What Do We Do When the System Crashes?

Two system theorists , Nora Bateson and Dave Snowden, talk shop. This is interesting because they are working with communities, betrayed by their governments, that have collapsed. And when that happens, what do we do? It seems that tracking stories, produced at the local level, is of great importance. As most of us will, if you haven’t already, be confronted with the breakdown of society, these approaches to working with complexity may be relevant to our safe to fail experiments. Find the pattern that connects!


I found this riveting. Thanks very much for posting! Complexity-persepectives are is less abstract than reductionist perspectives, indeed, they are so much more alive. I’ve never heard that bit about the over 45 brain being plastic again, as the child’s brain is, after apparently losing that in adulthood That’s brilliant. But how a person interprets that plasticity can range from pathology to community resource…


Yes! I think it is the teens and grandparents that can make a winning combination. I don’t think all elders are stuck in a rut. Look at the popularity of Bernie Sanders among the youth. The years spent in the middle are often distracted by heavy conventions that overwhelm us and we try to make a fit with the powerful pull of status quo. I imagine as older folks are aging in unpredictable, unstable times, this stress could create inter-generational alliances. Destabilized communities plunged into chaos could re-organize with the youth and the old folks renewing contacts with our future(s) and our past(s). With the internet breaking down our traditional ways, a creative evolution, could occur, and all age groups could benefit. Young folks and old folks sharing life stories is a very good idea.Both groups, I have noticed, are prone to have visionary episodes.


I watched this (absolutely brilliant) talk yesterday and wanted to process a bit before responding.
There is a great deal here but what stands out most for me is their demonstration of the true worth of the town meeting (at least what that represents for on-the-ground community empowerment) in the face of bureaucratic-technocratic assaults on the human dignity that makes ‘democracy’ mean anything.
Snowden (45:45) - Who “owns” the narrative is not as important as who interprets it. BOOM!

(I, too, was ecstatic to learn that my aging gray matter is not done yet: more integrative than innovative at this point but I’ll take it! It does seem to fit…) :grin:


As we move into a Second Order Culture we are recognizing that love is a two way street. I interpret you interpreting us interpreting me. Micro-narratives have a size and a shape, and when they create self-reflexive capacities, initiate intelligent re-organizing . We want more stories like that, ( self-reflexive agents, situated in an environment)and fewer stories about trying to solve a problem at the level of the problem. ( Let’s stop and frisk minority youths!)

How do we encourage a Second Order style of delivery? We are semiotic agents all the way up and all the way down. I call it style because style is so mysterious. There is no formula for making this kind of transformation happen but you can certainly block it from happening by demanding objectivization and following top down rules.

A story. Most of my stories are not about ‘me’. They are attempts to add something strange and yet familiar to our evolving, social landscape. I call this social dreaming.

For example, last night, I was in a vehicle with others, moving through a dark maze of streets, close to a deep, dark ravine. I notice that the Man driving the vehicle, to my surprise, is Bernie Sanders, looking youthful, and wearing a white t-shirt, and driving the vehicle with great competence. I put my hand on his shoulder and say, " Thank you."

He says, with a smile, " It’s like a dream come true."

I wake up.

May we all wake up. May we find the stories, patterns, and meta-patterns that connect. That Patterning Instinct runs deep, even while we sleep.


Of course I was moved by the fact that the first example of a failed community Nora mentioned was in Pittsburgh. (The ol’ hometown strikes again!) What is more, the examples both of them brought forth were primarily from the overly developed West, not far-away, exploited, sh*thole countries the US president likes to disparage. MAGA my a$$.

We need a lot more of what these two are offering and we need it quickly. A multiplier effect is essential in the near-term.

FYI: a neo-Nazi went bezerk in Hanau, Germany today killing 11. The authorities and press have quickly picked up on his mental instability, so even though it is being classified as a terrorist attack, it’s effect is being watered down. Where have I seen that before? This falls into the interpretation side, doesn’t it?


Snowden talking about the Welsh and the English, the Maori and anglos, brought to mind Tsalagi and European experiences with which I am familiar, partly in my own ancestors and in study, and also, the Deaf and hearing culture-oppression which I was privy to with Deaf friends I made while learning sign language The style and points of oppression are virtually identical: take away language by any means, shame people out of their cultures, ceremonies, nature-wisdoms, force them into dominator “schools/prisons” until the deep bonds are so broken that relief from the pain of it all becomes an or “the” overwhelming temptation. The only thing that helps, it seems, is to find a group/tribe/clan and together realize what’s missing, how it happened, how to begin the restoration.
When I was listening to the talk about The Axial Age, I was wondering: what about the non-book spiritual wisdoms that find “Buddha” and “Jesus” in the Earth/Sky/Ocean and all living beings? A re-connection with what is often contempuously called “Shamanistic” spiritualities (there are thousands) are locally grown and akin to what Snowden and Bateson were talking about. AND just yesterday I finished an up-to-date survey of documented research showing the heavy, pervasive bias again women that is skewing everything in the directive of: the hetero, white, middle-class, fairly young male as the default model of “human”. Before that, I finished Toni Morrison’s essays on how “raced” almost everything is everywhere, how it changes costume, but not essence… Western (white straight non-lower/working-class male?) culture is riddled with biases with real world consequences, up to and including death for those who don’t resemble the “model”.
Am I being too heavy here? :slight_smile: Offending? Can I blame systems thinking/perspective?? My own aging, very plastic perceptual system??
Trouble is, I can’t STOP seeing all this stuff, and yet… Hardly anyone else seems interested/alarmed. It’s enough to make you feel crazy, ha!


Yes, Ed, thanks for bringing in “interpretation” as necessity and as (sadly) very effective obscuring tactic.


Your dream and dream comments here really click for me! Dreams and visionare experiences have always been sooooo big in my life, but I rarely get to hear anyone speak about all this. Means a lot to me. So many resonances, but I’m so tired right now, I’m just going to say THANK YOU.


Yes, I, as a white, straight, non-working class male, can confirm that our culture is both riddled (there are still islands of otherness … cf. Snowden’s own Welsh matriarchiality) and dominated by this bias. What I can assure you is that at least some of us are as aware (and horrified, a repulsed) by it as you are. It means paying one whole helluva lot of attention all the time. And still we, the guilty, need reminding, so no, it’s not offending (well, to me, anyway), for I just take it as a reminder.

What I take from the Snowden/Bateson clip – among other things – is that there’s no giving up; something can be done about it. What I take from the interpretive spin of today’s event is that there’s no giving up; we have to keep at this.


So Very Refreshing.

Having had life experiences of a Shamanistic initiation sort ( Attempted suicide in1986 & Tractor accident in 2000) I agree fully with this on a Group-Collective & Individual as first hand-tactical experience. [quote=“Ariadne, post:7, topic:3810”]
Am I being too heavy here? :slight_smile: Offending? Can I blame systems thinking/perspective?? My own aging, very plastic perceptual system??

The Offendsive-Defensive operating System embedded in Humans & Life in general is One of Many it seems. And yet it’s the one that is Rooted Deep within along side the capacity to find Efficient & challenge the Deficient aspects of this System,this is where studying the Art of Movement both within in terms of (Thoughts,Feelings & Reactions) & Outward in terms of ( Others movements in Thought,Word & Deed) ,would help with the other Systems within our Very Organism & the Environment Our Organism is Embedded, I need Air,Water,Fire , Ground(Earth) & Community ( even if sometimes it is Imperfect yet Safe Enough).

Ardiadne U DO NOT Offend!
From Initiations into a Different/New way of response,even if someone offends my sensibilities; it is my learning to use my natural
Defense System in a Efficient Manner which in my case is Grounded in Aikido principles of Harmony in the mist of Crises.This is not just for myself only ;although includes .

I have come to realize,to change the World I Participate In ,in a way that contributes to that end is to Drop Pretending to Be Atlas With the Weight of World( I was a First Born Child full disclosure ) on my shoulders & learn to enact a feet on/in the situational moment; Challenge the WTF of others.
So with that Response here’s my Vision:


Thanks for tuning in. I find dreams are a vast, under developed frontier. Inner space rather than outer space is the biggest mystery for it can never be colonized or monetized.

Snowden mentions that males suffer from patriarchy, too. My mother did nothing to stop my father from attacking her male children. That carried for me a much deeper sting of betrayal, her refusal to protect me and my brothers, than my father’s perpetual, fist in the face violence. She confessed she had no where to turn for support. Nor did I. I defended her, she never defended me. When I complained about his insane behavior, she asked," Don’t you love your father?" This can confuse a child profoundly.

So, we can have an entire culture caught in the grip of the arrested development of a few angry men and compliant women, unless someone wakes up and puts a stop to it. When I was old enough I hit my father back. He never hit me again.

Half of every man’s ancestors are female and half of every woman’s ancestors are male. Now that transgendered persons are active in our social worlds it is getting even more fuzzy. I think there are forms of matriarchy and patriarchy that we can be grateful for and no culture, according to Margaret Mead, is one or the other.

At the risk of being overly political I want to add that class struggle, sexism, racism, and homophobia are deeply entangled in our current social worlds. Elizabeth Warren demonstrated a Warrior spirit in her exchange with Bloomberg, delivering knock out punch in the name of justice.


Agreed. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize!


I love it!

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Found this Quote ,that says in a different way, I was saying & probably was in my subconscious, “sense” I’ve read the author:

Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.

Marshall McLuhan


After listening again to this dialogue I picked up another pattern in the making. Snowden asked," How do we give people agency in their own life?" He goes on to admit how little agency he has in his own life. So, I scratched my head and wondered what can I do with any of this information?

I emailed my brother who lives with my mother, who is 89. I have a collection of stories about her and my troubled relationships and I am wondering, seriously, how much of it have I gotten right? And so I share the communication with my brother with a request for his participation.

Dear Brother,

Can you do me a favor? Since Mama doesn’t type I would appreciate it if you would be a scribe. I have a question for her that is important for me to know. If you could help her type up her response I would be very grateful. If she could send it out as an email, a written form, it would be most useful. .

What is the story of your life that you would want your children and your grandchildren to remember?

Please let Mama do the talking and take notes about what she actually says.This is important that we get some clean material, uncontaminated.

I have a question for you, too, dear brother. Can we be good ethnographers of our own situation?

As the system we live in is collapsing we may need to figure out what happens next.

I hope you are well and creative. I am in the midst of great turmoil but enjoying the challenge.


So, this is an action I have taken to honor what I have learned from this dialogue and from the convocation of thinking and feeling that is happening in this thread.

Blessings to us all and may each of you come across an interesting story, hunch, gut feeling today.


Speaking of visions this is the one I had a few days ago and I managed to paint it this afternoon:

(c) Judith Huang

As I reflected on what is now two decades of war with increasing disinformation, it is about how I see the world I have been living in for most of my politically-aware life.


Great! Thanks for this contribution, Jud.

And what in this drawing are you most drawn to?

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Well for me the most important figure in my painting is the torture victim from the iconic Abu Gharib photo that I placed in the lower right. But I kind of placed each symbol in there intuitively as I made the composition


There is a lot going on here, Judith, and I look forward to going live with this drawing at our next conference call. I would love to draw out some of the implications. As Snowden and Bateson talk about the explicit and the tacit I feel there is much more to develop here. We can know more than we can possibly say. Story and pictures work in tandem. There is something in between…