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Dee Hock on Blogging and The New Constitution

From: Dee Hock
Date: Sat Mar 8, 2003 1:46:34 PM US/Pacific
Subject: Blogging, and your paper related thereto.


How nice to hear from you and how kind of you to take time to send your paper on Blogging, a singularly uncharming term, but none the less interesting. I have read it several times with considerable interest, for it deals with a number of subjects in which I am deeply interested, such as democracy, scaling, the failure of the Internet to fulfill its promise, and the ability to perceive and honor differences without losing perspective of the parts as inseparable from one another and from the whole. To distinguish without dividing is a state of mind badly needed in the world today.

As you may know, I have been arguing for a decade that the Internet was fatally flawed and would go the way of the telegraph, telephone, radio and television as far as its promise of elevating ideas and discourse, advancing democracy, enhancing liberty or facilitating economic and political justice. I have lived long enough to remember the claims that were made at the advent of radio and television, and read enough of the history of the telegraph and telephone to realize that the claims made by the messiahs of those forms of communication were not dissimilar from the claims made by aficionados of the Internet. The reason, from my perspective, is not complicated.

Culture brings us together, usually at a very small scale through mutual belief, trust and common interest. It educes, not compels, behavior. Culture codified is law. It is as inevitable as the day the night that as scale increases, law increases. Law enforced is government. Government does not, in the main, educe behavior, but compels it. Democratic or otherwise, rarely, very rarely, does any concentration of power or wealth desire to see subjects well informed, truly educated, their privacy ensured or their discourse uninhibited. Those are the very things that power and wealth fear most. Old forms of government have every reason to operate in secret, while denying just that privilege to subjects. The people are to be minutely scrutinized while power is to be free of examination.

Unless new cultures are able to consciously visualize, create and implement new forms of governance (remember, that means the codification and regulation of its new relationships and values), the old forms of corporate and political governance will assert themselves, penetrate the new culture and turn it to the same old ends. The Internet culture was too enthralled by new toys to pay attention to such mundane matters as governance. It failed to "Institutionalize its deinstitutionalization." That is, the architects of the Internet failed utterly to see the need for a new form of commercial and political organization that emulated and capitalized on the principles inherent in its technology. structure and capacity. It is, therefor, completely unable to deal with its own excesses, to enhance the quality of its communication or to resist the onslaughts of commercialization. The evidence is everywhere about. I gave up arguing such things with Internet aficionados several years ago, for the vast majority were so intoxicated by their new toys that they defended its emergence and lack of governance with zealotry bordering on religious. Do you think many have sobered up enough to raise their heads from computer screens and enlarge their perspective?

The failure of democracy to scale is also not complicated to understand. The founding fathers of this country, the "egalitie, fraternitie and libertie" of France and most other liberals that moved society toward freedom and liberty in the 1700's could not have been expected to visualize the growth of populations, radical evolution of science, vast increases of technology and incredible increases in mobility of information, money, goods, services and people. Nor could they know or visualize the topography of countries such as the United States, Canada and China, or continents such as Africa, Northern Europe, Russia or Latin America. They laid out such vast topography to the best of their ability on grids that bore no resemblance to the reality of the environment or to the huge increases in scale of population commerce and government. In the main, they did not foresee a need for the right to self-organize -- to adjust scale and degrees of separation as such increases occurred. At every scale, organizations were vested with the power to prevent smaller scales from forming and thus distributing power. That which was properly within scale for the time and technology rapidly became out of scale as everything increased in size and complexity and our power to interfere with nature mushroomed.

They were giants for their time, but their time has come and gone. Except for a notable few, one of whom was Abraham Lincoln, they could not imagine that corporations, once a creature of nation states, would so expand while ridding themselves of social responsibility to the point they could hold virtually any government to ransom for the priviledge of their presence. Today, nation states and elected politicians are more creatures of corporations than corporations are creatures of nation states. Unfortunately, while it was democracy and liberty corporations needed to reach their present dominance, in the main, their governance is the antithesis of democratic, free and just. I do not think it bodes well for the future of democracy.

It is futile to directly challenge such institutions, political or commercial, for they have an oligopoly on power, money and instruments of compulsion. Nor do they hesitate to use them if threatened. However, they will prove to be vulnerable, rusted out hulks if confronted with new and better ideas of organization which transcend and enfold them. Ideas that excite the very people they expect to remain passive. What they cannot resist is the searchlight of informed public opinion. Once the public begins to withdraw relevance from them they are helpless, as Gandhi so ably demonstrated in India. While I don't begin to understand Blogging, your paper set something turning in the back of my mind that whispers it may be one of the keys to the puzzle.

I wonder if you realize that a dozen or two people like yourself with the right combination of communication, technological and organizational skills could design and implement a global government without the consent of any present form of organization and provide it with the neural network to insure its success. A government that could continually evolve to ensure that no matter affecting the public good or the health of the planet fails to be disclosed, examined and understood. Or that any existing organization could escape being confronted with synthesized opinions and alternatives that would swiftly emerge. Such an organization based on rights of participation and withdrawal and consent of the participants could be something entirely new in this tired world. Now that would be something truly worthy of the best within us and the best among us. And a great deal of fun in the bargain! It would, in the fullest sense, be far from democratic since the Internet remains largely a tool of the privileged and technologically savvy. That, we can hope, will change in time. One must always begin somewhere, remembering that the sages tell us our responsibility is to succeed in the world as we find it if it is ever to become the world we wish it to be.

Please accept my apologies for this over-long reply to your message. Young people have their desires, middle aged people have their enterprises and old men have their dreams. My son, Steven, now fifty, and I have been working for some time on these ideas as well as with new concepts of organization in such industries as health care and food systems. We realize, as Machiavelli pointed out, that nothing is more hazardous or uncertain of success than to take the lead in a new order of things. The time has passed when I am capable of leading such an effort, but were it to begin you may be certain I would not miss the party.

With all best wishes and appreciation that you would take time to share your thoughts,

Dee Hock

PS: I have attached a file that will give you a picture of "blogging" called Visa. At the heart of it is a communication network linked in an unimaginable number of ways. Consider that a resident of a small town in Japan can appear at random anywhere on the globe, say a resort hotel in Venice. He presents his card to the cashier who swipes it through a terminal providing information which excites a neuron of code in the terminal to recognizes this information will be exciting to a neuron of code in the computer of the hotel and passes it along. The neuron of code in the hotel computer recognizes the message will be exciting to a neuron of code in the computer of Bank America d Italia in Rome, which enrolled the merchant and holds its bank account, and passes it along. There, another neuron of code is excited to realize the message will excite a neuron of code in the central computer of the Visa European center in Blasingame England. That computer recognizes the message will excite code in the central computer of Visa in San Mateo California which realizes the message will excite a neuron of code in the computer of the Asia Pacific Region in Japan, which recognizes it will excite a neuron of code in the central computer of Sumitomo Bank where another neuron of code recognizes that it will excite code in the Branch of the Bank with issued the card to its customer and holds his bank account. That neuron recognizes that its response will be exciting to the chain in reverse order and instantly provides information of acceptance or rejection. Along the path, other neurons of code are excited to provide language translation, currency conversion and net settlement between the parties at a system wide agreed rate, protection from fraud and counterfeiting and a host of other activities. Every neuron trusts the other neurons to perform in an acceptable manner which results in the trust between cardholder and merchant that is essential to the functioning of the system. Multiply this single transaction by twenty thousand banks, 220 countries, millions of merchant locations and more than a billion card holders and you have a whole hell of a lot of excitement. Imagine what such a system would look like if its currency were ideas and concepts rather than money. Is this what you mean by blogging?

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Last update: 10/03/2003; 4:33:11 PM.