=By= C Maukonen
This article and review addresses the issue of, and the need for, community in order to survive the ravages of capitalism. The book that C Mauken includes at length is 150 Strong: A guide to community by Rob O’Grady with forward by Dmitry Orlov. “Dunbar’s number” – an estimate of the maximum workable community size – is 150 members (approximately). So O’Grady is basing his thoughts on community within the context of the research by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, based upon his study of stable primate groups. – rw
I’m going to come right out and say it. The United States, or rather the Imperial land that likes to call itself the USA, is finished; kaput; had it; circling the drain and down the sewer hole. But then it was doomed to begin with. Beginning as a new place for forced indentured servitude, evolving into a collection of capitalists who wanted to do what ever they damn well pleased by killing any natives, stealing their land, and resources, and everything else. A collection of thieves and cut throats that no one in Europe wanted around any more; religious fanatics and robber barons.
The only reason it even appeared to function is because each semi-autonomous collection of malcontents was mostly unaware of and unconcerned by other collections of malcontents so long as they left each other alone.
One of the reasons everyone appeared to get along so well for so long is that most of us were only aware of, and concerned with, our own communities. The technology was still too primitive for it to be otherwise. This did not really begin to change until the late 1960s and early 1970s with satellite and transistor television and other communications.
Humans are social animals, but we have a built in limit to how social we can realistically be. This limit is known as Dunbar’s number.
Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.
This has been heavily researched by sociologists, anthropologists, biologists … and it rings just as true today as it ever has. Simply put, had the killings that occurred in Orlando Florida had happened in say…. 1957, chances are few people outside of the central Florida area would have even heard about them let alone really given a wet slap. That is the truth. Unless the story some how made it to a major news outlet, it simply would not have been reported anywhere else. People in general are mainly concerned about what is going on in their own family and local community, and if they are at all concerned about that is happening outside of this, it’s because they want to know how it may or may not affect their family and community. That is why it has been said “All politics are local”. So it’s only natural for those who live in Pella, Iowa not to be terribly concerned about those in Flint, Michigan, or outside of Pella for that matter. And to those who insist that we are “all connected” I say no…we are not all connected. It simply is not possible. Dunbar’s number says so.
So what can we do about this, especially in light of the fact that we all will sooner or later be without the systems we have come to depend on as the Empire collapses around our ears?
We need to form communities and learn to rely on them for our support and to support them. This means having a major change in attitude. We must give up on the individualistic, competitive, capitalist way of living. We are not each islands. We must learn to help each other in our communities and accept help as well.
EDITH: And you don’t want to talk about it? Why? Did you do something wrong? Are you afraid of something? Whatever it is, let me help.
KIRK: “Let me help.” A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over I love you.
Here then is a guide to help bring about a society that will benefit those in a community. All of this has been garnered from Dmitri Orlov’s book Communities That Abide. Which I also recommend reading, with out any judgement of those profiled with in.
150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future – Serialisation
Creative capitalism, ethical capitalism, altruistic capitalism, natural capitalism, green capitalism, distributed and democratic capitalism. Capitalism 2.0?
Capitalism comes with a potpourri of sweet-scented prefixes, all of which presume that there is something wrong with capitalism per se. There are some other prefixes we commonly hear—crony capitalism and unbridled capitalism—that suggest that we aren’t doing it right.
Perhaps it is Goldilocks capitalism we need? Not too mean, with just the right amount of good will and charity, a measured dose of state regulation, a safety net – not too big and not too small, and the rest left to the free market?
Or is capitalism just capitalism in the context of people being people? The system swings between the poles of libertarianism and social democracy according to the changing tides of voter opinion. Some capitalists have more feeling for their fellow humans than others, while there are always greedy, selfish sorts lurking to do one over the rest of us, and certain trends are inevitable according to the incentive structure inherent in the system.
It is this last point, that outcomes tend to be inevitable according to the incentive structure operating, that serves as the starting point for a book I have recently written, titled 150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future, published by ClubOrlov Press. Over the coming weeks it will be serialised on Renegade Inc, with extracts presented.
On the topic of incentives, the book begins with an Author’s Note:
This book began as a response to the use of the word “sustainability,” a concept I became connected to through my training in sustainability engineering: the design and incorporation of environmentally-friendly practices into commerce and industry. It is based on principles such as these:
- When one cuts down a tree, plant a new one.
- We should try to use the waste from one process as a resource for another.
- Polluters should bear the costs of their actions.
All of these seem like good and logical ideas. But there is a rather significant problem in attempting to work in this way, because the greater context in which such efforts are currently being made reduces them to a farce: our current system of economics, which encourages short term accumulation of financial profit, is fundamentally incompatible with sustainability. This, to use a colorful colloquialism, makes such efforts akin to “farting against thunder.”
That is not to say that profit is inherently a negative thing. The creation of a financial surplus, in its most earnest expression, could be equated with prudent and efficient house-holding.But if nature is to serve as our model, then we can see something of how our current approach to profit has become problematic.
The accumulation of a surplus is a natural process: a plant accumulates surplus energy and nutrients to be able to bear fruit; a polar bear accumulates a surplus in the form of body fat which enables it to survive the winter; and our hunter-gatherer ancestors collected a surplus of food so that they would be able to survive in lean times.But in the monomaniacal pursuit of profit that we are engaged in at present, there is little that is natural about it,little sensitivity to the intricacies of the environmental and social systems that sustain us.
The reason for this can be deduced from a simple formula:Profit = Income – Expenses
From which we can see that the profit motive and the “sustainability motive” are diametrically opposed:If sustainability initiatives were to truly succeed beyond the narrow realms of such things as waste minimization and embracing new technology, they would result in less income (due to reduced consumption) and more expenses (due to the cost of mitigation measures) leading to lower profits.
This inverse relationship between profit and sustainability is hugely important, and it is the proper starting point in any effort to confront our large-scale environmental problems. Yet it is almost universally ignored in official circles, and political efforts to address sustainability issues give it almost no coverage.
In our current way of doing things, the conflict between profit and sustainability is resolved through regulation, where all must comply with certain rules that hurt profitability a little bit but avoid worse damage. And, indeed, this approach has produced many good outcomes: the air is cleaner in Los Angeles, the fish are returning to River Thames, and many large areas of undeveloped land have been protected as national parks. But, for many reasons, it is an approach that is flawed: it doesn’t handle complexity well; it breaks down when there are different laws in different countries; and it only works when there is a social context in which the law is supported and enforced.
As soon as one tries to address these problems, sustainability becomes an unapproachable subject: to address it at the big-picture level one has to address the underlying economic and social context, but that is something of a taboo. Nevertheless, there is some mainstream discussion opening up on this topic, including some positive response to Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014), and increasingly, it seems, the need to consider alternatives to our current system is being recognized.
The main message of the book is that we are blind to the significance of the reconciling force of our current system, which happens to be inherently negative, and that it is only by understanding this that we might have some chance of finding a better way of doing things, for anything else would be but tinkering around the edges.
In seeking to provide a bridge to something better, a very successful and proven system that operates with an alternative, positive reconciling force is examined. It is based on Dunbar’s number, which originates in evolutionary biology and proposes an upper limit to the number of people that humans can maintain effective social relationships with, which is approximately 150 people.
150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future – Serialisation Part 2
Q: What is the major reconciling force that governs our system of politics and economics today?
A: The profit motive.
Please make a mental note.]
When we find ourselves in need of a miracle there is a simple formula that can be applied: “Don’t panic, take stock, and do the next logical thing.” If we apply this formula, hold our course and maintain a positive outlook, the white knight of providence may intercede on our behalf.
That is not to say that the relationship between action and consequence can be avoided. There is no magic wand for the absolution of a life of feckless excess. In the case of our collective consumption binge, we have brought about the sixth mass-extinction event (to add to the previous ones, which are evident in the Earth’s geologic record), we have created a shambolic financial system of gross imbalance, and we have allowed our culture to degrade so far that a figure as flawed as that of Donald Trump has been allowed to become a credible candidate for the position of the world’s supposedly most powerful person. It would be a long way back to some semblance of a reasonable equilibrium.
But we should not give up hope. If we work through our collective karma, we might find that there is the potential for regeneration.
As far as stoic perseverance in the face of testing circumstances is concerned, we are doing this part quite well. Panic levels are low. We have taken on board recent information about the extraordinary warming of our planet, the impending financial collapse and the degeneration of our systems of government into a total farce, and have just kept going. An eerie feeling of normalcy is being maintained without much effort.
However, we seem to be falling short in “taking stock.” There isn’t much coherent thought, and the range of responses includes wilful ignorance, the formulation of well-meaning but intellectually unsound and contradictory concepts such as “sustainable development,” a general feeling of “sentimental hopefulness” that things will carry on as they have, and a “fearful lethargy” brought on by the feeling that there is nothing we can do.
Given our failure to effectively take stock of where we are at, there has been little progress in applying part three of our formula: “doing the next logical thing”.
In this second instalment of the serialisation of 150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future, we present an extract which establishes a framework for evaluating where we are from an alternative perspective. We suggest that, based on this framework, new possibilities for action might be discerned.
The title of Chapter 2 is
An Alternative Frame of Reference
Those who have been trained as engineers or scientists are predisposed to investigate problems starting from first principles: to establish what is known at the most basic level – just the facts, so to speak – and then build a conclusion based on logic. When we attempt to analyze our current system using such a method, we must first backtrack quite far, dispensing with received certainties imparted to us through various official channels which may or may not have a basis in fact. Instead, we must seek to see things from a fresh perspective, outside of the prism of ordinary thinking. And to do this systematically, we first need to establish an alternative frame of reference.
Newton’s Third Law
The laws of physics may seem an unlikely place to start when approaching an analysis of our system of economics, but Newton’s third law describes a dynamic that is universal in all systems, not just mechanical:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
This law characterizes a system in which there are three forces at work: the action, the reaction, and the organizing principle according to which this dynamic is resolved, which is the conservation of energy. This triadic interplay exists in all dynamic systems, and while in some systems it may seem chaotic, there will always be an organizing principle that reconciles the conflict between an initial impulse and its eventual negation. Its application is straightforward in the analysis of physical systems, where the organizing principles are the laws of physics, but, interestingly, it is also applicable to psychology and group dynamics, where the organizing principle may be some framework of identity, social convention or externally applied set of rules.
Let us call this organizing principle the “reconciling force.”
The Tao and Physics
The Taoist symbol of yin and yang also provides a useful context. While the introduction of a symbol from the realm of metaphysics may seem like an unusual departure in a discussion of sustainability and economics, this symbol is useful for conveying knowledge at the level of fundamentals and helpful in our aim to understand the significance of the incentive structure behind our current system.
In the symbol of the Tao, the two fields – one black, the other white – represent the pair of opposites, and ordinarily this is about as much as people would see: two opposing forces working against each other, yin and yang, action and reaction, masculine and feminine. Less obvious, but perfectly intuitive once you put your mind to it, and essential to the emergent significance of the symbol, is that it also represents a third force: the harmony that is manifested in the entire symbol, where yin and yang are held in balance, in equal proportions, which represents the organizing principle, or the reconciling force. In Taoist philosophy, without black there could be no white, and for both to exist they must be held in eternal balance by the action of the unknowable Tao.
The dynamic of action, reaction and reconciliation is also evident in the structure of an atom, where there are also three elements present: the positively-charged protons and the negatively-charged electrons interact to form stable elements, facilitated by the presence of neutrally-charged neutrons. In this example, the neutrons are the reconciling force, and from this simple triadic template comes all matter in the universe.
An Example from our Everyday Lives
Extending this triadic dynamic to human interaction, we can observe that in any situation where there is a process of initiation and negation, the same type of system is at work. Any effort to make a change in any direction always meets with a response in the form of opposition. This conflict is resolved according to the predominant organizing principle in effect at the time. Here again there are three forces at work: action, reaction and reconciliation.
One example of such a system that most of us can relate to in a human context is marriage: when two people make a commitment to share their lives together, there is an organizing principle that holds them together, whether they are aware of this or not. It is the glue that sustains the relationship, and the reference point from which a couple can resolve its differences. Be it a complex web of mutual dependence, a sense of responsibility before children and other family members or, in the worst case, a vain sense of social propriety, it is the reconciling force of their relationship.
Often the force that initially catalyzes a relationship is sexual attraction, which is a powerful and ubiquitous force of nature. But usually it is not an enduring force due to the propensity for sexual attraction to become less of a motivator when faced with more everyday stressors, like the need to keep the kitchen sink clear of dirty dishes and maintaining general household order.
Another common reconciling force in a marriage (often taking over gradually as sexual attraction fades) is the welfare of the children, where the parents meet each other halfway to reconcile their conflicting individual needs for the benefit of the whole family. The welfare of the children then becomes the predominant organizing principle.
And even in a dysfunctional marriage – for example, where the motivating force of the welfare of the children has lost its intensity – the reconciling force may be the fear of separation. Each person is afraid of becoming poorer should they part ways, or of the separation being too shameful or too difficult. In this case, the organizing principle isn’t anything particularly positive, but it does keep the two together. On the other hand, in a healthy marriage there is usually some positive ideal or shared system of belief that is the reconciling force, such as an abiding friendship underpinned by acceptance, loyalty and love.
In order to effectively take stock of our current situation it would seem important that we try and understand the workings of this dynamic in our society at present. The fundamental questions are these:
1. What is the major reconciling force that governs our system of politics and economics today?
2. What are the effects of this reconciling force?
3. If there were to be a new reconciling force, what would it be?
And it is here that I wish to make a bold statement: It would take little more than effectively answering these three questions for our lives to change for the better, for that which follows from such a basic understanding becomes inevitable.
150-Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future – Serialisation Part 3
“The more laws and commands there are,
the more thieves and robbers there will be.” Lao Tzu
Information leaked in the Panama Papers about the use of tax havens certainly supports this statement! Under the cover of the law thieves and robbers have been maintaining their privilege and ultra-wealth by being tricky. Many of them are leaders – politicians, monarchs and business executives. “I have done nothing illegal,” they say as their souls disappear a little further into a fog. And from the germ of their example a cancer grows.
Rules work best when they are kept to a minimum.
This I have seen illustrated in the context of the business I am involved in. We are a construction company employing approximately 150 people, a mix from all walks of life – old friends, relatives of workers who needed a job, qualified recruits who fitted the mold, troubled youth recommended by the courts as worthy of a second chance, odd bods and colorful characters who fell into each others’ orbits. Some are very skilled and others developing.
We operate with very few rules. The main rule is that you must be accountable for your actions among your peers. Thanks to our systems of reporting, no information remains hidden for long, and no one is allowed to hide behind the manipulation of words, duplicity or attributing blame to others. There is little need for rules when regret and shame operate for those who fall short.
It is a system that requires that participants have a personal relationship with each other, where they know each other well enough to care and to understand, beyond a superficial level, what is going on. Moderation and maturity are required, because exposing the foibles of others can be exploited as an opportunity for persecution, blame and cavilling. We have seen that if people in senior positions lead by example, rather than skirting their responsibilities, a team spirit develops, characterised by collegiality and camaraderie. And when bonds are established through shared experience and commitment to support one another, there develops real strength, far beyond that which can be forged through an impersonal and inflexible system of rules.
But operating this way requires swimming against the current. We operate in a rules-based society. To an ever-greater extent, discernment is being replaced by compliance, and it is like sinking into a swamp.
Regulation and legislation are blunt tools. Take the United Kingdom, where there exist 21,000 pieces of regulation, while the City of London is thick with corruption. It serves as an example how morality and the application of the law often diverge.
Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, reported that almost all of the two dozen collapsed civilisations he examined succumbed from diminishing returns on complexity. And there is nothing more complex than the legal system!
* * *
In this week’s excerpt from 150-Strong, we examine the operation of the law as a companion of the profit motive system:
Law as a Counterpart to the Profit Motive
In a system governed by the profit motive, where the marketplace pits rivals against each other in fierce competition, the law acts to provide a moderating context. In an environment where there is much at stake, and the spoils of victory great, it is necessary that there be rules in place to maintain some basic standards, and to prevent capitalism from degenerating into gangsterism, or worse.
For example, slavery used to be legal in many parts of the world, but is now banned by a binding international convention (at least in its most overt and blatant forms). At the opposite end of the spectrum, in England it was once a common practice for bakers to add such things as ground bones, clay and chalk to bread to keep costs down and increase profits, but now this is also illegal.
For a business, compliance with the laws is usually seen as a cost, especially when it comes to environmental regulations and labor laws. And since minimizing costs to maximize profits is part of Friedman’s ideological imperative, businesses tend to gravitate to locations where the laws are the least restrictive. As long as property and contract law are respected, fewer laws generally mean greater profits.
The Law is a Blunt Instrument
The law is based upon the interpretation of rules that are written so as to be as general as possible, but they are subsequently applied in very specific circumstances. This conceptual flaw means that laws inherently lack sensitivity and contextual nuance, and the inevitable shades of grey present in any real-world situation have to be resolved by lawyers who argue endlessly about the meanings of words, taking a lot of time and costing extravagant amounts of money. In the process, they tend to divide people into winners and losers, giving rise to feelings of loss, aggravation and resentment.
The law is based on the precise interpretation of words, making it vulnerable to exploitation by clever people who find loopholes that go against the intent of the law. This creates a culture of insincerity, in which various parties adopt positions of righteousness that are not backed up by any sense of morality, and use tortuous language to disguise their pursuit of self-interest.
The very process by which laws are formulated requires them to be complex, since the process of developing them requires many different situations to be considered, and many different contexts to be accommodated. But no matter how intricate and nuanced a piece of legislation, most situations in which it applies do not allow for intricacy or nuance. They usually involve people or companies with limited amounts of experience, competence and resources. Thus, no matter how perfect a law is in its conception, it inevitably becomes a blunt instrument in its application.
The Law Upholds Privilege
One further significant shortcoming of the law is that it is biased in favor of those with money. The cost of engaging lawyers to resolve a dispute in the courts is significant, and those with the biggest budgets – insurance companies and other large corporations – have a far greater ability to prevail in litigation than ordinary citizens. There is often a total mismatch between parties that are in disagreement. A lawsuit is a small risk for corporations, with their armies of lawyers and with millions or billions of dollars in their war chests. To battle them, private citizens may have to stake their life’s savings and commit a significant portion of their lives.
Moreover, the law provides numerous advantages to wealthy and powerful people looking to protect their interests. It is a powerful enabling medium for numerous strategies that prevail through obfuscation, deceitfulness and insincerity in the pursuit of naked self-interest. These include the use of complicated small print to shirk moral responsibility, the structuring of one’s affairs in order to avoid taxation, the evasion of personal responsibility by establishing limited liability legal vehicles and, as just mentioned, by bullying those who are poorer and thus weaker with the threat of litigation.
Lastly, the law allows for systemic, legalized corruption. Those with money and connections can usually find a way to exert undue influence on lawmakers – through political donations, lobbying and more corrupt means – to have laws enacted that favor their private interests at the expense of the public.
The Law Stifles Personal Responsibility
Finally, and paradoxically, the law also tends to stifle personal responsibility and initiative by imposing a heavy burden of compliance… Instead of nurturing self-reliance and furthering the development of good judgment, many of these regulations seek to protect people from themselves. Children – even teenagers – cannot play unattended. Blind obedience to rules and mechanically generating health and safety compliance paperwork have become more important than safety itself. For example, a school in Bristol in the United Kingdom recently banned a blind 7-year-old girl from using her cane because it constituted a trip hazard. Examples of this absurd lack of common sense abound in the culture of zealous compliance that colors most of the Western world. All of this leads to an increasingly enfeebled population, fit only for life in a climate-controlled padded cell under the watchful eye of certified, credentialed minders. The root cause of this insanity is reliance on the law as a reconciling force, while what is really needed is discretion and intelligence.
The Law is a Poor Foil for the Ills of the Profit Motive
Regulation is often put forward as a way of compensating for the numerous ills created by the profit motive. But this amounts to an attempt to use two wrongs to make a right, because, just like the profit motive itself, the law is also rooted in negativity. It is a way of setting parties apart in conflict. As noted above, it promotes insincerity, disguises the pursuit of naked self-interest, amplifies the effects of privilege, and is slow, cumbersome, expensive, imprecise and unpredictable in its application, and vulnerable to exploitation and misappropriation by the least scrupulous.
That is not to say that lawlessness should be encouraged or promoted. But at the granular level where the socials ills borne of the profit motive have to be opposed, the usefulness of the law is very limited, and recourse to it is fraught with unintended consequences.
Something beyond laws and regulations is required if there is to be real regeneration.
The Law of Attraction is a staple of motivational speakers. The premise is that thoughts determine outcomes. If you can visualize a better future, and conceive of the steps you need to take to reach it, a potential future magically pops into existence.
In reality, change requires more than positive thinking. There is a feedback loop between thinking and acting. If we think differently, we must also act differently, and only by acting differently can we hope to achieve something new. In turn, new achievements lead to new experiences, which may cause us to think even more differently, revise our plan, try acting even more differently, and so on.
One of the issues we face in addressing massive, overwhelmingly complex problems such as, just to rattle off a few, climate change, economic inequality and social and political dysfunction, is that it is hard for us even to conceive of a better way of doing things. Not knowing what to do is bad enough; not knowing what to think is even worse!
When no easy answers present themselves, one principle that can be applied is that we must begin with what is simple and directly in front of us. Small actions and real efforts serve a greater purpose than much talk and no action. From small beginnings bigger things may grow.
And what is directly in front of all of us is the way we treat others.
One unintended consequence of our current mode of living is that it has warped and perverted our interpersonal interactions. In order to be able to afford to simply inhabit the planet and satisfy our basic needs, we are required to play all sorts of contrived roles. Specifically, we are forced deal with each other according to arbitrary rules that are forced upon us.
As employees we are expected to readily lie to customers to protect our employers’ profits. As salespeople we are expected to sell things we know better than to ever want to buy. Then there is a whole category of people who work as enforcers, and are specifically paid to disregard all humane considerations and to dole out punishments without any allowance for dire personal circumstances. Vast social and financial hierarchies reward psychopathic behavior (which is regarded as professionalism) while punishing altruism and compassion (which is regarded as weakness or corruption).
Co-workers arbitrarily thrown together by managerial whim often spend more time with each other than with their own families, trapped in a world of stunted, superficial relationships that gradually erode their humanity. Parents often have no choice but to pay strangers to raise their children for them. These strangers work for a wage rather than out of love for the children, and when their contract ends, so does the bond between the child and caregiver, undermining the child’s faith in humanity. When parents do get to see their children, they are often tired and distracted, conditioning the children to treat them no better than they treat the strangers who take care of them the rest of the time.
Growing up with a constant deficit of sensitivity, sincerity, security and warmth, once they reach adulthood these children expect their relationships to be either manipulative and abusive, or regulated by contract. Their humanity becomes reduced to a set of selfish and materialistic drives. Their misshapen psyches are balanced on a knife’s edge between a morbid fear of exclusion, which drives them toward mimicry and conformism, and an unnatural, hypertrophied competitive drive that destroys their instinct for spontaneous cooperation.
When you take a step back from it all and look at it, the impression is one of a society-wide mental disorder.
But this is a syndrome that we know how to treat, at first individually, then as groups. How this can be done is explained in the following final excerpt from 150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future.
The Rule of 150
And now we arrive at the rationale for the title of this book. It relates to Dunbar’s number: 150, the approximate maximum group size within which people are able to maintain context in their relationships. The reframing of context is the all-important enabler necessary for the establishment of a new reconciling force, which is at the heart of what is necessary for real change. It is a matter of scale: attempts to reconnect people with each other and the environment, and to recontextualize their decision-making, will fail whenever this limit is exceeded.
In applying knowledge of Dunbar’s number, we can say that there is a Rule of 150 that should apply as an organizing principle to the way we structure our systems of human interaction. We should seek to orient ourselves around what is natural in our evolutionary makeup: we are a social species, we work well as small communities, and our strength is in working together.
Counter to the emphasis on the collective that follows naturally from the Rule of 150, our current profit-oriented culture promotes the success of the individual, creating a dynamic where the incentive is for people to become silos, set apart in competition, and defined by their individual economic wealth. This creates a vibration of self-protection and insecurity, which fosters isolationism and selfishness, culminating in the cult of the individual that we see celebrated in our modern culture. This situation has brought about much that is degenerate in the modern world.
But there is no need to lament this situation; we can alter it. Built into our DNA is the impulse for something better, based around the welfare and fulfillment of the collective. There is a natural human tendency to want to help others, to create a nurturing environment for our families and safety and security for our communities. Also, in most of us, there is an aspirational impulse for virtue, albeit it is often buried deep and is but a dim flicker.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a theory of human motivation. It defines five broad categories of need, usually shown as a pyramid with the most basic need at the bottom, this being the need for the satisfaction of our physical requirements for air, food, water, shelter and sleep, while the most aspirational need of self-actualization, relating to morality, creativity and acceptance, is placed at the very top.
In order of importance, these human needs are ranked as follows:
1. Physiological needs: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion.
2. Safety needs: security of body, of resources, of morality, of the family, of health, of property.
3. Love and belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy.
4. Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others.
5. Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts.
The human mind is complex, with many parallel processes happening within it at the same time, and so the satisfaction of one level of need is not necessarily a prerequisite for the fulfillment of another. But it can be loosely said that if the basic needs are met, there is greater potential for energy and effort to be devoted to addressing the others.
The significance of this theory in relation to the Rule of 150 is that belonging to a stable and supportive community provides a context for the attainment of higher aims. Such a context is necessary for us to undertake serious reform of our approach to the environment and to each other.
One of the fundamental weaknesses of the profit motive system is that it is inherently subversive of efforts to provide unconditional security and safety. This weakness manifests to different degrees; even employment in a private enterprise within a market economy can provide a measure security. But, to use the United States as an example, the fact that tens of millions are medicated (and self-medicated) for anxiety and feel the need to protect themselves with apocalyptic levels of weaponry tells us that they have an issue with insecurity. For all the material progress delivered by capitalism, observations of the cultural trends that have accompanied it suggest that there has not been a similar advancement in inner peace or fulfillment.
When people belong to a group bound together by more than mere superficialities, there is a range of mechanisms that are supportive of their human needs. It goes without saying that security must ultimately come from within, and that things such as self-esteem cannot be generated by external circumstances only. But if we understand the importance of providing a stable context in which people can find their footing in life, there is a much greater chance of positive outcomes. Parents looking to create a nurturing environment for their children, for example, are far more likely to succeed when they to have a stable income and roots within a community. Zero-hours contracts, where an employer need not guarantee employees any minimum hours of work or wages, are not consistent with this!
The Rule of 150 also means that groups must be kept small enough to remain functional and effective. When people know each other and interact regularly, there is a constant flow of subtle feedbacks, beyond words, that helps to build the fabric of a shared culture. One knows when one is in harmony with the vibration of the group or not. A verbalized thought resonates, either hanging and falling flat, or comes back amplified through body language and subtly introduced comments. The edges of each individual’s radical tendencies are constrained. Through shared experience over time, and knowledge and understanding of the other group members, a true center of gravity is created for the group to reconcile their actions.
When groups operate on this level, the need for an overt democratic process, with activities such as campaigning and voting, is mostly absent. Day-to-day discussion, consensus-based decisions made at spontaneous or scheduled meetings, and a general understanding that all are heading in the same direction, are far superior in generating forward momentum and unity. As has often been said about the process of voting, it is but “two wolves and a lamb deciding who is going to be eaten for lunch.”
The process of consensus-based decision-making is generally what occurs in a well-run medium-size business, if it has engaged employees and a positive company culture. Not all have to get along and agree, but because working there implies a certain level of performance, or a way of doing things, things generally progress in the right direction. Of course, this requires good management and a stable business environment.
Taking this microcosm of proven effectiveness and applying it to a broader context is not easy. Many of the institutions of modern life require scale. Government, while being responsible for much that is broken about our current model, is necessary for facilitating such things as the construction and operation of water treatment plants, hospitals, schools, roads and public transport systems. These require large-scale and complex inputs and cannot be executed by a small group in isolation. Scale and specialization are necessary.
The challenge is therefore to address the scourge of large scale, in terms of all the loss of context and nuance that it brings, but to retain the capacity to organize and operate collectively to address bigger needs and issues.
This is a tall order!
What we can say as a starting point, though, is that none of the current methods of operating are supportive of the Rule of 150. The trend is toward centralization, depersonalization of the processes of life, and control by rules. The Transpacific Partnership Agreement for example, which is being negotiated at the time of this writing, seeks to elevate the rights of corporations above the level of national law. Transnational businesses are being given a near-untouchable status that will prevent their regulation within a local context, which might otherwise be used to provide some system of ensuring that their activities are appropriate. This can only produce more destruction of the social fabric of society and the concomitant desecration of the environment.
If we are to embark on a journey toward something that can be considered more democratic, in the real sense, where it is not an “us” and “them” system of the leaders and the led, where there is real hope for better outcomes, we must ask ourselves in all situations: “How does this fit in with respect to the Rule of 150?”
This question must become paramount, as decisions must be made by people who maintain relationships with each other and who are engaged in their local context. It is the mechanism by which we may establish a new reconciling force to supplant the profit motive system – a crack through which the light may come in, to borrow a phrase from Leonard Cohen.
Decisions made on a financial basis only, by organizations structured around the management of finance, must be made subordinate to something that is better, more resilient and emerges on its own.
The application of this principle is twofold:
1. On a personal level we can ask ourselves: who are my 150 people?
2. On an organizational level, we can restructure our systems of interaction so that they are based around groups of 150 people.
As individuals, we can reach out to those who form part of our network of belonging, seeking to strengthen the bonds within it. And, as citizens, we can seek to reform our public institutions, making them smaller and more personal. Our inner realm needs to expand, while our outer realm contracts, until the two can meet.
It’s long I know but well worth reading completely. What all this leads up to is that our local community is far more important for our long term perpetuation and prosperity than any state of federal government. Both of which longevity is questionable at best.
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