Variety and Selection

wetlands and stream
Wetlands and Stream

Any system that generates variation and then has that variation culled through some selection method is an evolutionary system.

Both our change targets and ourselves operate in evolutionary environments. It is a platitude to say that all human organizations spend a lot of time trying to reduce variation of all kinds in every part of their structure, effectively to avoid change. Change is viewed as, at best, an unavoidable consequence of festering problems, and even when change is seen as necessary, there are elaborate ongoing fairly thoughtless internal processes that continue to try eliminating variation, even when that might help support a needed change. We all seem to do this on general principle.

Also, most human frameworks for thinking about the evolution of change include selection as the important part of the evolutionary process. Humans have deep commitments to the idea of progress and that outcomes of processes are more important than the processes themselves. That is one reason why we view our species as the pinnacle of evolution, even though we clearly aren’t. This view is so deeply held that it sounds ridiculous to claim that variation is more important than selection. But it is.

I suppose that such focus on the outcomes of our specific acts supported the social goal of the survival of families, tribes, and other social groupings. But, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb pointed out in Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) it is the constant process of generating variety that allows biological evolution to roll along despite the historic elimination of every single species that evolves.

We should think of selection as an automatic unavoidable afterthought, a result of the limitations of physical reality. The real story is the relentless generation of difference and novelty and all the ways such variation occurs and increases.

As our tools of biological discovery have expanded so dramatically in the last couple of decades, we have discovered just how relentless the creation of variation is in our own bodies. Epigenetics, discoveries like “jumping genes”, and each of our unique gut biota point to a biological system that views variety as the indispensable basis of global biological continuation.

Well, I would argue that the same is true in our advocacy of self-determination by people with disabilities. Advocacy based change needs to spend more time focusing on the general creation of variety in the larger environment in which we struggle, and we need to get much better at living with and supporting change both in our advocacy organizations and in that larger environment as an accepted part of our everyday work. We often don’t look beyond the current advocacy goal, and we tend to neglect our scanning of the larger environment beyond what is necessary for our current goal.

The  only way to get better at change is to practice it. The anxiety we have over unpredictability is best overcome by getting used to the idea that change is expectable.

Next Post: “Practicing” Change

Author: disabilitynorm

hubby2jill, 2dogs, advocate45+yrs, change strategist, trainer, geezer, pa2Loree, gndpa2Nevin

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