Friday, November 10, 2017


When institutions fail, can communities compensate?

I’m defining institutions as organized, hierarchical, employing, rule-defined bodies of people.  And then communities are simply people informally gathered by proximity or affinity.  So a person could be a registered and active Republican (institutional) or simply a person with conservative preferences but who is not active, registered or voting (community).  A person could be a formal member of a congregation who pledges and serves on committees (institutional), or simply a person with religious views who might pray, but doesn’t attend services (community).

Institutions name their members, perhaps receive funds from them, have specific goals, and usually have a name for themselves as a group.  I take it that the two major political parties and all the Protestant denominations as well as the Catholics are institutions.  Also, Trump himself is an institution, a corporation, and so are the RNC and the DNC.  The media, which is a spectrum of institutions, reports and analyzes as though these are the only players.

But then something comes along like this election night and a whole lot of people come out of the woodwork who are part of the undefined and unnamed community of voters.

The invention of written records made possible two structured systems.  One is the rule of law and the other is bookkeeping of assets.  They are quite parallel except that the rule of law is meant to be public and sheltered from motives at variance with the law; but bookkeeping can be secret and double, with a second institutional system underground.  This means that the rule of law is often in pursuit of bookkeeping records, esp. the secret underground systems.  The institutions of public nations and private but international corporations can be in opposition to each other.

The advent of the internet weakened the laws of nations and strengthened the bookkeeping conspiracies of corporations.  The voting public of democracies sense this and suspect that there is a huge secret, incorporated faux nation controlling everything from “underneath,” meaning secretly and in their own interest regardless of public good.  Some thought it was historically religious and others spoke of mafia, crime syndicates.  Some thought the United Nations was part of it and most people knew there were ways to hide wealth in secret, outside the law, but dependable offshore institutions.  A major part of the movie industry pursues these ideas.

Imagine two public institutions, the binary political parties, with connected communities within and between them so they are intent on maintaining the  unified status quo for their private reasons.  Along comes Trump, promising to reveal everything and force change.  This happened, but not as anyone expected because Trump was so clumsy, so enamoured of a video game view of the world, that he so offended the community at large that they became determined to examine his secret life.  This was very easy with the internet, which recorded everything and was accessible to the public.  It was shocking.  His bad business practices were the least of it.

Once community interests broke the rule of law shields of institutions, moral imperatives and motivated individuals withdrew their loyalties from corporations back to nations, thus “leaking”.  Rather more like an artesian spring bursting out.

Now add the power of ideas.  Futurists hint that new sources of energy, local and not resource-based, will reconfigure wealth, ending fossil fuel moguls.  But I’m thinking about new ways of living -- like a kind of housing that is not balloon construction, more like the cement/plastic foam blocks that are highly insulated.  There’s an example of that a block from me that doesn’t look different from the other houses, and this is not an innovative town.  Electric cars begin to seem inevitable.  We eat in a way that may mean every house should have a greenhouse room for fresh vegetables.

The link below is a video explanation of how techies were able not only to access the financial data from protected offshore holdings, but showed the connections so clearly that holding companies hastened to get the programs so they could find out what they were doing.  No doubt the money managers for the Queen and Bono are in the market for those programs.

It’s like the way of managing genetic data.  At first was the idea of monkeys evolving into humans in the most ridiculous images.  Then there was the long line of evolving two-leggeds trudging up from the sea and across the beach to the forest.  Pretty soon it was trees of branching species.  Then we were told it wasn’t a one-trunk tree, but more like a bush.  And now it is depicted in DNA wheels that hardly fit on a computer screen.

Somewhat parallel was writing, at first so focused on correctness and compliance with the rules of Latin, which then became anti-correctness and then flew off in every direction and jumped to video.  When I was in high school in the Fifties, I was taught to make hierarchical notes, which meant looking for the main ideas, listing them, and organizing the lesser evidence underneath them by indenting or numbering.  Nowadays notes might be “mapped” meaning bubbles with connections drawn among them instead of graphs of lines and columns.  I look forward to the death of the bell chart as a guide to life and death — quite literally in the case of medicine where one dares not be more that one standard deviation from the norm.

I attend all Town Council meetings, not because I’m so invested in the issues — which are knotty and difficult enough — but because I’m listening for the ways people think.  Mostly, they are operating out of their subconsciousnesses and justifying that with wobbly logic.  This is very human.  Cold evidence-based logic doesn’t get much traction.  This is far more of a community than an institution, partly because it’s small enough and has enough shared history to operate face-to-face.  The problem is that very little of the business of the town is done at the Council meeting — most of it happens in passing on the street.  In fact, a recent salesman trying to persuade the town to contract for a bookkeeping workshop first did a bit of research at the beer and pizza place, where they told him the things they should have come to tell the council.

Government at the highest levels is not so different, because so few people are actually and physically at the table.  They form connections not noted in formal charts of relationship.  But the main goal is to maintain the existence of the institution, while all the time pretending to serve the multiple communities of the nation.  The arrival of deal-breakers who care only for their own interests is not even perceived at first.  The question is — now that these traitors are squatting in the middle of everything, put in place deliberately to destroy the previous order because their community feels constricted — what do we do inside our rules of law and where do we get the courage?  Not from institutions -- from community.

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