Thursday, July 31, 2008

Six Billion Sexes

A child is born who has never come before and will never come again, a child who carries an unrepeatable singularity (composed of uncountable multiplicities). Yet, immediately, upon entry into life, this singularity is destroyed. The child is torn into two; a determination is made as to whether this new life is a boy or a girl -- no other alternatives, just boy or a girl. And the results of this tear will impose direction and limitation for most every movement in this life.

Why must there be only two sexes? Why are there not more than six billion?

Sometimes, either because we wish to be open-minded, or, perhaps, because we wish to be mean-spirited, we allow ourselves to see masculine characteristics in a female body and soul, or feminine characteristics in a male body and soul. But why? Why must some ways of moving through life be considered male or female? Why not each life in its singularity simply be what it is and become what it becomes, within a richness which vastly exceeds a world of two options?

Even such added distinctions such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, as liberating as these distinctions might be, do not go far enough. They still play around the male/female borderlines. They still are far from acknowledging the over six billion genders which move within our world.

I wish to find ways to talk of people, and, more than people, to talk of life in its splendid diversity, in ways which acknowledge a uniqueness far outside simple hand-me-down distinctions, and certainly far beyond the most basic of distinctions-- male and female.

I wish to find ways to talk of people in languages profuse with colours.

I wish to think of the living of life as carrying textures, depths and elevations.

I wish to imagine our movements as in the midst of constant traffic, where we continuously have to negotiate our turns.

I wish to imagine bodies as always becoming and as eternally in rearrangement.

I wish to think of life as never, ever finished, never decided, and never truly describable.

I believe that by such imaginings we can, and we regularly do, live outside the simplicity of a world divided into two.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Honouring Community

The Work of the Rhizome Way

There is a work which we love
A type of work
A way of working

We call it the Rhizome Way

But this is a work which has been around so much longer
Than our words

It is not the work of fixing
Whether that is fixing people or communities

But it is a work of
Honouring community
Bringing to life
And celebrating
Those innumerable gifts which circulate
Within our own communities

It is a work of
Honouring relationships
Even those which often frustrate
For it is through such varied connections
That our daily lives
Find sustenance

It is not through experts
That our hope emerges
But through the gifts
Which circulate within
Our communal realms

This work concerns
A bringing to communal life
In ways which we can all see
That vast array of gifts
Which move into life and world

And this work
It is also about creation

Things made by hands
Arts crafts
Equipment and machines
All such creations
Coming from and returning to
Life itself

Also, this is a work of creating words
Ways of talking, singing, writing
Which connect people together
Which bring love, understanding and hope

We together create more than community
We create
A people
Which in a way
Has not yet come

For this work creates
A people of tomorrow
A future

And not a future
Of gloom and decay
But a time when the
Very gifts we share today
Return in renewed ways
They return with our children and grandchildren
And they return with
So much more than we can now imagine

We engage in a work which creates
A People
And a future
Which are not
(quite) yet...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How to Think about the Future -- Part II

Beyond Batman and the Joker

I saw a movie... I thought of life...
That’s what great cinema does!
Here are my thoughts.

The pictures in this posting are of the abundance of life, they are not about Batman.

It was a man from India, Salman Rushdie, who extolled the genius of the American comic. And, I’m in the mood to join him. I want to reflect for a moment on the film, The Dark Knight – a story of Batman and his nemesis, the Joker. For in this film far more than action sequences emerge, filtering through such genre-necessities something approaching life comes forth. But really this life-likeness only appears in one short moment, and the whole of the film pivots upon that moment. And, it is interesting to note that in that particular moment all of the major characters in the movie are absent. I will get to that moment later.

A Nihilist’s Logic

This is certainly not a film about good versus evil, though, I suppose, it easily could seem that way. Heath Ledger’s Joker is far too logical, too “right”, and too completely compelling to carry the purity of treachery required for a good versus evil story. In fact, while the motives of Christian Bale’s Batman appear to be untainted his actions clearly are not. He repeatedly acts as violent as his enemy, and, his expressions of anger actually exceed that of the Joker. Batman and the Joker at times seem remarkably similar. In one memorable line Ledger’s character when responding to an implication that he may want Batman dead, says something to the effect, “Why? You complete me!” The Joker creates an image of good and evil as a game which is played, where both are in need of the other. The Joker may kill, but he won’t kill Batman, for then his game would come to an end.

One might say that the Joker creates the logic for a nihilist view of good and evil. And, I think the Joker certainly intends such a view. Batman plays the hero and saviour, the Joker undoes this story, laying its moral (or rather immoral) bones bare for all to see. Yet, while this nihilist unravelling is what the Joker attempts to produce, this is not where the film goes. The Joker’s verbal wiles which attempt to undo the distinction between good and evil instead set the scene for another world to emerge which is outside of both Batman’s and the Joker’s interventions , outside of their game.

A Disrupting Event

Let me return to that moment I alluded to earlier. I won’t give the details, no spoiling of the story here! But I will say that there is a moment in the film where the Joker believes he has orchestrated a particular outcome and where Batman is unable to intervene with his heroic powers. Yet it is within this moment where both Batman and the Joker, and the game they have been playing, become undone. Without disclosing too much, an unknown character played by an unknown actor diverts the plans of both the heroic good and the demonic evil, and this occurs through the creation of a most simple event. Ultimately, all that happens is that something is thrown out a window. Yet, the story turns upon this very act, a moment which might appear irrelevant and even counter to what is expected of an action movie.

Again perhaps something of life emerges here. For both Batman and the Joker are the product of a modernity, they believe that by using their own powers upon the world, they can intervene, they can alter the outcome of history in accordance with their own actions. They follow a logic of causality --predictable inputs produce predictable results.

Yet, the film invites us to consider something very different. It suggests that life moves, the future comes upon us not in accordance with the predictability of causality, but in accordance with the unpredictability of the event. The event, which in the film’s context involves a simple act of throwing something out a window, is something which could never have been predicted, it comes to us from outside of the chains of causality. It is this event, this divergence in the routes of causality which creates the story. And, we can easily argue that almost every change of significance which happens in life and which happens in nature and evolution, occurs because of an event, because some confluence, convergence, some meeting which was not foreseen or predicted, shatters the chains of causality.

Let’s leave Batman and the Joker now, let’s think about the challenges of a real life. Whether personal, familial, communal, environmental, global, we all too often get stuck in the chains of causality which we are accustomed to. It can seem compellingly obvious to us that the difficulties we encounter come to us through distinct lines of causality. However the discovery of causality rarely liberates. It rather tends to create circles which we become stuck within. For the lines of causality which we use to escape lines of causality in turn need further lines of causality for further escapes. Causality can certainly be compelling, but it is also can become a dizzying entrapment.

What is called for, what I tend to believe that life invites of us, is not circles of causality, but rather events which disrupt the causality. And events are not things which just-happen; they are things which are created.

In the Dark Knight, the event was made visible to the movie-goer through the action of one individual, but the creation of that event was a pure communal action. Many were involved in its creation. Perhaps this is the way most events work.

Let us create events!

Let us together and alone create things and moments of beauty, of power, of disruption.

I think of some of my therapist friends. These individuals often feel so very uncomfortable with the language of the therapeutic, yet I find they eagerly enter into conversations with people. And, in their work, they create conversations, they create events from which those involved come forth not just changed, but walking in a new world. These friends of mine repeatedly are involved in the creation of such events. Yet, they usually feel most uncomfortable with such a description for they know that personally they enter the conversation with no predesigned strategy. They do not feel like they are creating something. And of course they don’t, for the creative movements are unequivocally communal, and they know that. The created-event happens outside of the instrumentalism of both individual and group causality.

At the end of the film Batman disappears into the night. At the same time his institutional structure, the actual building in which he created his technology collapses into dust. For, the unbearable difficulties of Gotham, and the solutions, causal chains designed to fix the city were now being lost to the beauty and generosity of ordinary, everyday events. Events created by people engaged in conversation and life together, people who move in response to each other and in response to the life around them, people who have learned how to trust a world outside of the controls of causality.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Think about the Future

Creating -- Not Fixing

I want to think about how we think about the future. Not for the purpose of philosophical musing, and certainly not to fine-tune predicting abilities, but rather simply to think about how the time ahead of us can be created in beautiful and life-honouring ways.

The Future and Causality

The future is often imagined as a chain of causality, sequences of happenings or decisions leading to predetermined and predicted ends. The future becomes a simplified and graspable product shaped within the factories of human decisions, and distributed in accordance with the flows of prior investments.

Often this causality follows apocalyptic lines of thinking where ill conceived and the foolish thought and action produce an assured end result of overwhelming disaster. And there is an obligation for those who are in possession of this apocalyptic vision that their lived-time must be occupied with the production of clear and vigorous prophetic warnings.

At other times we are invited to see causality as optimistic, we see chains of right decisions leading to the profitable yields of smart investments. Such an optimistic causality suggest that the future is created by wise choices, efficient and effective actions, and the timely application of appropriate resources. This optimism is not available for all, it is saved for those who clearly act in accordance with the principles of optimistic causality, it leaves open the possibility that unwise decisions might be made, resulting in loss.

Gregory Bateson and Causality

It is this emphasis on causality which Gregory Bateson expressed such dissatisfaction with. He invited his readers to think of the future not as a chain of causality but as movements of whole ecologies, innumerable shiftings amidst vast networks of relationship. And he suggested that in the midst of such multifarious worlds a particular outcome cannot be formed by simple lines of causality, rather (in a mode of thinking that takes some serious thought) a particular outcome occurs because other options were restrained from occurring. That is, things happen as they do because other alternatives were held back. Bateson suggests that the question upon us should not be what caused an event, but rather what other alternatives could possibly have occurred and what influences might have stopped these alternatives from occurring. Such questions of restraint, according to Bateson, keep us within the complexities and abundances in which life moves.

Stephen Jay Gould describes a scenario which I find illustrates Bateson’s theory of restraints. Gould found himself repeatedly challenged by those who claimed life's clear progression in time from the simple to the complex, implies an intelligent causative force guiding the direction of all life in nature. Gould responds by reminding his readers that life originated with single-cell organisms, the most simple of life-forms possible. In life's early stages there was only one direction for it to evolve, and that was in the direction of increased complexity. Life evolved in this direction because other alternatives were were clearly restrained from occurring. Evolution toward more complex life forms was the only option in town. However, as life diversified, with the addition of further complexity, uncountable different possibilities emerged for the evolutionary directions of life. And every single evolutionary process has been subject to its own unique assemblage of innumerable restraining influences.

The Return of Religious Causality

It is interesting to note that the secular world, a seemingly non-religious world, even anti-religious world is actually very much a Christian world in its views of causality. It still follows upon causal narratives which are biblical in flow, in language, and in pure zeal. The supposed secular world creates futures filled with apocalyptic visions, redemptive possibilities, harsh judgments and punitive responses.

Environmental Causality

Some of the approaches taken by the environmental movement are obvious example of such an apocalyptic outlook on the future. I talk of the environmental movement merely as an illustration of these views -- I certainly feel most connected to many of the concerns and desires the movement puts forward. The environmental movement is certainly not alone, overwhelmingly the contemporary world follows such religious views of causality.

Environmental science repeatedly puts forward a clear apocalyptic and fall/redemption voice. It shows us the results of our wrong actions, the yields of our poor investments, all which lead to a judgment, a potential final judgment, which could be the destruction of life as we know it. Our environmental sins invite a form of environmental damnation, an environmental hell. At the same time, we are given the possible option of redemption. We are informed that if we engage in the correct acts, including various sacrifices and punishments, we may be able to escape at least some of the coming judgment. Sin/Redemption, that age-old line of religious causation is alive and well and operating in full confidence.

No one was more concerned for environmental concerns than Gregory Bateson, and few have put as much thought into our human response to such a dilemma. Yet these causal chains as described above, weather scientific, religious, industrial or therapeutic were not seen by Bateson as a way out of our difficulties, on the contrary, he proposed that such thinking repeated initiates and accentuates environmental difficulties. By understanding life as if it were simply a product of causal chains, and then by intervening in life as if our actions would implement a redemptive causal chain, is, according to Bateson, the very form of thinking and acting which disrupts and endangers complex environmental systems in the first place.

Therapeutic Causality

It is not just the world of environmental science and action which follows such causal thinking, what I call the “therapeutic” also is firmly in tune with such modes of thought and action.

The “therapeutic” suggests that there is something wrong, broken, sinful (in a non-religious way) about people, their bodies and their relationships. In response to this a certain secular liturgical process must be implemented to respond to these wrongs.

First, with the assistance of experts, the brokenness must be faced and acknowledged. Assessment processes identify a pathology; base it in life, body and/or relationship; and describe it in obscure language. The movements of this pathology must be examined, and its history must be traced in accordance with lines of professionalized apocalyptic causality. These liturgical process generate truths which must be accepted and are embedded in therapeutic authority.

Once assessment has been completed, then actions are created which are intended on fixing the problem and addressing the history of pathology. However, during this process blame is further distributed, moving from the body and the family and toward those persons assigned to assist in healing such difficulties. And, this blame often spreads with great speed. It is inevitable, for problems are not things destined to being fixed. Yet those assigned to do the fixing seem to be destined to bear portions of the responsibility for this intransigence of the problem.

On Rhizome Lines

The world moves according to other lines...

A new complexity emerges... for, in spite of not being able to fix problems, these workers often find themselves connected to something powerful. For while in the midst of their work, and through the connections they have built with those they work with and the communities these people are connected with, they discover that human lives do move and change (and not just the lives of those they are working with). However, these changes come into life in the same way that Bateson described, amidst networks of relationship, in response to the many restraining influences of life. And, they also see that human lives move in response to goods and gifts that circulate within their realms.

And, often they come to understand that while surrounded by gifts on all corners, people create life, they do not fix it!

When these workers were able to respond to the rhizome connections in their work worlds, they found that they become integral parts of these realms, and they often saw that, in spite of the many challenges, life often moves in beautiful and desirable ways.

Outside of presumed lines of causality, the world is filled with uncountable, unpredictable, yet often unnoticed changes. Life is constantly responding to life, and the resultant movements extend far beyond our understandings. Whether we are wishing to respond to the environment, the complicated realms of nature, or we are responding to life in our communal realms, we find amidst this rhizome abundance that a newness is constantly introduced to us. And creativity, the very gift we so need at this time in history, insists upon our response. And we rejoice, for we now realize that we do not fix worlds... but we do create them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Meeting Chris Kinman -- by Lynn Hoffman

This is Lynn's story about connecting with me. She felt it was important that I post this -- so here it is! I have included a few pictures of some friends whom I have worked with through the years.

Lynn Hoffman

Back in 1993, while living in Massachusetts, Chris phoned me out of the blue and asked me to come out to do a workshop in British Columbia. While I was there, Chris brought me into contact with the powerful traditions of the First Nations people, particularly the art and culture of the Haida from Haida Gwai, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. Chris was working with First Nations youth and families, and had been fascinated by the ancient ritual of the potlatch, where the idea is to give rather than to get. It was not surprising to me when he told me that he wanted to work from the idea of bounty rather than the idea of lacks and disabilities.

Another feature of Chris’ world was a strong communal presence. This was exemplified during a break in my workshop, which was being held in Vancouver, when a person in the audience ushered me mysteriously into a room filled with green light. There, in the midst of ficus trees and bamboo, was an astonishing object. It was a greenish bronze canoe, half the size of the room, and in it a variety of totemic animals were struggling with each other: the raven with the bear, the wolf with the eagle, the crow with the dog, while half-human creatures like the Dogfish Woman, or the Bear Mother, paddled, watched over by the sombre Village Chief with his temple-shaped hat. I learned that this was the achievement of a sculptor called Bill Reid, who was himself descended from First Nations people. In this work, titled “The Spirit of the Haida Gwai,” Reid represented himself as the Ancient Conscript, paddling along with the rest.

Chris also took me to the university bookstore, and introduced me to two French writers, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1986), who favorably compared the horizontality of the “rhizome” (think crab grass) to the hierarchical pattern of the tree, hierarchy being a pattern that was common to Western helping institutions. Another beloved writer was Gaston Bachelard (1994), who came up with the concept of “reverberation” as an alternative to causality. This idea pushed me back to Bateson's idea of the “Grammar of the Creatura,” where transmission of meaning goes along the paths of metaphor rather than through chains of logical thought. At this time I also bought a book by Jacques Godbout called “The World of the Gift,” (1998). I remember telling Kinman that he should make “The Language of Gift” a main descriptor for his work.

Alistair Moes -- I worked with Alistair in various capacities for about 14 years. Alistair is known as the Angerman; check him out at (by the way, I like this picture of him much better than the one on his website). Alistair is a dear, dear friend.

(Just a reminder -- these comments under the pictures are made by Chris, the text of this particular posting is by Lynn)

Chris then showed me examples of a “Local Wisdom” series he had put together based on sayings from the families he was working with. I perused booklets which Chris had printed himself: Local Wisdom of the Mothers, or Local Wisdom of First Nation’s Youth. He would transcribe what people said to him and put it into a kind of chapbook. Sometimes he would intersperse their comments with passages he wrote, or quotes from writers he admired. I felt it gave the people he worked with a special dignity in being quoted like that.

Another innovation Kinman (2001) had come up with was what he called a Collaborative Action Plan. This document was an alternative to the usual problem oriented intake record, widely used by services in that area. What was special was that it was organized around the “language of gifts” referred to above. The first page asked, “What are the gifts and potentials this person can give to the community?” The second asked, “What are the gifts and potentials the community can give to the person?” The third page read, “What are the roadblocks to these gifts and potentials?” This was the gist of it, although it varied over time. Kinman told me that just the use of this document altered his relationships with the people he worked with in a very helpful way.

In his wish to acquaint me with his environment, Kinman drove me to an old time resort hotel in the Canadian Rockies। It was only one night, but it must have cost a pretty penny - well worth it, if the idea was to impress me. I asked about the work he was doing with young people and their families, and he told me touching stories about his efforts to see the world as they did. One memorable thing he shared was about a teen-age girl who said to him, “Therapists try to get into your head; counsellors help you bear your burdens.” Or, as he put it, “What the mountain cannot bear, the river takes away.” I liked the idea that therapy might be like the river. We closed our time together with a trip to the Anthropological Museum, the repository of so much First Nations culture and its splendor. Then I bought a book on the work of Bill Reid, and said goodbye.

The Fairy Godfathers

But it was not goodbye. The following year, Kinman asked me to come out again. He had organized a meeting that represented the “systems” he was working with: the parents of kids he was seeing, a group of his trainees, and a few of his colleagues. At the time I was much influenced by Tom Andersen's ideas about the reflecting process, and thought we could use such a format for our meeting. What I did was to ask Kinman to sit and listen while I interviewed each “pod” in the circle about their experience with Kinman's very different way of working. The parents said that he was not like the usual social service worker because he made them feel like helpers and partners. The students were pleased, because the tools he gave them made connecting with clients so easy. His colleagues had similar things to say. During all this, Kinman occasionally tried to break in, but I stopped him. When all had their say, I turned to him and asked how what he had heard affected him. He was full of emotion by this time, and turned to the notes he had taken, offering each person's idea as if it were a line in an extended poem. It was an intensely moving experience for all of us.

Two years later, Kinman asked me to come back again to preside over a meeting that we were now calling “Honoring Community.” This time the gathering was more formal, and Chris introduced me to his new work partner, Peter Finck. Present were representatives of various social services: some foster parents, two members of a biker group who directed homes for troubled boys; a probation officer (the only one there who had a professional degree); some social work trainees; and a group of adults brought over from Vancouver Island by psychiatrist Robin Routledge - an old and good friend of mine - that was called The Mood Clinic. Chris gave an orienting talk, and introduced me, and I then sat with each subgroup and asked about their work. I was very touched by the different experiences that were presented, and the ideas offered, Because most of the people present would not have otherwise known about the worlds of the others, it became a fascinating conversation, both for those talking and those listening.

The day before, I had sat in on a weekly conference attended by a group of biker men who were not only in recovery themselves, but in charge of various youth homes. They all had vivid tattoos winding up their forearms. Not having been introduced, I felt like a foreign object, but I sat and listened with interest. Each man described the doings in his home during that particular week. A large dog under the circular table kept going from one set of feet to another, finally settling on mine. At this point, the leader of the group, still without introducing me, asked me for my opinions. I said that what had most impressed me about the speakers was their tenderness toward the charges in their care.

Then I ventured something outrageous: I said, “To me, you are just a bunch of Fairy Godfathers.” A moment of appalled silence, and then the group burst into a huge roar, looking hard at the leader, the one who had the most impressive tattoos, and who luckily was laughing too. This man and another member of that group came to our community meeting the next day and commented powerfully on their past experience of class prejudice from persons in social service agencies. But what most caught my eye was a small tag pasted on the shirt of the leader, saying “Fairy Godfather.”

The conference finished with all of us listening to the concerns of the Mood Clinic. This was an informal club which played an advocacy role between patients and medical doctors on issues to do with medication and treatment. Their stories enlisted both our sympathies and a feeling of hopefulness. The event as a whole had given me a depth knowlege of the helpers and workers who toiled, you might say, in the shadows of desperately troubled clients, but kept their optimism intact.

New Systems For Old

But that in no way prepared me for the next time I was asked to the Vancouver area. I had kept in touch with Kinman, and every once in a while he would email off to me another one of his writings. Once he used up a whole roll of my fax paper - yards of it came pouring out of the machine like an endless Chinese scroll. But soon there was a new addition to the wisdom series which featured the public health nurses of the Frasier River Valley. And I learned a new story.

Chris had told me that some nurses from the Frazer Valley Health Area had come to him for advice because they had become disenchanted with their problem-oriented assessment form. They had heard that he had been experimenting with an alternative that was based on gifts. Apparently, the Collaborative Action Plan was just what they were looking for. Kinman told me how these women had taken this format and were fitting it to their own practice. To my amazement, it seemed that their supervisors and the bureacracy were supporting them. Then Kinman said that the teaching program in public health nursing at the University of Victoria was also changing.

Sitting on my hill a continent away, I received these smoke signals, but I still had no idea of their profound implications. Without much warning, Kinman asked me to come out one more time. It seemed that they were going to have another Honoring Community meeting built around the achievement of the public health nurses. So I flew across again, and what I found really staggered my mind. As soon as I got there, Kinman introduced me to the frontline workers and they told me about their plans for the meeting that was to be held the next day. Here is an account of what happened.

First Kinman gave a slide show featuring commentary from the nurses themselves (he stayed up all night to finish it). Then I sat with a group of frontline nurses who told me how their work lives had been transformed. Then came key persons from the bureaucracy who were backing this adventure. Next came some teachers from the public health nursing program at Victoria University who were changing their curriculum. Lastly, I sat with Marjorie Warkentin, one of the nurses who had helped spearhead the change, together with a young mother who was recovering from a postpartum depression and had agreed to add her voice.

Vera Little -- Vera is an elder in the community of Ahousat, on Flores Island off the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Vera defines the very meaning of the word `hospitality`. She is also a dear friend -- like family. Go and visit with her at Vera's Guest House (Vera's own business). Sit down with Vera and listen to some of that true old-time country music -- life doesn't get much better.

This was the first time in my 40 years in the field that I had been present at a change at each level of a complex health system: front line workers, administration people, teachers, and clients. That last group had usually been excluded from such conferences, except as the Exhibit A in teaching events. I thought about all the families that had been used to demonstrate family therapy in front of huge audiences since the field began. But this young mother was not there as evidence of some clinician's ability, but to tell her own story. She and Warkentin described their experience with this “gift-oriented” approach to human difficulty, and told us what a difference it had made to both of them.

These systemic changes have lasted and I can now bear witness to the newness that shone forth so brightly in the Fraser Health Authority that day. Despite the reductive mantle of managed care, shifts like this one continue to inspire hope in those of us who believe that the language game we use makes all the difference. And there are many of us who continue to be watchers on that hill!

Lars Meyer -- I argue that Lars is not a human being at all.... he is an angel in disguise. Lars is a consultant for organizations and businesses regarding issues of strategic design (contact him at, he is a film-maker and a teacher at the Vancouver Film School. He also has become a treasured friend.

Manifesto: The Rhizome Way

This posting is a piece I developed in conjunction with Lynn Hoffman and Lars Meyer. It is our attempt to prepare what we call a "manifesto" about the "rhizome way". It will be available soon as part of a new website (which is not fully functional at this time):

The idea of the Rhizome Way originated with the work of family therapists Christopher Kinman and Lynn Hoffman. As opposed to the “system,” which was a founding metaphor of family therapy, the rhizome is a botanical metaphor allied to life and growth. It offers a triad of images that reveal new understandings of community, business, governance, helping and art.


One of these images is Rhizome – an underground root system or lateral network of branches, tendrils and nodes. The idea of Rhizome connects us to life-giving relationships, community-enhancing values, and vast resources of creativity. It is a key metaphor of the work of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. In addition, Rhizome mirrors and prefigures the defining invention of our day, which is the Internet.

Gift Exchange

The second image is the Gift Exchange, which affirms that each member of the rhizome has unique gifts or items of value that are offered to the rhizome collective. Gift language invites us into processes which build and create rather than tear down. Both Rhizome and Gift Exchange call for a third image: the Territory of the Alive.

Territories of the Alive

The “Alive” of life does not occur within the boundaries of a single journey or even a shared one. Instead, it emerges at junctions, at confluences, and at crossroads. These intersections are where people’s lives collide, meet and touch; where the Other or Others are encountered, and where serendipitous and unexpected shifts take place. Sometimes in these shifts, the animate touches the inanimate in such a way that both elements become more alive.

The Rhizome Way weaves all these strands together in the service of an unstoppable tide of invention, renewal and hope.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Make a Mistake, but Please... Make it Twice (at Least)

Pictures taken in Porto, Portugal

We are made with opposable thumbs -- we can grasp, we can make, we can assemble. We have facial and respiratory structures which enable us to form words, which in turn enable us to grasp seemingly impossible, yet-unseen worlds. We are naked and vulnerable, leading us out of sheer necessity to relationship, to the making of friendships, the forming of families, villages, and endless other sustaining connections.

Those processes of life which enabled us to emerge as a species clearly insist that our movements in life will be to create things. We are creators.

We make ideas, technologies; we create concepts and contraptions; we tie together thoughts and things, we form connections; we create machines, that is, we create things which create things, which in turn create other things; we make difficulties, we create answers; we create friendship, we form families; we make hate, we make love; we create worlds, innumerable possible worlds.

But, every creation is a crap-shoot. Most attempts at creating don’t result in desirable outcomes. For one of the things we make, one of the key things we make is the mistake. We are able to create meaningful things because we persist, pure trial and error (with plenty of error) not because we knew how to get it right in the first place.

This is not just people who operate by trial and error. Think of nature, most all of nature. Think of the dandelion, hundreds of seeds which drift away to “unproductive” futures – most every dandelion seed fails to produce a future dandelion. Nature repeatedly builds mistakes – multitudes of mistakes – into the essential processes of life. Think of sperm: millions are produced yet typically only one has the luck of fertilizing the egg, and usually even that one doesn’t make it. Sex is the classic example of the non-efficient, apparent wastefulness of nature. The production processes of nature are built upon the very requirement of mistakes, and mistakes by the bushel-full.

But, just for a moment let’s leave what we consider as nature and let’s enter human realms, social realities which are plainly impossible for us to overlook. For in this societal plane questions emerge. For example...

Why do we feel such shame these days when we make a mistake?

Why does our very fear of making mistakes so impede us from even initiating creative attempts?

Many reasons, I’m sure, but let me offer one in particular.

We have developed systems of education which inform us that mistakes are not only undesirable they should be responded to with strict punitive measures. We pass or fail on the basis of the number of mistakes we are able to prevent. Science class asks us to perform an experiment, not so we might find ourselves surprised at the results, but so we can learn the necessity of doing it right, doing it flawlessly, evading mistakes from the very first go at it. Actions of judgment are rigidly directed toward the elimination of mistakes. Repeatedly and overwhelmingly education teaches us that mistakes are that enemy which must be evaded or destroyed at all costs.

We learn over and over again the supposed destructive nature of mistakes, and we learn this in so many contexts -- workplace, media, family, and many other relationships.

Yet the idea that mistakes are to be evaded is evolutionary nonsense -- against the very flows of the alive! The eradication of the mistake is a concept destined to destroy the life-given, and life-sustaining impulse to create.

What can we do?

Through this march of trial and error (more accurately -- trials and errors) we call “creation” let’s go out of the way to celebrate those things which we produce, let’s affirm each others’ creative productions. At the same time let’s honour our mutual evolutionary legacies which enables us to create in the first place -- for perhaps never before in history have we needed a splurge of abundant and diverse creative endeavours as we do now.

Simply put... let’s create, and in the process let’s make mistakes -- let’s make many of them.

Monday, July 7, 2008

From System to Rhizome: A Change in the “Creating Concept”

The images in this posting are all of rhizome organisms

Guest Posting: by Lynn Hoffman

I have said before that I write according to the rain barrel principle. About every ten years, I find that my rain barrel is full, and I begin to think about putting its contents into a book of stories. The beauty of this is that I don’t have to write in a formal way, but as though I were telling a friend about a trip I have taken. And there is much that I am excited about. For one thing, my colleague Chris Kinman and I have begun to use a new master metaphor for the fields of social betterment. Taking inspiration from the work of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari , we propose a shift from the System metaphor for human services to a Rhizome metaphor. Unlike the System, which derives from engineering and technology, the Rhizome idea offers a botanical image, tied to the natural world and having an affinity with human themes and ventures.

“Rhizome” also allows us to escape from a common linguistic trap. As Harry Goolishian and Harlene Anderson reminded us, as long as you use terms like “systems” or “structures” to describe social data, you become prey to the illusion that such units can be seen as “functional” or “dysfunctional.” Having created a “problem,” the next step is to look for a solution. This is the unhappy result of the structuralist, or noun-based, worldview that has gripped our descriptions of society’s troubles for the past few centuries. We use the phrase “Terrorists” (bad) as opposed to “War Against Terror” (good), in the same way that we say “dysfunctional” family (bad), “functional” family (good). Then we are on the slippery slope of having to “do something” about it.

In their critique of helper bureaucracies, Deleuze and Guattari compare the Rhizome to the Tree. The Rhizome has no up or down but lives in an eternal middle. It is famous for the way it repeats itself. All it does is to put out an underground root or aerial shoot and it re-appears in another place. Some rhizomes are viewed as pests, like crabgrass, others are valued like iris or daffodils, but they are hard to kill. Stamped out in one yard, they just sprout up in another. They continually create new “plateaus” or “assemblages,” as Deleuze and Guattari put it, from an inexhaustible horn of plenty.

By contrast, the Tree presents itself as a standing hierarchy: root, trunk, branch and crown. To aid in our understanding of expert social systems, Deleuze and Guattari have coined the word “arborescence,” which they believe describes the top-down nature of the human services industries that practitioners have to conform to. By contrast, the rhizome is a counteracting concept that brings a host of welcome notions with it: the importance of the Net and Net-making as opposed to the individual and her normative trajectory; the idea of Plateaus and Assemblages as opposed to structures and units; the idea of the “Body Without Organs” (the non-medical body); the idea of Exchanging Gifts instead of Problem-Solving; and the emphasis on Bounty and Abundance rather than Deficit and Lack.

Finally, there is a contested concept: the “Nomad War Machine.” This idea comes like a shock to people who put a high value on collaboration and find negative labels pejorative, and yet answers the need for some way to describe and honor the vital spirits of rebellion, revolution and reform.

Before going on with my story, I should mention that the term “Creating Concept” was used by Deleuze and Guattari to describe the ruling metaphor that heralds the appearance of a new domain. Clearly, they felt that the Rhizome did that for the emerging world they were dreaming into being.

By Lynn Hoffman

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Look at Photographs... Not Movies...

A short poem...

Look at photographs
Not movies

Revel in words
Not stories

Think a thought
Not a theory

See a smile
Ignore goodness

Make people laugh
Forget humour

Read a Walt Whitman poem
(Oh yes... make sure to read it aloud!)
And throw away that fucking commentary

This poem plays with a series of affirmations and negations. Please... don't take the negations too seriously!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Population Does Not Make a Community...

Photos of collaborative artwork spearheaded by Sara London, of Mexico City.

Have you ever met a population?

Have you ever engaged in a conversation with, had an argument with, made-love to a population?

Research in the social and the biological sciences has a perpetual interest in studying populations. Every day on the TV and in the newspapers you hear about research done on populations – could be studies about men, women, various minorities; or maybe studies about people within certain income brackets or who are connected to types of workplace -- the various ways to distinguish populations is endless.

Yet, generally speaking, populations are not things we encounter in daily lives, they are academic distinctions, they are distinctions which usually have to be imposed upon life. Albeit, there may be some value in distinguishing such populations, in seeing what learnings can be gained from such distinctions, but still the distinctions are artificial, they are removed from life as it is lived. We do not meet populations. We do not engage in conversations with populations. We cannot make-love to a population. We can distinguish a population, we can take action upon a population in academic ways, but we cannot truly encounter one.

Even the most basic of distinctions such as male/female describes a combination which can only, in lived life, exist together. Concepts such as men and women, boys and girls cannot make any sense separate from each other. And not only must the two parts of the male/female distinction be acknowledged together, such conjoined distinctions can only be seen within a vast network of other distinctions and parts. Male/female only exists in worlds which might also require children, houses, jobs, money, cars, animals; it also requires things such as night and day, seasons, food, air, water, soil; and it also necessitates such things as love, hate, sex, health, illness, and on and on...

However, there is a politics of populations which must be taken account of. Population distinctions take on certain political currency. People are supposed to identify themselves as belonging to a population. In fact, community is often identified with populations.

However, I argue that community is only possible because of a vast network inclusive of much diversity. Difference, not the singularity of population, is the basis from which community is able to emerge. And perhaps here comes to light one valuable outcome, one possibility which appears from the act of distinguishing populations – we are able to use these distinctions to draw out the full richness of that which we consider to be community. For community, therefore, is not made up of single populations but of a vast diversity which includes the possibilities of men and women, children and the elderly, gay, straight, transgendered, bisexual, Christians and Sikhs, atheists and religious zealots, poor and rich, healthy and ill, etc. The population distinctions only seem to approach the realm of the alive when they are recombined, brought back together into a communal place, amidst rhizome connections, thereby assisting in the creation of that untidy and boundary-less coherence we call community.

The distinctions which interest me, however, are not the institutionalized ones, not those which have been heavily politicized, but those which are created amidst our daily interactions in life, those which appear as people interact with each other, make room for one another. These are distinctions which, ironically, enable the individual to emerge into life; that is a person with numerous unique dimensions, shifting and flowing dimensions, marking spaces in the alive which have never appeared before, and will never appear before. A person is born. A person we can meet, we can talk with, we can argue with, we might even make-love to. This person comes into life amidst the endless distinctions which the communal realm can make. Through such a process an individual is created, a person emerges who comes once into this world, and will never, ever be able to return again.

Within the alive, a rhizome muddle comes to the fore, and it is within and because of such a chaotic jumble that the very idea of community becomes even possible.