posttitle = Open Letter to David Sauvage re Collective Decision-Making titleClass =title-long len =58

Open Letter to David Sauvage re Collective Decision-Making

Hello to David Sauvage (cc Daniel Thorson)

I’ve just listened to your podcast interview and want to expose myself to you as someone deeply tracking the field as well.

I’m writing this letter to you from a plane flying west in a gorgeous multi-hour sunset, from Ontario to Vancouver. I’ve just wrapped up a weeklong adventure that I described in this other open letter as a meta-protocol jam, where I was interfacing with some of the people I know who are most plugged in with the leading edge of collective decision-making.

(Listen to the podcast here: The Future of Collective Decision-Making on Emerge)

I felt huge resonance with almost everything in the podcast, even though I know very little about Occupy.

Lots of possible starting points here. Let’s use this:

The right goal is not consensus but resonance. A collective experience of the truth.

When consensus-driven decision-making works, it’s because it does this.

Absolutely. How this occurs to me is that the key difference is: consensus is allowed to be hard-blocked by dissociated narrowly-fixated left hemisphere stuff, whereas a resonance-oriented approach refuses to stop there. Though those views still need to be integrated! And there’s a huge puzzle on how to do that without losing your own view, which I’ve been investigating with my Non Naive Trust Dance framework comes in! And I’m seeing how the moves I’ve been encouraging people to make as part of that, of naming “I can’t trust X” or “I can’t rest at ease with X”, partially helps people actually get more subjective & embodied, and to open to uncertainty.

A lot to unpack there. My NNTD framework is something I’ve developed for orienting to the creation of intersubjective truth, starting from subjective truth. One lens I have on trust is “trust is what truth feels like from the inside”. Simultaneously, trusting something means being able to be at ease in relation to it. Sometimes we generate this ease in a naive way, by suppressing our concerns, but this is unstable—when those concerns re-arise, they then disrupt apparent group consensus or even apparent resonance that was existing in denial of the concerns. As I’m articulating that right now, in relation to what I just listened to, I’m feeling the inherent relationship between truth and values—what is deeply right for us (our subjective values) aren’t arbitrary.

It seems to me that we don’t choose them so much as discover them. We discover the tradeoffs we truly want to make, and then it doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice. So the decision-making process that you outlined is one of mutual/collective discovery of what we in fact deeply want once all perspectives are heard.

So feeling into the relationship of truth & trust, integrating “trust is 1st person truth” and “trust is feeling at ease/relaxed about something”, and “there’s truth to what we value” we find a new angle on an obvious truth, which is that we distrust systems that appear to jeopardize what we value, whether those systems are bureaucracies, other people, or even the parts of ourselves that we have disidentified from, that cause us to behave in ways that jeopardize our other wants.

In this way, effective collective decision-making, as the process of figuring out what we want, is one of truth-seeking, but with the awareness that the truth we seek, while it can be verified to be self-evident by us, cannot be verified to be self-evident by me or any other individual in the group. We need collective attention and collective consciousness to experience the common-knowledge click moment around that. This is in contrast to pursuits of truth about the physical world or mathematics, which any two people can verify independently.

By coincidence, just before I listened to this podcast, I happened to be reading Political Capital Flow Management and the Importance of Yutting (yes-but-ing) by John Nerst, which talks about Occupy:

In political terms: when you attach less popular narratives to a singular popular idea in order to exploit that popularity, the popular idea becomes less popular as a result.

There was some pretty strong agreement that the 2008 financial crisis necessitated some effort to fix the excesses of the financial industry and address rampant inequality. In that way Occupy Wall Street had a broad base of agreement to stand on, but as many fringe radicals tried to tap that resource of concentrated public agreement it got spread a lot thinner. I believe that if they had kept a narrow focus on corruption in the financial industry and on the social pathologies of extreme inequality instead of letting every radical cause under the sun attach itself to it for sustenance, it could have accomplished a lot more than it did.

This unfortunately erodes our capacity for positive change by making it impossible for consensus to stay concentrated for long enough to actually accomplish things (here I’m defining “positive change” as something a large majority of the population wants).

This seems to me very related to the model you named of decision-making getting corrupted by having unclear scope.

This makes me suspect that insofar as Occupy assemblies were apparently achieving consensus, that some voices within people were probably getting lost, eg ones that said “I care about that issue but I’m not willing to pull it into our current charter/demands here because I want us to stay focused and stay working on only a range of demands that the larger world (who isn’t here right now but I can imagine their views) would also support”.

I really valued you naming that just because desires are narrow or graspy or clingy or ego-based, doesn’t mean they are to be discarded or ignored—they need to be integrated. We need to zoom out from the graspiness, but the desire is real and it matters and any model that says it needs to be let go of is going to meet tremendous resistance, and even if it seems to locally succeed by getting the desire to let go, whatever generated that desire is likely to come back with a vengeance—and a distrust of the whole process. I described this above. I’ve experienced profound amounts of this myself in attempting to get into resonant flow with people (and succeeding in a kind of local unstable way).

I loved when you said:

“obviously—well, not obviously—it’s obvious to me, but may not be to some people”

I call these phrases “co-epistemic status tags”. So many people brush over this and it’s SO important. To communicate your perspective here—and not just to people who also already see the obvious thing—you need to simultaneously acknowledge its obviousness to you and also give space for it not to be obvious to others. Love it.

— —

You were talking about the creation of a new group of facilitators, that are consciously excluding people so that the membership consists of people who are a certain kind of ready, and you said:

If you can’t [hold X], then whether you think you can or not, you’re not welcome.

(X was something like “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible” but for the purposes of what I want to say here it’s actually clearer to talk about if we don’t pay much attention to the specifics)

It seems to me that this is missing something really important. As I see it, in some vital sense, whoever is holding the existing membrane (that someone may or may not join) can’t actually know if the prospective joiner can hold X. All we can know is whether we can tell they can hold it (or I’d say “whether we can trust they can hold it”). And we need to own this, in order to not claim to be some objective authority on it. Moreover, the important part of the exclusion boundary is whether it maintains a shared experience internally of holding X together, not whether or not someone is or is not holding X in some objective sense. If you’re holding X and I can’t tell, we can’t hold X together.

To that end, it seems to me that the assessment should go both ways—someone should only join if it seems to them that the group they’re joining can hold X. Not all situations will have this kind of symmetry, but if I’m understanding what you’re pointing at here, this one wants to have this symmetry.

The other implication of this is that it allows the membrane to say, “We can’t trust that you’re holding X, but that’s not an assertion that you aren’t. If you think you are, we’ll encourage you to form your own membrane with others with whom you mutually are able to experience holding X together, and we’ll meet your group at some point once we figure out how to earn each other’s trust.”

You said:

When the moment is right, it will announce itself through those of us who are attuned to it.

Critical mass, not just of numbers but of holding capacity.

The call is issued by the critical mass itself.

This seems exactly right to me, and your description resonates remarkably closely with one that emerged in a conversation between me & Michael Smith where we called them common-knowledge click moments.

And it seems to me that the first phase of this might spread as much through private networks as through public memes—your bugle reaches a few dozen people, who each pass it onto the 2-10 people they trust most deeply, perhaps until it actually stops hitting new people because all the people anyone can think of are already in the network via some other path of trust. Or something. That’s one model, anyway.

On this note, I’ve been loving hearing each of you (David & Daniel) speak to your sense of what your roles are. That’s another theme that’s been showing up for me, eg in this video where Michael Smith and I talk about what we’re both doing, then we talk about the different angle that each of us is taking on it. It seems to me that the more things come into focus, the more we’ll be able to see exactly what we feel called to do and how it’s different from the kinds of things where we hear someone else say they’re doing it and go “GREAT, I was gonna tackle that if I had to in order to enable my work, but knowing you’re taking care of it, now I’m free to focus on what deeply energizes me.” I talk about this in general here.

Okay, what else is there to say?

I could say a bit more about what I’m focusing on in relation to this whole puzzle, although a lot of it has already been gesturing at above. I could summarize it as working on the translation layer for reconciling times when dialogue breaks down. This is also known as the “meta-protocol”, though the specific aspect or angle on the meta-protocol that’s my focus, is on how each person has a different view of the meta-protocol and we need to somehow bring those into dialogue in order to develop the meta-protocol and to resolve differences in perspective. More on my views on this and my formative experiences on it, in Open Letter: Convening an Ontario meta-protocol jam.

Oh, another thing to say is that if you want a taste of my sense of the concrete experience of living embodied collective god that you named, you might check out this video of me & Jordan Hall talking about the Learning Mindset and Exaptation.

It seems you and I want to be in a dialogue around all of this, perhaps one that is recorded and shared publicly. Let’s make it happen.

I’ll close with these lyrics from Hymn To Freedom, which I spontaneously decided to listen to earlier today:

when every heart, joins every heart
and together yearns for liberty
that’s when we’ll be free
when every hand, joins every hand
and together molds our destiny
that’s when we’ll be free

It seems to me that we are working on the co-attentional infrastructure for the joining process. That song is a powerful meme for pointing at that more beautiful world our hearts know is possible, but it doesn’t actually explain how we get there. And of course it won’t simply suddenly be “every heart” or “every hand”. It’ll start with small groups of citizens who want to prototype the process for everyone else, and then integrate the concerns of everyone else as it scales up & out.



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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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