1. Social evolution
From time to time
major transitions occur in social organization: dictatorship is replaced
by democracy, monarchy by a republic, dominance by one person or one group
by a more egalitarian regime, colonialism by independence, etc. Most often
the general idea is that an egoistic and short-sighted ruler or ruling
system is just blocking progress, and that the way to free this progress
is the elimination of the ruling person(s). The underlying conviction is
that, once the oppressor is removed, the higher quality regime spontaneously
History however teaches
that reality is a little different, to say the least: the historically
most reknowned revolutions towards freedom and getting rid of the tyrant
--French Revolution and the Russian October Revolution-- evolved in a few
years' time into a worse condition: French kings were replaced by a despotic
emperor, and the triumphant elimination of theTsar was followed by perhaps
the most tyrannical dictatorship in modern times.
More generally speaking,
most of idealistic groups will have had the experience of people leaving
the group without even trying to explain the real reason for their departure,
let alone that they've fairly tried to change the situation so that they
could feel more pleased with it.
What's wrong then
with this kind of "big leap forwards", and do we risk the same outcome
when we'll move towards the Noosphere and other kinds of Synergy, now that
the Internet is granting us unlimited facilities to converge and to elaborate
a global vision and cooperation?
in eGroups may take several forms:
- no one
says anything (silence has its own functions) During recent weeks
some remarks like these were exchanged in our Teilhardian eGroup, prompting
me to post these reflections:
- what is said is
of relatively low value to others
- the degree of
exchange beyond binary interactions is minimal
for your attention to my thoughts, which made the collecting of them into
that presentation worthwhile. Believe it or not, besides Tony Judge and
Nadia McLaren, you're the only one who has actually engaged with them in
a substantive way. [George Pór to Kris Roose, 17/3/02] 3. Academic environment
Had a conversation
with X over lunch today, prompted by the thoughts in your (...) email.
For a while (and following experiments on his part with creative dialogue),
X has said that the trouble is not really the lack of communication facilitation
means (e-learning or c-learning software, etc) but that people don't have
anything meaningful to say to each other. So, for example, he found himself
pulling out of almost all active participation in listservs (including,
with regret, that of your own ...). I do recognize this tendency, but on
the other hand it is undeniable that people do have meaningful things to
say to each other and that we are ALL THE TIME gathering up the crumbs
and supplementing our meagre scraps of collective knowledge. [from a private
mail the next day 18/3/02]
This is why we need
true 'peer to peer' networks, with people of equal 'absorbing' capacity,
and that is not always easy to find. Of course, in such groups, our ego
can come in the way as well, so we need a combination of selection, modesty,
and finally facilitation and facilitative technologies. Alone, the latter
can not work. [reaction to the former private email, 20/3/02]
A central act of
community formation is the negotiation of the meaning of the community
and its agenda. The further the members are on their journey of self-realization,
the more difficult that negotiation may become because of the very unique
gifts and quest of each member. However, when the passion for learning
and advancing a common field of study/action is high and combined with
the capacity to recognize and cherish the gifts of our peers united by
the same concern, then nothing will stop the emergence of the self-organizing
collective intelligence of those communities. May we witness it within
our lifetime. [George's concluding remarks on this subject, 20/3/02]
This is a well-recognized
point which has proven to be significantly problematic in the academic
environment. It is my understanding that few academic papers receive much
satisfactory comment -- even those of the most eminent, and certainly not
by the most eminent.
How could we describe
this kind of experiences? They seem to be instances of a nearly universal
phenomenon: even when people have good ideas to communicate, and even when
perfect communication lines are available, that active communication doesn't
occur most of times.
I somewhat got the
impression, given the title, that everyone who did not communicate fully
in some such setting was somehow minimally responsible rather than maximally
responsible in fulfilment of the synergy agenda.
This phenomenon strikingly
reminds of the reaction of guests at a not so successful party: they rather
leave the party than that they will try to turn it into a more joyful event.
The same way a driver which encounters a dangerous stone on his route most
probably will continue his journey after successfully avoiding this obstacle,
rather than stopping and removing the stone before the next driver hits
I tend to explain
this behaviour by the psychological attitude of minimal responsibility.
Minimal responsibility or inertia is the tendency with people to feel themselves only responsible
at the least possible degree for the situation they are confronted with.
They will only take initiatives for what is explicitly their duty and responsibility
and/or what can be easily controlled by others. They don't see the system
in which they participate as their own system. They judge that their liability
is limited, because they are not the "leaders" of the group, they "bear
no responsibility". As said Cain "Am I my brotherís keeper?" [Gen. 4:9],
and Pilate "When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather
a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude,
saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it."
Maximal responsibility can be defined as quite the opposite approach: a "simple" member of a community
perceives the "community agenda" as his own. Without being the official
leader of the group, he acts as if s/he was the informal leader, or at
least the responsible observer and contributor of ideas and suggestions
for the group.
It is clear that
non-authoritarian groups only can successfully function with (many) members
feeling themselves maximally responsible for the group events, spontaneously
advancing ideas and sharing tasks.
Lévy's cyberdemocracy (site in French) will not properly function
without maximal responsibility in communication and active participation.
Apart from technology, education is perhaps of the essence.
Let's look to two
aspects: the local one in which it is granted that the participants
are ready to participate in the integrative discussion. This engagement
was explicitly given. Of course, assumptions
are made about the nature of the community which sometimes are only partially
shared, if at all.
The more general issue relates to the question if and to which number of communicating groups
we could/would engage.
The local issue
a) Why it doesn't work (as well as we'd dreamed)?
A number of factors
contribute to this minimal attitude:
related to the quality of the e-Interaction
- assumptions are
made about the degree and quality of synergy sought by all participants
(metaphorically perhaps best caricatured as the belief that promiscuity
is better than anything else -- an interesting lead to explore since it
is accepted that maximal sexual promiscuity is not appropriate except in
quite radical groups)
- assumptions may
be made about thresholds of fruitfulness
- there may indeed
be differences in absorbing capacity (both in terms of quality and quantity);
some may have heard the same points many times before -- to what extent
should they stress this or consider it healthy
motivation to cooperate
- the instinct
of mammalia: with the exception of motherly care, alarm shouting, and
some cases where animals behave socially as their basic behaviour (bees
bringing food to the hive, male ungulate mammalia running at the oustide
of a flock), in social situations mammalia seem not to "think" or "feel
responsible" for the group, and even not for themselves on a longer term.
As we are mammalia, we don't spontaneously behave that way.
- liability for
failure: in a suboptimal and neurotic environment one tends to attribute
failures to the person that launched the idea. So launching no ideas at
all is the simplest way to prevent this.
- passive aggressiveness:
one of the ways to get rid of one's frustration for not being at the commands
of groups and activities, is to avoid giving good ideas, and to try indirectly
to provoke a failure.
- fear to be ridiculized:
often group leaders or important members (or people considered as such)
are supposed to know things better than simple members do. A less important
or experienced group member may hesitate that his ideas are worth to be
discussed by much more experienced group members, and prefers not to disturb
them wiith his dawdlings. But even at equal capacities, new ideas always
start as the propriety of a minority (or an individual), so it is not difficult
for the group to decree by majority that the new idea isn't as good as
the generally accepted. It is right that not everyone succeeds in considering
someone's reactions as constructive suggestions, and it is very well possible
to comment those suggestions with some hidden sarcasm.
- fear for getting
more work: one trick to shove the workload onto the shoulders of some
people is asking the person who makes a suggestion to take the responsibility
for it --and to do all of the work.
- the quality
disparity: it's not very stimulating but rather boring for someone
who has a more than average expertise in a certain topic to continuously
be confronted with the simplistic ideas of newbies and enthousiastic dilettantes.
S/he also may prefer not to become the informal guru of the group.
- the emphasis may
primarily be on phatic communication, namely exchange for its own sake
and not to accumulate and integrate insights in any structured way.
- most group members
motivated to do something more than the required minimum. Already
at the beginning, they just joined to enjoy the activities and other features
of the group. When asked for, they'll show their preference between the
proposed options, and when they feel less enthousiastic by recent events
they'll ventilate their frustration (or simply quit). But, from the beginning,
they never were really interested to actively contributing to the organization
of the group.
- commercial intentions:
one may project to make money out of a good idea, and prefer not to divulgate
- an academic interested
in the same topic, who thinks of a good idea, wants to publish it
(to gain credit) before contributing to the thinking momentum of his colleagues.
- short term motivation:
although our frontal brain lobe --a unique acquisition for mammalia: even
our cousin the ape and our predecessor Homo Neandertalensis had
a flat forehead, lacking the capacity of long term thinking and hence creativity.
Although we know that thinking about latent possibilities and threatening
dangers, and hence taking pro-active initiatives, is useful for everyone
concerned, at short term this doesn't yield many advantages for us, so
we rather postpone it. Finally, it is a kind of discipline, but since post-WW2
culture, stressing individual development, discipline has become
a dirty word.
- what is said is
perceived as offensive, too complex, etc too others
- the opposition
of the official group leader in authoritarian groups. In most of cases,
autocrats don't like good ideas of ordinary group members: they feel uneasy
by the experience of somebody else having a better idea, and perhaps most
of all by the obligation to discuss their hidden motives. In non-liberal
groups the simple fact of launching a good idea is labeled as criticism or even subversiveness. This leads to excesses as "Marschieren,
nicht räsonieren" (March, but don't think - the Army thinks for
you.) On the other hand, it is undeniable that some remarks and suggestions
are launched not so much for the optimalization of the group's functioning,
but just to criticize the leader(s).
- many groups and
organizations don't even have adequate communication channels for
new ideas. The whole organization is conceived as if all members with the
ability of producing good ideas and sharing power are to be found within
the board, the higher the level the more ability. Ideas generated outside
this committee most probably are considered as unrealistic if not subversive.
Theoretically everyone can send a letter to one's representative, and there
is of course free press. But experience learns that, even with polls showing
that the majority supports a certain vision, the governing body most of
time has its own priorities, considering the preference of the majority
as based upon a lack of information and long term vision. So participating
in direct democracy is rather frustrating.
b) Why does it work in certain conditions?
(A direction would
also be to study what makes good groups tick, rather than only see why
most of us lack motivation to participate all the time everywhere ...)
I partipate in a
mailing list postconpol [postconventional politics] which
discusses 'integral politics' approaches. Just as the open sources phenomemon,
it spontaneously works very well, because:
- we are peers there
-there's always a
balance between participants and lurkers, depending on the subjects and
the personal energy and time of each. [Michel
- the reponder is
quoted in the original text, and so feels more motivated to react.
- the responder happens
to have some creative ideas about the subject
The General Issue
- the group composition
issue: many may indeed have good ideas
to communicate, but with whom should they be communicating them for best
mutual benefit? Are those people present in the group? How much time can
they devote to this process and using what means?
- the time limit:
this is certainly a realistic problem, especially because people who like
creative thinking and organizing also tend to engage in many discussion
and other groups, eventually getting involved into too much obligations.
- the selection
issue: How does one act responsibly in determining when to stop and
remove the stone -- to use your metaphor? Having driven along many stony
roads, I think we all have to balance our responsibilities rather than
define ourselves as roadworkers -- however much we would want the road
to be better.
What if they are
themselves perceived to be the stone by others -- or choose so to perceive
It is useful to turn
the question round and ask, in any communication situation, when is it
my responsibility not to be there in order to be somewhere else, or otherwise
engaged? This raises the challenge of the number of places in which people
would like communication to occur. In how many such cases can one participate?
At what stager does one shift into a form of pub crawling, drifting from
listserv to listserv to hang out? I hear that there are some 16,000 health
sites on the web -- in how many should one endeavour to communicate and
what is to be said to the initiator of the 16,001th such site and their
expectations about communication? I like the image of a field of flowers,
each flower a website trying (competively) to attract pollinating insects?
How irresponsible is the insect that does not go to a particular flower?
- the group decision
issue: Having just had a smoke-filled lunch break, how does one respond
to a meeting in which many metaphorically smoke? Should one stop others
from smoking? Or should one go elsewhere? To what extent am I responsible
for other peoples psychic health? And to what extent should I inflict my
criteria on them?
synergy needs maximal responsibility
On the other hand
the "innate" tendency in the evolution of the Universe, especially at the
socialization and noosphere levels, requires a maximum of spontaneous cooperation
in thinking (critical and creative), initiative taking and organizing.
This trend towards
liberalization results into full cooperation. We observe it as well
in partner relationships, all kinds of groups, companies and even state
politics. What feeds this trend?
- motivation: apart from duty and wages, forceful but limited reinforcers, people appear
to be more motivated for cooperation by the possibility of being creative
and/or decision-making. The more aspects of one's personality that are
appealed to, the more important and motivated one feels. Although in an
authoritarian system the leader has all these motivational possibilities
to his disposal, the other group members will not stop looking for ways
to share the organization of the group's activities. Their productivity
increases in accordance with this participation, and this may be vital.
a fertile and constructive exchange of ideas can be managed, groups are
more inventive than individuals, and this for several reasons: creative
people tend to become blocked after one or a number of creative ideas because
it proves rather difficult to leave a previously successful but exhausted
line of thinking. Moreover, leading people tend to withdraw from practical
reality, but precisely this empirical situation most often yields creative
questions, criticisms and brain-waves. Even if those remarks and proposals
are not final, they most often prove to be very inspiring for creative
thinking. Keeping the executive people outside the decision making process
usually results into an impoverishment of the system.
were illustrated on a convincing way by the failure of the centrally planned
communistic system confronted with a liberal market economy. Let's define synergy as a kind of cooperation where motivation and inventiveness is at its summit.
I deplore the use of the word synergy as a simple synonym for cooperation.
I would propose to define it as the best thinkable form of cooperation,
otherwise we'll have to invent some new word. The socialization process
described by Teilhard is expected to eventually evolove into a perfect
synergy between humans, by them probably including the whole universe.
It is clear that,
to attain this synergy, any kind of authoritarian structure has to be removed
and avoided, to maximalize motivation and inventiveness of all participating
individuals. But while removing exogenous (=coming from outside,
top down) organization of information exchange and collaboration, endogenous (=coming from inside, bottom up) organization is increasingly needed. And
this includes a maximal sense of responsibility, and the discipline to
behave cooperative in the absence of exogenous organization. Without endogenous
organization, non-organized cooperation becomes chaotic and conflicting,
or dies away. When a decrease of exogenous organization is not supported
by an equal increase of endogenous organization, the evolution fails.
Each revolution, consisting in reducing or removing external hierarchical
control in a group or population not "mature" for more maximal responsibility,
is doomed to return to the former authoritarian situation or even worse.
of French and Russian revolution, and of the decolonization exemplify this
to enhance spontaneous participation?
By which means maximal
responsibility could be enhanced?
a combination of selection, modesty, and finally facilitation and facilitative
technologies. Alone, the latter can not work. [from the email quoted above] This proposal suggests
that as well organizational, psychological and technological means could
a computer network within a company, and Internet in general provide an
easy, rapid and unlimited availability of generalized communication. But
moreover, it is stripped from any emotional and psychological interference
making comparable communication with traditional means so difficult if
not impossible, keeping the door open for a subtle play with arguments
including the general peaceful athmosphere, the cost of paper and secretary
workload to reduce and often to prevent the divulgation of ideas not complying
with the agenda of the board. It was a blessing for humanity that the WWW
and HTML were conceived by a non-commercial
body, and released without royalties. I suppose the world might have
had another aspect today if Microsoft or Warner Bros had been swifter to
grasp the opportunity.
apart from the rules of InternEtiquette,
contributors and eGroup members should perhaps educate themselves into
the necessary discipline to comment the others' contributions and to make
efforts to structure, to document and to elaborate their comments.
But a most important
element is an open attitude, considering that each contribution, how deviant
it may be form what is already available, probably is an enrichment rather
than a conflict. Each apparent conflict in fact is a paradox: it's most
probably rather due to improper formulation than to the fact that one of
both should be wrong. To ask "who's right?" is highly inappropriate.
a disagreement" should be the first reflex of mature thinking and communicating
to cope with the overwhelming quantity of WWW information, the bad and
the commercial being as available as the good, selection is strongly needed.
To limit the access
to the group discussion to those people really contributing at an adequate
level is tempting, but makes the selection so limiting that, in fact, no
other people could join the group than those who should have joined in
a traditional, non-Internet situation. This should be a pity, because just
the continuous invitation to other yet unknown people to share is precisely
the greatest riches of Internet.
The openness and
virtual limitlessness of the system tends to create an overcrowding in
available texts and sites. The moment of surfeit is momentarily delayed
by ingenious search engines, eGroups, listservs and reciprocal linking
by analogous websites making a de facto selection. It's my personal
conviction that an integrative structuration of the available
texts and other illustrations is unavoidable on the long run. As argued
this integration will not only be a time saving technology to get complete
and useful information, but it is most probably an indispensable scientific
It's an old idea
of mine that we should evolve from eGroups to iGroups --integrating
groups--. The members of such an iGroup should be invited to contribute
actively to an integration of their ideas and, by the way, the information
already available on this subject. As occurred with Linux, we are moving
quickly towards open systems:
keynote speech at the conference Wednesday, IBM Senior Vice President William
"Bill" Zeitler of the company's server group lauded the open-sourcemovement,
saying it spells the end of proprietary systems' domination of the IT market.
[at the LinuxWorld
Conference in New York, January 2002] I think that, as for
other knowledge fields, the era of the great monolithic authors and the
money making publishing
houses, more and more behaving like information chokers, is over. For
the first time in history, we can build up knowledge by cooperation, at
no cost and no time, avoiding the so-called specialists having to decide
if a publication should make any chance to make profit  and switching
to unlimited peer review. Integrating knowledge, not just to synopsize
it, but to use integration as a scientific tool, is, as far as I can view,
one of the vocations of the Internet.
The perspective that
one's contribution will be integrated and not just dumped in some eGroup
archive may prove motivating for spontaneous contributions.
I have the intuition
that no group better could be designated to start as the first iGroup,
than the Teilhard eGroup, composed of Noosphere enthousiasts. This is an
in 1973, Anthony Judge wrote an interesting paper about a more integrative
by computer .
by Anthony Judge:
My best effort at
articulating what needs
to be pulled together.
My summary of the
of synthesis dialogues.
On the other hand
the web itself may be seen as necessarily partially structured effort at
such integration, as I have argued in: From
Information Highways to Songlines of the Noosphere Global configuration
of hypertext pathways as a prerequisite for meaningful collective transformation.
You may be amused
by my latest on "diamond
Capra had to contact 17 publishing houses before he found one, willing
to take the risk. An analogous problem was experienced by Jules Verne,
to say nothing about Chopin and Rachmaninov, who in their days got the
valuable advice, by highly qualified music publishers and critics, to stop
their career as a composer.