Principles of Practical Holism

PRINCIPLES OF PRACTICAL HOLISM

1 - We are all Interconnected . . . one thing is related to another and everything is related to everything else.
 
2 - The only power in human systems resides in the choice of individuals to maintain a relationship (bridge) and everybody gets to make their own choices.
 
3 - We are engaged in a single pattern of relationships in which there is no good or evil . . . only choices and consequences.
 
4 - A complex set of interactions is more resilient in the face of environmental change than a simpler set of interactions.

 

The only power in human systems resides in the choice of individuals to maintain a relationship (bridge) and everybody get to make their own choices.

 

The inertia in the system is real because we are each connected into the system flows by specific bridges (such as a job) and we rely on those bridges for our survival.  Because of that it is counterproductive to be thinking about "we, the good guys who want a sustainable world" and "they, the ones that need to change".  All of us will defend our bridges and asking "them" to change is only going to generate resistance.  We all contribute to the inertia in the system.

 

I usually say that a little different . . . The world we experience is the cumulative result of all the choices each of us makes, and, in that sense, we have the world we have chosen.

 

To me, that speaks to the importance of taking responsibility for our individual power to create the world.

 

We are all Interconnected . . . one thing is related to another and everything is related to everything else.

 

It is counterproductive to try to decide what bridges are good and what bridges are bad. All bridges are good to those who maintain them. And, if we are truly egalitarian, we all have a right to make that choice. And, further, none of us is smart enough to know how one bridge is interconnected with all the other bridges.

 

When we try to tear down bad bridges, we, first, meet resistance from those who rely on those bridges. Secondly, if we are successful in tearing down a bridge, we cannot know what other bridges may be lost. There is even a law about that . . . the law of unintended consequences . . .

 

It is infinitely more productive, to try to build new bridges. We are all smart enough, and have the individual power, to build new bridges with the people, plants and creatures around us. And, the great thing about new bridges is that every new bridge opens up the possibility of even more new bridges.

 

There are choices that are properly prohibited because of the seriousness of their consequences. That is a proper role of government and public discourse. But, we will not create the world we want through that process. Rather, we create a world that works better for more people, plants and creatures by building new bridges.

 

A complex set of interactions is more resilient in the face of environmental change than a simpler set of interactions.

 

 

This is a principle that can guide us in our design work. It is characteristic of complex adaptive systems that they exhibit integrated systems of production, where the by product of each process is the feed stock for a different process, and that they expand and contract as complexity spirals.

 

Stated another way, an exuberant multiplicity of connections is more productive than a restricted set of connections. We can see that in ecosystems, and economies and social systems. But, since one thing is connected to another and everything is connected to everything else, there really is no place to draw a line between those systems . . . it really is the ecological/social/economic system in which we find ourselves.

 

The effect of barriers to new connections, such as ethnic animosity, or walls between socio-economic strata, or a culture where all “value” is measured in money, is to limit the kind of connections that are made. The connections that are not being made represents a loss to the system of that value that would have been contributed to system flows if the connection had been made.

 

We may not have the power to end ethnic hatred, or stop the use of poisons in agriculture, but we can build new bridges to the people, plants and creatures, who have more to contribute, who live in our neighborhood. A complexity spiral requires us to consider the needs of diverse elements and therefore creates the alternative to monocultures and economies of scale.

 

We are engaged in a single pattern of relationships in which there is no good or evil . . . only choices and consequences.

 

 

This is a difficult one for most people because “our story” is about the struggle between good and evil. The story embodies millennia of struggle between groups. Animosity between groups prevents us from building a more complex and productive system. It creates a feed back loop where conflict leads to less to go around leading to more conflict.

 

This is not a criticism of anyone in particular. We all have individual needs and we are all probably capable of doing what is necessary to protect ourselves and our families. We are also, all still learning. It is best to keep in mind that there is more that we don't know than we do know . . . and a lot of what we know comes filtered through the needs of the groups to which we belong. And, groups of people are entitled to defend themselves . . .

 

However, as we come to realize that we are engaged in a single ecological/economic/social system, and that more connections are better than fewer connections, and that the world we live in is created by the choices of individual human beings, it becomes more and more difficult to think of this group as “good” and that group as “evil”.

 

Over the years people have told me things like; 'Interesting ideas, but philosophy is beyond me'. I want to assure you that none of this rises to the level of philosophy. A person can understand these aspects of system function and still believe in God . . . or not. A person can understand these aspects of system function and still believe that the “invisible hand” is the best way to regulate human affairs . . . or not. Rather, these are testable hypotheses about our individual power to be effective in the system. If this analysis is correct, and we exercise our individual power understanding all 3 dimensions of system function, then we can create a world that works better for more people, plants and creatures.  We do not require the permission of anyone else.

 

Commentary

 

As I write this in February of 2011, the Egyptians are engaged in an effort to "reform" their society.  The other top discussion in the Transition in Action forum is about alternative money systems.  These are top down efforts.  They require that we overcome the resistance of all those who rely on the status quo and then agree on a change that will be imposed from the top.  What is happening in Egypt . . . tearing down the bridges that support the Mubarak regime . . . seems necessary to allow new kinds of bridges.  The hard work will be to build the new bridges . . . bridging the potential contribution of all the people, plants and creatures in Egypt . . .

We have yet to figure out how to do that here in the United States.  I don't think that the final set of connections can be done from the top down.  I think it will require individuals, who understand these system dynamics, applying that understanding in their neighborhoods . . .

There are two aspects to my plea with this comment.  The first is a collaboration to develop these ideas into a form that can be shared with others interested in taking responsibility for their own power.  The second, is to identify individuals who are prepared to begin building these new bridges in their neighborhoods.  I can share what I am doing . . . and what seems to be working . . . and what is not working . . .

But, I know that there are people a lot smarter than I am . . .

If you think it is important to share these ideas, please join me in drafting a collective expression of them.  If you are ready to apply these ideas in your neighborhood, let's set up a communication to share notes.

 

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I recommend watching Willie Smits' Ted Talk.  It is a wonderful project with impressive results that I want to compare with the topic of this discussion.

The destruction of the rain forest resulted from people pursuing their 1st dimensional needs and the 2nd dimensional needs of their groups, unconscious of the ways in which they relied on nature's systems.  As they began tearing down bridges to the plants and creatures in their place, they lost the flow of resources that previously supported them.  As each bridge was lost there was a domino effect until all that was left was a nutrient poor, eroding grassland prone to fire.

I wonder how many people applauding at the end realize that they are participating in exactly the same process of ecological/social/economic destruction in the place where they live.  I wonder how many realize that a similar reversal of the ecological/social/economic destruction could be accomplished in their neighborhood . . . by applying the techniques Willie Smits uses in his project . . . understanding the needs of each of the potential contributors to the system flows . . . understanding system function in 3 dimensions.

Few of us have the resources to buy a place and redesign it from the ground up.  But every neighborhood has the same kind of resources that Willie Smits has to work with . . . the unrealized human and biological potential of a place . . . 

I tell my gardeners that our goal is to convert all the lawns in Colorado to gardens.  (They usually laugh a little there :-)  When we are successful, the system will need legions of Permaculture Maintenance Technitions and we will no longer be importing our food from California . . . we will have built the bridges to the potential contribution of all the people, plants and creatures in our place.

Every problem we face in the world can be traced to the failure to build the necessary bridges . . . and I would like to collaborate with you to figure out how to build them.

 

 

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The impediment to the general acceptance of these ideas remains that they are "my" understanding.  That is, they are the views of David Braden, and everyone is entitled to their views, and we have no way of evaluating what views are useful for the future and what views are not useful for the future.

 

The goal is to develop the kind of authority that comes from a collective understanding for this particular approach to accomplishing a sustainable system.  For example, Willie Smits was able to raise a substantial amount of money to build a habitat for orangutang.  Wille understands the "one thing is related to another part" . . . he is concerned with all the pieces that must be in place if there is going to be a permanent habitat for orangutang.   He relies on the collective understanding that the extinction of species is to be avoided . . . 

 

Here we are talking about all the pieces that must be in place for there to be a permanent habitat for humans . . . and we cannot even agree on the questions.

 

We don't have to convince the whole world right now . . . we need people willing to help refine the presentation into a "collective understanding" and, . . . we need people willing to conduct the experiments, by learning to build bridges in their neighborhoods.

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