Patterns of change & conflict 2 of 3

January 22, 2024
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Yesterday, I summarised the material in my pre and post-Christmas blogs and added material on tribalism. One of the key points I was making there is that creating boundaries and conflict between those boundaries is a natural tendency of all species. You can’t eliminate it, so you have to work with it. To that, we can add pluralistic ignorance, which describes the problem where, even given an opportunity, people will not speak up as they assume everyone else is happy. This is not a modern phenomenon, a thing of the famous story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, which requires a child, untouched by adult sophistication, to call out the fraud. At its extreme, this can mean people going along with extreme cruelty to others or extensive harm: drinking the cool aid. Now, this isn’t a paradox; we are a cooperative species, which means fitting in, but that is based on fitting within a group, which, in general, we might summarise as hordes, tribes and clans. Those groups compete and cooperate in very different ways in different contexts. It is worth remembering that these groups act as social scaffolding; it is energy efficient as we cannot survive as individuals entire of ourselves, to paraphrase John Donne. But we like things to be different. My Twelfetide series from 2021 has a lot of material on this and related issues of rituals and habits. In the seventh post of that series, I introduced a basic typology from Caporael, which does a little beyond Dunbar’s numbers, although there are some links. In effect, we can see a Macrodeme as a Clan, which then breaks down as shown. I recommend reading the linked post, but here is the typology:

  1. Dyad sets based on close-up and personal (parenting, sex), which affords or scaffolds micro-co-ordination
  2. Task Groups (Quintet)  of 5 focused on hunting, foraging, etc, which afford or scaffold distributed cognition.
  3. Deme (or Band) of 30 then handles movement such as migration and co-ordination which affords or scaffolds group identity and shared construction of reality.
  4. Macrodeme of around 300 for seasonal gathering and exchange of individuals, which affords or scaffolds stabilising languages, collective identities and various ontologies.

Other work I have read sees the task groups as evolving from the maximum number of decision-makers within an extended family where, in the main, we evolved to compromise. So, from now on, I will call them Quintets, with Trios acting as a transition between the two. The consequences of severe ongoing conflict are, in the main, worse in the smaller groups as you can’t separate. The smaller groups, and this is important, have more innate empathy. Closeness in space and over time increases the ability to see things from another perspective, not necessarily to agree on it but to understand it. Empathy, in the way I am using it, can give rise to compassion, pity and sympathy, but it is not a synonym for any of them. The inability to separate impacts on much larger groups, by the way, but for the moment, I am focused on organisations. Smaller groups can combine and recombine in different ways. We use this in a Triopticon design with seven groups of three involved in exploration, while three groups of seven then integrate the ideas. Whatever never do is confuse the task group with the Deme or Macrodeme, which requires a task, not empathy, to trigger collaboration. Working together on something that means you see the other person differently is critical to some of our work on peace and reconciliation. Still, the same principles apply within an organisation. Different types of tasks allow more people to get a sense of common purpose; it cannot be imposed top-down. People in the UK often hark back to the Spirit of Blitz and ask why we can’t return to it. The reason is that period was an existential threat to a whole nation, and the associated tasks can unite people, but without that threat, we won’t. This is scary on big issues, by the way. Covid was an immediate and proximate threat, so people accepted radical changes in behaviour. While climate change is something we all know we need to get around to, current concerns outweigh future dangers. Admonishments and guilt-inducing lectures end up having the opposite effect and give succour to demagogues. Task-based collaboration can create empathetic relationships that persist into other contexts, but that is more likely with smaller groups than larger ones, which is why we use trios or quintets for distributed decision-making and discovery. The Entangled Trios method can also handle Dyads (with, for example, trans-generational pairs). But it gives us a set of factors we must consider. The impact of task-based initiation of collaboration is highly context-specific and related to proximity in time of the need for cooperation. Seeing things from another’s perspective requires resonance with something familiar. For example, in 2015, the pictures of a drowned refugee child in the Mediterranean (trigger warning: the pictures are terrible in this link) elicited considerable sympathy but not a long-term solution to the problem. We become hardened to the suffering of others in a way that we don’t with family and friends. Collaboration and common purpose are emergent properties; they cannot be designed and imposed top-down, however well-intentioned the intervention is. But before we do that, we need to understand the patterns of where we are.  Estuarine Mapping is one technique for that, and it has undergone a lot of experimental validation since the last update, so if interested, get in touch; that technique handles disagreement by getting participants in the process to break things down until they agree and then focuses on small actions not to solve the problem, but to reduce the energy cost of any solution. It is a strategy tool in its own right, but it is also significantly valued as a pre-process before something more traditional. It creates an Affordance Landscape, one component of the 3As, along with Assemblage mapping and intentionality managing Agency. Mapping and intervention go hand in hand. But when we get to the broader issue of attitudes and beliefs, which includes culture, we need to focus on assemblage and agency. That means five things:

  1. Mapping attitudes, which includes how people are disposed to respond to situations, including paradoxical ones where there is no correct answer;  a true test of ethics.
  2. Stimulating people to see that their perception of events differs from others and asking them why in a way that allows them to change or take other actions without humiliation, confession or guilt.
  3. Presenting the patterns to decision makers (at all levels) where they have sufficient agency to make a change individually or collectively.
  4. Asking a meaningful set of questions to initiate those changes, avoiding consultancy speak, platitudes and pretension
  5. Making sure that the learning is captured in the process and available to abductive as well as by way of taxonomic or word search.

All of that is something we are planning to make a lot easier for people who want to approach this from an anthro-complexity perspective, and I will summarise that in the third post in this ser

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