Rules of the UU Hive Mind

Chris Walton summarized my last post as saying, "Change originates in the hive-mind of Unitarian Universalism 'above and beyond' the local congregation".  That's why he is a good journalist; that's an concise and accurate quote.

Fausto commented in the comments of the post:
If you have correctly diagnosed the problem, then the "hive-mind" must be even more "stuck" than our local congregations, because for the last 50+ years it has been following its own nose down one self-absorbing rabbit hole after another, rather than leading the congregations in a discernible, realistic, relevant, effective direction.

He has a point.

I don't think that I said that the UU HiveMind, that amorphous collection of UU Staffers, elected leaders, activist lay people, denominational active ministers and other professionals, the formations formally known as Independent Affiliates, caucuses, GA Junkies and social media presences, is always right. I just said that the HiveMind is where change comes from, not the local congregation.

Often, the HiveMind is stuck, too, because it has "rules" for its discourse, unspoken limits to the conversation, such that the HiveMind will tend away from being "realistic, relevant and effective."

One key assumption is that the real legitimate leaders of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations are the lay leaders of the local congregations, who are usually not in the metaphorical room.

Another assumption is that the real power is somewhere else.  There's a "they" and a "them" and they hold all the power. They are not you or me and they are certainly not the lay leaders of the local congregation. There is a crisis of legitimacy because legitimate power has been usurped.

Get those two rules and everything makes sense. The legitimate authority is not here and there are hidden insiders also somewhere else who have all the power. We here, the ones talking and conversing, are powerless. We're like people who twitter each other during TV shows; it's fun, but it won't change the plot.

The rules of the HiveMind encourage triangulation and unaccountability. In any discussion, it is OK to speak on behalf of somebody else and to argue that someone you disagree with has no legitimacy.  (You're the UUA Staff or a self-appointed GA Junkie, some kind of "insider big shot" not a legitimate leader of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.) It's OK to take a position of permanent, blanket opposition and farm out your proposals to an absent other. (Everything the the UUA has done has been stupid when what they should have done is whatever the local congregations wanted.)

What we need is a serious (but which I mean, non-anxious and constructive) discussion of what we ought to be doing. We need a responsible discussion which assumes that all of us are involved in an important discussion with partners and it matters what we conclude. We need a discussion in which people claim and own their leadership and act like leaders.


  1. Steve Cook12:19 PM

    Agreed. And while I am glad this has gotten started on blogs and Facebook, I would like to see it happen, in addition at least, in some other kind of venue and with the principals, not their quotes or their interpreters, directly involved. In the old days (ten years ago?) we'd be thinking about some sort of panel discussion at GA. Don't know what are options now. I do know I am frustrated and irritated (and have doubtless irritated others for whom I care) due to the scatter-shot nature of what we have so far been doing in cyberspace. I would much prefer this to be done face to face. But again, thank you Tom, for beginning the conversations as you have.

  2. What are your ideas on a structure in which this discussion produce the needed results?

  3. In congregationalism before the revolution, change originated by conversations between leaders. The conversations took place when they met in the cities, at the colleges, in the occasional ecclessiatical meetings. And so it has always been, change takes place because change agents intiate change, like the anti slavery thing, like raising money for Sanitary commission, like the Western Conference, like the National Conference, like the May meetings, and LRY meet ups, and laymen's league and Women's Fed, and the Service Committee and now the networks are on line. We have been a self conscious movement by whole life and it is not the staff that has led, but a larger group of activists.

    It has been this way for a long time. Congregationalism is a community of congregations and very few of these activists are extra congregational. The networks are the neurons of the comunity.

  4. Aaron Payson12:00 PM

    I disagree. My experience is that the denomination as a whole is driven by novelty that originates in the local congregation and inspires hero worship of those that originate it, until the next best thing comes around and then those that are in, are out, and those who were out are in. It is a cyclical kind of narcissism that has been a defining characteristic of our movement for generations.

  5. Anonymous2:13 PM

    I am going to be chewing on the first part of this blog for a while. I see change in UUism as originating as both a top-down AND bottom-up process.

    But your last paragraph is right on! And this conversation needs to include people from the whole spectrum of representation, from ministers to lay leaders, from congregants to UUA staff. How can I help make it happen?

    A few years ago, someone would gather such people away for a week of conversations, and then edit the dialogue and publish it as a book. This happened at least a few times. Can we do that? If so, I offer my church as host!!

  6. 2286Thanks for this post, Tom.

    As a UUA staff person I can say that we spend a lot of time helping congregations learn from one another -- cross-pollinating. The Facebook labs, virtual learning circles, conferences, webinars and initiatives like Interconnections, Breakthrough Congregations, Leap of Faith and the Central East Region's Threshold Congregations are all opportunities to help the hive mind reflect upon itself.

    Great stuff is happening in all sorts of places. How do we best share it and learn from it?

    As we harness the power of interconnection that technology can provide and get better at metrics that help us to see what has traction and what doesn't, which will help us to have more impact in the world.

    I agree that before we can grow and learn, we first need to be wise and strategic about how we understand the hive mind as a system and respond to it non-anxiously.

  7. It took me awhile to spot the problem words in passages like these. They are not the nouns or the verbs. They are not any particular nouns or verbs. They are the modifiers like "a" "one" "we" that assume our strength lies in singleness, unity, homogeneity.

    The essence of movementalism --which dates back to leftist infatuation with communism in the late 1920s and early 1930s (based on spotting the word while reading primary sources in search of other topics) -- is that everyone subordinates themselves to the larger vision. This led directly to the 1960s hymnbook Hymns for the Celebration of Life, with its constant quest for a single human experience and aspiration, all summed up by the word "man."

    We spent several decades, at least one full generation, taking apart this sense of commonness, and I see this effort at headquarters as an effort to push the pendulum back towards the other direction. Not just organizationally but fundamentally.

    That's my historical perspective on this. Not sure what I want to do with this, but I do lift it up in sympathy with what is being envisioned. Lynne and I have spent the week watching skiers, skaters, sliders, boarders, wipe out by turning corners at too-high speeds. It's trickier than it looks: there will be spills.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Complicating the Great Reformation: Dialectical Theology (Part 11 of many)

the difference between "principles' and "virtues"

The 8th Principle

The Great Reformation (Dialectical Theology, Part 10 of many)

"What Time Is It? Questions from James Luther Adams to Unitarian Universalists of Today."