Dee Hock, the founder of VISA and well known for his work on leadership and "chaordics" wrote me an very thoughtful email in response to my emergent democracy paper. He talks about blogging, the Internet, VISA, culture, democracy, power, corporations, leadership and many issues that are relevant to our current discussion.

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

Joichi:

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?

23 Comments

Amazing email, thanks for sharing it.

Indeed! Inspiring of thought. Thank you for posting.

This is quite an email, and there is so much in it that you could talk about it all day. However, I take the following key points out of it:

1. The world needs to change the 'meta-rules' it operates by. I'll explain 'meta-rules' by analogy. The meta-rules of the credit card system are the rules that allow all the diverse banks in the system to work together. Similarly, the world needs 'meta-rules' to ensure a reasonable level of harmony, whilst still allowing a reasonable level of autonomy for every country, organisation and individual.

2. Technology change and new tools are not enough, although they are part of the mix. There has to be innovation in the way people think and in the culture as well to get these meta-rules to work.

3. The change has to be made happen. It won't happen on its own. It won't just 'emerge' once the right tools are in place.

4. This isn't a change that has to happen just once. We have to continue to change. To use the credit card example (and going beyond the facts presented) the credit card system has stagnated in the last twenty years, because the fundamental meta-rules haven't been reformed. As another example, the old meta-rules, which worked in a world of strong nation-states, no longer work in the modern world where corporations are so powerful.

I read Dee Hock's book a few years ago. It's well worth reading, although the second half gets a little fuzzy for my liking. (My copy has since been stolen, which is a shame.)

This concept of "emergent democracy", is an old old debate, it hearkens back to the Convention of 1787 and to the resulting turbulent politics of the 1790's, the only thing new per this meme is the methods, per the 'techy' clothes designed to put a new spin on an old idea. I am constantly amazed at the lack of historical observation that runs in tech circles. We do not have a democracy, nor anything of the sort and the choice of representative government was not made just based on scale and other technical issues. It was based on the inherent distrust per the volatility of 'mob rule'. Mob rule is based upon emotion, people are swayed by the passion of the moment. "Elitist attitude?" They didn't trust the people sure, but they also didn't trust Kings and other such elites. To say that a system based on encompassing the majority whilst not trampling on the minority is an "elitist attitude" completely misses the one central point that both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists agreed upon, namely the protection of the weak from the oppression of the strong. The Founders didn't trust Kings, nor Men, they trusted the Law. To reach back into the concept of 'democracy' and slap a new name on it, seriously misses the whole sweep of the ideals of the American founding.

"The issues are too complex for representative governments to understand" -- Too complex understand? The Constitution is plain enough, but even if I accept that argument, if something is "too complex" it somehow follows that the rule of Law no longer applies? Too complex, so therefore my "emergent democracy" needs have full rights? That is the easy path to Dictatorship.

A simple rereading of the Anti-Federalist and the Federalist Papers, shows how old and weak this "emergent democracy" concept is. To think that 'weblogs' are going to usher in 'perfect emergent democracy' is to live in an utopian dream world.

From the pens of Madison and Jefferson...

"Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths..." -- James Madison, Federalist No. 10, (1787)

"A democracy [is] the only pure republic, but impracticable beyond the limits of a town." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1816. ME 15:65

"All the powers of government, legislative, executive, judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. 173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one. Let those who doubt it turn their eyes on the republic of Venice." Thomas Jefferson, "Notes On The State of Virginia", 1781-1782.

"Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed, that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions." -- James Madison, Federalist No. 10, (1787)

Also an interesting summary from "Training Manual No. 2000-25" published by the War Department, November 30, 1928...

DEMOCRACY:
• A government of the masses.
• Authority derived through mass meeting or any other form of "direct" expression.
• Results in mobocracy.
• Attitude toward property is communistic--negating property rights.
• Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether is be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences.
• Results in demogogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.

REPUBLIC:
• Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them.
• Attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard to consequences.
• A greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass.
• Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny or mobocracy.
• Results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment, and progress.
• Is the "standard form" of government throughout the world.

Christopher. I don't think that we are arguing that this is a new debate. I agree that this is an old debate, but it is a debate that will probably never end. I think technology does impact the complexity and the speed at which things happen as well as the nature of the way people interact. This should/could have an impact on the way we govern ourselves.

I have read the Federalist Papers and am a big fan of the Founding Fathers of America. The world has evolved since then.

Back then, "The Press" were small groups or individuals with printing presses. Now "The Press" are large corporations with advertisers and global networks.

We now have tools that invade privacy and make it easier and easier for power to oppress. At the same time, we have tools that make it easier for individuals to question authority and act.

I don't think that the basic nature of human being or the fundamentals of democracy need to change, but that we need to understand that technology changes the scale and speed of civilization and things must evolve accordingly.

I agree that more historical perspective is useful and many of us are exploring these perspectives.

But I would suggest that you not underestimate complexity. Complexity has increased. Complexity is not just "mob rule." Complexity with some sort of self-organizing process can be managed, but I think the methods are different from managing smaller less complex situations.

I think the VISA system is a great example of how technology changed the nature of transactions and how a decentralized model of distributed risk and peer to peer trust were able to allow it to scale.

One question. "To say that a system based on encompassing the majority whilst not trampling on the minority is an "elitist attitude" completely misses the one central point that both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists agreed upon, namely the protection of the weak from the oppression of the strong." Do you think that the current system is successful in protecting the weak from the oppression of the strong? Do you think that is what is on the minds of the majority of our representatives on a daily basis?

Christopher Coulter is correct in criticizing your statement that "the issues are too complex for representative government". Not because you are necessarily wrong, but because you have simply asserted this, as though it were self-evident. I am a big fan of the idea of emergent government (am writing a novel about it right now) but while your original article contains many good ideas, it also contains bald statements like the above, which need to be buttressed with solid evidence. As I've said elsewhere, I don't want bloggers to diagnose my illnesses or direct my surgeon: why is the emergence of consensus through the collaboration of non-experts better than decision-making by small groups of professionals?

Karl. I would agree that the assertion in my paper about the inability for representative democracy to deal with complex issues is not supported will and should probably be phrased as a question, rather than an assertion. I think that it depends on the issue, but I think that the purpose of this exercise is to see whether there are new ways to use the technology to tackle issues that can't be managed using the old system or could be managed better with a new method. So, my question is... Would you trust the opinion of one expert in government, or a "fact" that survives rigorous public debate on the Net? It probably depends on the field, but if the debate were structured properly, I would assert that surviving scrutiny of a great number of people on the Net a good way to test a fact or an idea. I think that this process of getting feedback on my paper has allowed me to receive a great deal of feedback and will allow me to adapt the next version very effectively...

I've been on the Internet for sixteen years and I am disappointed (tho not disheartened!) that the net still has hardly begun to fulfill its social-political potential. This even tho in industrialized countries the net is in most homes and on most office desktops.

There is still no general use of the net for all-citizen regularized democratic debate, nor for discussion of specifics of legislation and policy. In this respect the net has yet to overcome the political atomization of the electorate that characterizes our times.

Perhaps the issue is cultural and not technical? Perhaps much more consciousness-raising is needed? More media literacy for and about the net? More awareness of the role of a well-informed citizen in a democracy?

The net is all about the endpoints, and the endpoints are you, me, and that guy over there.

Why not start a website for just this reason for comments. You not only have the majority to comment but those who know rules and regulations, government etc. Some of the brightest minds are on the internet just waiting for something to spark their interest just like the rest of us. The letter received by you from Dee Hock is an example of what kind of information you can receive if you would open a forum for such debate. Why shouldn't our brightest minds work for the good of mankind right here on the internet. It will be a slow process at first but I believe it will springboard into an amazing website of brilliant minds working together just like the signers of the Declaration of Independence did but now we have a larger audience and a location worldwide via computers.

When I first read about the "emergent democracy" idea, I thought "great, but that will take a lot of time to materialize."

The VISA analogy can be used to explain that point. Imagine you have developed some revolutionary online payment method that is anonymous, cheap and scalable to micropayments. Like e-gold, for example.

The advantages of that tool over VISA won't matter for a long time. Because VISA has more than a billion card holders. It will take any other payment scheme quite some time to catch up with that user base.

And in the same way, if you develop some great new tools for trading ideas instead of money, it still takes some time for them to catch up with the traditional tools.

Like all things a better idea can do leaps and bounds,if what it offers is better then whats out there now.

Intermediate steps are possible.

For instance: focusing on replacing government institutions entirely with an emergent system is rather jumping the gun. But it's quite possible to imagine replacing various components of the current system: the news media, or polling systems, or even the vote. Let's look at that last one as an example. Imagine an "emergent representational" government. In this system, the people are represented by public servants, but those servants are not elected in the traditional way; they are located, nominated and brought to power by an emergent process. This process (which could use the web but preferably would use something that's closer to the road, so to speak--like cell phones) is required both to elect *and* to remove the person in question. (I.e. if they're doing a good job you can ignore them and they'll stay in place.) Or a term of office might be involved; terms of office are an agonistic tool, designed to give politicians a temporary free hand and then guarantee their removal; without them you have a 'mobocracy' or a tyranny.

This is not too far from what we have now. Arguably, we already rely on the spontaneous emergence of news items and issues in political life (quick question: who makes political issues? Some are trumped up by power groups, sure--but most, I would argue, already emerge in just the sense that we're talking about here.) But you could conceivably replace the vote in the electoral process with something more dynamic, as long as this emergent system is designed to perpetuate itself and not "freeze out" into a ruling power bloc (agonistics is the most important principle). So such a system would be a small step--but a step.

I have worked with Dee sporatically over the past 5 years, and am proud to be one of those "aficionados of the Internet" with which he disagrees.
However, I'd like to point out that after a decade of his tireless writing and lecturing, we have yet to see one of his "chaordic" organizations come into existence. The web, however, has exploded from amazingly simple initial conditions to a globally transforming phenomenon. It seems to me that it is his approach, not the Internet, which could stand some improvement. more comments and photos in my blog.

A thought about how to create something that could act as an intelligent force out of the sprawl of intelligence that abounds on the Net. What about a cause that everyone could rally round -- something to be for, not just all there is to be against? How about the presidential candidacy of Dennis Kucinich? See my entries on "Making Sense of These Times" if you don't know who he is: The Dirt on Dennis Not... and Polishing the Kucinich Star

  • "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" by any chance?
  • Visa network is conceptually a star configuration, while IP network is a maze. Have made this comment elsewhere, but definitely it's important to make here, as potential value and scaling of each network is quite different.

As I was reading the below paragraph from Dee Hock...; my thoughts are "how would one make this happen?" Can we prototype a form of government on the internet?
Below is the part of the note from Dee that I was fascinated by....

"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."

As I was reading the below paragraph from Dee Hock...; my thoughts are "how would one make this happen?" Can we prototype a form of government on the internet?
Below is the part of the note from Dee that I was fascinated by....

"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."

We can see an example of this in our code we've written so far. In each function's block, we declare variables that hold our data. When each function ends, the variables within are disposed of, and the space they were using is given back to the computer to use. The variables live in the blocks of conditionals and loops we write, but they don't cascade into functions we call, because those aren't sub-blocks, but different sections of code entirely. Every variable we've written has a well-defined lifetime of one function.

This will allow us to use a few functions we didn't have access to before. These lines are still a mystery for now, but we'll explain them soon. Now we'll start working within the main function, where favoriteNumber is declared and used. The first thing we need to do is change how we declare the variable. Instead of

When Batman went home at the end of a night spent fighting crime, he put on a suit and tie and became Bruce Wayne. When Clark Kent saw a news story getting too hot, a phone booth hid his change into Superman. When you're programming, all the variables you juggle around are doing similar tricks as they present one face to you and a totally different one to the machine.

Seth Roby graduated in May of 2003 with a double major in English and Computer Science, the Macintosh part of a three-person Macintosh, Linux, and Windows graduating triumvirate.

Huh, what an interesting reading. Thanks!

Leave a comment

11 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: An email from Dee Hock about the emergent democracy paper.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://joi.ito.com/MT-4.35-en/mt-tb.cgi/571

TITLE: http://radio.weblogs.com/0118812/2003/03/10.html URL: http://radio.weblogs.com/0118812/2003/03/10.html IP: 213.208.127.66 BLOG NAME: DATE: 03/10/2003 12:26:53 PM Read More

Joi Ito has posted an email from Dee Hock about the emergent democracy paper he wrote. You can find the original paper here. I loved Dee Hock's book "Birth of the Chaordic Age". In it, Dee Hock lays out a possible new way to build/run/maintain organisa... Read More

Dee Hock, founder of Visa, has written a brilliant e-mail to Joi Ito about his emergent democracy paper from which Read More

Joi sent his emergent democracy paper to Dee Hock, founder of Visa, and got a lengthy and interesting response "about Read More

Joi Ito's Web: An email from Dee Hock about the emergent democracy paper This is a very interesting response about Read More

Via boingboing, An email from Dee Hock about the emergent democracy paper at Joi Ito's Web: The Internet culture was Read More

Both Ito and Hock are US citizens, and don稚 really throw a global perspective on this. Our Canadian system of Government is different from theirs, and we don稚 have the same sense of reverence for this thing called 泥emocracy.〓Perhaps it痴 Not I... Read More

Joi Ito recently published a message from Dee Hock about "Chaordic" thinking.   I had the pleasure of working with Read More

More on the "emergent democracy" meme... Dee Hock, the founder of Visa and a leading thinker in the "chaordics" movement,... Read More

Dee Hock, founder of Visa: "Today, nation states and elected politicians are more creatures of corporations than corporations are creatures... Read More

I have to include this quote from a letter from Dee Hock to Joi Ito about 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 t... Read More

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Business and the Economy category.

Books is the previous category.

Computer and Network Risks is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index.

Monthly Archives