Guided Emergence

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Jeff Vail:

"how to effectively balance hierarchal structures with decentralized, rhizome structures. My answer: guided emergence. Use a limited hierarchy to create, reinforce, and maintain institutions that generate a balanced, minimally self-sufficient, harmonized rhizome structure and then “let it go”—accept that you can’t affect the direction of such a structure, but that because a balanced structure is created in the first place, the emergent actions of that structure will remain “harmonious.” (

Discussion: Guided Emergence and a Local Community

Jeff Vail:

"I find it interesting that John Robb has recently been applying much of his “global guerrillas” theory to local communities. I have long found this to be the foundational element of our post-Nation-State future, and think that developing a theory of guided emergence for local communities will pay great dividends. Communities may be the most appropriate place for guided emergence of minimally self-sufficient but cooperating and interacting individuals, families, and family groups to come together in the absence of some centralized, hierarchal structure organizing them. These communities, just like Nations in the Nation-State context, can function in a “guided emergence” environment with or without exclusive boundaries (where, for example, everyone in a geographic town may or may not participate in the guided emergence “game”). Traditional, hierarchal, and centralized “government-run” communities generally cannot function in this way, and therefore greatly inhibit the amount of innovation available to a community to essentially the “one organizational structure per geographic area” maximum. Guided emergence could, on the other hand, support multiple competing organizational schemes within a single geographic area (what might today be the boundaries of one “town”) without conflict arising—if people are drawn from one scheme to another, then it grows, but there would not necessarily (key word here—exclusive religious notions, as with al-Qa’ida, make motivation for conflict possible) be motivation to out-compete or eliminate other schemes.

It may be clear by now that this notion of guided emergence as applied to local communities nests nicely with my outline for resilient and self-sufficient communities from The Problem of Growth. It may be a bit difficult to understand outside that context. But consider the ability to use guided emergence to persuade, rather than coerce, others to pursue the exact program outlined in Problem of Growth: establish minimal self-sufficiency in extended family nodes (along with regionally-appropriate means of doing that, best practices, etc.), establish mutually beneficial but optional interaction between these nodes, drive innovation in both of these areas, and serve to advocate for collective courses of action that may require temporary leadership or that work best with greater unity of effort.

This may be the key benefit to guided emergence: to the extent that guided emergence is only available to bottom-up, decentralized organizations, and that these kinds of organizations are capable of getting inside the OODA-Loop of their centralized/hierarchal competitors or opponents, there exists a structural trend in favor of just these decentralized and bottom-up entities. I think that decentralized and bottom-up entities are more likely to be compatible with human ontogeny, to be environmentally sustainable, and to allow for resilience and diversity of practice within human society without oppression. Any theory that helps speed along the erosion of centralization and hierarchy and the rise of a decentralized replacement seems welcome in that context."