Notes on Self-Organization and a Global Dialogue Website

3 year old with tablet, no toys

Notes on Self-Organization and a Global Transformation Dialogue Website

How can we contribute to the process of finding a global Network of networks, a Movement of movements, a Hyper- or Meta- or Super-Movement which might be capable of turning around the Titanic of global capitalism, of rescuing civilization from climate chaos, of making another democratic, just and sustainable world possible? A tall order.

One idea has been to try to help facilitate this process by creating a global participatory website of dialogue for movements and concerned individuals, possibly called ParticipatePlanet. A prototype is under discussion by an affinity/interest group emerging from the International Organization for a Participatory Society. If it should eventuate, the final website will of course be self-managed by the participating movements, networks, groups and individuals themselves. Hopefully it might itself approximate the libertarian social ideal of ‘an interwoven network composed of an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes and degrees, local, regional, national and international – temporary or more or less permanent – for all possible purposes’ (Peter Kropotkin).

These notes are meant to provide some very general thoughts about self-organization as a first principle and guiding value for participatory website construction.

The Tao of Anarchism. Self-organizing, self-regulation, self-management, is not merely an ‘ideal‘, but ‘natural’, the Way of Nature itself (‘Tao’). It, and its synonyms spontaneity and freedom, pertain at all levels and scales of nature, from sub-elementary particles to the biosphere, galaxy and beyond. ‘There has existed throughout the whole process of evolution an ability to move on to new planes of existence, to create novelty. Freedom is not an essence only available to the sensibility of man; it is germinatively at work in all living things as spontaneity and auto-plasticity’ (Herbert Read, ‘Anarchy and Order’, p. 156). Libertarian social philosophy is thus not mere utopian wish-fulfilment but makes the claim of being grounded in contemporary science, in biology and ecology, in ontology and metaphysics.

Intrinsic (v Extrinsic) Control. Any natural or human system is self-regulated when it is intrinsically controlled by its own internal mechanisms rather than by the intervention of agencies outside the system (extrinsic control). A healthy animal body self-regulates and heals itself after disturbance (Walter Cannon’s ‘homeostasis’), as does a healthy ecosystem without chemical or technological intervention, a co-operative work team without a boss, a healthy community or society without the intervention of the state.

Autonomy (v Heteronomy). Human social systems over millennia have been self-regulating. The rise of ruling classes and states, ‒ often building on and extending the rule of men over women and the old over the young ‒ meant the usually violent attempt of controlling and/or intervening from outside and from above in the complex local self-regulations of the people. Networks became pyramids. Palace and church sought to dominate tent and hut, lord the peasant, merchant the cottager, factory-owner the worker. Heteronomy (the rule of others) replaced autonomy (self-rule).

This also happened inside people as heteronomy was internalized as ‘natural’ (obedience, authoritarian and outer-directed character etc). Yet the spark of autonomy, of spontaneity, freedom and self-activity, lives on in all people.

Super-System Interdependence. Independent self-regulation of a system, intrinsic control, of course does not mean independence from external context. On the contrary, this external context, the infinite web of interdependence between systems and organisms, e.g. the planetary biosphere, is itself a self-regulating super-system of self-regulating systems. As is the super-organism of the human body. Our global website will, necessarily, also be such a super-organism expressing self-managed interdependence.

Holonic Nesting. Any self-regulating system or web of interdependencies is made up of parts that are themselves self-regulating systems or wholes. The self-regulating parts/wholes (or ‘holons’, Arthur Koestler), made up of other self-regulating parts/wholes, are thus embedded or nested within larger self-regulating wholes which in turn are parts of larger self-regulating wholes, and so on.

A bacterial ecosystem lives in the gut of a parasitic mite on a beetle that lives under bark that is part of a tree that is part of a forest that is part of a continental biome that is part of the Earth’s biosphere that is part of the solar system that is part of the Milky Way galaxy that is part of a galaxy cluster that etc.

Each of these nested systems is self-regulating, as is the Whole System, the universe: there is no extrinsic Prime Mover regulating the whole show from the outside or above. The universe is not a dominator-hierarchy and pyramid but a horizontalist ‘holonarchy’. Our global website will be a nested holonarchy like the universe.

Horizontality. In a food web, for example, each part/whole is horizontally linked to many different other parts/wholes through relationships of predation, competition, commensalism, mutualism/cooperation, symbiosis. These horizontal, ‘grassroots’ relationships are the actual form that the system’s self-regulated complexity takes. There is no hierarchical top-down control of the system. ‘Nature knows no king of beasts’ (Murray Bookchin). The human brain has no hierarchy or central boss. Our global website will cater for horizontal grassroots inter-connection and dialogue.

From Affinity Group to Infinity Group. Take the complexity of libertarian self-organization just in my simple case. I am at present in an affinity group with a mutual interest in creating a global dialogue website. Most in this group are, or have been, affiliated with IOPS. In turn IOPS itself could in theory (if conceived differently) be part of some larger international federation of libertarian/’participist’ groups of some kind. In turn this international federation could be part of this global Movement of movements (a kind of ‘Infinity Group’) and its website. At the same time I have ‘horizontal’ connections with the local Community garden which is part of the local Transition initiative which in turn is part of the international Transition Network which could be part this global Movement of movements and its website.

The website could thus cater for me as an individual, as a member of an affinity or interest group, as a member of IOPS, a member of a Community Garden, a member of the local/international Transition Network. Like Wikipedia it could have meta-portals, i.e. portal opening upon portal up and down the holonic scale from most local to most global. These portals could be organised both geographically by continents and via global activist themes or issues (e.g. climate justice, direct action, ‘Blockadia’, social justice, participatory democracy, indigenous rights, peace and non-violence, gender and sexuality, another world visions etc.)

Coherence not from Unity but from Complexity. The website structure should reflect a libertarian vision of a complex, diverse, self-managed society, a Confederation of federations or Network of networks, where coherence is not found through an enforced top-down unity (as in all parties right and left) but through the free, bottom-up communication of its diverse parts.

Peter Kropotkin already described this well in 1905 as ‘an ever-changing adjustment and readjustment of equilibrium between multitudes of forces and influences’ expressed in ‘an interwoven network composed of an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes and degrees, local, regional, national and international – temporary or more or less permanent – for all possible purposes: production, consumption and exchange, communications, sanitary arrangements, education, mutual protection, defence of the territory, and so on; and on the other side, for the satisfaction of an ever-increasing number of scientific, artistic, literary and sociable needs.’ (1905 ‘Anarchism’ article for Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition).

Flow (v Building). We can build a website but not a truly self-organizing movement and certainly no global Movement of movements. These emerge organically and spontaneously when the time is ripe from deep social and psychic sources beyond any extrinsic control or leadership. What we can try and do is facilitate global dialogue by offering a prototype website and then go with the Flow. Like the creative process in art, poetry, science, self-organization is itself Flow, a flexible and dynamic rather than rigid, static structure. It is creativity in response to challenges. It is surfing the surging and ebbing waves of social movements emerging from the Deep, from the Void, the Tao. Perhaps the waves have not developed enough as yet, perhaps the global crisis is not deep enough yet, and it could thus yet be too early for such a (ad)venture, who knows. Still, one can only find out by venturing, so it’s worth a non-violent shot.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on February 2, 2015.

4 Responses to “Notes on Self-Organization and a Global Dialogue Website”

  1. The philosophy is only “utopian” (in the negative sense of unrealistic) to the degree it describes a process of “sudden awakening” ,that is , without acknowledging stages of transition marked by indeterminancy. I don’t believe people will suddenly emancipate themselves after generations of hierarchical ordering, nor will the psychological scarring heal quickly. Because that legacy of damage is carried in our language games, as well as social relations, a discourse will need time to become “justified” in the Habermasian sense.

    In this sense, to get from point A to point B will take consideration of those who are terrified of that freedom, those who may not be able to articulate their Desire and those for whom the State actually secures their ability to participate ( formal democracy). Consensus could spell our doom.

    As feminists have discovered, imagining ourselves to be liberated is not the same thing as changing all the institutional or psychic structures that regulate our Being. And even if we accept the anthropology you suggest ( I’m skeptical of reading to much into the record), it could take time to undo cultural memory and tap into the genetic. And what is our time frame, realistically?

    I see a situation where we may have to give up a bit of our autonomy, horizontality and self-direction to achieve some unity and I know anarchists are going to hate to hear this. Rather than “pre-figuring”, we may have to adopt some values for the struggle that we don’t see guiding the New Society. Cause life is like that.

    • Hi Dave. Might be talking past each other a bit here. Not sure you’ve really understood what I’m trying to say here. Your ascribing a lot of things to the text which it isn’t saying. This text contains neither the word ‘utopian’ nor any concept of ‘sudden awakening’, so don’t know where you got that from. Like you, I would also be surprised if ‘people’ (i.e. we) ‘suddenly emancipated’ ourselves. The text also doesn’t mention the notion of ‘consensus’ nor of ‘pre-figuring’ (I’m more for ‘figuring’ without the ‘pre-‘). Maybe you might be projecting some of your anti-Occupy stuff here? (Know we have differing evaluations of that phenomenon as we do of governments and leaders and elections etc; you know I’m no fan of Habermasian social-democracy/technocracy despite his quasi-anarchoid, albeit totally abstract-lifeless notion of the ‘ideal communication situation’). I don’t know who the ‘we’ in the last paragraph is, doesn’t include me anyway. Happy wintering…

      • Perhaps that was an over-reaction. I’ve just spent lots of time discussing certain anarcho currents such as David Graeber and John Holloway and Bookchin and even Michael Albert to some degree, and I recognized some of that language. And I think that work, very popular right now, and with many good insights, also requires some careful consideration and critique.

        You do say “Libertarian social philosophy is not mere utopian wish fulfillment” in the fourth paragraph.

        I wonder if you find the concept of “animal spirits” to be congruent with the urge to “create novelty”? And I may have mistaken the notion of “spontaneity” for sudden awakening, something that has been around since slogans like “Tune In” or “Change in Consciousness”, etc.. where radicalization is “the veil” being lifted.

        There are very real issues where eco-socialists and anarchists are going to have to find common ground and move forward.

  2. …”find common ground and move forward…”
    rinse and repeat, as the kids say…

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