Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Community Powerdown session 9

This was a great session and a really interesting article, Peak Opportunity - the Cultural Psychology of Change, by Graham Strouts. I was looking forward to this session because it was on psychology and that's my background, to see what it had to say. I think psychology, social psychology as well as personal, is crucial to major changes occurring in human behaviour and indeed consciousness. The article mentioned a few things that I'm interested in, like Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It talked about spiral dynamics, the idea of spiralling through different colours which represent different states for people to be in, among them beige - instinct, primal nature; red - ego, domination; blue - order, religion; orange - materialism, science; green - inclusive, caring, then moving to a second tier - yellow - the big picture, the whole system.

We talked about Elizabeth Kubler Ross's 5 stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance - which could be applied to peak oil. I mentioned the importance of coming to terms with loss in this context - there needs to be time to grieve for the carefree attitude, the sense of abundance, the association with 'freedom', that we are losing or will shortly have lost.

The presentation showed some recent Economist and other magazine covers, emphasizing 'addiction' to oil - but are we addicted? Are we dependent? What is the difference? I can't remember much about the features of addiction, but it seems to have an element of compulsion, of being out of your control. Dependency is more conscious perhaps. I don't think we're addicted to oil, merely very reliant on it. And if addicts are treated as ill, and many of them are suffering from an illness, then that makes our relationship with oil also an illness, and I'm not sure that's the most useful way to approach it.

We watched a short film about peak oil which was very insightful, for example as the oil well empties and the pressure drops, they pump water into it to keep it pressurized. When you have a well that is well past its peak, it is pumping out 99% water, 1% oil.

We talked about Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point - I think that's an interesting book but not the final word or even that authoritative a word on the matter, unfortunately I don't have it front of me and it's a while since I read it, my critical faculties are dwindling and I don't feel able to muster a proper argument. It has lots of interesting ideas though - that of connectors (the centre of the social hub), mavens (the information and technology junkies who have lots of knowledge) and the salespeople (who persuade and convince many others to follow them and the idea). Getting those people on your team is a good way to succeed.

The use of the term social epidemic, or spreading an idea like a virus - the microbe, the context and the vector are important for a virus to spread - what's the idea, what's the environment and who are the people or means of spreading it. But there are other elements that 'tip' actual biological viruses, for example HIV seems to take off in a population when it reaches around 5%. Is this because at that stage one in every 20 people has the virus, and most people would come into contact with at least 20 people regularly. Or if a person has slept with say 5 people, and each of them with 5 people, that's already 25 people the person is only one partner away from - making it very likely they've come into close contact with someone with the virus. So numbers play a part too. but that doesn't explain to me why there would be a threshold - why it wouldn't just be a little faster when it reached 5% than it was at 4%.

Another thing I thought of was whether mainstream change is invisible. The Tipping Point is about reaching massive social change, or as it's more usually applied, about selling lots of stuff. When that happens, we don't notice it, it's so acceptable so quickly once it's become part of the culture. Looking around the room I'd say no-one thought it was at all unusual that men and women were sitting there together, that many of the women were wearing trousers, that indeed people were wearing whatever they wanted, that there was a line of computers nearby - things we take for granted that 100 or even 50 years ago were unthinkable. And we essentially don't notice things that past generations struggling so much for. The counterpoint to this is the innovators-early adopters idea of change - they'll get sick of something quickly as it becomes more mainstream and move on to something else, will that happen with climate change? But I suppose that would mean that the mainstream had changed which is what is wanted.

It was mentioned that Ireland seems to be primarily blue, orange and green (which only as I write now do I realize are in many ways the colours of Ireland - blue actually our official colour and that of the country, green what we're traditionally associated with, orange of the loyalists or unionists with the UK) and that any message to that audience needs to make sure they have something for each of those groups, not just one or other.

Thinking about 'yellow' in spiral dynamics, which is the start of the 'second tier', which is integrative, sees the value of all the other levels, and can speak to them, I ventured the thought that it's easy to be patronising in that way, and there needs to be genuine respect and genuine humility. And that Buddhism would have something to say about that level, about all enlightenment being bound up in everyone's enlightenment. And the facilitator mentioned that one of the 2 founders of this theory, Don Beck, who was visiting, seemed much more caught up in orange and perhaps red, I'm so enlightened, I have the answers, I'll tell you what you have to do. Whereas his co-author Chris Cowan perhaps has some different perspectives.

The ideas of spiral dynamics and other modes of evolutionary change are interesting, and what is perhaps most interesting is the intersection between the personal and collective or global - we may go through these levels ourselves, and human societies may also go through them. It made me feel somehow more at home, in this class. Another good thing was that I finally told the facilitator to stop saying I had the lowest carbon footprint, as I don't and was clear that I didn't when we all went round the class stating ours, and he and others have been misquoting it. So he said this publicly at the start of the class, and I was able to say yes this is a myth, and we got the proper person who really had the lowest footprint, a very impressive 5 tonnes. It was good to be honest - it makes things better, owning up, moving past. The things we know we need to do.



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