The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Emergency and Emergence

What follows is an excerpt from a book I am due to publish in May this year (2017).  OPPORTUNITIES EMERGING: Social Change in a Complex World offers a simple way of thinking about social change, how we act, the consciousness we bring to social change work, and the very process of social change itself.  Critical of traditional top-down, hierarchic, self-centred, technological approaches to social change this book suggests working with emergence.  Emergence is an aspect of Chaos and Complexity Theories and allows us to understand our role in the world, how we influence that world, and crucially, how we acknowledge our part in social change.  This excerpt is from the beginning of the first chapter and the start of chapter 3 and asks us to consider the many emergencies facing us in the 21st century.  I hope you appreciate this introductory snippet.

How many of us worry about the state of the world? When we read the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report we get worried. When we read of thousands of refugees fleeing across the borders of Afghanistan, Syria, or Somalia and into Europe, we get worried. When we turn on the television and watch paramedics struggling to contain Ebola in western Africa we get worried. When we hear Prime Ministers speak of “imminent terrorist threats” or watch the violence erupt in Iraq, Syria, the Gaza Strip or Ukraine, we get worried.

Closer to home, we read daily newspapers reporting on the growth in youth suicide, the obesity problem or the increase in rates of depression and anxiety disorders. These reports are worrying.
We don’t have to dig very far to notice that the amount of plastic in our landfills and our oceans is growing rapidly or that e-waste is now a concern. All worrying.

We look around our own neighbourhoods and communities. We see people living off the street, we see young men sitting outside the Courthouse on Monday mornings waiting for the bailiff to call them before the judge. We see elderly people, or people with disability, struggling to cope with the kerbing or the steps into buildings. If we think of what it is like for all these people, we get worried.

We look to our leaders; the Prime Ministers, Presidents and Premiers of nations. We watch as they debate the issues at Climate Change Summits, G20 meetings or within our own parliaments, senates and congresses. In our own cities and towns, we watch and listen to our mayors and councillors debating and deliberating in Town Halls and council chambers.

Then we really do get worried, because we realise that very few of our leaders have any idea of how to avert these emergencies or, worse still, have no interest in doing so. Many times we may even wonder if they are contributing towards the emergencies - grinning like the pale rider of death, racing full tilt towards the apocalyptic abyss.

Now we have another emergency to add to the growing list: our public decision-making institutions and bodies, or what we otherwise know as government. Democracy (or at least we call it that) is in a state of emergency. We don’t trust politicians, we are wary of the lobbying power of powerful, rich corporations; we are withdrawing from political processes by not voting and joining traditional political parties in fewer and fewer numbers.

In fact, with all the ills of the world only apparently getting worse and no-one seeming to care, it looks as if the world and we humans along with it are on the brink of a series of serious emergencies.
Is this our fate? To collapse from a multi-faceted emergency? Is there an alternative? Perhaps there is.

Instead of EMERGENCY we might look towards EMERGENCE.

Emergence is an aspect of chaos and complexity theory. Although these theories arose within the mathematical and scientific arenas, they have useful insights for those working for social justice, community development and/or sustainability.

Emergence – what’s emergence? Let’s begin with a simple example that illustrates some of the features of emergence.

Everyone has heard of the elements hydrogen (H, oxygen (O and carbon (C). What do we know about each of them? We know that hydrogen is bitter, sour smelling, and explosive. We know that oxygen is tasteless, odourless and a vital ingredient of the air that we breathe. We know that carbon is also tasteless, inert, and cold.

Now, what would we expect to get if we combined these three elements like this: C2H5OH? (Those of you who understand chemistry, please put aside your acquired knowledge for the time being and assume that all you know is the properties of each individual element as outlined above). From our knowledge of each of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon we may expect to get a compound that is largely tasteless, perhaps slightly bitter, with a very faint smell. Knowing what we know about hydrogen we may want to be wary of the compound – it could be explosive.

But, what do we get? We get ethanol – an alcohol that most of us associate with wine, beer or spirits. The result of this particular mixture of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon is unexpected and unable to be explained by our knowledge of the individual elements. That’s emergence.

Emergence is a coherent structure or property that arises from the organisation of component parts where the emergent structure or property cannot be predicted from knowledge of the individual component parts.

As well as being unpredictable, other features of emergence are that:

· It creates an order out of disorder,
· It is sensitive to initial conditions. Meaning that very small changes in the initial state can produce massively different outcomes. (Often known as the Butterfly Effect discussed in the previous section),
· It is often spontaneous,
· It is not simply the sum of its parts,
· It is often dynamic and continuously evolving,
· It is a bottom-up process, not a top-down one. The process is an emergent one rather than one that is compelled.

The book will be published in May 2017 and readers who may be interested in obtaining a copy will find more detail on this site when the time comes.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Bruce, there does seem to be a need for a new way of looking to deal with the problems of the world. We have been looking to father and mother figures too long to help us solve the wrongs. It's now the responsibility of us all. Collective wisdom may facilitate emergence. Look forward to reading more.


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