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?
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.
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.
Vast problems can be solved if broken up into pieces and addressed one by one
Ordinary men and women contain within themselves, individually and collectively, the constructive genius with which to craft such solutions
I would ask you to entertain some new ideas about the possibility of change. These ideas won’t work in the current system because of its unavoidable aging and decline, but they can be useful in creating our counterstroke.
I have quoted these “Commanding Beliefs” from Roberto Unger, a surprisingly hopeful Brazilian visionary who has great admiration for the American social experiment, if not the current version.
These beliefs still resonate with all Americans, even if we have come to see them as too innocent to be useful.
Do these beliefs seem naive to you?
I think we have become trapped by our sense that the possibilities for change are either trivial or out of the question. This trap is conditioning from the oppression that has been built by the complex adaptive system within which we live.
Stop looking at the skyscrapers of power and money and politics-as-usual, and start looking at what is immediately around you.
Keep these beliefs in mind as we go through the rest of these posts.
If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal. Emma Goldman
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage Lao Tzu
One of the oldest ways of thinking about large scale change in a complex adaptive system is, “Build the new within the shell of the old”. It recognizes the need for change without requiring us to embrace either of the macro revolutionary strategies (change through total governance or breaking down governance and starting from scratch). It also requires us to genuinely struggle with how we use the current system as we move forward.
But building the new within the shell of the old is tough if we are to avoid the horrors of building from scratch or trying to force the existing governing levers to embrace radically new values. We have to balance what we are trying to create, with all it’s fits and starts, with the necessity of our continuing, if evolving, dependence on the current system for our everyday existence. Nowhere is this necessity clearer than it is for the disability community.
The current reality will undermine our ability to change largely through forcing us to repeat habits acquired over long periods of time.
To avoid these barriers, we need to have social networks committed to change, and we need to embrace a new set of assumptions about how change is possible.