Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anarchy, Community Building, and the Kingdom Of God

NPR did me a huge favor this morning and decided not to bring any politicans' voices to shock me from slumber, but rather David Sloane Wilson's pleasant conversation to the airwaves.  He is an evolutionary biologist and has done some work on evolutionary lit-crit, which is why I knew of him.  Well, his most recent project traces what makes communities work and what makes people pro-social in communities.  Here's an excerpt from the interview on his findings:

YDSTIE: Where did you find enhances prosociality?
WILSON: Number One: a strong sense of group identity, and a strong sense of what the group is about. If you don't think of yourself as a group and if you don't know what the purpose of the group is, then it's unlikely to function well as a group. Two: proportional costs and benefits. This cannot be the case of some people do all the work and other people get the benefits. That's not sustaining over the long term.
Three: consensus decision-making. People hate being told what to do but they'll work hard for a decision that they agree upon. Four: monitoring. Most people want to cooperate but there's always a temptation to slack a little bit. And then a few people are going to actively to game the system. So, unless you can monitor good behavior, forget about it. Next, graduated sanctions: if somebody does misbehave, you don't bring the hammer down, you mind them in a nice and friendly fashion and that keeps them in solid citizen mode. At the same time, you do need to be prepared to escalate in those rare cases when necessary. Next, a fast, fair conflict resolution. If there is a conflict, it needs to be resolved in a fast and fair fashion in a manner that's regarded as fair by all parties. Seven: autonomy - for a group to do these things, they have to have the authority to manage their own affairs. Finally, in a large society consisting of many groups, those groups have to be put together using those same principles. That's called polycentric governance, a very important concept which emerged from political science but now has a more genuine evolutionary formulation.  [emphases mine]
It may be called "Polycentric governing," and I know an even more fun name for this concept--anarchy!! It's exciting to see an evolutionary biologist talk about the ways that our "human nature" actually works well with many parts of "anarchist" thinking, or the kinds of reforms we can create alongside systems that already exist--revolution from within.  It might not be in our power to overthrow the capitalist order all at once, but surely we can move towards building organizations with strong group identity, with strong respect for the individual but also strong group identity, with justice, with consensus decision making. 

This reminds me of a legendary class period when a substitute did not show up for one class at a high school that may or may not be where I teach; the students all together agreed to be very quiet and work on an assignment they knew had to be completed, in order to avoid having an authority figure called in on them.  They were capable of self-governing, or of working with guidance rather than commands--they are capable of consensus decision making--but that is not what schools train them in.  Our entire society takes away opportunities to self-govern, to make consensus-driven decisions about the issues that affect our lives.  In DSW's list, our society is particularly awful at proportional costs and benefits, graduated sanctions, and autonomy--it's no wonder a lot of us are not very pro-social when we have so many hurdles to social behavior in our way.  And sometimes I think the major reason most of those hurdles are there is because belonging to community is bad for consumption; as I've mentioned before on this blog, if you already belong to a strong group that values you for existing, you don't have as much need to consume mindlessly.  If you are already satisfied with your life and relationships, you are not as vulnerable to marketing that tells you what products might make you happy.

Also, I thought today's New Testament reading was a very apt description of the saintly behavior that can help bring the Turning to the Kingdom of God:
9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:  9-21

Someone recently asked me which texts linked me to Christianity, which I do see more as a lived experience that a purely textual tradition.  If I had to choose, though, I would put this passage pretty high on the list (despite its connections to Paul).  A lot of this advice is similar to the traits of pro-social individuals and communities.   What a beautiful celebration of solidarity, a text from the early church. 

In sum: Maybe anarchy is good human nature policy as well as good equality policy.  And, St. Paul is not as evil as I sometimes think he is.  Between the Bible and evolution, we have great insights into how to build effective liberatory institutions.  Revolution can come!  Otro mundo es posible!

No comments:

Post a Comment