(P3): Other Examples of Weak Constraints

Stylized figures of generic viruses, bacteria etc.

Because the CAS that we target for advocacy are very complex systems tied to a very complex larger environment, there are a very large number of weak constraints (WC) available for potential destabilization. Obviously, not all weak constraints might be similarly effective in producing a specific advocacy outcome. And, in fact, we tend to use multiple weak constraints to effect a positive advocacy outcome.

But because it seems easier or more efficient to use techniques that have proven successful in the past, we build habits of ignoring other possibilities (a kind of faux “efficiency” argument). I would argue that creativity is an essential part of successful advocacy, if only because the target system will adapt to your advocacy efforts, and you must have a ”habit” of introducing novelty into your advocacy efforts to not have them degraded significantly over time.

So I offer this list, not as anything like a complete one, but to allow meditating by review of the possibilities. Perhaps one of these might trigger a realization on your part that would point to a more sophisticated novel approach to a high-quality advocacy outcome.

Legal WC:

  • Complaints
  • Fair hearings
  • Lawsuits of various kinds

Political WC:

  • Publicity
  • Politician-targeted problem solving
  • Boards and Councils
  • Elections

Financial WC:

  • Public Funding
  • Resource Allocation
  • Financial Disparities

Systemic WC:

  • Threatening Governing Constraints
  • Introducing Novelty

Organizing WC:

  • Emerging an Insurgency
  • Building local or community resistance
  • Effective Advocacy Training
  • Building Community Advocacy Supports

Any single or combination of these WC’s could be targeted for destabilization in a specific advocacy strategy.

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(P3): Destabilizing Weak Constraints in Advocacy

Image of the Night King from Game of Thrones Series

  • I came to a stark realization: chronic surpluses could be almost as destabilizing as chronic deficits. –Alan Greenspan
  • One of the points about distractions is that everything they do is destabilizing.
    -Bruce Sterling
  • Yet, history has shown that if material force can defeat some ideologies it can no longer obliterate a civilization without destabilizing the whole planet.
    Abdelaziz Bouteflika

In a Complex Adaptive System (CAS), any form of interaction between the system and the outside world can be usefully viewed as a weak constraint and a potential target for destabilization. Obviously, some constraints are closer to the heart of your advocacy outcome than others.  But there are always more ways to go after a valued change than whatever works the first time we use it.

The biggest problem we advocates have in interacting with the CAS is that we settle on a technique or procedure that has worked for us in the past. This approach, while understandable, dramatically reduces the palate of ways we might destabilize the CAS for a valued purpose.

When we use the same techniques with the same CAS over and over, the CAS will adapt to them, making our advocacy more complex and expensive for us to use. Additionally, when the larger environment in which our target faces the same set of destabilization techniques, that larger environment will also adapt, narrowing the impact of our efforts to destabilize and making the outcomes we achieve more predictable, and, thus, more manageable by targets. Both the target and our advocacy become more rigid.

An example (in the next post) will give you the idea of how local, state, and national CAS and our advocacy approaches adapt over time to successful advocacy.

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Part 3: Advocacy

A poster listing many names of PWD killed by their parents or caregivers; entitled Mourn for the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living. From ASAN

Advocacy is the active representation of interests. You can advocate on behalf of another, on behalf of yourself, on behalf of a network, or an entire community. You can work as an individual, in a group, professionally, or as part of a larger movement.

Advocacy is a framework for change, and since change admits of no boundaries, neither does advocacy.  Advocacy is not an end in itself, no matter how necessary or relentless it might seem.

You must embrace a personally and genuinely valued purpose to truly advocate. Otherwise, advocacy becomes just another kind of inauthentic political gaming.

I chose advocacy as the metaphor for changing complex adaptive systems, because most people have some understanding of the concept and because using that concept makes it easier to remember that changing a complex adaptive system (CAS) is for a valued purpose, not simply a logic model for obtaining a grant.

While advocacy can be used by anyone, it is a creature of great diversity. The most basic frame for advocacy is to threaten a target with more change than the target would experience if it accepted your claim for change.  Most basic advocacy negotiation entails this kind of trade-off for the target.

The target of advocacy can be almost any system from an individual to large bureaucracies, local governments, global coalitions. The target you choose is the one you believe can make the community interests you value real.

The trade-offs that frame any advocacy negotiation can also, and usually are, extremely varied and complex, and revolve more around constraints that might be destabilized than, say, for example, the simple cost of the advocacy demand. The cost can always be “managed” but forced change in the basic operating framework of the target is typically viewed by target systems as an existential crisis of some importance, and something to be strongly resisted.

If I tell you that the negotiations in a special education disagreement are mostly around the dimensions of expense and precedent for the school district if they agree to your demands, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also highly personalized dimensions in every education advocacy process, for example.

These personal issues in what seems to be a procedural or legal negotiation are important to advocates because of how the personal impacts the value of the advocacy outcome. For the target system, there is no more powerful constraint that must be managed than the relationship the system has with individuals to whom it provides services. Systems don’t like customizing anything for anyone who is entitled to disturb their peace.  If you can sustainably change the obligations that any system has to the uniqueness of those it serves, you are creating an entirely different system, and deeply altering the purpose and behavior of that system.

In effect, learning to use, create, exploit, and leverage constraints is the heart of advocacy toward any target system.

While achieving a valued advocacy result requires the use of tools, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the tool is somehow sacred because it helps you to achieve the result you want. There is no holy path to advocacy success. There is only the uncertain struggle to make complex adaptive systems change.

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(P2): A Weak Constraint as a Potential Insurgency

A painting of a medieval revolt. Many people and soldiers fighting one another.

Mostly, CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) view both internally generated and externally driven encounters as disturbances or perturbations. For purposes of understanding how you can advocate for change in a CAS, I prefer to think of these triggers as insurgencies.

An adjacent possible is something you can do readily from where you are right now. Some insurgencies keep resurfacing, an indication of an adjacent possible.

There are always more adjacent possibles than you know. They are often weak constraints, and we tend to pick one, stick with it as our preferred novel change target, and fail to see the other possibilities lurking close by. Our ability to survey the possibilities of the uncertain world around us is encumbered by our automatic focus on the easiest possibility to perceive.

Insurgencies subvert by their mere existence. In fact, a traditional way to turn a weak constraint into an insurgency is to trigger a response from the Target CAS. This is part of the reason why they are so hard to eliminate. Failed insurgencies are typically replaced by changes that will also trigger a new set of possibilities and a new insurgency.

Subversion is always possible. There is no way to build a fortress that is impervious to an insurgency. In fact, I think it is reasonable to describe the ongoing human conflicts in every State in the last 7,000 years as an insurgent struggle for change and freedom against a status quo struggling to increase and preserve control.

So, an insurgency is a kind of constraint, and it can move from a “weak” constraint to a powerful force for change just because the target reacts to its disturbance.

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(P2): Weak Signals as Weak Constraints

Drawn picture of black slaves fighting off white slavers trying to recapture them.

  • I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.
    -Jeff Bezos
  • The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.
    -Igor Stravinsky 
  • Problems are hidden opportunities, and constraints can actually boost creativity.
    Martin Villeneuve

So, how do we use weak signals as a basis for changing Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS)? We must look carefully at the weak signal to understand how or if this signal represents a weak constraint, and what the constraint means to the Target CAS.

Earlier I pointed out that weak links buffer the wildness of CAS. This buffering is a form of constraint, and that’s why buffering works. The buffer acts a bit like the banks on a river, constraining the flow of the river without dictating the movement of individual water molecules.

Our usual understanding of system constraints mimics the beliefs of the homeless community and uber-rich communities. Constraints are barriers to the safety or freedom of these communities, and so they are eliminated. Successful elimination of such weak constraints makes those social communities brittle and hyper-responsive to small disturbances.

The image above is a drawing of the effect of the Underground Railroad during and around the Civil War. The Underground Railroad functioned as a weak constraint on the Southern Slave System It was largely ignored when it was small but was attacked (ineffectively) when it expanded and began to operate as a sign of the weakness of that Southern Slave System.

The Underground Railroad was more than a simple barrier. It actively forced the Southern Slave System to respond to it. In the same way, weak constraints do more than provide simple barriers to the system of which they are a part.

Target systems for our advocacy have many weak constraints that are a normal expected part of their day-to-day experience. They are usually ignored or tolerated because the behavior of the weak constraint is a small local cycle that doesn’t threaten the larger system’s normal behaviors. If the weak constraint begins to expand its impact on the larger system, it will trigger a response of some kind from the larger CAS.

In Part Three, I’ll talk more clearly about how we use weak constraints (and sometimes strong constraints) to produce advocated change in CAS.

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Tools of FutureStrategy

A variety of Swiss Army Knives and other Multi-tools

Building Our Lives Together

If our disability community is to build and implement a sustainable strategy that preserves our lives and our freedom, we will need to build our skills to support the implementation of that FutureStrategy. These posts will outline some tools we could use to accomplish that.

The big picture is emphasized below because there is no simple relationship between a tool and the problem you are trying to solve when you are trying to change a complex adaptive system.

First, I’ll recapitulate a summary of FutureStrategy described in the previous blog posts.  Then, I’ll provide a crash course on how changing Complex Adaptive Systems is different from our standard ways of changing complicated and mechanical systems. Finally, I’ll pass on things I and other people have learned about the larger world of effective advocacy.

The resistance tools below will be drawn from three large scale categories:

  • Advocacy as an arena of the system change effort.
  • Organizing for change in and through the disability community.
  • Managing the Ecosystem of Targets in which our community will work for change. It is this ecosystem in which we must focus our strategy.

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(P6): We Are On The Edge of the Future

A Path in the woods branching into two paths in the distance. Text says, Thank You!!, and Choose your path carefully

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.

(P6): The Deepest Truth of Our Lives

Black and white photo of a line of ADAPT activists in wheelchairs charging up and over a hill. They bear a flag, roughly like the American flag, but with the stars in the form of a wheelchair symbol.

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.

(P6): Closing Thoughts

Wanderer, there is no road; the road is made by walking-Antonio Machado; We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community-Dorothy Day; A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess-A. Philip Randolph;  Diversity: the art of thinking independently together-Malcolm Forbes

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.

 

Part 6: Onward!!

A large lego structure built to travel and containing ongoing construction on its various levels
Our Future: Mortal Engines
  • “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
    Sun Tzu
  • How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world
    Anne Frank
  • Why always, “not yet”? Do flowers in spring say, “not yet”?
    – Norman Douglas
  • The hour is ripe, and yonder lies the way.
    – Virgil

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.