A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

The Concept of "Buttressing" (An inelegant word to address tipping points in history, polity, innovation & economics)

“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


[Wikipedia] A buttress is an architectural structure built against or projecting from a wall which serves to support or reinforce the wall.[1] Buttresses are fairly common on more ancient buildings, as a means of providing support to act against the lateral (sideways) forces arising out of the roof structures that lack adequate bracing.

The term counterfort can be synonymous with Buttress,[2] and is often used when referring to dams, retaining walls and other structures holding back earth.


So here we are. The U.S. presidential race is in full swing, and many pundits are claiming it to be a wash (I would be one of them). It's been predicted that regardless of who gets the nod, there will likely be another four years of domestic policy stagnation, irrepressible socio-economic frustration and boiling international conflict. Is this a terrible outlook? Not necessarily.

As reiterated to me recently by Liz McLellan, and as evidenced by the recent movement to thwart dangerous new Internet and related legislation (SOPA, PIPA, et al), things are not as linear or teleological as they might seem.

For one, many people seem to think that history is all pre-written, unipolar and unidirectional. What comes from this is a full range of "isms" founded or predicated on ideals that confine us to working within or fighting against "systems". These logic strains manifest in things, for example, like economic iterations: "The Attention Economy", "The Ask Economy", "The Social Economy" and "The Creative Economy" (a personal favorite, and something that I think is very real and very permeable, but alas…)

I'd like to propose something a bit different, as history repeats itself for good reason: We don't rewrite it in ways that provide context to ask newer, better, stronger questions, and, such that we are able to arrive at solutions to complex problems… Such as those we face with the Internet and the distribution of information, or better yet, money.

To challenge our notions and actions with respect to taking sides, here's a concept I've been thinking a lot about: "buttressing".

In essence, buttressing averts the more binary constructs tied to "if/then" or "better than" scenarios, or "new models" that require scaffolding of any kind. Scaffolds are essentially walls and domains we put up as a result of an economic and/or social imperatives — entire nations have been built on them. In contrast, buttressing supports human walls that are created regardless of moral or secular or idealogical ambiguities, or those which might have hierarchical schemes, either fear-based and/or knowledge based. Buttressing actions contingency groups that don't just subvert "higher authority" movements, but those that also form out of chaos — vis-a-vis Monti Di Pieta or a favorite amongst some of the groups of which I am a member, Junto.

How buttressing is leveraged in a technological or an Elysian sense I haven't quite thought through (nor could I — this would likely become a construct built through a cooperative), but I will say that it focuses on emergence as having interjective qualities, rather than simpler measures that induce "macro" or "micro" or "subtle" or "radical" patterns that affect an intentional result, or a future, that embraces complexity.

Allow me to provide some context, and use money as an example of how model-free duality drives the commercial world we currently inhabit... For good and for worse.

Someone with whom I recently took part in an online discussion referred to the Jewish fortress of mercantilists who paid for protection during (and before and after) the Holocaust, so I will start there. Some of you know that my father is a Holocaust survivor (born in Upper Silesia in 1932 and fled near Auschwitz to Shanghai in 1938). Many cite Kristallnacht as the tipping point in the start of the war, but this probably only served as an affront to Austrian parliament, since Germany and Poland along with select regions of Europe were undergoing a reformation of sorts and bankers on either side were torn by, among other things, secularism. Plans were likely made well before WWI to support the "system" and to find figureheads to run it — independently of the "moral majority" or even its economic implications — and to boot, many, many Jews were a part of this "accidental regime" (my grandfather and my great grandfather were among them; you can gather some more personal context on this period in history here).

[An aside: Obama has been compared by extremists to Hitler in this same sense – yes, a ridiculous notion on the surface, and ridiculous by most moral standards, but when we think about his tenure as a figurehead, the stories might actually overlap in subtle ways.]


The Concept of "Buttressing" (An inelegant word to address tipping points in history, polity, innovation & economics)
Remember this? President Obama went from hopeful social figure to a politician grappling with labels, almost overnight. Or was he groomed to be in this position?

The Concept of "Buttressing" (An inelegant word to address tipping points in history, polity, innovation & economics)

When confronted with context, the picture changes. What side are you on now? [image credit: Adam Goldberg]

This is just one example in modern history, I would assert, that is connected to a series of evolutionary shifts that transcend formative points in time, or "tipping points". For a moment, let's move along the modern war timeline to post-WWII, 1945 on.

What happened immediately following the release of Morgenthau's "Politics Amongst Nations"? Isreal was formed in 1948. What ensued has amounted to a litany of radical (some say "progressive") leanings on all sides, all in the name of money. Yet, the "power structure" hangs in the balance, as the Israeli fortress (not exactly a coordinated system as we might think of it) requires funding from U.S. and British banks to the tune of $58B per year. Was Zionist movement in the West Bank the tipping point? I doubt it.

Let's move on to Cuba. Many cite Playa Giron as the "secret tipping point" of The Bay of Pigs invasion (an "invasion" that was spread and hedged over years of political grooming) and the U.S.'s apparent failure to build an "emerging democratic nation-state". Then of course, there were rumors that this Castro-run state was run by organized crime — you know, "the Italians". But if you retread through some annals, you'll find that Mercantile bankers – Jews and Gentiles alike, some Muslims – were the string-pullers in a society funded by experimentation, and, aghast, to this day, Cuba hosts one of the most anonymously subsistent economies, replete with one of the highest literacy rates and lowest rates of infectious disease in the world (save for long-standing cultural mores, but that is fodder for another conversation…).

To hark back to a previous point in history, do we honestly believe that Monti Di Pieta was funded by "radical" or "puritanical" or "progressive" Christian sects? Hardly. The lenders were Jews – later Italian Jews – who backed both sides of the marketplace until regimes such as Luther's found some major cracks in the "power structure" and shifted things towards a neo-fascist or neo-feudalist state. (And by the way, this pattern cycled through all the way to Mussolini and up to the Berlusconi era of today. As rumored: 27% of Italy's GDP is in the black market -- another reactive stage to non-foundational power surges and their respective regimes).

Sound familiar? Wall Street is more or less run the same way -- just as Mercantile or merchant markets have exchanged power amongst constituencies for centuries. Now, the banks have been nationalized, waiting for the next interest group to swoop in for the kill (read: it ain't gonna be the bankers themselves... Or will it?). Again, this shift clearly didn't coalesce overnight. So back to tipping points.

Was a student revolt a tipping point for Tiananmen Square?
What about the Berlin Wall?
Do we think these "singular" power structures have ever really existed in Tunisia? Egypt? Syria?

We can debate this ad nauseam under the lens of "strong versus weak" ties, but it seems in doing so, we're missing the bigger picture.

The larger point is this: Human intention is supposed to be misguided. It's what actually makes us… Human. What makes us cooperative is something much bigger than us: The active pursuit of knowledge that does not fall victim to binary lines of reason. Hence, the desire to preempt history repeating itself, over and over and over again.

Personally, I'll be damned that if in my lifetime, I'll allow the same events happen to my family that happened to my father and his immediate family. That may sound obvious, but in practice, it really isn't  -- it's our nature to question, and to question through a series of outcomes that leave us aligned with "one side or another".

Am I suggesting that we don't take sides over certain issues? Not at all. What I'm proposing is that we should take sides once we've engaged in context — the rigor that all great societies, social thinkers and economists used, Platonean, Aristotelean, Dialectic, on up through the various ages of reason (For a literary example, explore Plato's notions of hard and soft text).

If evolution has taught us anything, binaries simply aren't the way of the world. Nor should they be.

Our role within the edges then, it seems, is to buttress transitional movements that transcend the "alternatives" or what amount to "the replacements". Duality is the ideology that the edges degrade and then move us toward collective, or cooperative, intention.

This is the key to becoming a network (not a mere system) of evolutionary, acutely-aware beings that affect change in positive ways. People who are literally invested in context. Can it happen? Sure, anything can happen. Everything already has happened.

As for "taking sides", think on this, if you would.

Regarding SOPA or PIPA, my own fear is less over regime-like control of Internet gateways than it is in a singular transactional governing body -- poor management of the EEA , for example, represents a critical threat to our holistic integrity in rebooting things like education and harnessing the mitigation of greed (an undeniable human instinct). Remember that the countries who have fought against tiered legislation in support of it (Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Germany et al) -- some that are dubbed "socialist" nations -- are countries who have very strong educational ideals, great small business support and strong social benefits (stable healthcare, very few homeless people, etc.), and while there is still an uneven distribution of institutional wealth, much of this money is being poured into infrastructural development, and not just to bootstrap labor unions, who are having a hard time in their own right finding new footing with renewables and other sustainable energy models commoditizing their value.

I think that we can all agree that free markets can be emergent -- the question is how.

SO... perhaps what we need to consider here is the buttressing of private interest groups that support innovations around nanotechnology and clean energy initiatives -- groups that have mercantile power and see the value of emerging markets dependent on flat distribution schemes (think of orgs like Scibe, and some of the constructs – not all – that powerhouses like Google employ through programs like the smart grid Powermeter).

As for sides -- they are multi-dimensional; my larger belief is that 'we' (as a unified front of good people) are inherently stronger than 'them' because greed has always had its limitations.

And it's the ability to see through the "eyes of the other side" that allows us to be spiritually and mentally free, whether our wealth is material, immaterial, concordant or recursive. Operationally, I liken this to much of what Mark Frazier has advocated around NGOs, but I would add that greed and enlightenment share in recursive values that ultimately bend with fluid, focused contingencies — people who have suffered through geolocal context (war, admonition, injustice, etc.), yet those who truly believe in the 'we'.

So what do you think about "buttressing"? What can we do to action it?