A Yin Crowd? Spiritual but not Religious a Crowd-sourced System?

Is there a connection between the popularity of crowd-sourced ventures like Kickstarter and Wikipedia and the spiritual but not religious (SBNR) phenomenon? I definitely think so. In my view, both of these crowd-based movements are caught up in a shift from traditional or elite forms of social organization, to popular or mass directed social and political behavior.  These movements are based on a new ways of seeing the world that trusts collective intelligence and anticipates cooperation. The growth of crowd-based engagement contradicts the entrenched belief of scholars, politicians and theologians who think that individualism creates intense social fragmentation. They cannot imagine a world where institutions don’t discipline, organize and re-socialize the masses.

Yet increasingly we are seeing how people in individualistic nations are coming together to organize and act in organic, spontaneous ways that do not require institutions, appointed leaders, hierarchies or schedules. Between technology and the marketplace, people are finding ways to connect, form groups, create desired change and pass along norms without the sanction of official regimes and governing bodies. SBNR is a prime example of this.

Unfortunately, research has been slow to reliably model what motivates crowd-based behavior. What rewards do people get from being part of these crowd-directed initiatives? What sustains their participation? Studies have found that factors such as recognition, compensation, personal development and enjoyment can account for much of what we see happening. However, my analysis of the social values of Canadian SBNRs (approximately 25% of the population) suggests there is more to the picture than crowd researchers are seeing. I think the spiritual but not religious movement offers a way to understand the logic of non-institutional social movements because it is holistic, integrative and cooperative by design.

When looked at through the lens of SBNR, the crowd emerges as a frontier institution, a hologram of the Self. Viewing SBNR as a prototype of crowd-based system challenges us not to overlook how new forms of social cohesion can inspire new forms of social action. As we begin to understand the logic of crowds, we can look for ways to leverage the bounty of this rich but still largely untapped resource.

(This is a reprint of my shortlisted  application for TED-X Victoria, B.C., September 2014)