Stigmergic collaboration vs. collectivism

A short but illuminating contribution to the Digital Maoism debate (i.e. critiques of internet collectivism as representing a danger to individualism), by Kevin Carson:

“It seems to me that a lot of the juxtapositions of “individual authorial voice” and the “collective,” in critiques of “Digital communism/Maoism” like those of Lanier, Helprin, etc., miss the point.

The Web is not “collective” in the traditional sense of the term–i.e., as it was understood in the days before networked organization, when “collective” action could be taken only through large institutions representing some collective of human beings and coordinated by a hierarchy, in which each individual’s freedom of initiative was limited by the coordination of a central authority.

It is stigmergic, which synthesizes the highest development of both the collective and individualism. It maximizes the efficiency of collective action by removing the transaction costs of voluntary cooperation. But at the same time, it is entirely a sum total of free individual actions, taken by individuals on their own initiative and without anyone else’s permission. The sum total effect is created by individuals coordinating their own unconstrained actions with the common goal as they understand it.

Under stigmergic organization, any individual can formulate any individual innovation he sees fit, and make it universally available, and any other individual or group of individuals can adopt it as they see fit. If there is disagreement within a group as to whether or not to adopt it, they can fork and replicate two different versions of the same project. Every single “collective” is the product of the unanimous agreement of the individuals making it up. And every single contribution is modular, to be adopted or not adopted by unanimous consent in every discrete grouping out there.

So stigmergy is the highest realization of both individualism and collectivism, without either diminishing or qualifying the other in any way.”

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