Evolving Collective Intelligence by Tom Atlee

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

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What Does MHRA Stand For??

Bono and Bush Party without Koch: AIDS Industry Makes a Mockery of Medical Science

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Share The Wealth

Artificial Water Fluoridation: Off To A Poor Start / Fluoride Injures The Newborn

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September 04, 2004

Can we move beyond reptilian logic?

In the following two pieces we see the degradation of politics into manipulation of emotions, reactivity and fact, rather than collective intelligence. In the realm of politics, collective intelligence involves reflection, deliberation and creative consideration of public issues and the merits and limitations of various options to deal with them.

In the first article below, Thom Hartmann describes how Dick Cheney and others use ridicule of political opponents to shape public reactions. He notes how human psychology reacts without thinking when its "reptile brain" is stimulated, and how this stimulation can be cleverly wrapped up in emotional and logical language and imagery that makes it seem like a rational, realistic communication.

This is useful insight, but its partisanship invites us to see even more -- because Hartmann then urges the Democrats to make ridicule a key strategy in their campaign against Bush. If we are seeking collective intelligence in our politics, Hartmann's recommendation can only reinforce our sense that politics-as-usual is a tragic exercise in passionate collective self-entrapment.

I would like to fault Hartmann on this. But I cannot really lay the blame on his doorstep. He is recommending the use of degrading tools that happen to be very useful -- and often vital to survival -- in our system the way it is designed. With its focus on partisanship, positions and personalities, and a determined sidelining of truly creative deliberation about the issues, the U.S. political system validates successful manipulation by all sides, driving a collective descent into co-stupidity that few citizens actually want.

Somehow I doubt we'll get rid of manipulation by complaining about it. I suspect we'll have to change the system and providing something really compelling and sensible to replace it.

The second article -- an effort by The Progress Report to counter assertions made by speakers at the Republican convention -- offers another example of the same dynamic. It serves us by documenting the use of manipulation and distortion by Bush supporters. However, being partisan, it abandons us by failing to document the use of manipulation and distortion by Kerry supporters and progressive spokespeople.

Let's face it: Manipulation and distortion are the coin of the realm in U.S. politics, as they are in so many other places. Efforts to correct such distortions seldom have the impact enjoyed by the original distortions. Imagine, for example, how many people saw or heard the original Republican assertions, compared to how many people will see or hear The Progress Report's analysis. Furthermore, sadly, we must confront the fact that such analyses appeal only to our logical brain, not our reptilian brain, which limits their impact further.

What kind of political system would welcome the passion, facts, perspectives, legitimate interests, values, and analysis of all sides of every question? What kind of political system would channel these things not into battles over which one was "right", but rather into informed, creative, exploratory deliberations to determine what was useful from each "side" that could help the country (or community) find options that made real sense to the vast majority of people?

One first step might be to create thorough, accessible nonpartisan sources of information about

* public issues (such as the American Voice 2004 project of the Institute for Self-Reliance http://www.americanvoice2004.org and many organizations' discussion guides accessible through the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation http://www.thataway.org/resources/practice/issues/issues.html) and

* candidates (e.g., Project Vote Smart http://www.vote-smart.org).

Another might be to convene (perhaps even institutionalize) citizen forums -- e.g., citizen deliberative councils http://co-intelligence.org/CDCUsesAndPotency.html -- capable of digesting such information in ways that create broader understanding and more sensible, supportable options to guide society's decision-making.

The new politics we need requires many more pieces of the puzzle. But the fact that these innovations already exist should give us hope. They are sprouts in a wasteland where a remarkable number of new possibilities are now sprouting.

In the next month or so I will be learning and thinking a lot about ways new understandings of networking and new tools for networking and empowerment could be used to support inclusive, high quality forms of information and deliberation. I will also be trying to understand how these innovations might engage whole populations in compelling, whole-brain ways. Let me know if you have ideas on these subjects.

It seems to me (and I could always be wrong) that we can no longer afford to depend on political systems based on partisan "sides" that specialize in battles of half-truth and manipulation. We need political systems through which citizens can weave the many pieces of truth into shared understandings within which they can find the common ground and vision they need to create better societies together.


Cheney Speaks to the Reptile Brain
by Thom Hartmann

by David Sirota, Christy Harvey, Judd Legum and Jonathan Baskin
September 2, 2004


posted by Tom Atlee on Saturday September 4 2004
updated on Saturday September 24 2005

URL of this article:




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Readers' Comments

Hi Tom,

I have, some time ago, come across a site by Roger Eaton - voice of humanity - Roger Eaton's notes towards a collective voice for humanity on the web.


which is about constructing a system whereby ideas and information can "swim to the top" in a web that in some way "learns" from our preferences and interests.

I think that could be something to look into.

Posted by: Sepp Hasslberger on October 13, 2004 05:40 PM


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Diversity is possibility waiting to be born. So how can we use our differences most creatively?


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