Collaboration, cooperation, democracy

Everybody’s head is a strange universe filled with echos of voices they’ve heard over and over again. Against this, we try to manifest our intentions, to persuade with more voice, more conversation. Sometimes we get through, but even when we get through, we’re often filtered, just as we’re filtering. Is it any wonder that it’s so difficult to build and sustain an effective collaboration?

I’m looking at the ways that we strive to aggregate our attentions, find common ground, and work together. Over the years I’ve approached this through the lens of democracy, or what I’ve referred to as the “democratic intention” to create a participatory process that works. The older I get and the more I think about it, the more I realize that this intention, though we so often profess it, is actually rare. Most of us would really like to assert our self interest, our own preferences, but society is a collision of interests and preferences, we have to give in order to take. In a recent discussion of the book The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod, I was struck by the hardwired assumption that self-interest inherently rules, and cooperation is reached most effectively with an understanding of that point, thus the prisoner’s dilemma. In fact, I find that real people are fuzzy on that point, they’re not necessarily or inherently all about self-interest. We’re far more complex than that.

There’s a force of democratization in this world that I suspect is an inherent effect of two factors, population growth and density (which forces us to socialize and co-operate) and human evolution (hopefully we’re growing wiser, more capable, and continuing to adapt). I see aspects of it in work that I do. My internet work is often about building contexts to bring people together for shared experience and collaboration. At the Society of Participatory Medicine I’m involved in communications, and the concept of participatory medicine is driven by a democratization of health information and process. In politics I’ve focused on grassroots emergence, ad hoc and headless organizations, methods for effecting and enhancing participatory culture and activism. In thinking about markets, I’m drawn to the Cluetrain Manifesto and Doc Searls’ current Project VRM, or vendor relationship marketing, which is about giving consumers tools for symmetrical power within the vendor/customer relationship.

I’m thinking about all this in the context of my ongoing fascination with culture, media, and the Internet, and developing thinking that might feed into several interesting projects here and elsewhere. One thought I had was about a potential revival of Extreme Democracy and new conversations about emergent democracy. These are potentially lush gardens of thinking and doing that at the moment are barren, having been untended for a while.

From Jerusalem to Cordoba: music as common ground

It’s crazy time in the world at large, a time of social, political, and economic chaos and a questioning of fundamental assumptions we’ve made about how the world works and doesn’t work. You can blame the “interesting” difficulties we’re in on shortsighted politicians, greedy bankers and corporations, god-mad religious fundamentalists, exploding and fragmenting communications… and I’m sure those and others are aspects of the Trouble. But I think we have a deeper problem. We’ve lost our sense of the common ground of humanity, of the pattern that connects us all.

This is too often said and too easy to say: in a profound sense we are united at the core, but we lose the sense of unity, and see only what divides us. How can we feel this truth in our bones? How can we find a way past the significant and growing barrier and borders, the sense of separation that we feel?

Perhaps we can find the common ground through music, a form of communication that can be a common language and source of unity. “From Jerusalem to Cordoba,” a performance Scoop Sweeney and I are producing Friday night (7pm at St. David’s Church, Bethell Hall, 301 E. 8th Street in Austin) is a powerful musical performance by Catherine Braslavsky and Joseph Rowe that includes songs and forms associated with both Christian and Muslim mystical traditions. Behind the music, there is an understanding of the common ground of humanity. In this music, there is a possibility of peace, a sense of our shared source and reality.