Comments on

Bay Leaves

Original entry posted: Fri Feb 20 12:47:49 2009

pseudonymous @ Fri Feb 20 10:19:07 2009 EST

"What activist wouldn't want to be faced with the challenge of directing a massive, widely-spread, perpetually-restless populace?"

I don't know if I would.

What about movement security and discipline? If there are no pressure points for the authorities to use, are there pressure points for the movement? I'm not as worried about when the movement would stop as where it would stop. If the authorities can't stop my fellows from organizing, can I stop them from using violence?

Meanwhile, while splitting up menial tasks into chunks and distributing it widely for completion has now obvious advantages, how do you ensure that the stuff gets done? Sure, redundancy takes care of that, but, if someone will eventually do it, what's to stop somebody or everybody from shirking? Further, how can one really identify with an organization in which one seems to be as redundant and replaceable as any corporate cog? What motivates someone in this system to be responsible?

With all this agency that belongs to everyone and no one, where's the responsibility? You might be enamored of its ability to frustrate authorities, but it'll equally frustrate the movement's members when they have trouble holding themselves accountable.

Thomas @ Fri Feb 20 11:24:08 2009 EST

Yeah, okay. It's got some issues.

But I don't think getting things done, or shirking, is one of them. Look at open-source projects, for example. In general, on these projects, a few people do a disproportionately large amount of the work, with effort tailing off in a power-law distribution, until you get a huge mass of people who may only do one thing (one wikipedia edit, one tagged flickr photo, one bug fix, one TPM Muckraker page examined), but their cost-of-entry for that one thing is very low, and those small efforts add up (see also: Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. Obviously, it's not a panacea--if distributed effort isn't working, someone has to step in and take ownership. But I'm not claiming that all members of the network are entirely equal in effort expended--clearly, some are going to take more responsibility than others, as with the left side of that distribution curve. It's important to leverage those hardcore contributors for solving the problems that distribution can't cover.

It is very much to the advantage for movements to blur the lines of who is a "member" this way--give people very simple ways to contribute. I may not go out and march for a cause initially, but I might consider transcribing a single page for them in my spare time. And once I've done that, it's easier to talk me into other movement action, or to transfer that effort to other simple actions like voting.

You can argue that this doesn't always work as well as we'd like--Linux is still kind of a mess, Anonymous hasn't killed Scientology, Wikipedia has inaccuracy and potential sustainability problems--but you can't argue that it doesn't work at all anymore.

On setting limits, I think you're conflating two extremes into one issue: that of low participation with that of violent fanaticism. If I can't even talk people into a simple task, how will I incite them to violence? And why would violent activists join my organization? Besides, it's not like traditional movements do not transition between the two for various reasons. That's an occupational hazard.

It should also be noted that successful decentralized communities, like Wikipedia or user-moderated forums, often have a set of rules that make up the organizational identity. Why can't nonviolence be one of those?

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