If we think differently, we must also act differently, and only if we act differently can we produce new experiences…

The Law of Attraction is a staple motivational of speakers. The premise is that thoughts determine outcomes. If you can visualise a better future, and conceive of the steps you need to take to reach it, there is a potential created.

In reality, change requires more than positive thinking, and there is a feedback loop between thinking and acting. Changing our thoughts is a very important starting point, but if we think differently, we must also act differently, and only if we act differently can we produce new experiences. In turn, new experiences may cause us to think differently, revise our plan, and so on.

One of the issues we face in addressing massive, overwhelmingly complex problems such as climate change, economic inequality and social and political dysfunction is that it is hard for us even to conceive of a better way of doing things.

The profit motive lies at the heart of much that holds us back, but what alternative is there?

When no easy answers present themselves, one principle that can be applied is that one must begin with what is simple and directly in front of you. Small actions and real efforts serve a greater purpose than much talk and no action. From small beginnings bigger things may grow.

And what is in front of all of us is the way we treat others.

One unintended consequence of the capitalist mode of living is that it has warped and perverted our interpersonal interactions. In order to be able to afford to simply inhabit the planet and satisfy their basic needs, people are required to play all sorts of contrived roles that are corrosive to their better nature; specifically, they deal with others according to arbitrary rules that are forced upon them by others.

As employees they are expected to lie to others to protect their employers’ profits. As salespeople they are expected to sell things they know better than to ever want to buy. Then there is a whole category of people who work as enforcers, and are specifically paid to disregard all humane considerations and to dole out punishments without any regard for personal circumstances. Vast social and financial hierarchies reward psychopathic behavior (which is regarded as professionalism) while punishing altruism and compassion (which is regarded as weakness or corruption).

Co-workers arbitrarily thrown together by managerial whim often spend more time with each other than with their own families, living in a world of stunted, superficial relationships that gradually erode their humanity. Parents are coerced through imposed circumstances to pay strangers to raise their children. These strangers work for a wage rather than out of love for the children, and when their contract ends, the bond between the child and caregiver is unceremoniously broken, undermining the child’s faith in humanity.

When you take a step back from it all and look at it, the impression is one of a society-wide mental disorder.

Nevertheless, this is a situation is that we can address, at first individually, then as groups, and from this beginning a template for a completely different way of doing things can be established. How this can be done is explained in the following extract from “150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future”. 

The Rule of 150

And now we arrive at the rationale for the title of this book. It relates to Dunbar’s number: 150, the approximate maximum group size within which people are able to maintain context in their relationships. The reframing of context is the all-important enabler necessary for the establishment of a new reconciling force, which is at the heart of what is necessary for real change. It is a matter of scale: attempts to reconnect people with each other and the environment, and to recontextualize their decisionmaking, will fail whenever this limit is exceeded.

In applying knowledge of Dunbar’s number, we can say that there is a Rule of 150 that should apply as an organizing principle to the way we structure our systems of human interaction. We should seek to orient ourselves around what is natural in our evolutionary makeup: we are a social species, we work well as small communities and our strength is in working together.

Counter to the emphasis on the collective that follows naturally from the Rule of 150, our current profit-oriented culture promotes the success of the individual, creating a dynamic where the incentive is for people to become silos, set apart in competition, and defined by their individual economic wealth. This creates a vibration of self-protection and insecurity, which fosters isolationism and selfishness, culminating in the cult of the individual that we see celebrated in our modern culture. This situation has brought about much that is degenerate in the modern world.

But there is no need to lament this situation; we can alter it. Built into our DNA is the impulse for something better, based around the welfare and fulfillment of the collective. There is a natural human tendency to want to help others, to create a nurturing environment for our families and safety and security for our communities. Also, in most of us, there is an aspirational impulse for virtue, albeit it is often buried deep and is but a dim flicker.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a theory of human motivation. It defines five broad categories of need, usually shown as a pyramid with the most basic need at the bottom, this being the need for the satisfaction of our physical requirements for air, food, water, shelter and sleep, while the most aspirational need of self-actualization, relating to morality, creativity and acceptance, is placed at the very top.

In order of importance, these human needs are ranked as follows:

  1. Physiological needs: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion.
  2. Safety needs: security of body, of resources, of morality, of the family, of health, of property.
  3. Love and belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy.
  4. Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others.
  5. Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts.

The human mind is complex, with many parallel processes happening within it at the same time, and so the satisfaction of one level of need is not necessarily a prerequisite for the fulfillment of another. But it can be loosely said that if the basic needs are met, there is greater potential for energy and effort to be devoted to addressing the others.

The significance of this theory in relation to the Rule of 150 is that belonging to a stable and supportive community provides a context for the attainment of higher aims. Such a context is necessary for us to undertake serious reform of our approach to the environment and to each other.

One of the fundamental weaknesses of the profit motive system is that it is inherently subversive of efforts to provide unconditional security and safety. This weakness manifests to different degrees; even employment in a private enterprise within a market economy can provide a measure security. But, to use the United States as an example, the fact that tens of millions are medicated (and self-medicated) for anxiety and feel the need to protect themselves with apocalyptic levels of weaponry tells us that they have an issue with insecurity. For all the material progress delivered by capitalism, observations of the cultural trends that have accompanied it suggest that there has not been a similar advancement in inner peace or fulfillment.

When people belong to a group bound together by more than mere superficialities, there is a range of mechanisms that are supportive of their human needs. It goes without saying that security must ultimately come from within, and that things such as self-esteem cannot be generated by external circumstances only. But if we understand the importance of providing a stable context in which people can find their footing in life, there is a much greater chance of positive outcomes. Parents looking to create a nurturing environment for their children, for example, are far more likely to succeed when they to have a stable income and roots within a community. Zero-hours contracts, where an employer need not guarantee employees any minimum hours of work or wages, are not consistent with this!

The Rule of 150 also means that groups must be kept small enough to remain functional and effective. When people know each other and interact regularly, there is a constant flow of subtle feedbacks, beyond words, that helps to build the fabric of a shared culture. One knows when one is in harmony with the vibration of the group or not. A verbalized thought resonates, either hanging and falling flat, or comes back amplified through body language and subtly introduced comments. The edges of each individual’s radical tendencies are constrained. Through shared experience over time, and knowledge and understanding of the other group members, a true center of gravity is created for the group to reconcile their actions.

When groups operate on this level, the need for an overt democratic process, with activities such as campaigning and voting, is mostly absent. Day-to-day discussion, consensus-based decisions made at spontaneous or scheduled meetings, and a general understanding that all are heading in the same direction, are far superior in generating forward momentum and unity. As has often been said about the process of voting, it is but “two wolves and a lamb deciding who is going to be eaten for lunch.”

The process of consensus-based decision making is generally what occurs in a well-run medium-size business, if it has engaged employees and a positive company culture. Not all have to get along and agree, but because working there implies a certain level of performance, or a way of doing things, things generally progress in the right direction. Of course, this requires good management and a stable business environment.

Taking this microcosm of proven effectiveness and applying it to a broader context is not easy. Many of the institutions of modern life require scale. Government, while being responsible for much that is broken about our current model, is necessary for facilitating such things as the construction and operation of water treatment plants, hospitals, schools, roads and public transport systems. These require large-scale and complex inputs and cannot be executed by a small group in isolation. Scale and specialization are necessary.

The challenge is therefore to address the scourge of large scale, in terms of all the loss of context and nuance that it brings, but to retain the capacity to organize and operate collectively to address bigger needs and issues.

This is a tall order.

What we can say as a starting point, though, is that none of the current methods of operating are supportive of the Rule of 150. The trend is toward centralization, depersonalization of the processes of life, and control by rules. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for example, which is being negotiated at the time of this writing, seeks to elevate the rights of corporations above the level of national law. Transnational businesses are being given a near-untouchable status that will prevent their regulation within a local context, which might otherwise be used to provide some system of ensuring that their activities are appropriate.

This can only produce more destruction of the social fabric of society and the simultaneous desecration of the environment.

If we are to embark on a journey toward something that can be considered more democratic, in the real sense, where it is not an “us” and “them” system of the leaders and the led, where there is real hope for better outcomes, we must ask ourselves in all situations: “How does this fit in with respect to the Rule of 150?”

This question must become paramount, as decisions must be made by people who maintain relationships with each other and who are engaged in their local context. It is the mechanism by which we may establish a new reconciling force to supplant the profit motive system – a crack through which the light may come in, to borrow a phrase from Leonard Cohen.

Decisions made on a financial basis only, by organizations structured around the management of finance, must be made subordinate to something that is better, more resilient and emerges on its own.

The application of this principle is twofold:

  1. On a personal level we can ask ourselves: who are my 150 people?
  2. On an organizational level, we can restructure our systems of interaction so that they are based around groups of 150 people.

As individuals, we can reach out to those who form part of our network of belonging, seeking to strengthen the bonds within it. And, as citizens, we can seek to reform our public institutions, making them smaller and more personal. Our inner realm needs to expand, while our outer realm contracts, until the two can meet.


Rob O'Grady

Rob O'Grady

Author & Engineer at 150 Strong
Rob O'Grady is a Renegade Inc. correspondent.

Rob O’Grady is an engineer and father of three from New Zealand, who has been stirred to action by his reflections on environmental issues and his everyday encounters with the perversity of our current system.

Rejecting a career dealing in irreconcilable contradictions, he went into the construction industry and helped to build a thriving company that employs some 150 people. He has culminated his journey that started from a vote of no confidence in our current system, and ended in a fledging hope that a better future might be possible into a book '150-Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future.'
Rob O'Grady

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