(P6): The Deepest Truth of Our Lives

Black and white photo of a line of ADAPT activists in wheelchairs charging up and over a hill. They bear a flag, roughly like the American flag, but with the stars in the form of a wheelchair symbol.

We exceed immeasurably the social and cultural worlds that we build and inhabit. There is always more in us, in each of us individually as well as in all of us collectively, than there is or ever can be in them. There is always more that we have reason to value and power to produce than any of these orders of life, or all of them together, can contain. –Robert Mangabeira Unger, The Religion of the Future

I think about this notion every day.

This quote is a statement from the recent past. But the idea that the broadest context of what we should do next is how it affects the possibilities of individual lives is an old value framework and strategy in the development of human beings (ignored in our present time). In social justice, the idea is called personalism.

Personalism has been tied to theistic social justice philosophies for most of history. But it doesn’t have to be. Unger wrote “The Religion of the Future” to frame personalism as a strategy that didn’t need traditional religious justification, as well as for many other reasons.

I have longed believed that personalism is clearly reflected in the actual ongoing development of our individual central nervous systems over the course of our lives. At every step (second, instant), we are using an interface conditioned by all of our previous neurodevelopment to engage with the context in which we live, to reach out as best we can for something more. That developmental context is never the constraints that the larger society says are our limits.

Instead, it is the immediately available possibilities in that larger context, expanded by our chosen strategy of living. That context of our lives will never completely control the possibilities of our common future if only we can remember this truth.

(P6): Closing Thoughts

Wanderer, there is no road; the road is made by walking-Antonio Machado; We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community-Dorothy Day; A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess-A. Philip Randolph;  Diversity: the art of thinking independently together-Malcolm Forbes

A few quotes to make our sense of community and diversity more obvious.

Our disability community is the most diverse on the globe. Every other community that exists has members with significant disabilities and we all face the same stigma, devaluing discrimination, and deliberate and thoughtless constraints on the possibilities of our lives.

As a community, we don’t have the ability to opt-out of the various systems that claim to support us. Going off the grid is meaningless when your life depends on the capabilities of those systems. And while we can continue to resist the devaluing and marginalization of our community, and we can continue to fight and advocate for reasonable support from those systems, we also need to scale the ongoing local support that we already provide to each other as an expression of our common community.

There needs to be a place where we can use our community advantages (our diversity, the deep knowledge we have gained of our supports needs and how to make support effective,  and the mutuality and trust that our relationships within our community give to that support).

We have to build that parallel community so that it can more quickly and thoroughly embrace our support needs regardless of the success of our advocacy or the growing failure of systems of support in our current environment.

And we have to do this while preventing the supports systems from absorbing our work to support each other, subjecting our work to the internal logic of these systems, and undermining the value of supports in preserving and expanding our right to live lives of choice and freedom.

Our community is the key to our common future, not support systems.

 

Part 6: Onward!!

A large lego structure built to travel and containing ongoing construction on its various levels
Our Future: Mortal Engines
  • “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
    Sun Tzu
  • How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world
    Anne Frank
  • Why always, “not yet”? Do flowers in spring say, “not yet”?
    – Norman Douglas
  • The hour is ripe, and yonder lies the way.
    – Virgil

Though the content of these posts has not been joyfully optimistic, I hope you have found a sense in your heart that we can make a world for ourselves that works hard to maintain and expand our possibilities and choices in our common future.

So we need to get on with it, starting today and continuing with a valued strategy of building community and supports.

Even in the relentless face of our declining value as a community in our larger society.

(P5): Some Strategic Rules of Thumb

A sign on a pole that says, No parking; Monkeys poop on windshield
Words to Live By

These are not procedures or any form of “7 steps to success”. They are guiding notions that can open up possibilities for the situation that you and your personal network face.

What to do when you can’t reduce the uncertainty effectively:

  • The Indirect Approach: Liddell Hart was the person who developed the idea of the “Indirect Approach” in the West, through the use of the idea has always been reflected in effective strategies. Sun Tzu is the best-known example of Eastern Thought on the same issue, and Hart read Sun Tzu as he developed his own framework. The idea is that as you implement your plan, you hide the actual target of that plan. Geographically, you might choose an approach path that is between a number of potentially useful targets, moving toward your choice only at the last minute. Conceptually, you might advocate for small pieces of your advocacy strategy, without revealing how you would use a victory in the small pieces. The purpose of using this approach is to force your opponent to commit scarce resources to the defense of targets that won’t actually turn out to be targets, and to increase uncertainty in your opponent’s planning.
  • Avoid Irreversible Commitments: In the Cynefin model, this is called “fail-safe experiments”. You try out ideas on a small scale to learn more about how they work in the current reality. Then, you ask yourself what you can do to make the successful ones more common.
  • Build Reserves: Reserves are a kind of redundancy that you build to make it easier for you to turn on a dime when your view of the future turns out to be inaccurate. Reserves are not just cash. They include trust, cross-skills training, mutual support, and a host of other things described in various posts. Reserves mean a bunch of different resources that partially overlap. It doesn’t mean a big pile of the same stuff.
  • Weak and Strong Links in Your Network: In network theory, it is useful to distinguish between strong and weak links in a network when thinking about change. The Strong Links are the ones that drive whatever it is that the network is doing. The Weak Links buffer the volatility and unpredictability of the interactions between those strong links so that they don’t cause the network to run away uncontrollably. People who are deeply focused on their own personal power think that weak links are preventing them from increasing their personal power (however they define that) and seek to eliminate them. Interestingly, the two communities that deliberately and successfully eliminate weak links, thus exposing themselves to volatility, are homeless and destitute people, and the 1%.

 

(P5): Cynefin: A Better Way to Think about Change

Updated Cynefin Model Diagram: 4 quadrants of kinds of systems: OBVIOUS-Tightly constrained; no degrees of freedom; sense-categorize-respond; Use Best Practice. COMPLICATED-Governing Constraints; tightly coupled; sense-analyze-respond; Good Practice. COMPLEX-enabling constraints; loosely coupled; probe-sense-respond; emergent practice. CHAOTIC-lacking constraint; decoupled; act-sense-respond; novel practice.
Updated Cynefin Model

The graphic above is an updated draft of the new formulation of the Cynefin framework. This is a prelude to Dave Snowden’s new book (not yet published) about the entire framework.

Cynefin is the best multi-purpose framework for thinking about systems change I have found. It was created and continues to evolve under Dave Snowden, a Welsh OD person who has never let the necessities of making a living interfere with seeing the truth of what he and his community are creating. If you take nothing else away from this slide, immerse yourself in Dave’s thinking as an antidote to all the useless ways of thinking I have listed over my posts.

Cynefin is a framework for reimagining the interaction between us and the systems around us. The categories of Cynefin are ways of thinking about those interactions. This is not an abstract notion of interacting with a system. It is a way of dealing with the demands that the interaction requires of you.  Our interaction with these systems can be framed as :

1.Obvious: These system interactions are simple enough that you can use an automatic practice. Think of an autogenerated monitoring form report that must be submitted every quarter, and only requires a current signature from the person filling the appropriate role.

2.Complicated: A 777 airplane is complicated because it has a lot of parts and interactions, but the parts don’t change very much because of the interactions. The parts might wear a little or gradually become obsolete, but they don’t change fast just because they interact with one another.

3.Complex: These systems interactions are like the ones referred to in many other parts of my posts in our change work for complex adaptive systems.  In these systems, parts do change all the time because of their interactions with one another. This means that the future of these systems can’t be clearly predicted, and our interactions with them must be viewed as experimental (called fail-safe experiments in Cynefin). We need to learn lessons from these experiments in order to manage our interactions with the system. Over time, it is possible, if “complicated”, to move some complexity to the complicated arena.

4.Chaotic: When unpredictable events occur outside the system, the system with which we are interacting can enter a phase of chaos, when its behavior is entirely unpredictable. We have to try interactions and immediately learn from them to manage chaos. Fortunately, real chaos doesn’t last long.

The deepest lesson of Cynefin for managing change is that those complex systems are very dependent on the evolving context within which we interact with them. If we don’t respect that reality, we will always get unanticipated and generally unpleasant consequences.

(P5): A Guide to Disruption

Hand drawn outline of levels in disruption. Iteration: Doing the same things better; Innovation: Doing New Things; Disruption: Doing new things that make the old things obsolete.
Stairway to Disruption

Disruption, as a way to change systems, requires real reflection and analysis of the target. A deep understanding of what is actually occurring is necessary before you can use disruption effectively.

Typically, we focus on what is wrong with the target system, how it doesn’t do what it claims to do. We tend to chuck the parts of the system that keep it going more or less as it is into a wastebasket of general evil. So, people with disabilities aren’t supported well and the reason is extreme profit as the primary outcome of the power of corporatist social, political, and financial elites. We use very abstract, and often contemptuous, models for why people who are obviously being hurt by this system still continue to support it.

A disruptive strategy does not try to change the entire system, and it accepts that people will continue to support the current system until an effective alternative is easily available. Disruption focuses on the part or parts of the system that the system values the least, and also the audience that values those parts. The system as a whole will continue to adjust itself to meet the claims of its most powerful components, even if it is degrading the complex system as a whole. It is the degraded parts, the ones that the system can’t value through its own dynamic, that represent the best opportunity for change through disruption.

When I say that disruption focuses on parts of the system, I really mean that it focuses on how the system currently works, and what processes it plays out in those “parts”.  Disruption aims to provide much higher process value and much more easily useful outcomes for those unvalued processes. Disruption chooses this strategy because it knows that the whole system:

  • Will be unwilling to invest resources (of all kinds) in these devalued processes.
  • Will pay an unacceptable political and social cost for diverting resources from highly valued processes in order to effectively compete for control over those devalued processes.

Often, the system believes that having these devalued processes addressed by some outsider is a good thing because it means they will be able to focus resources more effectively on the system’s highly valued outcomes.

This is the way disruption gets a fairly free arena for developing highly effective, cheap, and readily available processes that, for example, can replace the currently available, expensive, and bureaucratically defended system processes. By choosing a place where the incumbents in the larger system don’t want to compete, you allow yourself the luxury of focusing all your resources to build something better for your community.

(P5): Disruptive Innovation

Large ADAPT protest at the National Capitol with many participants with disabilities

Disruptive Innovation is a framework for replacing an existing part of a complex adaptive system with one that is:

  • Much less expensive or resource demanding
  • Easier to access and use
  • Easier to support, repair, and replace
  • Flexible in opening up adjacent possibilities for change

Imagine an MRI machine that only cost $50,000, instead of millions, and that could do a scan for $10.

Such disruption is not limited to products or technologies. It is a very useful concept for reimagining community living, social support, collaboration, mutual support, and other social “technologies” that are important to our disability community.

But disruptive innovation is not easy to do. You will need an understanding of where disruptive innovation starts and how it evolves.  Evolution is the right framework for thinking about successful disruption.

As an example of both the possibilities and difficulties of disruption, imagine the ways that real trust between people makes everything they do more effective and less expensive in both time and resources. Then imagine how easy it is to lose trust in our current context. What kind of context would support trust and make its continuation and expansion more resilient?

(P5): Recovery

A circular wheel entitled
Wellness Wheel

Recovery is a specific framework of mutual support that has general use in building our counterstroke and embracing the values of personalism as our framework for eliminating belittlement.

Recovery focuses on individuals building personal control over the parts of their life (variously called symptoms, barriers, or processes of oppression), using natural supports and mutual support networks to build these recovery skills.

There are many techniques and concepts for creating recovery skills, and some are included in the resources in the post. But at its base, Recovery is about creating a personally customized response to what prevents you from living a free life of choice, using your own knowledge of yourself, your creativity, and the experience of those who support you. The particular tools you embrace to support your recovery journey are less important than that those tools speak to you, and make it easier for you to go forward.

(P5): Mutual Support

Stylized diagram of people of different colors in huddle as metaphor of collaboration.
Huddle for Support

Mutual Support is the way we operationalize the values of personalism. It is the way we get the values of personalism to emerge in our communities. As opportunities arise, we support one another. We also organize ongoing mutual support around longer-term supports for specific targets (say various kinds of recovery support, food support, caregiving support). We organize local projects to build an alternate infrastructure and experiment with ways of building local alternatives to the dominant system structure.

Most of all, we use mutual support to get better at, and more comfortable with,  rapid change, and rapid response to change.

Mutual support isn’t about building permanent alternatives to replace the dominant system infrastructure. It is about getting better at short term support creation, and being more circumspect about committing resources to permanent solutions. The reason for this approach is because the dominant system will always be changing as it gradually and/or suddenly degrades.

Mutual Support builds values, and organizations that emerge from such support must be viewed as temporary. If we try to make them permanent, we will build in the flaws of the current infrastructure at the same time. Any time you integrate your new vision of support into the dominant CAS, the system imposes its logic and values on your novelty. Your change becomes part of, and subject to, the aging of the CAS.

(P5): Personalism

A woodcut of The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality complete with ramp.
Notice the Ramp in the Woodcut

As a value system, Personalism has arisen repeatedly over the millennia (probably the last 6,000 years at any rate) because large scale social organizations like states, and now corporations, eventually impose personal belittlement as an expected standard of behavior in social systems. Belittlement here is a general term for both social level stereotyping and devaluing and personal interactions that stereotype and devalue (like bullying).

Personalism, whether religiously based or not, focuses on the enlargement of life and its possibilities for each individual, and the social network of which they are a part. It is an excellent guide to what we might do right now for ourselves and those in our immediate vicinity.

You can see personalist values in the practices of disability accommodation, inclusion, and support methods like person-centered planning. But the values of personalism can and should affect every social interaction.

Personalism is viewed by the larger world as impossible, mostly because it can’t be created by laws, effectively funded by a government, or function as a profit center. Belittlement also can’t be eliminated by fiat, by punishment, or by shaming(?). The values of personalism can only emerge from a community that practices personalist social interaction.

Personalism is often embraced by people after an epiphany in which they see its value in their own and others lives. While such an epiphany can alter personal social behavior for a lifetime, this change doesn’t automatically translate into a common reduction or elimination of belittlement in larger social systems. These larger systems have power dynamics which reproduce belittlement at high frequency all the time.

Put bluntly, the values of large scale social systems and many local social systems are psychopathic and view humaneness only as an unfortunate necessity of power to prevent revolt and nothing more. But in our response to the degradation of human support the disability community is now facing, regardless of how we expand our resistance, the creation of a community that supports the enlargement of life and personal possibility has to be at the core of our counterstroke.

I think we should view personalism as our common experimental framework for building the basis of our future. It provides us with a framework of values for judging the long term usefulness of our various efforts to build community.