Dear Friends and Spectators,
below you find our humble translation of an early attempt at an introduction to our collectively written and recently formally published book: “The Guru-Paradox – Integral Hierarchy Competence and Community Building” of which we can now promise you that we’ll finish a rough draft translation latest this summer!
This chapter stems from the author of the Essay, from a time when he attempted to mould the original hypothesis into a book all by himself. It was intended to be an introduction.
We found the text worthy of completion and translation, for it gives some insight into the drift from which we once embarked.
We also have polished some chapters that didn’t make it into the book yet seemed solid enough to present you here.
May it serve.
The Collective of Kings
The King's Card Game
From Experiment to Way of Living
Five years I followed the idea of a "New We", as a romanticising documentary film about communities has been titled so euphemistically. For this purpose I travelled through communities, dragged myself through sometimes highly overpriced (and overrated) introductory courses, worked voluntarily as a paying guest for the benefit of the respective project and hence, the world, Gaya, you name it.
Finally I lived for three years in the community of my choice.
My conclusions are rather chilling.
Just as chicken freed from solitary confinement cages simply don’t just suddenly behave like healthy birds, modern huwomen, alienated from a natural cohabitation in community, neither suddenly act naturally nor particularly cooperatively. They do not fly fresh, pious, happy and free, but uninhibitedly peck at one other.
That might be true especially since it's often the weirder birds that flock to communities, seeking their fulfilment. And, quite positively, this may be said about me as well.
Many, partly outright obscure anecdotes could be told now. But all of them lead to the same fundamental phenomenon, namely an often completely unconscious conformance of the individuals to secure their social position in the pack. And this, in a self-contained world without work councils or external consultants, ultimately results in a self-reinforcing, subliminal compulsion to conformism.
One day, for example, in a speech intended to be inspiring the informal leadership of “my” community stated that it was necessary to "connect with the heart". "God Source" was the word used. In a “radical” (their self-assessment) community that actually originated in the leftist movement of the seventies ...!
And not surprisingly, in the "Forums", a common circular format for community building, everyone suddenly had contact with their "God's Source".
While, of course, very little changed in everyday life. In fact, rather nothing.
That then soon marked the end of my attempt at integration, namely when I stated in the Forum that where the others supposedly had discovered their God’s Source, in my case there was only a black hole to be found. The extent of subtle exclusion that followed after that defies description.
I recognize similar structures everywhere. Whether in the flourishing seminar business or in allegedly alternative political movements. There suddenly all become Shamans, Native Americans, Celtic Druids or even holy Saints. For a weekend. The bourgeoisie drinks organic lemonades and mashes fair-trade avocados from guaranteed organic Amazonian cultivation into their smoothies, thus defining itself as environmentally conscious and advanced or even radical.
The rigorous self-presentation, the eternal division into in-group and out-group, all this remains heartily undiscovered.
In the end, as usual, it turns into a battle against the false believers, Fridaysforfuture vs. Extinction Rebellion, we all have seen it happening. And on Mondays everything is usually back to normal. The banker continues to maltreat the debtors, just as the motivated environmentalist books his next holiday with Ryanair. The wage slave disguised as a noble defender of workers' rights continues to order his books from Amazon. And the ultra off-grid punk condemns them all.
At least I have not been able to discover anything even remotely resembling serious sustainability in the context of community, nor in the seminar business or in the self-appointed political counter-movement.
On the contrary, to me it seems Dante might have been right: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And everyone, from despots to chained extinction rebels, has good intentions. Doesn't everyone?
To vent my disappointment, I wrote a thirty-page pamphlet, compiled from my experiences and what bits and pieces I know from psychology. Something along the lines of Erich Fromm's thoughts and R.D. Laing, that a person who is well adapted to a sick society is by no means necessarily a healthy person. Added a basic understanding of systemics, where the apparently ill person would then possibly simply be the symptom carrier of a profoundly sick society, superficially captured recently by Manfred Lütz under the catchy title "We are treating the wrong people".
Somehow a picture emerged: a combination of a fundamental victim attitude, which is ultimately a fear avoidance strategy because it provides orientation and secure positioning within social contexts, coupled with a fundamental feeling of lack, inevitably leads to an unintended formation of hierarchy. A hierarchy which’s top, precisely because of the victim attitude, knows less and less or nothing at all about what is actually going on at the base. An anti-emancipatory system of beginners and advanceds emerges and then perpetuates itself.
How could that be forestalled? What course would have to be set for group-dynamic processes within which authenticity and emancipation are possible, even encouraged, for everyone at any time, without the fear of sanctions and exclusion?
When then the idea of the King’s Card Game crystallized, I didn't realize that in an organic process this would eventually lead to what we as an authors' collective could finally present now as "The Guru Paradox" at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2019.
The basic idea is simple: each of the participants holds an empowerment card with which they can claim absolute leadership at any time for a predetermined period of time. The real trick is that a second card trumps the first. So a regency can be trumped by another player at any time. This way something akin to instantaneous consensus with any given order is created.
And this, as became apparent later, enables action.
Above all, however, it makes the victim role visible, because no one can be the victim of a process that they can take into their own hands. Or, first additional rule, empower anyone of the others to do so, for a King’s Card can also be played for others to become Kings. Lengthy discussions circling around and dominated by vulnerability and needs-related issues, the internal struggle for distribution, is thus either prevented or becomes an official part of the consensual process.
But who would want to participate in such an experimental space?
The "neophiles" - a term borrowed from Robert Anton Wilson - in other words, the curious. Those who are fed up with the repetitive puppet show, in which the supposedly most vulnerable one finally takes the role of the brakewoman. Because, that is important, this role serves everyone. The inevitable and well known repetition makes future predictable and thus reduces fear. Everyone’s fear.
So I sent this rather polemic text, which is now simply called "The Essay", to some of my email contacts. And soon forgot all about it.
With some surprise I then learned that a group of young people had gathered for a weekend to discuss the "theses" of said essay. The organizer told me that a follow-up meeting was in planning, at which they now requested my presence.
Such meetings, in much more heterogeneous groups, were then held in a whole series, with the second one being the first to play the King's Card Game.
Already here extensions were introduced: A Card of Silence, which everyone could play once, and a spontaneous veto right, which had to be given by at least three people, which could override any King's order.
Both additional rules were experienced as emancipatory: The spontaneously pronounced veto brings the group more into taking responsibility for the individual group members, for example when a King gave a provocative order. This King then also invented the "delegated regency" by appointing someone to govern for as long as the King deemed fit.
In the joint reflections, it then became increasingly clear how much subjective experience depends on one's own paradigmatic assumptions.
The Card of Silence can serve as an example here. At first glance, one would probably regard it as a very restrictive tool. But, prescribed silence can be support: As an "inventor" I felt a great inner responsibility. Yet when in an extremely difficult situation someone played the Silence Card for me, I was astounded by the tremendous relief it brought me. I was able to listen and observe in a way that would otherwise hardly have been possible, as I was officially no longer required to contribute.
The following games, the longest lasting for three months, brought more of these "paradigm shifts" to light. These shifts are essential to use the game in a meaningful way. Just as in the case of Nonviolent Communication according to Rosenberg, also here it is all about a certain inner attitude. The King’s Card Game is not a purely mechanical tool either.
What usually forms the agenda and a system of controlled movements, namely that the group as a whole stays together and in the end, if possible, an all-are-happy-consensus is found, thereby is unlevered, for those who take part in a game simply want to know where a group is heading if you cancel exactly that inherent agenda.
Accordingly, King’s Card Games within groups, for which cohesion ultimately is the main concern, have regularly been broken off prematurely, precisely at the point when the brakeman has pulled the emergency brake.
So here we have an important paradigm shift: the King’s Card Game is not result-oriented, but open to process. It is a space of experience without promises of salvation. You may simply decide to want that.
With some conviction I can say today that this framework changes the dynamics of groups in such a way that both emancipatory growth steps of individuals and creative group processes become possible, which otherwise I would not expect in conventional settings. The latter simply too often reproduce common systems. Ultimately, stagnant informal or formalized leadership unintentionally limits the framework of the possible. Too rarely, at any rate, do hierarchical constellations lead to fundamentally new and sustainable developments within the usual framework of beginners, advanced and leadership. I have no evidence that this ever enables groups to develop sustained collective intelligence. This, in short approximation, is what we call the Guru-Paradox.
Yet doubtlessly, for the individual, community building as much as for the human collective as a whole, swarm intelligence apparently seems necessary, if one considers the complexity of the global misery. A misery that ultimately arises from intrapsychic processes.
In any case, the groups themselves have developed a number of novel tools in spontaneous improvisations. Tools that in later testing not only proved valuable, but hardly needed any additions or rehearsals. To me evidence of a process which could perhaps really be described as a hint at swarm intelligence, which we describe in detail in the book.
For example, in our real life together, we can no longer imagine living without "Dynamic Interaction", a circular format without guidance, a format developed literally within minutes.
And the book itself has been written in a collective process in which all participants today regard themselves as full-fledged authors, regardless of the amount of text they actually produced. The writing process itself has been as collective as the collaboration of organs of an organism. Where even the brain "knows" that thinking is not the superior function.
In a collaborative collective there is simply no hierarchy of importance.
And this attitude can be learned.