If we take decisions only from our narrow-minded self-interested perspective (against the Great Circle of Life we belong to), the outcome is exactly the ecological and social crisis that we are facing now. We can not solve our problems with the same self-centered perspective we have created in the first place.
If we want to overcome our social crisis we simply have to build a fair society. A fair and ecological society is not an utopia – its emergence and development depend only on what organizing principles we employ. To have a fair social world, we have to design one in accordance with our nature and Life’s principles. We used to live in collaboration and fairness inside our tribes almost all our history as a species. The ideologies that say that humans are not able to live in fairness are just ideologies, promoted by those who take advantage of the inequities these ideologies are bringing forth. It is no mystery from where our social, political or economic unrest come: from the ideological principles our society is based on – that are conducive to conflict, inequity and exploitation. Build a fair society and you will not encounter anymore political and social unrest!
If we want to overcome our ecological crisis all we have to do is to build an ecological society, one organized as an ecosystem, harmoniously integrated into the planetary ecosystem. This is not an utopia at all. It is just about what kind of world we want to build. We have to find a way to bring forth a human society that mimics a living being – one that could sense its environment and co-evolve with it. This is precisely why we have to employ, consciously for the first time, as our social organizing principles, the principles of Life. A consciousness that could encompass the whole planet is the only one that actually could create a fair and ecological society, starting from the grass-roots of the small “Butterfly Fellowships”.
Taking into account the latest scientific understanding, I came up with “seven” Life Principles that I consider the most adequate for our social organization.
1. The principles of Holarchy
Holons and Holarchies
The architecture of Life is holarchic. A cell has a holarchic architecture. Your organism has a holarchic architecture. A forest or a grassland has a holarchic architecture. To understand what kind of architecture is holarchy, we will introduce a new concept: the holon. A holon is both a whole in its own right and simultaneously a part of a larger system. A holon is made by smaller hollons (as my organism is built from cells) and is, at the same time, a part of a greater holon (as I am part of the human species, part of Gaia etc.) Thus holons form “holarchies”: systems nested within systems, nested within systems; organisms nested within organisms nested within organisms. (For example, prokaryotic cells are organized in eukaryotic cells, that are organized in multicellular organisms, that are organized in societies, that are organized in ecosystems etc.) The Universe’s architecture is holarchic.
A holon is an open system/process. That means it can interact with other systems. Through this interaction, open systems tend to build larger-scale open systems. A holon is always part of a bigger holon. For example, neutrons, protons and electrons interact in different ways to form different atoms. Atoms build molecules; the molecules build macromolecules, that build prokaryotic cells, whose symbiosis creates eukaryotic cells, whose symbiosis creates multicellular organisms, whose symbiosis creates ecosystems and societies, whose symbiosis creates the planetary ecosystem etc. All these open processes are organized holarchically, from the level of tiny subatomic parts till the level of galaxy clusters. In a holarchy there are many levels of organization/integration. At each new level of integration are generated emergent properties that are non reducible to the capacities of the separate components. Each holon tries to maintain its integrity. Doing so, it fulfills its function in the bigger holon of which it is part of. A holon has double attention: to maintain its integrity and to be a functional part of its bigger holon. In the end, our “bigger holon” is our planet or, rather, the whole Universe.
Life develops naturally in a holarchic way
One striking thing about the Universe’s genesis is that it unfolds in a holarchic architecture. Once a level of integration/organizat (a new holonic level) is achieved, these holons start to interact with each other. At the beginning, their interaction is not very coherent, but in time it becomes more and more coherent and, when the level of coherence reaches a certain level, a new level of integration is achieved. And this evolutionary cycle goes further, building up a new holarchic level of integration.
Once the first prokaryotic cells emerged, they started to interact each-other. In time they learned how to cooperate better and better and, as the symbiosis between them increased, a new level of integration emerged: the eukaryotic cells. With the eukaryotic cells, a new evolutionary cycle starts again: at the beginning of the cycle, as usual, the eukaryotic cells competed between them for resources, but in time they learned how to cooperate, creating complex types of colonies with multiple kinds of synergies. In time, their symbiosis becomes more and more coherent and brings forth a new level of holarchic integration: the multicellular organisms. Organisms, in their turn, start a new cycle of holarhic development, learning how to synergize between them, bringing forth higher levels of integration/ cooperation/coherence: the superorganism (a bee-hive, an ant-hill, a human clan or tribe etc). Evolution has reached this level of holarchic integration, but its journey for sure does not stop here.
A holarchic organization is an organism-like organization. It is highly coherent and each part is interconnected with and influences all the other parts. We witness higher levels of coherence in ecosystems, ant-hills, bee-hives and even in human organization. First human organism-like society is the clan (10-12 humans). These clans, as new cooperative groups, learned how to cooperate between them and brought forth the tribes (around 150-180 people), also organized in an organism-like manner. Around 6500 years ago some tribes were forced to clash into each-other, hence to find a way to cooperate. Throughout history we have oscillated between holarchic (therefore peaceful) confederations of tribes (see Old European Culture or Iroquois Confederation) to hierarchic (therefore war-like) tribal organizations (see Kurgan Culture). We are still learning how to integrate the tribes (the basic human-scale communities) in larger functional (meaning fair) social units. This is how Life has been unfolding until now in a holarchic manner and here we are: at the point where we have to find ways to increase the scale of our cooperation. Our next evolutionary cycle, following the holarchic unfolding, is toward a global fair society, harmoniously integrated into the planetary ecosystem.
The Universe is a historical process
We have to understand that the Universe is a historical process: it evolves. The holarchic organization that we are witnessing today is a 14 billion years process. All these larger-scale cooperation did not exist at the beginning. Our planet emerged 4,5 billion years ago from a cloud of stardust as a molten rock planet. There were no cooperative groups at that time. But stirred by Cosmic Dynamics, it started to reshape itself, differentiating itself in many processes that started to interact, to cooperate and hence, to build up its present multi-level holarchic living organization.
Living systems interact between them not only blindly following some physical laws, but are cognitive/ intentional/ learning processes. They can make sense of their environment and learn how to cooperate to reshape it to be conducive to their well-being (see niche construction theory). The Butterfly Communities network is about conscious social niche construction. Our planet is a coherent whole that in its evolution differentiates itself into many open-processes that interact together to bring forth our marvelous organism-like Gaia. The living beings, the community of subjects, reach out to each other in mutual contact and communication, using the physical processes to power themselves. Their dialogue literally creates The Great Circle of Life. We all co-create an emergent space of meaning. This „emergent space of meaning” could be a forest, a planet, a community, a civilization.
The flow of information between different levels of organization
Each holon is part of a bigger holon. The same is true for any human. Being part of a higher-order of being, we are correlated through some morphic fields to insert constructively, functionally, creatively in this „bigger than us” reality. We call this in-formation: inner-calling, allurement, passion, revelation, insight, intuition etc.
Only following our allurements can we fulfill our role in the larger organism of which we are part of. We are inspired by The Great Circle of Life to fulfill our part in it. An organelle in a cell, a cell in an organism, an organism in its ecosystem, an ecosystem in the planetary ecosystem, our planet in its Solar system – we all are part of something greater than us, nourished and inspired by it. Between all these levels of organization/cooperation there is a bidirectional communication.
We live in a holarchic Universe. Its creative ability is brought forth by the participation of all its participants. Each holon has its own degree of self-awareness, unpredictability and self-determination, longing for self-expression and connection with others. These qualities become apparent with the emergence of humans. Each holon is trying to maintain its integrity: to resist/ adapt/ evolve, but not to break apart. It has the ability to self-organize, self-govern, self-control and self-repair. It has the ability to communicate with its environment and to learn from here, it has the ability to influence and even reshape its environment, it has the ability to cooperate and co-evolve with its environment. Trying to maintain its integrity, the holon participates as a necessary part in the functionality of a higher level of being.
Holarchy as a better way for human organization
The Universe has a holarchic architecture. The holarchy is the architecture of Life. Let’s be wise and build the future human society in a holarchic way. The new concepts of autonomy (self-governance and self-sufficiency) and global coherence of the local communities are the only base for a possible holarchic (meaning fair and peaceful) global human civilization.
A holarchic social architecture, resembling an organism, builds autonomy at every level of integration and this brings forth more coherence to the social body. At the same time, integrating the natural ecosystem in its well-being, it could be regenerative toward the planetary ecosystem. Its basic building block should be the human-scale community (150-180 people). Here we need to have our first level of autonomy, because at the human-scale level we are perfectly evolved to live in collaborative, participative, responsible and moral ways. At this level, we choose moral life strategies because they prove themselves to be advantageous.
The concept of holarchy seems new, but actually it is as old as human species. At tribe level, we self-organized in a holarchic way, that became our instinctive way of organization. The neolithic village of the hunter-gatherer tribe was run by a council of elders, the leaders of each clan – this is a holarchic circle. We are evolved to live in holarchic groups. In a holarchy, people are autonomous and equipotent, living together in collaborative ways.
2. The Principle of Synergy/Cooperation
A coherent theory of adaptation
Our path to a coherent social evolution depends on a coherent theory of what evolution and adaptation is. As we will see, adaptation and evolution is all about cooperation. Each living system has to live in an ever-changing environment. How does it manage this? To maintain its persistence, a living being has two complementary ways: One is to adapt to the environment – this means to increase its “fitness” to the environment (this means to increase its homeostatic abilities in its ever-changing environment). The homeostasis of an organism is brought forth by the cooperation between its cells. Adaptation to the environment is all about cooperation inside the organism. The second way is to reshape the environment to become more conducive to its well-being (niche construction). A forest, a meadow, a coral reef – any ecosystem – is the purposeful remodeling of that specific environment to become conducive to its constituent living beings. The reshaping is brought forth through the cooperation between the living beings constituting that environment.
The synergistic effects of cooperation
If adaptation is about cooperation, cooperation is about synergy and its effects. Synergy is a fundamental and ubiquitous aspect of the natural world. Synergy, broadly defined, refers to cooperative effects produced by processes that cooperate together. In a joint effort for a coherent theory of evolution, Peter Corning came up with an ingenious proposal: instead of focusing on competition (as Darwin’s natural selection suggests), why not change the perspective and focus on cooperation? This is how the concept of “synergistic selection” was born. “Synergistic selection focuses on the interactions between organisms and their environments. Synergistic selection is about the role of synergy – the combined effects produced by phenomena that cooperate – as the major drive of evolution. (Peter Corning)
Synergy is found in Nature in a variety of mutually enhancing functional effects. Symbiosis and the division of labor represents an important category of synergy. Actually, each cell/organism/ecosystem is brought forth through symbiosis. An ant-hill, a bee-hive, a colony of naked rat moles or a hunter-gatherer tribe are examples of symbiotic organizations. High levels of cooperation between organisms brings forth a “superorganism”: an organism-like organization of similar or dissimilar organisms (A superorganism means a high level of coherence and interdependence, until the cooperators become one entity.) We will learn more about the biological reality of superorganism and its relevance for the future human evolution.
Humans are on their way to superorganism organization. It will take some time before we become a global superorganism, but the process has already begun. And now we are pressed to make another step further on this evolutionary path. From small clans of 10-12 people to holarchic confederation of tribes, we already managed to organize ourselves in highly cooperative societies. A clan or a tribe expresses a truly organism-like organization and they could be correctly considered superorganisms. Now, we have to find ways of organism-like organization for larger-than-human-scale communities. The achievement of the next level of holarchic social integration is our responsibility! (Hierarchic human civilizations, though they could express multiple kinds of cooperation, are far away from being organism-like organizations. As we will see, there is another principle of Life that speaks about mutual-consistency. A hierarchic society is organized against this important Life principle. That’s why hierarchical societies end-up collapsing.)
The key factor for explaining cooperative phenomena lies in their functional synergy and its bio-economic consequences. Functional synergy is the frequently unappreciated common denominator in various models of cooperative behavior. The functional payoffs produced by various kinds of synergy have been the drivers of evolution in the direction of an increasingly larger scale of cooperation.
“It is the proximate advantages associated with various synergistic interactions that constitute the underlying cause of the evolution of cooperative relationships and complex organization in nature: functional synergy is the ultimate cause of cooperation and complexity in living systems.” (Peter Corning)
“The functional synergies that result from cooperative behaviors are the very cause of the systematic evolution of those behaviors over time, via their impacts on survival chances. All of the evolutionary changes originate and are initially adopted at the behavioral level. A major feature of the synergistic selection theory (and of the Living Universe perspective) is that it acknowledges the purposiveness of living systems and incorporates this important aspect of the natural world into the causal dynamics of the evolutionary process itself. This pertains especially to behavior, which has served as the pace-maker of evolutionary change.” (Peter Corning)
Synergy is the main dynamic that drives the unfolding of the Universe.
Like gravitation, synergy is a fundamental organizing principle of our Universe, an expression of the Cosmic Dynamics. It builds atoms, stars, solar systems or planets like ours. As we saw in the previous chapter, the holarchic organization of Life is the outcome of the way living beings naturally interact with each-other. The ability of living beings to cooperate and create increasingly larger-scale of cooperative organizations is becoming, through scientific research, more and more evident. In order to thrive, living beings not only adapt to the environment, but actively reshape it to become more conducive to their well-being. This reshaping could be achieved only through cooperation, purposefully oriented toward this outcome. Living beings choose cooperation simply because it is advantageous to do so! There are immediate and obvious functional payoffs.
There could be no Life on this planet without cooperation. It needs cooperation to create the Circle of Life. Each living being is an open-process, a continual flow of matter and energy that, informed by a living organizing principle, is able to regenerate itself. But for this, it needs energy and food. No living being is absolutely independent in itself: we all need a source of energy and food to renew ourselves. In the end we all are interdependent in the Great Circle of Life. Without recycling, all the elements will end up in a sink, making them unavailable for living beings. But Life is a Circle Dance: my waste is your food and your waste is my food – and so we cycle the elements and the energy to keep the Circle of Life spinning.
From individualistic life-strategies to collaborative ones
There is a modality – a kind of “magic portal” – that is able to find a break through the ecological wall we are hitting. The breakthrough is to choose the cooperative life strategies over the individualistic ones. In my opinion, only this attitude could help us go through. This is the visible result of a more invisible evolution towards a relational self and a planet-centered consciousness.
But this step toward cooperative life strategies is an economic suicide, if we are going to take it alone, in the midst of our individualistic society. This “seemingly impossible step” is part of the barrier against cooperation that I was speaking about. As always, before reaching a new milestone in its evolution toward an even larger scale of cooperative organizations, Life had to find a way around those seemingly insurmountable barriers. Now, it is our turn to find the way further!
It is much easier to take this step toward cooperative and fair strategies not alone, but with others. That is why I propose the conscious and proactive co-creation of “Butterfly Fellowships” as an alternative social environment where we can take this evolutionary step together. We could organize ourselves collaboratively, based on Life’s organizing principles, in small groups. And then, as we grow, we will unite in Butterfly communities. “Butterfly Communities” will become an informal network of communities, a social space in which we can express ourselves authentically and help each other, thus increasing everyone’s chances of well-being and survival.
Whatever the challenges of the future, cooperators will have a clear evolutionary advantage compared to non-cooperators. In the new VUCA world, we will have to survive and thrive in new ways, different from those that have been successful so far. As an ant-hill is smarter and has better capacities to deal with its environment than an ant alone, Butterfly Communities will be smarter and better equipped to deal with future challenges than a single individual. As the “Evolution Arrow” clearly shows, the cooperators will inherit the Earth.
The barriers against cooperation
“Past evolution has tailored our emotions, values and motivations so that we find security and satisfaction in behaviors and actions that would have produced success in the past, but not in those that could produce success in the future. We “feel secure” doing things that have proven successful in our biological and social history, regardless of their possible success in the future. Our old set of emotions/motivations is driving us to choose actions that have proven successful in our species’ past, but not for our future success”. (John Stewart)
Besides the inner barrier, there is an outer barrier too. The world and culture around us is rewarding the old behavior. The political and economic system (based on a legal and financial system that promotes competition, exploitation and individualism) doesn’t help our species’ evolution towards collaboration.
The solution: alternative social spaces conducive to cultural evolution
We are progressing much faster in the technological realm than in the biological one. Our emotions and instincts are still those of those who lived in human-scale communities, while we live in cities of millions of people and in a global economy (see The Human Zoo: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of the Urban Animal by Desmond Morris). We can’t cope with the challenges of a huge hierarchic human organization, using emotions that have evolved to be useful while living in human-scale holarchic groups. That is why the Butterfly Communities project consciously proposes to start from where we are already evolved to live collaboratively and fairly: from human-scale communities and, using all our new knowledge and technology, to start building a holarchic global social network of human-scale communities.
The Butterfly Communities open project is part of such an emerging solution. It offers an extremely important thing: it helps those who are aware of their evolutionary responsibility to take their step forward accompanied by others, creating together small communities. Butterfly Communities will prove to be a success in evolutionary terms for those who have the courage to step forward in this direction.
3. The Principle of Symbiosis/ Mutual-Consistency
What is mutual-consistency?
“There is a new concept called “mutual-consistency”, which tells us that the Planet is a dynamic web of events in which no part or event is fundamental to the others since each follows from all the others, the relations among them determining the entire pattern of events. In this conception: all possible patterns of matter-energy could form, but only those working out their consistency in mutual relation with surrounding patterns will last.” (Elisabet Sahtouris)
The concept of mutual-consistency expresses the very essence of life evolution and adaptation: it is all about co-evolving in the same direction of mutual harmonization. Jan Smuth calls this principle Holism. Evolution has a clear direction: toward higher levels of coherence/ mutual-consistency between living processes.
The cooperation is informed by the principle of mutual-consistency. This principle informs cooperation toward increasing levels of mutuality, coherence and functionality between living beings until their cooperation becomes symbiosis. Symbiosis is a highly coherent cooperation that produces organism-like organization, where the cooperative living beings become increasingly interdependent.
From cooperation to symbiosis
The term symbiosis is generally used by biologists to connote the living together of “dissimilar” organisms for their mutual benefit. The classic example of a mutualistic symbiosis are the lichens, a generic label for the roughly 20.000 different species of partnerships between some three hundred genera of fungi and various species of cyanobacteria and green algae. Although many lichen partners can apparently live independently, in combination they enjoy significant functional advantages. The symbionts commonly combine forces to produce a thallus. Some lichens even reproduce together (asexually) via symbiotic diaspores.
If cooperation produces important functional benefits, a higher level of cooperation, the symbiosis, will produce even greater functional benefits. Mutual consistency drives Life toward symbiosis. Therefore, we see symbiosis everywhere in nature: An eukaryotic cell is the symbiosis between its different prokaryotic cells. Any organism is the symbiosis of its billions of cells. An ant-hill is the symbiosis of its thousands of ants. A bee-hive is the symbiosis of its thousands of bees. An ecosystem is literally the symbiosis between thousands of different species, including the local and global natural processes.
Symbiosis is an intricate and highly coherent cooperation that produces organism-like organization, where the cooperative living beings become increasingly interdependent. Interdependency – as everything in nature – is a process, not a thing: it is a process of never-ending negotiation and mutual accommodation between certain living beings, that brings forth their coherence: an organism-like cooperative organization, the superorganism.
Why do individuals cooperate in ways that produce teamwork, which, in turn, leads to interdependence? What compels them to subordinate their interests to the interests of the whole? “The key factor for explaining cooperative phenomena as symbiosis lies in functional synergy and its bioeconomic consequences for differential survival and reproduction in a specific context.” (Peter Corning)
Very important: Organism-like organizations of various kinds become units of selection and evolution, where the evolution of various parts may be shaped by the functional requisites of the whole. An example is the army ant sub-majors: their large size and long legs are morphological adaptations that reflect their role in the army ants’ division of labor. In like manner, all the symbionts have co-evolved adaptations that serve the functional needs of the partnership as an emergent whole.
The evolution of superorganisms
Let us try to understand the concept of the superorganism. First, it is a specific biological organization above the level of individual organisms. Although the term superorganism has a venerable pedigree, it became a pariah among biologists during the middle years of the XX-century and was widely criticized as an inappropriate metaphor. However, this “head-in-the-bag denial” of larger-scale functional organization was ultimately unsustainable. Not only do super-organisms represent an important aspect of the evolutionary process, but they have had and still have an important role to play in the ongoing evolution of human society.
The organismic analogy can be traced back to the roots of Western social theory. According to Plato, the “political body” is distinct from a herd in that it is functionally organized to provide for the collective needs and wants of the citizenry. In a much-quoted passage, Plato declared: “We must infer that all things are produced more plentifully, easily and of better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it in the right way, and leaves other things”. As Plato well understood, the trade-off for these benefits was mutual-dependency much like the parts of a body. As Plato stressed, the political body involves functional interdependence. Marsilio of Padua called the state a “living being”. The functional analogy is one of the most profound insights in western political thought.
James Lovelock, author of the insightful Gaia Theory, identifies James Hutton, the father of geology, as the first modern scientist to use the term superorganism, in 1788. Hutton wrote, “I consider the Earth to be a super-organism and its proper study should be by physiology”. Herbert Spencer, in his massive The Principles of Sociology, popularized the term and applied it to social organization. Another effort to revive the superorganism concept occurred in 1989, when group selection advocate David Sloan Wilson published an article on “Reviving the Superorganism”. Wilson employed Spencer’s definition, asserting that “The hallmark of an organism is its functional organization. We define a super-organism as a collection of individuals that together possess the functional organization implicit in the formal definition of an organism”. “Super-organisms exist when there is functional interdependence, hence unity. A super-organism responds adaptively as one, as an individual entity to the environment”. Robin Moritz published Bees as Superorganisms: An Evolutionary Reality. A pertinent criteria for super-organism status is the ability to maintain its homeostasis. In the end only one feature really counts: “It makes absolutely no sense invoking such a term, if natural selection does not act upon the superorganism itself. In insect societies, selection on the colony level seems to override selection at the individual level. A super-organism exists when the whole is a unit of selection”. The same for humans: selection acts upon human groups rather than individuals.
The superorganism, as a new holarchic level of integration/organization, has its own goal-related activities. As any living system, they aim to maintain their homeostasis. A lichen is a super-organism, an ant-hill is obviously a super-organism. Gaia is a super-organism. A close-knit human group is a super-organism. All these super-organisms have their own goals and goal-related activities.
Super-organisms are able to do what individual organisms cannot. When humans manage to organize themselves in holarchic ways, their organization becomes a super-organism, with its own life. “Teal Organizations are seen as having a life and a sense of direction of their own. Instead of trying to predict and control the future, members of the organization are invited to listen in and understand what the organization wants to become, what purpose it wants to serve.” (Frederic Laloux)
Could the holarchic human organization be the next step further in the human evolutionary journey? Could a human society achieve high levels of fairness and coherence? Could this biological evolution be the solution to overcome our social and ecological crisis? The answer is a sounding yes, because selection favors only the traits that are conducive both to individual and its group/environment well-being.
4. The Principle of Participation
Conditions conducive to authentic participation
The principles of Life create conditions conducive to authentic participation for all living beings. From this authentic participation stems Life’s creativity and wisdom; its functionality and harmony; its ingenuity and intelligence. We don’t see in Nature centralized control: it is all about negotiations between autonomous living beings, in multiple loops of feedback that bring forth coherence at all levels of integration.
A holon tries to maintain its integrity. Doing so, it fulfills its function in the bigger holon it belongs to. This is a contingent scientific realization, but in the social field this is a game-changer idea: If you want to have a functional society you have to enhance the integrity of its participants, to create conditions conducive to their authentic participation. If you want to have a resilient society in the face of challenges, you have to create conditions conducive to its member authentic participation. We have to enhance the social, political, economical, religious and even artistic participation of each member of our societies, if we want to have a more coherent and resilient society. Holarchic governance is about mutual-consistency, about maintaining the conditions conducive to authentic participation.
“An ideal culture is one that makes a place for every human gift. If we are to achieve a richer culture, we need to recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities and so to weave a less arbitrary social-fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place” (Margaret Mead)
A living relational architecture
The organism-like human society could be the next level of integration in Life holarchic unfolding. It is all about finding a living organizational principle that would allow humans to inter-relate authentically and thus, ecologically. The Butterfly Communities project is aiming to prototype such a social living architecture. The world “living” is saying that this social structure is not static, but dynamic and open, a continuous negotiation between humans. This is the “future that wants to emerge”. This is what Life is requesting from us in order to go further. A conscious social design could create conditions conducive for humans to negotiate constructively and creatively their relations and to bring forth an organism-like human world. For this we need, as individuals, to evolve higher levels of participative consciousness and, as communities, better organizational structures that would allow more adequate ways of bidirectional communication and inter-relation between us, in a truly holarchic way. Being aware of these new amazing concepts, imagining better social architectures and better ways to communicate and inter-relate, trying to prototype them amid our societies, we will learn step by step to improve our social lives.
An improvised dance is the perfect expression of what stigmergic correlation is. First of all: everybody participates. You can not say: I am dancing when you are just looking. You have to dance if you intend to be a part of the dance. Being part of the dance you start to have an important role in the creation of the dance itself. Because your moves will influence others moves. And their moves will influence yours. And so, in a stigmergic way, the dance self-creates itself through the unique and unpredictable participation of every body. What the “stigmergic” word enhances is that, when you make your creative move, you leave a “trace”. This “trace” influences, in a way or another, the others’ decision on how to continue to dance. Your “trace” inspires them. Everyone is free to choose their move, but for sure they will want to continue what you have already started. They will sense your intention and will want to continue it, expressing themselves too in this continuation, using their creativity to do their move. Stigmergic correlation enhances not only individuality, but community too. Is a truly holarhic design. It is a truly co-creative process.
5. The Principle of (co-)Evolution
We are living in an evolving Universe
Our Universe has been evolving for 14 billion years. Our planet has been evolving for 4,5 billion years. It started as a molten rock planet, under the siege of meteorites. But she has evolved so much! She transformed herself toward more and more coherence and beauty and self-awareness. We, humans, evolved so much from our animal ancestors. Now we even become conscious about our evolution. We become self-reflective and are expanding our self to embrace the whole planet. We started to realize that we are ever-evolving creatures living in a never-ending Story.
Unable to understand the dynamic quality of the Universe or human societies, we have designed our societies as static realities. We have never managed to design a living human organization, able to evolve organically, without collapsing first. Hence, facing an ever-changing environment, so-called “complex civilizations” always collapse (see Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies) because they were designed from the beginning as static and ideological structures. For a higher-level consciousness, it is obvious that a society based on rigid structures necessarily will fall apart. Because it can not adapt to the ever-evolving environment.
What could a living social architecture look like?
A holarhic social structure has the coherence embedded in its organizing principles. It also has the evolvability embedded in its organizing principles. Holarchy is a self-cohesive and self-evolutive organization. Also, it can easily embed an evolutionary purpose. An evolutionary purpose is a purpose that can evolve. If we evolve, our purposes will evolve too. If our environment changes, we have to change our ways and priorities accordingly. Future communities will be learning organizations. They will be resilient in facing different challenges and they could adapt, evolve, transform. A holarhic organization is, from its design, a learning and adaptable community. We are already able to imagine a holarhic human community. The next step is to choose to be part of one of these holarhic communities and improve them with our participation.
A small but rapidly-growing number of people are taking the viewpoint that humanity has the potential to consciously evolve. They believe that we are evolution becoming conscious of itself. These people constitute a science-based spiritual movement which was so far focused on:
a) refraining major religion through the eyes of evolution (Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry, Michael Dowd etc.)
b) teaching evolutionary science and its new spiritual significance (Brian Swimme, Elisabet Sahtouris, Duane Elgin, Mary Evelyn Tucker, David Christian, Joanna Macy and many others)
c) celebrating the Great Story of evolution and humanity’s role in it (Barbara Marx Hubbard, Elisabet Sahtouris, John Stewart, Charles Eisenstein)
d) personal development in light of evolutionary dynamics (Barbara Marx Hubbard, Michael Dowd, Charles Eisenstein)
e) taking a biological approach to find better organizing principles for social organization (Thomas Berry, Peter Corning, Elisabet Sahtouris, Charles Eisenstein)
A more integrative level of consciousness gives us the awareness that we are living in an ever-evolving Universe. It makes us aware that our understanding is partial, because we live in a dynamic Universe that is never the same. It gives us new senses to perceive that our world is dynamic. It gives us ways to understand ourselves and insert ourselves in our dynamic environments. We understand that we live in a dynamic world, that we can consciously evolve, that it is a real possibility to choose the direction of our evolution. We can imagine and choose who to become and how our societies could be, just as we already have imagined better tools. We can consciously change the story we tell ourselves about us and the Universe. We can change the rules of the game. We can switch from competition and exploitation to cooperation and regeneration. We can change our purpose in life as we continue to evolve or as our environments continue to change.
Employing the principles of Life, we will bring forth human communities that could resemble organism-like organizations. Such communities are able to sense their environment and respond accordingly, co-evolving with it. Inside a living community, the organizational structure is not static, dogmatic or ideological: it is based on continuous bidirectional communication between its members (this is what holarchy is all about) and so, through sense-and-respond – exactly as organs in an organism – its members are able to continuously negotiate their relations, support each-other, model each one after another, and so always to find the best answer to their outer and inner challenges. This kind of mutual supportive relations is widely spread in the human world, whenever you have a non-hierarchical organization.
6. The principle of sustainability
Life never builds in unsustainable ways. This is our big problem: we live in unsustainable ways. With our powerful technologies, we are heading to collapse the entire planetary ecosystem. What can we do? Some people, consciously choosing to live in a voluntary simplicity way, have a smaller ecological footprint indeed, but they are an insignificant percentage in comparison with the majority of citizens. The problem is that our society has embedded the unsustainability in its organizing principles, in its daily social and economic practices. We have to change our way of life not only from competition to cooperation, but from exploitation to regeneration of the planetary ecosystem. Is this ever possible?
“We have to create miracles. A miracle is not the intercession of an external divine agency in violation of the laws of physics. A miracle is simply something that is impossible from an old story but possible from within a new one. It is an expansion of what is possible.” (Charles Eisenstein)
The Living Universe metaphysics informs a different understanding of what technology should be and what functions should fulfill. Actually, human technologies are not so different from life technologies. Technological development is a form of human adaptation. Because any adaptation is not neutral, but is always pointing toward a direction of evolution, our current technologies are also expressions of the direction of evolution we have chosen. Our last choice was for exploitation. But we can reorient our civilization toward regeneration of the planetary ecosystem. For this, we need another metaphysics to inform us in this regenerative direction.
The main point of this chapter is that, if we want to build a human society harmoniously integrated into the planetary ecosystem, our technologies should mimic nature – should be life-enhancing and not life-exhausting. We have started to understand how Life works and have already created technologies that mimic Nature in their functioning (see the concept of biomimicry). Now, we can design technologies that work aligned with Life principles, that are able to regenerate their ecosystem and interconnect people in fair ways. This is the purpose and the way a technology should work. Although the old metaphysics still informs separation and exploitation, the new metaphysics of the Living Universe started to inform us differently. The principle of sustainability suggests us to employ living technologies that foster localization, autonomy (self-sustenance and self-governance), healthy human relations and the regeneration of the planetary ecosystem.
Living technologies are not only conducive to environmental regeneration but to social fairness too. Living technologies are conducive to healthy human relations. They are conducive to autonomy, self-sustenance and self-governance.
You can learn more about biomimicry and different technologies that mimic Life processes. You can learn about the regenerative design principles that are able to design living buildings (seeing the building not as a static thing but rather as a living process, harmoniously integrated in its ecosystem, fulfilling a role in its ecosystem). You can learn more about bio-mimetic agriculture (from sea-farms to indoor farms) and circular economy that mimics the Great Circle of Life, being designed to produce while recycling the elements. We will see how some Butterfly Communities could be hosted by floating structures, bringing forth the first floating cities. There is a perfect opportunity to build from scratch a regenerative human built environment. Such a structure – with its indoor and outside see-farms, with its energy plant and water desalination or rain-water collection etc – could be designed as an extended organism for the human community. A spaceship architecture where all the resources are recycled. Yes, such structures could become themselves small Circles of Life, being able to recycle the elements, helped by solar and wind energy.
But besides living technologies that successfully work aligned with nature, first of all we have to change our relation with the whole body of Life, with our planet. We have to live side-by-side with all our “brothers and sisters”. It is impossible to perceive the animals, the trees or the insects as our brothers from the lens of the old metaphysics that perceive all the living beings as mere mechanisms, devoid of any value and dignity. That is why, if we want to overcome our social and ecological crisis and live harmoniously between us and sustainably on this planet, we have to evolve a planet-centered consciousness. We can start to take the first steps from now. It is not me or someone else to tell you exactly what you have to do; rather it is upon your willingness to evolve in this direction.
7. The principle of autonomy
The extraordinary ability of living beings or ecosystems for resilience and regeneration is based on their autonomy. Autonomy means to be not too dependent on someone or something. Hence, autonomous living beings tend to create and maintain multiple, bidirectional relations with many other living beings. Therefore, a vital resource or function necessary for the proper conduct of physiological, social or ecological processes is always supported in several ways. If a system fails or diminishes its efficiency, other organs and systems take over and fulfill the necessary function. The ecosystems’ capacity for regeneration and resilience lies in their diversity and in the redundancy of the processes that maintain their homeostasis. Life has never built for “efficiency”, but for resilience and autonomy.
Informed by the old metaphysics of competition and exploitation, we never built for autonomy, but for “efficiency”. We indeed had efficiency, but at the cost of sacrificing the individual and community autonomy and resilience. Autonomy – as inter-dependence – is the basis for healthy human relations; for self-governance and free negotiations with the world around; for authenticity and hence, dignity, kindness or empathy etc. Autonomy is conducive to self-expression and social participation. Autonomous agents request bidirectional communication and equipotent relations.
Caste-based civilizations were never built for individual autonomy and healthy human relations, but only for “efficiency” (competition and power over). It is the time to change the old principles conducive to exploitation and enslavement with new ones that are conducive to autonomy, authenticity, creative participation, healthy human relations, healthy societies and healthy ecosystems. It is becoming obvious that all these principles I am talking about are mutually-consistent, one strengthening the other. All these principles are the fabric of the universal morality that is intrinsic to our nature. But it is hard to bring them to life in our capitalist society, where you are dependent on the capitalist mode of production. That’s why, a possible solution could be to create alternative small social/economic spaces (“Butterfly” fellowships/ cooperatives etc.) where we can safely inter-relate in the true spirit of our nature.
The Butterfly Communities open-project aims to employ all these principles to create a radically different social, political and economic environment. This fair social environment is not a utopia: on the contrary, it is very possible if we apply the organizational principles of Life. We can design and co-create together a life-enhancing society. Its network of relations can be designed to be conducive to cooperation and mutual-consistency of its members. We can design and co-create together a social environment conducive to fairness and authentic participation.