Civilization Bloom, Part III
When I speak of organic emergence, what I mean is the process of a thing coming into being out of its own nature, finding its course through existence through no obedience to external force or pressure, but being allowed to grow and form and change in harmony with its unique state of balance.
This part focuses on the organic emergence of political systems.
The Roots of Organic Emergence
In the first two sections of this series, I outlined two fundamental tenets of organic emergence. The first, an ability to pursue the meeting of our needs through a profound awareness of our feelings. The second, a commitment not to control or dominate, but to pursue one’s own needs and allow natural harmonies to emerge with the needs and actions of others.
To reiterate, allowing something’s action to arise out of its own nature requires its nature to be the primary motivator of all action. In the human conscious mind, where constructed thoughts color the view of our feelings, tapping into nature comes out of deep awareness of feelings. Feelings guide us to our needs, and needs arise from our feelings. If we feel cold, we need warmth; if we feel hungry, we need nourishment; if we feel isolated, we need community. Likewise, the conscious mind maintains an awareness of its ability to act or not act in particular ways. In aligning our awareness with our feelings and discovering our needs, we can put our conscious mind in moving our action in the direction of meeting those needs.
All of this, we might sum up as the internal component of organic emergence.
Allowing something’s action to arise out of its own nature likewise requires allowing the actions of others to arise organically out of their own natures. Rather than using one’s force in the world to limit the ability of others to use their force, organic emergence comes when each individual has the freedom and ability to pursue their own needs and natural harmonies between actors arise. This process requires non-domination, non-coercion, autonomy, free association, and trust.
All of this, we might sum up as the external component of organic emergence.
A politics of organic emergence would then be a political structure rooted in these principles: ability for individuals to meet their needs without seeking to control one another, and instead allowing natural harmonies arise.
What is Politics?
First, it is worth digging into the concept of “politics” further. When most of us imagine politics, we think of elections, issues and politicians. These are some of the trappings of politics as we currently practice it in most parts of the world, but they are not, themselves, politics.
Politics is nothing more or less than the system by which people make decisions in community. When I say politics here, think simply of collective decision-making: How does it happen? Who makes the decisions? Who gets to decide what? When does it happen? Where does it happen? Who abides by the decisions?
To take things even deeper, decision-making is simply the process by which people choose to take actions towards their needs, rooted in their feelings.
This may be enough to grasp on the individual level, and perhaps even on the interpersonal level, but when we pull out to the systemic level, the same idea can still apply.
Systems of Organic Emergence
In seeking to build a political system of organic emergence, we must first understand what we mean when we speak of a system. A system is simply a collective pattern of behavior strong enough to condition future behaviors. The conditioning it creates may be conscious or unconscious on the part of the individuals being influenced.
I imagine systems like momentum, or currents. We each float down the proverbial river of life, society, existence, desire, and interaction, carried along by the currents that have conditioned our selves and the world around us since before our birth. I would go so far as to say that the existence of systems is itself a natural law: patterns of behavior with the power to shape behavior will inevitably emerge out of anything, regardless of whether there exists some codified power hierarchy to enforce them.
We cannot escape the fact that we exist within a current. Our very swimming within this current pushes the current in different directions, and we and every other life form and structure of natural law will continue to push the current as well, simply by our existing and acting.
We are shaped by systems, and we shape them. We resist them, and we embrace them. A system of organic emergence would thus be two-fold: first, it would itself emerge organically out of the individuals involved in producing it feeling their feelings and meeting their needs (how we build the system). Second, it would perpetuate the ability of individuals’ actions to emerge organically out of their unique natures (how the system builds us).
From the internal to the external, building a system out of organic emergence comes from stepping into our internal power. It comes from practicing freedom. It comes from growing comfortable resisting the systems that already pervade, and from strengthening our ability to do so. It comes from relinquishing control over anything but ourselves, and stepping fully into control of ourselves. It comes from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, thus allowing ourselves to trust.
From the external to the internal, building a system of organic emergence comes from allowing all individuals involved to have skin in the game. It comes from creating structures that allow for relative freedom to meet needs and eliminating power hierarchies. It comes from allowing naturally-emerging tendencies to occur, and building system-wide norms that resist rigidity. It comes from cultivating the space for spontaneity. It comes from allowing a diversity of experiences and paths within it, from free association, free disassociation, and value structures built on intrinsic worth of action rather than an anticipation of reciprocity.
Allowing a System to Emerge Organically
A system that truly fosters organic emergence must itself emerge organically — if the system itself is coerced into being, rigid in character and deterministic in influence, it will be anathema to the organic emergence of those it conditions.
What does it mean to allow a political system to emerge organically?
This is where the internal side of organic emergence plays its role. The very political system arises out of the needs and feelings of those within it. The structure of how people make decisions as a community comes out of the individual feelings, and therefore needs, of those within the community.
Each person understanding their feelings and advocating for their needs is at the heart of how this process happens. The fabric of a new system is woven from the unwound threads of the systems that currently pervade society: systemic racism, class hierarchy, patriarchy and imposed scarcity.
The culture of our present systems colors how we relate to ourselves and each other, and a new set of systems will arise invariably from the breakdown of our old systems. As those who were previously disempowered rise, and as those who previously believed the logic of these systems question them, the conditioning power of the systems begins to weaken. In the vacuum left by this space comes a new kind of agency: people self-organizing around the needs that these prior systems were not able to meet.
It’s happening from Portland to Jackson, from Chiapas to Barcelona to Rojava. In the breakdown of old systems’ abilities to meet the needs of the once-privileged, and the rise of those who were long oppressed, new kinds of systems are arising. They arise out of people’s needs in service of meeting people’s needs, and their character is fundamentally different from the centralization of power and control we saw previously.
A new kind of political system is being born organically: people are seeking to meet their needs, and crafting systems that empower people to meet their needs. The system itself is organically emerging, and encouraging its own organic emergence. It’s a feedback loop.
Skin in the Game: Direct Democracy
The most basic component of a political system in which people have the ability to meet their needs is just that: people having the ability to meet their needs. The political system must not only allow for needs to be met, but allow for people to meet them themselves, and have the power to do so.
This means returning all decision-making power to the grassroots: the locus of power is spread wide among individual people operating in community, each empowered to advocate for their needs within that community. The decisions of that community come out of the combined decisions of each person, and do not dictate anything beyond what those individuals decide.
The name for this process is “direct democracy,” a fundamentally different kind of politics than “representative democracy.” Rather than deciding upon a leader to meet the needs of the people, direct democracy allows people to come together into community and decide how to meet their needs themselves.
Not only does direct democracy give people the ability to advocate for and determine how to meet their own needs, it gives everyone involved an interest in preserving the system itself: it is a system that allows everyone skin in the game. To concentrate power in one leader removes the ability of others to have power.
Eliminating Power Hierarchies: Horizontalism
This brings us to the next facet of a political system of organic emergence: a lack of power hierarchies. Rather than one person or group having decision-making power over others, the locus of power is spread equitably throughout everyone in the community. One person, one vote.
To create a political structure that is non-coercive, no one can have direct power over the system, or over the people within it. I do not believe that absolute horizontalism is possible — some people are simply more aware of, or more passionate about, certain things. My doctor is a greater authority on the inner workings of my kidneys than I am, and I will often defer to the expertise of others. What horizontalism allows is for the ability to choose when to defer and when to determine to remain located in each individual.
Is it possible that certain people’s ideas will take hold within that community, and influence others? Absolutely, but the process by which those ideas rise is an organic one. The ability to sway others arises from what genuinely resonates with people, and what people believe to be authentically good for them.
What happens if an idea or course of action takes hold that turns out not to be authentically good for people?
Resisting Rigidity: Norms of Flexibility
Here we get to the third main point of a politics of organic emergence: it is flexible. It is malleable, unfixed, adaptable, and open to re-negotiation.
The very nature of organic emergence is one of flux: what needs arise out of feelings? Feelings are responsive to needs, and needs to feelings; both eternally change in conversation with one another.
A political system that fosters organic emergence must be perpetually open to negotiation, depending on the needs of the individuals who comprise it. If a certain course of action taken by the community stops meeting the needs of that community, the course can be altered. Leaders who arise must be able to be re-called, power must be re-negotiated, and new decisions made.
Flexibility itself would be a unifying norm, and adaptability made resolute.
Allowing Adaptability: Decentralization
Like our very nature of adapting to our surroundings, our politics must be able to adapt to our needs.
To harmonize this process, power must remain in the hands of everyone. When power becomes concentrated in the few over the many, the process of changing the rules of the game becomes one of violent conflict and revolution. When authority to determine a course of action rests in the hands of everyone, it becomes far more possible to adjust the course of action without the need for overthrow. Without a concentration of power, there simply isn’t anything to overthrow.
When the needs of the community change, the decisions of the community change with them. This does not mean there will never be inertia in those changes, but simply that the process of shifting will not require deposing a centralized power-holder and uprooting the structure of society. Rather than some glorious and bloody Revolution, changes can come about a process of micro-evolutions, turning each decision as circumstances change.
But what happens when there exists a plurality of needs, not all of which are in harmony?
Cultivating Diversity: Localization and Plurality
Decentralization means localization. Rather than power, authority, and decision-making abilities concentrated in a singular source that reigns over the land, a diversity of needs can only be met through a diversity of loci of power.
The fact remains that people are different. Their feelings, circumstances, and needs are different. What meets the needs of one person may not meet the needs of another.
In keeping the communities in which we make decisions as resonant to our needs as possible, those communities must be directly accessible to us. That means, they remain localized around where we live our lives.
Likewise, a truly organic politics would remain rooted in an idea of a “pluriverse,” an understanding of reality in which there are a multitude of options for how to organize and whom to organize with. Murray Bookchin’s communalism imagines smaller communities of direct democracy meeting their own needs for themselves, in a loose confederation where power remains held at the grassroots level. Drawing on this, a true plurality would not only be local, but un-fixed in where those localities begin and end. Rather than one local assembly, a truly emergent politics might have overlapping spheres of decision-making, continuously emerging, interacting and subsiding as is called for by the needs of those within them.
Each sphere of decision-making would have the ability to choose where and when to interact with others.
Which brings me to another fundamental point of organically emergent politics, already touched on in the previous section on relationships. That point is free association, the ability of individuals to build community, leave community, dissolve community, and re-build community at will.
Free movement is crucial to free association. Free disassociation is crucial to free association. The structures of who can interact with whom, and where, and when, cannot be coercive or rigid for a community politics to emerge organically.
The fact remains that no one and nothing exists within absolute freedom — we are all constrained by natural law. But the goal of building an organically emergent politics is to allow for the greatest possible freedom for people to meet their needs in harmony with one another. Naturally-occurring harmonies cannot arise without individuals having the freedom to choose whom to associate with.
To tie this back to the original point about how these systems can themselves emerge organically, it comes back to a very simple word: practice.
Because a political system, or set of systems, like this are so far removed from what pervades today, the shift towards them will not happen unilaterally or overnight. It will come from individuals trying them on, working through them, and strengthening the “muscles” required to make them function for those involved.
How they work and what they look like cannot be proscribed by those not living in them, for this is the very opposite of organic emergence. Rather, systems that cultivate organic emergence will emerge organically, and be honed through the practice of those within them.
The reason I have trust in this process is that, to me, it speaks to the one thing I can identify as a universal good: the ability of each of us to meet our needs. A system is a collective conditioning mechanism; it pushes our action in a particular direction. As we each come to inhabit our feelings and seek the meeting of our needs within ourselves, the systems that stop us from doing so will break down. As the systems that stop us from meeting our needs break down, we return to our feelings and the pursuit of our needs beyond them. As we turn to alternatives beyond these systems, new systems arise out of us meeting our needs that allow us to better meet our needs.
This is the process of societal evolution, and as always, it’s a feedback loop. The changes to the current arise from wherever they arise from, internal or external, political or personal.
The goal, in all of this, is to cultivate a politics that truly allows us each to meet our needs, and produce systems that assist us all in meeting our needs better. What our needs are remains intrinsic. The shorter we can make the path between ourselves and the meeting of our needs, the greater ability we each have to meet our needs.
That means removing centralized control over our lives, and instead allowing ourselves to control ourselves.
But politics is not the only conditioning system that muddles the path between us and our needs. In many ways, the control over our lives is material, rooted in resource distribution.
So, up next will come Part IV: Organic Emergence of Economics and the Market.