Who are you servicing? The Problem with Providing Services as a Solution.

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In my last installment, I covered agency and a little on how you can expand your own power situationally and daily. Now I’m going to talk about how the outside world tries to help “little people” (not literally but metaphorically) and how there can be people who want to help you and be your partner but just don’t get it and kind of refuse to get it. This mentality on the part of the “helpers” feeds back into the mindset of the DIY ethos I explained in DIY Ethos as a Response to Repression, which is my long-overdue analysis of an answer I got from Rodney Mullen at a conference in 2017. In short it deduces to if the system doesn’t care about you, why care about winning it to you? The answer is not that the system entirely doesn’t care about you, it does care about you but not in a way that properly recognizes the level of your agency and/or is trying to “use” you for some purpose they want but may not be your priority. Who are they really servicing? The skater’s skepticism is right.

The system presumes that it is a Skynet-type entity that knows exactly what to pick for your community’s problems with scientific precision, with perhaps the exception of leaving to human choice whether your kid wants the bubble gum or grape flavor in their liquid medication. It thinks that it knows and can solve your problems in your life better than you can. As such, the system would tries to give the people as little choice as possible without regard for the individual circumstances where the piece just doesn’t fit. Giving people things and, more often, specific services rather than the funds or choices of different product and service offerings to do what they believe is best. This is the Problem with Services, it is wrong and this lack of understanding of the people’s unique knowledge and contextual decision making capacity as well as the appropriate way to add in the intelligence and assistance of experts and technology leads to a massive amount of unsolved problems, wasted money, and political frustration and misdirection.

Speaking of medication, healthcare is probably one of the biggest areas where you see this issue. You have problems that manifest themselves as medical problems, that the person might even know the true cause of deep down but wind up as being health problems that lead to consumption of very costly services like ER visits and ambulance rides. The benevolent system sees that it cuts costs by covering less things and less things that cost more, it makes mathematical sense to a machine, there are two variables, number of uses and prices for items, reducing the number of items and reducing the number of items with a high cost results in a lower probability (all other things held constant, which they aren’t) of high cost items being used. But this is not random probability and there are actors with incentives and some degree of agency involved. Whenever there are people involved, it’s never a matter of simple probability and control. There are hundreds of variables, variables whose meanings are not well understood without being in the situation yourself, and certainly not reducible to what can be codified in a law book or a computer program. My own personal experiences in this area have led me to start building a project I’ve code-named HXF. As this develops, I will talk more about it on this podcast as well as an upcoming podcast called Rebuilding The Renegade, which is basically applications of Gnarly Civics-type principles to gnarly personal problems. If you want to know when that’s coming out, sign up for emails at podcast.greysonpeltier.com.

As I explained previously, the DIY ethos we study here is, in my opinion, a natural and rather healthy response to this seeming cluelessness of the systems that claim to be there to support us. If they can’t do it for us, then let’s do it for ourselves. We know this better than they do. That is good and actually quite refreshing given how politics today seems to work: blame someone else for everything and never offer any solutions other than those directly involving political power. The challenge we work through here is how we can best use this thought and this reaction in the environment we are in. The other challenge is obtaining resources to take great ideas from the bottom and implement them.

Others have identified the problems when the system, when people that think they know better try to solve the problems of the common person. A TED talk highlights the costs and ineffectiveness of social services in the United Kingdom and how an experiment where recipients were given more control over the services and professionals they work with helped to resolve problems that have costed tremendous amounts of money. Prior to this effort, everything seemed extremely mechanized and un-human. She also highlighted how building a community around people where personal connections were more valued than systems of providing services helped more than all the “well-calculated” services that welfare experts have been proffering for ages.

The act of interaction, in and of itself, starts to naturally and spontaneously create a better situation for people, whether that is in a cause-directed manner with explicit proclamations and actions like some of the subcultures we look at in Gnarly Civics or in a more indirect fashion with people just trying to help each other, perhaps even when people are interacting for a completely different purpose. This is because of innate knowledge that comes from closeness to a person and their situation that cannot be encapsulated in a set of rules. You don’t necessarily have to go all punk rock and say we’re ditching the rules, though that can work, but you have to have communication unstructured enough that it’s authentic. No scripts.

Now, where I sort of break from the DIY consensus (and I guess a little with Rodney Mullen) is that some interaction, when necessary, proper, and not harmful, with the greater system may be immensely beneficial. This is particularly true when these power players are entrenched into the space where you want to make a change. Just don’t sell out as the punks would say. Maintain your control but if you can get a little bit of support, don’t blow it off right away. This does get tricky so I will have to cover partnerships more in depth later. Of course, we always prefer as much independence as possible because independence breeds edge and edge begets efficacy, as I stated in slightly different terms at that conference.

If the system, though, can take some ideas from us and from an independently developed structure then we are both pretty good. Start giving people more discretion in what they can do using your program’s resources. Let them lead. Run based on authentic collaboration, not unnecessary rules, structures, and restrictions.

How do we start implementing this? You will need people and resources. The latter is why I think that partnerships can be valuable. But depending on your current status, you can start to build from people you know who are like minded. For others, like myself, it’s a whole lot tougher. You’re probably going to need to do a lot of strategic legwork and use what amounts to a marketing strategy. Putting yourself in an environment where these kinds of interactions happen also helps. This is where I goofed the most in college. More on that on my Rebuilding The Renegade series.

These are just a few ideas. Now think of some real problems in your life and that of others and think of how you can build up a solution with people around you, collective Resources and maybe a little help.



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