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The growth of social systems toward evolutionary sustainability

Hierarchic Pyramids


Distributed Networks

by Lisa Lindberg,  2001

What qualities of interpersonal and inter-group relationships must we culture to create an evolutionarily sustainable future for ourselves and our planet?

The systems approach offers a helpful way to describe what is needed, bringing clarity in the context of comparing its behavioral processes with other groups' behaviors.

The following matrix graphically presents a picture of the range of worldview and experience currently being lived on this planet. It expresses the varying possibilities of interpersonal dynamics as exemplified by four types of social groups. These four groups are laid out along a continuum of evolutionary development, ranging from most socially primitive to most socially evolved. Each group has internally consistent behavior patterns that it welcomes and reinforces.

This matrix combines factors drawn from two different sources

Following the matrix is a discussion of examples of each of the 4 Group Types, and implications for inter-group dynamics.

Matrix of  Behavioral Dynamics of 4 Group Types
(Note: Use full screen to maintain the structure of this matrix.)



Lower orders of
these qualities

Continuum: Degree of evolutionary sustainability -- determined by depth and breadth of intelligence, creativity, synergy; of degree of welcome to and peaceful integration of freedom of individual thought and expression

Higher orders of these qualities


inherited; born into, not voluntarily chosen

NEO-TRIBAL intentionally designed; rules already set; voluntary participation

TASK-BASED unidimensional; simple adaptive; voluntary participation

complex- adaptive;
voluntary participation
















- internal coherence (for basic survival)

High stability; but rigid -- based on following internalized customs; high degree of "group-referral" - - individual opts-out of membership at high personal cost

High stability but rigid; based on following externalized, central control; high but brittle degree of "group-referral" -- individual can easily opt-out and join another group

Low stability; mere collection of individuals; simple "self-referral"

High stability and fluidly complex; based on a self- organized web of interconnections; complex "self-referral" -- inclusive of indiv. and whole











- to diverse internal influences

Narrow range of acceptable expressions of individuality; individual defers to group for the sake of "group survival"

Narrow range of acceptable expressions of individuality; individual defers to group for the sake of "group survival"

N/A - - individual and group in parallel

Welcomed from & by all; valued as integral to group health & viability

- to diverse external influences



Open but reactive

















- desire for and ability to process and change in response to new influences -- both internal & external

Resistant to

Resistant to

Usually a non-issue


- decision-making approach

Hierarchical, pyramidal command-and- control; low consideration for diverse input 

Hierarchical, pyramidal command-and- control; low consideration for diverse input 



- intentional co-creation with environment



No; merely reactive to

Integral to raison d'être
















- Means of dealing with discordant influences

Ranges from subtle manipulation and control to mechanistic, blatant excising of divergences

Ranges from subtle manipulation and control to mechanistic, blatant excising of divergences

Usually a non-issue

Identify root cause of, then resolve harmoniously without excising divergences







- ability of a system to healthily incorporate and integrate increasing degrees of complexity

Glacially slow growth; usually only in reaction to an outside force

Limited growth

Limited growth

High & sustained growth

Examples of Each of These Group Types

1. Tribal -- a type dying out in today's world : traditional or indigenous societies with little contact with the "outside world." Groups who fraternize with people from the modern-world while maintaining their separate, extremely conservative life -- e.g., the Amish and the Mennonites -- may originally have been Neo-Tribal, but because the personal cost of an individual opting out is so high, they have become de facto Tribal groups.

Quite astonishingly, a Tribal group can sometimes take (with assistance) the monumental leap of transforming itself into the Holistic group-type -- and more quickly than one would think possible. There are currently some remarkable projects in local villages where the citizens have intentionally overturned millennia of tribal ignorance, where they have learned -- and are now living -- equality of voice, respecting both young and old, both men and women. Read about such a drama in the Lazoor, Iran project.

2. Neo-Tribal -- Laszlos (see note, above): "Modern industrial societies have fragmented the traditional experiences of community for which human beings yearn. [These] communities are identified as an artificially designed means to satisfy the need for shared identity and a sense of belonging among individuals who would otherwise not have access to authentic forms of community. [These Neo-Tribal groups are] created to attract and satisfy disenfranchised individuals yearning for community through imposed norms and values. Individuals who join them must accept pre-established values, beliefs, and rules -- as defined by others -- under which the community operates."

Ironically, this group type is all-too-prevalent in modern, progressive societies. Examples are cults; gangs; most political parties, most spiritual and religious groups, traditional repressive neighborhoods, both public and private schools, and, unfortunately, most families.

The rapid industrialization of post-WWII brought about the means of great mobility for a large portion of the populace. This led to the phenomenon of cultural fragmentation, and lasted for nearly a half-century. Some current attempt to try to adress the social alienation of this fragmentation are intentional communities such as co-housing, and neo-traditional neighborhoods in the mode of the book The New Urbanism. In their good intentions, people in these newly formed (or forming) groups often profess to espouse and practice Holistic group-type behavioral dynamics.

criticisms of these architectural attempts at creating community warn of the following grim possibility : the inadvertant lapsing into Neo-Tribal worldviews and repression of non-standard interests and influences. Critics warn that if this inadvertant development is not prevented, once again people will rampantly reject these limitations on individual freedom. In the Post-WWII years, there was a good reason people embraced their new-found mobility: detatchment from the repressive claustraphobia of The Old. Why recreate it for the sake of "fixing" social alienation?

However, the human heart has miraculous abilities to grow
: If in a matter of several years, small Tribal group-type villages in Iran can transform themselves to holding Holistic group dynamics, then it is not too much of a stretch for Neo-Tribal groups to do so also. The only requirement is the desire for it, accompanied with expansive-enough consciousness to carry out the transformation.

3. Task-based -- a relatively new phenomenon in human history because of its lack of tight control over its members. By building its interpersonal relationships, and desiring to become more multi-dimensional, this group type could easily evolve to become Holistic. Examples of this group type are short-term work groups within larger organizations, freely chosen classes of learning, etc.

4. Holistic -- a rare phenomenon; possesses the redemptive future for humankind. Examples are: some spiritually based groups, some families, some classes of learning. This is the ideal I propose in Communities of Learning : A New Story of Education for a New Century.

The Role of Holistic Groups in Creating a Sustainable Future for Our People and Our Planet

When a group in the
Tribal or Neo-Tribal category come into contact with a group from anywhere on the above-drawn continuum, the Tribal or Neo-Tribal group often gives off sparks of friction. Sadly, there are sometimes also full-blown explosions.

We can prevent regrettable tragedies by working on both the inner world of the individual and on how the individual interfaces with the world.  

1. Inner Work -- individually experiencing the pure consciousness at the core of each of being.  by personally and regularly This inner work can be effortless -- e.g., the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhis Programs.  

2. Outer Work -- interfacing with the world :  Drawing from the inner inexhaustible well of evolutionary sustainability and applying it to the outer world, however, requires more work. It requires the concerted desire and intention to apply evolutionary progress to both individuals and groups. Required is the conscious decision to use the highest, most holistic orders of intelligence and creativity to create holistic social groups using these dynamics in accord with higher orders of Life.

For publications that show how we can re-weave our cultural fabric to create holistic social systems,
and also examples of existing, on-the-ground groups in action, see Spiritual Politics and Communities of Learning - Links.

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