News on my 2020 work and a request for support

I share below some of what I’ve been up to, especially new inquiries arising around my wise democracy vision, including the nature of knowing and sense-making, the nature of diversity, and how different dimensions of wise democracy – like different conversational approaches – might be woven together to be more effective. I also share that I’m working in a collaboration to support people concerned about civilizational collapse. I ask for your support to help me continue this unique range of work. – Tom

Dear readers,

In the midst of natural and social climate disruptions, as we try to respond to changes and challenges emerging everywhere, it can seem abstract to say “we’re all in this together”. But I think that even as divisiveness rises in and around us, our collective destiny is becoming increasingly obvious. As I’ve struggled to adjust my personal life in the pandemic, I realize I face far fewer challenges than millions of other people including, I am sure, many of you. As I prepared to flee advancing fires earlier this year, I realized my home had not already burned to the ground, like so many others in my part of Oregon. I am more privileged than some and less privileged than others but, in the big picture, we’re all in the same boat.

As singer-songwriter Betsy Rose sang, “We may have come here on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” In Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr., voiced the essential truth underneath that sentiment: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

In the midst of upheavals and contradictions, I find some solace in my calling to serve the capacity of all human life to find better ways together. But I find it harder to rest in what I’ve already created and done. I find myself reflecting in new ways on my work and on our vast shared predicaments and possibilities.

The wise democracy worldview and pattern language – already a leading-edge development in the field – remains at the center. But newly urgent inquiries are emerging in and around it, calling me to push the edge of our understanding beyond what we’ve considered before. Here are examples of some of those inquiries:

  • What does it mean to “know” something – especially to know “the whole” or to know in holistic ways? How can we grow into such knowing? My recent “making sense” blog post series is part of that inquiry, along with what I call “multimodal intelligence” – knowing with head, heart, gut, spirit, body, and more. What more is there to know about all these things? And how can they inform our practice of wise democracy? In particular, right now….
  • In what ways and contexts can the many approaches to knowing work together to help us generate greater wisdom? So often different ways of knowing – like reason and empathy, intuition and evidence – get in each other’s way. What if they worked together, each offering its unique gifts?
  • How might different conversational methods become more powerful together than they are when we use them separately? For example, we know how to support high quality deliberation among dozens of diverse citizens on a panel, but how do we engage whole populations in thoughtful collaboration with each other and with such small, intensive “mini-publics”? Might we be able to engage thousands of people in inexpensive, widespread cafes and dialogues whose insights get harvested and processed through online platforms which a mini-public could then weave into their deliberations to produce integrated wisdom recognized by all who participated? And what of the possibilities of social media and gaming for broader quality engagement with public issues?
  • As new forms of deliberative and participatory democracy become more widely used and impactful – as is now beginning to happenhow can we protect these innovations from abuse, co-optation, manipulation, and marginalization, while helping them also evolve? Special interests will almost inevitably attack inclusive citizen democracy to protect their top-down power. Who will oversee, support and defend institutions that legitimately bring forth and empower the People’s wisdom?
  • What shifts in how we design conversations and deliberations would help ordinary people and stakeholders engage more deeply into the whole picture of what’s going on and to generate long term benefits for all involved – i.e., wisdom? How can we bring into such conversations the wisdom of the past, voices from the future and the margins, and the vital connections we all have with each other and nature – often hidden by opaque systems and the distractions of everyday activities and habitual ways of thinking, feeling and behaving?
  • What forms of effective communal self-governance can best utilize the gifts of government, experts, and professionals while maintaining their sovereign thoughtfulness and values? What becomes possible when we engage all the people and perspectives involved with an issue in truly seeing and hearing each other and finding their way together into actions they all believe in? And what if we wove such issue-centered stakeholder collaborations together with the voices, values, aspirations, and concerns of ordinary people living in impacted place-based communities?
  • How do we expand the visions of participatory and deliberative democracy beyond instances of public judgement and community projects into whole co-creative cultures guided by their unfolding collective wisdom? So much of our work is around dialogic or deliberative events or programs that involve only a few people. What would happen if we aspired to creating future cultures where practices like dialogue, deliberation, random selection, and the pursuit of long term benefit were as familiar, ubiquitous and expected as voting is now?
  • What roles can various forms of diversity and inclusivity play in developing such cultures, and how can we best support and engage them? “Diversity” has come to mean primarily differences in race, gender, age, sexual identity, and other characteristics we have used to set ourselves apart, to demean and harm others, and be “divided and conquered” by special interests eager to set us against each other. A democracy can only be wise to the extent there is equity and full participation rights and possibilities for all its members AND to the extent that cognitive and experiential diversity are particularly treasured and sought after. Shared wisdom comes largely from reflecting together on our diverse experiences and perspectives, from discovering our common ground, and from the ability of different people to think and feel about things in different ways productively together. How can we include ALL of that in all democratic engagements? What forms of insight, healing and collective shift can best further that?

Alongside these inquiries, I am thinking about the prospect of civilizational collapse – as it relates to the lives of those seeing it, to my wise democracy work, and to our culture’s systems, responses and overall view of itself. More and more of my colleagues and friends sense some kind of collapse is possible, imminent, or already underway. I see signs that this dawning perspective is becoming part of our shared Zeitgeist, from apocalyptic art and memes to climate despair in people of all ages to polarized views of “the Other” as an existential threat. People respond to this sense of collapse – with its accompanying feelings of grief, anger, uncertainty and overwhelm – in many different ways, from activism to denial to spiritual work. I’ve been working with a few colleagues to curate resources for people who are awake to this possibility, one way or another, to help them gain a better understanding of what’s involved and of ways to creatively respond and/or live meaningful lives in the face of it. It’s challenging work, as you can imagine.

In the midst of all this, I just try to keep up with what’s happening – developments for better and for worse, noting their interactions, people’s intensely diverse perspectives on them, the possibilities current conditions suggest for what could happen next… again, pretty intense stuff…

Over the last year, I’ve spent countless hours in conversation with many people about all of the above and I’ve done a lot of thinking and modeling. What I haven’t been doing much lately is writing and sharing my thoughts with most of you. What I’ve written recently has mostly been shared with individuals and small groups of colleagues. Since my perspective often changes overnight, it’s often not clear what to broadcast. But that’s part of life on this particular edge….

So my work this year has not been much about building new things, sending out blog posts, or saving or reforming democracy. Thousands of other people are already hard at work on such visible projects. My current work lies more in envisioning possibilities, clarifying dynamics, curating and sharing resources, hearing what other people see and think, and exploring and mapping aspects of our shared, complex, evolving landscape as best I can – always hoping it can help catalyze wisely co-creative cultures in harmony with all Life. I hope to share more of that more broadly in the coming year.

I ask your support for the Co-Intelligence Institute to continue this work (see below). I’m grateful for whatever you can send and for whatever you, too, are doing to affirm life today and tomorrow.


PS: We are also looking for a few new CII board members for 2021. If you are interested, write to me at – a bit about your interest and, if I don’t already know you well, a bit about yourself. Putting “CII Board” in the subject line will help me spot your note in my tsunami of emails.


Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440

Evoking and engaging the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole

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