(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): Prefigurative Politics

Early Picture of Bob Dylan playing an acoustic guitar and harmonica.

  • Prefigurative Politics
  • An anarchist is someone who doesn’t need a cop to make him behave.
    Ammon Hennacy
  • I want a change and a radical change. I want a change from an acquisitive society to a functional society, from a society of go-getters to a society of go-givers.
    Peter Maurin

Prefigurative Politics is an umbrella term for trying out changes in relationship, economic, and political practice within the current complex system to build the skills necessary to mount a successful counterstroke. Below are frameworks whose values can be used for these experiments.

Personalism: Personalism is a framework that puts the individual at the center of social justice work. It is an old philosophy, largely replaced by the view of social change as work on macro-political or economic improvement of whole societies. In my own life, the clearest example of personalism was the Catholic Worker movement.

But personalism need not be religious. In my view, personalism fits the vision of building the counterstroke through the local instead of the universal. What we build needs to fit all who are or would be members of our community.

I see parallels in personalism with the idea of accommodation as a tool of community inclusion in our disability community. Inclusion is not really accomplished by law or dictate, although such law can enable it. Inclusion is always accomplished by respect for the uniqueness of each person, and direct support for choice and possibility.

Mutual Support: Mutual Support is the collaborative enabling of each by all, in a context of mutual respect.

The Recovery Framework: In communities of Severe Mental Illness (SMI) and Substance Use Disorder (SUD), there is a framework called Recovery which allows individuals and their support networks to collaborate in managing those symptoms or personal characteristics which cost the person control over their immediate life and their hopes and dreams for a larger life.

The Recovery Framework is a surprisingly versatile tool kit and can be applied to a wide range of issues in the implementation of a counterstroke, because of the focus on core empowerment of each individual and their personal support network.

(P5): Ways to Think About Such a Strategy

Slide says 'Prefigurative Politics'
Making the New Within the Shell of the Old
Innovation Word Cloud. Includes many words related to openness and collaboration
The Many Memes of Innovation

Today, the most common way we think about alternatives to the current system is to use a procedural ideology as a template. If we do such and such, we will have an effective society.

There are many such procedural ideologies.  These procedural ideologies occupy a very complex space of competition we call politics. There is no real expectation that any one of the ideologies will actually “win”. The struggle seems eternal, and it is. Getting rid of an ideology is a lot like getting rid of a phylum. It is very difficult and in the time frames of our extended lives, it is impossible.

Through the earlier part of these posts, I have tried to convince you that such an approach won’t work with a complex, adaptive system.  Instead, I believe we will have to create something that can survive the decline of what we live in now. What we create will have to be local for a very long time, and it will have to make use of the existing system as much as possible as the new (whatever it is) is realized.

There is no procedural template for doing this. The process of building these local versions of a future will be murky and experimental and will require from us an honesty about what works and what doesn’t that is not possible when using a procedural ideology. Procedural ideologies dictate what works and what doesn’t, and have no tolerance for dissent. They are fundamentally dishonest.

But, there are some frameworks that can guide our local designs, as long as they are subject to this clear and reflective honesty about what we are accomplishing and what we aren’t.

P5: Getting Good at Change

Times of crisis, of disruption or constructive change, are not only predictable but desirable. They mean growth. Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.

-Fyodor Dostoevsky

Because change requires us to move out of our comfort zone, we are “uncomfortable” with it. This is true even when we want the change.

Sometimes we just want change without wanting anything in particular, beyond not wanting our current situation.  This kind of desire for change is equally as useless as our discomfort with change we can’t control. Neither of these states of mind actually give us any control over the uncertainty of change that triggers our anxiety. But, they actively interfere with our ability to create an effective strategy of change.

The good news is that we can become less fearful of change, by the old human standby of practice. We can practice small changes, and gradually expand our tolerance for change. Even though we will never be entirely comfortable with change (even change that we want), we can reduce our natural anxiety with change enough to enable a more thoughtful and flexible approach to it.

For the purposes of our advocacy, we should focus on practicing small change around local advocacy strategies and the skills necessary to attempt them. What we learn from such practice will be clearer to us and more useful for our future efforts. If we wait until the necessity of our circumstances forces us to try something so complex that our anxiety about change will make it very difficult to implement, we will not only increase our likelihood of failure, but will lose a genuine opportunity for change for ourselves because, at least partially, we refused to take our personal anxiety over change seriously enough to focus on reducing it.

There is a tendency in advocacy organizations to become less willing to embrace risk over time. This process starts with a willingness to take risks in acquiring the skills of advocacy, and a follow-up process of using the skills more and more as techniques, more and more automatically, as the skills themselves become more practiced. Many times the needs and possibilities in the actual circumstances of rights violation gradually become subordinated to the techniques.  The use of the techniques becomes a defense against risk and liability.

The problem with this approach is that it turns the universe of advocacy possibility into a machine, i.e., there is a specific technique for changing oil and you always use that technique, even when there is something new in the situation that the technique for changing oil will not accommodate.  In the universe of advocacy, there are always new demands on the creativity of disability rights and supports, and technique (no matter how well practiced and refined) will not always be able to embrace the novelty of the current situation. Thus it is that increasing competence becomes less and less capable of dealing with real novelty. This is true of both organizations as and individuals.

We need to embrace what is called “beginner’s mind” as we approach each new advocacy possibility. We need to not impose the limitations of our competence on the novelty of the current situation.

(P4): What Is a Grand Strategy?

Benton's Detroit mural of small scenes of men doing various kinds of industrial work.

A Grand Strategy is the alignment of your means and ends in your strategy. This alignment requires a clear understanding of all of your resources (not just money or power). It also requires that your values actually be the source of your ends, if not the only source.

The best way to explain your Grand Strategy is as a narrative of some depth and detail. If there are problems in your strategy, they will best be identified as flaws or holes in your narrative.

The other advantage of a narrative as a tool for framing your Grand Strategy is that all narratives focus on process rather than a state. In line with the discussion about complex adaptive systems, a process view provides a deeper understanding of the possibilities and constraints of your strategy. Narrative as a process also makes it easier to see the need for altering during the process by using your Grand Strategy as a guide to change.

A Grand Strategy gives you a place to start in how your strategy deals with the stuff you can control and the stuff you can’t. It allows you to make use of the stuff you can’t control by choosing a strategy that gets benefits from the forces and constraints in the larger world that you can’t really change. Think about the difference between traveling downstream in a river and using its current or traveling upstream in a river and fighting its current.

We often have a grand strategy, but it is implicit and so we don’t see the contradictions in our vision. Articulating and rearticulating our Grand Strategy helps us to avoid outcomes that undermine that vision,

(P3): Functional Psychopathy

A political cartoon with a large rich guy eating children.

One of the trends that results from growing corruption of an aging system’s purpose is what I call Functional Psychopathy. This is an unavoidable consequence of relentlessly increasing complexity, though it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way.

Forget the clinical syndrome of psychopathy. This process isn’t about someone’s personality.  Instead, examine a basic measure of psychopathic behavior. Such behavior is anytime we treat a person, an animal, a plant, or a thing solely as a vehicle for the gratification of our needs, with no thought to the impact of our actions on the person, animal, plant, or thing.

Think of stepping on ants while walking in the woods on a nice summer day.  Or eating anything. Or laying off 1,000 people. Or using drones that kill civilians while targeting a terrorist. Or protecting yourself with a civilian shield while operating as a terrorist. Or auctioning human beings as slaves. Or purposefully addicting people for personal income.  Or cutting personal supports to people with significant disabilities to make the money available for a market purpose. Or any one of 10,000 other acts we do in order to get through the daily circumstances of our lives.

Functional Psychopathy increases relentlessly as complex systems age.

(P3): The Struggle of Two Missions

A path dividing into two with trees on the side of a dirt road

Another way of thinking about the corruption of purpose as complex systems age requires that we think of complex systems as having two core missions:

  1. The Purpose of the System or the Original Mission
  2. Staying Alive!

Over the aging of every complex system, the second mission gradually comes to dominate over the first. This systematic iterative alteration of the organization’s mission parallels both the potential for moral corruption and the corruption of purpose that is the unavoidable result of complex system aging.

This happens to each of us (how much more time do we spend on maintenance and repair of ourselves as we age?), but is most obvious in organizations:

  • Increase in bureaucracy, process requirements,
  • Increase in hierarchy and politics
  • Increase in management costs
  • All resulting in the degradation of actual customer or service support and
  • Eventually, the primacy of money/power over everything else

(P3): The Corruption of System Purpose

A slide about Systematic Corruption (or endemic corruption). Factors listed are, Conflicting Incentives, Discretionary Powers, Monopolistic Powers, Lack of Transparency, Low Pay, and Culture of Impunity.

There are many more signs of system aging than the reasonably obvious ones I’ve discussed so far. The next few posts will identify some, especially those which trigger “solutions” that don’t actually “solve” the targeted problem. The first is that systems can be corrupt, not just people.

We tend to think that corruption is an ethical or criminal matter resulting from a moral failure. As a society, moral and law enforcement solutions are the only ones we actively support to such problems. This is a mistake in our thinking because there is a larger impact of such moral corruption on the complex system in which the corruption occurs. Additionally, the aging of complex systems creates a type of corruption of purpose even if, somehow, we are able to stop all criminal and moral corruption.

On its own, typical moral corruption gradually taints every transaction of a complex system, even when the people involved in the transactions are not participants in the moral corruption.  This is obvious in financial corruption but also occurs when values and ethics are corrupted.

Also, complex system corruption occurs as a result of the aging process arising as system resources increase and are stored for later use. These resources (regardless of type) begin to be used increasingly for maintenance, repair, personal gratification, and personal power, undermining the purpose of the system.  This process also creates an affordance that permits more extensive corruption, creating a vicious feedback loop.

(P3): Models Summary

Standard Model Diagram of a Complex Adaptive System. Nothing Special in the Diagram.
Abstract CAS Model

In both of these models, note the following:

  • Every complex system has a history, and there is no way to avoid the effects of that history. This means:
  • You can’t go back to the beginning.
  • You can’t even correct something and try again. There are no do-overs. The effects of history always become part of the aging of the system.
  • You can improve part of the system, like getting a hip replacement when arthritis impedes the use of your leg, but
  • You (and any complex system) is still aging.
  • Improving the function of a complex system makes it more complex and makes the use of affordances more difficult and resource intensive.
  • Eventually, the sum of all this is some kind of collapse. When and how are not predictable, but all complex systems collapse, slowly or quickly.

A good “concrete” example of the overall process of complex system aging is the development and current state of the US freeway system.

I am old enough to remember when the freeway system was built. I was in elementary school and I saw the building process because my extended family all lived in Detroit, while my father worked at Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan. Before the freeway was built it took us nearly 4 hours to drive from Midland to our relatives’ homes. We had a long trip through small towns with two-lane 25mph roadways and stoplights. In bad weather, it was worse.

The first time we drove the freeway to Detroit, it took us less than one and a half hours. It seemed like a miracle. For a long time, the only problem was the increased use of the freeway by other drivers as they got more used to the idea of a freeway and its convenience.

Then the population grew, the number of people who used cars grew, the use of freeways for commutes allowed people to live further from their jobs, etc. So there were traffic slowdowns that increased the length of time it took us to drive to Detroit, and we had to be more careful when we made these trips so we wouldn’t run into the commuter traffic. And, of course, the increase in traffic density led to accidents that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.

Then the roads needed repairs and maintenance, partly because of their increased use.  We all know this led to our current experience of freeways, not a miracle, but an increasingly useless tool which we must use, like airplanes.

If it was possible, we could simply eliminate the entire freeway system and start over again from scratch. We could use modern materials that wouldn’t break down as fast, we could have more lanes, we could rethink the way we use freeways.

But of course, we can’t do that. And the core reason why we can’t start over again from scratch is that we must use the freeway every single day without fail. And buying an entirely new land base for the freeway would destroy the economic system that was built around the existence of the freeway. And all that concrete would have to be removed before the land the current freeway system is on could be used for any economic purpose. And all that concrete would have to be transported and deposited somewhere.

If all of this seems obvious now, the question you should ask yourself is why it wasn’t obvious from the beginning?

(P3): Developmental Model of Aging

A simple model of A Developing Network; The three frames are an Infant and it's developing action abilities; An Affordance Interface, and it's feedback loop between Developing Skills and the Evolving Interface; and The World and it's constant Unpredictable Reconfiguration.
The infant as Developing Network

This model uses the commonly observed process of infant development as an analog for the growth of a complex system.

Infants are surrounded by a large, more or less infinite environment of possibilities. But it is in the nature of developing infants that the vast majority of these possibilities are of no interest and do not at any given moment contribute to the infant’s development. Instead only certain parts of the environment are of interest to the infant and these are exactly what the infant needs to engage with in order to further current development.

These parts ready for engagement are called “affordances” because they allow for action by the infant that supports the infant’s current development.

As development continues, those parts of the environment that can act as affordances shift because of the growing competence of the infant and their consequent shift in focus and interest. So, the infant’s “affordance interface” is constantly shifting as development occurs, and exactly tracks the current development of the child.

The deep part of this model is that even if you are 90 years old, you are still doing what the infant is doing, albeit at a different functional level and with a different set of strengths and weaknesses (i.e., a different affordance interface).