By Oliver Sylvester-Bradley In 2010, when Transition Towns started growing into the hundreds in the UK, with another 250 worldwide, it felt like something was really happening. Like ‘the people’ might be about to start taking control of their town’s futures.

When the Occupy movement camped up on the steps of St Pauls with that huge “CAPITALISM IS CRISIS” banner in 2011, it felt like protest had reached new levels, like ‘the people’ might actually be about to place some demands on the celebrated 1%.

And when NEF launched NEON (the New Economy Organisers Network) back in 2013, it felt like things might actually get real. Like ‘the academics’ might start writing the new rules, or a radically different economy.

But it never happened. And I consistently wonder; why not?

Society at large is not really very good at self organising. We’ve been quite well looked after by our ‘nanny’ state, the vast majority of us have gotten overweight and are quite happily addicted to couch-cushioned conversations about Bake off and other entirely inconsequential bollocks. At best we raise vague protestations about ‘that orange bloke’ buying an election, or ‘that left-leaning hippy’ not being able to win an election, which achieves nothing apart from possibly granting the present pantomime more authority.

According to Scott Camazine, self-organisation is a process whereby pattern at the global level of a system emerges solely from interactions among the lower-level components of the system. The rules specifying the interactions among the system’s components are executed using only local information, without reference to the global pattern. Examples of self-organisation include a wide range of pattern formation processes in both physical and biological systems: sand grains assembling into rippled dunes, chemical reactants forming swirling spiral patterns, the patterns on sea shells, or fish swimming in coordinated schools.

Watching the mesmerising murmurations of starlings flying in synchronised flocks at sunset makes is perfectly clear; simple rules produce beautiful results. I tried to get to the bottom of what makes starlings behave like they do and the best conclusion I could find was someone suggesting that “if you were a starling, wouldn’t you?”

The point here is that, if you have the resources, the skills and know the rules to move in glorious sychronised waves alongside thousands and thousands of your species, to create and be part of something far more significant, more exquisite and undeniably more beautiful than anything you could achieve sitting home, on your perch, all alone. Why on earth would you not get involved?

Apparently the rules which control the movements of the starlings are nothing more complex than general flocking. Basic models of flocking behaviour are controlled by three simple rules:

  1. Separation – avoid crowding neighbours (short range repulsion)
  2. Alignment – steer towards average heading of neighbours
  3. Cohesion – steer towards average position of neighbours (long range attraction)

There is nothing saying that the rules, of a collaborative, sustainable economy will be any more complex, after all, really, all we need to do is coordinate a synchronised movement.

Consensus is forming around the path we need to take to escape the trappings of the extractive economy. The path picks up it’s principles from the ICA, it’s practice from peer to peer and, to me at least, it’s purpose from Duncan Law of Transition Towns Brixton, who said:  “It’s not against something: it’s a move towards something positive”.

The solidarity, or collaborative, or co-operative (or whatever you want to call it) economy is being built, right now, with or without you. The ownership revolution might still be in stealth mode, but if you look for it you will find it; it’s waiting for you with open arms.

Come and meet the people who are working on making this new economy a reality, don’t just sit on your perch, because you might forget how to fly.

Open 2017 – Platform Co-ops is a two-day conference on the collaborative economy in February 2017, get your ticket here.

Cross-posted from The Open Coop

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