Friday, 1 January 2016

Goodbye Utopia, Hello Synetopia

“For, when everyone’s entitled to get as much for himself as he can, all available property, however much there is of it, is bound to fall into the hands of a small minority, which means that everyone else is poor. And wealth will tend to vary in inverse proportion to merit. The rich will be greedy, unscrupulous, and totally useless characters, while the poor will be simple, unassuming people whose daily work is far more profitable to the community than it is to them.”
Utopia, Thomas More (1516)

Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ heralded a new tradition of seeking the ‘good society’ wherein all is held in common and everyone cooperates to serve their shared interests.

Over the last 500 years, the tradition has moved on in three quite distinct directions. First, there is the retreat from the conventional world to go off elsewhere to build small communal groups with no (or very limited) private ownership, to be sustained by an anarchic sensibility of mutual help without many top-down rules or enforcement. Secondly, there is the sweeping transformation that depends on a charismatic leader or an all-powerful state to act as the communistic overseer of all things common, on the basis that the common good will prevail through the judgement of those in control. Thirdly, there is the experimental development of communitarian arrangements for sharing and cooperation, not as an escape from but to replace prevailing institutions.

The first has long been branded as the tendency to chase after utopian dreams. Attempts at setting up isolated communal groups rarely last more than a few generations and seldom spread their ethos more widely. The second trend is rightly chastised as the harbinger of dystopian nightmares. Relying on a strong leader or unchallengeable party machine, the proclaimed custodianship of common property held in a cult or a totalitarian state invariably degenerates into some form of exploitative appropriation.

By contrast, the third approach recognises the interdependence of existing institutions and seeks to change them through on-going experimentation. Resources and responsibilities are shared out with the help of a variety of democratic methods, and new commons and cooperative forms spread organically through similar sectors and diverse localities. Cooperatives, sustainability networks, digital commons, and other forms of inclusive associations have shown a variety of ways to elevate human relations from self-centred zero-sum contests to sustained mutual respect and collaboration.

By their very nature, groups that rely on on-going deliberations, democratic decision making, and experimental adjustment do not work to any fixed blueprint. But there are certain elements that they cultivate in order to expand and realise their potential. These are elements that make them a cooperative place – or ‘synetopia’. Not all of them consistently succeed in developing or integrating all these elements, but where they do, people involved with them attain higher satisfaction and they achieve their objectives more effectively and on a more sustainable basis.

The nine core elements are summarised in the Synetopia Protocol so that any group, small or big, can check its progress towards a higher state of inclusiveness. Utopia, for better or worse, is not going to be attainable, but where the quests for better forms of human association do converge on an approach that delivers continuous improvement for all, it is where we find synetopia.

6 comments:

Huynh Truc said...

Nice blog

bao gia thiet ke quan cafe

Happy new year

Woodman59 said...

The Synetopia Protocol is a wonderful description to help us identify our organisational health but I can't help feeling that ironically it will only be achievable on a larger scale as we are able to move to the more communitarian lifestyle as in Example 1!

I feel the two are very interlinked, and am mindful of the conclusion of Wilhelm Reich in his analysis of the failure of the Russian revolution as being based in the continued existence of the authoritarian family.

My own experience of organisations so far has been of them being hugely shaped by individuals needing to replicate or extend the authoritarian structures of their childhood, as well as to try and find neurotic substitutes for what of course they missed out on within the limitations of those authoritarian situations!

Therefore I feel the primary institution that needs to be addressed is that of the family - something that has been placed under phenomenal stress over the last 50 years, and largely in a very fragile state indeed. Could that very fragility potentially help us toward starting to find greater strength and richness in more collective arrangements, though?

Henry Benedict Tam said...

Families and the wider society develop through their mutual influence. I agree families should be closer to synetopia as much as possible. This needs to be advanced as an aspiration in parallel with societal changes rather than as a pre-condition. Psychologically, some of those who rebel against oppression within a family setting grow up to be the most vocal champions of democratic reforms in general.

Henry Benedict Tam said...

Happy New Year to all who take an interest in 'Question the Powerful' - esp the many regular readers from the US, Russia, UK, & Poland.

Woodman59 said...

'Advanced as an aspiration in parallel' is such a great phrase. 100% agree. My perception though is that the family structure aspect has been almost totally neglected. After 35 years of working with individuals and families in conflict I would have to conclude that there is only the most rudimentary general awareness of family dynamics within the general population, and hardly more sophistication, if at all, from political figures who may be very knowledgeable about wider social principles.

Some (rather feeble) attempts to explore this area are made by mental health services, and the other people - who have charged into this vacuum with enormous ignorance and often exceptional wrong-headed violence - are the domestic violence lobby and the Family Courts.

It seems absolutely essential to me that a comprehensive psychological perspective be brought to the political discourse now.

Woodman59 said...

'Advanced as an aspiration in parallel' is such a great phrase. 100% agree. My perception though is that the family structure aspect has been almost totally neglected. After 35 years of working with individuals and families in conflict I would have to conclude that there is only the most rudimentary general awareness of family dynamics within the general population, and hardly more sophistication, if at all, from political figures who may be very knowledgeable about wider social principles.

Some (rather feeble) attempts to explore this area are made by mental health services, and the other people - who have charged into this vacuum with enormous ignorance and often exceptional wrong-headed violence - are the domestic violence lobby and the Family Courts.

It seems absolutely essential to me that a comprehensive psychological perspective be brought to the political discourse now.