Wicked Problems, Sensemaking and Community

Yesterday I wrote about sensemaking.

sensemaking–the action or process of making sense of or giving meaning to something, especially new developments and experiences.

At the collective level, a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems like those described above. When that happens the centre cannot hold.

Threats to sensemaking are manifold. Among the most readily observable sources are the excesses of identity politics, the rapid polarisation of the long-running culture war, the steep and widespread decline in trust in mainstream media and other public institutions, and the rise of mass disinformation technologies, e.g. fake news working in tandem with social media algorithms designed to hijack our limbic systems and erode our cognitive capacities. If these things can confound and divide us both within and between cultures, then we have little hope of generating the coherent dialogue, let alone the collective resolve, that is required to overcome the formidable global-scale problems converging before us.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium
June 18, 2019

That same article discusses the concept of wicked problems.

The problems before us are emergent phenomena with a life of their own, and the causes requiring treatment are obscure. They are what systems scientists call wicked problems: problems that harbour so many complex non-linear interdependencies that they not only seem impossible to understand and solve, but tend to resist our attempts to do so. For such wicked problems, our conventional toolkits — advocacy, activism, conscientious consumerism, and ballot casting — are grossly inadequate and their primary utility may be the self-soothing effect it has on the well-meaning souls who use them.

If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium
June 18, 2019

It sounds a bit depressing to hear about wicked problems, that are difficult to understand and resist our attempts to solve them. Added to that our diminished sensemaking abilities. Where does that leave us?

The jumping-off point for this essay is a regrettable acceptance that a forthcoming energy descent combined with multiple ecological crises will force massive societal transformation this century. It’s hardly a leap to suggest that, with less abundant cheap energy and the collapse of the complex political and economic infrastructure that supports our present way of life, this transformation is likely to include the contraction and relocalisation of some (if not most) aspects our daily lives.

Community

Something important happens when we gather in pursuit of a common goal. First we form rituals that help us relate to and negotiate each other, everything from a civic tradition that allows anyone with a voice to be respectfully heard, to sharing food and music in the local town hall every Friday night, to a labour system that fairly distributes the burden of work. Then, those rituals that stand the test of time become embedded in daily life. The ritual activities themselves and the good they produce help a community identity take root. As identity strengthens, so too does our sense of connectedness — our sense of affection, responsibility and obligation — to one another. When this happens, we then share a greater capacity for coherence and cooperation. And where we share greater capacity for coherence and cooperation there is also greater resilience: the ability to mobilise skills and resources to support the emergence of collective intelligence in response to crisis, enable rapid adaptation and ensure the continuity of the most important functions and structures of the community. This coherent togetherness and the collective intelligence that emerges out of it is the source of human strength and ingenuity. Within it lies our ability to transition from one evolutionary niche to another, even against the odds.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium
June 18, 2019

I’m sorry to make such extensive use of quotations, but these have helped me better conceptualize why it has been so difficult for so many people to understand our evolving environmental catastrophe and lack of a vision and the will to deal with this.

Celebrants have an important part to play in the legacy humanity caries into the future. I suggest that our responsibility as ceremonialists, as humans who help other humans meaningfully connect with the web of life, is to find ways now to help people connect with the story of this world’s beauty, even as the world we love recedes. I believe there is a gift we can bring to our communities, to help people learn the art of losing. To help us all to meet the rising tides.

Celebrants & Ceremony in Response to Climate Grieving, Dina Stander, July 26, 2019

I believe faith communities need to play a crucial role in helping us all move through the oncoming, increasingly severe consequences of climate disasters. Faith can provide sensemaking for those who have no framework for making sense of climate chaos. People of faith can be the celebrants referred to above.

Other celebrants are indigenous people because their cultures are based upon a timeless connection to Mother Earth and everything that is part of Her.

As it says above, “if we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.” People from faith traditions and indigenous people (who are also people of faith) will together build communities to guide us into an uncertain and chaotic future.

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