6 thoughts on “Sharing Power (Global Edition) LIVE

  1. Epochal social change is as much about mash as crash. Whatever comes next won’t be “wholly new,” even if qualitatively distinct. Moreover, it’s not clear that November 4, 2008 marked a grand cusp or crest. Though our experience of racing change is undeniable, and though we have countless reasons to expect that computer networking technology will prove as historically pivotal as movable type printing technology, my guess is that the peak of the turn remains ahead, and we are still accelerating into it.

    Yes, proponents of a new political science should acquaint themselves with the concept of autepoiesis, as should proponents of any social science. We humans, after all, are a product of biological evolution. Our instinctive preferences for social organization reflect our inherited genetic mashup. One of the most ancient elements of that mashup is a persistent functional predisposition, both physical and cultural, for generating and sustaining boundedness.

    The coming century’s most enduring studies of political power are likely to emerge from a research paradigm that integrates mature explanations of biological evolution and human development. So it seems reasonable to anticipate that researchers and analysts might want to know, among other things, how life scientists describe the manner in which modes of internal organization fortify boundedness, and vice versa, in a mutually implicated set of processes. Such insights might help explain the clashes you wish to see investigated. They might also add useful perspectives about the kinds of behavioral patterns that span hominid cultures and how those venerable patterns constrain the transformation of existing social ecologies.

    Someone working within an up-to-date social science paradigm should be able to offer a paradigm-reinforcing account of an event you consider to be archetypal… the recent Scientology edit wars on Wikipedia. You evidently see that battle as an early instance – among many yet to come – in which hyperconnectivity-enabled manifestations of autopoiesis give rise to adhocracies that are destined to collide with the entrenched hierarchies of the Westphalian world order.

    The edit war episode you cited does indeed lend itself to metaphors about how an entity might develop an adaption such as a membrane-like structure that helps it survive. In that particular case, alarmed by the activity of intrusive agents deemed to be exceptionally threatening, Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee escalated its monitoring activity and ultimately moved to deploy a barrier against further threats. This was deemed necessary because Wikipedia’s otherwise flourishing content-augmentation (say, nutrient absorbing) systems were being undermined as extra energy had to be directed toward bias-excising (say, impurity purging) tasks. Rather than find ways to produce more metaphoric white cells or antibodies to battle foreign toxins, the ArbCom members decided to grow the equivalent of an attack-deflecting shield.

    The analogy risks stretching the autopoeitic-polity metaphor far beyond its breaking point. In any case, boundedness is only part of the story. The Wikipedia episode also offers up a paradigmatic case study of how conscious agents: 1) engaged as responsible peers who; 2) strengthened their affiliation by articulating a set of guiding norms, and then; 3) acted as gatekeepers to enforce those norms. In other words, the episode lends itself to a straightforward narrative about a higher order, evolution-inherited mashup that enables rule making, intersubjectivity, and social construction.

    Increasingly ubiquitous hyperconnectivity won’t change the fact that humans are interest-bearing, power-deploying agents. It also won’t change the fact that humans are free beings who are capable of demanding responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Consequently, I reject your argument that “Adhocracies presents no control surfaces.” I’ll offer two reasons for making this objection (granting also that there may be some semantic confusion about your use of the terms “control surfaces” and “completely smooth”).

    First, I don’t think your example of an adhocracy adequately meets the test you set out for it… “no one can be said to be in charge.” In fact, Wikipedia’s current page on Wikipedia states, “The Wikipedia community has established ‘a bureaucracy of sorts’, including ‘a clear power structure that gives volunteer administrators the authority to exercise editorial control.’”

    The Wikipedia community includes several bodies of gatekeepers, including Stewards, Bureaucrats, and Admins, all with tediously documented institutional standing and carefully delineated technical privileges. The ArbCom is another such body. It exemplifies quite orderly modes of control, including a capacity to issue directives that have immediate and enduring impacts on the editorial outcomes of the project. ArbCom members are clearly identified, and are selected through periodic elections. The group is currently coordinated by Roger Davies, who, like his predecessor Kirill Lokshin, is a highly distinguished participant within the editorial community. The ArbCom is no faceless adhocracy, but an exceptionally public-minded volunteer hierarchy. Interestingly, Jimmie Wales has claimed the right to overrule the ArbCom’s decisions under certain circumstances, but (to my knowledge) he has not tested this claim, and there is a well-documented move within the Wikipedia community to challenge his standing.

    At the end of the day, Wikepedia is a system resplendent with rules and gatekeepers. To be sure, its internal organization is recognizably democratic and flexible, whereas Scientology’s is not. Wikipedia is a voluntary project in which users and contributors face remarkably low barriers to entry and exit, whereas Scientology is a creedal religion that demands highly immersive commitment. But the recent clash between the two groups has far more to do with active contention over a set of truth claims than generic differences in organizational form and membership style.

    My second reason for pressing this point has more significant long term implications: I think we should be on guard against arguments that attribute agency to abstractions. It seems to me you may be understood to be doing so, even if that is not your intent.

    The claim that “no one can be said to be in charge” has been made about many forms of human assembly, including “the market” and the Internet. I don’t buy it. This kind of formulation conceals the wide range of choices and consequent responsibilities that are always available to participants. It all too often provides a convenient cover for selfish and harmful behaviors. Just as the open market’s “invisible hand” has been invoked to excuse commercially exploitive excess, and even rapaciousness, so might the movers and shakers of some self-proclaimed “hyperintelligence” invoke fealty to some made up principle (say, the benevolent psychopathology of anonymous grief makers) to justify self-aggrandizement.

    It’s an easy bet that social change will continue to accelerate under conditions of hyperconnectivity. Predicting specific changes is much harder. Whether a new epoch has already arrived or not, its lasting effects are far from clear. At this very early stage, it seems to me that one of the key tasks of an up-to-date political science would be to develop an understanding of the social patterns that are likely to persist across epochs. Doing so would help prepare the ground for assessing the distinctive features of any new arrangements of power that begin to bid for authoritative supremacy in specific domains. Nothing is absolutely predetermined, but if and when such radically new expressions of human power ultimately make it to the fore, it should be possible to explain why.

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  4. I like the plain split of hyperconnectivity and hyperintelligence versus hierarchy. The concluding thought that power sharing is not utopian but necessary condition is however left to theory. But as traces seem to give an idee of what is to come another challenge concerns the state itself. This may indeed be somewhat disenchanting, but considering how democracy is utopian, and this is to my mind not a completely silly critique of democracy but also as critique a means of democracy, the interesting realisation could be how undemocratic present hierarchies actually still are. They may even become undesirable, which they are already because of being too top-heavy. The improvement of the social contract is surely the aim of any attempts to co-incide with the state, seeing the state presents the social contract between itself and the individual. Then I do wonder why Mr. Pesce would emphasize wikipedia as a social contract and leave the state in this regard unmentioned. The political science of a post-colonial world must look at the social contract in a global setting.

  5. Mark, I’ve just referenced the YouTube version of this presentation, the one with the slides, in a lengthy comment to a blog post from Archie Law, CEO of ActionAid Australia, Developing a human development paradigm.

    Archie’s post reckons that the economic orthodoxy which led to the Global Economic Crisis has also failed development. 1.4 billion people in poverty etc etc. His organisation is looking at developing “a new model”.

    I couldn’t help thinking that the committee and/or the experts “developing a new model” is still a hierarchical top-down approach. Could that, too, be getting in the way of new models developing on their own?

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