Networks vs. hierarchies or The…

Networks vs. hierarchies or The Left IS organized!

You hear it a lot. “The Left isn’t as organized as the Right.” Which implies the Left is disorganized, has no solid structure, no definable chains of command.

Precisely. The Left is a network, not a hierarchy. This is a source of strength, not weakness.

The above post about the Doo Dah parade shows how networked organizations work. 

Last Friday or so, the Doo Dah parade called a fellow Green, inviting us to join. He didn’t have the time to devote to it so, via email, I said I’d do it.

I sent two emails to Greens, detailing the event, our theme “Give Pizza a Chance”, and, bam, within a day or two, two sign parties were organized, lots of banners and posters got made, as the emails sped their way through LA Greendom.

Note what happened here. There was no hierarchy involved. No issuing of orders. No apparent structure. Most of the organizing was done via email (another network!) and in a consensus manner. No formal voting needed. People agreed quickly on what to do, then did it.

Hierarchies don’t work like this. You can’t just quickly form to do something then disband when done. Networks have major advantages over hierarchies.

Which bring me to the seminal book, Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy, John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt (editors), pub. by the Rand Corp. and available for free in PDF format.

From the intro on the website

The fight for the future is not between the armies of leading states, nor are its weapons those of traditional armed forces. Rather, the combatants come from bomb-making terrorist groups like Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, or drug smuggling cartels like those in Colombia and Mexico. On the positive side are civil-society activists fighting for the environment, democracy and human rights. What all have in common is that they operate in small, dispersed units that can deploy anywhere, anytime to penetrate and disrupt. They all feature network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology attuned to the information age. And, from the Intifadah to the drug war, they are proving very hard to beat.

One important point they make is hierarchies have a hard time understanding networks. They just don’t understand them.  In a adversary situation, a hierarchy thinks a network must have a head to chop off. It doesn’t. I heard the editors of this book speak a while back. They both have stratospheric security clearances and deal with the Pentagon at high levels. One of them said (after 9/11) he thought bin Laden was just one player among many.

The Green Party is a networked organization. Overlapping spheres of influence. No formal hierarchy. Groups form, do something, then disband.

From the book, some theory and an acronym (SPIN)

Modern networked social organizations are

• Segmentary: Composed of many diverse groups, which grow and die, divide and fuse, proliferate and contract.
• Polycentric: Having multiple, often temporary, and sometimes competing leaders or centers of influence.
• Networked: Forming a loose, reticulate, integrated network with multiple linkages through travelers, overlapping membership,

The type of organization we here…has often been labeled disorganized, poorly organized, loosely organized, or underdeveloped —and thus it has been denigrated or criticized not only by opponents or observers but at one time by movement participants. A common assessment has been that this type of organization as well as the movements themselves represent lower stages in organizational or cultural evolution. It is said that in time, groups or societies organized so loosely will evolve to become centralized bureaucracies or states, because centralized bureaucracies are more efficient, more adapted, more advanced. Our argument against this assessment is that SPINs exhibit a number of properties that are adaptive under certain conditions of turbulence.

The SPIN style of organization supports rapid organizational growth in the face of strong opposition, inspires personal commitment, and flexibly adapts to rapidly changing conditions. It is highly adaptive for the following reasons.

1. It prevents effective suppression by the authorities and the opposition. To the extent that local groups are autonomous and selfsufficient, some are likely to survive the destruction of others.

In the 1960s and 1970s, authorities used the metaphor of trying to grab Jell-O to portray their difficulties in investigating and controlling a variety of protest movements. In 2001, an FBI agent used the same metaphor to describe efforts even to find members of the Earth Liberation Front.

2. Factionalism and schism aid the penetration of the movement into a variety of social niches. Factionalism along lines of preexisting socioeconomic or cultural cleavages supplies recruits from a wide range of backgrounds, classes, and interests. Groups can be formed in many different sectors or communities.

3. Multiplicity of groups permits division of labor and adaptation to circumstances.

4. Segmentary, polycentric, and networked organization contributes to system reliability.

5. Competition between groups leads to escalation of effort. When one group or leader attracts more attention than another, the latter often steps up its activities to regain prominence.

6. SPIN organization facilitates trial-and-error learning through selective disavowal and emulation. Movement groups challenge established orders and conventional culture both in the ideas they espouse and in the tactics they use to promote these ideas.

7. SPIN promotes striving, innovation, and entrepreneurial experimentation in generating and implementing sociocultural change.

 Social movements that are segmentary, polycentric, and networked have a very effective form of organization. In particular, this form helps its participants to challenge and change the established order and to survive overwhelming opposition. It makes the movement difficult to suppress; affords maximum penetration of and recruitment  from different socioeconomic and subcultural groups; contributes to system reliability through redundancy, duplication, and overlap; maximizes adaptive variation through diversity of participants and purposes; and encourages social innovation and problem solving.  SPINs may well be the organizational form of the global future, the one best suited to reconcile the need to manage globally and locally, comprehensively and democratically, for the common good as well as individual interest, institutionalizing ecological and economic interdependence as well as ethnolocal independence.

So lefties, here you thought you were disorganized. You aren’t!  You are a network.