Spider’s webs are their brains

Western science recently figured out that spider’s webs are kind of like extended, out-of-body brains.

Spiders tighten and loosen specific parts of their webs to become more attuned to vibrations, and they can tell the difference between, say, a fly moving around or the wind or other creatures buzzing. This makes sense, as arachnids have been evolving these webs for who knows how many millions of years.

Seeing the spider and web as one and inseparable challenges the ideas we’ve learned about separateness: that there is a spider that is separate from their web. But without a web, the spider couldn’t survive. The spider can’t exist as a disconnected individual.

While this is magical in and of itself, it is also a metaphor for something I’ve been wondering about in networks for a while: how do we embed sensitivity in networks? Rather than thinking about it in a more narrow and mainstream idea of “communications,” how can we think about our activities in networks as sensing? This would have to go hand-in-hand with our work to distribute and decentralize networks – we don’t want to repeat the hierarchical structures of organizations, where only the hubs “hear” about what’s going on – we want to increase access to this hearing/sensing.

We could metaphorically peer into one thread within the network, listen in on what’s happening there. Then put one of our eight arms on another thread and see what’s going on over there. Doing so we are better informed and able to act more strategically – in alignment and harmony – with what is happening elsewhere in the network.

Bees bridge, foxes garden: we expand

I saw this post yesterday on instagram, and then a friend sent me this article, that basically says that Arctic foxes build gardens over the span of many generations, creating nutrient-dense spaces in the harsh climates they inhabit.

Also, did you know that bees build bridges with their bodies and a kind of glue they secrete? It’s called festooning and looks like this:

Bees festoon
They build bridges with glue secretions across impossible spaces
Photo from Flickr by Maja Dumat/blumenbiene.

For me one of the ways in which is relate to nature is through awe. Or I could say it this way: being outside or otherwise in contact with the natural world has the potential to fill me with awe, to get me into a state of being bigger than the bounds of my own body – to see and feel and know things I don’t normally consider. In nature we can sense possibilities, sense more for ourselves, than we can from within our human systems.

Technology as “tequio”

This post is a short summary of Yasnaya Elena Aguilar Gil’s essay “Una propuesta modesta para salvar al mundo,” translated into English as “A modest proposal to save the world.” (The original version is in Spanish.)

Adapting technology to suit a new context is not a new practice. However, adapting tech to support collective, rather than capitalist outcomes, may be able to help us move out of some of the pervasive problems inherent in development paradigms.

“Tequio has also become a strategy for meeting everyday needs. Just as the modern-day technology of free, open-source code has enabled collective progress in the digital sphere, the communal labor of tequio raises the possibility of resistance in Abya Yala — and survival of the world at large.”

Technologies have been adapted in Abya Yala, an indigenous name for what’s now called “Latin America,” to serve diverse needs like language preservation and distributed ownership of cellular phone/internet networks.

These needs are a response to colonization and capitalism. Many rural and/or indigenous populations have never been given access to these increasingly necessary forms of communication, so now they are reclaiming and grounding this tech in the own communities. More neutrally called “digital divides,” this unpoliticized and academic understanding points to inequitable gaps in access to and use of online spaces and tools. Aguilar Gil’s essay suggests that these gaps can be bridged by going back to roots of collective and cooperative practices embedded in many indigenous communities:

There is a serendipitous affinity between the logic of collective effort and free cooperation that defines open-source software like Linux and the philosophy of many indigenous communities who built structures to survive the harshness of colonial rule. Both rely on mutual support and small-scale, community-level labor linked into a circuit of larger tasks. Such tequio is an essential “social technology” common across Abya Yala.

This is a continuation of what we might call “self-organizing” – appropriating capitalist/colonial tools to suit decolonizing contexts. Although not necessarily designed as such, tech tools can be used to create spaces for collaboration, cooperation, and community. This happens through a reclaiming – a reclaiming of the intentions and goals from a capitalist, profit-centered model to one that benefits communities.

Reflections on writing one essay

i’ve been in the process of reworking an essay (with very necessary help from my book midwife) that has taken months of re-relating to the initial topic, shifting it, finding new ground, and then losing it. it’s been frustrating that i’ve been writing this essay since august (3+ months now) and i still don’t have a final draft. but the process has been very enlightening and is helping me move more into the space of the book i’ve been working on for a little over a year now. here’s some reflection on the process so far:

if writing the essay was a transformation from what i thought was logically needed (i.e. following BIPOC leadership) to something more spiritual, deeper and more wide-spreading (e.g. seeing the unseen worlds where our post-capitalist dreams live), maybe that’s what i’m feeling about the book, too: an opening to this other level, of moving beyond logic. moving beyond the frames of logic we’ve been given toward something that is more human.

i had a flash upon waking this morning about butterflies and river currents and mushrooms and the worry behind “how would mom see this book” or how would it compare, to say, what my partner is reading now – an academic treatise on the end of capitalism (which he often reads to fall asleep, btw). and how my book doesn’t really respond to that. it doesn’t respond to the last book my partner read either, a chronicling of capitalist thought and practice. i think this is because my ideas are no longer caught in the call and response cycle, precisely because we need to move out of it and into a different kind of relationship to what we know as economy. at this point it’s about our psyches, not just about “mental health” (in a western psychological sense) and how we relate with the world. there’s so much anxiety right now. and so many people also yelling “REST.”

i just paused and read some tweets from @storyofwealth on instagram, which is a pretty good account. the tweets were about how taxing the rich is futile (because if we the people don’t have control over where that money goes, what’s the point anyway). true AND i’m not sure that it gets us into a different paradigm. which is what we need: to be able to see other paradigms, not just this one. this feels like having to swim past the breaking waves near the shore to get to a deep calm: there’s a lot within these dominating systems that try and keep us only able to see what they tell us and nothing beyond that.

so this opening feels like an invitation into magic, into the unseen, into the worlds that are around us but we can’t yet feel or live into. they’re there nonetheless. (could this be faith?)

the feeling of “void”ness or “emptiness” outside of capitalism/colonialism/dominating systems is also part of those systems, not a part of the other(ed) realities. the idea that there’s nothing outside the gender binary is a lie…because outside of it there are billions of genders. though it may feel confusing at first stepping outside, perhaps those are the first steps toward our authentic, real, liberated selves.

i sense that’s how it will be (and is) when we step out of capitalism. though it feels like we’re stepping off a cliff, maybe we realize we have wings. maybe these are the first steps toward true freedom: returning to interconnectedness, collaboration, harmony. through practicing repair, trust, returns. through feeling reckoning, grief, and also joy, love, wholeness.

i’m still in this tension with SPEAKING IN A WAY THAT IS LEGITIMATE. speaking in a way where my argument is logical, rational, and follows the rules of dominating culture. (perhaps my role is one of codeswitcher.) i’m pretty (ok, very) sure that that is just part of staying stuck in the same paradigm. AND WE KNOW IT’S WRONG. we know the dominating paradigm is killing many of us, killing the planet and (literally) life as we know it. why do i need to respond to that? i feel like that has to be a point or two up front in the book: as simple as a bulleted list of the harms of capitalism, citing other authors who’ve already done that legwork, just to make the point that we know it’s wrong.

but we can’t stop there.

because we know there were and are civilizations that have lasted in sustainable, harmonious relationship with the planet for millennia.

the difficult part for me is that what i’m trying to say DOES feel illogical. it FEELS all the ways that these dominating systems de-legitimize all the rest: too “airy,” (pun intended!) fluffy, “woo,” not real, not possible, not at scale so therefore irrelevant. it doesn’t play within the rules of logic. and my well-trained brain, educated within this system, says that this means i’m wrong. this is how i get stuck.

but then i remember Alok (a non-binary poet, fashion icon, and visionary) saying how they don’t want to be legitimized by that system. that’s not part of what they seek as it has nothing to do with their freedom. i appreciate the clarity.

this has to do with my fascination with the absurd: those things we can see and may be able to understand, but then label them illogical and “wildly unreasonable” (per the dictionary definition). if those who determine what is reasonable and what is not are those who decide to drill in the arctic, to create borders to justify their xenophobia, to give guns to kids to shoot other kids in school, those deciding that “justice” is white murderers going free, et cetera ad nauseum. if those are the people deciding what is reasonable, then very clearly this kind of “reason” should have no bearing on where we’re going. (let alone limit our possibilities!)

we can’t wait for legitimization from within dominating systems. (i should really write what i mean by dominating systems if i haven’t already.) it will never come. this would only wear us down and burn us out.

so instead i want to move toward freedom, toward liberation. this move might initially feel uncomfortable. we’ll have to learn how to move not just on our own but in connection with others – relearn how to flow together in community. i guess i believe we can. maybe that’s my FAITH.

this could be such an exciting time in human history. where we oppressors right that which we’ve acknowledged we’ve done wrong. where we can learn from all the diversity of ways we live in relationship with the planet. where we can make decisions with our whole selves: heart, body, mind, and not just a logical part conditioned by rules that aren’t grounded in anything. can you see this? can you start dreaming into this space?

dreaming and hoping and faith. opening past containments that no longer serve us: twisted rules of logic, borders, binaries, fragmenting our selves into parts that are “right” and “wrong,” fragmenting nature into value and waste. this opening as not a one-time event but a repeated, fraught attempt to wrestle past them. it is a wrestling that builds muscles. we persist because we know we need what’s on the other side. we need each other. we need a planet that is healthy. we need joy instead of anxiety, celebration and dance instead of burnout. we need dirty fingernails instead of keyboard-trained hands (hold on while i go plant some tomatoes). we need relationships to our selves based in health and “prevention” instead of treating symptoms. we need communal structures that support all of these things – and in some ways, we have ideas as to what they are: universal basic income, healthcare, labor rights, democracy and shared governance, cooperatives, decolonization of land, reparations for all that was stolen. though most of these ideas come from within the dominating system, they have underpinning values that can set us up and help us practice into what will support us more fully.

all of this accidental essay is to say: i think i am inviting us into being less legible, more illogical and perhaps even absurd as we move beyond these structures of “reason” that don’t serve us. i am inviting us into a place where we can radically imagine cultures grounded in care and connection, in wholeness and harmony. i am inviting us into shifting from seeing endings into seeing beginnings and continuations.

Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World (Katie Farris)

To train myself to find, in the midst of hell
what isn’t hell.

The body, bald, cancerous, but still
beautiful enough to
imagine living the body
washing the body
replacing a loose front
porch step the body chewing
what it takes to keep a body
going –

this scene has a tune
a language I can read
this scene has a door
I cannot close I stand
within its wedge
I stand within its shield

Why write love poetry in a burning world?
To train myself, in the midst of a burning world,
to offer poems of love to a burning world.

Katie Farris

Wild Geese (Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

Rhizome Assumptions and Outstanding/Guiding Questions

I just had a great conversation with June Holley (Network Weaver) and Emil Vincentz (Acter) about the Acter platform and how it might connect with Rhizome, the platform I’ve been working on.  One of the things that came of it is that I realized I haven’t written much about my assumptions yet that undergird the work I’ve been doing on Rhizome.  So, thanks to that convo, here are most of the assumptions I’ve been using.  I’d love to hear your thoughts – whether you agree or if you hold different assumptions.

Countless (hundreds of?) similar platforms have been created before and have failed: we must design in a different way.

  • They’ve failed because they:
    • are proprietary (not open source),
    • have heavy gate-keeping (usually include only one closed network),
    • are not based in co-design (do not question assumptions together),
    • overestimate the role of technology in solving the problem (over-focus on technology),
    • are not nimble enough to support learning given so many unanswered questions (over-invested in technology and therefore rigid),
    • do not consider questions of the cultural change called for by [systems change].
  • Therefore a better approach would be: open source, cross-network, co-designed, embedded in network activities, and promote distinct cultural rules:
    • Open source or developed more openly, not only represents alternative culture, but also promotes collaboration on the platform itself.
    • Cross-network: what is learned in one network can be applied to other networks – mutual benefit.
    • Co-designed: embrace with humility what we do not know yet.  Do not assume that technology will solve the problems of collaboration or of the lack of systems change, rather share and ask questions of actual users who are jointly moving toward self-organizing.
    • Embedded in network activities: technology is not separate from or prescriptive of how people should behave.  Rather than technology leading engagement, engagement leads technology.
    • Culture: see culture section for more details, but also that the technology should have these cultural rules embedded in its design.

The “non-technical” pieces of a platform are much more important than the technical, especially in this phase of learning together.  A shared technology platform can also be the platform for conversations about these activities – this may be the true promise of the tech/communications platform.

  • Non-technical pieces include culture, learning, governance, network engagement, self-organizing practices, systems transformation. 
  • This is really the bulk of the work – practicing these things together.  The promise of a cross-network platform which asks similar questions on these topics in a diverse set of networks lets us learn faster together.
  • We can apply co-design principles to those activities.  We can use a tech platform to spark conversations, especially when we are clear about how we see that the platform is lacking.

Cultivating a shared network culture is (may be?) necessary to *feel* like we’re moving together.

  • Culture is a broad container that includes, at least: our behaviors that create and sustain relationships, our visions and worldviews, how we talk about and understand issues, and our diverse contexts – across, past, present, and future. 
  • If we are not explicit about the cultures that we are creating, we will inevitably fall back into patterns from dominating, oppressive systems (white supremacy, cis- hetero- patriarchy, colonial mentalities, etc.)
  • We should seek to be explicit about our shared assumptions: of how we want to be in relationship with each other, about where we disagree, where we’re still learning, and about where we are moving together.  If we are not explicit about these things, we may be acting together based on assumptions that are incorrect.
  • How do we feel that we’re moving together, that we’re on the same page, that we’re wanting to move toward a shared horizon/vision?
  • Part of this is being clear about what we don’t want.  We don’t want white supremacy culture to govern our groups – so we learn about what that means and practice ways to interrupt it when it inevitably shows up.  We don’t blame each other for having internalized these ways of being, rather, we see them as something we’re all learning to move out of. 
  • We also don’t want to continue to perpetuate siloed, competitive, and organizational-centered thinking/being.  So: we share what we’re working on freely when there is trust, we seek to re-integrate, re-connect, and look for synergies across perceived silos.
  • Other cultural aspects that might be worth questioning in this work:
    • How do we understand scale?  Movement Generation’s “translocal autonomous organizing”
    • See below, but what is our relationship to dominating systems?
    • What do we hide and what do we share?  Do we hide our failures?  Do we hide how money is allocated?  Are we ok with these things?
    • How do we understand our individual actions in relation to the systems change we seek?  Do we act in a way that suggests “we are the change we want to see?”

Within many networks, our theory of change in relation to systems is foggy at best.  Similarly, self-organizing has not been practiced in a way that has led it to become natural to us or embodied.

  • Some networks are more explicitly “transformative.”  Leadership I’ve seen in relation to systems comes from:
    • Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Block, Build, Be
    • Movement Generation’s making alternatives so irresistable idea
    • Gender non-conforming and trans- individuals: @alokvmenon, @thejefferymarsh
    • Black and Afro futurism
    • Indigenous land back efforts, movement, and visioning
  • Most of these are acting outside of dominant systems (capitalism, gender binary, colonialism, racism), which is to say they do not follow the same rules that govern the dominant system, and from within it may be illegible.  The people who are least likely to reify dominant systems are those most marginalized “within” those systems.  (“Within” is in quotes because it is likely that the dominating system wants to include these people, but these people do not necessarily want to be included; they may see themselves in other systems.)
  • It is a major barrier that we have not gotten more explicit about our relationship to the system within network weaving work.  Do we want to change it, shift it, destroy it?  Do we want to create a new system that could serve some similar purposes?  Do we want to help articulate and support efforts that are already happening in parallel to the existing system?
  • Further, most of us are unclear what the practice(s) of self-organizing is/are.  Though we may see it as aspirational, we are still fumbling with how to do it, and we aren’t necessarily learning together from our experiments.

Trust is only required as an entry point for certain types of relationships – or, we overestimate the role of person-to-person trust in seeding relationships.

  • For more transactional relationships, trust is less needed than, for example, beginning a long-term collaboration.
  • Part of how we understand trust is through understanding the relationship someone we trust has with someone else.  “Strength of weak ties” theory.
  • Perhaps, there is a person-to-network contextual kind of trust that can serve as fertile ground for new relationships. Think about networking at a conference: we know we’re both interested in the same topic and even though I don’t know you, there is trust because of our shared presence.
  • Or alternatively, we could trust the process. I wrote a blog post in 2016 justifying this in the context of next economy work. That context – one that includes a lot of unknowns and a lot of places where we know we want to move away from – is a good place to try out focusing on a shared process as we transition.

Network maps are most useful for a specific type of user.  Other ways to understand the ecosystem (“see the network”) are needed for other user roles.

  • I propose 3 user roles: network strategist, network weaver, and network member.  One person may play multiple roles.  Network maps are most useful to the first two roles and may be a distraction to the third.
  • Network maps can support an evaluation-based understanding of the network, often held by funders and other people in the role of holding a strategic vision of the network.
  • Network maps can support network weaving.  (Read June’s book.)
  • The majority of network members are looking for specific things (a person with a specific skillset, a particular resource, an organization located in a certain city).  Because of this, network maps are often overkill, providing way too much information and in a way that is not easily digestible or actionable.
    • Furthermore, an outstanding question is: how these types of network members want to understand what’s happening in the ecosystem/network, or, what alternatives to network maps exist that can help us see the network as a whole?
      • Is it like a Twitter feed with trending topics?  Is it a huge dashboard of all activities, in long-form like we often see in Slack?  Or receiving less frequent email-based curated newsletter with network-wide updates?  How do we not inundate people with a fire-hose of information but rather offer them what they’re most likely looking for: do we rely on an algorithm for this, and/or do we make it possible for them to do targeted searches?
  • A major design assumption is to consider these 3 roles as based on the same dataset but looking at it from different perspectives: whole-network maps, sub-group network map (ex. based on an interest, a geographic location), a directory with search capability.

Governance and learning require transparency for networks to thrive.

  • Integrating these two aspects alongside with other network activities challenge dominant narratives of privileged government and hiding failures.
  • Shared governance is being practiced through many emerging forms: civic governance, new forms of democracy, consent-based decision making, advice based/circles/sociocracy, etc.  We are learning about sharing decision-making roles and making decisions more accessible to more people.
  • As we learn about the possibilities represented by networks for the creation of new systems, sharing what questions we’re asking, what we’re learning, what we’ve tried and failed, etc. is important for us to iterate faster.  Dominant narratives of success and perfectionism can be major barriers to communicating about these things, as well as how these dynamics have been connected to receiving (more) funding.
  • Both governance and learning happen in networks, however, if they happen in secret, they can be susceptible to old forms – governance happening behind closed doors and not representing the full network, learning in a way that showcases outcome and not process, hiding what’s seen as failures.

A Small Needful Fact (Ross Gay)

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Ross Gay

Remixing as colonial practice

i’ve been attending Writers’ Hour almost every morning since mid-November. it is a supportive space to come to weekday mornings to “either do nothing or write. ” having this group and routine has encouraged me to have discipline around writing like never before in my life and has helped me write more than 100,000 words toward a book i’m working on. every morning, the hosts share an inspirational quote. generally they’re by other authors encouraging us to bloom into our writing and are a little snack to get us going. however, today’s quote landed differently for me: today’s “words of wisdom” came from james clear, author of a new york times bestseller, and i’ll share my responses.

“Italy is known for tomatoes. Thailand for chilies. Germany for sauerkraut.

But tomatoes originated in Peru. Thailand imported chilies from Central America. Sauerkraut started in China.

Everything is a remix—and the world is better for it. Share what you know. Learn from others.” – James Clear, as shared in Writers’ Hour, Apr 26, 2021

THIS SHIT PISSES ME OFF. how a lie can pass as truth. how these seemingly innocent, *white* lies serve to manipulate and eventually serve a violent, extractive, historically inaccurate status quo. anger bubbles from my chest through my throat and is transformed into rapid keystrokes.

first, tomatoes are from mexico. which is to say that indigenous people here on the land currently known as mexico cultivated an intentional, multi-generational relationship with this plant in these soils to produce what is now known as jitomate or tomato. these relationships are not ignorable or irrelevant. the existence of italian tomato sauce is due to thousands of years of human relationship with this plant — but not any humans, and not in any place. indigeneity matters. roots matter. that this work was done in a specific place by specific people matters. and to ignore that is to ignore the sacred, to ignore history, to erase relationship.

second, the reason these fruits arrived to italy was through a process of intended (and failed) genocide, a process that killed millions of people and affects their surviving descendants to this day. this pomodoro pasta dish is not free of its heritage of violence, rape, destruction, desecration. let us not forget that christopher colombus, one of the first people to set foot upon this land as a colonizer, was of italian descent. that next to his tomb in sevilla, spain, there is still a “treasure room,” full of stolen gold, locked away within the walls of the church.

finally, the construction of this lie is not only of direct and convenient benefit to its author (a man who gains his wealth from writing), but also serves to further justify appropriation en masse. appropriation, as i’ve come to understand it, is a cutting off from the roots. yoga practiced as exercise, a series of stretches completely disconnected from a deep spiritual tradition. indigenous community-made textiles stolen and sold to be marketed as fashion. your remixing is not inherently innocent, nor necessarily of benefit to the world. some remixings perpetuate harms that began on this landmass currently known as “america” (also an italian namesake) 500 years ago.

as a writer (and as a human), i am angry that “truth” seems to not mean anything anymore. that a few select people have been granted power by a fictional worldview and thus can proclaim lies as truth. some of these lies-masquerading-as-truths are deadly. that “truth” that indigenous people no longer exist supports continued exploitation of land and labor to fuel an ongoing colonial process of development. that “truth” that Black people are a threat maintains a population captive for 500 years, under penalty of death by simply driving, walking, even while sleeping.

so no, james clear, i will not remix. i will not mix and match where it serves me in convenience. i understand the power i have been granted by these oppressive systems that would allow me to cut the fruit from its root and i reject that power. instead, we must seek another way. we must seek a truth with roots. we must seek to return to our own roots and tend to them.