research for action

Big-Picture Health Information

Pattern ID: 
742
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
27
Jenny Epstein
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Health information cannot focus solely on individual change. Many detriments to health cannot be eradicated without changes to the physical and social world that people inhabit. If environmental and social changes are necessary to get well, individual patients cannot do so solely by seeking health care and avoiding health risks. Expert medical information and advice is inadequate to create a healthy environment that in turn creates healthy people.

Context: 

Poor people bear a disproportionate burden of global ill-health, such as diabetes, malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB. Health discrepancies between rich and poor will not be solved through better access to information alone. Good food, less stress, clean air and water, and a life with a purpose will increase health and healthy behaviors. Real change to improve health comes from a shift away from acknowledging only expert clinical opinion and toward a real-world awareness of the effect of environment on health: a shift from passive diagnosis and treatment to active engagement with the causes of and solutions to health problems.

Discussion: 

We are not, for the most part, born unhealthy. We become unhealthy. And even for those born unhealthy, a great deal of ill health may have been preventable. The campaign to find the cure for breast cancer is a good example of health information that neglects any causal connection between ill-health and the environment (in this instance, an environment which includes the use of estrogen in prescription medication), and ignores political or social change that might address environmental causes of the disease. This pattern of information, in which action comes only after the individual becomes ill but nothing has been done to prevent illness in first place, focuses on individual responsibility with no questioning of the established social order. The unspoken message is that breast cancer just happens. It is up to the individual to get involved with a screening program for early detection and treatment. Information on research that investigates environmental effects to the development of breast cancer is not part of mainstream health information.

Public health information about diabetes further illustrates the lack of emphasis on the connection between environment and health. Among Native Americans, diabetes (like most other non-infectious chronic diseases) was virtually unknown before World War II. Now, in some tribes, over 60% of adults have diabetes and the age of onset is decreasing with each generation. Much of the research on diabetes among Native Americans focuses on genetic causes or on molecular level differentiations of diabetic types. It gives short shrift to how the disruption in traditional diet and life style and the devaluation of traditional medicine correspond with the dramatic increase in the disease. The connection of indigenous people to the environment that they come from, the types of foods they eat, and activities they perform to prepare those foods are not considered an active component in their health. Diabetic health information focuses on what the individual can do to access mainstream diets and medicine. It does not validate traditional knowledge that prevented diabetes in the past, and ignores how the community as a whole can work together to recreate that knowledge. This does not mean trying to reestablish life as it was 60 years ago, but it does mean putting the current problem in a holistic context that includes history, indigenous knowledge, the interaction between diet and environment, and reasons for lack of access even to non-traditional healthy food.

In 1854, John Snow removed the handle from a London neighborhood water pump that was located a few feet from a sewer ("John Snow Pub," 2006). He believed that this sewage was causing the epidemic of cholera deaths in the neighborhood. Epidemiology textbooks emphasize Snow's connection of cause and effect as the first public health intervention of the modern era. They ignore an analysis of cause: industrialization and dislocation, poverty, over-crowding etc. What options for water did people in the neighborhood have without the pump? Seldom mentioned is that, due to the demand of a thirsty public, the handle was replaced six weeks after its removal.

Public health programs must include methods to share power with communities they hope to help. What are the contributors to ill health in their communities? What are the barriers to good health that the communities identify? Information needs to realistically address what is within the control of the individual and what will take groups of people working together to solve. Methods to improve health in disadvantaged communities must reflect the larger social change and shift in power needed.

Health information such as Fast Food Nation (Schlosser, 2002) needs to be the norm, not the exception. This book chronicles the entire environment that produces fast food, including social norms and values. Similarly, the documentary film “Life and Debt” (www.lifeanddebt.org) shows the destruction of healthy, local food production in Jamaica by the combination of multinational food businesses and international government policy.

Health information needs to do more than simply inform. What does not question the present state of affairs will not, for example, bring affordable nutritious food to poor neighborhoods. Nor will it create safe neighborhoods in areas where children cannot exercise. Better access to information may improve health care decisions to some extent; unless it also generates momentum and optimism for social change then it simply perpetuates a focus on individual behavior and treatment of symptoms that have already occurred. Health information needs to look honestly at the conditions that cause ill health, and engage not only those who suffer illness but the entire social and regulatory apparatus that can play a role in improving the conditions that people live in.

Solution: 

Demand and produce health information that identifies environmental and social causes of ill-health. Analyze the interconnection between these causes and their solutions, and bring individuals, communities and governments together in putting the solutions into effect. If the struggle with disease becomes a struggle with established power, you may be on the right track.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Real change in improving health means shifting away from expert clinical opinion only and towards awareness of the effect of environment. Demand and produce health information that identifies environmental and social causes of ill-health. Analyze the links between causes and solutions, and bring individuals, communities and governments together in putting the solutions into effect.

Pattern status: 
Released

Earth's Vital Signs

Pattern ID: 
620
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
26
Jenny Frankel-Reed
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Society’'s great scientific capacity to measure and interpret the world and the role of humans in nature has failed to translate into improved environmental stewardship. Modern environmental challenges are often difficult to see, distant in time and space from their sources, and threaten global consequences. The increasing complexity and chronic rather than acute nature of today's environmental problems requires a revolution of decision making — the systematic integration of earth’s vital signs.

Context: 

Signals detected by scientists about earth's natural patterns and processes and the impacts of humans on these processes are earth's signs - indicators of what can be seen as either ecological health or the capacity of the earth to accommodate human demands. The conditions of earth's systems tend to be worsening on a global scale, but vary dramatically from place to place. Human decisions about how to live on earth drive these trends and can potentially reverse their negative directions.

Policymakers, public interest organizations, universities, and governments can utilize earth's signs to better manage human and environmental well-being. Policymakers' decisions about sustainable practices in land- and resource-dependent sectors can be backed by scientific understanding about the effects of policies on resources. Citizens can demand better environmental stewardship from their leaders at local to global scales with improved access to and translation of relevant earth information at the proper scale. Governments and enforcement bodies can strengthen their monitoring capabilities and base development decisions on the latest information about trends in human impacts on earth.

Discussion: 

Three distinct approaches to integrating earth's vital signs come from the scientific community, public interest organizations, and enforcement bodies.

Scientific institutions can collaborate to reach audiences in need of earth-related information to solve problems. The work of earth observation agencies to collect and disseminate data and images to important users like humanitarian aid agencies provides one example. Disaster prevention, response, and rebuilding are information-intensive. This fact is illustrated time and time again in the wake of natural disasters. For example, in Asia in 2005, an immediate need emerged in tsunami-affected areas for earth observation and environmental data to help in assessing damage, reaching victims and rebuilding resilient communities. In response to this need, an alliance of European and International organizations is working with the humanitarian community to improve access to maps, satellite imagery and geographic information (The CGIAR-CSI Data Sharing Platform). This kind of effort by the scientific community to ensure that information actually comes back 'down to earth' opens a host of possibilities for more sustainable decisionmaking if scientists in other fields can repeat it. Scientists from communities researching water, pollution and future risks from global warming could create similar initiatives to ensure the information that they gather becomes integrated in decisionmaking in water-scarce areas, in clean water and air policies, and for promoting climate change adaptation in development strategies, to name a few.

Another way earth’s signs are integrated into decisionmaking is by concerned public interest groups and universities gathering, translating and communicating trends that reflect environmental sustainability to motivate improved environmental governance. The outcomes of resource and land management policies such as energy, fisheries, forests, water, urban planning and rural development can be extrapolated from existing environmental data. A key challenge however, is translating scientific information to connect to the public and policymakers. In examples from around the world, organizations locate data reflecting the condition of impacted resources, create indicators of stewardship or sustainability from these data, and translate their findings into insightful measurements, models and maps that are publicly available and understandable to broader audiences. Clarifying the connections between political and business decisions and environmental outcomes can promote environmentally sustainable decisions and reverse negative trends if decisionmakers are held accountable to these indicators. Scorecards of environmental performance (Environmental Performance Index), policy-wise ecological assessments (Hudson River Foundation), and regional indicators and indices of sustainability (Cascadia Scorecard) have the potential to become a systematic part of policymaking if leaders are held accountable for their performance on these measures of earth's vital signs. Currently, information is not available at the right scales and frequently enough for such assessments to be carried in every context, but an increase in reporting has been proven to stimulate better information gathering.

Earth monitoring information has also been used by enforcement agencies, environmental organizations, and governments to improve accountability for the environmental impacts of business practices. Satellite imagery and other sources of management practices can be used to monitor natural resources on public lands, in protected areas, human settlements, etc. One example comes from an initiative in Central Africa’s Congo Basin, an important wood products exporting region to Europe (Global Forest Watch). European procurement standards are the highest in the world, and buyers often demand legally and sustainably harvested wood from their suppliers. A system to monitor the legality and sustainability of forestry operations has emerged that utilizes satellite imagery, tracking whether harvested areas conform to legally-agreed boundaries and harvest rates. By making the findings publicly accessible, consumers use the information in procurement decisions and market pressure can promote better management by companies. Similar innovative applications of earth information can capitalize on market forces and encourage sustainable resource management if public concern is tangible.

Solution: 

Integrating earth's signs throughout decisionmaking requires that environmental information is widely available, connections between management practices and environmental outcomes are understood, environmental implications of policies are translated to the public and policymakers, and that the environmental performance of governments and companies is publicly disseminated. Replication of existing initiatives and further innovations can help to ensure that decisionmaking balances human impacts with the health of the planet.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

We need a revolution of decision making and awareness in order to tackle the complexity and urgent nature of our environmental problems. Earth's Vital Signs are indicators of ecological health or the earth's capacity to accommodate human demands. Human decisions about how to live on earth currently drive unsustainable trends. They can also help us change course.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki) exhibited at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD, USA; Photo: Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz) ; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.

Cyberpower

Pattern ID: 
829
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
25
Kate Williams
Dominican University
Abdul Alkalimat
University of Toledo
Version: 
2
Problem: 

In the age of the Internet, if someone can’t send an email or browse the web, they are much like the person in the age of print who had to sign their name with an X. Many people and communities are still catching up to the information age and what digital tools offer. One word for what they offer is Cyberpower—power in cyberspace.

The usefulness of this word can be understood in comparison to another useful word: e-commerce. E-commerce is a word that summed up what businesses, coders and consumers were doing. On the basis of that summation, many more people were guided in that direction, and e-commerce became more advanced as a result. Millions are now buying and selling online, with the goods delivered in the real world. Our experience with the word cyberpower is the much same: the word came into use based on practice; then it mobilized more people to exercise their cyberpower. As with e-commerce, when you wield cyberpower, the “goods”—power—are delivered in the real world, in a cycle from actual to virtual to actual.

Context: 

Digital inequality often impacts the same people as older inequalities such as poverty, oppression, discrimination, exclusion. But the new tools are so powerful that not using them sets individuals, groups and communities even further back. The hardware and software are still changing, and only the users are able to shape them and shape the future. And a global conversation is taking place every day online. They

Discussion: 

Even as technology changes, diffuses, and becomes cheaper, digital inequalities persist. For certain populations, access is impossible or is controlled, skills are lower, support isn’t there, or the tools and resources themselves are relatively irelevant. If the core conversations and the rich information sources are all online, yet not everyone is participating or even able to observe, how do we maintain democracy? Recent calls for a dialogue of civilizations, starting with the United Nations (1998), rather than a clash of civilizations (Huntington 1998) could be taking part online, but only if everyone can see, hear, and speak in cyberspace.

It is not yet well understood, but communities in crisis—be it from poverty, disaster, war or some other adversity—are known to turn to technology for response and recovery. Cellphones, impromptu cybercafés, the Internet, all helped in the Gulf hurricane recovery. Farmers on quarantined farms quickly mastered home Internet use during England’s foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak. The US armed forces now strategize in terms of land, sea, air, and cyberspace. Immigrants all over the world have created digital diasporas. (Miller and Slater 2000) Whatever language people use to describe it, cyberpower is the driver in all these cases.

Hiphop can be seen as a technology-based response to crisis and a cyberpower project. In a community-based seminar, we proposed to create a CD of original raps about IT. Students and community members were skeptical—one said, “We don’t know anything about computers”—but all the music making was digital, the tools were put together in bedrooms and basements, and the result was a compilation of 15 tracks. Sample these lyrics by S. Supreme:

Information technology
Skipping the Black community with no apology
Flipping the power off
On an already alarming deficit,
So please, please, PLEASE, PASS THE MESSAGE KID!
Ohh Umm Diddy Dum Dum
If he don’t turn his Ice off
And turn his head past the gas of Microsoft
He’ll really be lost like the tribe, ‘cause the time is now and that’s a bet
How you throwing up a set and you ain’t on the Net,
Yet you say you’re a G?
I said I’m not Chuck D, but welcome to the terror
If you ain’t ready to build in this information era
Survival of the fittest, our rights get diminished, cats be on their Crickets
But don’t know about Linux

In this track cyberpower is talking about cyberpower.

Another example of cyberpower is our experience with an auction of Malcolm X’s papers. The sale, planned for March 2002, was discovered online, then thousands protested online and the sale was stopped. The process began when monitoring eBay for items related to Malcolm X, we discovered that eBay’s auction house, Butterfields, was about to sell thousands of pages of Malcolm’s diaries and notes, recovered from a storage locker, for an expected price of $500,000. Using the listserv H-Afro-Am, this news was spread across multiple communities of scholars, librarians, activists, and others. The American Library Association then created a story on their online news site which is fed to more sites and individuals. The next day The New York Times did a story. On the third day The Guardian newspaper ran a story about the impending sale and the online groundswell against it. The listservs and the news articles alerted the family and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, who wre able to negotiate the postponing of the sale, then its cancellation. An agreement was negotiated with the seller whereby the materials are now in the possession of the family, housed at the Schomburg’s archives. In sum, the important historical papers (actual) were being auctioned (virtual); thousands of people were mobilized (virtual); traditional media carried the story (virtual and actual); and ultimately the materials were withdrawn from sale and placed intact in a public library archive for scholars and the public (actual).

Another example of cyberpower is told by Mele (1999). Faced with a teardown of their housing project, tenants in Wilmington, Nouth Carolina wrangled the key to a long-locked community room, internet access for the lone computer (actual), and via email and listservs (virtual) recruited architects and planners to help them obtain, digest and answer developer and city plans. They won an actual seat at the negotiating table and, more important, key changes to the teardown plan that included interim and long-term housing for residents.

All sorts of new tools for exercising cyberpower are in wide usage at this writing, for example, MySpace, blogs, wikis, and the online video festival known as YouTube. Use of any of these tools locates you in a lively community. The idea from Putnam (2000) that we’re “bowling alone,” not connecting with other people in an atomized world, is, as Lin (2001) asserted, trumped by the fact that we are not computing alone.

Solution: 

Cyberpower means two related activities related to empowerment: 1) individuals, groups and organizations using digital tools for their own goals, or 2) using digital tools as part of community organizing. The general idea is that people can use cyberpower in virtual space to get power in the actual space. Cyberorganizers help get people cyberpower just as community organizers help get communities empowered.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Digital inequality often affects the same people as traditional inequalities such as poverty, oppression, discrimination, and exclusion. With Cyberpower individuals, groups and organizations use digital tools for their own goals. Cyberpower also means using digital tools as part of community organizing and development, when Cyberorganizers help people gain Cyberpower.

Pattern status: 
Released

Anti-Racism

Pattern ID: 
783
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
23
Lori Blewett
The Evergreen State College
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Perceived physiological and cultural differences are easily exploited by political elites for the purpose of gaining and maintaining social control. Discrimination and violence are a common consequence of perceiving one group of people as less trustworthy, moral, intelligent, or civilized (and ultimately less human) than another group. Imbalances of power are seen as reflections of individual strength and cultural merit rather than systemic injustice. Efforts toward creating a desirable society continue to be hindered by unquestioned privilege, fear, and prejudice across race, caste, and ethnic divisions.

Context: 

There are few cultures in the world that have not been affected in some way by European concepts of race. In some cases, European colonizers layered race on top of long- standing caste hierarchies or religious prejudices to further subjugate, divide, and control colonized people. In the United States, alliances between blacks and poor whites, for example, were intentionally subverted by elites who bestowed minimal advantages on lower-class whites to prevent class-based uprisings. The historical legacy of long-maintained racial divides and inequalities continues to affect any organization attempting to create a more just and sustainable society, even when racism is not the primary issue that an organization or movement wants to address. As with gender divisions, race, caste, and class hierarchies often intertwine to erode the effectiveness of organizations and their communication, especially when patterns of privilege and bias go unnoticed.

Discussion: 

This pattern has two major dimensions: Anti-Racist Awareness and Anti-racist Action.

Awareness begins with seeking a deeper understanding of the multiple ways that racism and race privilege operate in the lives of individuals and organizations. Anti-racist books, movies, workshops, lectures, discussions, and observation can all be useful tools for raising awareness. Multi-cultural history books (e.g., "A Different Mirror") or social/economic analysis (e.g., "Black Wealth White Wealth") can help us see beyond the myth of the melting pot, and understand how social structures maintain racial inequity generation after generation. Films like "Banking on Life and Debt" help us understand the international forces that maintain global inequalities built upon European Colonialism, and how those inequities reinforce domestic racism. Reflective essays like "White Privilege and Male Privilege" can help us see how privileges are bestowed upon whites on a daily basis, even when they do not seek racial advantage.

By analyzing social and historical dynamics of power and privilege, we understand why few people reach adulthood without internalizing social hierarchies that shape our unconscious perceptions of one another. At the same time it is important to become more aware of the possibilities for change and resistance. We must learn about the successes of communities of color that have struggled against racism, and we must learn about inter-racial solidarity that has aided anti-racist efforts at numerous times and places in history.

Armed with a better awareness of the dynamics of racism, members of an organization can become more reflective about their own practices. Developing and maintaining an anti-racist consciousness is an on-going process for most people, but it is especially challenging for members of dominant racial groups. Because information and communication represented in the dominant culture are likely to reinforce the racial status quo, whites in the U.S., for example, must take extra care to seek the perspectives of people of color who are critical of mainstream policy, discourse, and ideology.

Action begins with recognition that we are not powerless in the face of institutionalized or interpersonal racism, and that challenging racism is both an individual and collective responsibility. Examples of anti-racist action are plentiful --from individuals interrupting racist jokes to transnational organizations uniting against contemporary colonialism.
An anti-racist orientation can help guide many facets of an organization: out-reach practices, service providing, hiring, resource allocation, group communication, etc. With an anti-racist perspective, individuals can work to create organizations that both embrace ethnic diversity and model a commitment to racial justice. Organizations whose members are primarily from privileged communities can seek guidance from leaders that represent grassroots organizations in other communities. Groups can form alliances across racial or national boundaries making shared use of differing access to information, experiential knowledge, economic resources, and political power.

Organizations can promote anti-racist solidarity by investigating the racial dimensions of any issues that they are working on. For example, anti-racist environmentalists have exposed the disproportionate effects of toxic waste on communities of color. Information technology activists interested in racial justice have designed projects to accomodate differing needs in differing ethnic communities. Within the anti-war and anti-globalization movements, activists with an anti-racist orientation have drawn attention to the role that racist discourse and ideology play in maintaining public support for international policy.

The greatest challenge to anti-racism is the discomfort, defensiveness, and animosity that it often engenders among whites (or other racially privileged groups—depending on the context). Rejection often happens when individuals from privileged groups do not see themselves as responsible, in any way, for the conditions that other racial groups experience. Talking about race privilege and unconscious racial biases can seriously threaten people’s positive sense of self. Many people are more comfortable believing that innate characteristics of racial groups cause the problems or successes that each groups experience, and some people even perceive themselves to be discriminated against when members of other racial groups demand social change to alleviate injustices. Whites who are economically disadvantaged, (or who experience discrimination related to age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or other characteristic), sometimes see anti-racism as a denial of their own hardships. In extreme cases, oppressed whites may react so negatively to anti-racist critiques that they turn toward white supremacist or neo-nationalist ideologies to shore-up their low self-esteem (see Paul Gilroy for a critique of British anti-racist education of working class youth). People of color also sometimes oppose anti-racist perspectives when they have been convinced by the dominant culture that racism is no longer a significant, institutionalized problem. For people of color, becoming more aware of racism can be particularly painful and disempowering.

In order to be successful, anti-racists must recognize the strength of dominant racial attitudes and ideology. Anti-racist education and discourse should be geared toward the forms of denial and dismissal that are most common in a particular context. Educational activities should include follow-up support to help people process new, sometimes disturbing, ways of seeing the world. Resources that put a human face on the experience of racial oppression can be particularly useful. Focusing on the shared costs of racism (and the shared benefits of ending it) may be the best way to encourage inter-racial solidarity. When both whites and people of color recognize that ending racism is in their interests, they begin to see themselves as part of the long history of resistance to racism. This sense of solidarity across time and racial boundaries adds meaning and a sense of hope to the difficult, and sometimes emotionally painful, process of recognizing and challenging race privilege and racism.

Solution: 

Only by recognizing racism (personal and institutional) and actively challenging it, can we hope to overcome the racial divisions that inhibit effective problem solving and weaken progressive movements. An anti-racist orientation to social change can help organizations successfully challenge policies and practices that mask power, exploitation, and resource grabbing behind the guise of liberal individualism and national interests.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Efforts to improve societies are hindered by privilege, fear, and prejudice across race, caste, and ethnic divisions. As with gender divisions, other hierarchies intertwine to erode the effectiveness of organizations. Anti-Racism has two dimensions: Anti-Racism through awareness and Anti-Racism through action. An anti-racist orientation to social change can help organizations challenge policies and practices that mask power, exploitation, and resource grabbing.

Pattern status: 
Released

Sustainable Design

Pattern ID: 
808
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
22
Rob Knapp
Evergreen State College
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Human welfare depends on using the Earth’'s physical resources, material cycles, and biological processes, but present human techniques, understanding, decision-making, and perceptions of need are profoundly blind to their destructive effects on these essential functions of the Earth. The reverse is also a problem: present attempts to protect the Earth are often blind to how they impact human welfare.

Context: 

This pattern addresses people whose work involves direct or indirect interactions with the environment, i.e. with Earth's regenerative systems of all kinds.

Discussion: 

It is not news that Earth's environment is under assault at all scales, from the planetary (global warming, overfishing, ozone depletion, and the like) to the local (toxic waste sites, extinction of rare species, oil spills, and so on) and everywhere in between. Nor is it news that all of these assaults are intimately entwined with the welfare of human groups or even whole populations. Whether or not evil masterminds are making the basic decisions (probably negligence is much more often to blame than malevolence), present-day industry and agriculture, together with present modes of finance and organization, do provide the framework for billions of people to engage in livelihood, child-rearing, recreation, even spirituality. This framework cannot be simply abolished without great suffering.

Fortunately, the three decades since the first Earth Day have seen the linking of a mode of thinking—design—and a set of values—sustainability—to seek new ways of building, making products, and providing utilities and services with reduced or no destructive effects on the planet. Examples of this “sustainable design” include the "living machine" concept for sewage treatment, "green roofs" of soil and plants, and passive solar techniques for managing indoor temperatures.

In a green roof, hardy plants in a layer of soil form the first surface between the weather and the building. Underneath is an impervious layer which does the rest of the waterproofing and keeps roots from growing down into the building. Like a conventional, inorganic roof, this assembly protects the building interior from the elements, but it is better in some important ways. The presence of a large planted surface softens the building’s appearance, and brings nature much closer to hand. Evaporation from plants and soil keeps the roof much cooler in summer than normal surfaces, which benefits building occupants and reduces the heat island effect for the surrounding town. The planted layer also protects the impervious surface from solar ultraviolet light and swings of temperature, so it lasts longer.

In green roofs, one has a particularly clear case of sustainable design. The direct environmental effects, on energy, urban air quality, longer life of materials and the like are positive, and intangible effects such as contact with nature go in good directions, as well. Simultaneously, human welfare, at least as understood by the occupants of buildings, is also supported. Sustainability, as a set of values, accepts human purposes and an inevitable degree of human impact on the rest of nature, even while it hopes to minimize destruction and pollution. Sustainability is a compromise between environmentalism and economic development.

Design enters the picture because sustainability has never been conceived in terms that are both concrete and applicable everywhere, and it probably cannot be. The range of environmental and human situations across the planet is too wide, and each situation has too many delicately related variables for any general formula to apply. The discussion of sustainability has identified topics of attention, such as energy, toxic emissions, local production, and resource equity, but it can only voice ideals, not definite rules. To express sustainability in a specific time and place, one needs a mode of thinking which can synthesize general values like sustainability with local constraints and opportunities. Design is just such a mode. (See the DESIGN STANCE pattern for more on this point.)

Sustainable design is much like conventional design, but sustainable values replace novelty, fashion, and mastery of nature as priorities. There are also several important new emphases. Sustainable design is much more open to community involvement than the conventional expert-centered design approach, and it assumes that older traditional practices can contribute much to present designs. Finding ways to synthesize expert knowledge and community wisdom, and bring together traditional and innovative methods are active areas of experiment and investigation.
Sustainable design needs to be integrative in brand-new ways, because such a wide range of of environmental and human values in each project needs attention. Whereas an architect could previously draw a form and instruct engineers to find a way to build it and heat it, with everyone relying on cheap energy and industrial materials to permit a solution, sustainable design usually needs to be a team effort from the start, allowing a mutual influence of energy, materials, form, and other considerations. As a simple example, solar energy in the U.S. calls for southern orientation, while good access from roads at a given location may call strongly for northern. Sustainable design does not place one of these values automatically higher than the other: the right integration for the project and its users has to be worked out each time, with relevant voices represented from the beginning.

Taking nature seriously also guides the time perspective of sustainable design. Whereas architects or engineers have often conceived their work as timeless and independent of Nature’s processes, the sustainable designer understands the work as an intervention in the natural flows of the planet. It creates impacts, but also receives them. Even heroic engineering, like the New Orleans system of levees, cannot defy Nature indefinitely. And even the most profitable (or most humanitarian) project of the present can inflict enormous costs on the planet, including its people, in the future. Sustainable design does not regard the future as superior to the present, but it regards it as the involuntary heir to what happens now, for good or ill.

Solution: 

Consider each building or product as a double intervention—in the Earth'’s cycles and processes, and simultaneously in the human culture of needs and techniques. Make use of available understanding, both innovative and traditional, both natural and social, to gauge the proper balance of human and non-human effects for each intervention. Remember that present culture builds from the work of the past, and future culture will have to build from what the present provides. The ethic of sustainable design is not only that future existence should be possible, but that it should exhibit justice and beauty for humans and for the rest of nature.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Human welfare depends on using the Earth's resources, material cycles, and biological processes, but current approaches are blind to their destructive effects on the Earth. We need to consider each building or product as an intervention in the Earth's cycles and processes, and in the human culture of needs and techniques. The ethic of Sustainable Design suggests that future existence — as well as justice and beauty for humans and for the rest of nature —should be possible.

Pattern status: 
Released

Teaching to Transgress

Pattern ID: 
763
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
20
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Obviously, good teachers try their best to teach what they believe to be correct. Yet, the world changes so that what was true is no longer true and what was once irrelevant becomes important, even vital. Further, even with respect to things that do not objectively change, new knowledge is continually created. It is natural for students to identify with good teachers and to value their knowledge highly. A possible side-effect of this basically good process, however, is that the student may become reluctant to “go against” the teaching of their mentor/hero/professor. This reluctance occurs, not just with respect to individual teachers, but also with respect to the society as a whole.

Context: 

The world is changing rapidly and critically. For example, the human population has exploded in the last few hundred years. The consumption of fossil fuels continues basically unabated despite the signs of global warming and the finite nature of these fuels. The incredibly destructive nature of modern weaponry means that fights for limited economic resources or over restrictive and doctrinaire religions can produce unprecedented levels of human misery. Yet, many individuals, groups, and societies seem just as conservative and rigid as ever.

Discussion: 

Living organisms have existed on earth for at least 10**9 years while modern human institutions like government have only been around for about 10**4 years. Living organisms all have the capacity to change with each new generation both through mutation and re-combination. We would do well to emulate what has worked.

The United States Consititution, although a best efforts work at the time it was created, also carries within it, provision for change through Amendment and many of these have been critical to the broadening of American democracy to a wider range of citizens.

The Walking People (Underwood, 1997) describes the journey of one branch of the Iroquois Tribe over several millenia. In the process, they were forced to learn to accomodate to different physical and cultural situations. They developed numerous mechanisms both for retaining learned wisdom and for challenging and changing when new situations arose.

The need for challenge and change has probably never been greater. Nonetheless, there are many mechanisms that tend to prevent change. At the individual level, change can be uncomfortable. Typically, a targeted change in one area or domain also has unintended consequences not only in that same area or domain but in others as well. If an individual changes, this may require compensatory changes in those close to the individual. Thus, there is often resistance to change at the level of family and friends as well. Furthermore, there is often institutional resistance to change. Institutions, including corporations, work to keep any and all advantages that they already enjoy. Governments and religions also often work to keep the status quo.

Given the numerous levels at which resistance to change occurs, it is necessary to have active mechanisms that work toward change. The impacts of change need to be carefully evaluated however because not all changes, even well-intentioned ones work well.

Solution: 

In order to help prevent stagnation of knowledge, one useful strategy is for the teacher, as an integral part of their teaching, to teach “transgression”; that is, to go against the “received wisdom” — to test and rebel against it. The scope of such transgression should be wide and include all of a society's rules, prejudices, and attitudes.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Students identify with good teachers and value their knowledge highly. This might mean, however, that students might be reluctant to “go against” the teaching of their mentor/hero/professor. Teaching to Transgress actively questions and tests society's “received wisdom.” Teaching to Transgress helps instill the idea that societies must change and that we all have responsibility for promoting that change.

Pattern status: 
Released

Dematerialization

Pattern ID: 
839
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
18
Burl Humana
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Our current economic system that provides for our material needs works only by producing and selling things. The more we produce and the more we purchase the more we have so called progress and prosperity. However, the production, processing, and consumption, of commodities requires the extraction and use of natural resources (wood, ore, fossil fuels, water); it requires the creation of factories and factory complexes whose operation creates toxic byproducts, while the use of commodities themselves (e.g. automobiles) creates pollutants and waste. (Allyn and Bacon, 1999) The number of consumers and their individual and collective behaviors drive materialization. (Daedalus – 1996)

Context: 

Human societies now face unintended and ironic consequences of their own mechanical, chemical, medical, social, and financial ingenuity. (Iona Zira - 2003) The production and consumption of products is destructive, in the long run, to the environment and is a contributing factor to poverty and hunger around the world. A long list of social and ecological problems can not be solved without a less consumptive society and the dematerialization of our natural resources.

Discussion: 

Dematerialization is a technological term that defines the reduction of material used per unit quality of life. You may have noticed the plastic sack at the grocery store getting thinner, but it is still strong enough to carry your groceries. Over the years, it may seem that you can squeeze the pop can you drink from more easily with your hand though you may not have gotten any stronger. These types of changes in products are the result of dematerialization, using fewer natural resources in products, using more recycled resources, and extending the life of products.

Industrial ecology is the study of the totality of the relationships between different industrial activities, their products, and the environment. It is intended to identify ways to optimize the network of all industrial processes as they interact and live off each other, in the sense of a direct use of each other's material and energy wastes and products as well as economic synergism. The macroscopic picture of materialization can help raise key research questions and set priorities among the numerous studies of materials flows and networks that might be undertaken. It puts these in a dynamic context of both technical and market change. (Daedalus – 1996)

Dematerialization of unit products affects, and is influenced by, a number of factors besides product quality. These include ease of manufacturing, production cost, size and complexity of the product, whether the product is to be repaired or replaced, and the amount of waste to be generated and processed. These factors influence one another. For example, the ease of manufacture of a particular product in smaller and lighter units may result in lower production cost and cheaper products of lower quality, which will be replaced rather than repaired on breaking down. Although a smaller amount of waste will be generated on a per-unit basis, more units will be produced and disposed of, and there may be an overall increase in waste generation at both the production and the consumption ends. (Dr. Braden Allenby- 1992) Through industrial ecololgy we can determine best outcomes using a wider, more global outlook of the affects of our activities on the environment.

In a functional economy consumers can purchase function, rather than a physical product, from a service provider. "For example, we don't want the washing machine, we want clean, dry washing; we don't want the drill, we want to have a picture hanged." (Rolf Jucker - 2000) Through dematerialization a physical product is replaced by a non-physical product or service reducing a company's production, demand and use of physical products; and the end-user's dependence on physical products. This strategy realizes cost-savings in materials, energy, transportation, consumables, and the need to manage the eventual disposal and/or recycling of a physical product. Dematerialization may involve making a product smaller and lighter, replacing a material product with an immaterial substitute. One common example of this that we currently practice is the replacement of postal mail with E-mail. Reducing the use of material or infrastructure-intensive systems allows us to make changes like telecommuting versus the use of the automobile for work purposes.

The ease and speed of travel is a large contributing factor to the materialization of our world. As a society we have spread out and continue to create a built environment all over the map because it is so quick and easy to get from here to there. As we create wider, better roads, more cars fill the roadways. The use of plastics in society is the by product of using too much oil to fuel our automobiles. As a result the disposal of plastic waste is an increasing problem. Not to mention the effect on the environment due to the incredible amount of industrialized metals, plastics, electronic materials, rubber, and glass it takes to manufacture each car. A recent television ad with a woman talking about the need to protect the environment ended with this endearment, “but, I love my car!” Attempts to dematerialize the automobile by using high strength steel and plastics to decrease mass but increase structural integrity are negatively offset by this kind of sentiment by consumers.

A starting point for a sensible theory or practice of consumption has to be the insight that every time you buy and/or consume something--be it a tiny battery to keep your watch going or be it a TV, a car or a hamburger, you are making an impact on the social, economic, and ecological environment. In the words of Anwar Fazal, former president of the International Organization of Consumer Unions (IOCU): "The act of buying is a vote for an economic and social model, for a particular way of producing goods. We are concerned with the quality of goods and the satisfactions we derive from them. But we cannot ignore the environmental impact, and working conditions under which products are made." Our relationship with these products or goods does not end with our enjoyment of possessing or consuming them. We are linked to them and perpetuate them and therefore share some direct responsibility for them." (Rolf Jucker - 2000)

Life-styles also shape demand. Today, only a small fraction of consumption in wealthy nations (or communities) is actually for basic survival; most is for pleasure and to express one's standing in society. (Daedalus - 1996) In a standup monologue, comedian George Carlin used humor to increase our awareness of society's obsessive behavior for material objects, “That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a ….place for your stuff, ya know? A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it…I can see it on your table, everybody's got a ...place for their stuff. ….This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there...And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff…That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore…" Sometimes the beginning to an answer for a serious problem like too much materialism and consumerism is to create personal awareness.

Of the three factors environmentalists often point to as responsible for environmental problems — population, technology, and consumption — consumption seems to get the least attention. One reason ... is that it may be the most difficult to change; our consumption patterns are so much a part of our lives that to change them would require a massive cultural overhaul, not to mention severe economic dislocation. A drop in demand for products, as economists note, brings on economic recession or even depression, along with massive unemployment. This is so ingrained into the cultures of the wealthy nations, that the thought of massive adjustment of lifestyles and economic systems to a more sustainable consumption seems too much to consider. (Annup Shaw - 2005) Taking a moderate approach with gradual or incremental changes in lifestyle could increase the probability of an actual decrease in consumption.

Substantial progress has been made over the past century in decoupling economic growth and well-being from increasing primary energy use through increased efficiency. With this success some economists may come to think that dematerialization is a term for scientific processes and economic strategies alone and has nothing to do with materialism as a philosophy. On the other hand there is increased realization that “decoupling materials and affluence will be difficult—much harder than decoupling carbon and prosperity." (Daedalus - 1996) The term dematerialization applies to the individual act of buying less, consuming less and finding more meaning in our lives than the acquisition of material goods. Downsizing our homes, our automobiles, our technological toys and entertainment systems, our cloths closets, and the consumptive habits we teach our children can help people simplify their lives and find other interests that create more meaning, value, and happiness. Understanding the historical roots of materialism that have resulted in our modern affluence could also be key to decreasing our personal use and obsession with material goods in the built world.

Solution: 

Consumption has become a function of our culture that needs to be intentionally curbed. The growing role of knowledge, information, and culture should also make it possible to displace materials and energy with human intelligence and ingenuity. This would allow us to satisfy more basic human needs with far fewer resources. It would ostensibly also allow us to fit human economic activities within natural processes without disrupting them. Dematerialization is the future of an ecologically and economically balanced world. (Allyn and Bacon, 1999)

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The production and consumption of products is destructive to the environment and contributes to poverty and hunger. Dematerialization means using fewer natural resources, using more recycled resources, and extending the life of products. The growing role of knowledge, information, and culture should make it possible to displace materials and energy more intelligently and ingeniously, thus allowing us to satisfy basic human needs with fewer resources.

Pattern status: 
Released

Education and Values

Pattern ID: 
755
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
17
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
IBM T. J. Watson Research Center
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Education necessarily promotes and replicates values and does so in many ways. Often, teachers and administrators use the asymmetrical power relationships inherent in most educational settings to deliberately promulgate their own set of values. Even when not done deliberately, values are communicated. Yet, neither the conscious nor the implicit promulgation of values is typically designed with thought to the appropriateness of these values for the future. This does not imply that newer values are always “better” than older values; but clearly at least some values of the past must to be re-thought in the light of huge global populations, diminishing natural resources, and the danger and ultimate futility of armed conflict.

Context: 

To avoid simply having students parrot platitudes without deep understanding, an approach to values education has been proposed that uses moral dilemmas for discussion and encourages participation in communities where conflicts and resolutions will be a natural outgrowth (Nucci & Weber, 1991). While the issue of values in education has always been important, our contemporary context raises its priority.

The world is changing at a rapid pace and many of today's implicit "values" are counter-productive to a viable future (e.g., judging an individual's worth by the size and power of their automobile; believing that a child must live constantly in an environment kept at 70-72 degrees Fahrenheit; that authority is always right and must be obeyed; that the way to success is to follow the crowd). Indeed, many values promulgated by society are contradictory. For instance, American society encourages over-indulgence in high fat, high-sugar foods and simultaneously insists that only people with perfect bodies are worthwhile. While children may be taught during an hour-long health class that too much fat and sugar are bad for the body, this hardly constitutes a sufficient antidote to thousands of expertly designed advertisements that say just the opposite. The capacity of adults to wreak great havoc on others is at an all-time high. Ethical decisions have always been crucial, but the consequences of unethical behavior have taken on even greater signficance.

Discussion: 

Children normally develop morally as well as cognitively as they mature (Piaget, 1964; Kohlberg, 1989). Ideally this comes about through acting in the social world, observing consequences, and interacting with peers. Turiel (1983) pointed out that children develop judgments in two separate but inter-related domains, the conventional and the ethical. The appropriateness of clothing is a question of convention that varies from society to society and from setting to setting. The appropriateness of killing is an ethical issue in every society. However, disregarding a recognized convention (e.g., appearing nude in inappropriate circumstances), can cause sufficient disruption and discomfort to raise genuine ethical issues.

Education is often thought of as a process that helps individuals gain knowledge (vocabulary, rules of syntax, geographic locations, events of historic significance) and skills (parsing sentences, doing research, organizing results, writing, typing). While this is true, education also necessarily promotes values. Values are involved in curriculum choices, the materials chosen within that curriculum, how the material is presented, and the range of “correct” answers. For example, primarily focusing history studies on the history of one’s own country promotes the value of chauvinism. Moreover, placing emphasis within that history on presidents, generals, wars, and victories (with little to say about changes that arise from and affect people in general) promotes the values of authoritarianism and militarism. Material focuses on white Christian males promotes racism and sexism. Presenting subject material using a lecture style with little chance for debate, discussion, or dialogue, further reinforces the value of authoritarianism. Evaluating student progress based primarily on the ability to recite specific known facts, also promotes the value of authoritarianism.

A study published in the American Psychologist a few decades ago showed that the best predictor of college grades in introductory psychology classes was not high school GPA or SAT scores but the degree of agreement in values between instructor and student. An interesting case study of the degree to which values are inherent even in so-called “objective” matters comes from the Ph.D. dissertation of Evans, a student of Minsky at MIT. Evans built an AI program to solve multiple choice “figure analogy” problems. A:B::C:D1, D2, D3, D4, or D5. The program found relationships mapping between A and B and then tried to apply those same relationships mapping C to each of the possible D answers. His program worked. In fact, his program worked too well--all answers were correct. In order to make the program pick the same answers as the test developers, he had to inculcate his program with the same value priorities as the test developers. For instance, according to test makers, it was (implicitly) more “elegant” to rotate a figure within the 2-D plane than to rotate out in 3-D space.

The inculcation of values is pervasive and subtle. Much of the value indoctrination that occurs in schools is unconscious. Even when conscious attention is given to values, there seems to be little appreciation of the extent to which children are subjected to much more powerful indoctrination via paid advertisements in print, TV, radio, games, and movies.

Solution: 

Educational institutions, individual teachers, parents, concerned citizens and children themselves must work to uncover and understand the values that are being taught as well as to design the entire educational experience to foster those values that will help make for a sustainable and healthy future. For a “whole school” approach to values, see http://www.valueseducation.edu.au/values/

In addition, a constructivist approach to education, while arguably important for deep understanding in topics as various as science and mathematics to poetry interpretation, such an approach is particularly vital to values education, and especially when values of the past may have to be re-thought for their appropriateness to the future. Examples: http://www.education.monash.edu.au/profiles/ghildebr & http://www.rcdg.isr.umich.edu/faculty/eccles.htm.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Even when not pursued deliberately, education promotes and replicates values. Yet, the propagation of values is typically not designed with the appropriateness of these values for the future in mind. Educational institutions, teachers, parents, concerned citizens and students themselves must work to uncover and understand the values that are being taught and to design the entire educational experience to foster values that help build a sustainable and healthy future.

Pattern status: 
Released

Working Class Consciousness

Pattern ID: 
751
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
12
Steve Zeltzer
Labor Video Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The need for a global consciousness, solidarity and collaboration among working people in every country of the world is a critical task for confronting the economic, political and social challenges the working class faces. The deepening contradictions of imperialism with it's war in Iraq and the need to militarize Asia and the rest of the world are opportunities for bringing working people together.

Context: 

The man made failure of the most recent catastrophe in the US Gulf Coast is an example of the need of working people to take control of their lives and society.

Discussion: 

One important tool in this process of international working class globalization is not only by joint collective action by workers throughout the world but through the use of film, art and media technology to bring working people together.

The training of workers in every industry and every country for this work is the task ahead and the success of this project requires that this be an international campaign based on the grassroots of struggle in collaboration both with regional, national and international labor. The Labortech and Labor Media conferences www.labortech2004.org in many countries of the world have been important in training and building these international links. They have taken place in Vancouver, BC, Moscow, Russia, Seoul, Korea and many cities in the United States.

In the US and Europe and growing parts of Asia, these resources are readily available but at the same time workers in every country of the world must have the means and ability to concretely link up internationally. The developments of LaborNets in Japan, Korea, Austria, Germany, Turkey, Denmark and the US have been a growing vehicle for developing labor festivals and labor technology conferences.

LaborFests or Labor Media Conferences have been held in Japan, Korea, the US, Russia. This past November, a LaborFest was held in Buenos Aries and one is planned this coming October in El Alto, Bolivia and in April-May 2006 in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey.

These festivals which could be held in every city of the world provide a venue and concrete means for linking through film, music and culture the collective experiences and consciousness of workers throughout the world. The rebellions of workers in Latin America, the fight against capitalist globalization have been a theme that expose the commonality of all the attacks the working class faces.

The important need to use media both tv and radio to link workers around the world is also growing. The same economic policies such as deregulation, caualization, privatization and de-unionization are at work in every country of the world.

The failure of the workers in the United States to begin to challenge the basic assaults that they face is of course the responsibility of the corporate unionists who control the resources and apparatus of the trade unions. The failure to provide a concrete alternative program and agenda is a major impediment to any form of national and international fightback. The need for an international collaboration is also connected to develop the means for the international working class to take control of their destiny. Airline workers world wide, longshore workers, medical workers, teachers, public workers, telecommunication workers are faced with the exact same type of attacks yet they have been hobbled by a lack of international collaboration and collective joint action.

The experience of the Liverpool Dockers strike in 1995 that led to the formation of an international labor action in solidarity as well as a web based international solidarity campaign was crucial in building international support.
http://www.labournet.net/sept97/sfpress1.html

This was carried on in 1997 when the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions KCTU and their supporters established an international web page in support of their general strike. The web page in Korean and English became a critical tool in building direct support action for workers around the world as well as an information portal on the struggle and a way for unions and workers worldwide to show their solidarity on the web.

The Korean union federation KCTU has been the most active national union federation in the world to seek collective cultural action and direct labor action to defend it's interests. It has recently called for a national strike against casualization and temporary work on November 23, 2005 and international action by workers throughout the world would be an important step in building this collective action about an issue that effects and harms working people worldwide.

The KCTU also hosts and organizes a yearly festival in November 12 in commemoration of the death of labor organizer Chun Taeil to not only have a mass mobilization but a national 8 hour cultural media art celebration. This even which is held at the Korean Broadcasting Company Stadium brings together the experiences of the working class through a cultural and theatrical production that is choreographed to the minute over 8 hours. Such a festival could and should be held in every country that ties together the song, poetry, music and art of struggle. The power of this collective expression is an important element in breaking down the corporatized isolation, marginalization of workers and humanity as well as the commodification of music, art and cultural expressions for profit of the multi-nationals.

The growing privatization of the internet and the threat to censorship and control of the internet has been growing. In the Liverpool dockers strike, the shipping corporations tried to stop information from being posted. In Korea, the government sought to pressurize www.nodong.net, the Geman government this year raided the internet servers of the German labornet www.labournet.de. Most recently the Canadian Telus Corporation prevented million of users from accessing the labor web pages of the Canadian Telecom Union TWU. (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/01/business/worldbusiness/01telus.html?pa...)

This censorship does not only come from corporate and anti-union media and technology corporations.
In the UK, the Executive Council of the FBU banned members from using the public website of an opposition grouping opposing labor management collaboration and "partnerships". (http://www.labournet.net/sept97/sfpress1.html)

The international collective voices of working people have the power to overcome the different languages, cultures and borders that presently exist. In fact, this is crucial for a new renaissance of collective self consciousness that is vital for the transformation of the present dynamics. The future reorganization of the world economy into one controlled by the working class requires the use of these tools now to build this collective and democratic power.

The use of the internet as not only a communication tool but broadcasting tool is relatively at an early stage. A 24 hour labor video and radio channel in all the languages of the world is realizable with the expansion of the internet and this is now happening with a 24 hour labor radio channel in Korea at www.nodong.org International collaboration in action and on a cultural level must be linked with the use of communication technology and a labor media strategy that focuses on how these technologies can empower the working class and farmers as well as how they can confront the global propaganda blitz by capitalist media against the interests of the people.

Solution: 

The international collective voices of working people have the power to overcome the different languages, cultures and borders that presently exist. In fact, this is crucial for a new renaissance of collective self consciousness that is vital for the transformation of the present dynamics. The future reorganization of the world economy into one controlled by the working class requires the use of these tools now to build this collective and democratic power. The need to defend democratic communication rights and protections is fundamental to defend media and democratic communication and education and direct action are necessary to accomplish this work.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Global consciousness, solidarity, and collaboration among working people around the world are critical for addressing the challenges that the working class faces. One important tool in addition to collective action is the use of film, art, and media technology. The training of workers for this work requires an international campaign in collaboration with labor at all levels. The need to defend communication rights and protections is fundamental, as is education and direct action.

Pattern status: 
Released

Memory and Responsibility

Pattern ID: 
405
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
11
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Although the evils of the past continue to haunt us in the present, society is often unable — or unwilling — to deal with historical injustice. Thus, although specific incidents of invasion, slavery, apartheid and genocide may appear to be receding into the irretrievable past, they are never altogether absent from humankind's collective memories. As Robert Putnam states, "Networks of civic engagement embody past success at collaboration which can serve as a cultural template for future collaboration" (2000). Unfortunately these cultural "templates" encode past collaborative evils of the past, as well, and these are recycled all too regularly. Can humankind escape this cycle?

Context: 

Societies are the sum total of their past events. The events of the past that have not been successfully reconciled haunt the present. Projects that endeavor to help address social problems may be well served by examining historical memory and reconsidering how to respond appropriately.

Discussion: 

Our memory of the past must guide the responsibility we accept in the present for the future. Without this linkage over time I could steal your belongings with no guilt or responsibility. Of course this has happened on a large scale throughout history. One group will murder, displace or enslave another and enjoy the fruits of their sins for lifetimes. Each passing day tends to legitimize — but never really erase — the misdeeds of history.

Unfortunately, misremembering history, is institutionalized. It's important to understand the motivation and the implications of intentional (let alone unintentional!) misrepresentation of history. Thus in the United States, the enslavement of Africans and the devastation of Native American communities as well as the militaristic forays of recent years including saturation bombing of civilian Japanese populations in World War II to the catastrophic Viet Nam War to the recent illegal invasion of Iraq are generally downplayed and sugar-coated. According to these re-writers of history, Americans always proceed with the best of intentions, perhaps marked by an occasional yet guileless misstep. With ubiquitous misinformation how can the next generation fully understand their country — with its successes as well as its failures — and make wise decisions in the future? Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States serves as an important (though still vastly underutilized) counter-balance to these trends and could also serve as an excellent model for other countries and regions as well as for various economic, political, and religious ideologies.

What can/should people to be done to reconcile past sins and heal historical trauma? Although this question has rarely been addressed peacefully, thoughtfully and effectively throughout humankind's vast history, the large number of projects now in progress shows one hopeful sign of our era. According to Richard Falk, the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany, and directed against Jews primarily as well as against the Roma, Gays, and other groups, marked a central historical marker in this regard. Since that time, movements for redress of war crimes of Japan against China, redress for indigenous people throughout the world, and tribunals and commissions focusing on war crimes and other transgressions have been launched.

People are engaging in innovative projects that help people confront and understand and, hopefully, reconcile the present and future. Some of these examples include the courageous work of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who publicly confront the abuse of power with photographs of "the disappeared" from Argentina's "dirty war" to seek justice and reconciliation with the past. Other examples to explore include the Seder ritual celebrated by Jews around the world, the post-war efforts in Germany to come to terms with their past, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission work in post-apartheid South Africa (and subsequently in many other regions), and the reparations efforts to help compensate African-Americans for the enslavement of their ancestors.

In 2000, the North Carolina General Assembly commissioned a report on an event that had been covered up for over 100 years — a violent revolt and coup in 1898 that was directed against blacks by white vigilantes in Wilmington, North Carolina. Unwilling to wait until the results of the (fixed) election took effect according to law, white supremacists seized city government, burned black-owned businesses and murdered 100 or more blacks in the streets and in their houses. According to John DeSantis, the draft report released in 2005 concluded that "the rioting and coup fully ended black participation in local government until the civil rights era, and was a catalyst for the development of Jim Crow laws in North Carolina" (2006). The report stated that, "Because Wilmington rioters were able to murder blacks in daylight and overthrow Republican government without penalty or federal intervention, everyone in the state, regardless of race, knew that the white supremacy campaign was victorious on all fronts" (DeSantis, 2006).

Not only did this event disenfranchise several generations of black families in the Wilmington area but it actually ushered in a wave of similar actions and intimidation all over the South and became a model for actions in other cities including Atlanta, Georgia in 2006. Interestingly, whites and blacks were both wary of bringing this ugly historical incident back to public visibility and awareness. But what to do with the knowledge that a large number of people were brutalized and murdered (which led to a decades-long denial of basic civil rights) by a large number of people whose great grandchildren are undoubtedly still living in the region. The fact that this historical information has been sequestered for so long, especially in a region of the country that is well-known for its interest in history shows the prevalence of selective historical memory — which in itself represents many challenges for an exercise such as this.

The function of collective memory should promote healing, to set up patterns of behavior that constructively parses history to avoid future problems and to teach each other through mistakes. The intent is not to blame or punish the descendants of people who perpetuated misdeeds both great and small — after all, who if anybody would be immune to that historical ensnarement — but to encourage people to reason together and strive for reconciliation. Ideally the descendants, especially those who have prospered since that time, would play a role in the design of mechanisms and policies to atone for and help reconcile and help redress the sins of the past especially for those who have suffered the most.

In another region and in another era, Veran Matic (2004) eloquently described the rationale why the B92 radio station he works for in Serbia, in the former Yugoslavia, keeps working the way they do.

"If we do not grasp our recent past, we will build our present and our future on false assumptions, beliefs and stereotypes

If we do not face the errors of our past we will again seek excuses for our present in the same place Milosevic sought them — the guilt of others, global conspiracy and so on, rather than in the weaknesses of the society. These weaknesses must be faced in order to understand reality

If we do not fully comprehend our reality, reform programs will be based on false premises

The problems of the repressed past will boomerang, like the permanent problem of lack of cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, or the problem of mafia and police links, or problems with the business elite who amassed their wealth through privileges granted by Milosevic.

Without a radical break with the past there will be no change in the cultural model under Milosevic, which has overwhelmed the entire society, from culture, through education, to the media.

Unless we face the past, we will never know what is good for us and what is bad for us

By not facing the past, we neglect our duty to the future, leaving new generations to pay our debts, just as our generations have paid for the repression of the past of World War II in our country. This gave rise to new vengeance forty years later

And, finally, without engagement we will be unable to demonstrate authentic belief and strong will to institute changes that should benefit every single individual."

"Forgetting" the past is not desirable, nor in reality is it really possible. Although Matic is speaking specifically about recent injustice in the former Yugoslavia, his message is universal. Through hard work by all concerned, healing historical wounds can be accomplished. Although it may seem impossible, those who have inherited the results of yesterday's actions must relive insofar as it can be done, the past sacrificing as necessary to set a more just course for the future.

The best outcome of this pattern, a valuable gift to our descendants, would be the attenuation or, better, the cessation of current practices of brutality, exploitation, impoverishment and oppression.

Solution: 

Think about and confront memory in creative, productive and sensitive ways. Cultivate and assume responsibility. Actively work to reconcile the trauma of the past to guide a better tomorrow.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although the evils of the past continue to haunt us in the present, society is often unable or unwilling to deal with historical injustice. The function of Memory and Responsibility is to promote healing, to study history to avoid future problems. The intent is not to blame or punish but to encourage people to reason together and strive for reconciliation.

Pattern status: 
Released
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