(P8): The System as Tool

An absurdly complex swiss army knife with scores of tools.
Swiss Army Godzilla

We mostly view government (The System) as a repository of solutions to problems we can’t solve ourselves. I don’t know if this was ever true, but it certainly isn’t true now, especially in the lives of our community of people with disabilities. The capacity of government to take responsibility for solving any problem is undermined by pressure to reduce expenditures, frank corruption, incompetence, and a virtually universal refusal to ever take responsibility for anything that goes wrong. This “Not Me” attitude occurs both in disaster, and more recently, as a general marketing framework. “Don’t expect much from us”. Government’s response is randomly useful and randomly destructive,.

So, when we act as though the government has as its purpose the solving of our life problems, and we suffer disappointment when it doesn’t, we are perpetuating a species of victimhood for ourselves from which we can’t exit. We can only feel more deeply victimized and helpless.

We need to stop looking at The System as a Solution to our problems in living as people with disabilities. It will never be that. At the same time, there is an enormous amount of resources tied up (embedded) in The System, even if an ever-increasing amount of those resources are used in monitoring, administration, and political purposes that have nothing to do with support. The mission of support, the supposed purpose, gradually becomes more and more to deny support, investing in administrative complexity to make support increasingly difficult to access. Everything about The System is double-edged, and we can’t ever be sure what edge we will get when we try to use it the way it is supposed to work.

While we can’t depend on The System, we can’t simply ignore it either. We must make use of The System or forgo the resources. Frankly, we currently have no way of taking the resources in The System and making them directly available, nor are we likely to anytime soon.

As we think they were intended.

To deal with this reality, we must adopt a dual approach that will seem unnatural:

  • We must get better at extracting support from The System as it is, not as we wish it would be. This will require us to be far more strategic in our interactions with the System, and we will have to understand that The System will continue to deteriorate even as our advocacy creates some local real improvements in how it works. Local improvement, but System-wide slow breakdown is the trend for the foreseeable future.
  • In addition to extracting support from The System, we will need to disassociate resources from The System that we can use for building an alternative that I have called Our System. For example, we might advocate to move resources from parts of The System that are moribund or useless to ones where there is a better chance of being able to use them to create Our System.

This is an abstract overview of how the three motifs must be woven to expand our control over our lives and our freedom of choice.

Next Time: Using the System as a Tool

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

(P8): The Three Motifs

A stable three cord knot made of fiber light colored rope.
Weaving Motifs

FutureStrategy has three motifs, like the three cords in the image, but functioning as flows rather than things. The three flows arise out of the model from the last slide.

Using The System as a Tool

Our Community will continue to depend on The System for a long time, even as we build an alternative. The sheer amount of social resources embedded in The System makes it impossible to seriously consider going “off the grid”. But we can begin to reduce our dependence on The System by viewing it as a Tool that we use to support our personal and social lives rather than as The Solution, a perspective that makes us instant victims when The System fails to support us.

Advocating with The System for Valued Change

We can advocate with The System to trigger valued change, as I described earlier in this series. Advocacy requires us to perturb The System (whatever it is), making it choose between embracing the valued change that drives our advocacy or be forced to uncontrollably change by the pressure from The System’s environment. Our goal in expanding our advocacy is to perturb more deeply and comprehensively.

Building Our Systems of Support

We can build Our System to make up for the failure of The System, as we do now when we have no choice. We can build Our System as a local, stable, small-scale alternative to The System, so that between The System and Our System, we have better dynamic supports that allow us to explore life’s possibility and expand the scope of our free choice.

Although I outlined the three motifs as separate, it doesn’t take much effort to realize that they are intertwined as we play them out in our lives and communities. At the same time, each of the motifs requires its own ways and means to become effective. For example, if we were to take our success in building Our System and turn it over to The System, our work would soon be transformed into just another version of The System.

This reality doesn’t mean that we don’t look to improve our success by observing how each of the motifs is evolving, asking ourselves how success in one can support success in the others.

I’ve included the opensource narrative creation tool Twine because weaving multiple strategies is more like creating a complex story than it is like building a ”Strategic Plan”.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

(P8): Making FutureStrategy Real-Two

A diagram with two triangles pointing from the left and right sides at a circle. The circle is red and contains text, Expand Our Freedom, the left and right triangles are yellow-orange, and contain text, respectively, Change the System on the left, and Bild our Systems on the right. There is a photo behind each triangle. Behind the left an image of a cross community protest related to disability rights. Behind the right a poster of mutual aid around the pandemic.
Our Complementary Strategies

Even though our strategy of iteratively improving the legal framework of disability rights has certainly expanded our life choices, over time it has become less and less effective in making new improvements. The System has gotten better at undermining our advocacy and using its System Logic to marginalize our gains.

We need a way to move forward that doesn’t require us to allow our gains to be degraded by the logic of the System.

At the same time we will continue to need the System as a source of funding and expertise, because of the complexity of our needs. Few of us can simply drop our relationship with the System entirely.

But we do not need to view the System as The (only) Solution. Instead, we must learn to view the System as a tool, and begin to make our own systems to augment, replace, and finesse what we need from the System. We must build what we need together and use it to orchestrate a more effective strategy for achieving our freedom. The systems that we build will be:

  • Local
  • Intersectional
  • Collaborative
  • Community-focused
  • Self-funding

They will be based on social justice models, rather than civil rights entitlements. That doesn’t mean that we don’t use civil rights laws to advocate. Again, we view civil rights laws as tools, not solutions.

Our systems will build from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License