What is Submerging?

Nora Bateson
20 min readFeb 18, 2021

Nora Bateson, Jan 2021

This is one essay in two pieces, like one cupcake in two bites. In the first piece, I am laying out the enormity and near impossibility of systemic change. Something I hope readers will feel in their bellies like a thud. The perpetuation of the existing ways of thinking cannot address the emergencies of our time; this is not to be underestimated. The second piece is about the unexpected possibilities that await in another order of parallel approaches. These two pieces attempt to express one idea that is not easy to describe without sounding hopeless and abstract, and hopelessly abstract. For me, this is neither. There is a territory of communication, relationship, and daily living that allows for a total changeit is within reach, but not in the solutions currently being reached for.


There has been much talk of emergence lately.

Emergence is a characteristic of complex systems where things happen that set other things into motion. Emergence is a difference that makes a difference between complex and non-complex systems. Emergence makes successful predictions rare and unintended consequences the norm.

Emergence is beautiful and dangerous.

Interestingly there is not so much talk about how emergency is related to emergence… Somehow in emergencies, discussions of emergence lose their complexity and become pivots of linear solutioning at warp speed.

Meanwhile, I keep wondering, what is submerging?

I am curious because it seems something is happening before the emergence. Pre-emergence: conditions for what will emerge are first combining, like soil-enriching nutrients that make it possible for certain plant-life to occur. Before the flower is picked, the plant grew; before that, the seed opened; and before that, the bacteria, water, and minerals in the soil made mud and created the specific ecological womb in which that particular seed could open. The mixing of many orders of relational processes made the possibilities for what could emerge. Relationships build relationships build relationships build relationships…and then after a good deal of responses to responses in multi-directional oscillation, there is emergence.

If I were to consider the social, cultural pre-emergence in the same way, I might begin to look very differently at what is emerging globally. By the time something has emerged, it is long past the moment of its…

Nora Bateson

Filmmaker, writer, educator, lecturer, President of the International Bateson Institute. Books: Small Arcs of Larger Circles 2016, Warm Data *upcoming 2019