RBPEA: Where’s the plan?

This one came through from a colleague on the Twitterstream a couple days back, presumably somewhat channeling John Lennon:

  • Imagine no possessions, we’d all love to see the plan

And yeah, it’s a concern (complaint?) I get a lot about where I’ve gotten to so far in RBPEA (Really-Big-Picture Enterprise-Architecture): all this talk about ‘no possessions’ and suchlike, but where’s the plan?

Short answer: it’s way too early yet for anything resembling a ‘plan’.

I’ll admit it gets a bit frustrating for me at times: people assume that because I’m talking about major social change, I must therefore have some kind of ‘perfect plan’ already to go. I don’t – and, to be blunt, I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to claim that I have (although, sadly, many seem to claim that they do…).

I see my role as that of an enterprise-architect. Nothing more than that. My job is that of decision-advisor, not decision-maker. I don’t have any ‘right’ (there’s that word again) to define plans: that’s the responsibility of all of the stakeholders in an architecture, working together – which, in this case, is pretty much everyone, everywhere across the globe, which isn’t happening much as yet. What I do have the authority to work an, as an enterprise-architect, is identifying concerns and constraints that would and must apply to any viable plan at this Really-Big-Picture scale. Hence that’s all I’ve done so far.

It’s a bit like the relationship between business-plan and business-model: it’s premature to define a plan when there’s not enough clarity around the business-model. That’s exactly how many businesses fail: they leap off to execute a plan before they understand their own business-model. Or, in many cases, even have a business-model on which to base a viable plan.

In the same way, it’s premature to define a business-model when there’s not enough clarity on the factors that feed into the business-model, or the capabilities to support a business-model. That’s why so many start-ups are forced to do a pivot on their business-model: Reality Department has a way of making it clear what factors they’ve missed in their previous assessments for their business-model.

Architecture alone is not the answer (and, even less, ‘The Answer’). Whatever the scale, Big Design Up Front rarely works well: it tends to give us the worst of both worlds, a Grand Plan that may look great in theory, but in practice is riddled with untested or unacknowledged assumptions. At the RBPEA scale, history is way too littered with such Grand Plans that turned out to be Great Disasters. Not A Good Idea…

The alternative to Big Design Up Front is experimentation to identify real-world concerns and constraints that might have been missed – hence the value of and necessity for pivots on business-models. The catch here, at the RBPEA scale, is that it’s kinda difficult to do a pivot across an entire globe. And we also don’t have much time to set up a literally fundamental change to our business-model (aka ‘politics and economics’) at a literally global scale: current estimates would suggest that it needs to be fully complete, world-wide, within not much more than a century, if what we know as ‘human civilisation’ has much of a chance of survival at all.

(If a century sounds like a ‘No Worries’ kind of timescale, bear in mind that current possessionist economics developed slowly from a handful of localised mistakes to the current dominant ‘globalisation’-economics over a period of around 10,000 years: in other words, one hundred times slower than the timescale we’re looking at here. At global scales, this is about as Agile as it’s possible to get… with literally life-or-death stakes in play if we don’t get it done in time.)

In short, we whilst there will no doubt be many, many local variations, we simply don’t have time or budget (in any sense of the term) for much in the way of pivots: we need to get the core constraints and concerns pretty much right first time. And it is possible to do that with a lot of careful (and fast!) thought-experiments, cross-disciplinary studies and cross-checks about what we know of the respective context – which, in this case, is human development and human interaction. Hence using architectural assessment to identify concerns and constraints is not ‘Big Design Up Front’: it’s merely a necessary precursor to identifying categories or classes of human interaction that are know to be viable and sustainable over indefinite timescales at any scale, and thence for viable and sustainable ‘business-models’ at large scale. Other than for a localised experiment, specifically to test some hypothesis about a concern or constraint, ‘Show Me The Plan’ is a long way down the track from there…

What’s come up from all of the RBPEA work so far is that there is no way to make a possession-based economics sustainable. It can’t be done: to simulate sustainability, its structure mandates a ‘pyramid-game’ of infinite-growth – which, on a finite planet, is by definition neither sustainable nor, eventually, viable. To put it bluntly, if we try to keep much longer on what we have as our current global ‘economics’, we’re dead.

Right now, there are lots and lots and lots of people tweaking away at the detail-layers of current economics and politics, hoping that that alone will be enough. Blunt fact is that it won’t, because it’s not the details of the economics that need to change: the problem is that its deepest foundations don’t work. Or, in visual form:

So let’s go over it once again:

  • the actual core of viable human interactions and interrelationships is mutual interlocking responsibilities
  • key aspects and constraints, especially at a global scale, indicate that many of those mutual responsibilities will involve unknown strangers over indefinite periods of time, with many inherent non-linearities and non-point-to-point connections – in other words, inherently complex and ‘chaotic’
  • in terms of child-development, the awareness needed to understand these complexities does not typically begin to arise until at least three years old
  • prior to that stage, in what’s often called ‘the terrible twos’, the child adopts a possessionist approach to economics: everything is ‘mine!’, interactions are always linear, direct, point-to-point, and self-centric, without regard to others either in the present or elsewhen
  • possessionism is highly addictive, since it delivers greater short-term, localised self-centred rewards (‘What’s In It For Me?’) – but only at the expense of the longer-term, the broader-scope, and all others than the Self
  • possessionism, as an economics, can be made to seem viable as long as there is an elsewhen, an elsewhere and/or an Other from whom to steal – hence, for example present-centred ‘resource-extraction’ (aka ‘stealing from the future’), colonialisation, and slavery
  • in any context with finite limits – such as a finite planet with finite resources – possessionism is inherently unsustainable: once it runs out of elsewhen, elsewhere and/or Other to steal from, it will and must inevitably implode towards self-oblivion in a spiralling, ever-accelerating self-cannibalisation
  • possessionism is the fundamental base for almost all current politics and economics, especially at larger scales
  • to appear ‘fair’ (to some groups of parties, at least), possessionism requires rules to identify who has initial ‘rights’ to possess and exploit specific exchangeable resources (aka ‘rights of possession’)
  • barter is built on top of ‘possession-rights’, to manage exchange of possessed resources and use of possessed service-capabilities
  • currency is built on top of barter, to manage the point-to-point limitations of barter via an abstract means of exchange
  • debt-based finance is built on top of currency, to provide a means for managing the financial aspects of opportunity
  • financial-derivatives are built on top of debt-based finance, to provide a means for deriving possessionist advantage from manipulating the abstractions of currency etc alone

The common factor here is that all of those concerns that people most usually focus on – financial-derivatives, debt-based finance, currency, barter and ‘rights of possession’ – are built on top of possessionism.

Which is a two-year-old’s view of the world.

Which is is non-sustainable and non-viable in the real world.

Which is why – we hope – we can help two-year-olds to grow out of it.

But which, unfortunately, is exactly what doesn’t happen in a possessionist-economics: instead, we actively reward people for behaving like two-year-olds, and actively penalise people for behaving like adults. And then wonder why things don’t seem to work so well, especially at a global scale…

So if we ask ‘Where’s the plan’ in terms of RBPEA and the like, there are a few things we need to understand, that Reality Department makes clear are inherent, inevitable and non-negotiable:

  • if your plan consists of tweaking some aspect of financial-derivatives – for example, a ‘Tobin tax‘ – it may perhaps be useful in the shorter-term, but it is inherently incapable of making any significant difference to the real problems we face
  • if your plan consists of tweaking some aspect of debt-based finance – for example, a ‘People’s Bank’ – it may be useful in the shorter-term, but it is inherently incapable of making any significant difference
  • if your plan consists of tweaking some aspect of currency – for example, a ‘community-currency’ – it may be useful locally in the short-term, but it is inherently incapable of making any significant difference
  • if your plan consists of tweaking some aspect of possession-based exchange – for example, a call to ‘go back to barter!’ – it may be useful locally and/or in the short-term, but it is inherently incapable of making any significant difference
  • if your plan consists of tweaking ‘possession-rights’ – for example, switching back and forth between state-capitalism and state-communism – it just possibly may be useful in some ways, but it is inherently incapable of making any difference
  • a plan for RBPEA can only create significant difference, relative to the problems we face, if it directly addresses the fundamental dysfunctions of possessionism

Or, to put it the other way round, at RBPEA scale any plan that fails to address and resolve the dysfunctions of possessionism is merely futzing-around with deckchairs on the Titanic:

Tackling possessionism, and reframing global economics and politics around non-possessionist mutual interlocking responsibilities, is going to be non-trivial. (Understatement of the year?)

But we don’t have any choice, because anything that includes possessionist assumptions – such as financial-derivatives, debt-based finance, currency, barter or ‘property-rights’ in the sense that they’re usually understand at present – will inevitably lead us back to posessionism, which is inherently non-sustainable, and hence inevitably non-viable over the longer-term.

And we don’t have much time to address this.

Especially as it must be total, at a literally global scale, with no exceptions at all – otherwise, once again, possessionism is infective and addictive, hence allowing it in any form inevitably leads us back to possessionist-economics, which is inherently unsustainable and inherently non-viable.

Hence if your plan is to be viable and sustainable, it cannot include any possessionist assumptions. Period.

To make a plan viable, it must drop the possessionist assumptions. Period.

Which, given that possessionist assumptions pervade pretty much everything we know, is likely to be kinda hard…

The alternative is to go one step deeper, below possessionism, to the root-level interlocking mutual responsibilities. For a viable, sustainable RBPEA, we literally have no choice but to reframe every possessionist assumption in terms of the mutual interlocking responsibilities that actually make that interaction work, across an entire globe, and across all time. And make it all work, easily, smoothly, pretty much without any kind of pivot, because we don’t have much time left for anything else.

Kinda non-trivial, then.

And you tell me you’re expecting just one person – me, on my own – to come up, right here right now, with a ready-made ready-to-go-for-everywhere plan for all of this?


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5 comments on “RBPEA: Where’s the plan?
  1. Actually Tom, if you were presenting or even calling for a plan, I’d be in fundamental disagreement with you, so that’s one potential problem out of the way.

    That of course does not mean there aren’t examples in history we can refer to to get some idea how things might work – as long as we accept that these failed (often were crushed), not because they were inherently incorrect (some were perhaps) but because they did not have the “power” to succeed in the prevailing circumstances.

    But we still need to try things out – correction, to allow things to be tried out – because that’s how the current hegemony of “the possible” can be chipped away.

    Equally, a plan, any plan, that comes from one person who thinks s/he possesses the answer (with or without capitals) is for me sufficiently scary as to require resistance. That means that anyone, who wholly or partly shares these thoughts, needs to seek out the maximum number of others who are prepared to openly share ideas and experiences and try things out together.

    Actually I don’t see this blog as the ideal place to do that but it’s where I am right now, so in the spirit of my own convictions I’ll post this comment here.

    Back to you.

  2. Doug McDavid says:

    Apologies, Tom, if you feel that I’m one of those who’re demanding a “plan”. Not really, but I am very interested in any thoughts you have in terms of a *vision* of the post-possessionism era (if I can invent that term).

    Earlier you mentioned Quakers, and I did a bit of study. So far I haven’t found any sources that don’t allude to “rich Quakers” or “wealthy Quakers”. So, for all their admirable qualities, it doesn’t seem to me that the Quakers can be held up as true examples of post-possessionism, or non-possessionism, or anti-possessionism.

    You also mention the Diggers, as described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diggers . This seems like a retreat to agrarianism, in the original form. Is that what you have in mind? I do know a bit first-hand about the “San Francisco Diggers” mentioned in that article, having lived for a year (1967-8) in a “commune” in Soquel California, which you may know as a tiny town on the outskirts of Santa Cruz. For awhile, at least, we had a member who shopped at the Digger store for ingredients, and we ate a lot of “Digger bread”, which was a pretty tasty whole-grain concoction baked in empty coffee cans.

    So I have some of these images in my mind, that need to be somehow brought into the latter 21st and early 22nd centuries, according to your timeline.

    Do you have a vision of how or whether you and I and others could continue to have this kind of inter-continental communication in a post-possessionist era, when, presumably, no person “owns” a computer, nor a home, nor access to a network access point?

    Again, I’m not asking for a *plan*, and believe me I am deeply immune to any cult approach of following some “leader” into utopia (having had personal associates who experienced Jonestown and Rev. Moon). Nor do I intend to badger you about this. Maybe you can just send up a flare or semaphore signal when you have some time to think about how to craft a vision of how things might realistically look in a post-possessionism universe. A vision that has a strong, attractive appeal? What does it look like? Even through the keyhole?

    By the way, just as another data point on where I’m coming from, vis a vis Nixon as Quaker, my personal connection there is that he granted my status as a conscientious objector after I was rejected by my local board, by the state appeals board, and after I wrote him a personal letter saying that I would neither go to Viet Nam in uniform, nor flee to Canada, so his choice was to grant my C.O. request, or arrange to have me put in jail. He granted the request. That’s why I said earlier that he’s my “favorite” president 🙂

    • Tom G says:

      Hi Doug – apologies for the delay, but have now put up another post that I hope answers your question about “could [we] continue to have this kind of inter-continental communication in a post-possessionist era”: see post ‘RBPEA: Attachment, non-attachment, non-detachment‘.

      Re ‘wealthy Quakers’, my own experience from the local Quaker community is that I don’t know any – no different from any other mix of middle-class professionals and suchlike, which they do tend to be. One of the side-effects of doing things right, though, is that in a money-based economy, those of an entrepreneurial bent will tend to ‘make money’ more than those who don’t do things right: it’s more a side-effect than a deliberate intent. Even for ‘wealthy Quakers’ – in this country at least – there was a strong commitment to doing what they could to mitigate the ills of their respective age: the Cadburys building decent housing for their workers at Bournville, for example, or Elizabeth Fry – a leading figure in another Quaker firm of chocolate-makers, back in the early 19thC – actively committed to prison-reform.

      I wouldn’t describe (dismiss?) the Diggers as a “retreat to agrarianism” – not in a culture that was almost entirely agrarian anyway. It was much more about access to land, to a ‘right’ (there’s that word again) to a decent living, whoever you were. The Diggers are probably the core foundation for English practical-anarchism, and even though there were crushed pretty quickly by the rich landowners of the time, their ideas have been hugely influential elsewhere and elsewhen – Karl Marx, for example, two centuries later, or, as you mentioned, the ‘San Francisco Diggers’ of another century later again.

      On Nixon, yeah, I’d forgotten you’d told me that story, and yes, it’s a genuine example of a Quaker-type response. It’s perhaps the only aspect of Quakerism he ever followed: over here, he’s still regarded as almost the antithesis of everything that Quakers ever stood for. Yet he did help you (and presumably others too?), in that real, practical, personal way – and yeah, that’s important, and needs to be acknowledged as such.

  3. Doug McDavid says:

    Hi Tom — Thanks for closing the loop. I’ll just keep following you around to get more thoughts about the practical vision (I think that’s not necessarily an oxymoron) of unmoneyed post-possessionalism. The 21st and 22nd Century versions.

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