manage” the purpose of the Macro-CAS and its various sub-CAS, and their interactions. The dynamism of these dispositions is conditioned by global economic uncertainty, climate change, and all the various actual processes that social/political insurgencies draw on for their surface memes and choices for action.

The solution to the many quandaries we face in this ongoing process is easy to describe, but oh so difficult to embrace. We must:

  • Accept and respect the humanity of those individuals that sabotage our deepest hopes, without embracing the impact of their choices and their efforts to sabotage.
  • Confront that sabotage effectively by using transformational tactics, and a strategy that respects the uncertainty and scarce resources that will be our common reality for the indefinite future.

The above solution is not a closed framework of limited possibilities, but, a scaffold that allows us to engage the CAS in ways that might produce change and undermine the momentum toward a universal social and political environment that treats people, animals, plants, and things as no more than assets to be exploited.

The currently inadequate bricolage approach to attempting such profound and difficult changes is described in my blog, “Change Strategy”. The focus of my previous writing has been on disability rights advocacy, and I view social justice advocacy in general as an intersectional version of sabotage that can be a scaffold for more effective transformation. (My next post series will focus on how advocacy can act as a way of producing change in CAS).

We have traditionally created consensus through the use of coercive social, political, and military power, as the only way around the typical struggles described. That won’t work in the current situation, at least not as a way of dissolving our constant conflict. Instead, our effort to enforce consensus through social and political power will drive the generation of continuous and more disruptive conflict. Such a choice will leave only social and economic desolation.

We need to forge a new path, and we are ill-equipped to do so. I think we must ourselves, and with others, “sabotage” the dynamic of the Macro-CAS through intentional and individual acts that will gradually alter our model of sabotage, from winning in the short-term to building social resilience for all, a kind of “remodeling the rapids with rocks”.

If we succeed, it will be because of relentless social justice sabotage over a very long timeline. May we embrace the possibility.

“For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.”
N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season

Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Seven

Functional Psychopathy

Psychopathy and Sociopathy are disorders of social connectedness and perception, as well as behavior. Since I have worked in social and psychological arenas for most of my post-combat life, I have met plenty of individuals who would more or less qualify under these diagnostic labels. I always found them as a group to be as diverse as any other human community, as long as you didn’t trust your hopes and dreams to them.

But there is a larger shift in social connectedness and perception in our insurgencies and elites that has nothing to do with “inherent” personality disorders or the psychiatric/psychological establishment. I think of it as a trend where many people become behaviorally more and more indistinguishable from those who meet these diagnostic criteria. This is not because they are somehow becoming people with a personality disorder, but because their larger social relationships have been corrupted, and no longer do what human social relationships evolved to do.

I call this “functional psychopathy” because it doesn’t necessarily affect core social relationships, but affects decision-making that can impact many, many lives.

The core act that represents this functional psychopathy is behavior that exploits people, animals, plants, or things, with no regard for the impact of exploitation on the exploited.

So, the CAS in which we live dynamically produces dispositions that move people that don’t have these disorders to behave as though they do, i.e., functional psychopathy.

“Unmasking Administrative Evil” describes this on a large scale (e.g., the Holocaust, the Poisoning of the Flint Michigan water system.), but I believe this process also impacts a great deal of real granular decision-making out there, and that repeatedly acting a though you are a psychopath in these decisions makes you more likely to choose functional psychopathy as your long-term decision framework. (Didn’t Vonnegut say something like, “We become what we pretend to be”, in Mother Night?)

Some Examples:

  • Professional Associations often develop professional policy and lobbying decisions that would be seen as psychopathic if an individual professional made them.
  • Simply being a political operative in active campaigning reliably produces decisions that would be viewed as psychopathic in most other arenas of personal life (e.g., being willing to make the so-called self-interested “tough” decisions, lying as marketing, bullying and other forms of contempt).
  • Capitalist decision-making without ethics (basically the vast majority of capitalist decision-making today) is clearly psychopathic.
  • Decision-making systems which are euphemistically called “benefits determinations”, almost entirely driven by financial and political criteria. For example, reducing the number of SSI beneficiaries by any means that is politically palatable, are broadly and (apparently) invisibly psychopathic.

Now, most of this will seem pretty ordinary to any adult living in America. But my point is not that such decision-making exists (it always has), but that the ratio of such psychopathic decisions to socially just decisions is increasingly favoring the psychopathic. It is a deep trend of the Macro-CAS.

Also, this process is deeply fractal. It isn’t only big decisions in large social, governmental, or commercial systems that drives this expansion of functional psychopathy (though we tend to focus our advocacy for a return to social justice on these systems). It includes decisions made by individuals, families, and social groups that brand others as not worthy of consideration as living beings, that support the increase. This psychopathic decision-making can and does impact anyone within reach of the decision-maker. It can include family members as well as those people that are clearly viewed as “other”.

The purpose of such decision-making is exploitation. Most actual psychopaths view their decision-making as rational and obvious, and functional psychopathy has internalized this perception as well.

No single victory against some psychopathic disposition (say, the Flint Water catastrophe) will alter this dynamic. And, although there are certainly differences between the impact of this trend on the various insurgencies and elite sub-communities, I don’t see any group or community or identity that is free from the impact of this process (including, for example, the children of our elites). If you have an enemy who you repeatedly demonize, you are participating in this trend.

One result of this functional psychopathic trend is that we are all (and I mean all) becoming more and more parasitic; that is, we view more and more of everyone and everything as a resource to be exploited for our own benefit regardless of what happens to the “resource”. Mostly, this is done without any particular awareness of the consequences. Social media, hate, bullying, and even humor, bureaucratic processes and rules for life and death decisions, all surveillance, any impulsive reaction to fear, and an incredibly wide range of other behaviors, are largely done without thought about the possible unintended consequences of our acts. This process has become a critical driver of the macro-CAS, mediated through the relentless fractal degradation of the belief that we need community.

The only personal and social defense against this trend is social justice inclusion, not as a policy or a rule or another way for us to demonize one another, but as a scaffold for our common decisions about how we wish to live together, and what it really means to commit to our common good.

The Voldemort Index
The Midas Disease

(If you want a sense of where such a trend could eventually take subsystems of our Macro-CAS, read “Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields“.)

Part Seven: A Summary…