Willard Uncapher on Thu, 8 Nov 2001 22:43:39 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> NetHierarchies & NetWar

At 09:51 AM 11/4/2001 -0600, windseye <windseye@cei.net> picked up the 
thread of networks, hierarchies, and systems; and wrote:

>Hierarchies are premised on control, power, information, and decision 
>making dispersed from high to low. At the lowest levels the scope, range, 
>degree of power, control and choice are extremely limited. Capacity to 
>respond, revise, modify either overall tactics or strategy is either 
>extremely limited or non-existent. Certainly shifting the field of action 
>and objectives is not possible.

Hierarchies are and are not about power.  Those who divide the world into 
two great dialectical camps (and you know who you are), into the Athenians 
vs. the Spartans, the Freedom lovers vs the Organizers, into the sexy, and 
suitably mischievous "arboreal" (tree-like) vs the rhizomatic 
(root-decentered) of Deleuze and Guattari must struggle against this 
evasion of logical boundaries. Dialectics are the most reliable toys 
around, but they demand certain kinds of environments. Dialectics looks to 
edges, defines edges, argues about edges. But as we loosen our sails to 
voyage into a new understanding of networks, we will have to rethink how 
these boundaries interact and create one another; we will need a new 
network logic, and a great deal of it is already in place, as I have been 
documenting.  It is not so much that networks are 'new,' but rather that we 
are only gradually coming to understand them, to recognize them, and to see 
how this understanding, this perspective has been coming into focus for 
several centuries. Inversely, in is important to understand what 'impaired' 
this understanding of network logics, and how this impacts research, 
politics, and interpretation.

In the case of the quote above: a 'lower level' is not so highly 
constrained simply by being 'lower.' The 'higher level' so free by being 
higher.  Why should they be?  Because it makes for an interesting contrast? 
TThis is an assumption that acts as blinds to what is truly going on.

Think about the cells in your body.  While they are 'smaller' than you, to 
what extent do you constrain 'their' activities. How would you describe 
your 'power' over them?  Now we can  deal with some of the cells one by one 
in certain instances, but we really do not have the resources to deal with 
vast masses of their tiny, yet critical and dynamic populations.  Higher 
up, 'we' deal in approximations, in statistical judgements, choosing from 
only among some of the activities going on.  In fact, the 'cells' have a 
lot more 'freedom' than we might normally imagine, and even the boundaries 
of the body, so dear to technoromantics and first-generation cyborg 
theorists, begin to, what is the word?- loosen up, unravel, become entwined 
in dynamics in which the boundaries of the body are no longer clear.  Our 
cells must be renewed, and with a few small exceptions, we become 
'physically' new people every few years, with only our self-evolving 
staying the same (I will postpone a critique of autopoiesis, until a later 
date). While you might then endow 'agency' to one level our another, to our 
'self' which 'decides' to become multiple or simply one, this would be a 

Who is in charge?  Who is the agent?  An answer depends on how you pose the 
question to a network. A NetArt theorist might pose it one way, a cyborg 
theorist another.  However, those who look at, theorized, and researched 
complex networks and networks of complexity, whether in economics, biology, 
or ecology, realize that agency in networks is neither arbitrary nor 
determined, since these words don't quite fit.  We can control our cells, 
to some extent, and they us, to some extent. Indeed 'the technologies of 
scale' are allowing us to understand the organization of cells in more and 
more contexts, and thus to intervene in their activities in more and more 
ways.  But who is in charge?  I might turn to Foucault and Gramsci to 
invoke the complications of 'endowing' or training the freedom of parts, 
who act our their freedom within invisible constraints. But then this 
'top-down' perspective might need to miss out on emerging freedoms, 
invisible freedoms, and 'unimportant freedoms' available in the carnival of 
life down at the cellular level.

Who is the agent?  That seems to depend on which story one wants to 
tell.  And that in turn depends on who one in turn structures all the 
approximations and connections in the networks of meaning. All this might 
be a bit theoretical, if it were not for increasing mediation and 
introduction of network and computational technologies.  The master weaving 
of the universe, as it were, are becoming ever more transformed in the 
'network society,' and it behoves us to understand this new condition 
occurring off the grid of static boundaries. Think about cells in our 
bodies.  With 'communication enhancements' it is as if cells could now work 
interactively and even integratively with more fields and systems outside 
of the 'body.'

The same is true in NetWar, and in network tactics, whether undertaken as 
part of military, business, or progressive activists. So-called upper 
levels must evolve in ways that deal with the increased communicative 
potential 'lower down.'  Lower down, we might see Raves evolving in what 
Hakim Bey has called Temporary Autonomous Zones.  And the TAZ can be used 
to describe any number of emergent, but somewhat invisible form or force in 
a larger system. In my reading, as the Rave attains the 'scale' by that it 
can be seen by 'those above' (more on this), then it come closer to the 
point that it can be targeted for elimination or appropriation. While some 
Rave theorists might think this hit-and-run TAZ can go on indefinitely, I 
would point out that as 'Raves' themselves become a pattern- in a city, a 
culture, etc.- then they can also be targeted and/or appropriated. And a 
pattern is just a way of simplifying the evasions, explorations, 
bifurcations, losses and gains of one level, but a simply 'system' of 
re-occurring similarities seen from a higher level.  The Rave pattern gets 
noticed, and becomes part of the strategy of people with social and 
material power (and endowing new power and limitations on some from the 
Rave world whose scope expands).

I believe it is important to look at some of the explicit theorizing (and 
implicit tactics) of someone like Jack Welch of GE.  Jack Welch, the much 
emulated (in terms of business practice and theory), reviled (in terms of 
social concerns), and influential CEO of General Electric summarized some 
of his new management strategies in terms of 'boundaryless organizations.' 
In fact there are boundaries, and why they were background is another 
story, but the point is that he led many other corporations like his (the 
largest industrial Corp in the world I believe) to come up with strategies 
that open the boundaries in and between corporations in new ways.

Now we can look to his alleged impact on, say, the GE-NBC media network and 
on their coverage and influence over the recent US presidential elections. 
The new management theorist try hard to figure out 'where the information 
is' with which they need to make their decisions, and it is not simply at 
the top of some big bureaucratic information filtering machine. It would be 
interesting to compare some of Welch's and other the new management 
theorists rants against 'bureaucracy' (and 'government') and that of the 
'left.'  The new managment strategies are not based (exclusively) on 
Hegelian-Darwinian-Spencer competition and survival/evolution of the most 
fit, but rather on ways of re-conceiving networked organizations. We can 
hear of Von Neumann and game theory influenced strategy of building product 
lines around complements (coopetition, which is to combine cooperation and 
competition). This all would demand a social and political analysis a bit 
more evolved than one that idealizes companies on the one hand as 19th 
century bureaucratic machines, or on the other as mere networks of flow. 
After all boundaries do matter, whether they are the persistence of 
national, or other organization boundaries. For those who would theorize 
about networks, it turns out to be difficult to create boundaries, and 
often quite useful to re-deploy them rather than eliminate them in the name 
of something better and more revolutionary (the problem with post-Soviet 
corruption is on such example).

While the business, government, and military structures are all evolving to 
a new kind of network structures from within the network society, it is 
highly lamentable if those who would wish to critique abuse of power in the 
name of civil rights, economic justice, human dignity, natural 
sustainability, diversity, and interdependence, etc., would wed themselves 
to envisioning corporations working like great 19th century bureaucracies. 
The assumption of these ordered bureaucracies dealing with complex 
information like an industrial machine has been analyzed elsewhere, eg. 
Beniger's The Control Revolution.  Many business, government, and academic 
institutions still function with static assignments of both levels of power 
and definition of the boundaries of any discipline or division at any level 
(I argue these are related), and they are related to what power is and how 
it works.  What we need to recognize is not only that there are new social 
and cultural forms developing within this 'boundaryless' flexibility, but 
that the language of horizontal connection and vertical control is not 
adequate to describe these emerging dynamics.

Economist Herbert Simon speaks of hierarchy as the organization of 
complexity, and my work  echoes that approach.  Hierarchy in this context 
should not simply connote a 'static' arrangement of levels, but rather a 
more dynamic approach to organizing problems into progressive levels, 
scales, or layers of analysis on the one hand, or social control on the 
other.  While I will draw upon the work of hierarchy theorists like Simon, 
I proposed to extend their work by considering the questions of power and 
material limitation as key determinants influencing how a 'space' of 
complexity is opened in the first place, and how the boundaries and 
distinctions that form the boundaries become 'assumed' within the logical, 
bounded categories and cultures that are produced.

We might read:
>Networks on the other hand are premised on open information, autonomy,
>dispersal of power and responsibility, independent analysis and decision
>making, identification of problems to be solved within the context of the
>overall set of guidelines, and capacity to assist or guide the network
>into redefining its range, scope, needs, and goals.

As I have said, communication and control are two ways of reading the same 
inter-dependent relationships. In fact, we need not only communication, but 
alliances. The decisions mentioned above in the idealized 'democratic 
network' would often about what to include or exclude, about where to draw 
the boundaries of a network, or how to react to the way boundaries have 
been imposed, about how to reach out to coordinate with other networks. 
Consider the bioregional perspective. While it makes sense to look at the 
world in terms of self-sustaining localities, tuned to local natural and 
cultural resources,  we must consider not only trade, but also 
appropriation- how does an isolated region deal with non-local threats, or 
catastrophic ones.  'Divided we fall, united we stand' is a phrase that 
must also be remembered at this point. Bioregions will have to create means 
by which they can work together- why?  Because many of the forces and 
organizations that they deal with are not confined within their world. The 
air they breathe, and the organizations they will face are not limited by a 
watershed. Some are based of business corporations whose operations 'by 
some definition' is worldwide. And while I would agree that bioregions can 
be considered a strong possibility contribution in the ongoing definition 
of a viable local- what are the boundaries of the bioregion?

If we look to the rise of the modern corporation, say in the writings of 
Korten or many others, we see that it evolved to limit risk in the context 
of new industrial combinations and production units that would overwhelm 
the finances of even the wealthiest individual or government. This 
containment of risk will not end, and would be integral to the 
consideration of alliances even between bioregions.   It makes little sense 
the divide the world into democratic networks and autocratic hierarchies, 
and it will make even less sense as our networks and hierarchies become 
ever more flexible with the introduction of new information and 
organizational technologies.

Rather than idealize the split, we need to develop new artistic and 
political means of investigation and intervention. In the case of politics, 
I have argued that we need to consider issues of transparency and 
check-and-balances more succinctly.  This are means of dealing with 
corruption and tyranny.  This is not as simple as it might seem since 
transparency also invades the domain of privacy, and balance of power must 
be weighed against timely and efficient decisions (made by someone 'who 
knows?). The point is not to decide this, but to clarify our need to 
introduce a more explicit balance into our NetPolitics, one that explicitly 
argues for transparency.  But bear in mind, that many institutions feel 
above the need for scrutiny, and will fight it. And we must in turn 
scrutinize the scrutinizers, and regulate the regulators. This is a 
position that must be articulated on a broad, almost 'universal' 
scope.'  We have to pay attention to those who might say:

>Watch over time to not whether individual people within a hierarchy or a
>network become more "democratic" over time and experience in one culture
>(net or hierarchy)  or another. The characteristics of a network are more
>congruent with democratic stance and functioning. Which is more conducive
>to developing functioning autonomous individuals who act democratically?

Oh, that the revolutions of the world had all ended in collegial, open 
societies!  While a revolutionary cell might argue 'democratically' why is 
it that the final disposition of a revolution might end in command driven 
societies?  In fact, revolutionary networks, terrorist networks, business 
networks are connected to all kinds of leverage points which impairs the 
idealized  communality.  I would argue that we need more than these 
Cartesian 'autonomous' individuals to make up a democracy- and under what 
circumstances they could be considered 'autonomous' is another issue we 
must take up another day. Democracy comes in many forms and flavors, and I 
would suggest that whichever proves to be your focus, it should involve 
more than libertarian autonomism; democracy is a lot more than that, 
involving protection of minorities (we all are part of some minority), due 
process, balance-of-powers, and so on, which is structural interventions 
designed to preserve broad based, truly empowered decision making based on 
diverse, timely, broad based 'information' and interpretations.

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