Saturday, August 15, 2015

more piggy-backing on ideas from ribbon farm, the Locust Economy as a possible way to interpret the dynamics of Mars Hill growth and decline

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-grasshoppers-go-bibl/
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It took just two to three hours for timid grasshoppers in a lab to morph into gregarious locusts after they were injected with serotonin. Conversely, if they were given serotonin blockers, they stayed solitary even in swarm-inducing conditions. [emphasis added]
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When these insects go into swarm mode, they don't just get super social, they also completely change physically, becoming stronger, darker and much more mobile, says study co-author Swidbert Ott, a research fellow at Cambridge. In fact, he says, the before-and-after bugs look so different that, until the 1920s, they were assumed to be two unique species.

In the wild, swarms usually appear after a rainy period followed by a time of drought. After rains, populations of grasshoppers explode, Burrows says, because there is food aplenty. But when the land becomes parched and grass scarce, the populations get pushed into smaller and smaller areas, becoming more packed as desirable pasture diminishes, he says. At a certain point of density, the swarm-inducing serotonin gets triggered and the locusts set off en masse to find greener pastures. After that, few things — other than an end to the food supply or an ocean — can stop them.

Burrows says that locusts can switch out of swarm mode, though it takes days rather than hours. He notes, however, that the about-face rarely happens in the wild, because the offspring of locusts that breed while swarming are born swarmers.
 
 http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2013/04/03/the-locust-economy/
Locust swarms are also among the rare nomadic biological entities besides humans (nomadism is not a predictable pattern of movement, unlike migration,which is typically a sustainable pattern of movement through a resource landscape that’s not being devastated by the movement). They are nature’s rioting mobs, moving opportunistically from one store of food to another, without much concern for sustainability.
 
Whatever the biological details, the key point is that locusts devastate their foraging base.

Locust swarms don’t create new value. At a systemic level, the most charitable thing that can be said about them is that they efficiently strip mine value in a tyranny-of-the-biomass-majority way. [emphasis added]


They out-compete other species through sheer numbers, and leave others to pick up the pieces as they return to their solitary, non-swarming grasshopper phase. In this case, human farmers. The collapse of locust swarms completes the cycle in a way we’ll get to.

Locust economies are built around 3-way markets: a swarming platform “organizer” player who efficiently disseminates information about transient, local resource surpluses, a locust species in dormant grasshopper mode, and a base for predation that exhibits a scarcity-abundance cycle. [italics original, bold emphasis added]

So long as different locations are not synchronized, a locust market will usually have a surplus somewhere, even if it is a zero-sum or negative-sum market overall. Where that surplus comes from varies. In human farming, it is a natural consequence of the plant-harvest model.
 
There's plenty more where that came from because ribbon farm pieces tend toward length. The working idea of human behavior resembling locust activity is that while Venkat is addressing the "sharing economy" as something he considers a predatory reaction within some groups to resource shortage and the illusion of surplus, Wenatchee The Hatchet is floating this idea that the emergence of Mars Hill as a movement could be construed rather vaguely in locust economy terms.  the swarming platform "organizer" player who efficiently disseminated information about transient local resource surplus?  Well, we "could" say that was Mark Driscoll but that gives him vastly too much credit. 
 
What makes more sense is to suggest that with the various tech innovations in the Clinton years and the mainstreaming of the internet there was a way for those with evangelical interests in doctrine but broad-minded cultural interests in production to sorta, I dunno, crowdsource themselves.  Mars Hill was able to serve as a catalyst as an information culture.  It was the "swarming platform" in the sense that it provided a central informational hub through which assortive alignment was possible.  So Mars Hill as an information culture could be construed as the swarming catalyst but what was going to swarm?  It is here that mileage will vary and people with political and social agendas may jump the gun.  For what little it may be worth, let Wenatchee The Hatchet proceed with some anecdotal consideration.
 
When I first heard of Mars Hill there was no mention of that Driscoll guy at all, it was described as a kind of church/community where people who were doctrinally pretty conservative and traditionally but culturally very wide-ranging could find similarly minded people.  There you have the locust species in dormant grasshopper mode.  Since by Driscoll's account his aim was to get the young guys who could theoretically be tomorrow's establishment and culture-makers then at the risk of putting it this way, Wenatchee The Hatchet was just one of thousands of people who were grasshoppers in dormant locust mode.  To the extent that this blog has talked about Mars Hill maybe you can think of those blogs and discussions as a long interminable process of examining how one guy got from grasshopper to locust mode who has been spending a few years trying to get back to grasshopper mode.  So the dormant locusts were, basically, the people who at any point in their lives for any length of time in their lives decided they were on board with what Mars Hill was doing. 
 
As for the base for predation that exhibited an abundance scarcity cycle?  Driscoll explained that by saying how few evangelical churches there were in the Puget Sound area, you know REALLY evangelical churches.  There may have been few evangelical churches whose aim was maximizing growth through attractional dynamics; maybe there were few evangelical churches that sorta billed themselves as something like a "life together" quasi-arts commune dynamic, but that there were few evangelical churches in Puget Sound is something that might merit more concrete numbers.  In any case, Driscoll and company made the case for the scarcity and announcing that scarcity may have been sufficient to signal the start of a swarm dynamic for all the folks who may not have realized they were grasshoppers who were dormant locusts after all.
 
We're all capable of being locusts.  Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind unpacks this idea at some length when he runs with the idea that we're 90% chimp and 10% bee.  We have a capacity for hiving and swarm behavior that has accounted for our most powerful innovations and collaborations, our most remarkable collaborative goods as well as evils. 

Where this applies to Mars Hill as a historical movement that may or may not survive in its spin-off churches is that we have an opportunity to examine what happened.  If possible let's try to remember that even if we liken people in the Mars Hill scene as locusts we cannot do this without seeing the locust within ourselves.  The problem with seeing "them" as locusts while "we" are not is that we may not know what our "serotonin" is and what corresponding serotonin blockers may need to be in place to keep us from joining the swarm. 
 
For one guy he might join Mars Hill for the social life.  Memorably, a guy seven or eight years ago told me as he transitioned bitterly out of Mars Hill that he felt like for all the time and effort he put into Mars Hill he felt like he should have gotten something out of it.  It was impossible for me to not construe "I should have gotten something out of it" to mean "wife".  Some guys stayed on and even tried to fit into the leadership culture because they noticed that the guys who became community group leaders were more likely to get girlfriends through that and, by extension, get married.  The mating game can't be ignored as an attraction for men and women who came and went through Mars Hill, not least because for a few years Mark Driscoll and other prominent people in the church insisted on talking about that stuff from the pulpit and within the social scene.  All the exigencies of how you could manage to get yourself off the open market and into a licensed marriage was no small
attraction.
 
But for others it was the possibility of networking widely and readily with artists and writers and musicians and people who shared a common set of beliefs (Christianity in a generally evangelical and later Reformed sense) and might or might not have a shared set of aesthetic interests.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has definitely been in that particular camp.  If Mars Hill was a cult it was a cult because it appealed to the possibility of meeting an emotional, social, economic or physical need that was not being met in some other fashion.  You can find what you're looking for here, folks, was the sales pitch.  The closest thing to a "serotonin blocker" for the prevention of swarming activity, if we're sure we want to avoid that, might be diffusion of identity. 
 
Back in his Who Do You Think You Are? phase Mark Driscoll seemed to hammer on the question of identity.  It's possible to find all sorts of ways to build your identity in Christ and to also weave that sense of identity in a way that integrates all the subsets of identity into a larger whole.  How this could play out in a place like Mars Hill is that if a majority of your friends or family or business connections and general social life are refracted through the church, if you met your wife or husband there, then everything is, if you will, maybe "born in the swarm".  The people who managed most successfully to transition out were those who had a wide-ranging set of foundations for social identity.  If in sociological terms the "diffusion of responsibility" is why we believe someone was murdered one night decades ago the diffusion of identity might be a way to ensure that at a social or political level all the eggs of a person's identity are not hastily put into just one ever-encompassing basket such as "I'm part of Mars Hill".
 
But you can't seriously begin to address what might catalyze the swarming dynamic that transforms some other grasshopper into a locust if you've never thought about what it might take for you, grasshopper, to discover yourself to be a locust, too. There may be people out there who are doubling down on the kinds of ideologies and ideas they were embracing before they joined Mars Hill and became locusts.  Doubling down on the ideals you embraced before you joined up is "probably" not how you'll avoid becoming a locust in the future, grasshopper. 
 
If I could not look back on the last ten to fifteen years and thoroughly see in myself the behavior patterns of a locust in the swarm I wouldn't even attempt to propose that we who were at Mars Hill for any length of time stop to consider how we might all have been locusts in the swarm. I'd like to think that we would like to return from locust mode to grasshopper mode.

POSTSCRIPT

Obviously analogies and metaphors are imperfect but perhaps the controversies about abusive leadership style; the plagiarism stuff; the Result Source scandal; and the penchant for historical revisionism combined to form "serotonin blockers" for all the people who left.  It is improbable that any one of those scandals was enough to change the way things happened but cumulatively they had some measurable impact in that Driscoll resigned but, crucially, that Mars Hill was hemorrhaging members at a remarkable rate between 2013-2014.  So there may already be a lot of people who went from locust form to grasshopper form in the last few years.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has contributed here and there toward what I "hope" has been a process of letting people disentangle convictions about Christian life and practice from the narrative of Mars Hill. The beliefs are not inherently something that require brand loyalty.

Conversely, if you're still displaying swarm mode/locust behavior merely switching swarms probably helps no one.  This is why there are those who are against Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll who are at least as toxic and harmful as, well, whoever they were when they were still in the swarm.  There are people who have left the swarm of Mars Hill but are still in swarm mode for an ideological or confessional team.  If  you are not a Calvinist but are in swarm mode against Calvinism then the swarm mode Calvinist who is against Arminians shares with you being in swarm mode. What I hope we're shooting for here is to shift from being locust to grasshopper, not merely transform from a locust who's moved from one swarm to another.

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