Creative Destruction

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart: the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…

…And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

                              –The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats, 1921

To a patriarchist*, the Dean campaign could mean the end of the world as it should be. While wishful thinking will prompt denial and grief anger, a more disciplined assessment would cause any elitist to quake at the possibility, slight, thank Gawd, but still too frightening to consider, that the proletariat might now have the means to sink the patriarchal world into anarchy.

*I’m trying out “patriarchist” where one might normally use the term “conservative.” And I fancy “explorer” where “progressive” has been the norm. This is consistent with the teaching of my mentor Howard Bloom, who says that every population consists of conformity enforcers and diversity generators.

Sir, There may be a vulnerability…”

W. B. Yeats and Joseph Campbell and George Lucas and now Joe Trippi teach that Breakdown Leads to Breakthrough. The Internet has the scaling potential to mediate the voices of us all, like a central nervous system, so that each of us (We the Cells) have a voice weighted in reasonable proportion to our contribution to the Rest of Us.

Anyone with a passion for the Internet and a reasonably well developed sense of adventure should be irrevocably committed to this possibility.

There are terrorists among us. For patriarchist leaders, democracy is a form of anarchy, as Lance Knobel points out today. Patriachist Americans also feel that society might be endangered by a President untethered from the hierarchy of large organizations so beloved by the politicians. Some feel terror at the thought of a non-Bush president, even though Dubya is the only President who’s ever had a major terrorist attack happen on his watch.

It makes you wonder if we might be safer with a President who knows first-hand how a self-organizing smart mob works.

Disruptive Terrorists

Clue 1 Valdis Krebs depicts hidden data in novel ways. Here’s part of a visualization from Uncloaking Terrorist Networks to make sense of the terrorist network surrounding the 9/11 flights:

Krebs used public knowledge to uncloak obscure relationships:

“The best solution for network disruption may be to discover possible suspects and then, via snowball sampling, map their individual personal networks – see whom else they lead to, and where they overlap. To find these suspects it appears that the best method is for diverse intelligence agencies to aggregate their individual information into a larger emergent map. By sharing information and knowledge, a more complete picture of possible danger can be drawn. In my data search I came across many news accounts where one agency, or country, had data that another would have found very useful. To win this fight against terrorism it appears that the good guys have to build a better information and knowledge sharing network than the bad guys (Ronfeldt and Arquilla, 2001).

Clue 2 Gary Wolf is writing a story for Wired about Howard Dean’s Internet campaign, trying to figure out how the smart mob that is the campaign functions, and whether or not it actually can be managed. Wolf finds this to be such a challenge that he’s asked his own smart mob–his readers–to help him write the story.

“I’m used to stories having an innate structure that allows you to start anywhere in the vicinity of the key actors and find your way in. You just follow the trails…But the Dean campaign is different. Yes, it is centered on a single man – the candidate. But its activities are widely dispersed, control is decentralized, and many of the “happenings,” for lack of a better word, seem to have equal weight…

So, I’ve naturally decided to do what the campaign itself has done – that is, I’m making the network work for me.

To catalyze his network, Wolf has posted a “retroactive manifesto.” He’s asking us to imagine that the Dean campaign as we now see it had sprung out of a manifesto. By laying down the design criteria which might produce the campaign, he hopes we all can better understand it. And then he’ll take our collective work and put it under his byline. Following Dan Gillmor‘s example, Gary Wolf implies that he can learn more from his readers than we learn from him:

“Here, I’ve offered a Retroactive Manifesto of the Dean Campaign. These are the rules that might have been posted on the wall of campaign manager Joe Trippi’s office, if there were such a list of rules. I am looking for examples and counter-examples – confirmation and correction. Are these really the principles that underlay the architecture of the campaign? Are there concrete examples you can suggest? Is something here plainly wrong? Hack away.

When you look at both stories–Krebs’ search for network connectors and Wolf’s use of one network to understand another–you get it that Al Qaeda and the Dean campaign are both self-organizing, disruptive networks. Further, both have been catalyzed by a strong leader but neither depends on the leader for specific direction. In fact, each network is more a response to the strict hierarchy it opposes than the result of a purpose-built hierarchical organization.

The Smartest Network Wins…

…is how David Weinberger puts it. We can now see that our nation’s hierarchical security model is as vulnerable to the network model as circuit-switching phone companies are to packet-switching guerilla protocols. In military terms, we look like the Red Coats marching down a road while the Green Mountain Boys pick them off from the woods.

What if the Dean campaign prevails over the many hierarchies that want him to fail? If so, it will be because there’s something intrinsically superior in the nature of his accidental organization vs. everyone else’s explicit organizing. Howard Bloom would suggest that the Dean campaign is a Darwinist experiment by the American superorganism to find a way to defend itself from a previously unknown threat. It’s safe to say that a Dean administration will seek novel ways to combine information and make connections that our current hierarchy chooses to ignore, provably to our peril. Who knows? Maybe even Glenn will learn to embrace the only Internet candidate.

To Catch a Thief…

The patriarchists among us fear the Dean terrorist network as much as Al Qaeda, perhaps more. They’ve forgotten that the 13 colonies were a self-organizing network that overthrew a loathsome hierarchy. They should take comfort knowing that it takes one to know one.

1:46:54 AM    

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