Building Social Infrastructure
Designing sustainability from the ground up
Last week I interviewed Sarah Stein Lubrano on cognitive dissonance, the self and how to change our minds. The conversation was fascinating, ranging with Sarah explaining that our brains will make up theories to rationalise new evidence which doesn’t fit our world view. With regards to the climate crisis, this partly explains how politicians, corporations, lobbyists and the majority of us continue business-as-usual despite the nature of that business being the root of climate breakdown and even social upheaval.
We discussed the rich and vastly underused topic of “social infrastructure”, infrastructure that facilitates community, connection and widening typical social circles. A wonderful example Sarah gave was imagine schools having a room where parents could hang out as they wait to pick up their kids. Although a homogenous group in one sense, no doubt they would have conversations with people outside of their typical circle, conversations which could lend different perspectives to the world. Social infrastructure provides spaces for people to have non-judgemental conversations, which often involve story-telling. As Sarah explained, this environment often helps people change their minds, a skill we under-develop in Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic (W.E.I.R.D) countries.
While in the West we believe our sense of self is fixed, research shows this sense of self is constructed, changing and responsive to our environments. It is our W.E.I.R.D commitment to its permanence which renders society polarised; the more we identify the Self as permanent, and identify with our beliefs, the more oppositional views become threatening to our self-hood. We perceive difference in opinion as threatening to our very existence, triggering a self-protective instinct. Yet the only fixed state in nature is death itself.
The beauty of social infrastructure is it reveals how we respond to our environment, how we co-create the world with the very infrastructure we develop. The world is not a top-down devised master plan with pieces slotted into place to achieve greatness, rather our politics, our societies, our possibilities develop along with our infrastructure, meaning great care needs to be taken when considering what comes next, and what may offshoot as a result. On the other side of the coin, we do not necessarily need to know exactly what comes next, but rather have a sense of what infrastructure may inspire, and allow the collective mind to do the rest.
An excellent example of infrastructure developing world views are fossil fuels themselves. Our understanding of exponential growth, our belief in the limitlessness of humankind, even our militarisation would not be possible without fossil fuels. They are an incredibly energy-dense and cheap fuel which has powered what we consider now to be humankind’s reality—cheap and energy abundant, meaning we can do anything. The reality is such a worldview is only feasible due to access to such energy. Yet, it muddies the water of the future. Most people who promote renewable energy do so in the understanding it will replace fossil fuels and continue business-as-usual, just sustainably. This is unlikely due to the fact the material configuration of such a renewable grid would be unsustainable. True sustainability of the future demands a reduction in our energy consumption. This is no bad thing, given how much we squander due to the abundance and low cost of fossil fuels. But economists seem to think the economics came before the fuel which powers our economies, and lead political leaders and the public down energy-blind rabbit holes.
The piece above is an article on how infrastructure can be used as a de-simulacra to reveal the reality of our world, and build with it. Social infrastructure promotes an economy of life, in the service of life, life which is fluid, evolving, cycling, growing, decaying. Life, which is never still, but always living. An economy in the service of life would also cycle interdependently with the world around it. An economy in the service of life would not depend on mechanical life support machines, as ours does. An economy in the service of life would not destroy the world around it to support it. An economy in the service of life would fluctuate and shift and respond to the needs of those who depend on it. And the people in an economy of life would also shift, respond, transform and evolve through their own lives, responding to the world around them in service and with grace, with no grasping at permanence. Every spiritual wisdom highlights that it is the journey, not the destination: We hold onto false stories of our Self in an uncertain world that is built on death. But if the only certainty is death itself, why reach for it so soon?
© Rachel Donald
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