The Myth of Being Inclusive
Of all the insights I’ve caught while studying self-organisation this year, here’s one favourite piece of timeful wisdom:
it’s not enough to ‘be inclusive’ without accommodating integration.
The absence of conscious cultivation, or as I will explore here, ‘curation’, leads to a culture which is effectively exclusive; a messy common space, owned by no one and providing value for comparatively, qualitatively, no one.
The role of the network coordinator can exchange pattern language with a designer, who comes to understand the quality of well guided, well selected elements in a system to promote emergence, resurgence, or even rescue, suppression and addiction (such as the design of Edward Bernays).
From where I stand, I see that male yang energy has become unhealthy.
I observe a power shift from the male yang to the healthy female yang. So, to seek balance as a win-win-win design, I choose to support healthy male yin power.
The antidote I am prescribing is the active form of inclusion — invitation — which practices strategic exclusion.
Invitation is active. Creative. Directive.
Healthy leadership is based on invitation (a good example).
Invitation determines the rules to the game and supplies the materials for our expression.
It summarizes what we need to know, in order to progress.
It limits harmless looking obstacles like abstraction, interruption and distraction, in a quest to maintain focus and clarity; driving us where we collectively yearn to go, and facilitating an experience of higher quality.
Inclusivity is an online supermarket catalogue. Invitation is a menu.
I am witnessing in my peer groups a desire to be inclusive, without active structuring for inclusion. Instead there is a subtle expression of acceptance, which is ultimately misguided because inclusion smells like 'passively including whatever emerges'. The culture is available, yet inaccessible. It is obscured and by default, becomes difficult to enter.
By considering how to be more accommodating, we can consciously create integrative social designs.
I learned some pretty relevant and cool solutions this year,
about onboarding through the Vanilla Way narrative with Manuela Bosch
design for navigating collaboration through the Borderland community,
online participation pathways with Edgeryders and Conference Weavers.
I had great talks at Eskaret Klustret in Stockholm,
Warm Data Lab series with Nora Bateson
and was in deep participation with Nowtopia in Copenhagen.
So, this is the perspective which informs the kind of social design I curate.
One tool which has emerged in this design field which I refer to as ‘Social Permaculture’ is the team-building philosophy, Deliberately Developmental Organisation (DDO), a set of principles for group structuring which views self-development as a social activity.
(Social: personal, partnered, team, group, societal, cultural…)
The Armenian philosopher, mystic, teacher & composer G. I. Gurdjieff also discusses how self-development and self-knowledge is social:
“In order to see anything of this, one has to look from the outside; and for this mutual help is necessary.
…in order to do you must know; but to know you must find out how to know.
We cannot find this out by ourselves.”
Inviting feedback is an active duty. Whether we choose to ask questions, to curiously allow criticism, to listen beyond our pre-cognitions, to request help, or to simply bear witness the worldviews of another — this is a choice we make which goes on to inform our own development; our evolving capabilities.
But as Gurdjieff draws our attention to, how can we discover the right questions? How do we find out how to know? This is the context in which the case for authority has thrived. If we are faced with an ill and corrupt authoritarian relationship, let us summon our common courage and confront its shadows. The conditions of its prevalence.
Consider the value of knowledge. Authority and knowledge have a very notable, yet perhaps not so well recorded, relationship.
Knowledge is a currency whose rules of trade are much hazier than fiat.
One potential reason for this is that intelligence operates from multiple levels of influence, not least emotionally. Our subconscious is prone to interrupting and sabotaging success in preference for novelty stimulus. And fair enough; it’s usually pretty fun at the time.
But if we’re committed to inclusion, some conscious intervention may be necessary when confronting the shadows of authoritarian power.
If knowledge is free, and free knowledge is abundant, we can fall prey to irony in the sense that it’s the light which blinds us or the food which kills us. Without moderation, access to knowledge obscures a lot of the most valuable knowledge.
A truly accommodating culture depends on curators to sift through content. It is this task of sensemaking which relieves each of us from overwhelm and incomprehension — by framing and containing our focus. Curating is a heuristic for content consumption, offering us rules to safely play by.
Commonly, universities have been the curators of knowledge par excellence; they are the banks of the knowledge economy. These schools can be as dogmatic as any authoritarian institution, such as a religion or government; yet the value of cohesive ‘rules’ is becoming a clear necessity as free knowledge tenaciously spreads through the public domain. The institutions of thought reached the edge of their power once collective consciousness began transitioning into an internet species. And who has the authority over the internet, its archive and our experience of its lifetimes-worth of material?
A curator’s duty requires its own maturity of self-knowledge, so that bias — rather than being totally omitted, as is the case with pop politics (that DJ who caters to everybody, satisfies nobody) — can instead be harnessed to serve the needs of the audience, consumer, student, collaborator, etc.
We value the role of a curator more for their capacity of reciprocal self-knowledge (i.e. how well they ‘get us’), than of their mass-appeal.
And it makes sense. Having this judgement performed for us is an effective survival mechanism. Finding a sense of belonging, trust and agreement is the basic recipe for Harmony Cake.
This knowledge gives us security and room for exploration.
A talented curator will include certain knowledge to preserve the group safety, while excluding other knowledge so that cohesion can form.
As any group develops and evolves, the culture becomes heavier. Clarity is clouded with the emergence of shared experience, no matter how informal, and holding dissenting behaviour or views gradually becomes a heavier and more disruptive task.
Without space to negotiate, how can you determine authentic consent?
A group who initially aspire to be inclusive, yet who do not manage the guidelines for agreement, (leading from awareness, growing trustworthy curation), indirectly design exclusion into their trajectory.
Let’s unpack these assumptions and insights through my story.
Currently, a large chunk of my information curation is being performed by algorithms. I occasionally reject data ‘cookie’ collection, but otherwise the choices I am allocated for influencing these algorithms is left to the click-streams laid out for me, based on personal details discovered about me and conclusions drawn about the categories which my algorithms cleverly shuffle me into.
When I make friends, I am feeding them information to learn about me. They dutifully report my network, my bubbles, my influencers. I discover a lot more about my interests, because my spare time is curated for me, revealing the content which I’m most likely to follow. It’s so great and so convenient and the algorithm proudly satisfies its master every time I follow something it suggests. To a certain extent, we all benefit.
But knowledge is a social game, and it’s risky to rely on corporate-programmed artificial intelligence for the visibility of knowledge, community, or a movement. What would be different if a human, or humans, curated my content?
Rather than reading my actions and drawing assumptions, the curator could also challenge my habits. We could understand more about my subconscious drives and where I comfortably assert my line of ‘inclusion’ and ‘exclusion’. We could make more invitations for development and growth.
Because I am unemployed (recently promoted to ‘freelancer’, actually!), I have more time in my account than I have money. Theoretically at least, because while I use my time, it still comes in steady supply.
For now, rather than subscribe to the channels who have low-hanging, market-ready curation, I have employed myself to curate the quality of my pathways. Yes, I’m coming out as self-educated!
So, I make the effort myself to filter meaning and quality from noise and illusion. To discover ways of thinking, communities, bubbles, podcasts, tools, methods, and experiences which grow and diversify the knowledge I gain and the deep sense of interwoven earth community which I dance with.
If I am entering a community, I am relieved of some of this curation work in exchange for compliance to the authority and rules offered by the group.
I am more accepting and tolerating of the assumptions embedded in the culture because I am a social creature, aware that others have different knowledge which I can benefit from. There isn’t enough time in my timebank to follow their workings, so often I pay benefit of the doubt, to receive the benefits of the group.
‘Inclusive groups’ who do not define, nor clearly stand for any set behaviour patterns can allow for free radicals to upset the structure and security formed by previous participation. What good is all this development if we’re left with a straw house? The culture becomes inherently vulnerable to corruption.
There’s a more specific way in which I’d like to demonstrate this effect, as it is the reason for my critique and concern. Those who are currently underserved by society are those with the least abundance of time.
It takes time to build and develop a community. Without the privilege of investing our own time, most of the curation is distributed to the most active influencers: the aggressive algorithms.
It’s a trade for our information; convenience scores high on the priority of the time-scarce. We give them ours, they give us theirs.
So with my time abundance, I’m fortunate to have curated my own pathways through the internet, carefully selecting for promising networks who aspire to the kind of values and share the comprehensions that I do while also finding intersections to confront and challenge my comfort zone.
My choices are improved in correspondence with my luxury of time.
I notice how much more I can connect and learn when I’m on holiday.
Ultimately, many well-intentioned efforts for open participation, such as movements for ‘citizen commons’ and ‘global democracy’, wind up excluding those without the abundance of time in which to ask these questions, follow these rabbit holes and engage in discussions in which they would surely contribute diverse yet no less relevant knowledge. Without active invitation, curated for [your explicit target audience here] — without making yourself available where they’re at, ‘open participation’ initiatives will only ever serve those inside the bubble, and continue preaching to the choir.
Context is so so valuable. Let’s be open about the limits of our openness.
Ladies, let’s direct and design like dreaming dragons.
Today I heard a couple folk promoting the approach,
“Don’t interfere. Wait to be asked. Every other time, it wastes your time”.
In context, this can be a very appropriate response.
In this context, I take dissent.
Unclear boundaries are the dark side of ‘waiting to be asked’.
Yet on the contrary: Actively settings your needs, offers and desires by invitation to participation can really accelerate the amount of ‘woohoo! nice’ moments we feel when experiences heal and transform us.
If we aren’t maintaining a healthy relationship with our Yang energy, our passivity will seek balance with aggression rather than healthy action.
So a challenge to my bubble of ‘global cooperation & collaboration initiatives’ for this coming year is to integrate dissidence by inviting and curating for the time-scarce: taking on more of the work to inquire, consolidate, translate and create access pathways to participation for those who are still learning how to learn, discovering how to discover, and knowing how to know.
Take this work into the world.
guided by those we have come to trust,
May we serve by asking generative questions,
cultivating fertile ground rules,
inviting others into well held spaces.
Let us continue being the supreme curators for ourselves,
serving the network by allowing the system to sense itself.
And where to find our questions?
In the art which exudes from every cluster, culture and community.
The explorations of reinvented mysteries
held in the heart of all who glimpse the being, becoming.
Here’s to a very joyful, prosperous and transformative year!
Naomi Joy Smith (she/they) is a New Zealand-born nomad deeply researching complex living systems through the lens of social permaculture; including authentic connection, self development, invisible structures, organisational management, community building, movement weaving and kundalini yoga.
Reach out to collaborate in the name of regenerative cultural design!