I am fascinated by the formation of coalitions.  Compelled to observe what encourages successful cooperation and the forces that tear attempts apart, I keep a mental list of what works and what doesn’t.

There are four classic patterns that trash both forming and mature Left coalitions:  endorsements, speaker choice, the degree of Democratic Party participation and structure discussions.  Conflicts over structure usually revolve around an issue that has several names:  degrees of democratic participation, top down vs. bottom up, anarchy vs. authority, centralized vs. dispersed authority, horizontal vs. vertical structure or patriarchal vs. matriarchal orientations.

Participants in the process need to want to experience the benefits of unity more than they want to achieve their own goals.  This balance is less often an issue in the beginning when coming conflicts are not yet clear.  It is often what breaks coalitions down.  The American Left is filled with John Waynes with highway-wide streaks of independence.  Subscribing to the American cult of individuality does not enhance community relations.  Activists often forget that losing can be winning when shifting perspective to the larger frame.  Of course, it’s not acceptable when the same coalition members are losing over and over again.

Forming coalitions long distance through conference calls is hideously difficult.  As primates, we need to smell the people that we are forming alliances with.  It is our nonverbals that form the most important communication when bonds are being tied.  With only words, we don’t have enough information for our bodies to makes decisions.  My body tells me what feels right or wrong.  I’m working with a coalition seeking to form by phone, often by cell phone.  It’s like cooking with strangers in the dark.

The Left is influenced by the same stories that inform the rest of us living in this culture.  Specifically, the Neo-Darwinian “might makes right” neo-conservatism frame of reference impacts how much influence we feel cooperation can have.  We are surfacing from an almost 6,000-year, Indo-European, male-centered story line.  Experiencing making decisions while taking others into consideration is only recently evolving as we males use women as our guides.

This mental list of don’t do’s comes in handy when designing and modifying web applications that encourage communication and cooperation online.  Technology can’t solve these problems.  Yet a light bulb can make supper far tastier when it comes time to pick out the seasonings and the herbs.


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