Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-3

Part 3: Engaging the Fuller Reality of the DJCAS

Advocacy (especial advocacy on behalf of individuals or small groups) forces a very distinct realism and depth in any view of the DJCAS as a support system. No knowledge of the DJCAS as imagined or designed can provide this.

At the same time, this deepened perspective is created by specific engagements (analogous to the engagements between parents and child in the clinic model), not by the model of the support system as it was designed.

In fact, the basic model of individual advocacy shows this. The model:

  • The goal of advocacy for an individual is to force the system to operate as it was designed.
  • The fulcrum of transformation to achieve this is to threaten the support system with a forced larger change in its operations if it doesn’t agree to operate as it was designed in this instance.

Individual advocacy incrementally changes the subject system and can benefit an individual or a small group fairly quickly. (The issue of how much permanent change there is in The System is complex. I’ll start to address it later in other posts.)

What is usually called systems advocacy tries to benefit a community of persons impacted by a policy inconsistent with the system as designed. Using organized pressure (political or legal) the focus is altering that policy to insure access to support by a community of persons within the system as it was designed.

Disabled communities also use advocacy to imagine new dimensions in the design of systems of support. These efforts use techniques of legislative advocacy, community organizing, protest, political pressure, and so on, to build new models of how support should be designed. When successful they can change the way support systems are actually implemented.

Finally, disability communities can build alternate systems of support using designs that fit support needs of our community better than the larger social institutions of The System. Getting good at these kinds of advocacy should be a part of every disabled community’s efforts to build real support for its members. Such advocacy skills are more easily generalized through intersectional community organizing, as well, supporting real collaboration across marginalized communities.

At the end of the day, though, The System will, as part of its normal dynamic, operate to devalue and institutionalize (incarcerate in one way or another) all marginalized communities. Advocacy experience is a vital tool for fighting these mechanisms of oppression.

But there is another dimension to DJCAS that requires a deeper take on how The System operates. Getting at this dimension requires a more nuanced exploration of the difference between the System As Designed and the System As Engaged through our advocacy.

The Geography of Disability Justice Advocacy

Anytime we build a disability justice advocacy strategy, we use some process to lay it out in a way very similar to mapping a journey. While we tend to focus on the specific procedures that we will use to implement an advocacy initiative, we actually create a kind of spatial CAS that is fractal and could conceivably extend to the entire disability community globally.

The usual way we do this makes the actual impact of our advocacy largely implicit except for the focus of our procedural advocacy. This has the effect of making it more difficult to see the impact of our advocacy (for better or worse) outside the limits of our perception of procedural actions.

When we implement an operational plan as a strategy, this limited perception of the dynamic of our advocacy is a major source for the unintended consequences which often follow.

One way to help avoid this trap is to recognize the more and less abstract nature of the system we are affecting, so we can deliberately include the dynamic context of our advocacy as we develop our strategy. Doing this requires real reflection and dialogue, mostly because we aren’t in the habit of taking the extra time to deepen our understanding. We are also not inclined to take into account those barriers and trends in the larger environment and not directly a part of our advocacy plan activities.

Individuals involved in an advocacy initiative tend to have a “most comfortable” role in pursuing advocacy outcomes. We all choose a level of engagement for any system with which we interact, a level with which we are comfortable, and which reflects our strengths in advocacy. In the Disability Justice Community, people are commonly:

  • Tactical engagers: Procedural problem solvers. Use of bricolage to develop tactics. Solve big problems by repeating successful tactics.
  • Operational Engagers: Link tactics through organizing. Logic Model solutions to problems. Required alignment realized through coordination. Coordination is viewed as the imposition of rule-based common procedures.
  • Strategic Engagers: Viewing the dynamics of a system as though from the outside. Focusing on the larger trends, to the exclusion of individual problem solutions.

As you can probably imagine, such distinct roles in an advocacy initiative can produce very real conflicts over every aspect of planning, outcomes or any other part of advocacy must be made coherent (not aligned, just understandable across the different roles).

So, “geography” in advocacy has several dimensions:

  • An abstract dimension from Tactics, through Operations, to Strategy. This is not some kind of control or logical hierarchy. It is a difference of focus, and doesn’t imply that one kind of abstraction is “better” than another. Rather, people are more comfortable with one kind of abstraction than another.
  • A scope dimension that reaches out from the focus of advocacy to the unexpected consequences unseen by the attainment of the immediate advocacy outcomes.
  • A coordinative reach dimension, which reflects how coherent your dynamic communication is among the roles in the advocacy work.

Creating a way to act across all of these dimensions coherently needs to be the expanding project of disability justice advocacy.

Next: Scaling Disability Justice Advocacy


What Advocacy Strategy Is and Isn’t

This post is a basic overview of the dimensions of strategy that can impact our choices in advocacy approaches and community organizing:

Any Strategy is an integration of the ways (methods), means (resources of all kinds), and ends (the whys) of your advocacy. This integration provides you with a strategic web of meaning that helps you make decisions about your advocacy especially when the inevitable uncertainty of the future and scarcity of resources tests your limits.

  • The coherent integration of ways, means, and ends is your theory of victory
  • The context of your strategy is your Grand Strategy even if you never think about it, or your theory of security, how you keep the doors open and your advocacy continuing.
  • Your theory of victory requires decision-making heuristics (rules of thumb) based on the web of meaning created in your coherent integration, in a context of uncertainty and scarce resources.

What a strategy is not:

  • Strategy is not a simple extension of successful tactics.
  • A strategy is not a big complex operational plan.
  • A strategy is not a SWOT analysis

Defining levels of advocacy strategy implementation:

  • A Tactic is a plan for making a measurable change. It has a start and a stop.
  • An operation is a network of coordinated tactics, and can be judged to be more or less coherent. Whatever planning goes into an operation, once it starts, it will have to be modified on the fly.

So, since significant advocacy plans never survive the beginning of the CAS disruption effort intact, the implementation becomes a dynamic intentional complex adaptive system for the duration of the advocacy effort, ever shifting, and full of surprises.

Examples of Strategies:

  • Western Allies “Unconditional Surrender” in WWII: In WWI, the strategy was to force combatants to sign a peace treaty. Because this was so ineffective at preventing WWII, unconditional surrender became the guide to decision-making. This choice of strategy increased war deaths and injuries by a large amount, but stopped the post war combatant rearming, at least for a while.
  • Local disability organizing of complementary services and supports to The System. Such a strategy allows for the incremental expansion of an alternative support system while maintaining pressure on the current system to improve. This is a more resilient long-term strategy in the face of political and funding cycles, and the passive acceptance of how The System sees itself today.
  • Imagine two 6-month-old fraternal twins using different approaches to getting to and playing with a ball that has sounds and lights. One might choose an approach of careful movements, with lot of checking to see if the ball is closer; the other might choose an approach of wild, large movements, also checking less often to reorient and continue to move closer. Both achieve their goal, but the implicit learning they do is different and points to a difference in personal strategy, that we might call temperament or personality in other circumstances.
  • Intention is often viewed as a strategy. Intention creates a specific explicit outcome, and a possibility space of various potential choices. The strategy lies in the possibility space, not the outcome.

To expand and deepen the impact of the disability social justice agenda, our strategy must include the following dimensions:

  • Viewing The Health Care Industrial Complex (HCIC) as a box of tools rather than a source of solutions to healthcare and social support.
  • Organizing around the creation of real time supports that can respond to the extensive lack of such in the HCIC without allowing the HCIC to absorb them. If we allow the NCIC to absorb our alternate support system, bureaucratic and elite logic will alter that system in destructive and devaluing ways.

Keep this basic framework in mind as we go forward.

Next: The Geography of Disability Justice Advocacy

Disability Justice in the Macro-CAS: Overview of Implications

In the last series of posts (Our Entangled Insurgencies), I hope you got a feel for the flow of the large scale Complex Adaptive System in which our advocacy operates.

Most of the social justice community has become aware that using only repeated procedural frameworks to change injustice has deep limits in the Macro-CAS:

  • Systems that are our advocacy focus will evolve to meet our challenges when we use the same tactics to change them, over and over. They do this in order to blunt our impact. They will also respond to our efforts politically, both inside the system of focus and in the larger social context.
  • This tactical advocacy cycle of give-and-take results in a self-sustaining advocacy/bureaucracy system incapable of transformative change.
  • Our use of Operational planning for Advocacy, (for example the Logic Plan framework) prevents us from understanding the impact of trends in the environment and emerging constraints (warm data) that we can’t directly change, but could take into account in our overall strategy if we paid attention to it, reducing the effectiveness and resilience of our successes.
  • The more deeply the CAS supports something we want to change, the harder it is to implement a transformation. This is mostly due to our lack of real experience with transformational change. But it also reflects our focus on commitment of resources as somehow proportional to the impact we will have when our strategy is transformational. But you can reduce the size of a hill with 1 million spoons, or you can change the context so rain showers do the work for you. One is brute force advocacy and the other is catalytic transformation.

Over the course of this series of posts, I will work to deepen our understanding of advocacy strategy and transformational work. The first place to start is expanding the usefulness and necessity of creating a real advocacy strategy.

Next Post: What Advocacy Strategy Is and Isn’t

Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Eight

Entangled Insurgencies: A Summary

I listened to the six Dune Novels written by Frank Herbert recently. It had been several decades since I read them, and I found many new insights this time around. These insights were triggered as much by the changes in our global environment since the series was written as anything in the novels.

Herbert wrestled with the ideas of wholeness, power, and social/cultural insurgencies in deep ways, without having the benefit of the conceptual scaffold of complex adaptive systems (CAS). My listening expanded my sense that he was telling a Deep-Time story that resonates now, with the same issues and choices that we face in struggling with our Entangled Insurgency-a wicked problem if ever there was one.

We operate socially and politically within a Macro-CAS whose major interacting subsystems are a right and a left insurgency, and a centrist elite with its own internal insurgencies. The boundaries of this Macro-CAS are strikingly porous. Individuals, families, small social groups, and communities shift where they are in this CAS all the time, internally consistent with their individual and community sense-making and way-making. It may seem inconsistent to others, but it isn’t.

There is no dynamic symmetry among any of the stakeholders of the CAS. Any attempt to conceptually impose symmetry might be useful for PR or political points, but will always be falsified by the ongoing dynamic of the Macro-CAS.

For all intents and purposes, any political victory alters, but does not eliminate, the fundamental tool of the insurgencies (sabotage) or the elites (exploitation of the society for personal gain, globally sabotaging the hopes and dreams of the exploited).

These dynamic dispositions (attractors) implicitly “manage” the purpose of the Macro-CAS and its various sub-CAS, and their interactions. The dynamism of these dispositions is conditioned by global economic uncertainty, climate change, and all the various actual processes that social/political insurgencies draw on for their surface memes and choices for action.

The solution to the many quandaries we face in this ongoing process is easy to describe, but oh so difficult to embrace. We must:

  • Accept and respect the humanity of those individuals that sabotage our deepest hopes, without embracing the impact of their choices and their efforts to sabotage.
  • Confront that sabotage effectively by using transformational tactics, and a strategy that respects the uncertainty and scarce resources that will be our common reality for the indefinite future.

The above solution is not a closed framework of limited possibilities, but, a scaffold that allows us to engage the CAS in ways that might produce change and undermine the momentum toward a universal social and political environment that treats people, animals, plants, and things as no more than assets to be exploited.

The currently inadequate bricolage approach to attempting such profound and difficult changes is described in my blog, “Change Strategy”. The focus of my previous writing has been on disability rights advocacy, and I view social justice advocacy in general as an intersectional version of sabotage that can be a scaffold for more effective transformation. (My next post series will focus on how advocacy can act as a way of producing change in CAS).

We have traditionally created consensus through the use of coercive social, political, and military power, as the only way around the typical struggles described. That won’t work in the current situation, at least not as a way of dissolving our constant conflict. Instead, our effort to enforce consensus through social and political power will drive the generation of continuous and more disruptive conflict. Such a choice will leave only social and economic desolation.

We need to forge a new path, and we are ill-equipped to do so. I think we must ourselves, and with others, “sabotage” the dynamic of the Macro-CAS through intentional and individual acts that will gradually alter our model of sabotage, from winning in the short-term to building social resilience for all, a kind of “remodeling the rapids with rocks”.

If we succeed, it will be because of relentless social justice sabotage over a very long timeline. May we embrace the possibility.

“For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.”
N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season

Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Seven

Functional Psychopathy

Psychopathy and Sociopathy are disorders of social connectedness and perception, as well as behavior. Since I have worked in social and psychological arenas for most of my post-combat life, I have met plenty of individuals who would more or less qualify under these diagnostic labels. I always found them as a group to be as diverse as any other human community, as long as you didn’t trust your hopes and dreams to them.

But there is a larger shift in social connectedness and perception in our insurgencies and elites that has nothing to do with “inherent” personality disorders or the psychiatric/psychological establishment. I think of it as a trend where many people become behaviorally more and more indistinguishable from those who meet these diagnostic criteria. This is not because they are somehow becoming people with a personality disorder, but because their larger social relationships have been corrupted, and no longer do what human social relationships evolved to do.

I call this “functional psychopathy” because it doesn’t necessarily affect core social relationships, but affects decision-making that can impact many, many lives.

The core act that represents this functional psychopathy is behavior that exploits people, animals, plants, or things, with no regard for the impact of exploitation on the exploited.

So, the CAS in which we live dynamically produces dispositions that move people that don’t have these disorders to behave as though they do, i.e., functional psychopathy.

“Unmasking Administrative Evil” describes this on a large scale (e.g., the Holocaust, the Poisoning of the Flint Michigan water system.), but I believe this process also impacts a great deal of real granular decision-making out there, and that repeatedly acting a though you are a psychopath in these decisions makes you more likely to choose functional psychopathy as your long-term decision framework. (Didn’t Vonnegut say something like, “We become what we pretend to be”, in Mother Night?)

Some Examples:

  • Professional Associations often develop professional policy and lobbying decisions that would be seen as psychopathic if an individual professional made them.
  • Simply being a political operative in active campaigning reliably produces decisions that would be viewed as psychopathic in most other arenas of personal life (e.g., being willing to make the so-called self-interested “tough” decisions, lying as marketing, bullying and other forms of contempt).
  • Capitalist decision-making without ethics (basically the vast majority of capitalist decision-making today) is clearly psychopathic.
  • Decision-making systems which are euphemistically called “benefits determinations”, almost entirely driven by financial and political criteria. For example, reducing the number of SSI beneficiaries by any means that is politically palatable, are broadly and (apparently) invisibly psychopathic.

Now, most of this will seem pretty ordinary to any adult living in America. But my point is not that such decision-making exists (it always has), but that the ratio of such psychopathic decisions to socially just decisions is increasingly favoring the psychopathic. It is a deep trend of the Macro-CAS.

Also, this process is deeply fractal. It isn’t only big decisions in large social, governmental, or commercial systems that drives this expansion of functional psychopathy (though we tend to focus our advocacy for a return to social justice on these systems). It includes decisions made by individuals, families, and social groups that brand others as not worthy of consideration as living beings, that support the increase. This psychopathic decision-making can and does impact anyone within reach of the decision-maker. It can include family members as well as those people that are clearly viewed as “other”.

The purpose of such decision-making is exploitation. Most actual psychopaths view their decision-making as rational and obvious, and functional psychopathy has internalized this perception as well.

No single victory against some psychopathic disposition (say, the Flint Water catastrophe) will alter this dynamic. And, although there are certainly differences between the impact of this trend on the various insurgencies and elite sub-communities, I don’t see any group or community or identity that is free from the impact of this process (including, for example, the children of our elites). If you have an enemy who you repeatedly demonize, you are participating in this trend.

One result of this functional psychopathic trend is that we are all (and I mean all) becoming more and more parasitic; that is, we view more and more of everyone and everything as a resource to be exploited for our own benefit regardless of what happens to the “resource”. Mostly, this is done without any particular awareness of the consequences. Social media, hate, bullying, and even humor, bureaucratic processes and rules for life and death decisions, all surveillance, any impulsive reaction to fear, and an incredibly wide range of other behaviors, are largely done without thought about the possible unintended consequences of our acts. This process has become a critical driver of the macro-CAS, mediated through the relentless fractal degradation of the belief that we need community.

The only personal and social defense against this trend is social justice inclusion, not as a policy or a rule or another way for us to demonize one another, but as a scaffold for our common decisions about how we wish to live together, and what it really means to commit to our common good.

The Voldemort Index
The Midas Disease

(If you want a sense of where such a trend could eventually take subsystems of our Macro-CAS, read “Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields“.)

Part Seven: A Summary…

Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Six

One of the illusions of thinking that very local actions by opposing insurgencies wash each other out is the underlying assumption that canceling out equals, “we don’t need to consider them anymore”. But even the components of our simple model of the entangled insurgency are not symmetric as this assumption suggests.

We also polarize political movements in our thinking to simplify our judgment of them, largely for short term political or personal gain. We pay no attention to potential long-term effects because they don’t have current meaning for us (see The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics). Thus, by our short-term efforts to defeat some action or organized agenda from some insurgency, or to defend our own political assets, we guarantee the survival of those long-term consequences.

Asymmetries in the Right and Left Insurgencies, and the Asymmetric Competition in our Elites

Our Political, Social, and Financial Elites have managed their own internal conflicts for as long as they have existed. But the CAS that is our Elites now is becoming increasingly brittle. That doesn’t mean that collapse is imminent, but it does mean that their management of the macro-CAS is less effective, and there isn’t any way short of transformation that will alter this trend of degrading control. Presumably there will be more collapses like 2008, because brittle complex adaptive systems will eventually simplify themselves through various degrees and kinds of collapse.

There is also a level of threat to the Elite concept of stability that is growing every day. Groups that are internal to the Elite CAS can effectively negotiate improvement in their own status by threatening the Elite CAS itself with collapse. This has only become clear recently (from the “sort of accidental” economic disaster that was 2008). But the efforts by Elite subcommunities to bolster political and radical insurgencies of various kinds show the first steps in making existential threats a daily part of the ongoing Elite power dynamic (not threats to individual members or small groups that are part of the Elite, but threats to the ability of the Elite CAS to effectively continue its purpose). My guess is that the Elites will make choices to control these threats that will be less than optimal for the rest of us, and will continue to increase the brittleness of the Elite CAS.

Our entangled right and left insurgencies are also driven by an ongoing effort to build asymmetry into the macro-dynamic as a way of negotiating power and status. But the right and left versions do not approach this in the same way. The asymmetry in action reflects real differences in the dynamic of the insurgencies, and these differences also occur in sub-communities of the insurgencies. (The purpose of a CAS is what it does, not what it thinks it does.)

Right Insurgency Asymmetries

The Right drives mobilization by demanding an ideological commitment as a badge of movement and community membership. All right ideologies are organized around some idea of purity/righteousness as the source of community and personal power. Even when mobilization of this insurgency is successful, it is subject to fracture if its ideological basis of the action publicly fails, and the mobilization is more limited because of the sheer, if partly overlapping, diversity of right ideology.

The effect of such an approach is most clearly expressed in the enormous difficulty that the right insurgency has in breaking out of purely short-term tactical actions as their path forward. Trump’s election campaign was a tactical move of this sort, which became accidentally strategic because he won. We are now seeing how such a poorly framed strategy plays out. However, this failure doesn’t dismantle the local organizing and partisan build-up that has been the right insurgency model for the last half-century.

I think the right insurgency will fall back on its strength (organizing locally among the committed and building up from there) to try to preserve the mobilization it has worked so hard to build, or at least defend what it won in the last few years. As the left and elites come to believe that they have taken the oxygen out of the right insurgency’s strategy, they will fall back into the pattern that got the left (and the elites) into their current state of strategic confusion and relative ineffectiveness.

 Exactly the same dynamic happened one generation after the Civil War, when the North came to ignore the South. The KKK, White Citizens’ Councils, and Jim Crow Laws started the South back up the hill in their apparently never-ending effort to control and exploit all who aren’t young white male aristocrats.

Left Insurgency Asymmetries

Left insurgent ideologies are organized around identities and the CAS that is Intersectionality. Such an approach requires continuous negotiation and entanglement of the various sub-communities without any consensus on ideology; the negotiation isn’t aimed at eliminating difference. Ideally, negotiation would create mutual trust and respect.

The left insurgency views the community as the source of power, seen as an ideal community of mutually respectful and mutually supporting members. This mutuality is aspirational, and must be constantly negotiated and renegotiated as each sub-community develops culturally, and uses that deeper understanding to deepen negotiation, until mutual respect and trust is part of the bones of the macro-community.

I believe that this negotiation is fractal, which is to say, going on at every level of social organization all the time, including inside each individual. Although the negotiation has no end, and causes mobilization problems for the left insurgency, it is a remarkably resilient dynamic, and allows the left insurgency to expand its reach regardless of the particulars on the current political, financial, and social situation, the behavior of the other insurgencies in the simple model, or the superficial calculus of power that pervades our media as exemplars of Elite political fashion of the day.

Mutual Interpretation of Others by the Insurgencies

The Elites and the Insurgencies interpret their opponents according to their fundamental assumptions about themselves.

Our Elites continue to use the trope of “let them eat cake”, and generally ignore the insurgencies, as long as their wealth, reputation, and power aren’t notably affected. When they are affected, they do the least they think they can get away with (because doing anything more soaks up resources that could be better spent on enhancing elite wealth, reputation, and power), so as to preserve and defend what they have. They view all of us as incompetent versions of themselves, largely beneath their notice.

The left insurgency interprets the right as driven by a single identity (white supremacy) and as a poor cousin of the Elites. The left views the ideology as no more than a tool to privilege one identity.

The right insurgency interprets the left as a single movement driven by a common ideology (Antifa right now). This “ideology” is no more to the right than an effort to steal the assets and resources of the right insurgency and the Elites.

(Note: It doesn’t matter if these perceptions by any insurgency of others are accurate to any extent. They will fail to support effective decision-making because they are too superficial, and very poor guides to the change choices made by the various insurgencies.)

These interpretations of opponents have the effect of attributing symmetry to the struggle, when that symmetry does not exist. The dynamic of the whole CAS is not these perceived symmetries in motivation, but the actual asymmetries of their interests and the impact that it has on day-to-day decision-making and the evolving dynamic of the macro-CAS.

Part Six: Where has all the empathy gone? Long time passing….

Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Five

Relentless Sabotage

The result of the four dynamic characteristics of the Macro-CAS, the dynamism of the metaphors for the evolving web of meaning, and the simple ongoing reality of insurgency, including insurgency within the centrist elites, is relentless sabotage:

  • Highly granular individual acts, and small group acts, undermine the coherence of the Macro-CAS (which includes the centrist elites and all the insurgencies), and disrupt its ability to reproduce what it has done in the past.
  • These same acts undermine the ability of the Macro-CAS to repair the damage. Instead of repair, the Macro-CAS adapts, as best it can, to recover what it was doing before disruption. This adaptation always leaves some trace of the disruption as the Macro-CAS moves into its future. Over time, this impact accumulates to alter the CAS dynamic.
  • There is no need for an organized larger scale political community representing any of the insurgencies and sub-insurgencies to keep things changing. Such communities will come and go. The real index of the long-term impact of insurgencies is whether there is an increase in the disruptive habits of individuals who are willing to sabotage the centrist elite system and the various insurgency systems and subsystems. Violence and similar acts come and go, but the drive to sabotage expands incrementally at a low level of granularity, and more or less irreversibly.
  • Sabotage becomes a habit, almost automatic, as experience and the expansion of meaning (beliefs, principles, sheer habitual actions becoming more and more automatic, etc.) associated with that sabotage experience, becomes more and more a part of the daily life of the individual, and an influence on others who might be temporarily socially synchronized (i.e., part of some community).
  • Sabotage reflects its immediate motivation and isn’t necessarily positive or negative. Rather, all sabotage is an attempt to perturb the system or insurgency of focus and cause some change in it.

It would be a fair statement that most people in our society practice sabotage daily in their respective communities. This reality is ignored because of the belief that such small acts wash out their impact on the Macro-CAS quickly.

I believe that the relentless nature of the sabotage, however futile each act’s immediate consequences might seem to be, has an impact on the long-term disposition of the Macro-CAS and its future states.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Part Six: How do the insurgencies relate to one another in their relentless sabotage?

Part Four: The Macro-CAS as a Turbulent Web of Meaning

The idea of a web of meaning as a more realistic vision of how a CAS evolves has been gaining depth beyond the obvious metaphor for a number of years.  A web of meaning is more like a field in which novel possibilities arise than, for example, some deductive rules-based model or an ideological approach to understanding a CAS.

Here the word field isn’t used in any scientific way. Rather, a field of meaning is one where unseen interaction produces novelty and disruption as a normal part of its dynamic. You can think of novelty as a variation that pops up, maybe disappears (like virtual particles), or may dynamically impact the ongoing evolution of the field.

In addition to the metaphor of a field, the flow of a river gives some insight into the evolution of a web of meaning.

As anyone who has watched a river in spring knows, the apparent chaos of the river’s flow is deceptive. The turbulence seems unknowable at first glance, but there are rough patterns for eddies and other forms of turbulence. In fact, people who embrace the extreme sports of travel in river turbulence become adept at navigating the apparent chaos. (There are lessons from the development of rough water expertise for our efforts to change that I leave for a later post.) If we think of meaning as illustrating the dynamic flow in a CAS, the patterns of meaning in the turbulence take on changing possibilities and changing roles in the understanding of our Macro-CAS of sabotage.

Turbulence in a river represents the large-scale correlation of water molecules acting as roughly coherent, if temporary, flows. The turbulence is not made up of static parts, obviously. But we often treat it as though it is when we talk about it. The same is true of the insurgent turbulence.  Simple conversation can ignore the reality of flow, but if we persist in “objectifying” turbulence for conversational convenience, we will make many bad choices in trying to alter the flow of the insurgency CAS.

The point of this post is really to get us to see the need for engaging those flows, to develop in our systems change efforts the intuitions and skills that are second nature to rough water sports enthusiasts in their engagement with turbulence. The context of the further posts in this series is this understanding of turbulence and our need to engage it if we wish to have some say over the direction of the evolving Macro-CAS.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three




Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Three

We all have a learned bias that the purpose of an insurgency is to overthrow an existing political process or governance entity. Certainly, that is the focus of real-world, leadership-driven insurgent action. But it is not their purpose.

Their purpose, as examples of CAS, is what they do, not what they say they do.

And what do they do?

They sabotage the particular system that is their focus (SOF). Because of the entanglement, they also sabotage the other systems which they ignore.

While some insurgencies try to do much more, it is the purpose of sabotage, in all its many dimensions, that maintains an insurgency over long periods of time, and allows it to recover from defeats. Sabotage is the core of insurgent resilience.

How does this sabotage-based resilience express itself?

  • Insurgencies are fractal
  • Insurgencies are micro-diverse
  • Insurgencies are entangled
  • Insurgencies are possibility-spaces


A fractal system, such as an insurgency, has roughly the same amount of agency and complexity at every level of the system, even though it seems that the lower the level, the less the scope of sabotage. This principle violates the ordinary assumptions we use in understanding the nature of social reality. With the advent of global social media, we have discovered this principle in the reality that our local social communication has no boundaries, reaching far beyond what we intended or what we believe is safe.

Our notions of scope are also subject to this fractal principle. Think of looking out over, or listening to, a vast field in the distant parts of a visual or auditory scene. They will be lacking in detail. If you use binoculars, you will be able to see greater detail. If you use a hearing device, you will be able to identify the nature of the sounds you are hearing. If you move closer, more understanding is apparent.

An insurgency is like this idea of scope, distance, and detail. As you get closer to the “lower” levels of the insurgent system, you will see greater detail and a more nuanced impact from the insurgent activity than you could see at the so-called “higher” level.

As an example of how fractal models operate, think of the current pandemic, often described as a single event or process (with identifiable surges, for example), but actually consisting of an extremely large number of local epidemics that start, rise and fall off with a lot of foggy independence and boundaries, and an only apparent overall coherence.

It is an illusion to think that an insurgency can be defeated by focusing effort on the highest levels of leadership, their orchestrated violent acts, their methods for funding themselves, their ideologies. As the repeated elite success in accomplishing the defeat of these highest levels shows, any insurgency continues to boil below, and will break out again with a new set of leaders, ideologies, and violent acts when enough energy to do so has built up. This energy can simmer through very local, very granular sabotage by individuals and small groups that are not immediately controlled by any hierarchy.

The centrist elite CAS (whose job it is to preserve the elite CAS by defeating the large-scale insurgent action) believes, as it does in so many other areas, that defeating the management of the insurgency (their leadership, ideology, and large-scale acts) is the same as defeating the insurgency. Elites must believe this, or face very difficult questions about their ability to gain and hold wealth, power, and reputation. See “How tech’s richest plan to save themselves after the apocalypse”.

But any action (like the ones described above) that doesn’t directly undermine the resilience of an insurgency will only solve some immediate short term political problem. It won’t affect the continuing small incremental changes in the elite CAS and other insurgencies that result from the relentless sabotage arising at every level and across the insurgent universe.

There is simply no way to eliminate sabotage, which is the unstated impossible goal of the relentless search for more control that has been the implicit mission of social elites (along with the explicit missions of ever-increasing wealth, fame, and power). This is the deep weakness of the goal of “managing” insurgencies.


All CAS that function in the real world are micro-diverse. For our purposes, this means that they create many small variations as part of their CAS dynamic, and they auto-create more variation over time without explicit plan or external control.

Variation and micro-diversity are not only unavoidable, but are an important part of any CAS’s resilience. This clearly apparent in the resilience of insurgencies.

For example, “Lone-wolf terrorism” is one weak, appallingly limited, recognition by the elite CAS that micro-diversity in insurgencies is a real and difficult problem. For the elite CAS, micro-variations must always be cognitively and politically washed out by one another, so that only the problems important to elites remain and, thus, can be “managed”.

The trend of incrementally increasing CAS disruption through this uncontrolled variation has no place in such an elite strategy. Supposedly, important variation can’t happen at low level, or at least not very often, only ignorable or controllable variation.


Micro-diversity means that neither the insurgencies nor the elite CAS can be pure, in any meaning of that word. For example, each member of an insurgency has a partially overlapping but different set of beliefs and a different background-basically, a huge and ever-growing micro-diversity that includes various beliefs from the centrist elites’ and the other insurgencies’ lexicons. Management of this unavoidable and continuing variation is part of the leadership challenge in the elite CAS and in the right and left insurgencies. But the variation will continue to spread, no matter how leadership tries (say, for example, through annual webinars, codes of conduct, office posters, and marketing the importance of alignment, or cultish, downward control over belief) to eliminate it.

If you follow social media accounts of actual people (not bots), you will find posts that do not track their current matrix of troll-triggering tropes, but that contain actions and values from the centrist and the various insurgencies. If we could follow these individuals more carefully, we would find that the variation is a lot more than appears on the surface, and that it is constantly shifting in small ways. Variation doesn’t need explanation; rather, the effort and energy unavoidably necessary to assure ideological, financial, and consistency of control is what needs to be explained.

So, for example, an election result, requiring as it does a forced choice, is not an indicator of the actual variation in the system of focus. Everyone knows this, but the temptation to “eliminate” the real variation by projecting a category on all those who pick one of the forced choices seems unavoidable. I blame elites for this illusion, and the illusion is becoming less and less usable as a tool of control.

Evolving in a Possibility-Space

Every intention by individuals, groups, or collectives, like insurgencies, creates a possibility space for its realization. This space does not contain simple causal link paths from intention to realization (like a logic model), but rather is a kind of disposition possibility space in which many choices are “superimposed” as it were. We feel for some direction from initial intention to realization through a unique path (See Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System by Alicia Juarrero for a wonderful and deep dive into this).

In any apparently collective intention, the possibility-space will also include flows that go against the apparent intention. For example, insurgencies create their own antitheses through their current members. But they also create a large variety of other active enabling and disruptive paths from the original intention. The thing to understand about this evolution is that it can’t be predicted in any detail, and not being able to grasp this results in surprising and unintended consequences.

All four of these dimensions interact with one another as well, producing together an evolving Macro-CAS whose path is very uncertain. However, this CAS can be embraced as a disposition of its evolution in an entangled Web of Meaning.

Part One
Part Two

Part Four: The Macro-CAS as a Turbulent Web of Meaning