May 29, 2012 Leave a comment


I’m a huge fan of Kevin Kelly.  I really think of him as the prophet of the digital age.  He has done lots around complexity.  And he has spent time looking at swarms.  In “Bootstrapping Comlexity,” Andrea Lloyd’s “remix” of Kelly’s book “Out of Control” we find a useful list of benefits and apparent disadvantages of swarm systems.

I consider swarm systems from the perspective of social movements.  I look at the 501(c)3 Industrial Complex as the currently outdated infrastructure of social movements in the United States. This infrastructure is comprised of organizations that share a tax status.  It is time to evolve beyond our organizational constraints.  It is important to note that many of the more effective cultural interventions for social change are already happening beyond the boundaries of nonprofit structures.

Kelly says that swarm systems are adaptable.  He says that:

It is possible to build a clockwork system that can adjust to predetermined stimuli. But constructing a system that can adjust to new stimuli, or to change beyond a narrow range, requires a swarm — a hive mind. Only a whole containing many parts can allow a whole to persist while the parts die off or change to fit the new stimuli.

Certainly this is how we have to think of social movements in all of their complexity.  We will not be able to move as long as we keep waiting for the single party or the single national coalition, or the single campaign that will be will run and organized in such a way that we get all that we want – which is everything.  We want it all.

We need a movement that is highly adaptable – able to adjust to new and unexpected stimuli.  We need an ethos that allows us to do what we are called to do while keeping a sense of a whole.  We need to see ourselves as among the many parts, allowing the whole to persist while other parts die off or change to fit the new stimuli.  We can’t look at the close of an organization or campaign as only a failure – we must tend to the process in with a mindset of adaptation.

It is easier to see this for large scale movement than it is to see it from our organizational perspective.  But this is precisely the challenge that I’m putting forward.  It is time to actively shift our organizational orientation away from one in which our organization is our center to one in which our organization is but a node in a network, and that node is composed of individuals, all of whom can be part of a swarm that transcends organizational constraints.

This can be done.


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