Where systems and worlds collide you’ll find politics

Over at Doc Searls’ excellent VRM list, there is a discussion about “governance.” Some like the word, others hate it — the concept is naturally troubling for engineers who generally ignore abstractions. But this is an inevitable crossroads for any large-scale systems development. It’s the Technologist’s Bane: We still have to do society, there’s no building successful systems that will ignore social priorities. That’s what we are arguing about here – the “governance” of the Net, the organization, the partnership all need at every level to be negotiable within a reasonable range in order for transactions to have novel outcomes not reinforcing of previous models.

Government served this function, as the setting for negotiation and enforcer of rights, but we’ve hit the limit of governmental flexibility and responsiveness – thank you, Congress – when crossing the national-transnational boundaries that the Net naturally crosses with impunity. Here, where people’s lives are shaped and reshaped by the system, we cannot shrug off the hard problems because of a distaste for politics, allocating them to the future, so we can “figure them out later.”

This is where trust meets the road, where the cogs have to be aligned, where our initial agreements will be born. Right here is where VRM must say “the battle of all against all” is over and a new alternative exists that can be understood easily and intuitively by all while producing novel socio-economic outcomes.

While working with Dee Hock’s Chaordic Alliance, which worked to establish organizational models that could be adapted, and adopted to specific needs, I repeatedly saw the governance argument derail implementation of a new organizational model. Concerns parochial often won out, preventing organizations from changing too drastically, undercutting the Chaordic model that emphasized self-organization and shared governance to ensure ongoing transparency for NEW members in relation to the founding members. Without the inflow of new members, there is no growth and the system will become moribund.

Rather than reject governance, we need to find a new respect for the nuance of social interaction involved in negotiation and decision-making so that systems can be engineered on standards that include sufficient flexibility for a wide range of experimentation within the model. Instead, people tend to either reject governance or monopolize governance by making the process opaque. Then the system becomes either an ongoing battlefield that quickly destroys the value of the system or it results in a hegemony by the early participants, who know how the system “really works,” which is just another way of saying we’ve found a way to facilitate bald political power in a new environment and you, new people, are on the outside.

This will be the hardest mountain for VRM or any variation on these ideas to overcome. It killed the Chaordic Commons. Tom’s call for analysis and reflection on the existing system and the proposed new system is the only viable next step. Some parts of the old models will still be valuable, represented here by the concepts of private property and fungible value, the ability to engineer a transactional environment in order to profit from facilitating the transactions, among others.

It’s time for experimentation and pragmatic debate.

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