Sunday, November 26, 2006

Horizontal Shift Of Community

I want to emphasize that I can't take full credit for the subject matter which I rant about. To do so wouldn't be very honest and would be deceiving to say the least. I can't begin to discount the importance of the interactions I've had with others nor the friendships that have been built through these interactions. I believe I am a small part of each and every one of the people who I have had the great pleasure of meeting. And our exchanges of ideas, thoughts, and experiences have made me who I am and what I believe. So I guess what I'm saying is I am basically a product of my communal environment. I have been very, very fortunate to have been befriended by some very intelligent, independently thinking folks, who believe in the people and their future. The people who have influenced me deserve much more credit than myself. At least that's what I'm telling the NSA when they come knocking! ;)

And I warned you previously that I do like to rant about communities. So here's a little more on the subject with a little background beforehand to better illustrate where all this communal thought was germinated and how it has been nurtured in order to grow.

I became involved with on-line discussions in search of answers, support, and quite honestly, for help! I first became involved due to undemocratic practices within organized labor which was mirroring the corporate business world. I was a dues paying member of a union whose authoritarian leadership left absolutely no room for democratic procedures, let alone any dissent. I found the site Members for Democracy, which is no longer active due to a lawsuit brought against the site owners by the very union that represented them, but it has been archived and the new community that grew out of the old site is now the one I've mentioned previously, uncharted. The site was originally built around some core labor union reformers who also had come face to face with the problematic union structures which had morphed into a hierarchical domination and had little to do with any grassroots member run organization. The power had been taken from the people and placed into the hands of an elite few who refused to relinquish their power.

As time went by and more and more disillusioned people flocked to the MfD site, we began to realize we had turned into a community and through our discussions, we realized that what was wrong with the unions was apparent in the rest of society as well. We could see the same theft, greed, lies, and dishonesty everywhere we looked. We realized it just wasn't about union issues anymore, but about the structures in place which kept all the people in subserviency. The community agreed that reforming the existing structures would never happen while working from inside and obeying the existing structure's rules. Therefore we began discussing alternative structures which would replace the hierarchical top-down structure which keeps the power out of the people's hands and pools it into the hands of a few. And we all agreed that a horizontal egalitarian structure made much more sense for the people and distributed responsibilities equally among the participants. This is how we began discussing and believing in the idea that communities were to be very powerful in the building of new more egalitarian social structures.

The horizontal leaderless structure which was beginning to take form within the community was very apparent and was the subject for many debates among the members. One of the contributers had this to say about the new emerging leaderless groups.
I think the point here is that there is a new force emerging that is a leaderless coalition of groups, with and without leaders, and organizations, large and small, that will emerge and, which must be reckoned with. I'm sure if "selective gravity" was a possibility and that which holds us to this ball of rock, water and soil as individuals was to let loose, our esteemed group may spin into space. Our unique perspectives would be gone, but there are others who would fill the void. We don't lead, we contribute. The world if full of worthy contributors.

Contribution! Isn't that the backbone of any community. If we contribute, however little, we are helping each other. The glue of a community is the willingness of the members to contribute, regardless how much or how little, as long as there is a willingness there is a bond within the community. And in order for there to be willingness, there has to be a concern, caring, or love of the community! Quite simply put, it has to be a home to it's contributors! And each member of the community supports the other members therefore each member is very important to the vitality and growth of the community. A friend of mine (HJ, you know who you are) once relayed this amazing little parable to illustrate how actions that may seem little to us can actually make a big difference. We were discussing social movements and change and the importance of each member of a community, and their contributions, and well this is how it goes.
Two mice were sitting watching the snow fall and settle on the branch of a tree.

First Mouse: How much does a snowflake weigh?
Second Mouse: A little less than nothing.

They continued to watch the snow falling, and eventually the snowflakes lessened and then they stopped. A final snowflake fell onto the branch of the tree. The branch creaked and snapped, and fell to the ground.

First Mouse: So a little less than nothing can make a big difference!

Each one of us is an important spoke within the wheel and each one of us can and does make a difference within the community. And in my opinion the community which thrives is the one which has a horizontal structure. One that empowers it's members through the sharing of knowledge and also the sharing of responsibilities. This is one of the great aspects of the wiki based community. Empowering people isn't a part of a vertical structure which operates on the design of a few people in charge and above other people below them. Another dear friend and I should say mentor of mine (WMP, you know who you are) has been instrumental in encouraging me to write and has greatly influenced how I think. When it comes to the shift from a vertical power structure to a more egalitarian horizontal strucutre, nobody is better versed in my opinion. As shows in the following excerpt from the piece The 21st Century Workplace: R_evolution.
A rebellion is happening. The collective consciousness of many, many people is changing and their beliefs about their purpose here on earth are shifting in a big way. As a result of this rebellion of the mind, an evolution is taking place. It's not a "revolution" - it's something more transformative and built to last. You can't undo evolution. So think of what's happening as r_evolution - as in "our evolution".

This rebellion of the mind isn't just something that's occurring in relation to work. The world is changing in very fundamental ways. Take a look at events that have occurred in the social and political spheres over the past two decades. Take a look at the past five years even and think of examples where groups of people asserted their interests - human interests - over the interests of institutions and powerful elites. Something prompted them to do that and it had to do with changing what they believe, who they trust, what they think is best for them, what kind of world they want to live in.

This social r_evolution as it's called will far surpass the changes that have been witnessed in the past in my humble opinion. And these changes will take place so much quicker than changes of old. This acceleration, which is due in large part to the introduction of the personal computer to the people, will continue on an escalated scale. Unlike the shifts of the past, this one will happen within decades rather than generations and we will feel the world shift under our feet. The individuals and institutions who have a vested interest in the dying age will do everything in their power to resist the change. But despite all that these powerful few try, our political and economical systems must change as will the functions of our educational systems, labor, corporations, and the definition of capital. As the people begin to find common ground, they will establish or join existing communities of interest. And it's these communities of interest and their links with other communities that will push the shift toward the horizontal structure of power for the people. This excerpt from the article entitled Skip the Class War relays the point about communities of interest and their unstructured nature which enables exchange.
If you want to change anything about the existing order start thinking and talking in terms of communities of interest instead of class war. There is no class war and you’re not going to start one. So alternatives are worth considering.

A far better strategy for advancing our interests is to think and act on the basis of communities of interest. At its simplest a community of interest is a group of people with common interests. The community can be large or small, geographically based or widely dispersed. The interest can be anything – an idea, a goal, a belief, project, an issue that the community wants resolved. It can be broadly or narrowly defined. Communities of Interest are unstructured communities, which enable exchange of innovation and ideas. They can be formal or ad hoc groups with similar interests or concerns across organizational boundaries. As discussion takes place, tacit knowledge, in the form of conversations, is gathered and stored for later access.

Again, I've mentioned how the growth of our communities is changing us from media consumers into media generators. This shift into media generation is changing the web and it's functionality. We are now entering the era of what has been coined as Web 2.0, which allows people and communities to more readily collaborate and share information online. As we continue to generate our own media, there is a need for new and innovative applications which will allow microcontent to be aggregated and distributed over dozens of domains. What this means is we are moving away from a few static consumer information sites into the next paradigm of the web which contains large numbers of individual information generating sites which operate entirely on a horizontal plane. This is a paramount leap for building communities for the people in my opinion. And social information will mushroom due to the changes brought about by the internet morphing into a web of data rather than a web of documents. This shift will change how our communities interact socially, culturally, and even politically.

The trail is becoming more clear as the communal self-education continues and more and more of the real people find their voice and begin contributing their views, ideas, and concerns. I think most of us recognizes the wall that has been placed around us. And most of us have climbed that wall and have seen what's on the other side and what is possible. It's going over that wall that is so difficult and a dear friend of mine summed it up much better than I ever could.
Those of us who are on the wall are in a quandary - on the one hand we know that things must change, that they are changing and that change (for better or worse) is inevitable, unstoppable. That's not a bad thing. We realize that much of what we have believed in and held dear is just a lot of smoke and mirrors.It's good to be done with it. On the other hand, going forward is scary. You don't know what it's going to be like out there. Nobody knows because it hasn't happened yet. We know that if we go forward we can help create it and it could be a wonderful era, something we've been dreaming of for several millennia. But we hesitate because going forward means - potentially - giving up so much of what is known. We've been taught to look before we leap. Better the devil you know than the one you don't know. That's a big piece of the conventional wisdom of the current reality.

A few of us have gone over the wall or at least go over it frequently to explore and we'll make no bones about it: It's pretty cool. Well, it's not without its challenges but we haven't looked back yet, not with any longing for the current reality anyways.

I think it was Marshall McLuhan who described how electronic mass media would collapse space and time barriers in our communication. This collapse is what will enable the real people of our world to interact and live on a global scale. According to McLuhan, this interaction is what would precipitate a shift towards a Global Village. It seems to me his predictions were fairly correct and this connectedness that is spreading around the globe and unting our communities has the possibility of forming new unheard of before sociological structures within the context of culture. In McLuhan's book Gutenburg Galaxy, he states that technologies are not simply inventions which people employ but are the means by which people are re-invented. In that context, we now seem to have the capability, and the responsibility to the human race, to re-invent ourselves!

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