Jim Kent:

"Human change initiatives must work at social, economic, and ecological levels if they are to succeed."

Archive for October 25th, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street and Social Ecology

Posted by Jim on October 25, 2011

To all Steinbeck and Social Ecology scholars and practitioners.

The attached article, miss labeled by the headline writer, is a must read for all of us. Putting politics and pundits aside this is an important happening for our social ecology and public policy program. The story it turns out is a description of “self organizing principles” being created for governance of a newly emerging phenomena of diverse community (not the threatening headline that was chosen). The description in the story shows how the “occupiers” in NYC are creating their own governance system. What is fascinating is that this is coming from many who have, I am almost certain, not participated in community creation, but have been pretty isolated in their computer worlds (taken from some of the interviews). You remember Ex President Havel”s famous speech on the Velvet Revolution: “how did our young people, raised totally all of their lives under the oppression of the Soviet Union, know about the democratic principles they so wonderfully represented to bring down 40 some years of oppression.” (see Kent’s blog for complete story under Obama and Havel).

This story is an almost pure description of how the self organizing unfolds, step by step (discovery, reflection, form creation, correction, discovery, reflection). You will note the different informal network archetypes. Also some of the guidance rules they have developed that I have never heard of before: a Paramount Objection is a show stopper and is only to be used when the community harmony is threatened. There is a Stack Keeper, a new word or function to me, that insures that the different points of view are equally heard and that one segment does not dominate. (the formal hearings on development projects from government agencies could use a Stack Keeper, to prevent one segment from un reasonably dominating a meeting).

Talk about collaboration in its pure sense, and facilitation as an emergent governance process. In our social capital writings and practices we see government as being a facilitative and reflective body for forming the policies that enhance citizen empowerment. Aristotle and Socrates would be proud of this self organizing phenomena and the Forest Service and Interior Department as well as Defense, who mouth collaboration should be encouraged to study this pure form of collaboration.

Steinbeck, the inspiration of much of our social ecology work, along with Ed Ricketts would also be proud of what is happening here. Because of the self organizing principles that have emerged, the individuals have transcended the mob phenomena and have introduced a form of governance that we call heart and soul or governance by social capital. Watch out for what Steinbeck wrote about in the Grapes of Wrath. Remember the law enforcement that sent in disruptor’s to cause a commotion at the dance so that they could rush in and destroy the government run facility that treated the migrants as human. This could happen here by threatened groups, not necessarily the police, who have already tried thier harrassment tactics and furthered the occupiers mission and numbers. Her discussion, the interviewee, of how they, the individuals in the group, know who the undercover agents are is priceless. They know by the “language” they use. An undercover agents, for instance,first question is “who are your leaders”. (real meaning so we can pick them off) her answer is really a Steinbeck type of response.

I think this whole phenomena of the Occupy Wall Street needs our analytical and writing attention. No matter what happens this is a profound moment in our emerging democracy and game changer of power shifting from formal to informal systems, while the society is redefined that will create a more human, just and eqitable alignment. It had to happen as did the Arab Spring and the Velvet Revolution. When formal systems no longer connect to the people, the masses so to speak, the people eventually figure out that this is not what a democracy (or a dictatorship, or olegarchy) is about and self organize to correct on a massive scale. The non-violent commitment is key and reminds me of the six years of work that we did with President Corizon Aquino when she was elected president of the Philippines. As Havel said: “How did they know”.

P.S. Erik,Kevin, Trish let’s consider posting this to the web site on social ecology ths Erik put up if it is appropriate

Here is an excerp form my op.ed. piece written in 2009 using V’aclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution as he makes a profound point in how communism was driven out of Czechloslavakia. Note the informal word of mouth communication recognition imbedded in his speech.


KENT: In 1989, Presidential candidate V’aclav Havel spoke to the people of Czechoslovakia about principles and core values. Havel started talking about these principles and that precedent spread across Czechoslovakia and became known as the “Velvet Revolution.” This revolution saw the relinquishment of political power by the communists and it set the stage for the first free elections since 1946.

As a social ecologist concerned with how public policy is formed, I followed the Velvet Revolution very closely. Literally overnight Czechoslovakia moved from a oppressive centralized society to a vibrant, free, enterprise-centered culture seemingly overnight. By l992 the individual vendors in Prague lined the Charles Bridge, and churches were well on their way to complete historic restoration. Private business ventures flourished throughout the city and countryside. By all indications from an outside observer, one would have expected the conversion from totalitarianism to freedom to take many years. It did not. This shift to democracy that energized the civic order occurred in three short years. I believe there are two main causal factors for this rapid return to democracy.

The first factor is the observation that whatever culture is in place when oppression sets in is by-in-large the culture that will emerge when the oppression is overcome. Czechoslovakia before oppression had a high degree of civic culture and order.

The second factor recognizes the cultural mechanisms that function when oppression is in place. These are the informal communication and caretaker networks that become invisible to the oppressors, but also become stronger in order for the people to survive. These networks operate within natural gathering places and are concerned with preserving the heart and soul of their civic order. Gathering places—coffee shops, barbershops, beauty parlors, bars, restaurants, public areas, and the like—provide the opportunity to see the everyday real faces of society. Personal relationships are the key outcome made possible through gathering places. Informal caretaker and communication networks are tied to gathering places and provide the element of trust in communities. It is in these informal networks that the beliefs, traditions, stories, values are preserved out of sight of formal systems. The power of these societal elements occurring within the gathering places and informal networks held together the Czech culture pre-1989 and thus offered a foundation for survival during those many years of occupation.

To give context and insight to what happened in Czechoslovakia during this period the following is quoted directly from President V’aclav Havel’s speech made on January 1, 1990, as a New Years Address to the Nation in Prague. HAVEL said:

“Let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would be wrong to expect a general remedy from them alone. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all. If we realize this, then all the horrors that the new Czechoslovak democracy inherited will cease to appear so terrible. If we realize this, hope will return to our hearts..

“In an effort to rectify matters of common concern, we have something to lean on. The recent period—and in particular the last six weeks of our peaceful revolution—has shown the enormous human, moral and spiritual potential, and the civic culture that slumbered in our society under the enforced mask of apathy. Whenever someone categorically claimed that we were this or that, I always objected that society is a very mysterious creature and that it is unwise to trust only the face it presents to you…………………Everywhere in the world people wonder where those meek, humiliated, skeptical and seemingly cynical citizens of Czechoslovakia found the marvelous strength to shake the totalitarian yoke from their shoulders in several weeks, and in a decent and peaceful way. And let us ask:

· Where did the young people who never knew another system get their desire for truth, their love of free
thought, their political ideas, their civic courage and civic prudence?
· How did it happen that their parents—the very generation that had been lost—joined them?

· How is it that so many people immediately knew what to do and none needed any advice or instruction?

“I think there are two main reasons……….

· First of all, people are never just a product of the external world; they are also able to relate themselves to something superior, however systematically the external world tries to kill that ability in them.

· Secondly, the humanistic and democratic traditions, about which there had been so much idle talk, did after all slumber in the unconsciousness of our nations and ethnic minorities, and were inconspicuously passed from one generation to another, so that each of us could discover them at the right time and transform them into deeds.”


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