Must Communities Be Manageable?

Probing along the edges of what is commonly accepted we make forays into uncharted territory and then we blunder, confusing new ground for, well for forms of conceptualizing them like calling them “uncharted territories!” One step out of old assumptions and then another step, a trip, maybe even a bad fall, back into the world of those same discredited assumptions.

Dave Pollard has put together a strong post that lays out the edges of our predicament that just might be amenable to intervention as problems to be solved. He does a good job, a very good job, showing us the gap between run-of-the-mill Futurism and anything that might actually be of use to us going forward. Using a story, and keeping its action clouded and mostly “off-stage” helps put us in an imaginative space where we can feel some of the possible outcomes of our present trends without locking us into a sense that all we need do is answer these problems and everything will be fine.

Reading on, I came across a phrase that sounds reasonable enough. Something we all take for granted every day, the expectation that communities, like everything else in our social spheres, must be manageable.

To be fair, not just to Dave – who certainly doesn’t need me to defend him! – but to all of us and our common expectations, manageable’s meaning slides from business school speak all the way to just saying that something can be gotten through, by whatever means, well enough to get by…. Still, there is a strong implication that we do believe that unless someone is pulling the strings, no social situation will work out. Like a Ouija Board, we may profess belief, but we know that if it’s not our fingers pushing the piece across the board, it’s got to be the other guy’s!

This post isn’t to demand that this attitude is wrong. Just to question whether we are being realistic when we expect this or if we are simply trapped in an outmoded assumption. You see, so much depends on the way we look at this question. If it is true, then are we fated to just continue to replace one set of ham-handed managers with another? Talk about the looming weight of futility!

If not, then what could it possibly mean that communities are not managed? That they are not manage-able.

The first thing that comes to mind is that in fact the are not manageable. If they were, they would be managed now, and presumably that would have led us down a different path. As with so much else that we’ve looked at, community management appears to be yet another case of mistaking a wish for a fact. In all of our fear of falling into chaos we are only deluding ourselves if we think managing community does anything but promote chaos, and not some creative type, but the worst of our feared negative, destructive nihilistic forms of chaos. We can see the same mechanisms driving an illusion of control leading to “unintended” consequences leading to doubling down after more elusive control. We see a fossilization of awareness into technologies. The replacement of engagement with coercion and constraints both external and internal.

OK! I’m getting such a strong case of deja vu, I feel as though I’m repeating myself word for word!

What could it possibly mean if we looked at communities as unmanageable and managed not to find this a calamity, but a starting point?

Please be aware that while I may have found certain aspects of letting go of control easier than some, this is not one of those cases! I tend to turn the other way when a gathering gets beyond three or four people, and I’m quite impatient with what I consider the stupidity of groups! The whole notion of swimming into a community that I’m unable to at least control my strategic retreat from, to bow out of it when it does what I’m so convinced by my conditioning that it will eventually do, is perhaps the most uncomfortable and alien ground I’ve ever avoided! The gap here between where my questioning might be leading and what my habits and conditioning expect is great!

Still, there we have it! Everything else we’ve looked at here points to our giving some weight to at least exploring what the concept of an unmanageable community – one that we do not strive to manage – might be like. Or if even that is too a priori a form of controlling in its very reflexes, then at least can we keep an eye out for examples that might already exist?

There is a sense of clear air opened up by this question that more than makes up for the cacophony of objections that arise in my gullet, but that are so easily recognizable as the last ditch defenses of conditioning. Instead of feeling futility closing in, there is an exhilaration around the possibility that may only be an attempt at manufacturing naiveté, but there could be something more to it….

The first thing that came to mind was whether every form of social control was equivalent to managing community. The examples of social management that come to mind for me as a New Englander range from the real estate developer controlled local governments of our towns and cities with their civic managers and all the mechanisms to defuse and derail any attempts at democratic input, to the theocracies of the world, ranging from Ayatollahs and Popes, through evangelical ministries and on to the quiet meetings of upstanding Quakers sitting in their pews awaiting the movement of their spirit to have something to say. None of these has had a good track record at keeping us off destructive paths. The history of the Quakers in relation to whaling in Nineteenth Century America shows how they were not immune to an exceptionalism that made them not only mortal enemies of the whale, but of every indigenous tribe they encountered as they combed the globe seeking fortune.

The point is, I don’t have any answers to this! The point is, what if we focused on it as a question? While working one individual at a time to find a way to be that is not fraught by our conditioning it will be useful to keep an eye out for how these individuals may organize into communities.

If I weren’t so accustomed by now to the value of keeping focus on the basics, even when that may seem hopelessly remedial, I would be embarrassed for being like a toddler without a clue as to how to socialize! But aren’t we in a similar state? As we grapple with how to integrate our parts, we do need to realize that we do not know how integrated individuals actually get along. This is a big part of what we are working on. It could be that our assumption of a necessity for the management of communities may be a trap, a holdover of old habits, the equivalent of an ashtray in the Jetson’s Space-Car.

All this points to another potential guidepost. It could be, I would bet on it, that the underlying error behind all flavors of futurity is the push to predict itself, to keep striving to push our focus out ahead and then populate it with projections of any kind. They may be useful, but I fear that we are conflating the uses of imagination as we’ve been going over it recently, with the comforts, the false comforts, the ersatz security provided by feeling that we are ready with our “I told you so!” when our predictions might come true.

Are we conflating this crutch to the point that we distort what happens to fit our predictions just so we can feel that vindication? I don’t aim this at anyone, we all do it.

If this is true, then there is a pernicious quality to any foray into futurism. Let’s not forget that the term was invented as a self-identifier by a group of proto-Fascist artists after World War I!

There is a distortion of perception to fit the evolving moment into whatever theory of the Future we ascribe to. The chances of this being useful are vanishingly small!

What if we look at; not only the evolution of communities, but of our selves; as circumstances present themselves, instead of in a false-space that is this notion of Future we keep throwing out ahead?

Epimethius calling! We’re back to Dougald Hine‘s insight into the values of hindsight instead of always forging and striving by looking ahead after Prometheus, father of techné after all!

Here is where imagination can do its job. What if its true function is in those moments of hesitation it provides, its warnings to avoid those “failures of imagination” that have punctuated our fall. This doesn’t require elaborate plans or even stories of how things “will” unfold. Those are over determinations, the pushing of a good thing into an excess, just the kind of habit we have in spades!

Imagination works best as a quiet intuition. It whispers in our ear at the last possible moment, “Don’t step there.” and it goes quiet again until it is needed again.

Ask for it on command and you fall into the traps of fantasy and are clogged with the obfuscations that prediction inevitably brings forth.

It was just such an intuition that hit me on reading that “communities must be small enough to be manageable.”

Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

One thought on “Must Communities Be Manageable?

  1. Hi Antonio,

    Futurism seems to be as laden with propaganda as any other sort of communication (or ism) – from Gene Roddenberry’s rainbow crew exploring the stars on the deck of the Enterprise to ‘Houses of the Future’ brought to you by the aluminium/plastic/software industries, somebody always seems to be asking you to improve your behaviour, buy their stuff or sit back and trust in your culture’s manifest destiny. The question as ever must be “Quo bene?”

    I followed one of your links to Dwight Towers’ blog a while ago, and found a fantastic post about Stamford Raffles and the ‘ungovernable’ Singaporeans and their palm trees:
    “You can’t govern independent people. They have no need of anything you can bring them.”
    I couldn’t help thinking of that quote all through this (great) post…
    If you think I’m acting against my own interests; inform me, help me, show me, but please don’t ‘manage’ me. Otherwise (in the spirit of futurism) we’re stuck in Asimov’s “Evitable Conflict”!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: