Liam Kirsher on embracing Hopelessness and the Brilliant Swarm

Interesting thought capsule which argues we have to accept and embrace hopelessness, and use Brilliant Swarm strategies to engage with such realities.

The Brilliant Swarm site is here.

Liam Kirsher:

“I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I do want to cultivate a sense of hopelessness. We have to stop doing what doesn’t work. Hope is like an addiction that keeps us trapped in passivity and ineffectiveness. Paradoxically, embracing hopelessness is the key to moving from reactivity to action Hopelessness is not despair! Embracing hopelessness means stilling the soothing internal voice that tells us everything will be okay, and allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we’re feeling. It means accepting the likelihood that things will not work out okay without our changing who we are and what we do. Giving up the hope that the Democrats will save the day, or that the Bush enterprise will collapse under the staggering weight of its corruption and incompetence, leaves us with the sobering realization that if change is to come we are the ones who must bring it.

Our social context is changing. Today we are connected to more people than ever before in the history of humanity, and there is an immediacy to those connections – they can be accessed instantly and en masse. Today’s metaphor of organization is the network, and it’s revolutionizing how we do business, how we entertain ourselves, how we relate to one another. It has the potential to revolutionize politics, too, but that potential has yet to be realized. What happens when a distributed system like a network collides with a hierarchical control system like the US political system? The history of that encounter has yet to be written. Certainly, we see politicians trying to exploit and co-opt the online world. We also see the network taking on the political status quo, as the chaotic democracy of the blogosphere investigates and exposes corrupt politicians. There is much more to be said about the interaction of these two organizational systems. For now, I want to focus on something called swarm intelligence.

The term swarm intelligence comes from the field of network theory. It’s an attempt to describe the behavior of complex systems of independent agents. Think of a flock of birds, a school of fish, or a swarm of insects. Without a leader the flock finds its way South, the school of fish evades its predators, and insects create large, complex habitats. These are called emergent behaviors: complex patterns arising out of relatively simple interactions. There is a beauty and natural genius to the swarm intelligence of insects and other animals. What makes people different, perhaps, is that we can be aware that we’re part of a swarm. In other words, we can simultaneously appreciate our autonomy and the intelligence we create when we act together. That’s what creates a Brilliant Swarm.

Brilliant Swarm isn’t the answer to the question of what to do about our vexing political impasse. Instead, it poses the question “What are the ‘relatively simple interactions’ we could engage in that would lead to emergent collective behaviors that are politically effective?” A Brilliant Swarm is a laboratory for exploring that question.

Margaret Meade wrote “never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Brilliant Swarm is about creating such a world-changing group – a group where we find allies, ideas, and constructive challenges. It’s about creating a model that other agents of change can adopt and modify. And it’s a vision of many swarms in alignment, acting in harmony.”

1 Comment Liam Kirsher on embracing Hopelessness and the Brilliant Swarm

  1. loveandtheplanet

    (Hopelessness is not despair! Embracing hopelessness means stilling the soothing internal voice that tells us everything will be okay, and allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we’re feeling.)

    Although his article is interesting, it isn’t personally useful to people like me who do NOT have “the soothing internal voice that tells us everything will be okay”. It does however point out that there are many people who do, (I usually just call them sheep, bless them). I do not agree that it is possible to induce such people to embrace hopelessness. It is their ease with hopefullness that is their successful evolutionary trait. To suggest that you can teach such people to embrace hopelessness is to be too hopeful that people have, or should have, free will over all their traits.

    Brilliant Swarmer should embrace hopelessness himself, but having failed in this instance, might as well embrace his hopefulness. If you’ve got hopefulness, don’t knock it. You’ve got lots and lots of company.

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