I have been studying slime molds, the structure of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) , Chaos Theory, open source software and the structure of the world wide web itself trying to grasp the nature of the phenomenon demonstrated by the Ron Paul inspired movement. I found that the common elements of it exist universally and the principles create many of the most durable organizations. The concept is new to me but this “emergent intelligence” is as old as it gets. From single celled independent organisms to great networks of people worldwide, a common theme appears. I may have stumbled upon the term to describe the quality that makes the aesthetically unappealing example of the slime mold uniquely successful. Chaordic
What is Chaordic organization?
Here it is in a nutshell; it is a system of organization that exhibits characteristics of both chaos and order but is dominated by neither.
The term was coined by Dee Hock, founder and CEO of VISA USA and VISA international. He paired two seemingly polar terms, chaos and order, to describe a system that encompasses both but is dominated by neither. In his book Birth of the Chaotic Age, chaordic is defined in this manner:
1. The behavior of any self-governing organism, organization, or system which harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos.
2. Patterned in a way dominated by neither chaos nor order.
3. Characteristic of the fundamental organizing principles of evolution and nature
The structure as well as the nature of this movement is as fascinating as its unifying principle. The individuals that comprise the liberty movement are, by far, among the most honorable of people I have ever had the pleasure of mingling with. They have earned my faith in them. Every obstacle they have encountered has been surmounted in as reasonable and ethical manner possible, proving to me that the tenants of individual freedom are truly born of the natural order of existence.
What I hope to gain by studying slime molds and the emergent organizational structure of self-help groups like AA is a solid understanding of this “unstructure” so that I can help to better maximize the movement’s strengths and avoid the pitfalls that inevitably lead to the destruction of artificially imposed hierarchies such as the two party political system in the U.S.
I don’t want to give the impression that successful emergent, chaordic movements are utterly without rules. They aren’t. Rather, this sort or organization has a few basic but hard and fast rules that are central to its success. But it’s really nothing difficult, the requirements are to do what they are naturally hardwired to do plus communicate and respond.
Slime molds are content, peaceful creatures that in a suitable environment do nothing more than absorb, excrete, repeat. (The human equivalent might be a “couch potato”) but when a problem arises that threatens its simplistic existence-they spring into action! (ok-maybe “spring” is a bit much) in truth, they simply respond by emitting an enzyme. This enzyme is the slime mold equivalent of the human exclamation along the lines of “OMG”! One hard and fast rule for slime molds is that when the “OMG!” signal is sensed from a fellow slime mold they must respond in kind (“OMG”!-“OMG”!) and immediately proceed towards the source of the exclamation.
All slime molds react this way. The ‘OMG!–gather-OMG! gather’ soon reaches critical mass and this leaderless colony is now, in all practicality, an entirely new organism owed to their spectacular singularity of purpose which is to survive the hostile shift that is taking place in their common environment. Now what do these creatures have so in common that it breeds such indispensable unity? Well, first of all they have similarity of physical structure and have the same certain requirements to sustain their existence.
Here is where the lowly slime mold takes on an inexplicable but verifiable trait that I find so fascinating. Certain groupings of critters can exhibit abilities that actually exceed the sum total of its parts. What this means is that when these guys get together something almost magical happens; as a group these creatures are capable of feats that is beyond the capacity of any single member alone. This phenomenon is not due to the additive effect of their numbers.
For example; one person cannot move an object that 2 or 3 or 5 can because of the additive effect of their strength. That is not what I am talking about. Its more like a group gaining the ability to levitate the object as opposed to simply moving it. This sort of cooperative group can do what is individually, impossible. Even more fascinating, they do it without any one in charge.
When you see these clusters emerge for the first time, there’s something undeniably magical in the sight. The brain somehow wants to find a leader in the collective, despite the fact that it knows intellectually that the pattern is forming via the laws of self-organization. –Steven Johnson
If you are curious and want to know more about the slime molds and the quality of emergence, here is a link that gives a brief explanation of Steve Johnson’s concepts based on his book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software.
Slime molds are expert at clustering. That is, they know how to come together when the going gets tough. It is what makes them a successful species. What they are not so great at is coping.
Coping refers to the ability of a group to respond intelligently to the changing environment. And the faster they can respond, the better.
Ants demonstrate this coping ability. They have no central commander that orders them, instead they seem to recognize when there is an imbalance and they naturally make adjustments accordingly. Task allocation, for example, when there are too many ants working on one specific task, the others take note of this and automatically switch tasks until the right balance is gained.
They don’t worry, fret or fuss over it, they just do it. All of this cooperation is cemented by the fact that the ants share a one overriding purpose in common; they want to live and to survive any hostile intrusions.
For human socio-political groupings, they have their particular common aims which brought them together in the first place. The common denominator for these groups must be a strong bond for them to cluster together at all because we do it on a strictly voluntary basis.
As our political environment becomes increasingly hostile to those who cannot tolerate the degree of lost self determination or personal liberty, we will see just how many truly hold human liberty to be a core value. If it is a core value for as many Americans as I believe it to be, then we best prepare ourselves for a true coalition of strange bedfellows and loosen our dependence on hierarchical structures.
We are, of course, much more complex than the critters I previously mentioned and to organize in a fashion that allows for the necessary flexibility we will need to survive and thrive will take some thought.
There are a few existing structures that we can look to and learn from.
Hat tip to a good friend that shared with me the method behind the success of AA meetings. Not that I would be ashamed to have firsthand knowledge of how this organization is structured but fortunately, what I am addicted to and what many others obviously are as well, has no cure and that is simply being let alone.
The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous are a large part of that organizations longevity. There is no centralized leadership and anyone can start a group by following the principles of the organization. I don’t know if all of them are applicable to grassroots political movements but at least some of their operational tenets are extremely valuable. One thing really stands out about AA, no attention is diverted from their mission by bad publicity about the organization itself. In fact, the organization receives very little attention at all. This, I think is remarkable.
We could learn a thing or two from ants, slime molds and recovering alcoholics.
The most successful movements are ones that freely share knowledge and have a clearly defined purpose that many can claim as a value. . The more resonant the message the greater chances of success otherwise your movement will be downgraded to a “fringe group”. The ability to keep our eyes on the prize and to tolerate inconsequential differences will have to increase proportionately if the group is to benefit from widespread support of their cause. If the cause is true and the threat to it real, the movement will be unstoppable.
Networks that communicate freely can respond rapidly to shifting dynamics and a wide distribution of easily accessible knowledge lessens the chance that the movement can be decapitated by removal or co opting of a key leader. Individuals should be both self reliant and cooperative, comfortable with leading an initiative as well as following as the situation requires.
The lack of formalized hierarchy permits great innovation and grassroots movements make up for what they lack against a powerful establishment in this arena. We should take great care not to constrain participants by rendering them dependent on designated leadership.
There is no need for organizing to be so difficult. We cannot generate the energy that gives rise to a movement anymore than we can generate the waves in the ocean but we can certainly learn to surf the Big Kahuna when it comes our way.
After that, communication, responsiveness and feedback are the absolutely essential elements of a successful movement.
[Editor’s note: AxXiom originally published this work elsewhere and the piece has been specially updated and graphics added for R3publicans everywhere. Thanks Ax and we love you bunches! You can see more of her work and research efforts on her website. You can frequently find her at the Oklahoma State Capitol when they are in session ‘lobbying’ for the grassroots and advocating for liberty in our land!]