Why Can’t We All (Collectively) Change How We Are Doing Things ?

It’s no secret that there’s trouble in many, or most, countries on many fronts.  Economic, social, governance, security, education .. and so on.

The way(s) we live, the infrastructure upon which we live, the social and economic conventions … we have imagined and created them all.

There are nigh unto 7 billion people on the planet.  There are only several thousands who are in positions of power, who are the leaders and the decision-makers.  Everywhere I have ever travelled on this planet, when I have met people one-on-one, it seems to me that (with the odd exception) people want to get along, people are curious about each other and want to understand and help each other.

I have never really understand the notion of ‘competition’ between countries, for example.  We are all on this one lonely ball of rock, water and molten lava, spinning on our axis whilst hurtling in a big circular loop through space around the sun.  We aren’t going anywhere in particular.

Oh, I understand that many people will say competition between tribes and species is natural, instinctual, fundamental.  But, isn’t the magic of being human that we are suppose to be conscious, capable of reason and growth in our individual and collective intelligence … and then able to apply it to ourselves and how we live ?

Why can’t the 7 billion TELL (and then force the necessary changes) the several thousands that they want the place governed for the benfit of all peoples, not just those with power and money.  Will it take “off with their heads” ?  I certainly would like to think not.   But no doubt I am naive.

Here, via Rob Patterson, is a YouTube clip of Annie Lennox (one of my all-time favourites) and David Gray, about the collective folly of not changing.


Full Steam – Annie Lennox and David Gray


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Tim Kastelle

Nice post Jon. I agree with that face to face, people are consistently nice and usually interesting. I wonder if part of this is that they act differently as part of a collective? Maybe the undesirable aspects of tribalism are an emergent property of the networks?


The first thing that comes to mind in response to your comment, Tim, is “first, we shape our structures, then our structures shape us” 😉

All (or most) of us alive now learned and / or have been socialized to live and work in structures and processes derived from Taylorist et al principles (at least in the industrialized world(s)). I don’t know a whole lot about how to respond cogently or seriously to the questions you pose. I suspect that the work of Manuel Castells, Humberto Maturana, etc. might be useful places to explore with respect to those questions.

That said, I began disciplining myself about 15 years ago to look for polarities in virtually everything I observe and think about. I don’t think networks will bring us any, or much, closer to utopia any time soon. But bit by bit, step by step, maybe we’ll (eventually) get somewhere better ?

Dan Pontefract

Even the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism have a hierarchical leadership model, so how then are we ever going to win? 😉

Like Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street said “Greed is good.” … so to me, that’s the problem in a nutshell. Greed = power = money, and those at the top of the pyramid (whether through land, possessions, people control) are always wanting more. The human condition perhaps?

If we can flip this iceburg on its head, then the weight of greed would eventually turn to a model whereby greed = friendship. (ie. greed is synomous with the desire to be friendly with all)



I think you know, Dan, that I never have suggested hierarchy will (or should) disappear. I believe there are uses, and impulses towards it by humans engaged in purposeful work. But I think healthy(ier) hierarchies involve. and invoke, all of those aspects of human character – motivation and attitude and action / behaviour – that are the bulk of modern-day leadership development and org change curricula. Simply put, we need to be (and respect being) led by honest, intelligent, respectful, responsible and goal/action-oriented people. And, we often consider ourselves such; hence the impulses towards P2P and self-direction/management and co-creation; interconnected networks and and flows of information from and by people only makes this visible and sharpens the game. Engagement is mission-critical.

You know all this, better than me. Why do I feel like I’m lecturing ? 😉

Your last para makes me wonder about the ongoing undercurrent of the Web (and notably Web 2.0) as regards gift-economy principles. It’s certainly a tangible aspect of the world and networks to which I belong. I suspect something is going on 😉

Euan Semple

Great post Jon. Maybe part of this is that we don’t hold people to account even at the micro level. Sort of relates to my post on hard men. We can be very reticent about calling a spade a spade to their face. I sometimes get this when an older person unthinkingly makes a racist comment. I may be stunned but don’t often say anything.


Yes, Euan, I believe you are right, and that awareness and sometimes action is important at the micro level. One of the issues is that we are often too polite .. as you point out, ot saying anything .. for fear it will embarrass someone or jeopardize (for example, in our cases) a consulting arrangement, or some such.

Of course there are ways, and there are ways,to do that, and some people are better than others at the micro level without setting off a conflagration.

But in general, we are far too complacent, yes.

Doug Alder

Jon – (this may ramble I’m about 5 hours into my Appleton Rum at the moment)n as you know I’ve lost all hope that change can be achieved without violence. This really resonates with what Euan said – we have become so loathe to, as he put it , “call a spade a spade”, that we have been run over by those with no scruples. The perversion of right and wrong has become complete when the very concept of disagreeing with those in authority (especially the President, in the case of the US) is tantamount to treason, regardless of the truthfulness of the disagreement.

I don’t think anything is going to substantially change without a revolution. I truly wish it could, but the power is so thoroughly entrenched that I fear that is nigh impossible. Then again, given the assholeness of those in power, I’m not certain they don’t deserve to be hauled off to the guillotine.

The evidence is overwhelming that this planet is in danger and that humankind, along with thousands of other species, may very well be in the last two centuries of existence. That those in charge refuse, on any meaningful level, to take the actions necessary to avert this crisis, and in fact take actions designed to mislead the public as to what is really happening (astroturfing) , makes removing them by whatever meansd possible truly an act of self-defense.

I’m too old to do that myself but I am coming to the conclusion that the “Earthy First” type people, those I once harangued for being too violent, will win many. many converts going forward. As today’s youth come to realize that what stands between them=, their descendants, and survival is the entrenched corporate and politician norm I see the inevitibility of sever social violence escalating to a degree of absolute certainty.


I don’t think anything is going to substantially change without a revolution. I truly wish it could, but the power is so thoroughly entrenched that I fear that is nigh impossible. Then again, given the assholeness of those in power, I’m not certain they don’t deserve to be hauled off to the guillotine.

Well … yeah, I came to that conclusion quite a while ago. I am just less strident on my site, in my words, less often now than I used to be. Basically, because I gave up hope and just decided to be less perceived-by-the-public nasty or cynical than I have been in the past.

But by and large, I don’t care what others think. If you have any sense at all of how large complex systems appear to operate (and I think lots of people, including you, do) then it seems clear that whilst all sorts of possible positive and constructive things can be done (including re-arranging fundamental concepts of consumerism, industrial infrastructure, commerce, governance, etc.) the entrenched interests have succeeded in forcing the issues.

I don’t see how the path we are on will be turned around, other than what people perceive as revolution .. and dog knows what a modern one might look like or create.


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