Togetherbound: a gathering of the mad
- / -
Report of a brainstorming meeting (Stuttgart, 1981) on the possible design
of large-scale, high-risk / high-return, creative events for social transformation. Printed
in Transnational Associations, 1982, 1, pp. 29-33 [PDF version]
Why: The time has come for an ambitious large-scale event which calls upon all
the personal skills and energies we can collectively bring into focus. The challenge is
simple: ourselves together- in the form of a wide range of concerned people of every
perspective, whatever the degree of opposition or harmony, rationality or irrationality.
The processes will be carefully designed to facilitate the expression and weaving together
of these contrasting modes of operation: discovering the subtle pattern which connects
what we each consider vital.
We intend to create an empty central space into which the unexpected can be born. But
this is essentially a self-organizing event, despite the careful attention which will be
given to processes. Much will be left to the responsibility of participants acting in the
light of the spontaneous inspiration of the moment. This is a high-risk creative
experience for those who believe this to be the price of real collective breakthrough.
The event should be the most exciting and testing you have ever attended: part work,
part fair, with joy and despair, drama and paradox - truly a healing dance of life in its
deepest and most ambiguous sense. For those committed to change, it could be the most
significant. The event will not only be a catalyst for change, it will be an expression of
it. Things will not be the same afterwards - especially for those who participate.
Why not: The past decades have given rise to many collective events quickly
forgotten. People have gathered under every banner, in search of solutions to every
problem. Achievements have been minimal and essentially cosmetic - little has been learnt
from past failures. Proposed conventional gatherings and campaigns are now viewed with
weary suspicion - creative people avoid them in despair.
A new approach is required which harnesses and transmutes the very energies which have
distorted and underminded the processes and outcomes of past events- bland exercises in
cautious rationalism or emotionalism. It is not enough to rely on personal transformation,
exercises in group consciousness or on the passive belief that 'all will be
We have roles to play. But our very fear of action prevents us from learning how to
rise beyond the polarities by which we are frustrated, trapped and rendered impotent. The
times call for inspired actions of a new kind that bring us face-to-face with all
dimensions of our fear of change. In our ignorance, we must be collectively challenged
before we can sense the dimensions and rhythms of the unfolding drama in which we can find
roles to play.
Unless an event is collectively daring, it cannot avoid the superficial and evoke the
energies for significant change and tangible outcomes - it becomes merely another charming
celebration of impotence.
Context of the event
1. Background: Society has accumulated many problems and skills. Many projects
have been initiated to bring the skills to bear on the problems with the support of
adequate resources. Those who have participated in this mode, whether internationally or
at the grass-roots level, sense the inadequacy and self-defeating nature of our best
efforts. A different type of action is called for.
2. Future: We sense the dimensions of our past failures and the values we want
to embody in the future. There are inspirations and visions for the future but they lack
clarity and adequate form and are not tempered by the fire of realism. The key to our
difficulty is that they are usually in conflict amongst themselves. The vital link to
possible action in the present by real people is lacking. This is the bridge which needs
to be built.
3. Present: We are stuck in a dangerous behavioural rut, both collectively and
individually. We need a special kind of crucible within which to bring our skills,
problems, resources and visions into focus in order to embody a viable new approach. The
proposed gathering is conceived as such a crucible.
Essential qualities and characteristics of the event
1. The key to the success of the event, through the release of a new level of
participant energies, is that the gathering will not be pre-programmed and
pre-packaged. As has been frequently remonstrated this blocks vital initiatives and
forces participants Into a passive 'consumer' role excused from any action. They
are then unable to take responsibility for new action in the here-and-now - a root cause
of present societal impotence. Participants need to understand that they are also key
2. This degree of freedom demands considerable innovation on the part of the
organizing group if the event is to be of more significance than a fair, however rich
the experience. Indeed, if the organizing group cannot demonstrate innovation, it is
unlikely that they could facilitate participant innovation
3. The key to the problem of channelling the participant energies freed by the absence
of pre-programming lies in:
- (a) giving participants access to a pattern language by which any group can
quickly restructure part of the event according to the inspiration of the moment. One of
the preparatory tasks of the organizing group is to clarify many elements of this pattern
language so that participants have a vehicle of communication and a rich range of
possibilities to work with, an understanding of the roles they can play, and how they
might go about it. The pattern language should continually evolve as a result of
participant initiative during the gathering.
- (b) maintaining at least some well-defined channels of communication to focal groups which
can help to ensure the immediate preparation and implementation of desired patterns.
- (c) ensuring the presence of a highly flexible (computer-supported) information system
to guarantee maximum communication between participants at all times. (This is in
contrast with communication at participants).
4. Corresponding the here-and-now self-organization of the event, it is vital
that skills of any kind represented at the event should in some measure be focused to
the benefit of the event as a demonstration of their significance. The gathering is
society in micocosm, it ists potential cannot be released in the present, and itf its ills
cannot be healed in the present, then those skills have liitle of significance to offer
against the ills of the outside world, now or in the future.
5. In order to interweave the wide range of often incompatible participant ener-gies
and perspectives - however complementary they may be in principle - the gathering must
itself be compre-hensible in very different ways. Each participant should be able to
explore it in his or her own terms, however 'fanciful' they may appear to
others. One of the tasks of the gathering might well be to evolve far more creative and
dy-namic images of such a gathering and its interplay of energies. Many partici-pants
would then be equipped to per-ceive society as a whole in an entirely new way - to move
beyond (and transmute) the sterile images inherited from past decades.
6. The gathering will be significant to the extent that participants are different and
succeed in bridging their differ-ences synergistically. Participants will not only differ
in their concerns but in the background or maturity with which they approach those
concerns. Each has blindspots, including the organizing group. The effects of ignorance on
the dynamics of the event will have to be used creatively (in the spirit of east-ern
martial art responses to the 'enemy' who is my shadow).
7. Whilst many will be satisfied by simply encouraging the free interplay of a broad
range of participant initiatives, more can be accomplished by encou-raging participant
sensitivity to the balance of the event as a whole as it evolves. What energies are called
for to contain and counter-balance the excessive expression of others, or to enhance those
inadequately expressed ? How can concern for the whole be giv-en form without jeopardising
diversity of expression ? These are real-time exercises in strategy, analysis, synthesis,
8. The concern for balance can itself become sterile, whether sought in
'rational' or 'aesthetic' terms. The powerful dynamics of the opposing
(complementary) forces involved call for a profound shift in perspective if they are to be
reconciled, to interact creatively, and to give birth to some vi-able new form. The
'dance' of these processes can only be comprehended and guided in and through
the essen-tial drama of the moment if the gather-ing has achieved some measure of
col-lective self-awareness. Description at this level becomes a matter of meta-phor and
Number of participants
There are two approaches to the number of participants that could be attracted to this
1. Fixed target: This is the conventional approach and creates the risk of
falling below the target figure if marketing is unsuccessful or other factors inter-vene,
or exceeding the figure if market-ing is 'too successful'.
The magic number envisaged by this approach is 50,000, which has the merit of being
ambitious and striking the imagination.
The question is at what target number does the risk start to increase significantly
without increasing the significance of the event. Also, at what figure does the risk of
' significance erosion', start to increase due to the presence of higher
percentages of 'hangers on' who are not able to contribute positively to the
dynamics of the event - or are they part of the challenge ?
2. Flexible target: Using this approach the target figure would be treated in
probability terms and 'hardened' as the event approached and infrastructure
commitments had to be made. At this stage a significant event could be envisaged anywhere
in the range 500 to 50,000.
Note that these figures are relatively modest in terms of present day
'instant' refugee or pilgrim camps (e.g. in India).
Because of the political, infrastructure, travel and other considerations, care must be
taken in the choice of location. Ideally a valley is required in which tent or other
temporary shelters can be put up and serviced.
An important dilemma is obtaining a magically attractive location (lakeside, etc)
without the associated risk of leaving it an ecological disaster. In this connection other
alternatives are a desert location (with mountains) van abandoned military base, provided
that travel and services can be organized. Given that the event is designed to respond to
the disagreeable conditions of the present, it may be preferable to hold it in an area
which can be re-energized by the event if it succeeds. The apparently attractive
alternative of profiting from some magical site could well be seen as a further attempt to
exploit the beauties of nature and a failure to make creative use of our own psycho-social
A. Sources: There are a number of sources of financing which can be considered
singly or in combination:
1. Participation fee
- Useful to select participants who really want to be there and to guarantees the
grass-roots nature of the event
- Does not respond to fund requirements in advance of the event unless a pre-registration
fee scheme is used
- No guarantee that the target numbers will be reached.
2. Concession fees
- Useful for catering or related services
- Does not respond to early fund requirements
- May be a constraint on flexible target participation
- May be unavailable if the location is too distant from a city base.
3. Corporate donations (in funds or kind)
- May be useful for some material requirements and possibly for advertising the event
- May respond to early fund requirements
- May involve constraints or create image problems for the event
4. Individual donations
- Most attractive for organizers but most difficult to ensure in sufficient quantity
- Most awkward in the event of financial loss.
- Iincreasingly difficult for innovative large-scale events, except in special cases.
6. Media and other rights
- Very attractive if the event is a success
- Very unreliable if there is risk involved in organizing the event.
7. National or local government
- Attractive if possible, although it may affect the image
- May only be available after the event has acquired momentum.
B. Marketing: The key to the success of this operation is defining a
sufficiently vital `' package ,, to attract the various sources of funds noted
1.. 'Psychological holiday' (Togetherbound...)
The gathering could be very successfully developed and marketed to individuals (and
groups) as a holiday of a very different kind (excitement, risk, renewal, sense of
mission, festival, 'discover the future', etc.). As such the travel industry
would do much to make it know as an option. People could consider it under a holiday
budget rather than as a special expense. It belongs then in an identifiable category as a
(psychological) adventure holiday (cf. Outward Bound courses), but with a highly
2. Social experiment
Even if marketed as a psychological holiday, the nature of the event would also allow
it to be 'marketed' to foundations and governments as a self-organizing social
experiment in instant community building. The degree of innovation is relevant to many
research issues and would provide a field day for researchers. Universities might even
'buy into the project' in order to conduct and observe experiments in that
environment, on the Skylab formula. The experiment could be described as a way of
self-organization in the ever present refugee camps. As such it might well be of interest
to civil defense agencies or even as an exercise requiring army support (as a simulated
refugee camp). It could also be described as an organizational experiment in response to
mass unemployment and social alienation - a problem about which governments are
increasingly anxious. As such, some governments could well be interested in financing the
presence of people from their own country. It could also be considered as an experiment in
conflict resolution within a large community and therefore attract funds from
3. Hardware / Software experiment
The event could be analyzed in terms of the possible use of:
- Innovative hardware: low-cost dwellings (domes, etc.), energy systems, sanitation
systems, catering, information systems, etc.
- Innovative software: especially computer programmes to help people to work together,
focus their concerns, and generally empower them to act.
Such possibilities could well attract corporation support or assistance.
4. 'Discover the future', campaign
With the three elements described above, a credible campaign could be launched to
attract funds from individuals who believe that the experiment is worthwhile and likely to
bear fruit, even though they have no intention of participating.
5. Media rights
Given the four elements above, the event could be sold to the media reasonably
Planning and financial risk management
It is vital that planning and financial arrangements be envisaged in terms of
'fail-safe' procedures which minimise financial risk. This means that
the budget should not be designed in fixed terms but as a function of the number
of participants. Budgetary items should be plotted in terms of different target
Clearly there will be 'fixed costs', but many of these will increase stepwise
with increments in the number of participants.
Careful thought should be given to legal arrangements, liability. etc. Possibly several
different corporate entities should be created to handle different aspects of the event
and its preparation:
- Foundation or trust to receive certain funds for disbursement
- Association of participants and interested persons to express and clarify some policies
- Corporation to market the event and its products
- Other bodies as required: travel agency, etc.
Towards a Pattern Language for Participants
This section gives a very provisional outline of the 'windows' through which
any participant might choose to perceive the gathering and the possibilities for action
there. In its final form, distributed to participants, each item here would have attached
comments and advice as a kind of 'how-to-do-it' or 'recipe', book,
open to subsequent amendment by participants themselves.
The term 'pattern language' is taken from a recent series of books on this
question by designer Christopher Alexander (Oxford University Press. 1975-1979).
- The Timeless Way of Building
- A Pattern Language
- The Oregon Experiment
1. Meeting Patterns (Orgamzation and Services): 'Pattern'
is a suggestive general term to describe any particular (and usually familiar)
way of organising the flow of energies in a gathering. Patterns can be combined
into a network within a 'pattern language'. Some of the resulting
arrangements are 'better' than others, and the challenge s to find
arrangements which enhance the hidden quality which makes them 'feel right'
in a given set of circumstances
2. Pattern Participation (Roles): Many of the above patterns are
'activated' only by the presence of people playing appropriate roles. People may
take up these roles irrespective of the formal reason for their participation in the
gathering and their performance may be more significant for the gathering than their
concerns (see below). These roles may in fact be considered as sub-patterns in their own
3. Pattern Concerns (Contributions, etc): People participate in events because
of 'concerns' about which they wish to give, receive, or share, or which they
wish in some way to advance or promote. These concerns colour the energy content of the
patterns through which they are expressed.
4. Pattern Perception (Images and strategies): In a complex gathering people
need to have some image through which to make sense of the event as a whole and of where
it is going, and to help them to decide on how to participate in it. Whatever the images
used they are needed to give a sense of continuity and context. Different people prefer
one or more different images:
- Structure: The gathering may be 'objectified' in terms of
any of the following: Agenda, Critical pathway, System diagram, Programme matrix,
Event timetable, Programme 'tracks'
- Risk: Participants may prefer to assess their participation in terms of
'risk tracks'. Some may be entirely conventional low-risk lecture/discussion
type events. Others may be designed to make the participant take or defend a position as a
person. Others may involve the participant in some personal transformation process. And
some may be high-risk experiments which may fail as experiments do, providing lessons for
- Ceremonial and celebration: The gathering may be decided as a grouping of
sub-ceremonies culminating or constituting some macro-event. This may involve, or be see
as, the high point of a pilgrimage with associated festival activity.
- Games: The gathering may be described as a pattern of interlocking
games, whether recreational, therapeutic or 'serious' in intent. An underivina
objective mav be the emergence of qualitatively superior games (e.g. in the style of
Hesse's Glass Bead Game).
- Topic tracks: The gathering may also be objectified as a complex set of
interweaving topic ('concern') tracks as is often done in conventional
- Quest: The gathering may be attractive to some when interpreted as a
mystical quest or an exercise in collective alchemical marriage.
- Learning pathways: To those oriented towards education, the gathering may
best be understood as a complex set of interweaving learning pathways.
- Energy sources and sinks: Some may choose to see the event in terms of
sources of different qualities to be cultivated, energy receptacles to be created and
maintained, and energy sinks or traps to be avoided. The whole event may be seen in terms
of gathering and using chi energy.
- Community: Some may prefer to experience the event as an experience in
'instant community' enriched by the presence of children, old people, the
- Imagery and dance: Such a gathering can also lend itself to comprehension
as a pattern of aesthetic images, or as a dance of energies.
- Group formation: For some there will be ways of using information which
could make of the whole gathering a gigantic experiment in forming and reforming groups
until the most mature groups emerge suitably empowered and able to relate appropriately to
other groups emphasizing other energies.
- Socio-political analysis: The gathering will lend itself to description
and interpretation in terms of power politics and societal dynamics.
- Abstract forms: Some may wish to see the gathering as energies patterned
onto more abstract forms: Spiral, Hierarchy Network, Tensegrity, Mandala, Matrix, Torus,
- Symbol systems: Some may be attracted by seeing the interweaving energies
at the gathering in terms of a particular symbol system such as astrology, the I Ching,
any pantheon, etc. These could even be used to identify imbalance in the energies
represented, blockages in the evolution of the event, or threshold tests and challenges.
- Catastrophe theory: The transitions in the event may be best understood by
some in the light of the mathematics of catastrophe theory.
- Drama: The gathering should be aramatic, and some may want to participate
in it in such a way as to heighten the dramatic effects and the significance of the event
as a whole
- Psycho-cultural analysis: The forms and expressions of the gathering
can be seen in psychoanalytical terms with necessary archetypal confrontations.
- Group healing exercise: The gathering may been seen as a body to be
healed and rendered whole.
- Ecosystem: The various perspectives and processes may be best mapped by
some onto an image of some environmental system with different species interacting,
procreating and developing somewhat at the mercy of the elements.
- Information processing device: The whole gathering may be
interpreted as a complex bio-mechanical computer processing different types of
information, storing it, and forming it into various images of the whole - possibly with
some final cutout
- Taoist group meditation: The gathering may also be understood as a
Clearly the above points merely help to clarify what we need to know in order to be
able to organize such an event. What could it achieve and would it be worth organizing ?
Given the uninspiring alternatives for collective action at this time, it may be that this
event would attract the 'creatively mad' people whose interaction could break
new ground and point the way to a creative response to the world's current condition.
Hence the subtitle of this document. Initiatives of this kind are useful social
experiments in their own right, especially when compared to the sterility of current
intergovernmental conferences. But whether such experiments are actually undertaken or
not, the collective exercise of working out what features and processes could usefully be
embodied in them can help to sharpen our awareness of the nature of the psychosocial
design problem that we face.
Extracts from Large-Group Conferences; maturing their reflective, focusing
and transformative power, especially in conditions of social upheaval (Introductory
report for Commission IV of the World Forum of Transnational Associations.
1. Meetings, and particularly international meetings are a vital feature of society.
Considerable efforts have been successfully made to increase the efficiency of meeting
organization/operation through the use of management skills, communications technology and
specially conceived buildings.
2. Despite the ease with which meetings are held, and the increasing number of
'innovative' events, there is rising concern that many of these do not fulfil
the expectations of participants and of those whose future depends upon their outcome.
3. The fundamental problem seems to be associated with the fact the apparent success at
'processing' agenda items, participants viewpoints and documents results only in
an apparent or superficial consensus whose impact if any, is frequently limited to one of
short-term public relations The meeting outcome is such that the collective empowerment is
minimal as is the enablement of the participant. Seen in this light current meeting procedures
themselves constitute a principal obstacle to social change at least for
those meetings in which this is a preoccupation.
4. The challenge would therefore appear to be to elaborate a new conceptual framework
within which a meeting may be perceived. For unless a new attitude to the meeting process
can be elaborated, it seems highly probable that concealed inherent weaknesses will
continue to undermine and erode the value for social change of any meeting outcome. In a
very real sense meetings model collective (in)ability to act and the (ineffectiveness
of collective action.
5. An important question then is how to mature the power of a meeting to:
- Rreflect the complexity of the external environment is an ordered manner
(representation), to reflect about that environment (conceptual processes), and to reflect
about itself (self-reference or self-reflexiveness).
- Focus the variety of perspectives represented, without destroying it in some
simplistic formula of superficial consensus.
- Transform the issues presented, and the organizational groups which take
responsibility for them, Into new configurations of operational significance.
- Act, or empower those represented to act, in the light of the level of
understanding achieved during the meeting.
6. The task is therefore to discover the nature of the 'compleat meeting' of
the future, through which a new order may be brought into being. Such investigations are not
concerned with large-group meetings or conferences which are:
- Organized according to procedures considered reasonably satisfactory by most of those
directly involved, possibly on the basis of experience of previous meetings in the same
- Deliberately structured, by the instigators to achieve a certain objective, irrespective
of the individual preoccupations of those who choose to participate under such
- Conceived around a pre-defined set of topics, irrespective of any other topics
which may emerge during the meeting as common to a number of participants present.
- Deliberately unstructured, as an environment for spontaneous exchange between
participants, but without any concern that such exchanges should lead to the emergence of
some larger pattern.
The 'Court' Jester and 'Foolishness'
The fool, who was sitting beside the fire, heard these words, leapt to his feed came
before the King, and skipped and danced for glee, saying I 'Lord King', so God
save me, your adventures now begin, and often you will find them perilous and hard ?
- Perceval, or the Story of the Grail
The court jester, the clown, the fool or the buffoon, is a mythic figure representing
the inversion of the powers of the king (as the possessor of supreme powers) - or as
his alter ego. He is therefore often the victim chosen in folklore as the substitute or
foil for the king in rites whereby the people respond frankly and unceremoniously to such
Court jesters were first recorded in the courts of the Egyptian pharaohs and were in
vogue up until the 18th century in European courts, salons and taverns. They were often
physically mishappen, if not also psychically disturbed. Ideally they were a powerful
reminder of the distortion of the human condition - more immediate than the
photographs disseminated via the media of today.
Additionally, due to the freedom front censure and responsibility for their actions
which they were accorded, they were able to mirror! parody and mimic court situations in
such a way as to bring out truths which would otherwise be collectively and carefully
ignored. They were often masters of song and dance' and could be a dramatic foil to pomp,
superficiality and falsehood of any kind. As an ambiguous and often an-drogynous figure,
the jester could function as a powerful social catalyst-for good or for ill,
depending upon the response of those by whom he was surrounded.
The fool is an enigmatic symbol of the point of crisis when the normal or conscious
appears to become perverted or infirm, and in order to regain health and well-being is
obliged to turn to the dangerous, the irrational, the preconscious and the abnormal. As
such, the fool is to be found on the fringe of all orders and systems, outside all
conventional categories, processes and social rules. He is the bridge between the
conscious and the unconscious (and between the attributes of the right and left
hemispheres of the brain) - a reminder that, after having failed in our effort to
order and understand the universe in the hght of our intellect and instinct, there
nevertheless remains another way.
Eliminating the jester from the covert Is as risky as allowing him to play his role.
For. if 'foolishness' is not given a channel through which to express itself, it
seeks its own channel anyway. Parliamentary and international assemblies. particularly
those in which each is conscious of the high purpose and seriousness of his role, run a
considerable risk of incorporating distortion into their proceedings and results because
of an inability to accept what a jester would reveal. (Political cartoons offer a partial
remedy, but they lack the significance of being accepted as part of the proceedings and
thus have little affect on them.)
It requires greater maturity on the part of all participants' especially the
chairperson and principal speakers, to play their parts in the face of such instant
feedback. In the absence of children at international assemblies, who can say whether our
international emperors wear anv clothes?
Conference, Fair Market/Bazaar Agora/Forum, Symposium, Workshop,
Demonstration, Drama, Reception, Exhibition, Court, Festival, Lecture, Pilgrimage,
Passion play, Ceremony/Ritual, Panel session, Sharing, Brainstorming, Songfest, Games,
Holiday camp, Contest, Public blessing, Celebration, Discussion, Group meditation,
Carnival, Show/Music hall, Majlis, Dance, Happening, Procession, Retreat, Audio-visual
Talking to speaker, Speaking to group, Swapping information, Receiving
documents, Show and tell,
Meeting new people, Non-verbal experience, Sharing with another, Lobbying/Persuading,
Protesting, Having fun, Learning, Changing, Coffee table discussion, Distributing papers,
Speaker, Musician, Organizer, Wise person, Listener, Creative artist, Lobbyist, Networker,
Jester, Performer, Caterer, Mediator, Facilitator, 'Accompanying person',
Handicapped, Writer, Game organiser, Adviser, Fan, Therapist, Child, Old person,
Appreciator, Devil's advocate, Fixer, Material arranger, Priest, Ego stroker,
Presenter, Discussant, Sympathizer, Agent provocateur, Ritualist, Strategist,
Improviser, Animator, Chairperson, Rapporteur, Note-taker, Super-star, Security person,
Theoretical concerns: As respresented by the intellectual
disciplines of which, ungrouped, there are some 1,800.
Substantive concerns: Namely societal problems and conditions, typically
Population, Unemployment, Inflation, Refugees, Energy, Illiteracy, Environment, Human
Aesthetic concerns: Especially their expression and involving others in that
Music, Poetry, Theatre, Textures, Song, Art, Dance, Perfumes
Intangible experiential concerns:
Prayer, Power, Risk, Other negative values, Meditation, Humour, Renewal, Other positive