By Enrique Lescure
One of the major differences between EOS and the so-called RBE organisations, is that EOS aims very strongly for de-centralisation of power. During the time we studied the texts from Technocracy Incorporated, we often had feisty debates where the issues were anascopic vs katascopic systems. The people we debated it claimed that the future must be based on katascopic systems for a post-scarcity society to work.
EOS, or NET as we were named back then, argumented that distributed systems held a larger degree of resilience, and also allowed for people to better be able to contribute in accordance with their talents, creativity and limitations. We were told that was an anascopic way of doing things. We are also arguing that is applicable to democratic and political participation (chapter 5, pg 14, The Design).
So what is this debate about, and what does the terms mean? That is what this article is about.
Anascopic & Katascopic – distribution vs centralisation
During the early 20th century, it was generally assumed that the world was moving towards more and more centralisation and mass production, which was correct at that time. That was also seen as highly desirable, since it allowed for more production and more efficiency. This process culminated in the establishment of the world’s first (industrial) command economy, in the USSR in 1927.
The main principle for this type of economy, no matter if it is a mega-corporation or a stalinist state, is that there is a hierarchical pyramid consisting of echelons of decision-making, that distribute requests to subdivisions which then carry out the production orders. You are familiar with it from most classical corporations.
According to the proponents, this model allows for the effective coordination of large resources, that can be pooled into massive projects that in scope can dwarf that what smaller organisations are undertaking. Also, it would allow resources to be effectively distributed to the subdivisions so they can undertake their aims.
This same principle applied for the old hydraulic empires (chiefly Egypt) during the Bronze Age.
Does this claim hold?
Arguably, like everything else, the answer is both yes and no. Large, centralised organisations are effective at mobilizing resources and achieving grand quantitative results. It takes shorter time for a country that is utilising a centrally planned economy have become industrialized somewhat quicker than countries that have been employing a more market-oriented approach (it is only when countries have achieved an industrialized state that planned economies start to lag behind). Mega-corporations are also today the largest holders of resources on the planet aside from the financial institutions and banks (though some mega-corps, namely within the tech business are experimenting with less centralised models).
On the other hand, the centralized model holds many flaws as well. You all are well-aware of the short-comings of the command economies of the old Socialist Bloc, which do not need to be reiterated here. The same problems, to a smaller extent, are existing within large, centralised mega-corporations. For example, a classical problem for the management of subdivisions is that funding is often reduced if the subdivision is not using up its entire share of money from one year’s budget, which can incentivize the acquisition of new chairs or computers for the department, despite that it would not represent any tangible upgrade. Since corporations – unlike countries – tend to run at a net profit, that is not one of the major problems (the major problem has not so much to do with centralisation as with externalities and effects on the economy on the macro-scale).
Ultimately, it is a case of what effects we desire.
Distributed systems – increased resilience
One of the most centralised systems in the history of the Earth was the Incan Empire, basically a command economy (a hydraulic empire minus the hydraulic part), where all decisions were left to the divine figurehead – the Sapa Inca, or God Emperor. The Empire commanded armies of tens of thousands, maintained a road network through the Andine mountains that stretched for thousands of kilometres, rivalling the Roman road network, and had a highly developed and centralised bureaucracy.
The Empire fell when 150 Spaniards under Francisco Pizarro captured the Sapa Inca in Cajamarca in 1532.
A few decades before that, the Florentine philosopher and political scientist Niccólo Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that large, centralised structures, like the ancient Achaemenid Empire or the Ottoman Empire, were more prone to collapse if the central authority crumbles, since these structures often force local institutions to submit. Just a few decades ago, an empire which dwarfed both the Incan, Achaemenid and Ottoman empires collapsed – not because of a foreign invasion (it was virtually unconquerable by its possession of enough nuclear arms to turn the Earth into ashes), nor because of a group of conquistadors. It fell because its ruling elite had lost their beliefs in the ideology that glued the Empire together, and were fighting for their own wealth and interests.
I am of course referring to the USSR.
The lesson of this is that centralised structures might be excellent at power projection, but power projection requires much energy and capacity, and is suitable for short-term projects. Such a project could be defined as building one billion units of a specific thing (housing, transport units, kilometres of highway), winning a war or maximising profits for the nearest three months. However, for long-term sustainable projects, or projects that drag out into increased degrees of complexity over time, centralised institutions are badly equipped to respond to the challenge.
Centralised institutions collapse if the centre is incompetently led, is destroyed by external pressure or is isolated from the main body, either by institutional limitations, by external factors or by corruption.
An alternative is to have an entirely distributed system, consisting of multiple autonomous structures that are contained within a network. However, as the history of Feudalism proves, such structures are generally unstable and prone to infighting over where resources should be utilised. What is the strength of de-centralised institutions, is their resilience. If one unit is turning corrupt, inefficient or is outright destroyed by external pressure, other units can quickly distribute the burdens of their fallen co-structure amongst themselves, and the system can thus survive more blows than a centralised, authoritarian system can endure.
The EOS compromise – a holonic system
There are two ways to address the issue of centralization contra de-centralization, normative and pragmatic.
The normative approach is intended to ensure that certain key values are enshrined in human interactions. Ultimately, it gives the basis for an ideological view on the world, where matters are settled in relationship to how they correspond to the values of the community, of the elites and how these values can be ensured to manifest themselves in the real world and affect the actions of individuals and groups.
The pragmatic approach is more focused on tangible results. Then these intended results can in themselves be derived from normative values, or partially or wholly affected by concerns that have little to do with normative values.
I would argue that there is seldom a totally and complete division between the normative and pragmatic approaches when constructing and forming systems, but one could differentiate between more normative approaches and more pragmatic approaches.
A normative approach in its own right is entirely or mostly devoid of pragmatic ramifications. The approach exists to exist and be unchangeable and unchallengeable. It should not take into any considerations the reality of the particular spatial or social environments it is operating within.
A pragmatic approach without any normative values embedded within it, would be completely directed towards maximising its chances for survival, unlimited by moral or constitutional limitations.
Thus, we can conclude that if we seek to initiate a constructive process, what we do must be characterised by both normative foundations and a pragmatic, sober outlook on our opportunities to make a significant impact on reality.
Dr Andrew Wallace chose to direct the EOS towards employing the Holonic model as a way to manage systems.
The holonic model is adapted as a methodology for what the programming of the new generation of intelligent machines should form in terms of behaviour and processes. In many ways, it is derived from the third or fourth waves of industrialization in the same way as Fordism, Taylorism and Stalinism were derived from the first and second waves. The principle is that there is a network of autonomous nodes which are interconnected within a network and follow the same authoritative programming (as opposed to authoritarian). These nodes are autonomous and can form larger units when and if needs are arising, but can also split off new nodes when there is a need for it.
Within EOS, we believe that this model could be employed within networks consisting of individuals that aim for overarching similar goals.
Ultimately, this system would not work primarily because of sticks and carrots, but would work because it would be insulated by institutional/cultural factors which will need to form organically (as opposed to being constructed) by the limited implementation of holonic systems, where the approaches most in accordance with the stated goals, and with the experiences from implementation, will be developed on, while those forms of processes that doesn’t benefit the goals or values will be abandoned.
The holonic system envisioned by EOS is also based a lot of the cultural and socio-technological environment created by the Internet, where the goal is that all holons within the network should be interconnected by a system called “the Technate”, which in our vision basically is a common registar or mindmap of the network, the available resources and the resource flows between the nodes. Each node must also be communicating with at least another node within the network, and must be transparent.
Nodes that are going corrupt and don’t want to cooperate will be excluded from the system, but through a process where it should be entirely obvious to everyone involved why they are being excluded. Of course, the early implementations of this will fail, for reasons that we cannot foresee now. But for every failure, the system will be able to auto-correct and move ahead, which is the very point of resilience as a concept.
We believe that all human beings should be able to feel that they are participating in society and in a social context. Of course, that does not imply that people should be forced to partake, but most human beings naturally want to feel included. One of the damning social effects of the precariat and youth unemployment is that young people a whole generation of human beings are growing up under conditions were they feel alienated from their social environment, causing resentment.
We can theoretically, if we focus all our attention on automatization, create a society where only 10-20% of the current labour power is needed. However, under conditions of maximum efficiency, this could have devastating psychological and emotional effects of the very fabric of society.
Human beings need not only to have their material needs satisfied, but should also feel that they are needed. The holonic model will allow for humans to join or exit dynamic project teams, that move together and cooperate on various issues.
Humans also have a need to express their creative potential, and small, autonomous groups give a better opportunity for human beings to express that quality, through cooperation. After all, for millions of years, the ancestors of humanity lived and co-existed in small, autonomous groups.
The Holonic system envisioned by EOS cannot be described in vivid detail, simply because systems are not formed primarily on the drawing desk, but through real-world interactions between individuals, and between the groups and the environment. There also need to be formed institutions around the structures, which ca imbue them with meaning (and from what I’ve seen, it usually takes two to four generations to form a culture). Nevertheless, with the new technology and with our need to form a sustainable world, we have the opportunity to create a culture that is truly egalitarian and libertarian.