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.

Author: disabilitynorm

hubby2jill, advocate50+yrs, change strategist, trainer, geezer, Tom and Pepper the wundermutts