Friday, June 22, 2007

Evolving with the world

I used a post on the California Green Forum to start working out some ideas I have about grassroots democracy. I was responding to a thoughtful friend of mine from very NoCal, Bernie Macdonald. In my typical fashion, I had at least one typo that confused a reader enough to ask me for a clarification. What I will do here is to cut and past from all of that and see if I can assemble something that is worth reading.. and thinking about.

Bernie had commented about where GPCA "business" was being conducted.
Also, as the working groups are essentially inactive due to lack of adequate participation, what means do you suggest to increase interest and activity of this vital function?
I was quick to make the point that some of the responsibility lay not with the individuals who failed to join in the Working Groups, but rather in a lack of leadership in those groups. While some (Campaigns and Candidates Working Group, Platform Committee, Media Committee) have effective leadership, some others do not and those are the ones that suffer most from lack of participation.
I would again, respectfully disagree. The lack of adequate participation is directly tied to the lack of leadership ( I sound like a shill for Mr. DeLear, but maybe I use leadership in a different context.) When faced with a task, if leaders lead, work gets done and people do step up.

Perhaps it might help to read book "The Embodied Mind" (Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch). According to Varela, "Mind and World arise together." Maybe it is not yet time for Gaia. Maybe it is. Maybe we need a leadership who can articulate that vision of the world so that we can all understand what needs to be done and why we need to change along with the world. Those who would remake the world in their own image or die trying just might.

For those with enough time, it is well worth reading first "The Web of Life" by Fritjof Capra (popularized) and then to read The Embodied Mind (dense). It would help comprehension of why this is an increasingly complex work and how we need to change to deal with it, if we can.

There are no simple answers to handling complexity and the often talked about grassroots basis for the Green Party is one of the more complex examples of emerging systems that we have in the sphere of politics. I would also suggest that such a system will only arise through the dedicated efforts of those few who are willing to study the processes is all of their complexities and to learn to make all of the connections.

Maybe, Bernie, your idea of a social forum is the right tool to be using for this But, that requires that the users be dedicated to achieving the result and not to proselytizing for one one answers or another. My years of religious study (Och Tamale) taught me to value those who are on the quest and to distrust those who claim to know the answer.

Just maybe, if we put the tools of this discussion to use against a practical problem of the exercise of political will, we might have a better chance to achieve something of lasting value as opposed to arguing about cabals and PACS. Just maybe, if we articulated why the current prison system is a failure and came up with a truly better solution to these problems of good and evil, resurrection or retribution, we might begin to attract more adherents. Just maybe, if we could show that there is a real benefit to community driven economics, we might have less community caused strife or night of violence on our streets.
Someone wrote to me and asked about Gaia and what was meant by that reference. They also pointed out a type in the last sentence of the paragraph, which I fixed, above. I will answer the Gaia question as I replied earlier this AM.
Gaia has a number of layered meanings, all of which were meant.

Gaia was the Earth Goddess or Mother Earth of ancient Greek Mythology.

Gaia is an ecological hypothesis that the living and nonliving parts of the earth are viewed as a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.

Gaia was a planet created in Isaac Asimov's Empire series of novers that behaved on the cognitive level according to the Gaia hypothesis... all living elements of the plant shared experience, both joy and pain, as well as thought.

If you take the Varela quote that I used earlier in the post, that Mind and World arise together, then you have to face the fact that the successful organism (organization) must develop as the world (society) develops. While it is great to push toward some ideal mode of joint decision making, it is part of the developing world but, to insist on nothing but that process will ultimately fail if the rest of the world (society) is not there yet. There is a tension here that needs resolution or the organism (GPCA) may die.
And here I will snip out my confession regarding my typo and include the rest of that note.
To focus on the process at the expense of the goal is to invite the criticism of the Cheshire Cat.

"Which road should I take?" she asked the cat.

"Where do you want to get to?" the cat asked helpfully.

"I don't know," admitted Alice.

"Then," advised the cat, "any road will take you there."

I believe that the failure to understand the nature of self-organizing systems is at the heart of why the GP has failed to achieve it's dream of grassroots participation and why GDI proved to be not the solution some hoped it would be. In nature (society?) the principles of self-organization come into effect primarily in systems that are far from equilibrium. Consensus is a means of maintaining (or restoring) equilibrium.
I have been trying, in various way, to change a discussion of things like email list etiquette and styles of leadership or decision making into a discussion of basic aims or goals in pursuit of which that leadership will emerge with whatever style of decision making is appropriate to that time and place. There is a dissonance when things are out of synch with each other as they are now.


Lisa said...

Thanks for your input on this, Wes. Yes, we have an unhealthy dynamic in the GPCA that I believe is partly due to the nature of email.

How did activists organize before email? Well they used leaflets, phoning, meetings and more personal interaction. The Vietnam War was ended without email.

I have a love/hate relationship with email. I participate in the GCF forum because there are PEOPLE there, and dialogue which I need (nothing depresses me more than an inactive listserve)-- though it can be overloading at times, and exacerbating and to use my favorite term--AMPLIFIED--issues and emotions get amplified way out of frickin proportion as I like to say.

There is actually a lot of very good work being done at the local and county level in the Green Party, which you would hardly know if you enter some of our state lists.

The feeling I have after my local Los Angeles City Greens meeting or a phone conversation organizing a local impeachment event with a fellow Green, is energizing, an emotion I seldom experience on email.

For me, I'm trying to follow that Riseup list adage more: Get off the Internet, I'll see you in the streets!

Orval Osborne said...

This is a fascinating topic, one that deserves a longer response than a conventional blog post. Have you thought of writing a longer piece on it? Or at least would you consider laying out your ideas on what you would like to see. For instance, how can the Green Party invite more participation in our activities, such as our many committees and working groups? How much do we expect from folks who step forward and demonstrate leadership? Are they to make up for everyone else's minimal activities?
I say this as a somewhat jaded former Chair of the Campaigns and Candidates Working Group (CCWG). Most of the people wanted to tell me what to do, and few were willing to do anything of real value. So I started disregarding the armchair critics, and looked for volunteers who were willing to do what needed to be done. The Working Group was effective, but there was a huge unrealized potential. I believe it arises from the lack of responsibility and laziness so widespread in our society. I know these attitudes are perpetuated because they are useful to an ownership class that wants to control us easily. But they are not effective in crafting an alternative. Much of the problem stems from the reliance on volunteers, rather than on hired staff. I often did things at the last minute because I have a life and the CCWG work had to wait until I was ready to do it. This last-minute aspect reduces the ability of volunteers to get involved. So it was a vicious circle: too much work for the few, too many people not doing what needed to be done.
Well, I can't write a nice ending right now. But I would be interested in hearing you elaborate on how we can improve the Green Party, in particular how we can better involve people who at least say they want to help.