Nurture Network

The Nurture Network:
Forging a Super-Coalition to Work for Greater Nurturance

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. 

—Robert Kennedy, University of Cape Town June 6, 1966

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Why a Network Is Essential to Promoting Nurturance

The evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson teaches us that cultural evolution involves multi-level selection.  The behavior of individuals gets selected through both genetic selection and the selection of behavior that is selected by its consequences. Cooperation among humans has been selected by the fact that cooperation advantaged the group and therefore the survival of both the cooperative behavior and social contingencies that nurture such behavior.

A key feature of the history of cultural evolution has been the tendency for larger groups and organizations to evolve because they were more successful than smaller units.  We see this in the evolution of capitalism, where corporations have tended to grow in size and become the dominant actors in the marketplace.

This history is important for understanding why American society has moved away from communitarian values and practices over the past half century and toward a civic philosophy that says that society benefits from each person pursuing their own selfish interests.  In The Nurture Effect  I describe how Lewis Powell’s 1971 memo prompted the creation of a network of wealthy individuals and corporations, which has advocated very successfully for the view that everyone benefits from an un-regulated free market in which people are pursuing their own economic interests.

In rereading the Powell memo I was struck by just how threatened many of the leaders of business must have felt.  He noted that 39 Bank of American branches had been attacked in the preceding year and a half.  I recall a poster that was circulating with a huge picture of the Bank of America branch in Isla Vista California in flames.  It is useful I think to take the perspective of business people.  (Which I certainly never did at that time.)
Powell’s key insight was that businesses needed to work together to make the case for their interests; cooperation at a higher level was needed to improve the status and influence of business, which was at a low ebb:

…independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.

In essence a significant segment of the leadership of capitalism formed a super-coalition, whose growth and practices were selected by their success in increasing their control of public policy and, thereby, a significant increase in their share of the wealth and income of society.   This super coalition of business interests was able to outcompete the much more fragmented network of individuals and organizations favoring communitarian values that would necessarily have limited expansion of their wealth.

(The initial impetus for the effort may have been less the pursuit of wealth, than the prevention of its loss.  Recall that the first head of the Securities and Exchange Commission was Joseph Kennedy who stood to lose his considerable fortune if society turned dramatically and aggressively away for a capitalist system.  And FDR was himself a wealthy capitalist.

We need to build a super coalition of caring.

I believe that the only effective antidote to the dominant notion that self-aggrandizement is good for everyone is to forge a super coalition of all of the individuals and organizations that want to see our societies place a higher value on nurturing the wellbeing of every person.

So I am inviting people and organizations to join an informal network to promote nurturance in society.

Warm regards,


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