Pattern Languages: Social DNA for conscious evolution of social systems

More and more I think of my transformational work as a DNA-modifying RNA molecule, tweaking the changes needed for conscious evolution.

The dominant social DNA – the society-shaping designs and dynamic patterns that replicate and evolve – are all undergoing rapid change right now, sometimes in response to local social and environmental conditions, sometimes in response to internal mutations in the dominant pattern itself – from green to fascist to transhumanist to…

I believe it is possible to consciously design consciously evolving life-serving social patterns in response to changing challenges and opportunities in our evolving life contexts. I believe this involves a mix of experience and observation, intuition, emergence, analysis, and incessant integral weaving and reweaving of patterns into frameworks and stories.

The most concentrated way I’ve found so far to give form to this inquiry is the “pattern language” – a framework of interrelated design elements observed or imagineered as decisive in the existence of a system that is healthy, sacred, live-enhancing, and vibrant – i.e., a living system that has what Christopher Alexander (the founder of pattern languages) called “the quality that has no name”. In the 1960s and 70s Alexander and a team of architects and designers traveled the world exploring communities and buildings that had the quality that has no name, searching for what made them that way. They articulated the first pattern language, a now famous one that clarified 253 physical design factors that generate vibrant buildings and communities –

Inspired by the remarkable work of Alexander’s team, many others have created pattern languages since then – especially dealing with computers and education, but lately also with social dynamics and social change. Not all of these pattern languages use the same rigorous standards for the pattern languages themselves. But all have the same vision of identifying the interconnected elements that make up a particular kind of wholesome system to provide valuable understandings to change agents consciously trying to bring greater life to the social systems they work with. Here are four pattern languages especially relevant to social evolution:

I was involved with the GroupWorks pattern language project and am developing raw materials for pattern languages related to wise democracy and sustainable economics. In my pattern language work, I am struck by the overlaps between these various realms of social pattern language development. Patterns show up in one pattern language that are similar to, dependent on, or otherwise related to patterns in the other pattern languages. Given their shared grounding in wholeness and the fact that they seek wholeness in social systems and relationships – and their connections to natural systems – these resonances are not surprising. They suggest that each pattern language is – or could be reworked to be – a portal into a more comprehensive pattern language, the full DNA for the new civilization(s) we are trying to build.

Pattern languages make sense of the hundreds of diverse realms in which transformational agents are working. They show the larger whole which such independent efforts are co-creating, and the place of each effort in that larger whole. Pattern languages can be used to design curricula (major in one pattern, minor in the patterns it is most directly connected with, plus general education in the whole network of patterns). They can be used to organize coalitions and collaborations (with people and organizations working on patterns connected to the patterns you’re working on). They can be used to provide a framework for transformational libraries and databases, for journalism and fiction, for workshops and personal journeys – and for any other purpose where making coherent sense of the many bits and pieces of transformation or life-enhancement is desired.

The fact that they can be co-created and co-evolved forever, while providing common understandings and vocabulary for vastly different inquiries and undertakings, makes pattern languages ideal forms of guidance for conscious transformational and co-evolutionary work.

So that is the larger vision that guides my own work right now. I would love for to become a center for the collaborative exploration and codification of the patterns underlying and guiding our efforts to transform ourselves, our relationships, our communities, our organizations, our societies, our economics, our politics, our governance, our education, our cultural narratives and practices, our consciousness, our technologies, and all the rest of the elements that make up the civilization in which we do and will live. This is where the rubber meets the social DNA.

This is not something I will organize, for that is not my competence. But I would love to be a thinking partner with people who do have organizational competence who find this vision compelling.

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