Interdependence

The key to maintaining a community for any length of time is interdependence. There are several different kinds of interdependence and ways of creating it. But without interdependence a community is no more than a social club, and as prone to falling apart from strife as any social club.

Some of the weaker forms of interdependence include Fantasy Interdependence, were the group is encouraged to imagine themselves striving together against an enemy or towards an important goal. Another weak form is Organization Interdependence where the people are put together in the same organizational structure and therefore have to work together. While these can be somewhat useful, stronger forms of interdependence will be necessary for the long term sustainability of any community.

One of the strongest forms of interdependence is Enemy Interdependence. This is where a group of people see themselves as being together against a common enemy. This is, as we all know, a very effective means of getting people to work together. However, it has several very real dangers. First, the interdependence is based on there being enemy. If the enemy goes away, so does the interdependence. Also, such a form of interdependence discourages dissent. Polite, well thought-out disagreement is vital for a community to be sufficiently adaptable to survive in the long term. Without it the community will stagnate, and when faced with a new problem, it will fall. But, when faced with a enemy it is easy to discard such disagreements until later, or worse, to consider all such disagreements as weakening the community, or strengthening the enemy. The third biggest problem with Enemy Interdependence is that sometimes the enemy wins.

The form of interdependence that has the potential to be the strongest is Need Interdependence. In this form the interdependence is created by the members of the community needing each other to obtain something they need. The more fundamental the need, the stronger the interdependence. So, if the community members need each other to obtain their necessities of life, it will be as strong as it can be. Assuming they aren’t in a spaceship and need each other for oxygen. This form of interdependence is most easily created by insisting on the community being self-sufficient. In other words, all of the needs of the members of the community (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc) are all made from beginning to end by the community itself. So if a member of the community wishes to rebel, they would be well advised to not go so far as to jeopardize the community, otherwise they may starve to death.

Interdependence is necessary to get communities through rough times, where it may otherwise be easier to simply quit. By removing the option of quitting, because their source of food comes from the community, the community members will maintain. Also, in the case of strong disagreement, all members of the community will be most interested in repairing the rift in the community, rather than winning. After all, what does it matter who “wins” if neither side will eat? The community must be maintained. This also changes the goal of handling “crime.” “Justice” ceases to be about punishing the guilty, and becomes primarily about healing the damage done to the community. Which may or may not involve punishing the guilty.

-Benjamin Shender

Matrix Organization

There are many ways to organize groups of people. Generally, these tend to fall into one of four general categories. These are hierarchy, anarchy, rhizome, and matrix. Most people are familiar with the first. The second is fairly commonly known, although more often then not the person simply believes they understand it. The third and fourth are becoming more popularized, but remain fairly unknown. Among those who are interested in the formation of communities, methods of group organization other than hierarchy are more commonly known, but not necessarily well understood.

The first method of organization is hierarchy. We are all fairly familiar with the basic organizational scheme of hierarchy. Each person in a hierarchy is assigned a rank in comparison to everyone else in the hierarchy. Those at the top gain the most benefits and do the least work. The people at the bottom do the most work and gain the least benefits. Unfortunately, most people are at the bottom. Hierarchy innately causes a disconnect between people in a hierarchy. This disconnect causes feelings of alienation and anomie. Hierarchy also necessitates slavery to some degree. The most advanced civilizations tend to export their slave labor, but it is never done away with.

Despite poplar opinion among people interested in community, hierarchy does offer some advantages. First, hierarchy is more efficient at performing mundane, repetitive tasks. It does stifle creativity, and it does exhibit slow information transfer and response time when compared to organizational schemes in which everyone is equal. But for tasks relying on methodical precision without variation, hierarchies organize people more effectively than any of the other methods.

Hierarchies also allow a group of people to effectively overcome Dunbar’s Number. Since each individual member only needs to be aware of the people immediately above and below them in the hierarchy, the whole of the hierarchy can consist of more than 150 people without any individual person having to know more than 150 people.

Anarchy is, literally, without leaders. Arkhos being the Greek word for ruler, and “an-” is a prefix meaning without. Anarchy is not synonymous with chaos. Anarchy comes from chaos. The theory is, essentially, people without rules or structures will form social taboos and mores to form themselves into egalitarian groups. Ultimately, anarchies begin as chaos and end up as one of the other three schemes for organizing groups of people. Anarchy is a middle step that is occasionally used rather than a destination.

Rhizome is a network of loosely related, independent nodes. As such, organizing a community internally as a rhizome is impossible. A community is, by definition, a group of interdependent nodes (typically each node is a person). Whereas a rhizome is, by definition, independent nodes. These two states are mutually exclusive.

It maybe possible to organize a group of communities together in the format of a rhizome, indeed this may be ideal. A rhizome organization scheme cannot have slaves as members of the rhizome without ceasing to be rhizome. It also ensures individual freedom for each node. Theoretically, it can offer faster information transfer and response time than any other methodology.

However, there are two features limiting the usefulness of rhizome. First, a group of communities organized as a rhizome have no unifying principle or structure. This means they have tremendous difficulty working in concert. It would take an immense outside force working against the interests of every part of the rhizome to motivate them to work together. Some people may not see this as a problem, while others will.

Secondly, rhizome is completely subject to Dunbar’s Number. The whole of a true rhizome cannot be larger than 150. Only by introducing some elements of hierarchy can this limitation be overcome. Such an element maybe a charismatic leader, an authoritarian, or some other element. But if the leader has power over the system, the system is no longer a rhizome. It has either become a hierarchy or a mixed rhizome. Mixed rhizomes tend to either develop into true hierarchies over time, or else completely disintegrate into a chaotic or anarchistic state. This depends on whether or not the person exerting power can effectively maintain it throughout their lives and whether or not they can transfer that power after their deaths.

Matrix organizations require interdependence to properly function, the same as a community. In a matrix scheme there is rotating leadership based on proficiency in regards to the specific task being undertaken by the group. So, if the community is building a structure, the community’s best architect is the “boss.” Everyone follows the lead of the best architect because he is the most competent to organize the effort. Not out of some variation of coercion. This helps prevent the problem of the “boss” having limited or no competency in the task they are leading the group to accomplish. Also, no one takes advantage of their position as leader, because when dinner rolls around, the best cook is going to be in charge. And tomorrow the architect is helping to make clothing, and the best seamstress will be in charge. The secret of this structure is that everyone in the structure is generally competent in everything the group does. Some people simply have additional skill in certain fields.

In matrix organization, Dunbar’s Number serves as a limitation of efficiency rather than a limitation of size. After 150 people members of the group may begin to question whether or not the person “in charge” is actually the best possible person. After all, they no longer necessarily know each other. So, internally to a community a limit of 150 people is still preferable.

In between communities, matrix organization allows for the various communities to be interdependent, which encourages them to work more closely together. The problem with having so many people in a matrix organization is finding a non-hierarchal method for picking who will take lead on a particular project.

One way is to have a group of people whose job it is to keep records of everyone and to select the boss. But this creates a hierarchal structure out of matrix structure.

A better way might be to introduce occupational societies. Obtaining the highest levels of competency in some fields requires considerable training. This training is best provided by people who are themselves very competent in the field being taught. An occupational society, consisting of everyone in all the various communities who have a high level of competence in a given field would be ideal for the teaching of people interested in that field. But, more fundamentally, if one or more communities wants to build a monument, they no longer need to know who would be the best choice to lead the design and construction of the monument. They only need to know they should ask the occupational society responsible for building monuments. Then the occupational society picks from amongst themselves who is the best choice to take the lead on the new project.

This way everyone in every community only needs to know the societies and what they do. There is no need to know everyone individually, without relying on a central authority to tell someone to obey. And so Dunbar’s number does not cause problems.

Typically I am in favor of matrix organizational schemes internally to communities. Between communities either rhizome or matrix will probably be the best choice. The question is whether the communities in question will be in the same over-all organization or whether they are simply trading partners.

-Benjamin Shender

Authority and Leadership

Are not the same thing. That's just to get us off on the right foot. A leader is a person whose charisma helps them to guide a group of people in a direction they believe is desirable. Someone with authority uses their power to guide a group of people in a direction they believe is desirable. The key difference is, of course, power. If a person has the ability force a person to perform a certain act, or the ability to otherwise coerce them, than that person is an authoritarian. They may also be a leader, but they are definitely an authoritarian. A leader guides people by the infectious nature of their vision. People want to follow them, but they are perfectly free not to. This freedom must include the clause "with no negative repercussions applied by the leader or the group," otherwise the leader is also an authoritarian.

There is no small question as to whether there is such a thing as a leader exclusive of authority. After all, peer-pressure is a form of coercion. And, if someone really is a leader, than a small minority opposed may feel oppressed by the majority's agreement.

I would tend to believe that there are several factors that would help to prevent authoritarian behavior, at least for the most part. Firstly, if everyone in the group feels comfortable and unconditionally accepted then expressing a dissenting viewpoint becomes easier. Secondly, if the leader is not in a threatening position than people are less likely to feel threatened by the leader. Third, the leader needs to be willing to be wrong. The third seems odd, but, as long as the leader is willing to be wrong, the leader is inherently willing to accept other people's viewpoints. And that means that expressing an opposing opinion might ultimately change the leader's mind, which would help shift the group's direction. So if you are in disagreement, expressing that disagreement might not be wasteful or counter-productive.

An authoritarian can most readily be recognized by how they make their decisions. Sometimes there is little to no discussion, or the discussion begins with a foregone conclusion. Also, an authoritarian will guide the group with negative motivation. "Do what I say or you will be removed from the group," and such are common phrases. This leaves people in a bad position. They often feel that they are the only ones who disagree, and that they must comply or be exiled. Ultimately, this means that the only way to really oppose an authoritarian is with the support of a sizable percentage of the group. Usually an authoritarian will speak of betrayal in this case. A true leader would not, as a disagreement is never a betrayal unless there is an expectation of being followed and obeyed.

-Benjamin Shender

Creating a New World, a How To from the Aftermath

Forming a new world, a new culture, is not an easy task. If it were it would already be done. It takes time, conviction, imagination, and people willing to put themselves on the line in order to achieve it. But it is not without its benefits, both long term and immediate.

The long term benefits are obvious. Social support structures. Greater security. And, in the case of a crash, a higher probability of survival. These tend to be greatly valued, but the initial cost in time, effort, and creativity tends to lead many people to conclude that it is not worth the cost.

The short term benefits are often over-looked, a mistake in my opinion. These benefits include social support structures and greater security. They also include the more ephemeral benefits of feeling successful, productive, and being with friends. There is also a substantial benefit regarding mental health. That social support structures contribute to both the healing and maintenance of mental illnesses is well known in psychological circles.

This still leaves us with the all-important how. This is where imagination comes into play. The ultimate goals of people who want a new way of life tend to be similar: a culture and society that promotes human interaction and creativity. But how to go about doing this seems to allude us by and large. Most of the experiments tried to date have failed. When we look at these failures we tend to see a common strain: they were based on the idea that people would become better. People will not magically become any better, the situation they live in will become better, but that is not the same thing.

People can always be counted on to say thoughtless things, to misunderstand, etc. These things just are, and they need to be figured into the equation. Ways to work with these tendencies are numerous, but simple. Below are several.

1) Write everything down. Gentlemen's agreements are wonderful, but how can you be sure that, one, everyone is agreeing to the same thing, and two, that everyone will remember the agreement in the same way? Write down the agreement and both problems are nipped in the bud.

2) Communicate, talk about feelings, confront problems. Avoiding these things causes a festering of discomfort and animosity among the group. Conflicts cannot be avoided, and trying to avoid them only ensures that they cannot be solved without a full-out fight.

3) Do not ignore monetary and other physical concerns. It is something of a habit among people searching for a better world to ignore the logistics of living in this one: don't. People get funny about money, even those who otherwise despise it. Assume nothing if it deals with money. Write it down and make sure there are at least three copies: one for each party and another with a disinterested third-party.

4) Mix your business and personal lives. A self-contained group of people with their own culture has a very specific name: tribe. A tribe has two aspects, if either is missing then it is not a tribe. A tribe is a community and a tribe obtains and provides for it's members. If it is just a community, then it is commune, a social club, or a cult. If it is just a way of providing for it's members than it is a business. A tribe is both. Which offers many advantages, including a support network that extends into your working life. It also helps to force people to workout their problems in the community. If two people in a tribe have a problem with each other they have to work it out, they need each other in order to continue making a living. If the making a living aspects are not yet capable of fully providing for everyone's needs then any extra job that people have on the side needs to be considered as such. Not their real job, just something extra to make ends meet. Otherwise their priorities will be skewed and the tribe will suffer.

5) Remember you are creating a community, not a business. Anything that hinders community needs to be avoided. This is the key to whole paradigm.

6) Make sure you always time to hangout in a group. Schedule a dinner once a week, or have a regularly scheduled outing. This should be beyond anything related to decision-making or work. If someone cannot make it one week, for whatever reason, then set their place setting anyway. More so than someone saying "too bad Bob couldn't make it," having a Bob-shaped hole at the table strikes it home that Bob is missing.

7) Just do it. Do it gradually, jumping in too fast can be shocking. But do it. All theory and no practice makes for a dull, and typically short, life.

These are just my suggestions for handling some of the problems that tend to arise. Feel free to take, adapt, discard, ignore, or criticize any and all of them. Add your own if you want. Share your experiences and thoughts. This is a very important part of many of the more positive visions we'll be sharing here, so please contribute. Further reading on this topic is available. Creating A Life Together by Diana Leafe Christian and Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn are some of the biggest ones.

-Benjamin Shender