Dave Snowden

Dark constraints

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In my post of yesterday I identified Dark Constraints within my wider category of resilience. The reference is to the idea of dark matter in cosmology. Something like 27% of the mass and energy in the observable universe is attributed to matter that we cannot detect with current technology. We know it is there by its effects, gravitational in the main, but we don’t know what it is. I rather suspect that in human systems the percentage of effect for which we do not have a clear accounting is considerably higher. Now I’m just exploring this and it is pulling me back to anthropology texts from a decade or more ago. So I’m still at the stage of listing the sort of things that might fit within the type. How we detect their effects and how we then influence that impact will come from that. So this post is by way of an initial exploration, and incomplete by its very nature.

Lets take one possible example and explore it. Yesterday I went down to Cardiff to watch a European Challenge Cub match between Cardiff Blues and Bath. The match was enjoyable, not lease because of a pretty comprehensive victory for the Blues in adverse weather conditions. But before and after the match I had meetings. Given commitments to make Wales an experimental centre for new methods of citizen engagement I will if anything spend more time there and the number of contacts and networks I need to activate is growing exponentially. One of those related to health economics and with timing difficult my contact agreed to meet up a couple of hours before the match. I offered two venues, either the Angel Hotel of the City Vaults and he chose the Vaults at which point I relaxed. I only really realised after the event that the choice was a type of social sorting process. If he had chosen the Angel then he was either an alien (to South Wales) or was posh. That would have required a different response on my part and to a degree a more cautious discussion. When we met he already knew what I had done and with a few more conversations tests we settled into a trusted conversation.

Human interaction is based on these type of clues – it is not something that can be made explicit and I was only really aware I was doing it with the benefit of hindsight. There are ways of acting, things you do and don’t do that tell people how to interact with you. Note I said how to interact, not what sort of person you are. Interaction is more important than the things that interact in complexity. The clothes we wear, the things we ask of people, the linguistic forms we use all have subtleties that cannot be made fully explicit; indeed if they could they would be weakened in value. Interestingly once we had established what we had in common (and there was a lot including both of us living through parents dying within three months and one of lung cancer) we started to explore differences. Where did the common insights and understandings stop? Boundaries are important to humans, we need to understand not only how we connect, but also what are the boundaries within which we operate.

I’m not sure what to call the above, but if pushed I would say it is a type if identity ritual. Ritual is important to humans it provides some stability. What I wear can impact on how I feel, what I anticipate. Taboo, things that we don’t do even though we don’t really know why are the bedrock of society and when challenged (I am thinking Trump here) we are in a dangerous place, there appears no bottom level to what is permissible. For those in a state of despair such may be more attractive that establishment order, but for society as a whole the absence of a base level constraint is deeply problematic.

Another example is history, the defining stories of our interactions over time. We swapped a few of those over the second pint of Brains SA yesterday. Stories of rugby, politics, family etc. Those stories create a pattern of insight or understanding critical to our capacity to interoperate, to trust each other. Both of us as it turned out play the trick of passing on a slightly damaging rumour about ourselves to someone who claims to be a close friend and then wait to see if it comes back to us. A trust test that many fail. I’m pretty pissed of about some internal politics at the moment (yes it happens in any organisation no matter what size) and that feeling is damaging some of the historical patterns which provide stability over time, trust being one component.

All of these we need to map, the question is how.

… to be continued, but not for a few weeks

  • Philip Todd

    Dave, you may be interested in the work of Warren Farrell on male-female relationships although the work applies to all relationships such as the one above. Farrell defines each interaction as a token that is passed from one side to the other. Dress, appearance, stories, thoughts; anything that is shared from one to the other is a token. The relationship broadens and deepens depending on the response token you receive from the other person: is it safe to go deeper or broader? If yes, breadth and depth increase. If no, breadth and depth remain at their current level. If the token is rejected, then breadth and depth decrease.