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Decentralization And Rhizomes


Biologists say trees are social beings. They can count learn and remember. They nurse sick members, warn each other of dangers by sending electrical signals across a fungal network and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through roots. (Marije van Zomeren)

We need to look no further than our backyard to find a perfect civic alternative for our current state of misapplied civic priorities and general governmental under-performance (to say it lightly). One of nature’s most effective means of sustainability and growth is the rhizome. The rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow perpendicular to the force of gravity. It also has the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards. If a rhizome is separated into pieces, each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant … and a new node of above ground activity.

This phenomena of decentralized activity in rhizomes was articulated in philosophy and societal innovation by Frenchmen Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the ’60s. To Deleuze and Guattari, the rhizome structure had no beginning or end, it was just there always in search of opportunities to present itself.

“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus)

Deleuze and Guattari broke down their rhizomatic social philosophy into several components. Below are several that are applicable to a community based construct. From here we can extrapolate to arrive at our version of a locally engaged civic participation platform .

  • Rhizome: Rather than using the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the single origin of “things”, a rhizome continually establishes connections between threads of meaningful communication, organizations of power, and other influences (including arts, sciences, and social struggles). The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and formal organization. It instead favors a nomadic system of growth and proliferation. In this model, influence and application spreads like the surface of a body of water; spreading towards available spaces or in the application of community — maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of the type.

  • Nomadism: Nomadism is a way of life that exists outside of traditional organizational or societal norms (at least in modern times). The Nomad is a way of being in the middle or between points. It is characterized by movement and change, and is unfettered by systems of organization. The goal of the Nomad is only to continue to move within the “intermezzo.” (the journey rather than the destination). This constant state activity prevents itself from existing for the sake of existing as conventional organizations and institutions most often do. The goal is to make things happen, to find opportunities and create solutions; not just to “be.” This Nomadic behavior also lends itself to the individual focusing on what interests them and where they can contribute the most, rather than just working within the constraints of a pre-defined, often inefficient role or job. In short, being a Nomad can greatly enhance ones sense of engagement and well-being. Or according to the Danish philosopher Søren Kiekegaard, be “the evolved man".

  • Smooth Space: The platform or naked infrastructure on which the community operates they call the Smooth Space. This platform is not formally defined, but rather takes the form of the influences and constructs that inhabit it. As outlined above, these influences can include existing organizations (private and public) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of Melvin’s Neighborhood, the Smooth Space is the small business community; Front Porches, the members of the community who are their customers along with the societal norms and expectations they create. What a community does and creates with its Smooth Space will provide the basis for the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the rhizome structure to nurture the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization). Much like what tree do for long-dead stumps.

  • Body Without Organs: Body Without Organs is what happens. It’s verbs and adjectives while the Smooth Space is nouns. It is the result of what the rhizome social philosophy using the Nomadic actions of its components operating on the Smooth Space. In itself the Body Without Organs has no form until the variables of the community are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its members and businesses. It can take a conservative form or a progressive one. NIMBYism and gated communities or more communal. Tolerant and welcoming or closed and silos. Wall Street or Main Street. This is the community’s personality. But rather than the personality being dictated by those in the high rungs of a traditionally mandated hierarchy — it will come to form through the participation of those who live there … those on the streets, no matter their social stature. How the community directly responds to its needs and opportunities will be what it is.


Situational Leadership

A contemporary version of this Nomadic rhizome organizational approach is referred roughly as Open allocation. Open allocation is a management style in which employees are given freedom to choose what projects to work on, and how to allocate their time. They do not necessarily answer to a static manager, but rather to the specific project they are working on within a company or organization. They can transfer between projects as they wish as long as they are providing value. Open allocation has been described as a process of self-organization. Rather than teams and leadership arrangements existing permanently in the organization, relationships form as they are needed (around causes and projects). When the projects are completed they disband. (excerpts from Wikipedia)

In Melvin’s Neighborhood, open allocation is referred to as Situational Leadership. Not only do people have the option of engagement in the contributing project they feel fits them, those organizing and leading the project are not part of a hierarchical organization or institution. In each of these projects or situations, the leader is the one who has the vision because they are uniquely qualified. Their tenure lasts as long as the project lasts. It doesn’t linger on in limbo fighting for self-preservation.

Imagine a civic structure filled with these situationally-derived projects (or situationships), working outside the established institutional hierarchies, only concerned with solutions and betterment, whether it be individual or collective. A populace that adopts this nomadic behavior can always be embracing Situational Leadership where those with specific skill sets and passions are given space to break through and shine. Contrast this with the status quo where the majority of us are held well below our potential in societal roles dictated by archaic measures of hierarchy and tradition. Melvin’s Neighborhood aims to break free of these shackles and create an alternative where inequities and preconceptions aren’t the norm.


Nurturing A Societal Evolution

How do we tie all this together into a functioning array of response to needs and opportunities while not resorting back to traditional top-heavy hierarchies? Our focus must be on the empowerment, not just the management of our civic ecosystem. The Smooth Space is your community's desktop, its workspace. Let it take form as the situation dictates.

“Too many algorithms are centrally designed with a singular philosophical view of the world, using contextual data but via a single lens” ~ Indy Johar

The main components of this new look are the Smooth Space and the Body Without Organs (community conscience). In Melvin’s Neighborhood, the Smooth Space is called the Rhizome Cluster, and the BWO is the community conscience or Hopepunk. Next we breakdown constructing the Rhizome Cluster for Melvin’s Neighborhood.

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