What is the general argument for the Postropolis Project?
Each of us must choose to change our behavior(s). A choice is a decision—a decision based on combinations of knowledge and belief. As individuals and groups, what do we need to make good decisions? What defines a good decision?
Postropolis is a system for interactive visualization and sharing of data (and narratives) in service of evidence-driven assessment decisions leading to individual and collective behavior change (and maintenance of that change) as we reorganize human society for better ecological fitness in support of increased (better) biodiversity and global health.
Postropolis proposes that interactive data visualizations can be used to find and demonstrate ecological (systemic) limits and suggest critical pathways for our behavior change to stay within these limits (such as the carrying capacity of Earth).
This approach can help us articulate the way the global human population needs to rearrange itself as a critical learning society in harmony with (mostly) untouched wild spaces, as well as all of the sections of the planet that should be rewilded (e.g., E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth). There are an increasing number of arguments detailing such a rewilding concept for wilderness and keystone predators and biodiversity conservation, but to our knowledge, none of them clearly, pragmatically explains how to build such a “fit-focused” society that gets Homo sapiens to buy in and stay in.
A fundamental basis for the pragmatics of this argument is the premise that watersheds create the only true surface boundaries on the planet (within continents and other islands). The politically-driven lines we’ve drawn on maps to divide up the continents and islands over centuries have rarely aligned with the actual flow of water across terrain. We believe this needs to change.
Within these watersheds we emphasize a focus on human population density (and reduced population levels) operating within biodegradable infrastructures, and
Between these watersheds we emphasize a focus on symbiotic human-powered, human-scaled transportation networks.
We can organize human activity into nations associated with these watersheds, regardless of the size/scale of hydrological units existing naturally within the terrestrial bounds of any continent or island. In his essay Rescuing The English, Paul Kingsnorth gives his perspective of what a nation actually is:
“A nation is a story that a people chooses to tell about itself, and at its heart is a stumbling but deep-felt need for those people to be connected to the place they live and to each other. Humans in all times and places have needed ancestors, history, a place to be and a sense of who they are as a collective, and modernity and rationalism have not abolished these needs….
A nation, in other words, is about belonging—to a specific place that is not quite like another place, and to a collective of people you share things with. This kind of belonging can be stifling or liberating, and sometimes both at once, but at its best it gives us a mooring in space and time, without which we are liable to be washed away.” (Kingsnorth, 2017, pp. 203-4)
As part of embodying our interspecific belonging to these new nations, we must arrange ourselves to properly engage with wildness over time, based on natural cycles that preceded us (and will hopefully outlast us) for eons. As part of this embodiment, it is our responsibility to think and act in deference to all other species, providing a collective voice for these involuntary participants in our global culture.
As an example, we propose limiting the size, reach, and power of any corporation to that of the smallest hydrological unit (as defined by the USGS, for example, in the United States of America), wherever this corporation may choose to exist on Earth.
In essence, this is an argument for a transition to a post-capitalist, post-growth global-local eco-society where nobody has to be in a hurry. Sure, it’s going to be complicated and complex, but this is where interactive data visualization for critical thinking, decision making, and behavior change can illuminate reasonably stable pathways for our individual and collective engagement with these systems.
We’re thinking about concepts such as infill shantytowns (in terms of J.M. Greer’s Long Descent) and energy as the only true currency (based on the work of Vaclav Smil).
This transition involves systems thinking, systems wisdom, ecological literacy, data literacy, decision making, and complex problem solving (both individually and collectively) as part of a lifelong learning mentality (and thus continuous capacity for improvement) that never ceases until we die and return to the nutrient cycle. If we are alive, we should be learning. It’s our responsibility to use our cognitive capacity, because we have it.
There are myriad approaches to systems thinking, including Capra’s proposed series of mindset shifts, such as a shift from measurement to mapping. At first glance, this may seem to denounce the need for good measurement instrumentation—as we’ve already discussed many times in describing the evaluation-assessment-measurement chain—but this mindset shift does not mean that we should stop measuring. It means we need to do a better job measuring things (as in, within this evaluation-assessment-measurement chain). It means we measure anything we measure with more purpose, within a larger, more meaningful context—having this meaningful context contribute to (and be shaped by) our purpose.
Meadows presents principles of systems wisdom as, essentially, a number of ways to put systems thinking into practice as evidence of behavior change. When we practice systems wisdom, we are changing our behaviors to indicate a shift in mindset to systems thinking (or not). One principle of systems wisdom is to expand our time horizons. In a simplistic sense, this means we think further into the past and future when making decisions and understanding potential outcomes and impacts stemming from these decisions. Furthermore, Meadows indicates a series of leverage points for our intervention within any system (e.g., stock and flow structures, feedback loops, information flows, paradigms), noting that we can not control systems, merely disturb them. So, we can practice systems wisdom by interacting with leverage points to disturb one or more systems for various periods of time—potentially transcending paradigms (which brings to mind Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions).
As with systems thinking, there are any number ways to conceptualize environmental literacy, ecological literacy, or ecoliteracy. The literacy metaphor helps us to understand the underlying purpose, which is similar to an ability to read, instead with a focus on understanding and interpreting one’s environment and the ecologies within which we participate. Stables’ concept of functional, cultural, and critical phases of ecological literacy makes a lot of sense when framing such literacy as a continuous pathway for any of us to demonstrate individual and collective growth in knowledge, skills, and abilities that are relevant to systems wisdom practice.
Continuing in the literacy vein, improving data literacy is fundamental within the Postropolis project, especially considering the perspective that interactive data visualization serves as one primary language (and toolset) of the Postropolis framework, process, and platform. In a screen-based world, we see the opportunity for a continuous “touch and learn” approach to how each of us interacts with data (across all forms of visualization) to foster our growth in understanding the relevance of data—and how and why it is visualized, and how and why we should interact with these visualizations—for decision making within any problem solving (learning) experience. While data literacy has not yet been articulated as functional, cultural, and critical as Stables has done with ecological literacy, we think there is a natural progression of growth in data literacy that warrants such articulation as evidence of our individual and collective growth with knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with data literacy.
One such concept is graph sense, associated with graph (data visualization) comprehension, interpretation, and construction, and articulated by Friel and colleagues as a measurable construct that “develops gradually as a result of one’s creating graphs and using already designed graphs in a variety of problem contexts that require making sense of data” (p. 145). These researchers have also articulated a series of behaviors associated with graph sense, such as understanding the relationships among tables, graphs, and data being analyzed. Considering the association of improving graph sense with the consideration of Postropolis as a de facto learning platform, how does a better understanding of graph sense relate to the ways we should be applying our understanding of perception, cognition, the visual variables of data displays (e.g., position, shape, size, brightness, color, orientation, texture, motion), and various taxonomies of data visualization and interaction (e.g., identify, locate, distinguish, categorize, cluster, rank, compare, associate, correlate) to interactive data visualization tools to support the goals of evidence-driven decision making within the Postropolis platform?
In sum, the purpose of fostering systems thinking, systems wisdom, ecological literacy, and data literacy within our daily operations as humans sharing a finite planet (and atmosphere) with all other species in existence, is to help us all make better decisions while (actively or passively) working toward (and learning about) solutions for complex problems, leading to “big picture” practicalities such as critical analyses of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Platform Revolution from an understanding of internal and external perspectives provisioned or supported by the ways we interact with the Postropolis platform to use its framework to implement its processes (of decision making and problem solving).
Making better decisions means combining progress in systems thinking, wisdom, ecoliteracy, and data literacy to manifest as increasingly good decisions—individually and collectively—such as building, implementing, and periodically updating feedback policies for feedback systems, or locating responsibility (responsible actors) within systems to expand to a broader “true cost-benefit” analysis for near-term and long-term outcomes.
Problems, in this sense, are neutral, a realization that we are at Point A, and we need to get to Point B, whatever, wherever, and whenever Point B may be. With Postropolis, we can help each other understand that problem solving is, essentially, nested decisionmaking—even if these problems are complex (“wicked” or ill-defined) problems.
Reality is nonlinear and nonbinary.
Chaos is chaos, neither good nor bad.
Specifically, during any cycle of problem definition and solution processes of nested (evidence-driven) decisions (using any number of interactive data visualization tools) we can build Postropolis as a platform to provision relevant (just-in-time) feedback or guidance in support of reciprocal or complementary internal and external perspectives—using these data and visualizations as contextual narratives and functional maps—for individuals and groups as they experience complexity and “solve” problems within it by practicing systems wisdom.
Besides sounding a lot like an avenue for transcending paradigms (with enough collective behavioral momentum) achieving a practical big picture critical perspective of something like the Fourth Industrial Revolution (a.k.a. Industry 4.0) or the Platform Revolution means that we are fostering a sociotechnical “science, technology, and society” perspective that, in fact, goes one layer beyond to contextualize the argument in ecological terms. Postropolis is eco-socio-technical. As far as we can tell, nobody is currently putting in much effort to make a data-driven ecological argument against the comforts and conveniences of digital (cloud) culture that are blinding us all to the increasing destructions resulting from the amplifications of the massive amounts of waste being generated by our exponential population growth and consumption—at least not as evidence-centered argumentation delivered in actionable terms that can be understood, interpreted, and implemented by the average human being in his or her everyday life.
This is the plan for the Postropolis project:
Make a clear, actionable evidence-centered argument to help us all recognize and cease our individual and collective ecologically destructive behaviors.