Tag Archives: circle of equals

From Civilization to a Circle of Equals

LeviathanWhat follows is an outline of a book I intend to write and get published (even if self-published) in the next few years, based on a lot of the reading, thinking and writing I have done to date. The bulk of the links you find in the overview are to pieces I have previously written that I will attempt to weave in.

My working title at this point is “From Civilization to a Circle of Equals”, because I have come to see civilization, as human beings have mostly developed it so far, as an exercise in domination and control of the bulk of human beings by a vested elite. As we truly embrace the “circle of equals” in our society, we will see such a transformation as to perhaps move beyond any current concept of “civilization” as we know it.

Given that disclaimer, if you are interested in my thoughts on the grand narrative of our species, please keep reading, and please (please, please) comment with your thoughts! (It will also be posted on my site as a “page” called out in the right column!

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To Build Community, an Economy of More Gifts and Less Money

For many years now I’ve been uncomfortable walking into a big crowded shopping mall and feeling the energy of the place. It generally feels like most people are there for entertainment, shopping for stuff they don’t really need. Four years ago I remember people joking about how it is very much a contemporary American cultural practice to “Shop ’til you drop” (STYD), but since the Great Recession, I rarely hear that any more.

Good riddance I think! The United States has had an economy that depended on ever increasing domestic consumer spending more so than any other major economy in the world. I’m no economist, but I suspect that one of the reasons our unemployment rate continues to be stubbornly high through our slow recovery is that many of the STYD folks have found it necessary to hang up their shopping bags and cut up their credit cards. Looks like the jobs that supported that superfluous hyper-materialism are just not coming back.

And reading the recent Yes! Magazine piece by Charles Eisenstein, “To Build Community, an Economy of Gifts”, I’m more convinced than ever its for the better. Eisenstein says we can trade that lost consumerism for community by returning to (or at least towards) a “gift economy”. He writes…

Wherever I go and ask people what is missing from their lives, the most common answer (if they are not impoverished or seriously ill) is “community.” What happened to community, and why don’t we have it any more? There are many reasons — the layout of suburbia, the disappearance of public space, the automobile and the television, the high mobility of people and jobs — and, if you trace the “whys” a few levels down, they all implicate the money system.

More directly posed: community is nearly impossible in a highly monetized society like our own. That is because community is woven from gifts, which is ultimately why poor people often have stronger communities than rich people. If you are financially independent, then you really don’t depend on your neighbors — or indeed on any specific person — for anything. You can just pay someone to do it, or pay someone else to do it.

Now neither Eisenstein nor I are saying to just sit back and enjoy getting poorer while the rich are getting richer. But tough economic times are as good as any to think about what is really of value in your life and spend your money more wisely on what really adds to that value. I think it’s really worth wrestling with his provocative thesis, that community is nearly impossible in a highly monetized society like our own.

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Moving from Hierarchy to a Circle of Equals

When people ask me, “What do you do?” or “What kind of work do you do?”, they generally are asking me what kind of job I do to make a living. And particularly because I am a white male person of some economic and educational privilege (with a head full of gray hair), they often presume that that job is a fairly high-powered one, and a major part of how I define myself. My job is fairly high-powered, I am a “business process consultant” for Kaiser Permanente, specifically the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, which is a not for profit health insurance company. But nowadays, that is not how I answer the question of what I do or even what my “work” is.

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Dispatch from the Corporate Egalitarian Team Trenches

One of the key themes woven through my writing is our societal transition from hierarchical to more egalitarian institutions. I’m talking about the transition from leaders giving explicit marching orders to subordinates in an obvious “pecking order”, to something more akin to a “circle of equals”, where all members of the team are expected to make important decisions, and their managers play much more of a facilitative (how can I help you be successful) than directive role.

I have witnessed this sort of transition in family life (among the other families I interact with) and religious life (in the Unitarian-Universalist religious organizations I participate in). But what I have been most focused on lately is this transition in the work world, particularly my own place of work. I work as a business analyst for a large corporation in the insurance industry, not what you might think as the leading edge of social change. But I am pleased to report that in my team of some 20 people (and other internal teams that are our “customers”) the transition from “pecking order” to “circle of equals” is alive and well!

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My Take on Learning in the 21st Century

In my previous piece, “What is 21st Century Learning?” I tried to put a context around eleven replies to that question from people identified by Ed Week magazine as thought-leaders in the business of education. That context is the transition in American society, and the wider world (case and point is Egypt and the Arab world in the past month), from external authority to the shared authority of a circle of equals. At this time in our human history, I can think of no more profound thread in our cultural evolution.

In keeping with this developmental thread, it seems appropriate that I go beyond commenting on the thoughts of identified educational authorities on the question, “How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?”, and put forward my own as a fifty-five year old person and parent of two now young adult children, who has done (and continues to do) his share of formal and informal (that is real life) learning.

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What is 21st Century Learning?

A recent Ed Week online article, “How Do You Define 21st Century Learning”, featured the thoughts of eleven people connected to the US education establishment as teachers, consultants or educrats. I was intrigued how each would frame this topic, relative to my own framing as a parent and more of a many educational paths (including unschooling) advocate. (FYI… to see my own thoughts on this topic click here.)

Here is the article author’s framing of the question…

The term “21st-century skills” is generally used to refer to certain core competencies such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving that advocates believe schools need to teach to help students thrive in today’s world. In a broader sense, however, the idea of what learning in the 21st century should look like is open to interpretation — and controversy.

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It’s the System!

I got feedback from Blanche, my partner Sally’s mom, that the term “patriarchy” does not really resonate with her in terms of describing that model of society and its institutions that I keep referring to in many of my blog pieces. It was interesting that Blanche focused in on that term and made the point to share her thoughts with me. I have been wrestling with the term myself versus various other descriptive words for the same concept (like “hierarchy”, “us and them”, “pecking order” or “pyramid of control”). These to contrast this organizational model with the more egalitarian “circle of equals” (a good descriptive term that I’m more happy with using), which I believe to be the model our human society is evolving into.

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Summerhill and a Truly Egalitarian Childhood

I’m in the midst of reading Matthew Appleton’s book, A Free Range Childhood, about his experience in the 1990s being a “houseparent” at the Summerhill independent boarding school in Leiston, Suffolk in England. It is a fascinating glimpse into a more egalitarian (I would argue more evolved) way of adults, children and youth interacting with each other in a living and educational setting. It is also the world’s most iconic, long-lasting and successful democratic free-school that has inspired other such schools around the world. And finally, the account of life and learning at Summerhill recalls similar experiences I have had in my own life, as a youth and later as a parent, that confirm the efficacy and vitality of this unorthodox approach to childhood and education.

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Defining the Circle of Equals

For most of recorded history (with some notable exceptions) human societies and the institutions within those societies – political, economic, religious, educational, family, etc. – have been structured on a hierarchical model of governance and control with men ranked above women in status, a structure I refer to often as “patriarchy”. But in the last five centuries of the “Modern Era”, with its focus on the emancipation of the individual, there has been a clear historic trend away from these hierarchical structures toward more egalitarian ones (see “The Long Road to Agency”). These egalitarian structures I like to call “circles of equals”.

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It’s the Governance, Stupid!

Circle of Youth & AdultsIn the Education Week March 19 article, “It’s the Classroom, Stupid: School Reform Where It Counts the Most”, author Kalman R. Hettleman is at least attempting to address the issue of governance that I highlighted in my piece yesterday on “Defining Governance”. Hettleman says…

The mismanagement of classroom instruction is the ugly secret and fatal flaw of school reform. Everyone knows that school systems are horrendously mismanaged. The media keep us fully informed and outraged at foul-ups like overspent budgets, computer glitches, bungled paperwork, defective maintenance, and unresponsive bureaucrats. But these failings, as serious as they are, tell only a small part of the story.

Though he does not use the “G-word”, I believe what he is addressing in his article speaks directly to school governance, specifically who is empowered to make school management decisions and what is the process for making those decisions. Continue reading →