Posts Tagged ‘Egalitarian’

Co-ops are Big: Egalitarian business models take off

February 23, 2012

How do you feel about the fact that the United Nations is sponsoring 2012 as the year of the co-operative?

Shareable: Co-ops are Big: Charles Gould on the Int’l Year of the Co-op – http://pulse.me/s/66nFt

The medium is the bias

September 4, 2011
Emergency "Twitter was down so I wrote my...

Image via Wikipedia

We don’t carry cultural biases around in our heads so much as encounter them in our environments. Humans require the flexibility to be able to engage with different cultural biases in different contexts. A person who is acculturated to be biased in one particular way will either gravitate towards that way of working or be somewhat handicapped in contexts outside of their cultural comfort zone. Imagine a right handed person working with their left hand: they can do it but it isn’t comfortable. Unfortunately we mostly aren’t even aware that we are operating in culturally biased environments and our flexibility is unconscious rather than reflective. Cultural theory offers a heuristic approach to recognising, naming and making sense of these cultural biases so that we can operate on a more ambidextrous manner.

A case in point: email. Here’s an excerpt from Johnny Ryan’s book on social networking:

“E-mail stripped away the accumulated layers of formality that had been observed in correspondence of the ink age:

‘One could write tersely and type imperfectly, even to an older person in a superior position and even to a person one did not know very well, and the recipient took no offense. The formality and perfection that most people expect in a typed letter did not become associated with network messages, probably because the network was so much faster, so much more like the telephone.’

Strict hierarchies were flattened, and the barriers between individuals at different levels of an organization’s hierarchy were minimized. Staff at ARPA now found that they could easily contact the Director, Stephen Lukasik, by e-mail. Similarly, Lawrence Roberts used e-mail to bypass principal investigators and communicate directly with contractors below them.

As e-mail spread throughout facilities connected to ARPANET, the rapid-fire e-mail exchanges between people at different levels of the academic hierarchy established new conventions of expression.”

The point is that in the 1970s the new medium of email effectively forced an Egalitarian cultural bias to be adopted inside an otherwise strongly Hierarchical organization. In the terms of Cultural Theory, email is a Weak Grid medium.

The upshot of this is that if your organization relies heavily on one cultural bias or another (and nearly all do) it may be important to consider carefully the quality of match between the cultural bias of the medium and the cultural bias of the organization. For example it would probably be a bad idea for the monarch to use email, since the medium implicitly undermines the cultural power of the institution. It isn’t just that the medium risks trivialising the sender, The medium actually implies particular social relationships which may or may not be conducive to the sender’s institutional arrangements.

Note that the English monarchy has intuitively understood this. If you want to contact the Queen in 2011 you have to write a letter.

The official website says:

“If you wish to write a formal letter, you can open with ‘Madam’ and close the letter with the form ‘I have the honour to be, Madam, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant’. This traditional approach is by no means obligatory. You should feel free to write in whatever style you feel comfortable.”

…as long as it’s snail mail. This is just as well, since if you tried to tweet the Queen (which you can’t) the formal closing would take up over half of your 140 character allowance.

Conversely, those seeking to change cultural biases could do worse than to ‘bring the war to the enemy’ by seeking to force them to use culturally inappropriate media to convey their messages.

Unlike the Queen, Prince William has a Twitter account. When I looked it had 27,387 followers. This figure contrasts rather sharply with the number of followers the monarchy is supposed to have (many millions in several Commonwealth countries). In other words the very use of a Weak-Grid medium such as Twitter undermines the Strong-Grid hierarchical rationale of its user.

For those who do not operate in Hierarchical institutions these examples of blue-bloods using the Internets may serve to illustrate the horror with which many who defend a Hierarchical worldview look at contemporary social change. This horror can be hard to understand – isn’t it an over-reaction? Well, no. While most of us just see Twitter and Facebook. For the Hierarchical worldview these are further evidence of the end of civilization as we know it – and they are not wrong.

Sources:

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/03/from-the-first-email-through-the-well-and-usenet-a-pre-history-of-social-networking.ars/2

Johnny Ryan 2010 A History of the Internet and the Digital Future. London: Reaktion and Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

http://www.royal.gov.uk/HMTheQueen/ContactTheQueen/Overview.aspx

Excommunicating Women priests

July 20, 2010

Just about to write something about the recent restatement of the Catholic Church’s opposition to the ordination of women – I realised, effectively, I already had.

Add only this: it’s not actually very easy to be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Few people have ever met anyone who has been (militant atheists have been trying it recently, with limited success). This is because exclusion is a very uncharacteristic measure for a hierarchical organisation. It sits rather better with Egalitarian organisations which have no other sanctions against persistent dissenters. Indeed, for hierarchies, exclusion makes almost no sense, since one thereby excludes the wrongdoer from punishment. Note that in describing excommunication theological commentators sometimes refer to it as being of medicinal benefit. It supposedly encourages the wrongdoer to realise the seriousness of their offence and thence to repent and return to the fold.

So, far from being another indication of the terrible hierarchy at its terrible worst, as some commentators have suggested, the restatement of the Church’s willingness to excommunicate those attempting the ordination of a woman is really more evidence of just how far Egalitarianism has made inroads into that most hierarchical of hierarchies. Lacking other more coercive sanctions, the Church is reduced to fighting Egalitarianism with its own weapon, exclusion.

But the excluded who won’t repent don’t merely vanish. These days they turn up in America where they take a largely competitive, Individualist approach to religion: if you can’t join them, beat them.  Does it seem unlikely that a small group of women could change the church’s longstanding practice? Perhaps these women and their supporters might take a little encouragement from the story of Mary Mackillop, the Nineteenth century Australian nun who was excommunicated for inciting disobedience. In October 2010 she’ll  be made Australia’s first saint.

Read also: grid-group cultural theory and hierarchical churches

Mutualism: Flavour of the month

February 17, 2010

As predicted this time last year, mutualism is the new favourite political idea.  It has been so ignored by policy makers over many decades that it has temporarily lost its left/right label and the Tories are also talking about it.

But it shouldn’t be thought that mutualism is a way of making money grow on trees. You can run money-generating operations on this model, but money-spending operations (eg most public services) require external funding. As Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber puts it:

‘There seem to be two possibilities: either the mutuals have independent sources of funding or they don’t.’

It will be interesting to see how much of the utopian mutualist talk survives the forthcoming UK general election, and how far the resulting government ends up supporting what Rudolf Bahro might have called ‘actually existing mutualism’.

Read: A mutual alternative to markets and hierarchies

Why can’t environmentalists just all get along?

January 31, 2010

Dr Clare Saunders, from Southampton University, was awarded the first British Journal of Sociology prize for her 2008 ethnographic work on environmental organisations in London.

You can hear a podcast of her describing her research, and read the original article (as long as someone you love your institution subscribes to Wiley Interscience).

She argues that: (more…)

Fortify your group with religious belief! Homing in on the God Gene

November 24, 2009

NY Times God Gene Graphic“Groups fortified by religious belief would have prevailed over those that lacked it, and genes that prompted the mind toward ritual would eventually have become universal.”

An article in the New York Times, In Search of the God Gene, flies a kite for religion as an evolutionary benefit. But it takes a very particular view of what religion amounts to. According to the article the traits regarded as religion are those that promote a [high-group, low-grid]  egalitarian society, but then also those which favour a [high group, high grid] hierarchical society. However, the view that these cultures are the most effective and therefore the most likely to be selected for in evolutionary terms does not stand up to scrutiny. It begs the question of the relationship of nature to culture. Neither does it take account of the possibility raised by Cultural Theory of [low grid,  low group] Individualist, or [high grid, low group] Fatalist religions and religious practices.

No organised religion in the world today is claimed to have lasted more than 40,000-60,000 years. Most are far, far younger than this. Indeed we could characterise religion itself as a very recent phenomenon, far too recent to have affected evolution to any significant extent. Supposedly timeless ‘Religious’ practices such as ritual dancing or induced trance states are so general as to transcend any useful definition of religion, or else not actually necessary for a definition of religion.

The evidence cited in the article itself contradicts the claim that religion helps societies to survive over generations. Note that far from being static, the religious activities identified in the NY Times article change and involve discontinuity. Communal religious dancing floor, ancestor cult shrine, astronomical temple – it is our modern category of religion that links these structures, not the experience of those societies which changed, perhaps drastically, from one to the next. What seems to be selected for, if that is the right term, is the ability of humans to abandon their religious beliefs and practices and adopt different ones, often radically different ones. Apostacy seems to be the intergenerational norm, and even loyalty as the intra-generational norm can take a big hit from time to time. Letters of reply to the article were interesting, with some supporting the alternative view that religion is a byproduct of evolution, not a factor, and others pointing out that many ethically questionable human behaviours can be seen as adaptive.

The decline and fall of declining and falling

September 20, 2009

Edward Gibbon made a famous claim in chapter 3 of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that

“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.”

Not many people these days would be able to do this kind of thing ‘without hesitation’ (“ Oh, yes, 96 to 180AD, I remember it well…”), but Gibbon makes a good point: we organise our lives around a concept of human happiness and prosperity. It’s very important to us both within our national economies and or household economies to know whether things are getting better or worse, and whether this trajectory, once identified, is ‘normal’ or ‘exceptional’.

Gibbon’s intuitive opinion, ‘without hesitation’ was not only that happiness and prosperity were getting worse but that this had been the normal state of the world for a period of roughly 1600 years since the end of the Roman Empire. The former view was somewhat tempered by the latter. Since decline amounted to a long-term trend, it was nothing much to get excited about.

The industrial revolution made Gibbon’s historical reconstruction with its mood of nostaligia seem ‘ridiculous’ (J.C. Stobart). Not at first, since the dark satanic mills actually produced a decline in life expectancy, at least until roughly the middle of the 19th century. But it transformed the way people in England regarded the Golden Age. Now, with new and wondrous inventions appearing seemingly every year, it was increasingly obvious that the best was yet to come, not in the afterlife, as previously, but in the here-and-now or, to be precise, the here-and-soon. We are still living in this brave new world of constant progress and the pace of fabulous change continues to increase. (more…)

Can Education reform cope with competing visions of fairness?

August 8, 2009

There has been some discussion recently about social mobility and parental school choice. This arose, in part, from a UK report on how to improve ‘fair access to the professions’.

The problem with almost all such reports and many such debates is that they assume we all agree on what counts as ‘fair’, that we know what ‘equal’ means. Furthermore, the very term ‘social mobility’ assumes we agree already about the nature of the social sphere, within which we move or stay put. Pointedly, we don’t agree. In reality, these words are the battleground of an ongoing cultural argument, which is illuminated, as I will show, by means of grid-group cultural theory. (more…)

Why aren’t we all Egalitarians?

August 8, 2009

It appears there are not as many Egalitarians in the UK as New Labour might like to think.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, commissioned by the Fabian Society, seems to show that people in England aren’t particularly keen on equality. They think high income earners deserve their level of wealth, and conversely, low income earners also deserve theirs. High pay is seen as the result of hard work and talent and high income earners are seen as making an economic contribution to the nation. People ‘underestimate the number of rich tax cheats’ and ‘exaggerate the number of benefit cheats’ (Ashley, 2009: 27). Only 22% are traditional egalitarians. In what sense is this a problem? (more…)

Four Ways to Make Social Change Work Better: The Transition Movement and the Four Cultures

April 20, 2009

Transition actually looked like a good tool for the job. They were picking it up by whatever handle they grasped. They were swinging it as earnestly as they could.’ – Jon Mooallem, NY Times

The Transition Movement, a grassroots coalition pioneered in the UK by Rob Hopkins, is a great case study for understanding and improving the process of social change. In this article I aim to clarify the microdynamics of social change by using Grid-Group Cultural Theory (the four cultures) as an analytic tool. The theory, first developed by anthropologist Mary Douglas, suggests there are four competing ways of organising and disorganising society, at every level, and that a balance between these makes for a better outcome than an exclusive over-emphasis on one or another of them. Most social activists recognise a basic conflict in social-political visions between, broadly, left and right, conservative and liberal. The four cultures shows that there are actually four basic positions, not two, and that social interaction is much more intelligible when we take all four into account.

It’s my conviction that the Four Cultures approach can help social change agents ‘to bring in the people that conventional activists have failed to reach’, by showing how to be more inclusive while also becoming more focussed on what kinds of inclusion really matter. (more…)


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