Can we collaborate more effectively?


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John Ringland, April 22, 2018. You can read a Greek version of this article here.

Western civilisation, throughout its entire history, has existed as a primarily adversarial culture, as have most cultures founded in the last 7,000 years. Its main traits; the position of power within a hierarchy and the dynamics of competition or combat, together foster certain illusions. These in turn have shaped a dominant narrative, deeply entrenching such delusion.

Until now, the dominant adversarial culture had been "protected" from realising the consequences of its delusions, owing to the vastness of nature and yet to be exploited territories. Furthermore, by the limitations of intellectual thought that created dark shadows of ignorance in which subtle systemic phenomena could arise and become entrenched. The dominant narrative controlled our minds unconsciously and habitually; it became 'tradition' and then simply “the way things are”.

Having reached the limits of conventional expansion, and with the Enlightenment making way for the emergence of postmodern thought, challenging the "objectivity" of our consensus reality, Western culture was thrust face to face with its shadow: the oppressive influence of a dominant narrative on the world around it. Despite its "best" intentions, the dynamics of an adversarial culture have created a great deal of incoherence, delusion, suffering and destruction, which the dominant culture was and is largely oblivious to; caught in a consensus trance.

Arriving at the realisation that our hitherto "objective" perception of reality, is severely deficient at best, is obviously a hard pill to swallow. This is precisely why there has been such a backlash against postmodern thought, even if it would help us to avert multiple converging systemic crises. The dominant narrative cannot help but see such "subversive" ideas as nothing less than an immoral corruption of reason, sanity and the very foundations of culture. By mere virtue of the fact that such ideas strip away the mass illusion of the "objective realism" of consensus reality, replacing it instead with shifting power games between competing cultural narratives.

It seems to me that lately, many minds have been largely inoculated against postmodern thought. Its criticisms and insights were not countered, but merely sidestepped, maligned and ignored in a typically adversarial manner by the dominant culture.

This work that I have been exploring lately, started out as a regular systems analysis of a situation, which happened to be social system dynamics. It has taken a turn into a deep "rabbit hole" that burrows into the cultural shadow of society.

Along the way it seems to have provided a systems theoretic foundation to the postmodern critique of dominant narratives. This reveals that the postmodern thinkers were not undermining reason itself, but simply revealing the tenuous grasp on reality, which is a hallmark of adversarial "testing networks". Trial by combat for instance, is not an optimal testing principle; it is easily 'gamed' and leads to an arms race of deception and manipulation. For example, partisan politics.

In contrast, a cooperative culture organises around common needs and goals instead of a power hierarchy, and it tests things using collaborative truth seeking rather than a battle between opposing views. There is no arms race of deception and manipulation in a cooperative culture; instead there is growing mutual resonance, leading to greater trust and understanding.

A cooperative culture is characterised by the existence of a 'moral economy' whose currency is an amalgam of trust and respect, rather than by a reinforcing feedback loop of moral decay and tightening control through regulatory and financial constraints.

Reason, sanity and the foundations of a culture of peace, abundance and creative flourishing are all achievable, but not within a primarily adversarial culture. By rebalancing the situation, with more cooperative "organising" and "testing networks", perhaps we can bring stability back into the global civilisation and be better situated to overcome future challenges.

Indigenous cultures for one, were once primarily cooperative prior to being displaced and disrupted. They have much to teach modern civilisation about how to live cooperatively, peacefully and sustainably. Modern cultures such as Iceland and Ecuador have much to teach as well.

One must bear in mind however, that in an outright clash between a cooperative and adversarial culture, the latter will almost certainly prevail. It is well-versed in the tactics of deception, manipulation, exploitation and annihilation, and moreover, it is well-armed. This is why when they arose, adversarial cultures expanded, successfully overtaking cooperative cultures.

An adversarial culture however, cannot survive for long on its own. It inevitably tears itself apart with the pressure cooker of internal tensions that arise due to the oppression of counter cultures, and the corrosive effect of adversarial interactions. It breeds cynical opportunists, leaving a trail of deception, destruction and trauma that is covered over with denial or justified and rationalised within the context of the dominant narrative.

This part of history was inevitable and unavoidable; the cooperative cultures simply could not withstand the onslaught. However, the next stage of history can be influenced, a choice can be made.

Now that we have a global culture that is capable of self-reflexive reason, such as postmodern thought and a systems analysis of social systems, do we let the system collapse, this time on a global scale? Or, do we find a way to develop a hybrid, adversarial and cooperative culture, in balance?

Truth be told, there is a cooperative, sub-cultural element that permeates our predominantly adversarial culture. Education systems for instance, communications systems, the Internet, were created by a cooperative sub-culture, in order to uplift and enable collective discourse. That these were subtly transformed into a weapon of mass indoctrination by our adversarial cultural component is secondary. What is primary, is that society has demonstrated time and again that it possesses the capacity to develop elaborate, robust cooperative networks.

Hence the issue at hand becomes, whether our cooperative component can be brought to the fore, establishing a culture in equilibrium. One that can mobilise effectively in the face of external threats to defend itself, but also one that has a core, and a percolating system of genuinely cooperative networks, that generate the collective coherence, true reason and a deep connection to reality that we need to survive as a species and a planet.