This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.
“Turing believes machines think. Turing lies with men. Therefore machines cannot think.” – Alan Turing
Personality driven systems
Representative democracies are part of a personality driven celebrity culture where people are encouraged to support their chosen personalities or groups in any action they take. This has changed from recent history, where celebrity culture existed but was moderated because people were encouraged to choose principles they supported and ensure those principles were met by any action, regardless of the actor.
The advantages of this system to those in power is obvious. When any criticism of an action taken by person A is met by cries that you must then support person B, we are dealing with a personality driven system. When similar actions that make Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe a war criminal make the US’s President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize winner, we are dealing with a personality driven system. When no action taken by a person ‘you support’ must ever be criticized, when we are encouraged to just trust an authority with no knowledge of their actions, when we are given the opportunity to vote for a person instead of actions, we are dealing with a personality driven system which allows us no real control over our governance or the actions taken by our society at all.
Where once soldiers were regular civilians who left their everyday lives to fight in defense of their societies, and were therefore worthy of the highest honour and gratitude, those civilians are now called ‘terrorists’, ‘militants’ and ‘unprivileged combatants’ and we are informed they have no right to fight in wars and are in fact war criminals for doing so. The people who deserve honour we are told, are professional paid killers, willing to do anything they are told, not in defense of their society but in offense to any country they are paid to attack. Our laws have been twisted to grant impunity to those we once reviled as mercenaries and make war criminals of those we once celebrated as heroes.
The world once had a system of laws which was written to apply equally to all people in all cases. Many states have been attempting to circumvent those laws by reclassifying people as ‘terrorists’ or ‘terrorist groups’ and pretending these groups are not allowed the same rights as others (in direct contradiction to the underlying principles). ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’, once a commonly repeated cliché, is now never heard, it is accepted that wrongs towards some people in some cases are ‘necessary’. If instead of categorizing groups of people as above or not worthy of the law we used the law as it was intended, to equally judge the actions of all, these situations could not exist.
The new power of personality driven systems is being illustrated in wars where all effort is expended trying to cloud or identify who is behind each group of fighters, seen horribly in places like Syria and the DRC. The effort to identify groups is meant to aid allegiances and guide people in supporting one group of men with guns committing atrocities or another. An action or idea driven system would reject all who commit atrocities equally and support those building society. That is an incredibly simplistic statement when applied to the two cases above, but the root evil of investing in men with guns instead of people building societies is recognized in all areas of the world which suffer permanent ‘instability’; the solution of just identifying ‘the good guys’ or deciding ‘there are no good guys’ was created and is continually promoted by those selling the weapons.
The disease of personality driven systems extends to entire groups, where the same action taken by one is terrorism, by the other is self defense. Most extreme are those who feel killing babies is justified if Israel is killing them, or those that feel the US NDAA’s provision for indefinite detainment of US citizens is horrifying, the US Patriot Act’s same power over everyone without US citizenship not worthy of notice. The faults of personality driven systems have been called by many names, racism, sexism, ageism, nationalism and more, but all of those -isms mean the same thing; people are being judged as nouns instead of verbs. If instead of supporting nouns, we supported ideas and actions, it would be far easier to follow our chosen principles in all cases.
Idea and action amplification
The groundbreaking social theorists Anonymous have attempted in the past years to create a hierarchy of information, an oligarchy of ideas, in an attempt to escape the pitfalls of personality driven governance. Memes are a perfect example of concise ideas being shared for the value of their information with no need of further authority. Memes can also be used to circumvent censorship such as Sina Weibo users talking about May 35th and other dates to mean the June 4, 1989 Tiannanmen Square anniversary. China has the fastest moving memes of anywhere in the world due to the speed of their censors and have developed ingenuous idea and action driven systems to avoid retribution on personalities. The Sunday stroll of the short lived Jasmine Revolution is one of many examples of gamified mass protests which everyone can play without direct instruction from an authority.
The promotion of ideas also allows great ideas to be evaluated and fact checked on their own merits rather than accepted or rejected based on the acceptance of the source. This is the best method of impartial evaluation since bad data can come from good places and vice versa. It is also the only way to be heard for voices which are marginalized otherwise. An idea based culture, where seeming majority opinions are rejected in favour of facts and individual assessment, is also the only real defense against astroturfers and persona management software.
Stigmergy is the action based twin of an idea based system. If there are no official authorities, anyone can act and it is up to the society or user group to accept or reject the act.
Personality based systems have been fought for several years by citizen journalists who rejected the idea that only official news was ‘trustworthy’ or ‘safe’ and have largely won that battle. There are still many battles ahead before people cease to be considered above reproach or failure and ideas are accepted for consideration blindly. In many ways, we are moving into more entrenched personality based systems, an idea to be discussed along with its pitfalls in Concentric groups, Knowledge Bridges and Epistemic Communities.
Credit and the role of the user group
Copyright and patent laws which are structured to ensure fame and profit for those that can afford the fees and are the quickest to file forms have created a society and a history filled with people celebrated for creations they did not originate and filled also with creative people who died in poverty and anonymity because they did not have the gift of self promotion. The user group has a key role to play in ensuring that credit is given where appropriate.
This may seem out of place in an argument against personality driven systems, but it is essential. While ideas need amplification from those with the power to do so, stealing credit for ideas creates resentment, discourages sharing and most of all, creates power where it should not exist. Unlike copying, which is not theft, taking credit deprives the rightful owner of it and is theft. The frustration felt by those who know they will never receive credit discourages sharing and open discussion and destroys the joy of creation. A true idea driven culture is one where it is not necessary to be an extrovert with millions of Twitter followers and public speaking skills to receive not just recognition of an idea but of the real idea originator.
Credit theft is a severe impediment to equality. In a world where media with global reach is controlled almost exclusively by western men, from owners to reporters to the 85% male Wikipedia editors, the result is women and others are photoshopped out of every important story. The news creates the fame which feeds the awards and recognition which perpetuates the cycle of exclusion. Where ideas translate into potential careers, credit theft is even more reprehensible. It is as common now as ever for a person with access to powerful forums to pick up an idea from a person unable to reach the public and use it to enhance their own reputation. This is frequently brushed off in groups fighting for societal change as ‘the hive’ owns the idea, everyone does the role they choose, and it just so happens that the role most suitable to those in power (western men) is interviews, public speaking, books, etc., while the silent and unrecognized work is more ‘suitable’ to the introverted or those without the power to take the stage. Any criticism or resentment is met with outrage that the originator cares more for their own fame than ‘the cause’. It is time to call an end to this practice which has existed far too long. There is no longer any pretend need for an extroverted man to present every idea, in these days of internet communication even a disabled, impoverished single mom does not need anyone else to say her words. The practice of making every public appearance by a woman an opportunity for sexual intimidation or sexual assault is an attempt to prolong idea theft and prevent women (and other marginalized groups) from ever holding power. It needs to stop.
Idea credit theft is even a problem in cases where the origin wishes to remain anonymous. It is very common for anonymity to be lost because the originator or their friends see an outside person claiming credit for an idea they know came from elsewhere. Just as free software and creative commons licenses allow anyone to use an idea but not claim ownership of it, there should be an attempt to protect ideas which are released for all from being claimed by one. If this seems silly, observe many cases where people are wrongly claiming credit for starting protests and even revolutions, promoting themselves to become the voice that is amplified when others are trying to find out goals and characteristics of the movement.
Idea credit theft is unfair to listeners who may wish clarification, or are interested in more ideas from the same source. False claims of origins usually result in ideas being improperly explained and the loss is to the user group. In a world where the user groups made every effort to find the original source of ideas, creative people would receive credit without being made to take a public stage or engage in public relations battles with extroverted people whose gifts are in marketing and self promotion.
While intellectual property rights need to be abolished as they are inhibiting progress and being used as a tool of inappropriate permanent economic control and intimidation, idea credit rights need far more recognition and need to start being applied to the originator, not the copyright or patent holders.