Monday, November 02, 2015

Inverted Pyramid

Back when I spent a year of my life as a full-time volunteer, during our initial meeting in the organization I was working for, we – the volunteers – were entertained with a peculiar world view, which was given to us as an insight to how the organization works. This theory had no name, nor specific details. It was just a basic outline of a simple idea. I keep thinking about it since, and today I would like to share it with You. My version might have a bit more of an in-depth shape in order to deliver its message in a (hopefully) more applicable manner, but its main proposal remains the very same. I have given the concept the name "Inverted Pyramid", which task was not hard to achieve, as You will soon see. It is not to be confused with the metaphor used by journalists.

Before we get to it, I would like to share some background information on it. Mainly, the Inverted Pyramid is a theoretic socio-organizational structure and an outline for functional behavior. A structure such as this can benefit us greatly. Some of You have undoubtedly heard of many scientific works pointing to the increasing troubles we, as a collective, have. These troubles are among the most significant we have ever had, and their weight might just be superseding all poverty, wars and ruthlessness combined. On this blog, I already mentioned two scientific explorations of these dangers: the one about a modeling of societal collapse, and one which was a warning to humanity back in '92. I am now also drawing attention to a recent one, which reminds us about the necessity of bringing change to the paradigm of our worldwide system. This need is not a mere idealistic, new-age dream, as many people tend to write it off: we either do it or the society as we know it perishes anyway.

Instead of waking us up to our senses, all these mentioned forecasts are mostly bringing out the pessimists in us. I meet so many people who are at least vaguely aware of how deep we sunk in troubles, but I can count on one hand how many of them actually have a positive attitude towards our prospect. When I ask how we should proceed to successfully respond to these challenges, the answers I usually get go along the lines of "we ought to die anyway" or "there's nothing to be done". These defeatist views are not present because all people are inherently fatalistic. It is because we are not used to thinking far outside of our daily concerns and are bombarded with useless information all the time.

Personally, I am exasperated by the fact that my senses are besieged with logos of companies and products, many of which are actually jeopardizing our possible salvation. Marketing keeps us using up and demanding more and more resources. We are wired to behave this way. I stumbled across some debatable writing of Julian Assange, but this one thought-raising sentence of His definitely has a point in regards to this consciously often bypassed phenomenon of commercial conditioning:

"Google's colorful, playful logo is imprinted on human retinas just under six billion times each day, 2.1 trillion times a year – an opportunity for respondent conditioning enjoyed by no other company in history."
~ Julian Assange

Imagine a world where instead of the invasive logo of an unhealthy soda drink, You could actually observe useful knowledge... For instance tips on how to deal with stress, develop emotional intelligence, or be a better critical thinker (more on the latter two below). How many troubles could it solve, if we were stimulated to be well functioning, mentally and emotionally healthy problem solvers instead of quickly reacting consumers? In addition to the propaganda of profit-driven economy and its servants, there is also the media which being manipulated or not, shows only a part of reality. Sadly, journalism today sunk in overall quality, often citing bad sources or inventing misleading information.

I'm not sure how many of You have played the Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri video game (or any other title from the Civilization series). I find it to be one of the most enlightening gaming experiences anyone could ever have. In an enjoyable and reasonably understandable style it manages to illustrate what vast knowledge, extreme levels of micromanagement and executive expertise are necessary in order to (successfully) govern. The apparent randomness of ecological circumstances and behavior of ideological/political leaders in the game go to show how life is also conclusively unpredictable (which is the actual reason we don't live in a utopia). Alpha Centauri, among many of its lessons, showed me the essence to the widespread pessimism among people: being un- and wrongly-informed facilitates us in inventing pictures of a doomed World full of misery...

...A picture which is not true, by far. We are actually progressing pretty well. I am one of those in this planet, who took the task of dispelling the curse of ignorance closely to Their hearts. I tend to do this by avoiding the fallacy of believing I got it all figured out: we cannot know everything and we can only hopelessly try to calculate variables in search for a formula of rescue. But, I for sure know that we can learn enough to craft the best out of what lays at hand.

The key tendency of humans is to improve what we already have, that is what natural selection favors. We are driven by wonder to discover and advance. As a general rule, we want to make things go well, we want to prosper. There are no grand-scale conspiracies bent on destruction. The human rights were not developed as a misleading hoax. We want to make it together − sharing responsibility makes life easier. No human shortsightedness is profound enough to root out all communal traits and render a person capable of functioning in isolation: we need each other. We are social animals.

There is an abundance of initiatives showing our good global will, like the Millennium Development Goals, or the United Nations and its Framework Convention on Climate Change (next to be held in December 2015), and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, to mention only a few. Did You know that violence, oppression, armed conflicts, as well as poverty, are on a constant decline, and that renewable energy is on a steady rise? Or how much natural areas we managed to protect this year? Some lesser-known collaborations with more modest capacities are also out there, like the Open Utopia, United Earth, Global Future 2045 International Congress, the counter-culture of the Rainbow Family, and many, many more...

All of these are a testimonial to our inborn enthusiasm towards good life. Viewed from an individual's perspective progress can seem inconsistent and slow, but it's here all around. Of course, just because there are some benevolent tendencies in overall progress, the more destructive and even decadent flows of our workings are not any less influential. Often, I get asked typical questions: "is this it?" and "can't we do better?" The answer to this cynicism is that we actually are doing better – this is it. We might not make it in the end, but we sure do aim to; even if we embarked on a sustainable future out of sheer necessity.

A lot is awry with our current societal models, even in successful countries, which are having a large role in shaping globalization. All aims are underlined with wealth. The practical synonym for accomplishment is profit. Prosperity is measured by GDP and the quarterly increase of revenue. "Money makes the World 'round," the saying goes. Most of what is in the modern world is subordinate to this idea. Personal creativity and uniqueness are tailored for the markets and corporate branding. Working hours are set according to supposed quantifiable productivity. This is nothing new – I already touched this topic in one of my previous posts. This world is visibly tailored for a minority, which we can see in the raising economic inequality. I am not bashing our semi-democratic capitalism. It is a magnificent standard which made us achieve the most wondrous development and personal freedom we ever had. Yet as everything, it is nearing its conclusion.

Taking the next step towards an even more improved society has its demands. It needs practical solutions and time. We need innovative ideas and their trialing, and as we speak, courageous undertakings are actually taking place. Sweden is about to experiment with a 6 hour working day. Several basic income pilot programmes have been recently tested around the World. Both of these go well together with the high likelihood of robots taking over most, if not all, of our labor in the foreseeable future. The US legal system launched a new form of company models this year: the benefit corporations. Such companies are required to consider Their profit-maximizing decisions in ways that are favorable to our environment. Then there are the game-changing technologies that are a part of the optimistic outlooks towards our future, the details of which I am leaving for one of my upcoming posts.

Things are far from being dandy, but we are transgressing from instinct to real problem solving. There is a lot of fuss about the paradigm shift, and all I can say is that some great change is all around. All of what I described is a part of it. It just looks slow, but in a few hundred years our era will be summarized in just a few printed paragraphs within elementary history books. (Yes, paper books will prevail.)

But what is a paradigm? Let's get to the bottom of the semantics of our context. According to, the philosophical, social and scientific meaning is:

"a) a framework containing the basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology that are commonly accepted by members of a community,
b) such a cognitive framework shared by members of any discipline or group."

The phrase "paradigm shift" was actually popularized by Thomas Kuhn, who applied it for the domain of science (from which parallels can be drawn towards other areas of human endeavors). To oversimplify His view, there are two faces to science: the normal, puzzle solving science and the scientific revolutions. The latter are the bearers of paradigms, they set the frameworks for the puzzle-solving science. Over time, scientist "solving the puzzles" encounter series of anomalies or data that indicates an inconsistency in the general way that things are considered. Then, the factor of individuals comes in, when certain people generate new frameworks (general theories) which compete among each other. Finally, one framework manages to explain most of the critical points the previous couldn't and leaves the least to doubt. A new paradigm is born. However, a new paradigm doesn't solve some of the problems that the previous one did, but it does apparently provide explanations to a larger amount of questions. So, the new view is not necessarily the direct result of an accumulation of knowledge, but an effect of a fundamentally different understanding of the constantly gathering information. To put it in different words, the new paradigm qualifies by being able to offer a platform on which normal science can solve a greater number of puzzles, but does not promise to bring humanity closer to explaining reality. We might never know which paradigm's framework was the closest to the supposed objective truth since we will, with each and every new paradigm, live in a different Universe, as perceived by its subjective individuals.

This means that in order for the World to change, we need a profoundly alternating view of how things function. The Inverted Pyramid is a draft that attempts exactly this change. It restructures the values in levels of power, responsibility, who serves who and for what purpose. It is not, in the Kuhnian sense, the "creative leap" − the main force behind the necessary revolution − but, hopefully, it might be one of the ideas that will lead to it.

For a while now, the politics of the World seem to have the tendency towards a final unification. Arguably, this alliance, the nature of which remains to be seen, could have been anticipated from the very beginnings of conscious socialization. This underlying and cultivable tendency is a basic assumption of the model I am to describe: unity. It is opposed to a centralized power in the traditional sense, where the top of the pyramid exerts most of the influence, while enjoying the highest priority of privileges.

Any unique system is challenged by all its respective domains and (eco)systems, which need independently regulated functioning in order to flourish. Anything from individual people to geographical regions, or from small creative teams to policy planning ministries need their own specifically arranged guidelines, otherwise the dependency on the central execution of limited capacity increases its entropy ever so rapidly. We can often observe that a type of governance which works great in one place only does harm in the other.

Although the ideas which follow will include elements of some, at times, contradictory ideologies I see practical value in: thinking which resembles egalitarianism, libertarian democracy, socialism, and anarchism, I have no intentions of covertly propagating any of these views. I only offer a simple framework, regardless of the philosophy I use to support it. In the least, it is a very flexible design – it can be revised for any kind of organization in ways that can considerably improve its functionality. So, here it is:

Hover over the image with your mouse pointer in order to magnify it.

A PDF version of this image can be viewed and downloaded by clicking here.

Note that the word "government" used in this context is a term in its literal sense, as in "political direction and control over a community", rather than (necessarily) referring to a "national state". A parallel can be drawn between the groups of the Inverted Pyramid and those of Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems, although are far from the same. In the case of Bronfenbrenner's, the groups are areas of influence over one's development throughout life, or social sectors with different aptitudes of impact. The parallel only exists in the levels of authority of these systems over the course of planning and execution of individual's lives, but with an overturned alignment of influence and accountability. When I earlier wrote that we don't really think that much outside of our daily matters, I was referring to the natural instinct of being involved mostly within the micro- and mesosystems in Bronfenbrenner's model.

To those familiar with the concept, the Inverted Pyramid might also strike significant resemblance to delegative democracy. The similarity exists indeed: a democratic constitution of this kind abandons representatives, who could manage avoiding legal accountability in regimes designed for benefiting a few instead of many. Instead, as implied by the Inverted Pyramid, the executives of the system are delegates who represent an active political role and possess ownership over what They do. A delegate can be practically anyone, and although Their power can be voluntary, it is much more limited under the pressure of the mass, with the possibility of a certain form of ostracism.

Especially the "specialization" and "re-delegation" idea of this "liquid" democracy resembles a heterarchical setup, which is a welcomed possibility in the Inverted Pyramid. I highly recommend to educate Yourself further on the concepts being mentioned, if You haven't already. :) Being an active politician and the heterarchy have already been discussed on this blog.

The key difference between existing models and this one is service through cooperation. I mentioned above how we in general lack some quality training in critical thinking and emotional intelligence. For any society to work properly, these two sets of skills are of basic significance. The Inverted Pyramid assumes a cooperative altruism, which would handle conflicts and clashes of interests in a constructive and assertive manner, with the aim to benefit everyone directly included and excluded. The essential sense of unity is a prerequisite for a system like this to work; while the understanding that corruption ultimately damages the welfare of the whole as well as the individual is vital to any system.

After all that has been said and written, it is obvious that the path that could lead a successful organization towards a practical utilization of an Inverted Pyramid would have to be paved with enlightenment. This is only the first of the challenges, with many more to follow in its wake. As I alleged already, the Inverted Pyramid is not claiming to be a universal scheme for a unified government, nor does it offer a solution without challenges. As all methods which address the managerial structure of diverse personalities who are its subjects, it has inherent difficulties: it's hard to satisfy just everyone. And since it is based on a certain ideal and standard of morals, it definitely leaves a lot of space for rectification. Let's just think of it as a mere mindset suggestion on how organizations, which choose to incorporate a similar philosophy, could work in general and how some of them already work. It is a simple and tested approach to managing, which I received from a mentor and did my best to improve it as I saw best. I firmly believe that the Inverted Pyramid could save more problems than it would cause if executed through well-thought, long-termed planning.

Special thanks to Elina Primaka, who helped me out a lot with the graphic for this post! Check out Her portfolio by clicking here!

What do You, Reader, think? Will we build a more cooperative and compassionate worldwide system? Leave a Figment below.

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