I too have been swimming around in fractal experience of late. I firmly believe that the solution to our socio-material fractals run amok, which you (David) so clearly delineate, lies in finding peace and harmony within ourselves. Only from a place of inner calm can we even begin to see our own patterns, the one thing we have a hope of controlling. We get this not from condemning our darker nature as if to eradicate it completely, but from seeing it for what it is, noticing our patterns, and choosing our patterns on purpose every day. Do I continue what I did yesterday or do I enact some material change? The salad or the cookies? The scowl or the smile? Sweatpants or the business suit?
I am preparing a talk for TEDX Colorado Springs called the Fractal Challenge. It’s all about beginning to identify fractal patterns in social systems, what I call the systems’ signature dance moves, in order to create more generative patterns that can ripple through our interconnected world for real change. Social fractals are very much like signature dance moves in that they are what we secretly want to do, even when we try not to. They embody our comfort zones. They reveal our true nature. Most of all, if we are aware of them, we can change them— learn some new moves. Otherwise we would all still be disco dancing. Hustle, anyone?
Ideally, if enough of us begin to build awareness of our own patterns, those of our social systems, and those of the word around us, there should be a cascading effect of purposive, positive patterns of human and post-human interaction, intra-action to draw on Barad’s (2007) work. New patterns are always unfolding and bumping into existing ones in very tangible ways for a co-creative cultural diffraction of sorts. What if more and more of those patterns were intentional ones, born of caring and truly seeing one another?
Let’s think about the antenarrative potential of this awareness fractal we are contributing to, in the sense that antenarrative is a bet on the future as much as a way of sense-making before the official story is formed. If I become aware of my own fractals, the things I tend to do, perceive, and experience on large and small scales as I pass through life and the world of work, I can then begin to make choices about those patterns. What if I base those choices on an informed consideration of the antenarrative possibilities, considering the continued propagation of the pattern through timespacemattering?
Ultimately, every single moment contains a choice, given the circumstances at that time, to differentiate from my past patterns of behavior or to do what I typically would do in that situation based on my past. Deleuze(1994) broke it down to difference and repetition, a simple distinction that can be applied to the entirety of lived experience. Yet to make the choice, “Do I differentiate or repeat?” requires a certain awareness of what exactly one is repeating— enter awareness, whether that comes in the form of relational introspection (Wakefield 2013) or a more traditional formulation, such as we find in yogic meditation practices and other settings promoting various types of mindfulness.
Unaware people cause a lot of pain in the world, ranging from lashing out at others when we don’t get our way, to accidents born of carelessness, and even wars. The person who is ego-bound and reactive is not observing his or her patterns and is therefore helpless when it comes to changing them. It’s as if I were to set an intention to solve the New York Times crossword puzzle but never actually bought, downloaded, or borrowed a paper. I then dream of a victory for which I have not secured the material means. The sociomaterial contract, something we should explore further, is broken. My ability to solve the puzzle is prevented by the fact that I cannot even set eyes on the clues. I have no idea what the questions are! So I have no possibility of answering them. This is the same kind of situation we find ourselves in when we set a New Year’s resolution or other goal without first understanding the patterns and behaviors that are typical of our situation. Likewise, setting a stretch goal for an organization without first understanding its typical behaviors, its processes and past performance, may result in frustration.
We talk a lot about fractals of society, cultural fractals, socio-economic fractals, and even our own personal fractals, the most difficult to come to terms with of all. Yet the change we seek is an emergent phenomenon born of individual, singular choices— difference or repetition. To change, or not to change? THAT is the REAL question. Is it not?
To solve nihilistic, dehumanizing fractals of spiraling inhumanity we can’t just work from the top down, or from the bottom up! This is a job for the “both/and.” I am reminded of Aristotle’s (384-322 B.C.) ethics of habituation. As individuals we choose our habits, in some part because of our principles and belief systems. At the same time, enacting these practices in an embodied way tends to shift our principles and beliefs as well.
I used to think of this only in one direction, of values as fractal generators, but now I understand this to be a two way street in its simplest dichotomous form. I shape my habits, turning today’s difference into tomorrow’s repetition as I choose it again and again. My habit, in turn, perhaps out of a willfulness of its own that rivals Jo Tyler’s (2010) story aliveness, shapes me of its own accord. If my habit is yoga, it heals my body and makes me a nicer person, humbles me and teaches me as it replaces old fear-based and egotistical beliefs and thought patterns with kinder ones as it redefines the curves and muscles that embody “me.” It shapes my small interactions with others as I become quicker to smile and slower to anger and reinforces my better nature in much larger interactions, whether in the classroom or writing a blog post. If my habit is alcohol or nicotine, its aims and effects are much more sinister as it instills fear in me and loosens my inhibitions against harming others. Thankfully, my addiction is the mat, not the bottle, but it is an addiction nonetheless. Perhaps everything is, to some extent. The person with “no addictions” is lying to himself, perhaps judging himself and others harshly— addicted to being right, about big things and small things— a rather unappealing pattern. (I know. That used to be me.)
Aristotle. 384-322 B.C. The Nichomachean ethics. Translated by David Ross, Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. English translation ed, European Perspectives. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Original edition, 1968.
Tyler, Jo Anne. 2010. “Story Aliveness.” In Dance to the Music of Story, edited by David M. Boje and Ken Baskin, 62-79. Litchfield Park, AZ: Emergent Publications.
Wakefield, Tonya Henderson. 2013. “Fractal Management Theory.” Academy of Management, Orlando, FL.