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Confab in Silicon Valley: How to move from 'dumb mob' to 'smart mob'

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Humans respond to challenge in two ways: ontogenetically and phylogenetically. Ontogenetic activities are organized and carried out through centrally designed institutions to shape the development of society. The phylogenetic response is evolutionary, like self-organizing bacteria lacking foresight but responding to the environment.

This relationship is both adversarial and symbiotic. Political authority today is ontogenetic, and cyberspace is phylogenetic. The health of human society depends on the balance.

Might this lead to a new “hybrid” model of governance because more players and thus more complexity requires both more hierarchy to manage and, at the same time, more feedback loops of reciprocal accountability?

There is not one answer. A given balance within the operating system of governance will work or not work depending on the conditions. Success will only result from the “field effect” of bringing all the right elements to bear as the circumstances on the ground demand. One-person-one-vote, just like meritocratic rule, must be scaled to the circumstances.

The same happens within companies as well. Google required one kind of governance, more reciprocal and collegial, when it was only 500 innovating employees. With 50,000 employees and globe-spanning markets, complexity requires more hierarchy for efficiency’s sake. Yet innovation must retain its own space or efficiency will kill it off.

In short, governance is an open-ended operating system based on what works. The most adaptable will survive.

b. Since social networks and shared knowledge continuously challenge elites and credentialed meritocracy, it is likely in the future that a new “agile meritocracy,” whose transient power rises and falls based on reputation and performance, will replace entrenched elites.

c. It takes an institution. Crowd-sourced authority is good for some things, not others. It is good for innovation and protest; it is bad for governance.

It is a libertarian illusion to believe that distributed networks of amateurs or "unknown experts" can self-administer a society based on rational self-interested decisions. Retail sanity does not necessarily, or even usually, add up to wholesale rationality. As often or not, retail sanity can add up to wholesale madness.

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