Willard Uncapher on Sat, 3 Nov 2001 22:49:59 +0100 (CET)

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NetHierarchies & NetWar / Re: <nettime> actually existing democracy digest

At 05:27 AM 11/2/2001 -0500, the nettime finger-puppet dangled before us:
"Paul Hilder" <paul.hilder@opendemocracy.net>
RE: <nettime> myths, democracy, reactivism, network and hierarchy:

      >>we can argue till the cows come home about which is stronger or 
better, the network or the hierarchy, and the answer will never be accurate 
in the abstract or at the level of the global system - because at that 
level the abstract distinction is void of content. Yes, RAND, the CIA and 
the Pentagon are worried about netwar. They're worried about it because it 
has the capacity to tie them down, to diffuse their energies, to undermine 
them, and to be unbeatable (precisely because its "underground network" 
(rhizome for those of you who like that language) "spreads" faster than it 
can be destroyed ("the wasteland spreads"...). [...]>>

Hierarchy is hot on the heels of the network, not because it is
particularly swift, particularly evil, particularly powerful, or
particularly resilient, but because it is part of the very structure of
the Net itself.

No amount of techno-romantic unity speech will eliminate hierarchy, yet
the desire, even expectation that social communitarian reality is around
the corner is always telling. Hierarchy looks at patterns of organization
across levels, as a way to break problems down into patterns and
sub-processes. These levels need not be set ahead of time, and one of the
very under-researched, under-theorized aspects of the emerging Network
Society is how these 'levels' have become more flexible.

So what is the Net?  Some might look to the net in terms of interdependent
systems of communication. Some might look to the net in terms of leveraged
position based on digitally enhanced surveillance and strategic
intervention of force. I would argue that both are the case on the Net,
and that we need to understand better must why these two species of
discourse, that of the nearly attained unity of connection, and that of
the nearly attained power of panoptic power suggest they are talking about
the same thing, but can barely frame their conceptual frameworks to speak
with each other. Elsewhere, I have argued that we need to develop a new
network logic that deals the paradox of mutual exclusion of these points
of view, between analog and digital, between process and category. No,
hierarchy is not lost in the Net since the architectures of hierarchy, and
the social formations they connect with in the case of computer networks,
are bound with the very architecture of the computer itself.

We find that networks are become strategic aspects of war and business.  
Consider the latest essay from Arquilla and Ronfeldt:  

David Ronfeldt, and his associate John Arquila have been theorizing and
planning for Netwar for over a decade, primarily in connection with
official doctrines within the US military, primarily under the auspices of
the quasi-military think tank associated with the RAND corp. This is not
simply 'theoretical' work. Since they first proposed the concept during
the early 1990s, netwar has become an explicit strategic topic taught in
military colleges. Netwar has analogs to courses on 'virtual corporations'
strategy taught in business schools. Netwar is different than 'cyberwar.'
Netwar is about networks, whether using computer mediation or not.
Cyberwar is about computer mediation and the kinds of tactics to use or
disrupt computer mediation. Netwar is not about war 'in' networks, but
rather using networks strategically, and in dealing with others who seek
advantage by using networks.  Including terrorists.

This First Monday article summarizes some of the work associated with
Arquilla and Ronfeldt. We might summarize the netwar credo: "it takes a
network to fight a network."  Post-9/11, we have heard this mantra- its
origin lies with these papers.  As this new military strategy of networks
has evolved, it now includes notions of 'swarming' in which decentralized,
mobile units discover advantages to their cause each on their own, and
then quickly relay that information back to home base. Arquilla and
Ronfeldt have authored a text, "Swarming and the Future of Conflict"
available in pdf format from their RAND Corp. site.  A key component is
the use of decentralized, yet tightly communicating units or pods arranged
into various layers or levels of strategic coordination. There is a lot of
theoretical interest here for all of us interesting in complexity and
management: How decentralized can the unit be, and yet still be
coordinated by strategic higher levels.  This is not so new- miltary and
business strategists have long debated one another over the best places by
which to relate different levels to activities within those levels.  
'Hierarchies' are not static nor massively controlling- that is the point,
whether we look to Pseudo-Dionysis (who came up with this religious term),
or to the latest tactic of Information Management in your favorite
business review.  Simply to cast 'hierarchy' dialectically against
democratic interdependence is to blind oneselve to what is going on in the
world, to the kinds of strategies that have evolved, and to tactics of
resistance and regulation that may need to be evolved by those who care.

So now, what is a network?  It is often useful to distinguish it from a
'system.' I have long argued in that unlike systems, a theoretical
consideration of networks can include multiple levels, and the kinds of
constraints and communication that can occur between levels.  I would
agree that many people use the terms network and system rather
interchangeably.  As one begins to theorize levels in networks, and this
is something to which I have devoted a great deal of time and research.
For one thing, levels need not be 'set' and fixed. That is, the 'place' of
a level can dynamically change depending on a variety of factors. To
understand this, we need to think about what we even mean by hierarchies,
scope, and so on.  What is a level- and this is a question particularly
directed to those who have some trouble with the persistence of
hierarchies in a network age.  For those who don't want to even think
about hierarchies, then they needn't consider related questions such as
how is communication or control between levels possible, what is the
origin of a level, why are they so difficult to think about, what is the
history of these concepts, etc., since all these questions are subsumed
under the derailing question of - how digital technologies are undermining
'hierarchies.' In short, I don't see hierarchies being eliminated, but
rather our understanding of them, and their dynamics changing.

There are a few hierarchy theorists around here so I need not go to far,
other than to note that lower, quicker, shorter term, levels need not be
'nested' inside of higher, long term, slower moving levels, that is fully
'controlled' and limited by a higher level. The technoromantic image of
unity, democracy, and responsibility via technology can consider the
problems of richer countries getting richer, and richer people getting
richer (on average) as mere aberrations along the probable path of an
inevitable technological solution to our social ills. I doubt it, and
think we had better become clearer about what the new dynamism has become,
and how it effects our very language about identities, communities, and
categories in networks.

I would argue that we have to become actively engaged, as soon as
possible, working with the notion of dynamic hiearchies (rather than the
old fashion static version), understand that it is computers themselves
that are endowing hierarchies with more flexibility, that we need to
consider the importance of oversight, balance of power, and transpearancy
in both the organizational forms that work in or with the public domain
(broadly conceived to also include the natural environment), or in the
private sector domain as we work for more efficient organizations that
provide benefit to shareholders, workers, customers, and the public.

In my own work, I have been using such insights to rethink what we mean by
networks.  If you work to ever to time with social network theorist, you
would find that they tend to have a rather narrow two dimensional graphs
of connections within systems. This is useful, but not exhaustive, and
what is left out is various- power in networks, transformation of and in
networks, and so on.

There are some serious issues for those who worry about the power of
governments here, for those engaged in critical studies. We might think of
critical studies here in its concern with the nature, exercise,
evaluation, and 'control' of power.  Regulation is one such control of
power. The definition of an audience or a problem is another such exercise
of power.  It is with such a definition that we assign responsibility, or
evade it, that we connect events, or disconnect them.

We need to look carefully at how the 'boundaries' of any network is
defined. For example if we were to consider the 'Right Wing' Latin
American Death Squads of the 1980s as 'terrorist' then what should we do
about the people involved in training these people, particularly if they
funded and organized nearly-covert training camps (such as the School of
the Americas)  or shadowy arms transfer programs.  My point is that
definitions matter because they determine the extent of responsibility by
deliminating the edge of a network.  What is the responsibility of
citizens within these governments, or within Iraq for that matter. This is
the kind of question that it takes courts to decide, but which have real
consequences.  Definitions have politics all their own- and a definition
creates boundaries in a network. That's what a definition has always done.

I will leave at that. We need to think about networks in a new way. It is
a way that goes beyond simple systems and 2d-network theory with their
descriptive bias to look at emerging network strategies.  Not strategies
in networks, but strategies using networks.  I should emphasize that I
both use and need traditional social network, actor-agent network, complex
systems generation, but I believe that we should call upon ourselves to
look at these questions in new ways. The same is true of hierarchies,
particularly as either the research or the activities of a hierarchy
become embedded and/or deconstructed within hierarchy and scale
transforming technologies such as the lowly computer processor.

The netwar example is relevant. Some might argue, "Yes, RAND, the CIA and
the Pentagon are worried about netwar."  Rather, netwar is becoming an
explicit RAND/CIA/Pentagon strategy. So yes they can be worried about
people who use netwar strategies against them, but so they would be
worried about any one who sets themselves in opposition to their
interests. But they aren't against the 'strategy' per se, since this is a
'doctrine' is one they would make their own.  Let me note the chapter
titles of Arquilla and Ronfeldt's article. Even by themselves, they offer
some insights. They fill in the chapters one way. I might fill them in
another way. How would you fill them in?

1. The Spread of Network Forms of Organization
2. When Is a Network Really an Organizational Network?
3. What Makes a Network Effective, Besides Organization?
4. The Practice of Netwar (and Counternetwar)
5. Coda: September's "Attack on America"

Willard Uncapher, Ph.D. / Network Emergence / 2369 Rodin Place, Davis, CA 95616
mailto:willard@well.com / http://well.com/user/willard 

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