(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.

(P5): Cynefin: A Better Way to Think about Change

Updated Cynefin Model Diagram: 4 quadrants of kinds of systems: OBVIOUS-Tightly constrained; no degrees of freedom; sense-categorize-respond; Use Best Practice. COMPLICATED-Governing Constraints; tightly coupled; sense-analyze-respond; Good Practice. COMPLEX-enabling constraints; loosely coupled; probe-sense-respond; emergent practice. CHAOTIC-lacking constraint; decoupled; act-sense-respond; novel practice.
Updated Cynefin Model

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.

(P5): A Guide to Disruption

Hand drawn outline of levels in disruption. Iteration: Doing the same things better; Innovation: Doing New Things; Disruption: Doing new things that make the old things obsolete.
Stairway to Disruption

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.

(P5): Disruptive Innovation

Large ADAPT protest at the National Capitol with many participants with disabilities

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?

(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): Personalism

A woodcut of The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality complete with ramp.
Notice the Ramp in the Woodcut

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.

(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.

Part 5: What Do We Do Next?

A bunch of dice with many different geometries and colors, like the ones for D&D.
The RPG of Disability Resistance

I imagine the outlines of what I think would be a useful approach to the dilemma that our disability community faces are fairly obvious. But it is easy to say that we need to create something new when our fears and habits are telling us constantly that we need to use the same old tired practices to stop this new threat.

If we are to create a genuinely new response, we will have to begin it locally, and the response will have to be conditioned by what we find locally, not by some larger political vision. If we don’t create what we need locally, using values that represent the best we can build, we will continue to thrash around “solving” for the short term only to have it bite us on the ass down the line.

Additionally, we don’t have the option of simply ignoring the current system, for all its problems. Like the freeway system, we have to keep using it until we actually have a viable replacement operating. We have to fade our dependence on the existing system through building our vision.

So our response to the question of what we do next does not have an answer that is either universal or easily predicted. But we can point to overarching ways of thinking about what we do, that can provide guidance as we wrestle with making our new path.