I’m so happy you shared this! The farmpunk blog is full of such gems, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Not that I’m biased…the farmpunk blogster is akshully my fiance/boifriend-type thang. He is at class right now. He is so smaht. If only I could be so smaht…
<3 <3 <3
I just finished watching the livestream from Occupy Los Angeles, during their General Assembly for the day. I continue inhabiting my role of armchair activist. I was kind of wanting to go down there tonight, because it just dawned on me that this bit, the General Assembly, is probably the most radical aspect of the Occupy movement. I didn’t. I came home and worked on my memoir-of-sorts-although-I-hate-that-word, instead.
So I watched the GA. I watched the arduous process they use to consider proposals, and let me tell you, it was exhausting! It’s hard work, getting to the point where a group of diverse folks can agree to take collective action. I realized tonight in a new way, that these folks aren’t just hanging out in tents, waving signs and banging on drums. No, the Occupiers are enacting a very strange and (to me) wonderfully different method of getting-things-done: consensus-based decision-making.
Do you know what that means? It’s truly radical. It means that if anyone disagrees strongly, the group will not proceed with a proposal. Take a moment with that thought. I had to when I first learned about consensus methods when researching a book a few years back. I didn’t understand why it mattered. So what, so they all agree, what’s so cool about that? The book was on several utopian-experimental communities, and each profile highlighted one unique aspect of the community in question. One in Oregon was all about consensus and group-dynamics. I remember me and the author joking that we had no idea what that meant. We kind of scoffed at this particular community until his girlfriend scolded us. She got it, apparently, but I still didn’t. I didn’t until tonight.
By now, a few years of life have shown me (what, did I live in a cave before? sheesh.) that people do not easily, always agree! News flash, right? Sorry to be so dense…
But that’s not the point. The point is, it’s really hard to get-things-done as a society, even when you’re railroading minority opinions for the “sake of a greater good”, which of course, is completely subjective. It’s so subjective! I mean, what one person genuinely believes is to the benefit of a greater good, another may know from experience will harm more people than it helps. People have different experiences, and therefore different truths, especially when it comes to projecting into the future, and guessing what will happen as the result of certain present-moment choices.
Consensus takes all experiences as essentially equivalent, and respects all intuitions as meaningful. It does this by nature of its structure — nobody has to mention it or dwell on it or get all kumbaya or anything. Consensus takes that inherent worth for granted, and uses the diversity of experience in a group to the ultimate advantage of the group — because all decision will, by nature of the process, have full buy-in from all the members. But they’ll also have tons more information, especially from softspoken folks, than they would if the structure was one that catered to loudmouths (like democracy).
This is brilliant! It’s like a networked computer of human beings (heart-mind-body conduits). Because of course nobody can have the knowledge of a collective. But in some cases, that collective knowledge may hold the key to the right choice, and the group ignores that wisdom at its peril.
Anyhow, I witnessed the mechanics this evening. I listened as the group discussed a proposal to temporarily clear the camp of tents to do a systemic cleanup. When I tuned in they were in small discussion groups, then they came back together as a whole. So there had been a proposal, they’d discussed it, and then they listened to speakers for and against. Then they took a vote, or “temperature”. It seemed that they had been through this process before for this proposal. At any rate there were still some blockers (people strongly opposed) so the proposal went nowhere. It’ll be up to the proposer to talk to those opposed and incorporate their needs into a new proposal.
Can we just take a moment and consider what life in these United States would be like if things were run this way?
You may think, god it would be slow as Christmas, how would anything get done? And you’d be right, but re-think that statement. What gets “done” usually? In government, isn’t it often a matter of a power play on behalf of certain powerful interests over others? Often for control of scarce resources. Who does that really benefit? I think it’s pretty clear that it benefits the brash, the bold, and anyone willing to use violence (physical or emotional) in order to serve their narrowly defined self-interest. What about the needs of all the people who aren’t willing to exercise violence to serve themselves over others, what about the shy, the quiet, all introverts!? Well, apparently America isn’t for them. Sorry. You’ll just have to take whatever crumbs are left for you after the big dogs take the bulk of the nation’s resource-wealth.
I’m exaggerating for effect, to prove a point. Clearly, even an introvert like me has plenty of resources (but this largely due to my lucky middle-class upbringing and education). The grey areas of how our government currently works are worth further debate. The point is, the way we collectively enact or deny respect for one another creates the world we live in. Consensus-based decision making is a decidedly different path than winner-takes-all voting — one that actively values every individual, their unique contributions and insights.
I think as a species this method does far more for us than a system where the boldest wins, or even where the majority wins. I think we should pay attention to what the Occupiers are up to, if only for this: they’re doing it right, in my opinion. But at the very least, they’re doing it differently.
What do you think?