Identity and culture as self-organizing systems 🌪️Feb 08, 2024
You know the whirlpool that forms when a tub is draining?
You can think of it as a self-organizing system: A structure that emerges from the unconscious parts interacting according to the laws of physics. It has no will of its own and no one's in charge, but it will persist as long as you keep pouring water into it. Every individual water molecule that makes up the structure at any given moment is replaced—the whirlpool doesn’t need to be the same water to persist.
I think self-organizing systems are a good way to explain a whole bunch of tricky-to-understand personal and cultural phenomena. Seeing them this way helps us empathize, stepping out of drama cycles of victim and blame, and either find acceptance or interventions that will actually work. For example: The ego—by that I mean our bundle of self-concepts we refer to as “I”—persists without any “doer” just like a whirlpool. Our patterns of behavior, relating, or wounding perpetuate themselves with entirely new players and contexts, seemingly with a life of their own (but actually just a self-organizing system maintaining coherence). The way other people treat us can be seen this way, as can the alarming rate of languages dying. Materialism and optimizing for profit persists without any cabal of secret money-mongers pulling strings behind the scenes. Most “conspiracy theories” are more aptly described as self-organizing systems, where each player unconsciously perpetuates an ideology.
If we don’t want these self-organizing systems to go on, we need to become conscious of what feeds them and stop—eg turn off the faucet and the whirlpool will disappear.
With love, Jordan
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