The Community of People with Disabilities faces the same enduring uncertainty that permeates our entire society, as well as the historical effects of stigma and the devaluing of our worth as persons. While the uncertainty may have reached levels our society hasn’t seen in the past, the position of our community in that society, while improving, travels along the same arc it has for millennia. Our future challenges remain the same ones we have fought before.
Even though the way we fight for our personal autonomy and freedom of choice will change to meet these new barriers, our values won’t change. Those values build our passion for change and point out effective directions for change even when the world around us is chaotic.
Our values are the fulcrum we will use to expand our lives. We deserve a larger world of possibilities and we will fight for that.
This ends my posts for Future Strategy. I have been working on a series of posts about Tools for Future Strategy, and I will start posting them in a couple of weeks. Thanks for your attention to these ideas. I hope they prove useful to you and yours.
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.
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.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world
Why always, “not yet”? Do flowers in spring say, “not yet”?
– Norman Douglas
The hour is ripe, and yonder lies the way.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forwards. Søren Kierkegaard
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.