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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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