Scale

[...] the more time I spent in Ladakh, the more I came to realize the importance of scale. 

At first, I sought to explain the Ladakhis' laughter and absence of anger or stress in terms of their values and religion. These did, no doubt, play an important role.

But gradually I became aware that the external structures shaping the society, scale in particular, were just as important. They had a profound effect on the individual and in turn reinforced his or her beliefs and values.

Since villages are rarely larger than a hundred houses, the scale of life is such that people can directly experience their mutual interdependence.

They have an overview and can comprehend the structures and networks of which they are a part, seeing the effects of their actions and thus feeling a sense of responsibility. And because their actions are more visible to others, they are more easily held accountable.

Economic and political interactions are almost always face to face; buyer and seller have a personal connection, a connection that discourages carelessness or deceit. As a result, corruption or abuse of power is very rare.

Smaller scale also limits the amount of power vested in one individual. What a difference between the president of a nation-state and the goba in a Ladakhi village; one has power over several millions of people whom he will never meet and who will never have the opportunity to speak to him; the other coordinates the affairs of a few hundred people whom he knows intimately, and who interact with him on a daily basis.

In the traditional Ladakhi village, people have much control over their own lives. To a very great extent they make their own decisions rather than being at the mercy of faraway, inflexible bureaucracies and fluctuating markets.

The human scale allows for spontaneous decision making and action based on the needs of the particular context. There is no need for rigid legislation; instead, each situation brings forth a new response.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.50-1

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Is it that towering individuals (the artist-genius, the rock-star, etc) are a psychological necessity (a manifestation of the hero-archetype)?

If this is the case, then perhaps we need to think carefully about how we create our towering individuals.

A local hero is accessible and understandable (and implicitly supersedable in a way that the global hero is not). The ultimate local hero is the parent or, in Buddhism, the lama (mentor). Global heroes are often unattainable, and by their distance appear unearthly and perfect. We have a sense that we will never reach them, let alone supersede them; in this sense they exert a tyranny over us.

We are currently saturated with global heroes, but are these - and should they be - balanced with local heroes?

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The cultural centralization that occurs through the media is also contributing to a growing insecurity as well as passivity. Traditionally, there was lots of dancing, singing, and theater. People of all ages joined in. In a group sitting around the fire, even toddlers would dance, with the help of older siblings or friends. Everyone knew how to sing, to act, to play music.

Now that radio has come to Ladakh, you do not need to sing your own songs or tell your own stories. You can sit and listen to the best singer, the best storyteller. But the result is that people become inhibited and self-conscious. You are no longer comparing yourself to neighbors and friends, who are real people - some better than you at singing, but perhaps less good at dancing - and you are never as good as the stars on the radio.

Community ties are also broken when people sit passively listening to the very best rather than making music or dancing together.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.123-4

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They have a turtle pond in front of the museum that everyone has to walk by to get in. It looks like a nothing kind of pond with water lilies in it. We decided to do an underwater video. In a really klunky way, we put on waders, got an aquarium, put a video camera in the aquarium, submerged it part way and walked around. The images that were shot that way wound up looking beautiful.

We projected them as three big video projections inside the museum. It felt like you had entered inside the water. It was like uncovering the beauty of a place that's already there in the same way that we'd done with people.  

We were uncovering the inherent culture that exists within a place. Making that visible to people.

Valuing what is already there, rather than bringing something new in and saying, "This is what art is," or "This is what culture is. This is what's important." Instead, we were very subtly pointing to things and putting and highlighting various aspects of a community or place or person.

Several projects I have done have been about one individual who is local to the place where the show is going to be. Redefining what a celebrity might be. Taking control of that system.

Often when you go to a community and say, "I'm going to do something about this place," people will say "You should do it about the mayor." "You should do it about this person who is famous and who came from here." And I'll say, "No. I want to do it about regular people. Those people are important too." There will be this reluctance at first, but then they will be excited.

It's a shift in how you understand what is important or what history is. What an important person in the community is. It's trying to flip a lot of those things on their heads and value everyday things. Using things like a museum context, or gallery context, or media, inherently adds that to it. Making a movie about somebody. People are used to movies being made about famous people. It's reversing that. It's always been pretty positive.

[Harrell Fletcher]
"An interview with Harrell Fletcher: Merging art, functionality and education" from In Motion Magazine

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When my elder two children were young I was for several years a stay-at-home dad, immersed in a world of diapers and groceries while trying to write my first book. 

I often felt terribly frustrated, torturing myself with thoughts like “I have such important things to share with the world, and here I am changing diapers and cooking all day.” These thoughts distracted me from the gift at hand and made me less present with my children. 

I did not understand that those moments when I gave in to my situation, put down my writing, and fully engaged my children had just as powerful an effect on the universe as any book I would write. 

We don’t always have the eyes to see it, but everything has its karmic effect, or as the Western religions say, God sees everything.

[Charles Eisenstein]
 The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, Chapter 11

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One of the most important studies that we have on the effects of local business compared the impacts of $100 spent at a local book store versus $100 spent at a chain.

$100 spent at the local book store left $45 in the local economy. $100 spent at the chain left $13, so we get 3 times the income effects, 3 times the jobs, 3 times the tax proceeds for local governments.

The principle difference was that the local book store had a local high level management team; it used local lawyers and accountants; it advertised on local radio and TV. None of those things were true of the chain store.

Excerpt from 'The Economics of Happiness'

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The Amish people maintain a human rather than an organizational scale in their daily lives. They resisted the large, consolidated school and the proposition that big schools (or farms) were better than smaller ones.

[...] The Amish appreciate thinking that makes the world, and their own lives, intelligible to them. When human groups and units of work become too large for them, a sense of estrangement sets in.  

When this happens the world becomes unintelligible to them and they cease participating in what is meaningless.

Smallness in the Amish community is maintained by a functional unit no larger than a group of people who can know one another by name, by shared ceremonial activity, and by convention.

[...] the Amish community "is small, so small that either it itself is the unit of personal observation or else, being somewhat larger and yet homogenous, it provides in some part of it a unit of personal observation fully representative of the whole."

When Amish enterprises become large - successful by worldy standards - they also constitute a liability to the Amish way of life. The determination to maintain a small-scale operation dictates that if the business becomes "too large," it must be sold to an outside company.

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 12-13, 138

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When a thing reaches a certain size the bonds between its constituent parts begin to weaken. These bonds consist of the sorts of things that tie things - tie people - together; and imperative amongst them is 'trust.'

Because real trust does not function at larger scales, we must invent ways of simulating, or augmenting it. In much the same way that we augment the human eye with telescopes and microscopes in order to allow us to 'see' at non-human scales, we augment our human capacity for trust with bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is, amongst other things, a formalised simulation of 'trust.' It substitutes trust engendered through familiarity, with 'certification' by means of 'testing.' I do not need a DBS form in order to be around the children of friends or relatives, but I do need one in order to work with children in my community.

In modern societies we are asked to experience ourselves as a part of an increasingly large collective. Whereas once circle A would have defined the boundaries of our collective, now it is defined by D.

As the perimeters of our collectives widen, the need for simulated bonds increases. If human trust fails beyond the borders of A, then any level beyond this will require artificial trust. At these levels it is our red tape that binds us; and increasing levels of scale (i.e. complexity) require increasing amounts of red tape.

The fact that we often feel bogged down by red tape is a sign that we're operating at an unhealthy scale. I'm not saying that there are too many people, rather that the way we think of ourselves - and organize ourselves - is dysfunctional.

Inasmuch as we are imbalanced in favour of the large-scale, then our remedy must involved tipping the scales back toward the small-scale. In practical terms this involves, amongst other things, devolving power; splitting our over-grown structures into smaller pieces, and reducing the scale of things to a level in which artificial trust is manageable, and in which human trust can thrive.


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The indicators that matter to the European Central Bank (ECB) [...] are those representing half a billion people.

The ECB is concerned with the inflation or unemployment rate across the eurozone as if it were a single homogeneous territory, at the same time as the economic fate of European citizens is splintering in different directions, depending on which region, city or neighbourhood they happen to live in.

Official knowledge becomes ever more abstracted from lived experience, until that knowledge simply ceases to be relevant or credible.

[William Davies]
'How statistics lost their power - and why we should fear what comes next'


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Related posts:-
The Pyramid
Individual v Environment
Close To Extraordinary
The Earth's the Limit 
Masters of the Universe
Making a Difference
Small Mind/Large Mind
Everything is Connected 
One to One 

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