Section Logo
Facebook   Twitter   LinkedIn   Email  

Page3of 3
< 1 2 3 >
Cooperative! Part 4
Torn between me and we

by DK Holland

Our homo sapien genes evolved during a few Ice Ages, global famines, the invasion of the Mongols, the Black Plague, the Inqui­sition and World Wars I and II by adapting to often-rapid change. This would be a clue that, by cooperating, we can make it through a few more catas­tro­phes. Early cultures created peer-to-peer net­works (where everyone is part of a dynamic collective focused on the good of the tribe).

Modern peer-to-peer networks, called P2P, are very different and virtual. They help improve our ability to problem solve in real-time, evolve an indi­vidual’s critical and creative thinking and intelligence by present­ing tasks that we’ve never had to solve before and often doing this with people unlike us. This provides an additional bene­fit: By doing some­thing new and differ­ent, we build new memory stores and neural path­ways and that improves our brains.

Greene Hill Food Co-op logo design by Base Design,
bag manufactured and printed by a local woman-owned business.

We are comfortable with P2P networks and they have become ubiquitous. Wikipedia, Kickstarter, Brickstarter, Open311, Code­forAmerica, NextDoor and Neighborland are some of the myriad virtual ways people work cooperatively and non-hierarchically now. We self-organize, often work on a volunteer basis with others—as a public service and with limited oversight (if any) from an authority figure. New tech­nology, since it allows for decentral­­ized participation, is the master key unlocking these new doors. You can collaborate across continents without ever leaving the comfort of your living room. You can work with people you’ll never see or meet.

We create the technology we need, not the other way around. We needed to be able to cook food and we figured out the technology to create fire. We needed to communicate over thousands of miles instantly, we demanded that technology. We need to live together so we are creating the technology that allows for democracy.

Two-thirds of the planet lives under democracy, which (hypo­thetically) decentralizes power. America is arguably the best of the worst. Theory says two percent of humans are thirsty for power. One to three percent are sociopathic, lack empathy, or are psychopathic. So even if only a few of the people who seek power have that combo we are in deep trouble if our society is ill-equip­ped to tell the difference. Think Adolph Hitler, Bernard Madoff, Muammar Gaddaffi. A now classic Yale study showed that when a man wearing a uniform (an authority figure) told a volunteer subject to deliver a lethal shock to a person (an actor in the next room), 60–70 percent of subjects would resist, have stress reac­tions but would ultimately comply if told “you have to do this.” When the uniform was stripped away, the subjects refused.4

Many, if not most, inventions are developed by the simple futzing around of an individual or small group. Since there is no “one way” to do things in anti-authoritarian America, this process can get muddled. It can result in endless debate and inaction within even the most cooperative of groups. This is particularly manifest since our universal values are ultimately often left up to individual interpretation. The really bad news is that so many citizens are not up to the challenge of sorting out the muddle, are not inquisi­tive, have limited educational experiences to bolster them, and/or are often under informed.

Few of us popped out of the womb geniuses. It takes hard work and the will to learn from repeated failures to develop genius even if you start off with a big brain. Persistence in many ways is more impor­tant than talent or intelligence: trying a new path when one doesn’t pan out, not being intimidated or defeated when at first you don’t succeed. Many people, even smart people, miss their potential by getting into a rut, stuck in a dead-end mindset. Squirrels and chimps don’t innovate. They don’t have the brain power to plan like humans, to experiment, dare to try something untested. And they only know how to do things “one way” that locks them in a holding pattern.

The brand implementation was funded by a grant from Ideas that Matter, Sappi Paper.

Barack Obama learned some hard lessons in his first term as Presi­dent. And so did we. It doesn’t matter how much of a genius Obama is or how much power he has. He needs us to push back, to speak out, experiment and to see ourselves as responsible mem­bers of this giant cooperative, the US of A. He is still a community organizer, we are the community.

Jerry and Monique Sternin futzed around, studying malnutrition in an impoverished village in Vietnam in the 1990s. And in that process they tried something new.5 They looked for the outliers—those few families who looked healthy. They analyzed the ingredi­ents they subsisted on which differed substantially from that of the other families. The Sternins held a party and invited the entire village to make a big feast together asking the villagers to bring the nutritional ingredients they identified to the feast to cook. The Sternins could have simply imposed a new diet on the village. Or they could have relied on the leaders of the community to tell them what the problem was. Instead, as the cliché goes, they looked for the solution in the problem. The village enjoyed the feast of their own making. They changed their diet. Malnu­trition fell by 85 percent over 2 years. It took a village. It still takes a village, many, many villages, and many open-hearted, thoughtful cooperators like the Sternins, like Milton Glaser, like Barack Obama. We can learn from each other. We are going in the right direction if you look at the larger picture and see yourself in it: It’s all about me and it’s all about we. CA

1.   “Chip Kidd talks with Milton Glaser,” the Believer, September 2003.
5. Holland
DK Holland writes about design and teaches in two MFA design programs in New York, one at SVA and one at Pratt. She is an advisor to Project M and Design Ignites Change. Holland has been the editor of Design Issues since she started it in 1990. She is the author/producer of many books on design as well as Branding for Nonprofits. She is the producer of CitizenME, which creates transmedia tools that engage students in understanding how to become proactive citizens. Holland lives and works in her tiny nineteenth-century restored Italianate house and garden in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.