Let the thing, be the thing.
Yuval Noah Harari is one of the 21st Century’s most enlightened thinkers and already, his books: Sapiens, Homo Deus, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century are considered vital reading.
In Sapiens, I recall vividly how Harari calls out organisations as fictions. And the rules we create, boundaries, borders we have drawn and more. He’s right. We have a lot of ‘intellectual things’ which are not real. They are of our mind’s construct and talk and we might create artefacts (books, seals, signs, statues) that bring them to a form of reality. They are not subject to the same laws of physics as say, water is (chemical elemental construct, its change of state in temperature conditions and so on).
These fictions do become our rules, bind us, constructs in how we think, act and even feel.
So this fellowship feels like a further construct of that sort — fictional.
Except this is different.
Constructs have to have constructors. Natural phenomena aside, things humans build, set up and deliver have constructors. Conceivers, designers/architects, approvers, resourcers, craftspeople/makers, decorators, maintainers, users.
My sense of this fellowship is to go against that convention. Except, perhaps, the conceptualise/conceivers part. I guess someone has to name it and bring it into existence as a ‘thing’.
And then I urge us to let the ‘thing’, be the ‘thing’.
What do I even mean by that?
Well, here’s my view on what I think the ‘thing’ is in this fellowship.
In my first post on this, I talked of the frustration I’ve found in the flotilla or boats/people on quests that are not joined as a huge force majeure for good. The network of networks is how I described it.
I have also experienced, observed and learned that many communities, groups, movements etc are centred around the people who founded them. Not just, or necessarily, about ‘the thing’.
Carne Ross wrote an epoch-like book The Leaderless Revolution — which brought to stark attention things that later, Harari features in his 21 Lessons…work. And yet Ross’s book — to my knowledge — hasn’t gathered as much attention as, say, the excellent Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists or Humankind, or Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans New Power works.
Yet in The Leaderless Revolution, all we need to shape a more inclusive world is in Ross’s take on anarchy. Not the state of lawlessness many of us use that word as, nor the punk rebellion we 1970's children recall.
In The Leaderless Revolution Ross quotes marketing leader Mark Earl’s work from the book Herds, where he asserts the power of social influence. To back this up, Earls uses the New Scientist magazine’s declaration is that humans are less Homo Sapiens (wise man) and more Homo Mimicus (copying man). We are socially influenced to copy. Often, we see this in cults, factions and people being radicalised. Often bad replication I think we’d probably agree on.
We can though, also, copy for good.
And Earl’s theories of change are like the famed stadia phenomenon of a Mexican Wave. It takes one, then two, then four then hundreds to make the wave appear around the stadium. Indeed Ross then states:
“…the person most important in influencing change, maybe the person sat next to you.”
Our metaphorical ‘stand next to’ also extends to virtual, online dispersed people who are digitally next to you. Indeed, social networks themselves are built to alert your connections to what you’ve liked, shared and posted. And then those in their network but not yours, the same. And so on. The ripple effect — like the kindness movement #BeTheRipple started by Joanna Suvarna in 2020.
Ross quotes Claudette Colvin, on the bus in Alabama. Mahatma Gandhi, thrown off of a train in South Africa. Individual people who started the ‘wave’ or ripple.
And he looks at President Obama’s amazing, hope-filled victory speech in the US elections in 2008. But how the election verve dissipated when Obama Works was conceived to create (not volunteer campaigners for on) volunteers to work on social change. It seemed the contract people had was to elect Obama, not actually be in involved in making the changes he declared necessary.
We see political apathy, and only when faced with competition by the ‘wrong’ sort of politics, do we see an upsurge in activism and voting.
The social contract between political parties and the people is largely broken and exists merely in functional, vote-led campaigns.
So that wave (in politics) is more like a wave machine than a powerful natural phenomenon sweeping all before it.
And this is where the Fellowship comes in (in my view).
NOT decreed or run by anyone in particular.
Gandalf didn’t rule the Fellowship in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nor did Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas or Gimli. And certainly not Frodo, Samwise, Merry or Pippin.
Therein lies the challenge though right? We need a figurehead, or at least someone holding it together.
Not according to Carne Ross’s research on anarchy.
The ‘thing’ is the thing that leads us. Binds us. Guides us.
“But what about a purpose” you might say?
Well in the Tolkien story, the band that became the Fellowship didn’t WORSHIP the ring, they were out to destroy it so that it could not be yielded by the powers of darkness. That was their thing.
This new fellowship (loosely constructed around the Human Resources profession but considerably beyond) is also to destroy: toxicity and damage in the workplace and use the power of our working lives to repair society and the planet. Well, that’s my definition of it. You can construct yours which may, or may not, be similar.
The ‘thing’ is whatever you want it to be and possibly what others will also sense, see and feel and join in with you. From whatever vantage point they have.
In the Lord of The Rings, when the Fellowship was split, they had their own mini-missions (situationally determined I guess) but all knew they needed to still create the outcome: A destroyed ring.
In The Leaderless Revolution, Carne Ross describes the aftermath recovery planning of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. Citizen dismay with a chaotic local government response was replaced by Community Congresses and ensured fair minority representation (which wasn’t evident in the elected officials and bureaucrats). Huge support equated to swifter and more inclusive recovery. Similarly described in Ross’s story of Porto Alegre in Brazil which used radical techniques of participatory budgeting to allocate spend to things that mattered to people, not to political agendas.
A thing. Not just a dominant person with a ‘thing’.
Ross helpfully describes ‘people power’ of a less anarchic sort in his book, from the corporate world via the John Lewis Partnership’s approach to including their people (employees) as shareholders, and Victorinx (think Swiss Army Knives) into much more mutuality of ways that are participatory, influential and value-led.
So what do anarchy, a retailer and disaster recovery have to do with our current predicament and the advent of this fellowship?
Ross’s book doesn’t just pick up human leadership failings and the more participatory approaches he found in his search for anarchic ‘rule’ as a force for good.
He describes 9 actions:
- Excavate your convictions. Find out what matters most to you and then find those who have similar convictions if you want to effect change.
- Who’s got the money, who’s got the gun? Avail yourself of the influence, who may present obstacles, and who supports the incumbent system/entity that you’re trying to move towards something better?
- Act as if the means is the end. No state of affairs lasts forever. So the journey is the destination I suppose?
- Refer to the cosmopolitan criterion. Not the Golden Rule (do unto others, as they would do to you) but the Platinum Rule — do unto others what THEY want. Ask and afford yourself the model of humble inquiry.
- Address those suffering the most. So not ‘all lives matter’ over Black Lives Matter. Who’s suffering and in what way can what you do, help others. Ross (like Bregman) says that if the richest people in the world gave up just 1% of their fortune, we could eradicate poverty overnight. Philosopher Max Stirner once said that collective morality is absurd and that there is no society, only individuals and their desires that matter. Society won’t rescue people from poverty, individual acts and agency will.
- Consult and negotiate. Help, rescue, aid — all well-intended but are not consultative and negotiated enough to bring about lasting change. Direct, human-to-human consultation, not through intermediaries (however well-intended that may be).
- Big picture, small deeds. We see this in everything from pay-it-forward random acts of kindness, to Agile development methods for large scale systems and platform creation, through iterative sprints and tasks. Something is always better than nothing (multiple sources for who actually said this from Winston Churchill to Preet Chovatiya).
- Use Non Violence. Famed as Non-Violent Communication (Joshua Rosenberg) and for Dr King Junior’s approach to civil rights injustice campaigning, boycotting; isolating and even sabotaging are considered in this aspect.
- And then in stark contrast and from chess playing Kill the King. The whole point of chess isn’t a series of elegant moves across the board per se, it’s to check-mate the King. Many of the greatest changes in history have come through a direct challenge to the point of power.
Back to the fellowship. It’s not about any power figures engaged in creating a movement in their image or on their agenda and thing.
It’s an intentional space to curate, create, connect, craft and come together. On what basis, is down to you.
In Ross’s concluding chapter he elegantly describes the two forms of 20th-Century societal ‘things’ as “Communism offered spurious equality at the sacrifice of individual liberty. Capitalism offers liberty at the expense of social justice, harmony and that essential sense of individual or shared meaning.”
Underlying all of this is the individual’s self-seeking way in the world to maximise utility. Whether this is through gain for themselves or in pursuit of an ideology to better circumstances for others. We seek equality because we want to see and experience it. Not just because it is something, ultimately, for others.
Governments, corporate managers, even civic champions are not to be entrusted with leading. WE all are. Hence the fellowship.
Lead it how you want for the aims you believe are virtuous and needed. Not because someone who founded it said so.
It — the thing —is what you want and need it to be.
If the thing is all about you and your gains, it may quickly wither and die if the system works as anarchic systems do. If it’s about you and others, for others; it stands a fighting chance that the thing will create the changes needed and be the antidote to that ill in the world.
So this fellowship is yours, everyone's and no-ones.
I don’t believe this fellowship will ever have a mandate, an agenda, a 12-point plan, a strategy or a business model.
Ross offers a chilling premonition — the book was published in 2011 — that could be used in the Br*xit/Tr*mp era. That 21st-Century fascism will not look like 20th-Century fascism. On websites not necessarily in overt political rallies. Ross says “The choice will become clearer: to cede our voice to those louder, to watch governments, corporations and criminal networks joust for control, or to join battle for agency over affairs that are rightfully our own.”
He adds “The greatest paradox faced by any proponent of an anarchist approach to life is this. Anarchism rejects authority, it rejects hierarchical institutions, it rejects the state. The goal cannot be defined neatly, as a concrete system or state of affairs. It is instead, a method, a process, a means — which is in itself, an end. And by nature, no-one can define where that process may lead.”
This fellowship could be one such means to an end we aren’t sure of. And we might just have to live with that in the face of all we’ve been taught about purpose, mission and goals.
This fellowship may be to destroy ‘the ring’ — be that oppression, injustice, unfairness or prejudice. It may be eradicating unjust wages for key workers. It may be to end boardroom dominance by privileged older men.
Therefore this fellowship is yours. It’s all of ours.
What we might be able to do with this fellowship, is to finally go beyond the cliches of rhetoric and truly be what we believe in.
For more on Carne Ross’s work
Carne Ross (born 1966) is the founder and executive director of Independent Diplomat, a diplomatic advisory group…
This is the trailer for the movie which was broadcast on BBC4 in August 2017. You can view the full-length movie here…
Why anarchism is better than conventional diplomacy | Carne Ross
wrote Independent Diplomat shortly after resigning from the Foreign Office. I had worked on Iraq and WMD for more than…
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