Social power is best understood as a highly addictive and socially corrosive drug. Meaningful education in the era of the sixth mass extinction event has to focus on the majority of the human population that is not power drunk, and on the humane treatment of those who are ready to confront their addiction to power head-on.
Much of the distress and many of the diseases we experience in modernity are the downstream symptoms of toxic cultural environments. As long as healthcare is focused on individual health, which is the model of health that dominates Western medicine, even in so-called developed countries with public health systems, people are conceived of as health consumers.
Our socially constructed “reality” creates a frame in which health and wellbeing become busyness opportunities for commoditised services. This frame depends on the false god of normality that underpins industrialised civilisation. In this frame the role of relationships is reduced to the simplistic cookie cutter templates that define the modern nuclear family and the powered-up relationships between workers and employers, i.e. organisations that are conceptualised as abstract machines that are classified into four broad categories: industry, government, education, and global, non-government organisations. Our lived experiences, especially when we live on the margins of society, continuously remind us of the cognitive dissonance between the toxic cultural expectations of industrialised cookie cutters and the biological and ecological origins from which the capacity for human culture emerged.
Within this “reality” the best we can ever hope for is an existence in bare survival mode.
The neurodiversity movement is a civil rights movement that addresses the upstream cultural pathology of toxic and dehumanising social environments, which manifest in the life-denying abstract machines that shape the institutional landscape of “normality”. However, the inmates of this institutional landscape are traumatised humans, who have lost their connection to most of the living world, especially the non-human living world, which has largely been pushed out of sight and out of mind. In the this process modern humans are literally losing their minds, becoming disoriented, and unsure about their place in a seemingly hostile world.
To achieve levels of care, healing, and wellbeing that allow humans to feel alive, and part of an ecology of care, requires us to collectively apply our capacity for culture to (re)imagine an existence beyond survival mode, and to collectively take concrete steps in this direction. By definition this involves questioning and as needed rejecting the institutional landscape of “normality”, drawing on the uniquely valuable perspectives and lived experiences of those who occupy vantage points on the margins of society.
What do we know about the biological and ecological origins from which the capacity for human culture emerged? What cultural principles are incompatible with (re)generating healthy local and planetary ecosystems? What cultural principles are capable of (re)generate ecologies of care, healing, and wellbeing? Who needs to learn? From whom can we learn?
Treating the modern industrialised addiction to social power
What cultural principles are incompatible with (re)generating healthy local and planetary ecosystems? What do we know about the biological and ecological origins from which the capacity for human culture emerged?
So far all socially powered-up (hierarchically organised) civilisations have collapsed, with a perfect track record. Today all the scientific evidence we have is telling us that we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction on this planet. This extinction event is the direct result of several thousand years of powered-up empire building endeavours, and especially of the last 500 years of modern colonialism and neo colonialism, including 200 years of industrialised empire building. The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the background extinction rate.
The current extinction rate of mammals is likely the largest extinction event since the end of the dinosaur era, according to the researchers. Using computer-based simulations they predict that these rates will continue to rise rapidly—possibly reaching up to 30,000-fold above the natural level by the year 2100. This is if current trends in human behavior and biodiversity loss continue.
It is time to acknowledge that all cultures that normalise and cult-ivate the emergence of social power hierarchies are doomed. They consistently result in a collective learning disability and in an inability to recognise and adapt to changes in environmental conditions in a timely manner.
Humans share the latent capacity for establishing social hierarchies with other primates. However, the human capacity for culture and symbolic thought also allows us to understand the harm caused by maintaining social hierarchies and the possibilities that open up by co-creating cultures that consistently clamp down on emergent social hierarchies.
Available archaeological and anthropological evidence points towards highly egalitarian social norms within human scale (i.e. small) pre-civilised societies. In such societies social norms against wielding power over others will have allowed the unique talents and domain specific knowledge of Autistic people be recognised as valuable contributions.
In a psychologically safe environment at human scale (up to Dunbar’s number of around 150 people) the inability to maintain hidden agendas becomes a genuine strength that creates a collaborative advantage for the entire group. In fact Autistic honesty will also have made Autistic people prime candidates for maintaining trusted collaborative relationships with other groups.
From Autistic people – The cultural immune system of human societies (2020)
Furthermore, from the track record of powered-up empire building attempts, and from the roles and well documented behaviours of “great leaders” in such attempts, we can reach the conclusion that social power is best understood as a highly addictive drug, possibly the most dangerous and destructive drug for the human species.
Instead of recognising the dangers of social power, industrialisation and the use of fossil fuel has amplified social power gradients by at least two orders of magnitude. The many powered-up super-human scale institutions within our society have turned at least several hundred million humans into social ladder climbing addicts.
Power, especially absolute and unchecked power, is intoxicating. Its effects occur at the cellular and neurochemical level. They are manifested behaviourally in a variety of ways, ranging from heightened cognitive functions to lack of inhibition, poor judgement, extreme narcissism, perverted behaviour, and gruesome cruelty.
The primary neurochemical involved in the reward of power that is known today is dopamine, the same chemical transmitter responsible for producing a sense of pleasure. Power activates the very same reward circuitry in the brain and creates an addictive “high” in much the same way as drug addiction. Like addicts, most people in positions of power will seek to maintain the high they get from power, sometimes at all costs. When withheld, power – like any highly addictive agent – produces cravings at the cellular level that generate strong behavioural opposition to giving it up.
From The neurochemistry of power has implications for political change (2014)
Those who know how to abstain from the drug of social power are the ones who have a social conscience – refusing to engage in the game, those who are still deeply embedded in the local ecology beyond the human, and those who consciously choose to stay on the margins of society.
Taken together, these groups constitute the majority of the human population. This fact is conveniently overlooked by the powered-up elites. This denial is symptomatic of addiction, and it provides us with a clue about what we have to do.
The addicts will only admit their addiction when they feel safe enough to do so, and if suitable humane treatment options are available. Of course, even with available treatments, only some addicts will admit that they have a problem, and others will remain in denial. No one should be subjected to forced treatment, but at the same time, no one on this planet should be exposed to the untold harms caused by the “great ideas” of “leaders” who are addicted to social power.
Conceptualising social power as an addiction provides the majority of the human population with a highly effective bullshit detection tool, capable of eroding the social licence of the toxic institutions and social paradigms that are holding entire societies hostage to decisions made by power drunk addicts.
Meaningful education in the era of the sixth mass extinction event has to focus on the majority of the human population that is not addicted to social power, and on the humane treatment of those who are ready to confront their addiction to social power head-on.
Holistic learning journeys
What cultural principles are capable of (re)generate ecologies of care, healing, and wellbeing?
The journey towards a healthier relationship with the ecosystems which we are part of starts with the most powerful tool at our disposal, the introduction and consistent use of new language and new semantics. We are curating timeless concepts for nurturing and describing ecologies of care. Many of the concepts of the new language are linked to related articles, each of which link to further sources and related research.
The learning journeys below refer to an overarching three time horizon framework that attempts to be universally inclusive, whilst at the same time recognising the level of trauma amongst the growing numbers of marginalised people.
- Survival tools for everyone; appreciation of:
- human scale
- local collaboration
- indigenous wisdom
- Survival tools for the marginalised; all of the above – plus appreciation of:
- intersectional solidarity
- mutual aid
- cognitive and emotional limits
- chosen whānau
- Transformation; appreciation of:
- solidarity beyond species boundaries
- plant based diets
- Overall direction of travel; all of the above – plus appreciation of the wonder of life
All four streams taken together can be framed as the project of unWEIRDing society and appreciating the beauty of collaboration at human scale. The concepts of ecology and care are at the core of all journeys, reflecting an appreciation of diversity and interdependence as core values.
- Visibly extend trust to people, to release the handbrake to collaboration.
- Unlock valuable tacit knowledge within a group.
- Provide a space for creative freedom.
- Help repair frayed relationships.
- Replace fear with courage.
People have known about these principles for millennia. Some of the principles have been rediscovered many times, by different groups of people in various geographies and in different cultural contexts. Culture is constructed one trusted relationship at a time – this is the essence of fully appreciating diversity.
A recent conversation between Joe Brewer and Daniel Wahl on bioregional pathways to planetary health relates to networks of human scale ecologies of care, and to the important topic of collaboration between human scale groups. It also relates to the weaving of global and local intersectional alliances, shifting the focus from national and international power politics to local, bioregional, and global collaborations on ecological topics. The specific idea of establishing bioregional centres of learning relates to our intent of catalysing the establishment of local centres of Autistic culture.
Dr. B. Educated courses
Who needs to learn? From whom can we learn?
The objectives of the Autistic and neurodiversity civil rights movements overlap significantly with the interests of those who advocate for greater levels of cultural and psychological safety in the workplace and in society in general. In the workplace the topics of cultural and psychological safety are relevant to all industries and sectors.
Committed allies of the neurodiversity movement such as Dr. Zoe Raos (Te Āti Awa), a gastroenterologist in Waitematā, Tāmaki Makaurau, are speaking up about the lack of cultural and psychological safety for Autistic patients and colleagues.
Education on these topics is essential for addressing entrenched problems of lacking cultural and psychological safety in the workplace, and corresponding problems of lacking cultural and psychological safety in local communities.
The Autistic Collaboration Trust in collaboration with S23M Healthcare Solutions is offering a comprehensive range of professional education courses for medical doctors and allied health professionals based on our unique database of lived experiences.
This course is an interactive “deep dive” into neurodiversity and autistic culture. It is creative, collaborative, and goes beyond the usual medical and workplace neurodiversity ideas. Very refreshing to take part in CPD catering to different learning and communication styles. It was the most fun I’ve had in CPD this year! The course book is beautiful.
Dr Sarah Bernard FRACP, Australia
Informative and tied all of my focused interests (Neurodiversity, anthropology) together. Would love to learn more!
Brittney Geary, School Psychologist, USA
The course content was excellent. It provided a really comprehensive introduction to the wider cultural and political context which impact on neurodivergent experience. The written/video materials were excellent and it was helpful to be able to review these well in advance. I think the group discussion was extremely useful as we were able to share views and lived experience.
Amber Lane, NHS, Physiotherapist, UK
The course provided a really comprehensive introduction to the wider cultural and political context which impact on neurodivergent experience. The written/video materials were excellent and it was helpful to be able to review these well in advance. I think the group discussion was extremely useful as we were able to share views and lived experience.
Participant feedback on the delivery format of our courses
Applied education – learning by doing
We are all in this together
We all thrive when being given the opportunity to work with our most trusted peers. In a genuinely safe environment everyone is acutely aware of all the collective intelligence and capability that is available in the form of trusted colleagues, friends, and family.
Learning how to feel genuinely safe, learning how to push back and delegitimise entrenched social power gradients, and learning how to trust the wisdom of those on the margins of society is not something that can be achieved in a 1-day education course or even in a week-long education course. Like learning how to ride a bike it takes practice, and like mastering a craft, a profession, or a scientific discipline, as noted in the guidelines from the WHO framework for meaningful engagement, it takes extensive guidance from those with relevant lived experience.
Regular immersion in Open Space that is facilitated by members of marginalised communities is a way of providing training wheels in cultural and psychological safety, allowing organisations to rediscover collective learning, and to incrementally become familiar with the thinking tools for creative collaboration. It provides an avenue out of the deadly lock-in to paradigmatic cultural inertia, and this in turn may shift how humans will treat each other and our non-human contemporaries on the journey towards being composted and recycled as part of the big cycle of life.
Safe environments allow organisations and individuals to find their niches and thrive in the world. We invite you to collaborate with the Autistic community and other marginalised communities to discover deeper forms of collaboration. This applies to organisations in all sectors and industries, and to organisations of all sizes.
Our unique intersectional community-powered employee wellbeing service enables a holistic, multi-dimensional approach to cultural and psychological safety, by centring those who are marginalised, and by harnessing intersectional solidarity to clamp down on toxic social power dynamics.
NZNO is a bicultural organisation that embraces Te Tiriti o Waitangi, best demonstrated through the partnership of NZNO and Te Rūnanga, the bicultural arm that seeks to achieve the aspirations of Māori health professionals. The commitment to improving the workplace culture across the healthcare sector in Aotearoa New Zealand, is paramount.
To demonstrate a genuine commitment to cultural safety and psychological safety, and to better understand the daily lived experience of employees in your organisation, we recommend a subscription to S23M’s community-powered Employee Wellbeing service to all employers.
Kerri Nuku | Kaiwhakahaere
Mairi Lucas | Acting Chief Executive
New Zealand Nurses Organisation | Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa
Transdisciplinary collaboration hinges on psychological safety, cultural safety, and inclusiveness. These and other human factors determine the inherent social value of a company, the wellbeing of employees, and the quality of care delivered to patients.
To date the quality of social interactions and culture have been difficult to evaluate, but the emergence of their importance demands an ability to measure and evaluate these factors. The independently administered Employee Wellbeing surveys operated by S23M represent an excellent tool to assist your organisation to meet this challenge head-on.
A/Prof Terry J Hannan MBBS;FRACP;FAIDH;FACMI
Visiting Faculty Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University
International Academy of Health Sciences Informatics