Why Self-Organized Networks Will Destroy Hierarchies — A Credo by Kevin Carson

As originally posted: Center for a Stateless Society on October 6, 2010.

Kevin Carson:

“Hierarchies are systematically stupid and inefficient, for the following reasons.

1. Hayekian information problems: The people in authority who make the rules interfere with the people who know how to do the job and are in direct contact with the situation. The people who make the rules know nothing about the work they’re interfering with. The people who make the rules are unaccountable to the people who do know how to do the work. Consequently, all authority-based rules create suboptimal results and irrationality when they interfere with the judgment of those in direct contact with the situation.

People in authority make stupid decisions because the people who know more than they do are their subordinates, and the only people who can hold them accountable know even less than they do.

The only way the people doing the work can get anything done is to treat irrational authority as an obstacle to be routed around, the same way the Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it.

2. Groupthink: Hierarchies systematically suppress negative feedback on the results of their policies. As R.A. Wilson said, nobody tells the truth to a man with a gun. Hierarchies are very good at telling naked emperors how good their clothes look.

Hierarchies also systematically suppress critical thinking ability in their members. Psychological studies have found that people in positions of authority become less likely to evaluate communications based on their internal logic, and instead evaluate them based on the authority of the source.

3. Opacity from above: A major theme of “Seeing Like a State,” by James Scott, is that states try to make populations “legible” from above, and hence more amenable to control. We might add a “seeing like a boss” corrollary about the analogous phenomenon inside hierarchies. The problem is that such legibility is very costly, if not impossible, to achieve.

Hospitals are a good example. Most of the paperwork that nurses are required to fill out results from the fact that management doesn’t trust them to do what it wants them to do without some independent means of verification. But the paperwork is worthless, unless management operates on the assumption that those same nurses can be trusted to fill out the paperwork honestly. It all boils down to the fact that management knows their interests are diametrically opposed to those of the nurses, but there’s no way to actually get inside the nurses’ heads and look out through their eyes and thereby overcome this fundamental agency problem. So bosses constantly look for new, ineffectual gimmicks to get around the problem, resulting in endless layers of new paperwork that are as useless as the old paperwork.

Conclusion. To the extent that hierarchical organizations leave subordinates with freedom of exit, they are not coercive in the same way that the state is. But given that hierarchies are artificially prevalent because of state policies, and those who work within them do so as a necessary evil resulting from artificial constraints on the range of competing opportunities, the hierarchy resembles a microcosm of statist society, in which the agency and knowledge problems of authority internally mirror the irrationalities created by state authority in society at large.

So long as the predominant production methods required large aggregations of capital beyond the means of individuals and small groups, and corporate hierarchies were propped up by state ones, the cultural pathologies of hierarchy were surmountable. But technological change is rapidly eroding the requirement for capital outlays, nullifying the advantages of capital ownership, and increasing the vulnerability of hierarchy to external and internal attacks by self-organized networks.

So hierarchies, increasingly, lack the resources to compensate for their handicaps — even with help from the state. The state will only bankrupt itself, along with corporate hierarchies, in trying to prop up the old order.”

4 Comments Why Self-Organized Networks Will Destroy Hierarchies — A Credo by Kevin Carson

  1. AvatarDavid von Geyer

    There’s always an exception, in this case if a person with skills and experience acquired in a particular industry advances up the hierarchy, they may know a lot about the problems faced by those interfacing with real situations. That said, if you look at most unaccountable organisations, let’s take the FA for example, it was run at one time by Adam Crozier who worked for Saatchis. He may know lots about advertising, PR and spin, but I really don’t know what he knows about football, I wouldn’t put him in the upper quartile. It’s not surprising when you look at the proponents that recent Tory policies have proved unpopular with the public and the organisations that were targeted for “radical reform”.
    The Tories regard Andrew Lansley as a leading thinker. Like many of his colleagues he has the classic out-of-touch toff background of posh school followed by PPE/similar at posh Uni. What next, some real-life experience? Far from it, straight into politics as a lackey while he kissed enough arse to qualify for a safe seat and then years in his comfy cocoon peering down from the ivory tower with a macro view of everything, but no idea of what reality is.
    The obvious solution is to make decisions that reflect the reality of society and to do that we need to use the Internet to let everybody Vote For Yourself. At the next election, the plan is to stand 650 independent candidates to form a transitional government that would oversee the introduction of the Internet systems. The public would debate and then vote for policies that would have a real effect on rebalancing society, the economy, foreign policy etc. The organs of state would then administer these policies and the legislature would evolve into a very different entity.
    A consensus supported by millions of people would carry far more weight than the ideologically driven policies, without mandate, currently being rammed down the throats of the public.
    Do it here and every country will do something similar at the first opportunity.

  2. AvatarPoor Richard

    Rather than fall, the state will be hollowed out until it is pure facade. But don’t underestimate the ability of some corporate hierarchies to persist even in the face of massive civil disobedience. The bigger ones can feed on the smaller ones for quite some time and continue to hold sway over the spineless half (or more) of the population.


  3. Avatardenis postle

    Great to discover another enthusiast for James C. Scott’s work!
    My experience of being a participant for the last 16 years in the UK’s Independent Practitioners Network, IPN, a fullon non-hierarchical civic accountability network (around 150 therapists) has been very instructive.
    Learnings needed to sustain such a network appear to include: considerable face to face contact, significant emotional competence, significant capacity for self-direction, communally developed and agreed ‘principles and procedures’, trust based on significant levels of mutual personal disclosure and not least, network-wide recognition and interruption of micro-fascism including our own.

    What Kevin says about non-hierarchical groups being more flexibility and adroit the top down orgnaisation was strongly supported by IPN’s part in the successful campaign in the last few years to interrupt the quite openly toxic attempts by the government to regulate counseling and psychotherapy in the UK. Our ability to contribute lived orientation and support and to rapidly marshal and guarantee resources, actions and meetings of a broad coalition helped persistently wrong-foot the state agency, to the extent to which the incoming coalition government withdrew support from them.
    A detailed case study of this campaign and other items of interest to P2P enthusiasts feature in my forthcoming book from PCCS Books Therapy Futures – Obstacles and Opportunities – Introducing the psyCommons

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.