Positive Feedback

Levels of Responsibility

A community is defined by its boundaries within which responsibility is taken for whatever enters and whatever leaves it. Default communities in which we all participate are;  our own bodies, our families, our residential property, and of course the global Earth –  for which the same definition applies.

This points to another defining characteristic of communities;  the structure of internal self-organising levels. At each level we find a community unto itself, each providing important feedback as needed for the other levels. When that feedback is ‘positive‘ and balanced at all levels then we see a dynamic, stable, self-organising system which can persist over time – indefinitely if it has sufficient resiliency to withstand external change.

What is this positive feedback? We all know of one kind – that blaring wail when the microphone is inadvertently turned up too high. It picks up noise from the speakers and loops it back into the speakers. That is unstable positive feedback. In contrast, stable positive feedback can be found throughout nature and within all organic cycles. That is why our bodies, river drainage systems and leaf shapes all share similar structural patterns.

How does that transposes into a discussion on levels in community ? Consider those hill-bound coastal towns in traditional Mediterranean scenes you see on jigsaw puzzles. At the bottom is a commercial esplanade with its waterfront filled with (fishing) boats. Further up the hillside and scattered amongst the residences are the schools, and near the top is the local monastery. Each level focuses on its special function in the wider community, each responsible for serving the self-sustaining whole — the fishermen have their own community, the school-teachers theirs, and so on.

So if we want to participate in deliberate community, as we must for the sake of the future of our children, then the challenge is to (re)discover and affirm the positive feedback loop(s) we need to apply to our failure of community/society/planet in order to ensure a sustainability at all levels. Neoliberal economics suggests that ‘market forces’ lead to stabilised feedback loops. The evidence suggests otherwise.

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2 comments
  1. Bill Daly said:

    People want and need to belong to a local community whether it is a village or the local suburb. The traditional village gives us some clues as to what people find most natural when they are free to make a real choice about how and where they live. A big question is why have we moved so far away from this? Why do we live so inefficiently in terms of social and economic needs? Why do we spend endless hours in traffic jams or working at tasks that are often soul destroying and do not give satisfaction?

    When there are major physical crises like the Christchurch earthquake for a short time afterwards the first thing most people do is see that their families are OK and then they go to offer help to the neighbours. In other words when the chips are down a very high percentage of people do the right thing and show tremendous care to others in their vacinity. So why doesn’t this happen regularly under “normal” circumstances.

    I suggest it is the artificial financial pressures on us all. Until the human-made money system is corrected so that it reflects the material and social realities of social life and the the physical abundance that is in nature we are going to go on struggling from one crisis to another. The money system is a system of numbers. The money system is an amazing invention, enabling activities and cooperation that would be otherwise impossible.

    Any brief examination of how the system functions will demonstrate that there is presently always an insufficiency of purchasing power within all societies to cover the full monetary cost of all goods produced. The so-called economic crises we are always having is not so much a crisis but the predictable outcome of our failure to understand what money is, how it comes into existence, how it is cancelled out of existence and how it functions through the process of production and then consumption of real material goods.

    Cheers, Bill

    • Ross said:

      @Bill. In the context of the article it seems that typically communities do not use money as their primary internal currency:for action – e.g. not within our bodies, families (usually) and the different levels of natural ecology. Could we view money as a kind of boundary effect – a means of transacting between disparate collectives/ communities? Could we define community as a collective which self-transacts without money ?

      This comes to mind when considering the boundary between the formal/ business economy and the informal/ community economy, and the role of government-run efforts to pull more of the informal into the formal economy – through privatisation, taxation, cutting grants to civil society organisations, etc.

      Examining that boundary we can see that it is popluated by only governments and banks. In some sense this perspective visibilises/ defines the nature of their collusion within a larger community: what I like to call the FoD; Forces of Dispossession … we being the Fodder.

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