What does Y2K have to do with co-intelligence?
Part of co-intelligence is collective
intelligence. The collective intelligence of whole societies is called
Societal intelligence involves, among other things,
- accessible information flows and feedback loops so that relevant information
is broadly available
- forums for effective dialogue where
the meaning of such information can be explored
- the active involvement of citizens in these information flows and
dialogues, and the ability of those citizens' perspectives to adapt as fuller
The more all three of these factors are present, the more useful diverse
perspectives will be to the collective mind, and the less likely the whole
culture will find itself stuck at one extreme or another (unable to respond)
or torn apart from within by the expansion of extremism in a contracting
In the Y2K problem the discourse is still somewhat extreme. Intense discussions
are occuring in widely diverse specialized groups -- from insurance companies
to computer programmers, from economists to Christian fundamentalists. The
voices involved tend to be either bearish or bullish. Some fear a catastrophe
and others brush the problem off. There is precious little creative middle
ground or dialogic space in which the merits of various perspectives can
be compared and understood in nuanced ways, and more useful perspectives
This suggests a need for greater societal intelligence. To help us understand
how to pursue that objective, we can look at the sort of factors that undermine
the three primary conditions for societal intelligence mentioned above.
Among the more obvious are:
- lack of citizen involvement in
public discourse and societal learning (whether from distraction, disillusionment,
confusion, or otherwise)
- individual and collective denial (motivated by fear, habit, ignorance,
- the suppression of information that threatens special interests (by
corporations, media, politicians, lawyers, etc.)
- a level of specialization that makes it difficult to know the significance
of data from outside one's sphere and virtually impossible to understand
how diverse pieces of the picture fit together
- dysfunctional forms of public discourse that fail to generate public
wisdom and will
- fashion-driven information distribution (e.g., sexy news), lacking
context and follow-up
- competitive or conformist political cultures that keep public opinion
from adapting to changing circumstances.
All these obstacles are present in the Y2K situation. They add up to the
cultural co-stupidity we find when we observe how whole societies are responding
to this problem.
Anything we can do to ameliorate the obstacles to societal intelligence
listed above, will increase our culture's capacity to respond to this crisis.
Another part of co-intelligence is collaborative
intelligence, the capacity to work with the world around
us, not trying to dominate it.
A large part of our Y2K problem is our effort to get what we want from the
world without taking into account its needs or its wisdom. This leaves
our economic and technological systems overextended and vulnerable. Natural
systems are resilient because their complexity has been evolving for billions
of years. Our culture is arrogant enough to think that it can create highly
complex systems from scratch and get away with it. We lack the patience
to learn from nature how to collaborate with it to grow what we need. We
only have the capacity to force nature to tell us enough of its secrets
to take what we want.
This difference is visible in the distinction between indigenous science
and modern science. Indigenous science -- the science practiced by native
peoples -- learns the dynamics and spirit of nature in a particular place,
so that the learner can develop a right relationship, a respectful partnership
with the natural entities in his or her environs. Modern science, in contrast,
attempts to find universal causal principles that will allow technicians
to manipulate physical reality to construct and extract without having to
give much, if anything, back; without having to belong or owe or love. Take
the money and run.
Our computers have been used mostly to increase our capacity to take the
money and run, to efficiently extract and move what we want from point A
to point B, faster and farther, with less expense, effort or obligation.
The interconnectedness this has woven into our culture has added to our
ability to extract life from each other, from communities, from the highly-evolved
and productive natural systems around us. We suck out life, and leave deadness
behind. Look at the hills that are mined or clearcut. Look at the boarded-up
towns. Look at the faces on the trains and in the cars, the endless cars
and trucks laying their tracks of stone over everything, driving weather
to extremes. This is a web of death, as brittle as a dead branch, ready
to snap. It doesn't matter how fast the pieces move, how vast the masses/statistics/cities,
how bright the colored plastic. It is not alive and it is forced.
Permaculture offers one view out. Permaculture
has the solidity of modern science yet the sensitivity of indigenous science.
Permaculture has principles, universal ecological design principles.
And once you learn them, you throw them away far enough that you can then
look at the life that is all around you and really see it
-- see what it does, what it needs, what it has to offer, what kind of dance
it is inviting you into. Permaculture teaches us -- those of us who have
forgotten -- how to work with nature, to become a partner to Life, so that
plants and animals and dirt and water and weather yield us food and clothing
and shelter and meaning freely and vibrantly without having to be hacked,
yanked, forced and poisoned. Permaculture systems are resilient, because
they use the natural tendencies of things to do what they naturally do,
all arranged so that they are all useful to and supportive of each other.
You don't have to poison the slugs; the ducks will eat them. The ducks
will swim in the pond you made by digging out earth with which to build
your aesthetic, well insulated home, whose greywater flows through a marsh
you built -- complete with lovely cattails -- to purify it before it arrives
in the pond where the ducks swim above the goldfish.
I saw this very thing a month ago, on my first visit to an actual permaculture
site near Point Reyes, California. It had a profound impact on me. It
was more Eden than farm, more work of art than constructed development.
It was not planned and built. It had grown and evolved for several years,
with the equal participation of the land, plants, animals, and humans.
The humans brought to the dance their conscious observation, thinking and
caring. Next year that site won't be the same, because it will have led
to something else, equally beautiful and productive, ever new.
People like I met there don't generate Y2K problems. They don't create
global warming, racism and toxic wast dumps. Their spirit is collaborative,
patient, spiritual, eager to give as much as to take, happy to belong and
co-create, loving the wisdom that grows so deeply all around them and curious
to see what it will do next.
If we can learn this gigantic lesson -- if we can see that it is the brittleness
of our systems, the shallowness of our relationships, the impatience of
our lives that is pulling us down -- not just a computer glitch -- then
it will all have been worth it. Even if a lot of us end up suffering.
Because then our grandchildren will know what life is all about. And they
will carry it on, they will belong to the Earth again and to each other.
We will have made it, as a culture. And perhaps we won't do this again,
this waste of life and meaning.
To the person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
To the person with a song, a drum and a dream, every problem looks like