Hierarchies vs Networks

Governments vs people power, hierarchies vs networks and response to crisis.

Governments vs people power, hierarchies vs networks and response to crisis.

By Matilde Magro

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In System’s Thinking it’s more likely to see a Government of sorts being called a “network” than a hierarchical system, and why is that? Long gone are the days in which the government represented the whole system, there is still that puzzle piece to put in the right place for each of us. Local power has much more power than governmental elites. As a very clear example, there can be a European directive of an ecological barrier, that then moves to national governmental laws and directives, that then are applied in local authorities and applied or not by local corporations and people. For a long time now, there has been an attempt to “greenerize” Portugal’s corporations from Government elites, but without much success. A local company replied to government officials that they either want their product or want a safe environment. So local power has a lot more relative power than government officials. We don’t really see the Minister of Agriculture walking around picking olives or making olive oil, without the force of people and local authorities, such as the implementation of autarchic directives in certain sectors and then the complacency of cooperatives and corporations, it kinda makes us think what is power anyway? There are more rigid networks of Government, the US and China come to mind, and Portugal lays between a colloquial financial paradise and a great place to buy cheap beach houses and rent it to tourists.

Covid-19 brought a question with it: are Governments equipped to deal with great social calamities? Historically, no. Right now? Also no.

We can blame Bill Gates, John Hopkins University and Obama, Rockefeller and even George W. Bush (because why not bring the trend back?), China, Japan (because it’s right next to China) and everyone who is both in power and heavily disliked, for our Covid-19 world issue, but the fact of the matter is: there has been a huge lack in transparency, competency and know-how action in solving this puzzle. If there was a warning and a know-how in how to solve it, why not put the solving of the issues in the hands of local networks of specialists? I like to think we all study a lot because we’re passionate about these subjects and we are good at what we do. So, a myriad of different political specialists spent three or four months speaking about all things Covid, except one: actual locally powered network solutions. Despite that, there was never as much abundance in Social Entrepreneurship seeking, or Social Action, or even public sector networking of power to distribute what is needed to those who need it. Much more than offer-demand-offer, we’ve seen need-met need, which we can reply to: “yeah, but people come together in a time of crisis and forget it soon after”.

But what constitutes a crisis? Are we in one now? Have we ever left the state of crisis? What does it mean to be in a crisis in an actual sense of the spectrum of crises? Was there ever a way out of crisis in a neoliberal capitalistic system?

A crisis is a disruption in the larger system we are in, and it’s localized in certain sectors or encompasses all or most sectors… For example, the 2008 crisis hit major sectors but not all sectors, primarily financial, housing and personal (ability to live with conditions), but didn’t hit distribution of larger companies and multinationals the way we wished it did. Which sparked the whole Occupy Movement thing, why should the little majority suffer for the benefit of the bigger minority? Supposedly, anyway, it was all about oil, money and power in fact. But now?

Right now, we have yet another financial crisis at our hands, all over the world people are losing jobs, people are losing power to buy necessities and all over the world, Governments seem once again taken aback by how banks need more injections of money in order to put everyone else in debt for the future, than the actual needs of the people. There was an article by The Guardian asking if Fair Trade is dying, but I’ve never seen this much fair trade in my life actually. People are providing services in the gift economy, which didn’t happen in 2008, or happened at a much smaller scale, and there is a bigger investment in rural living than there was 10 years ago also. What changed?

We did.

We pushed back in those days and we said we had enough. We started changing habits, and applying enormous social pressure on all sectors. I had a meeting today with international activists from a lot of activist circles, from environmental to mental health and LGBTQI+, people who like me hadn’t had a moment to breathe for the past two decades and need collective healing of the intense collective burn-out we’re experiencing. I had the luck, or disgrace, however you put it, to be able to stop out of necessity, but in this discussion I realized I didn’t actually stop, I just focused on other things and worked in other areas. What made me stop and realize things have changed a lot was a few hours later hearing my Systemic Thinking professor say that there is no longer a fixed hierarchy in government and governments focus on networking power, instead of focalized hierarchical power.

I didn’t get the memo before, I kinda lived in a world where elites rule everything for some reason. But with this covid-19 situation, I watched my local power fight against the centralized Lisbon powers and acting before there were actual governmental directives, making sure the already fragilized population of the area wasn’t as affected as we could be. And it really, really worked.

It was really interesting to note, that there were generous acts by our local authorities, such as 3 month offers of water bill, door to door deliverance of food and supplies and hygienic gear. It was really amazing to see how the collective of the so called small powers could band together and make big power seem rather useless. In fact, so useless that I think our entire population is kinda making the case as why there is this centralized power anyway, in our heads, still not in our collective efforts.

Right now, people are so worried about the ability to actually take a walk outside of their city, or go to the beach, that no one is really paying attention to the fact that numbers are rising enormously on Covid-19 infections all over the world. The momentaneous relief of “freedom” comes with the caveat of selling our futures to the financial elites once more, killing a percentage of the population with it. There is kind of a baffled reaction in Europe to Trump’s actions and Boris Jonhson’s (lack of) efforts and finally, after decades of us trying really hard, people are kinda saying “yeah, but you know, they are so isolated within themselves”, and this is how geopolitically you render a country ineffective.

I watch American news and the propaganda is so huge, it’s hard to believe. One particular thing that popped up was how the US bought the entire world’s supply of the medication Remsdesivir, and in US news and even activist outlets, this wasn’t known and even fought against, it was said that the US made the drug from taxpayers money, when in fact the Federal Government used that money to buy it from pharmaceutical companies worldwide. It’s a bigger shock to know that the medication was then sold to the US population for 2700$, and the rest of the world has to wait until there is another batch of the medication. It’s so shocking that the truth isn’t accepted that it made me question the whole hierarchical versus network power thing.

The power of networks is much larger than governmental power, when an effective network works within the systems against the grain in social innovation, we kind of always question who in there sold their soul to the devil to make it happen, right? Truth is, there is a lot more good in the world than evil, and a lot of philanthropic foundations are focusing on building a new generation of leaders who actually are apt and have competencies to lead, that’s the current reality. This is being made in a network way, in social enterprises, in non-profit organizations, in NGO’s and a lot more localized social endeavors. It’s interesting because, in a way, there is a collective understanding that we need to change things ourselves, in silence, so that the powers that be don’t realize things are actually changing. The UK still lives believing it’s an Empire, not a dying Monarchy with a weird looking Prime Minister who tells people weird stuff which he knows nothing about. The thing is, the Commonwealth works, not because of the Queen, but because it is a network. Same with the European Union. Networks of power work much better than hierarchies, that’s why at this point the leadership of the Commonwealth is localized power, much more than the Queen, despite the official leadership position.

So, why am I speaking about this?

Because when we are involved in Social Design there is always a gasping moment when it’s concerned to leadership and not-named hierarchies, because certain people have a more leadership profile than others and begin to embrace their leadership roles with much more at ease than others, and that always grinds some gears and can even make or break an organization. When leadership is used for self-aggrandization instead of networking power, meaning hierarchical leadership with the Presidential cherry on top, like we’re used to, somehow that makes the organization less effective.

I’ve been working with both men and women who don’t have a very prominent leading position, but are fulcral to localized power and call shots or are central to the organization of things who are incredibly important. This made once again go to the point of things are actually a lot more different that we think we give the news credit for. The book “Blessed Unrest” mentions how we are living in the largest social movement that has ever existed, simply made my millions of people and organizations with the collective focus of social innovation for a better common ground, and that is reaching Universities and schools, kids in places that it hasn’t reached before, and the result has been a very interesting change on paradigms that aren’t so obvious. Regardless of who is in power as the faces of Governments, localized networks have much more actual power than those “thems”. The sheer evilness of certain aspects of lobbies in government have actually a lot less power than the ability of certain corporations to act within certain measures in certain places.

The forgotten existence of Agroecology for example, has been taking a lead in a new sort of development in how there can be a network of people who do things differently, the fast way in which large chain supermarkets are now investing in local produce of organic origin, made me realize how fast things can change in a heartbeat when there are networks of people involved in changing things.

A good example of conductive leadership of an effective network was how James Oliver was able to make large multinationals such as Coca-Cola and large governments such as the European Union, to accept taxes on sugar, relating to questions of health to both the people and the environment. A lot of people have forgotten that a mere 5 years ago, we had a lot less keto a lot more cakes in our lives. The rapid spreading of a diet which has 0 sugars in it in a world that is fueled by sugar consumption is something that happened over the span of one year, I know because I witnessed it. Communities went from a few 10k to millions in one year alone, that was more than one million people in one year who refused to eat any type of sugar and chose better consumption of sustainable meat produces or even going vegetarian. The push back was gigantic, from just Australia there were more than hundreds of articles coming our way saying how carbs are very good for you, but the network of people who found doctors and researchers and actually gave themselves up for study was so huge, that there is a culture change in the way we consume carbs now. Atkins couldn’t do it, but the keto community did. We didn’t even notice, but now there are solutions available in both supermarkets and outdoor vendors and coffee shops of things with no sugar or no carbs. It’s no longer weird to ask something “without the rice, please”. It was in 2017. Sugar consumption is changing, not because of activism in the sugar corporation world, but because a large number of people wanted to lose weight. Simple as that. The push back against keto has the source of sugar multinationals, mostly sponsored by Nestlé, and agribusiness, in the rich countries. In fact, the most cited article against keto is a very dubious article, which the research methodology doesn’t actually study keto, but a mere reduction of carbs. The actual research for keto is solid and the best of the best in terms of research in nutrition, which has to be always be taken with a grain of salt, and study intensely who’s behind what because it can be serving some sort of agribusiness power.

It permeates subcultures in the form of we “should accept our bodies” and because “diets suck”, but I did keto for a year out of my doctor’s advice, and my hair stopped falling out, my cavities regenerated! (not kidding), I lost weight from meds that I wasn’t able to lose with exercise alone, my triglycerides stabilized and I had a lot more energy to be alive and actually do things, it helped my depression and anxiety and I was able to go back to school as I was working. When I stopped keto, I went back to unhealthy patterns.

I studied with others the effects and basis of the ketogenic diet, and it’s a diet hidden behind the veils of colonialism. It is the same diet of the Inuit and the same diet Native American populations had mostly in winter time, for lack of agriculture practices, which includes grain production. The carb thing was only introduced with the Agricultural Revolution, and only in certain sectors. We’ve been fed this narrative of a balance in food, but there’s no balance in a pyramid scheme that enriches Agrobusiness, it’s only a matter of time until there is widespread common sense of connecting the dots between the so-called balance and obesity in the world.

The business of grain is huge, wheat and bread making products are one of the most important in our society’s food chain, sugar business is one of the most lucrative businesses. This movement of people who push against that, helps to stabilize demand… and is also been trying to run against the genetically altered soy business worldwide, and soy monocultures. “Fat people!”, no joke.

It’s the same movement that put in our shelves of big chain supermarkets products like Almond milk with no sugar added. Issue is, the larger the movement, the higher the demand, so there are rises in monocultures of Almond now. Because there has been a push back against this new form of movement from already established movements. When confronted with greener practices such as Permaculture or Biodynamic farming, these habits can change to much more environmental ways of living. We just need a lot less judgment of fat people and the need for diets. It’s as simple as that.

And it’s also a much more effective movement than agribusiness controlling government, there is genuine push back from people who want to live in a more environment friendly world, and actually not be obese while at it. When there is a need to be met (health), and there isn’t governmental compliance to that demand, people create their own solutions and change the world around us by simply existing. The blaming people for eating too much McDonalds makes no sense when there are McDonalds commercials and advertising even in the middle of nowhere. People are not at fault, people do what they can with what they have. A friend of mine was of food stamps, and all he could eat with them was actually McDonalds, it was the most affordable solution for him and many others.

The push back by Nestlé and other multinationals have proven the effectiveness of these types of networks based solely on people who need change, because it hurts business as usual much more than taxes on sugar, since they have the money for taxes, they won’t have money if they go bankrupt for lack of demand of their products.

Then the issue is, how to fight the constant adaptation of these Agrobusiness giants? With networking. A long network of actual, factual, informed people makes a bigger dent than the implementation of governmental directives. We see that with trying to implement the SDG’s, it’s not that governments did not try, but because people were not interested. We all loved when everyone signed the Paris Agreement, and it’s really not governmental fault it wasn’t as effective as it could be, but because other networks such as corporations who don’t want to lose their place in the sun, were more effective in pushing back. Hierarchy of government has very little power in putting into effect actual directives, and much more effective in creating the directives.

A simple example is how protected areas are being used for monoculture practices that are illegal in all sense of the word. There is usually a legal void which is not accurately solved by the networks of those involved, and the more centralized the government, the less the people who can actually make a positive change act on it. I watched a clip of an organization that went on our national TV to speak precisely of this issue, and they were met with complete surprise by the other people involved in the conversation. Our government is ineffective because it’s centralized power, and the directives are not congruent to the actual shared reality. I actually watched our Environmental Minister saying he doesn’t really care for the environment. Clearly, a suburban black tie white-collar won’t have the same level of commitment to a field that needs specialized action. Regardless, the networks of different people actually creating change, is much but much more effective in implementing actual change. In this case, there is a need to start working with the people who actually have the power: the companies of mass production and the owners of smaller-scale production, which encompass most of the in effect production, to actually create change.

And these people are interested now, what are we doing about it, as the already established network of solutions?

An issue that happened here in my little town of 7 streets surrounded by a huge field belonging to only one family, was the mass murder of cows a few years back, in order to subsidize Teslas and trips to Bali. The people of the town may not have the ability to eat in harsh winters or summers, but the gigantic money factory of the privately-owned field of pasture that surrounds the village belongs to a much more effective network of power as it stands. So they allowed the pasture to dry out, murdered their whole cattle, so they could be granted a subsidy by government officials that have probable ties to their family.

What would happen if our networks that have a lot more people in it, would take appropriate measures towards organization within a system and towards not only fighting against corruption, as taking land back to their rightful owners?

In the 70’s, the baren land in which I reside in, that was abandoned by capitalistic men, was given “back” to the people that worked in it and taken from the capitalistic men, but in the 80’s it was given back to the same capitalistic men now returned from exile, all ready to go and producing heavily. Power was more hierarchical then. Networks are implemented, that simply are too tired to fight. We all have been fighting for far too long… People are tired of fighting for and against power at the same time, there has to be change in how needs are met, in order to create actual change.

The networks of solidarity economies such as associations and cooperatives is a much larger and more effective network than centralized government, but it has been heavily influenced by poverty, inequality and hunger. Cooperatives are networks that work on a collaboration, and centralized power wants individuation, capacitation, individual specialization, not collaborative work that serves the interests of those who “don’t matter”, meaning the people, and those who merely take orders… Merely cattle on a dried out pasture, as far as centralized and hierarchical power is concerned. Do you think Trump cares if people die from Covid? I don’t think he does, but I do think local government officials need to have a healthy community in order to have something to be in charge of, so they need people to be alive regardless of what Trump wants. And the people can use that to the people’s advantages.

Networks work. Hierarchies never did.

To end this massive quasi-thesis, I’ll finish off with: the problem with the current system is that it works. It’s a very efficient network. Regardless of our feelings about it, it works otherwise it wouldn’t be in place. The ability of adaptation of major corporations in order to have something to sell and people to buy, is the backbone of world trade and financial health. Seems rather impossible to change when we think about how small our individual selves feel against something like McDonalds or Coca-Cola, but if we take notice of the actual network we belong to, we realize we are part of the good change of society, whether we realize it or not, a much larger network than we are given credit to. An example is precisely Occupy Movement and how it was discredited and forgotten, but it generated change that we are still witnessing today. And the incredible movement of fat people! Ah!

Like Paul Hawken said: “This is how the largest movement in the world came into being and no one saw it coming”.

Blessed be our unrested selves.

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