An economy for all

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

What we are taught to think of as ‘the economy’ began as the acquisition and use of goods for the household [Aristotle, Topics, 350 B.C.E.], and expanded to focus on the employment of a small niche group of society who made the accumulation and trading of assets their life’s work. ‘Productive’ labour which adds to the value of materials was recognized, but “The labour of a menial servant … adds to the value of nothing.” [Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776] After the Industrial Revolution, Karl Marx popularized the inclusion of labour as a commodity when it was expended for the benefit of capitalists and exchanged for a wage. It was separate from the labour of daily life as “Life for him begins where this activity ceases, at the table, at the tavern, in bed.” [Marx, Wage Labour and Capital, 1847]. Marx pointed out that the exploitation of waged labour was the ultimate source of profit and surplus value in capitalism.

While it was recognized at this point that workers and slaves in capitalist industry were important parts of the economy and were exploited by capitalism, all work done in support of the household and community became invisible. The exploitation of the household and community labourer was the ultimate source of profit and surplus value in waged labour. The exclusion of this labour was perhaps understandable as able bodied, free men were both the backbone of waged labour and the members of the public with political power. According to what Mary Wollstonecraft called “the divine right of husbands” [A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792], women were said to be created for a man’s pleasure and service, his children were his property and women were not persons; their labour was considered rightfully his and their increased labour in his absence not worthy of notice. Marx’s masculinist definition of both labour and capitalist exploitation has continued to define both.

The removal of waged labourers from the household increased both labour and isolation for the unpaid workers at home and entrenched inequality and patriarchy in households. While it was acknowledged that working for capitalists was exploitation, women in traditional roles were doing what they had always done so it was said to be natural to them. Exploitation in a marriage and the worker as a capitalist was not considered. Women were taught to be grateful they were shielded from the exploitation of capitalism when they were unpaid workers at home. Equality activists in the 1970’s fought briefly to have household work paid by western governments as an acknowledgement of its role in supporting capitalism, but the parallel fight for women to be more widely included in the waged working class was far more immediately successful. Political choice in the west now tends to promote free trade capitalism, nationalist capitalism, or capitalist workers. Any support for society is presented as charity, a luxury not part of an economic system.

Removing women from their role as household and community slaves ought to have created a more balanced and enjoyable society but instead it brought far more of the world into the trade economy once occupied by only a small group. As the work in creating and supporting society has rarely been acknowledged and never been valued, we have gross overproduction and gluttony in trade and extreme poverty in service. Some look at the overproduction in trade goods and speak of a post-scarcity economy, where no one will have to work. Work is not scarce, and never will be. There is always an elderly person to visit and support, a child to care for, a garden to tend, art to create, a world to study or a discussion to participate in. There are homes and communities to be created, other people to advocate for, and goods to create for necessity or pleasure. For some, survival is a full time job while others need assistance to survive. The time of leisure those working in trade refer to will never exist for those creating and supporting society.

Some feel that the dysfunction caused by a society given over to trade and support of trade will be remedied by including more women in these careers. These people assume women are inherently more caring, giving people, and if, for instance, women were in the military, killing would be a kinder, gentler pastime. This is absurd, as is proven every time women achieve those positions. Men have also proven constantly that they are just as capable of creating and nurturing a society as women are and prior to the industrial revolution, those were natural roles for them as well. The answer to the dysfunction is not gender balance, but recognition and promotion of the roles that create a rich and rewarding society. Gender balance should be provided by the basic human right to choose one’s life’s work but balance will not change the anti-social nature of a trade economy.

Every society is a continuum of dependencies. With the removal of the labour that was supporting this continuum, dependency became another commodity for exploitation by capitalism. People were taught to disregard the societal debt owed for care received at the beginning of their lives, partly as it was not labour with an acknowledged value. As it was formerly the ‘natural role’ of a wife to provide free labour for a husband, it is still the ‘natural role’ of a parent to provide free care for their children. Adults were now considered dissociated from their origins; the propaganda taught that since they ‘didn’t ask to be born’ they owed nothing to society.

Oddly this lack of obligation for things one didn’t ask for did not extend to aging, sickness or disaster. Now it was incumbent on each labourer to hoard the assets they would need for ‘independence’, a state where they were dissociated from the assistance of society. This ‘independence’ filled lives with fear, uncertainty and doubt and fed massive insurance and charity industries which provide no real service at all. These industries provide an illusion of independence by blocking and allocating access to societal support that has been present all along such as medical care and assistance from society in emergencies. The independence is false, but the dissociation serves to make some feel entitled and others not.

While trade economy is only possible if the rest of society is doing the creation and support work, society can exist quite well without trade. We have conducted society as a trade relationship to an intolerable degree since international trade became widespread until trade now defines every aspect of society. Capitalism has progressed to the point where only a few control the lives of most of the world, an unsustainable imbalance. We can rewind economy based on trade relationships to a point where many will again benefit from it, by debt jubilee, financial collapse or other, or we can create a new post-industrial economy that benefits all members of society and supports the roles society needs.

Decentralized trade economies


Peer-to-peer trading is being increasingly explored as a method to cut out corporate control of the trade economy. Peer to peer trading looks like the diagram above. People can trade directly with each other, or through a network, eliminating the central hubs that control distribution and block access of goods. An alternative distribution is the gift economy which follows a similar diagram but does not involve direct exchange; instead goods are given and it is hoped that equivalent goods will be returned. A common model to discourage freeloading in a gift economy is to require a certain level of contribution from each member.

The peer to peer-to-peer / gift economy structure is encouraged as a form of trade suitable to a non-hierarchical society. That depiction is based on an incorrect picture of the society those trading nodes belong to. The difference between a trade relationship and a society with dependencies is obvious to those dependent or unequal in society. Anyone unable to trade an object or act of direct value to a person in power will be left out of a trade network and dependent on charity as shown in the diagram below. The peer to peer model eliminates the corporate hierarchy but leaves the patriarchy alive and well.

Peer-to-peer and gift economies do not allow for society’s input to be inherent in the trade transactions. The value of goods traded is rarely created solely by the trader. Some production builds on previous work, some makes use of assets from the commons and some is produced at the expense of work left for others. Some products may violate human rights of others or damage the environment or the society. Trade relationships relate only to negotiations between individuals and do not reflect impact on an entire society.

Power in peer to peer and gift economies is retained by those that control assets. Not only does this not benefit all of the people who historically don’t benefit in capitalism, it is easy in the diagram below to see how the cycle will progress right back to where we are today as wealth will again concentrate in those who hoard assets and avoid caring for dependents. Peer to peer trade relationships are simply decentralized capitalism. Bringing that system back to its origins with no change will certainly produce the same result over time which it has produced now.


In the diagram above, the two traders who have pooled their resources and have no dependents are the most powerful. The one with six dependents is working far harder and obliged to divide their assets by seven. The disabled individual all by himself, and the one supporting twelve children and two elderly parents cannot participate in the trade economy at all and are dependent on charity. Their needs are not inherent in a trade economy.

For every member of society who has something of outside value to trade, there are dependents who have nothing and others doing the internal society building work. All trade must benefit those powerful enough to reciprocate. People providing palliative or geriatric care, working with the mentally ill or children, or with criminals not participating in the economy, will have no means of survival except charity or a resurrection of the institutional structures described in Society vs Dissociation. Those whose own survival takes all of their available resources because of illness, disability or age, those investing years in a long term project with no observable output, or those working in research and other thought based fields also have no inherent value in a peer to peer structure and must have their needs tacked on as a charitable addendum or debt obligation.

A few months ago, an article appeared in a Canadian newspaper. It told the story of a very young woman in Uganda raising six children, all the product of rape, after being abducted at 13 to become a child soldier. The photojournalist gave her a camera and sold the photos she took with it. When he gave her the money, he said “This isn’t a handout. This is money you’ve earned.”

Consider that for one minute. Raising six children she did not ask for while still a teenager herself, being pregnant or recovering for six years, breast feeding all of these children for however many years, providing food, shelter, clothing, safety, medical, educational and other care, all 24 hours a day, seven days a week while in extremely dangerous and uncomfortable conditions and recovering from severe trauma, with no societal support and in fact in danger from society, was not worth payment. She is expected to sacrifice her health and risk her life for a job that was not worth payment. Surviving all the trauma of her life did not entitle her to support from society. Trading a picture was considered providing something of value and contributing to society. This is a society conducted as a trade relationship; she cannot sell her children, therefore her work for them is of no value. It would however be illegal for her to let them die, so she is legally slave labour. Slavery of caregivers and others in this and many other instances is the only reason societies under capitalism can survive.

There are many groups today advocating living a money free existence by using barter, scavenging, peer-to-peer trade and gift economies. Women have been living a money free existence for most of history. Women devote a year of their lives to each pregnancy and recovery period and still do by far the most society building and caregiving work worldwide; in trade economies they have to add additional labour on top of this to create some product of exchange that will appeal to a person in power or they and all of their dependents will be at the mercy of those in power. The peer-to-peer barter or ‘gift’ economy required for many to survive has been called the world’s oldest profession: prostitution in an endless variety of forms, many called marriage. Trade economies are rigged against women in traditional roles and anyone else creating or supporting society. The answer for equality in this system has been for everyone to reject support roles and embrace trade economies.

Peer-to-peer networks provide no improvement for the rights of the weak as shown by a history full of peer-to-peer extortion gangs, paedophile networks and brotherly revolutions which became tyrannical immediately upon seizing power. Peer-to-peer is a survival of the fittest structure which ensures slavery of the weak. The persecution of the weak found in societies without inherent protection is frequently followed by a guardian coup d’état as when women are legally barred from bending over in Swaziland, sitting astride motorbikes in Indonesia or owning cell phones in rural India for their own ‘protection’. In a society with a trade based economy, currency and centralized power offers more protection to the weak than a peer-to-peer structure. This has been seen by the improvement in women’s lives when they have the right to vote and work for pay, and protection is provided (however theoretically) by the state.

When asked how they would allow for dependencies, advocates of peer to peer or gift economies speak of being ‘generous’, ‘giving’ food to the less able, and nearly always also mention condemnation for anyone having more children than they can provide for themselves, addictions, etc. In fact even one child puts the pregnant, nursing and responsible parent at a huge disadvantage and causes them to have to work far harder, for far less, and then need to divide their earnings. A number of dependents like six or more makes it difficult to survive. Many people around the world have far more than six children as well as care for other dependents in society. Even if the birth rate were reduced, every state in the northern hemisphere is experiencing an explosion in the elderly population, and disasters, environmental harm and other factors can cause sudden huge increases in dependents.

The decentralized capitalist structures treat this ‘problem’, in very much the same way as their corporate capitalist predecessors, with a begrudging charity or more hostile superiority and blame for those disadvantaged by their system. The value attached to trade versus creation and support of society is evident in every part of life, from obnoxious business travellers and others treating child caregivers as an untouchable caste to the removal of the elderly and less able to a dependent, burdensome role instead of recognizing the contributions and effort they are still providing or could. The nostalgia for a time before rampant corporate capitalism took hold, when ‘everyone’ benefited from peer-to-peer trade is an entirely masculinist view with a very narrow definition of ‘everyone’. As the male role in society has expanded to include far more caregiving, a trade economy suits no one.

Exploitation of dependents as a commodity

In a world where everything is bought and sold, the weak become the product.

The elderly are taught to live in fear of outliving their rights to care or even a home and food, and the pressure to hoard everything for the time when they can no longer work hangs over the lives of every worker. Since no one can know when they will become ill, when they will die, or what the vagaries of the financial system will bring, this stress colours the lives of everyone in society and makes generosity with any current surplus unlikely.

Insurance corporations which provide nothing of real value to society have sprung up for every eventuality and advertise potential calamity incessantly. The fearful society then buys insurance instead of using their surplus to help others experiencing a current disaster. Sometimes this protection racket is mandated by law, and it is impossible to drive a car, mortgage a house or other activities without paying an insurance company selling fear.

Sickness is controlled not only by the insurance companies but by the health industry which controls choice. The wealthy can afford real health solutions in the form of healthy lifestyles and expensive testing, counseling, therapy and remedies. The poor are either denied health care or fed the most harmful and invasive quick-fix pharmaceuticals and procedures with little to no after care or general wellness assistance. Poor health is an individual responsibility despite frequently or usually being caused by societal pollution, poor nutritional options, unsafe environments, etc.

Caregivers are threatened with no hope for their child’s future if they are not provided with an endless array of products and services tiered by income to determine future status in society. The education caregivers are convinced is necessary for a child to succeed is only necessary to perpetuate the trade economy. The poor are streamed to schools which teach the futility of resistance and the reality that elite options will never be available to them. The wealthy are taught to excel in arts, athletics and academics to no purpose except to appear accomplished in the manner of the old aristocracy. Character and how to benefit the society they are born into, the topics which may be expected to be the only necessary topics for a state education, are almost never taught.

Young adults are persuaded they must mortgage their futures before beginning them by entering overwhelming debt agreements for education which benefits the trade economy. Jobs in labour are frequently sold in the same manner. Governments or agents charge fees for emigrating labour which ensures they will be enslaved by the purchased job for years. This ensures workers can never leave the trade economy as they are indentured for years, captured first by paying for the privilege of working, second by fears for retirement.

However reasonable a legal system may seem, lawyers and an arbitrary system of judicial discretion ensure that the laws work against the poor. It does not matter if the law is on the side of the poor if a rich opponent drags the process out for years and bankrupts them, or ensures they cannot keep up with the legal process or they do not have the expertise or time to fight. Civil courts have succeeded for years in destroying the lives of those the law should have protected by protracted lawsuits and exorbitant fees; now many countries are seeing pre-trial detentions abused in the same manner and prisoners denied their rights to a speedy trial.

Once in prison, people become part of a huge predatory industry. Taxes pay private or state owned corporations set up to warehouse prisoners not rehabilitate them. Many prisons worldwide have the added feature of penal labour where prisoners are paid far below minimum wage and their services sold to other corporations at a great discount. Taxpayers pay to feed and house people who are forced to work as slaves for corporations. There is no incentive in a trade economy to not build and fill as many prisons as possible.

Disasters which require voluntary assistance are preyed upon by NGO’s who build powerful empires by standing between those in need and the society willing to help them. ‘Rebuilding’ efforts are typically an opportunity for multinational corporations to come in and exploit the disaster site with offers of ‘creating jobs’. Disaster NGO’s use money provided by people around the world to support huge industries of developers, security, and disaster relief.

Political unrest supports the global war industry. Once a peace agreement generally meant disarmament. Now when ‘peace’ finally arrives to a region, after extended media advertisements of all the war equipment being used, extensive new mass killing equipment is purchased to ‘ensure peace’. The end of a war, like every other disaster, is a signal for the ‘rebuilding’ efforts of NGO empires and exploitative multi-nationals.

Wide spread and growing human trafficking is a product of a society built on trade relationships. Preying particularly on the weakest members of society, human traffickers also frequent disaster areas looking for those who will not be easily traced. People are captured and sold for paedophiles, prostitution, slavery, military and even ritual killings where their body parts are said to bring wealth and power to the purchaser.

The poor are exploited by capitalism through uncountable fees, fines, and price gouging. When they receive money it is subject to a vast array of charges from the financial industry, for cashing cheques, fines for missed payments, interest on debt, and a wide assortment of tiered services such as credit cards which are impossibly expensive for the poor but provide benefits to the rich. Stores will raise the prices of essentials on days when benefits are paid to ensure the poor pay more. In many cases poor people are expected to ‘volunteer’ in exchange for food or lodging in yet another form of modern slavery. Frequently the lifestyle forced by poverty leaves no legal choices and forces them into the prison system.

In a trade economy, dependency is a product to be exploited and sold to society for maximum profit.

Approval economy

To benefit all of society, an economy needs to be based on service to all of society. In today’s economy, service is bought and sold as a good; instead goods must be provided as a service. An economy benefitting all of society should include service to ourselves, service to others and service to society at large. An elderly person who keeps themselves healthy and fulfilled or an addict working to conquer their addiction may be giving only to themselves but both are making society a much better place and lessening the work for others. To create a giving economy instead of a gift economy, currency is not exchanged between two trading partners but societal approval is awarded from all of society to the giver. Societal approval and trust then entitles each member of a society to receive benefit from that society, through a living and immediate social contract. As a reputation economy allows you to participate in trade, an approval economy allows you to become part of a society.

Trade economies attempt to symbolically represent societal approval by possessions. As monarchs were formerly held to rule by divine right, trade economies insist wealth is due to virtue. While hoarded possessions have been used as a symbol of acceptance, they do not fulfill the real social need for acceptance. The wealthy are instead resented and isolated, shunned by the society they supposedly are the elite members of. Underlying every patriarchal society is the idea that caregivers, children and dependents should be grateful as trade economies see them as burdensome. Those who see a disparity in labour for the family and community are not at all grateful. Family wage earners resent not gaining love and approval for their work in trade, but because trade economy derides unpaid service, they receive no respect for support and creation of the family either. In a trade economy, the currency exchanged separates the giver and receiver; because the currency entitles the receiver to the gift they are not grateful. The human need for social and familial approval is almost never adequately met in trade economies.

As possessions in a trade economy include the service of others, those who do not work for the benefit of others are the powerful. An economy based on societal approval equates not working for others with being excluded or shunned. In an approval based economy, control of assets does not bring power. Assets are not assigned worth until they are contributed to the society. Internal support contributions are not valued less than external trade contributions.

Work in an approval based economy provides society and affinity groups; it is less stressful to be part of the society than to be isolated. Gifts are bonding, both within family and friends and at a community level. In an approval economy gifts are not a tax or state confiscation which leaves nothing; wealth is created by giving. Acceptance by society is based on actions instead of assets. Those dependent in society for some things also have gifts to give, acceptance and approval being the most valuable. Politicians propped up by military and corporate interests hated by the people are the antithesis of societal approval as the mark of acceptance. The dissociation of power in society from service to society provides fertile ground for sociopaths to seize power.

Those creating and supporting society should not need charity, they should have power. An inclusive society does not leave some dependent on the charity of others, or make some work far harder for the same ends. Where there is inequality there will always be tyrants; giving birth, aging or accepting responsibility for another should not be equivalent to accepting a slave role. ‘Women’s issues’, the elderly, the youth and the less able cannot be special problems to be dealt with on the fringes of society. Care for dependents of society is the responsibility of all, and dependents should have power to gift approval to those who assist them. Economy cannot be rigged to favour one special interest group. The solutions for all of society must be inherent within the economic system.


In an approval economy, effort to benefit society is recognized and acts against society are penalized. Approval is related to assessment of fairness, not the value of the gift. The work of an elderly person talking to a child, a scientist conducting research, a maker providing goods, a child learning and a mentally less able person gardening have no value differences, though the effort expended might. In the chart above, the person with a score of 91 has decided to be a pillar of their society. They probably belong to few other societies, and devote formidable energy to providing for this one, belonging to many working and discussion groups and making themselves available and responsible for the wellbeing of others. The people scored 58 and 52 may be just visiting or may belong to many networks or perhaps they prefer to spend their days on the beach, doing only the basic amount necessary for good standing. They may be entitled to basic essentials like food and lodging but not community resources such as cars and maker labs without additional barter. 55 and 50 expend effort, but also cause harm. Perhaps they are struggling with addiction or mental illness, Their effort is recognized by continued support but at basic levels to restrict their ability to harm others. The person scored at 15 is probably completely shunned by the society, perhaps even imprisoned.

An approval economy is the economy people rely on when they do not use direct coercion, the one typically seen in families and unfunded cooperative and volunteer groups. What the approval ratings mean in terms of benefits earned and whether there are formal values at all varies by society. Being part of a society may require more effort at some times than at others. For instance, not assisting to put out a fire or provide emergency aid to another may be considered an act against society rather than simply a failure to contribute. The benefits of belonging to a society will dictate how motivated people are to contribute to it.

Acceptance and shunning

Acts which cost society should reduce the standing of the destroyer and their access to benefits. Theft reduces the thief’s approval which is their wealth. Acts of aggression against society is reflected back to harm the aggressor’s standing and remove power and privilege. Extreme aggression in violation of the social contract results in shunning, or removal from the benefits of society. Law enforcement (shunning) is inherent in a system of trust networks. In dissociated trade economies, criminals are allowed to fully participate in society until a point when they are completely removed from society. Societal approval and rehabilitation have nothing to do with punishment in a trade economy. Far from being shunned, many criminals are media celebrities.

Acceptance or reintegration into society in an approval economy is a product of subsequent good behaviour and effort expended to increase approval. A person who has lost their good standing would be forced into a trade economy relationship to receive any benefits and have to ‘pay up front’ rather than have the rights of a member of society. Shunning would ensure that laws were true reflections of popular opinion, though shunning must never be used to remove the rights in a social contract by mob rule.

Societies can join in expanded networks which may agree to trust individual reputations across the network. These networks can also agree to shun other societies they do not approve of or assist those they do. Those societies that do not join expanded networks do not receive the benefits of them. People that have good standing across multiple networks can increase their standing in each by providing referrals and knowledge or some networks might agree to blend rankings to create an overall reputation. In this way people who do not work locally can still access the essentials they need locally. An expanded network would also provide an avenue of appeal if a person felt their local society was shunning them unjustly or they were having their basic human rights violated.

The trust networks and reputations which make up an approval economy are part of the daily life of all societies already. The people you invite to eat a dinner you have provided are typically people who have earned your trust and approval. They will usually provide similar benefits to you if they are able, and if they consistently do not they may begin to receive less invitations. We care for grandparents who are unable to reciprocate because we recognize ourselves as part of a continuum of family obligation which cared for us when we were young and will hopefully do so again when we are old. When we ask the identity of an absent group member, their reputation and approval rating is frequently implied in the answer, and sometimes we ask for referrals outright. Even as anonymous participants on some internet sites our input is ranked and voted up and down, contributing to our reputation. Sometimes our internet reputation is already used to introduce us to wider societies providing basic needs, such as couchsurfing.

Approval economies are the natural economies of human society. We separated power from societal approval and exchanged society for trade relationships so long ago most cannot imagine an alternative, but it is still there in the most basic units of society. Economies based on trade relationships with financial systems as tools of coercion and control cannot coexist with peaceful and just societies. Power will be concentrated in able bodied traders and hoarders as long as we continue using trade economies.

A world without a financial system

Kind people have stigmergically translated this article into Spanish.

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

An overriding concern of many people participating in protests since 2010 has been the financial system. From the September 17, 2011 protests against financial institutions and the symbolism of Occupy Wall Street to the widespread discussion of alternative currencies, money received more air time than even human rights and war. The current human rights atrocities and endless wars did not even cause the Arab Spring; it was the unfairness of the economic systems (starting with the fining of a fruit seller in Tunisia) which were the initial driving force behind the 2011 protests. The current speculation regarding the possible collapse of the financial system focuses on possible replacements.

With all of this attention, it would be easy to assume that financial systems must be a very important part of any future economy. But must they? Before we discuss alternative systems or how to repair our current system, we need to look at why we need a financial system at all. If we define the function of our financial systems, form should follow easily, be it community currency, barter, p2p digital, resource based or other.


The current financial system functions as a means to tie the work that is done for corporations to basic essentials such as food and housing in an entirely artificial relationship. Despite an abundance of basic essentials, individuals or entire countries can be deprived of them based on the labour or rights they are providing to corporations. A system where banks, governments, and many other valueless institutions also stand between individuals and basic needs and demand payment completes the creation of true wage slavery where no worker can survive outside the system. By providing a complete disconnect between work required to produce basic essentials and ownership or access to them, this system also assures gross overabundance of resources for people who do no work of value at all. The financial system enables very inequitable distribution of resources.

Wages are commonly described as a motivator to work. We are told that no one would work if they were not paid. This is belied by the amount of people raising their children, cleaning their homes, tending their gardens, volunteering for fire departments and and writing open source software and it is belied by cultures in myriad times and places which survived happily without a financial system. Women in all cultures are expected to do very difficult, time consuming, laborious and high risk unpaid work to give birth and raise children, and in many cultures they remain as an almost entirely unpaid foundation of slave labour that the rest of the economy is built upon. What is referred to as women’s right to work is really the right to do paid corporate work. All of the work that benefits society is, has been or could easily be unpaid, while pay is only required for work that is harmful to society. Valuation of work rests with corporations and governments which ensure that workers will engage in pointlessly dangerous and immoral work that they would never do otherwise. People are paid to kill people. People are not paid to give birth. Is it now more socially acceptable to kill people than to give birth to people? Or is it just more immediately valuable to corporations? Wages were created not to motivate us to work, but to control our work.

The jobs that corporations and governments have chosen to value are almost entirely busywork, pointless jobs that would not exist in another system, jobs including but not limited to everything in sales, finance, management, politics, and more. The end result of corporate work is far too much product and products and services that are detrimental to society and the environment. Any attempts to stop corporate work are met with the cry that to do so would cause job loss, which is promoted as a great evil as under this system jobs equal basic essentials. Jobs are always touted as being in short supply, valuable, and difficult to obtain, especially the ‘good’ jobs that pay the most money. Jobs are, of course, not remotely scarce, any child can find hundreds of valuable things to do at any time, but these valuable jobs have not had an artificial monetary value associated with them.

Any for profit system is not going to have social or environmental goals as its mandate (even if it says it does) and a wage paying system is a for profit system. If profit were removed, all decisions would be made for social goals, prison systems would be trying to rehabilitate prisoners or study to find why they were in violation of the law instead of just warehousing as many as possible, medical research would be trying to improve health instead of selling pharmaceuticals, and agriculture would be devoted to producing the most nutritious food in the most environmentally responsible way. Removing profit would also remove a great deal of the reason for competitiveness, secrecy and spying within organizations, along with a great deal of the redundancy of competing companies providing identical goods and services. Removing wages attached to a specific system would give every individual the freedom to leave any system they did not agree with or that began to malfunction due to core team problems, a better alternative system or other. Removing profit eradicates the need for ownership of knowledge and many other assets.

On an international level, the financial system serves to artificially control which countries are wealthy and which are not. Many of the most resource rich countries in the world have destitute populations and the multinational corporations that own the ‘rights’ to their resources remove the wealth to other countries. At a national level, the financial system allows banks, who have no need of housing, to hoard millions of houses while the children that used to live in them sleep in the streets. At an individual level, the equating of life’s essentials with the financial system can control life or death, fulfillment or wasted potential, contentment or misery.

All of society’s problems which could be solved by money, were caused by money.

Social Impact

Paid work creates poverty. Anyone not enabling the corporations and doing their work lives in fear of the legal and societal persecution that comes with poverty. Poverty is the hardest work of any available today. It is a very expensive lifestyle, entailing endless fines, charges and fees levied by the corporate and government world. It leaves no time to achieve any fulfillment, is a life threatening health risk, and is extremely damaging to all personal relationships. It is naturally almost universally dreaded.

Poverty is also regarded as a moral failure, as society needs to blame the victim to avoid blaming themselves for the situation the poor find themselves in. In this way, courage, duty, industry, thrift, kindness, loyalty – all of the traditional virtues may be replaced simply by wealth, the ultimate virtue respected in society today. The very word ‘unemployed’ states idleness, although anyone who has been poor knows how much work is involved. Wealth is used synonymously with success and achievement. Paid work artificially values one job above another (and subsequently the person doing that job above the other) regardless of individual preference. While manual work might be considered more enjoyable than executive work by most people, since it provides exercise, social interaction and purpose, the assigned values teach us to value pointless executive work instead.

Paid work occupies all of our time, and when we are outside the financial system poverty is a full time job. This acts to cripple all volunteer work such as community gardens and open source projects that would otherwise be done for free and may undermine the system of wage control over individuals. For those that volunteer anyway, the financial system ensures that their work, such as child rearing or innovative thought, is kept from ever resulting in any kind of independence and encourages those volunteers to collaborate with the corporate system to obtain security. Volunteer work is also subject to the same moral scrutiny as poverty, especially in recent years when a requirement of being poor is frequently the oxymoronic compulsory volunteer work associated with receiving basic essentials. Previously the domain of the rich and idle, therefore commendable, volunteer work has now become tainted with the stench of poverty, further limiting willing participants.

Paid work feeds a consumer economy, both by providing the means to purchase and creating the demand and need for products. If people had time to play, exercise and eat healthy food, they would need less medical care. If they had time to care for each other, they would not need institutions and NGO’s for care. If they had time to help themselves and each other they would not require a vast array of sold products and services. They could also participate in a far wider variety of activities if they were not funnelled into filling one role only.

The current financial system is necessary to control our work, to control our time, to create poverty, to create division and to force people to do work which is harmful to society.

A modified system

It is possible, and frequently proposed, that the current financial system be modified to make it accessible for all to earn the basic essentials of life more easily. This could be done by having far more types of work valued, by providing various forms of charity, by forcing corporations to follow certain workplace standards and many other tweaks and regulations. All are in the end just modifications to the master slave relationship and none recognize the underlying flaws in the system. Who would be the authority valuing the work, administering the charity and enforcing the standards? Who has control of the wages? Whoever maintains authority over the work of others maintains the hierarchical system and prevents workers from having autonomy, mastery and control over their own work. This infantilization of workers, even in a system with worker’s rights, limits innovation, decreases satisfaction, and prevents workers from reaching their full potential.

If there is any financial system, there will be coercion outside the benefit of society. If there is demand for a house and someone is paid to build a house, that person will be elevated above someone helping the mentally ill or gardening. Building houses will then be seen as a more attractive choice of work regardless of personal affinity or the needs of society. Where people are paid to build houses, houses will be destroyed instead of preserved, people will be convinced they need newer, bigger houses, and all of the trappings of capitalism will continue.

A currency free system

It is possible for a society to function well with no financial system at all. Where surplus exists, it can be given, traded or pooled communally to ensure there is no want of basic essentials. The argument that only primitive societies can operate in such a fashion, our society is too complex, is not backed by any insurmountable obstacles. A moneyless system is unlikely to appear soon in its pure form, but it could exist to cover at least basic essentials or an expiring currency could be distributed as a guaranteed periodic income which would cover basic essentials. These options would a least ensure a society does not condemn a child to starvation because a parent cannot provide for them and it would relieve the pressing need to obey corporate authority. It would allow people to follow the path that for them provides the greatest satisfaction without being held to corporate slavery while we create an alternative system.

A great fear associated with abolishing wages or providing anything ‘for free’ is that some people may not work. This fear completely disregards the fact that there have always been people who will not work under the current system and they include the people receiving the highest monetary rewards. Nobody worries about those who are rich not working, just the poor; this seems to indicate a fear of shifting social status, not a fear of people not working. Because of the artificial monetary value assigned to some jobs, people who elect to do demanding and valuable work with no associated corporate wage are sneered at as ‘welfare mothers’, etc. and made to believe they are acting as parasites on society while corporate executives who provide no societal value are hailed as great successes. A 2010 study showed that executives, managers, supervisors, and financial professionals account for about 60 percent of the top 0.1 percent of income earners in the U.S. in recent years. In a system where all work was directly tied to the product or service produced, there would be far more societal pressure for people to do something of direct value, and the people contributing nothing would be exposed. With a more open system it would also be far easier for people with current difficulties getting work in the corporate environment to produce something of value.

The internet has always had a strong anti-currency bias. The earliest email spam promotions only served to increase the divide between the corporate world which took over the surface and the underground which remained as before, populated by people derisively referred to as parent’s basement dwellers due to the very real truth that their work seldom brought income. The difference between worlds is nowhere more apparent than between Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire Facebook creator and prodigy of the corporate world, and moot, founder of the most wildly influential, popular and completely unprofitable financially, website 4chan. With no financial incentives the internet has managed to create collaborative efforts which have pushed the potential of society far beyond what could have been possible before the internet.

While it is doubtful that freeing people to obtain basic essentials outside of corporate bondage would result in more people than usual not working, it is very likely that the increase in art and innovation would be dramatic. It would also change the perception in society of the value of volunteer work if it were necessary and open to everyone to participate in it, and the type of work produced would be valued by society, not corporations. Financial independence is really our term for being able to survive without society; what follows is the idea that if we are independent, our contributions to society are charitable and voluntary. This ‘independence’ is part of the system of dissociation that stands in our way of creating a real society.

It was once considered inconceivable that the world could run without slavery for the exact same reasons people are now putting forward for retaining wages, our modern slavery.

Writings on post financial system economy coming soon …

Concentric Groups, Knowledge Bridges and Epistemic Communities

vs Elitism, Celebrity and Oligarchy

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

Note: Concentric circles relate to sound amplification – the voices or ideas in the centre are amplified more greatly. They are not hierarchical as they have no direct control over the actions of anyone.

While most action based systems can be completely open to participation by anyone, there are situations where an elite level of knowledge and accreditation of some sort is necessary prior to participation. Complicated surgery or engineering are examples of this type of work. While accreditation can and should come from the user group and be completely transparent and permeable, ability in many cases can only be reviewed by those who have attained an above average level of specialized knowledge. In these cases, there must be peer acknowledged levels of expertise attached to specific people, a situation not compatible with pure stigmergy or horizontal action.

Idea based systems such as some scientific research, which should be open to all contributions, require extensive feedback and peer review of ideas, both to identify signal from noise and to provide knowledge bridges between elite levels of knowledge and casual users. In many specialized systems such as the pharmaceutical industry, the entire user group has an urgent interest in ensuring that ideas are properly audited but few have the interest or ability to inform themselves to the level necessary to be able to audit. No one has the time to inform themselves to an expert level of knowledge in every system which affects them, even if that information is completely transparent and available to all. In these systems, ideas need to be promoted by those users qualified to understand them.

In these cases, it is necessary to define a form of elitism, of ideas or people, that will take advantage of expertise but not remove control of a system from the end users. Ignoring elite knowledge in favour of a pretense at completely horizontal governance will not eliminate elitism, it will only create hidden oligarchies dominated by those without the expertise required, usually celebrity personalities.

In allowing this form of elitism, ultimate choice must always be left with the entire user group. An epistemic community is a knowledge resource only. Superior knowledge can only be forced to work for the wellbeing of the entire user group if authority remains with the entire user group and the epistemic community is forced to remain completely transparent and permeable. Science may dream of brilliant innovations, but the user group controls whether those are implemented or created. This authority also provides the incentive for transparency and knowledge bridges to explain reasoning to the entire group.

As in stigmergy, votes in a concentric group are frequently replaced by actions, as expert review will show the options most likely to bring the best results. This information is then available to all and those options will, barring outside factors, be accepted as best practices by most of the user group. The celebrated hive mind behind recent actions has never actually existed in practice. The hive takes actions but ideas originate with individuals. On every occasion depicted as a mass hive action there has been epistemic community or solitary planning creating a butterfly effect. Even when these planning groups are theoretically open to all, they are in actuality only open to those with knowledge of them. Acknowledging epistemic communities does not create them, it simply brings them into the open and allows any member of the user group to participate.

An epistemic community can be people or ideas, depending on the situation. While credit for ideas must always be given, idea based systems should promote ideas instead of people, a body of laws instead of a judiciary. While action in a specialized action based system can only be taken by those qualified, meaningful input can come from a broad section of the user group and be evaluated and promoted by those qualified. Promoting ideas also allows auditing of an idea without all the unrelated distraction of attached personalities.

In such a system it is absolutely essential that global communication be recognized as a first basic right of all people, as communication is power to obtain all the rights which follow and the method to claim membership in society.

Knowledge Bridges

In a concentric user group, people or ideas promoted to the center by their peer group receive greatest amplification and their findings will be audited, amplified and explained to the general public by outer circles. While transparency will ensure that conversations at the centre are heard by all, it is unlikely that they will be understood by those with no knowledge of the system. It is not reasonable to expect those in the epistemic community to explain their reasoning to every member of the user group and attempt to educate every member to an elite level of understanding, but those of the user group with an interest have a right to education and understanding of that which effects them.

Communication should not be the full responsibility of the experts in the centre, but should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation. It is the responsibility of each user in an open system to educate themselves to their own level of comfort using the data and user population at each level to inform themselves. Their input and decision making impact would then be commensurate with the expertise they acquire. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from attacks from completely uninformed users. The circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles.

Ideas can never be furthered if discussion is always at the level of the novice and the ideas of an expert can only be tested by other experts with equal understanding of the topic; in a concentric user group, the receptive field is stronger near the centre, so informed opinions will be heard more clearly by experts in the centre, but full transparency will allow anyone from any part of the system to be as informed as they wish to be by any other part.

Knowledge bridges allow discussion to be held at every level of expertise and corrected by those with greater knowledge. Knowledge bridges also allow input from casual users to be instantly promoted to be heard by the epistemic community if the user group finds the points valid. Knowledge bridges need to ensure that the best ideas are promoted and disseminated, regardless of the attractiveness or popularity of the person with the expertise.

Acceptance must be controlled by the entire user group, and the user group must always have the power to shun, thereby removing power from, any peer promoted expert. This is necessary to avoid a closed oligarchy; but it must be approached warily so that the amplified voices in the center are the true experts, not the most populist and attractive choices. It is incumbent on the user group to protect the center from celebrity grabbing manipulation if they are not to recreate the populist systems of representative democracy. This can only be done by promoting actions and ideas divorced from their source, and ensuring that idea credit stealing is a shameful action. This is essential to ensure innovation and radically different, not easily understood ideas are properly heard and tested. It is also essential to ensure that new ideas from unpopular sources are promoted.

In representative democracy we have learned that people in general prefer to place their faith in leaders who are like them instead of leaders who are so expert they do not understand them. In order to avail ourselves of the greatest expertise on each topic, we must place our most knowledgeable experts in a position of transparent authority while also providing a knowledge bridge leading from their ideas to the casually interested observer. According to Leta Hollingworth’s research, to be a leader of their contemporaries a child must be more intelligent but not too much more intelligent than them. A discrepancy of more than about 30 points of IQ does not allow for leadership, or even respect or effective communication. The same principle appears to hold for levels of knowledge on a given topic.

Hollingworth notes: A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob which he was trying to improve in the belief that other human beings can and should enjoy what he enjoys. This is one of the most painful and difficult lessons that each gifted child must learn, if personal development is to proceed successfully. It is more necessary that this be learned than that any school subject be mastered. Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy (Hollingworth, 1942, p. 259).

This loss of expertise is a tragedy for both the experts and society. There needs to be a method of organization that will use all expertise at the level it will be most effective and avoid communication barriers. Those with elite knowledge need to be able to have relatively quiet conversations with those that can expand and audit the knowledge base while still providing complete transparency, permeability and control for the rest of the user group.


As mentioned in The Problems with Democracy, oligarchies have formed in every type of governance we have attempted so far. The difference brought to oligarchies in communism and democracy is simply that they are far less transparent, to the point that their very existence is denied. Oligarchies appear to be inevitable for many reasons; the reasons related to control of the work of others for achieving goals we can overcome by using stigmergy, consensus and other tools, but there is a place in society for an elite system of knowledge, and that knowledge will always be a source of power. If power from property ownership and hierarchical organizations are removed, knowledge and celebrity will be the dominant sources of power and the places to watch for a new oligarchy.

Most manifestations of attempts at horizontal governance also attempt to deny all elitism, by discouraging or forbidding it in any form and denying its necessity. Whether or not oligarchy exists, elitism most certainly does, in every field that requires expertise beyond that of a novice. To not allow elitism would be to not allow expertise, which would cripple any society. Knowledge at an elite level is where most of our innovation takes place.

Where elite knowledge exists, there will always be elite conversations. If there are not clubs which require membership, then parties such as that which started Martha Stewart’s troubles, or just conversations that are held above the level of novice understanding. The keys to allowing elite expertise but not allowing for elite conspiracies such as insider trading are transparency and knowledge bridges. If Martha had instantly tweeted her conversation and people had rapidly spread its meaning to a novice level, there would have been no unfair advantage in her conversation.

Once there were exclusive clubs and organizations where people could go to isolate themselves and rule the world in elite company. Now we need transparent, helpful epistemic communities as part of the community. The Communist Party of China, the Vatican, the Davos group, are all examples of oligarchies which no longer have any legitimate reason to conduct their activities in secrecy and with no input from their user groups.

Elite levels of knowledge exist today for many reasons, exclusion of the majority of the population from power being the biggest. As an ideal in an open transparent society, anyone would be capable of attempting to contribute to elite knowledge resources, but limitations of interest or ability will still exclude all but a few. This is not an evil if it is properly controlled and it is in fact the best way to ensure decisions based on real expertise instead of connections and other sources of power.

The key to preventing elite knowledge from becoming a tyrannical oligarchy is to maintain control by the user group over action and decisions and treat epistemic communities always as a knowledge resource, not a governing power. Shunning can be used to instantly remove power in an open system, keeping the real power within the user group, not the epistemic community. No system of elite knowledge must ever become unassailable. When combined with stigmergy the work produced in systems with transparent, permeable epistemic communities may finally be of the highest standard we can attain and the work environments will allow autonomous participation for all.

Shunning, trolling and photoshopping

In concentric circles, experts are peer promoted based on reputation instead of certification by an external authority. Each user of a system can review the work of the active members both directly and through the expert review of the active member’s peers instead of placing their faith in a third party certification. Additionally, experts can be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge, expertise and reputation and move towards the centre. Third party authorities such as universities are no longer necessary. It is essential that peer review of expertise is done fairly and without personality based bias.

In an inclusive society, shunning is the most effective punishment for violation of the social contract. Shunning removes the offending person from all of the benefits of belonging to a society. As the prison systems can attest, particularly those that practise the torture of solitary confinement, the effects of shunning are terrible to humans, an inherently highly social species.

In an otherwise non-coercive society, shunning is also the most effective way of removing power from a member of an epistemic community. Ideas which no one follows will wither and die, they only become powerful when used. Conversations which engage no one will fall silent. Shunning is a very powerful tool and should be recognized as such, and not used lightly or maliciously to block access to power.

In a permeable system open to input by all, trolling is used to assess expertise where it is not immediately apparent and allow or block participation in conversations of elite knowledge. The jargon employed in most fields is used to facilitate this trolling, as well as inside jokes, conversations that allow quick assessment of knowledge levels and traps to make the less knowledgeable participant appear foolish. Trolling frequently becomes ad hominem attack to drive a participant from a conversation if they have been found to not have the appropriate level of knowledge. While the first form is an expedient way to keep conversations at an elite level and allow input only from those qualified, as well as to exclude sock puppets and astroturfing online, trolling is a form of shunning and should never be used to drive away people who are qualified or those who are honestly trying to learn.

Frequently, trolling and shunning are used to keep some from positions of power. Sexual and other harassment to prevent people from speaking, meetings in places or conducted in a manner to make them uncomfortable for some, or harsher standards and far more trolling of those who are automatically assumed to be inferior are used as gatekeeping by circles of power. Epistemic communities are the new private clubs. Users should not need to beg acceptance and the same standards of admittance should be applied to all. Internet anonymity for many was akin to emerging from Plato’s cave with the sudden ability to join all conversations and be treated as an equal as long as anonymity was unbroken. That ability needs to be defended for all, even in a system where people are known.

Photoshopping is another way of ensuring that credit is given to only a few. Almost all actions and bodies of knowledge involve several people; it is simple to exclude some as being peripheral and highlight others as central without much notice being taken. Rosalind Franklin’s work could be called peripheral to Watson and Crick’s, perhaps not as important, and the choice of the two over the one downplayed. But when you begin to see everyone but western men drastically underrepresented in every list of important people, it raises the possibility that perhaps everyone else is being photoshopped out of the stories with inferior titles, inferior media attention, inferior idea crediting.

Women historically come with built in anonymity, everything they say has been proxy routed through the nearest man and given no credence until it was. The work of introverts is claimed by extroverts, the work of voices discredited is claimed by accepted personalities. Blogs reference each other as the corporate media refuses to name them; western men own media empires which hire western men which interview western men. The misogynist labeled reddit ensures those articles featuring men are widely read. Wikipedia’s over 95% male editors have been accused constantly of a gender bias in editing, as well as being an amplification and glorification of western male dominated corporate media. They produce a reference populated largely with western men in positions of influence. This is used to determine online measures of influence such as Klout scores which, instead of documenting influence, fall victim to the Hawthorne Effect and create it. All of this data is used to determine who sits on panels and boards, who are given awards, who is hired for positions of influence and the image we all carry in our heads of what an expert looks like.

Women especially, are defined in relation to men, as assistant, secretary, aide, wife,etc. In this way, they can perform the same or more work, but credit for their work and ideas is preemptively assigned to the person they are defined in relation to and they are locked out of receiving influence. Non western voices are put into sub-categories, they are not ‘thought leaders’, they are ‘African thought leaders’. Like ‘women’s issues’, these sub-categories become ghettos where no one ever looks except for tokenism. Those refused recognition leave in frustration, as they must produce many times the content to receive any recognition and must not complain or they will be further marginalized. Young students are left with no mentors in a system where those similar to them are erased.

The exclusion is so pervasive the US media even overwhelmingly go to men for opinions on ‘women’s issues’ as seen in the chart below. For general issues such as politics, the conversation has revolved around men with guns and money for so long, with the rare article on victimized women, it is as if no one even realizes there are alternative stories, such as all the people building society instead of destroying it. Without these alternative stories, people are left with the choice of supporting one group of men with guns and money or another, choosing one as ‘good guys’ and the other as ‘bad guys’, despite the similarity of actions. The story of creators is considered not as newsworthy as the story of destroyers, killing people is both newsworthy and a respected career while giving birth is neither. These limited views dictate the structure of our society.


In many or most cases, this exclusion is not deliberate, those doing the excluding are not even aware they are doing it. When you are standing in the spotlight you can’t see the shadows; many times it seems those in the spotlight are unaware of the existence of others on the stage. It is essential to maintain transparent, idea and action driven systems with vigilant user groups to keep epistemic communities inclusive and open.

Epistemic communities in action based systems

In open source software, the code for each project is available for all to see. Even if the end user cannot understand the code, they can go to discussion groups and read or listen to programmers who have read and audited the code, hear their discussions, and watch them find bugs and discuss alternative solutions. The people with the greater knowledge of the system will provide knowledge bridges for people at a more novice level. Good ideas from these discussions can be read, discussed and possibly implemented by the developers as well. Open source software with forums open to all are a perfect working example of fully transparent and audited systems of elite knowledge. While the decisions are made by the developers, review and acceptance or rejection of the software is the right of the user group. If the developers refuse to listen to the user group and another development team is willing to work on the project, the original code can be forked and modified to meet the user requirements.

Traditional systems primarily use a supposedly representative sample of the user group to provide periodic feedback. This feedback is delivered as percentages of the population which ignores the importance of the individual. From an individual perspective, the chance of dying of a side effect from a pharmaceutical is either 0% or 100%, group statistics have no effect on individual experience. Transparent user groups allow feedback and ideas from the entire user group, an automatic testing and validation system in place continually throughout development and operation. Risks which are ‘statistically insignificant’ become extremely important when they happen to an active participant in the user group community and more accurately reflect a real society vs a system of dissociation.

The github model of replaceable lords of a fiefdom may be improved on in a system where the entire epistemic community operates by consensus, but as long as there is transparency and the ability for anyone to fork the code and start anew, oligarchies can still be avoided. Coursera-like online courses where students teach each other and have direction from an epistemic community of instructors with knowledge bridges of graduates and fellow students is another example of a concentric circle in the cases where the course material is released as creative commons. CryptoParties are another.

Celebrity and thought leaders

As we ponder how to create action and idea based systems, the internet, and so the world, is becoming more personality based than ever before in history. The Internet is rapidly transforming from being page centric to people centric. The hive mind has become me, the people. As liquid democracy type representation becomes more accepted, personal branding for power becomes even more entrenched. Anonymity and group work are being pushed aside in favour of personal celebrity for all.

Along with celebrity have come tools to measure celebrity. The first such tool was Wikipedia, a glorification and amplification of corporate media. Now Klout and similar are taking influence measurement further and not just creating celebrity oligarchies but also dictating the terms of engagement between the oligarchies and the user group by their algorithms. These tools do not just measure influence, they create it, and unchecked, their algorithms will dictate the terms of our new society. If Klout scores people higher for engagement, celebrity thought leaders will engage. If Klout scores higher for engaging with higher ranked celebrities, the powerful will become more powerful and even unassailable. If Klout celebrities score higher for only interacting with and following each other, we will have a closed oligarchy.

Klout is one example, but there are many powerful tools doing the same; the Google search controversy over whether Google should show people what they already like instead of presenting a more realistic, broader view is another. Even a search engine presenting the most commonly sought result instead of a random selection helps entrench already entrenched ideas. Sponsored ‘who to follow’ groups or Twitter’s event pages with only certain tweeters shown are others. A short time ago, if you wished for real influence, as opposed to influence created to sell to marketers, cheating by gaming the influence measurement systems wouldn’t help, because the tricks brought no real influence. Now real influence follows the appearance of influence. In addition to gaming scams, it is openly possible to buy influence by, for instance, paying Facebook to promote your page or Twitter to promote a tweet.

While Twitter was a data driven breakthrough for online society, where no one needed acceptance to begin speaking, this is becoming less true all the time. Anyone can speak, but voices are amplified as favours given and received and the rules change as accounts grow more powerful. Pure data driven systems are unfortunately nearly impossible technologically in a time of spam and astroturfing software; with the vast amounts of data in our world, celebrity amplification of good ideas is needed. The first reaction to this realization by those wishing for a horizontal community was to create group hubs, but these have largely and correctly been felled by the problems with group affiliation.

An idea popularized by celebrity personality endorsement without knowledgeable input can subsequently be exposed as simplistic, factually incorrect or otherwise flawed by those with deeper knowledge, but the celebrity endorsement can drown the expert knowledge (see the Kony 2012 campaign for an example of celebrity endorsement drowning local knowledge). The influence of celebrities from entertainment and sports industries over unrelated topics is illogical but widespread, and they are more than ever expected to use that influence in areas completely outside their knowledge sphere. When actors Yao Chen and Chen Kui Kun posted support to Southern Weekend newspaper on Sina Weibo, it appeared more newsworthy than a statement from the United Nations would be.

Even within the entertainment industry, which may be thought to be within the sphere of celebrity expertise, most had hoped for grass roots driven promotion to replace corporate promotion. Instead we find corporate sponsorship replaced by a tweet from Justin Bieber, which launched stars such as Carly Rae Jepsen and Psy far more immediately and effectively than a label ever dreamed of doing.

All of the above sounds very discouraging, but it really isn’t. The first step in any cleaning and organizing is to drag everything out to the open to be sorted and that is really what has happened with celebrity. None of this influence is new, it is in fact a far more toned down, accessible and transparent version of the celebrity and influence peddling we have had for years. It is palatable for an individual you choose whether or not to follow to recommend an artist that you can choose to watch or not without diluting your supply of alternative choices; compared to the control once exerted by music labels this does not seem evil. Citing papers in academia or votes in Hollywood’s Academy Awards are no less subject to influence peddling.

Much of the undue influence is inherently repulsive to most people, and they have already begun to combat it. The Kony 2012 campaign suffered an immediate if largely unheard backlash from the people actually in the region. Today those rebuttals would be even more immediate and well amplified. Even the traditional pundits from old corporate media hardly dare write any more about regions they are not resident of; soon all such foreign punditry will be replaced by local voices and news will be reported by those it is happening to as audiences will demand that level of informed opinion.

A cultural shift is required around celebrity. Celebrity was created to distract attention from issues the true oligarchies did not want scrutinized. The public’s ‘right to know’ was transferred from the business of the government to the hair style of an entertainer. This type of celebrity is no longer needed and it is becoming rapidly diluted as the general population Occupy celebrity by being Tumblr famous, Twitter famous, etc. Expertise is already largely separate from celebrity, voice amplification will soon be merely a job and a fairly boring one at that.

Until this cultural shift is complete, it is dangerous to concentrate even knowledge based celebrity in one individual or group of individuals, and there must be continuous intelligent auditing by the user groups. Open epistemic communities generally are plagued with members who may or may not be qualified to be there but they play the outer circles against the inner and create a human interest story of themselves. Their fame and popular support makes them impossible to challenge or shun. This is distracting and detracts from the work of the community. User groups must ensure that while they watch their communities for inclusiveness, they do not allow this type of manipulation.

The tools to moderate a celebrity or expertise oligarchy are now in the hands of the people. Hopefully the user groups will moderate, exercise their ability to shun for bad behaviour and refuse to allow control to leave the entire user group. There is no reason why a person with a learning disability should be less happy or satisfied than a brilliant mind, or why gardening should not be as rewarding a life work choice as participating in an epistemic community or acquiring internet celebrity. As discussed in The Financial System, it is an artificially controlled environment of privilege that makes one seem better than the other and it is easily overcome in a population not controlled by their financial system.


Hollingworth, L. S. (1942). Children above 180 IQ (Stanford-Binet): Origin and development. Yonkers-on-Hudson, NY: World Book Company.


Kind people have stigmergically translated this article into German, French, and Spanish.

This article is part of a series now incorporated into : ‘Binding Chaos’.

Stigmergy is a mechanism of indirect coordination between agents or actions. The principle is that the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a next action, by the same or a different agent. In that way, subsequent actions tend to reinforce and build on each other, leading to the spontaneous emergence of coherent, apparently systematic activity. Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, seemingly intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even direct communication between the agents. – Wikipedia

A personality based system can never allow for mass collaboration on a global scale without representation such as that seen in organizations like the United Nations. If the world is to move away from representation and allow all voices to be heard, we need to find methods of collaboration which work with idea and action based systems. Concentric user groups with epistemic communities and knowledge bridges may work for idea based systems; for action, stigmergy may be the best option.

Currently, the typical response to a situation which requires an action is to create a noun, in the form of a committee, commission, organization, corporation, ngo, government body, etc. Far too often, the action never appears at all as the focus is always on the organization and the personalities involved instead.

Most systems are now run by competitive organizations. Competition creates redundancy, is slow and wastes resources on idea protection, advertisement, and more. Competition also requires secrecy which blocks progress and auditing and causes lost opportunities and ideas. Patents and copyrights further limit speed and the potential for mass input of ideas. Collaboration between the people with the greatest expertise does not happen unless they are hired by the same project.

The alternative to competition has traditionally been cooperation. This is most effective only in groups of two to eight people. For groups larger than 25, cooperation is agonizingly slow, an exercise in personality management which quickly degenerates into endless discussion and soothing of ruffled feathers, is extremely vulnerable to agent provocateurs, and in large scale groups very seldom accomplishes anything of value. Cooperation traditionally operates on the democratic principle that all voices are equal, so it does not allow for leaders, or users with greater expertise, energy or understanding to have greater influence than those on the periphery. Cooperation wastes a great deal of time and resources in both discussing and discussing the discussions. In an action based system, this discussion is rarely required as the opinion of those not doing the work is probably of little value unless it is solicited advice from a trusted knowledgeable party.

Cooperation and consensus based systems are usually dominated by extroverted personalities who make decisions to control the work of others and are justly resented by those doing the actual work. Most workers do not enjoy a hierarchical system as shown in the chart below, as they lose autonomy, mastery and creative control over their own work; the feeling at the bottom is no different whether there is a horizontal or a hierarchical structure making the decisions. Cooperative systems frequently use consensus or votes to make decisions for the entire group; these methods may not produce the best results as many people may not understand the work if they are not actually doing it, and they may demand things they would never be willing to do themselves. Consensus based systems are also prone to the ‘hive mind’ appropriation of credit for individual ideas and labour which causes further resentment.

Hierarchical System

Screen shot 2012-12-23 at 5.35.06 PM

Consensus Hierarchy

Screen shot 2012-12-23 at 5.35.28 PM

In the Stigmergy chart below, all workers have full autonomy to create as they wish; the power of the user group is in the ability to accept or reject the work. Since there is no officially designated person to perform a task the users are free to create alternatives if they do not like what they are offered. Workers are free to create regardless of acceptance or rejection; in the chart below some work may be accepted by the largest group, some alternatives for a different user group, some only by a small group, and sometimes the worker will be alone with their vision. In all cases the worker is still free to create as they wish. History has shown no drastically innovative ideas that received instant mainstream acceptance and history also shows that radically new ideas are most often the result of solitary vision; to leave control of work to group consensus only is to cripple innovation.


Stigmergy chart

In a competitive environment, a new idea is jealously guarded, legally protected and shrouded in secrecy. Great effort is expended in finding supporters for the idea while also ensuring that the idea remains covered by legal protections such as non-disclosure agreements. The idea remains inextricably bound to the creator until it is legally transferred to another owner and all contributors work for the owner, not the idea. Contributors must then be rewarded by the owner which further limits the potential for development and wastes more resources in legal agreements, lawsuits, etc. Contributors have no interest in whether the project succeeds or fails and no motivation to contribute more than they are rewarded for.

If the idea is instead developed cooperatively, it must first be pitched by the originator, who will attempt to persuade a group to adopt the idea. The group must be in agreement with the idea itself and with every stage of its development. The majority of energy and resources are spent on communication, persuasion, and personality management, and the working environment is fraught with arguments and power struggles. Because the project is driven by a group, albeit a cooperative one, the group is still competitive with other similar outside projects, and still wastes resources and energy on secrecy, competitive evangelizing, etc. Both competitive and cooperative projects will die if the group that runs the project leaves and both will attract or repel contributors based on the personalities of the existing group. Both are hierarchical systems where individuals need to seek permission to contribute. Both focus on the authority of personalities to approve a decision instead of focusing on the idea or action itself.

Stigmergy is neither competitive nor traditionally collaborative.

With stigmergy, an initial idea is freely given, and the project is driven by the idea, not by a personality or group of personalities. No individual needs permission (competitive) or consensus (cooperative) to propose an idea or initiate a project. There is no need to discuss or vote on the idea, if an idea is exciting or necessary it will attract interest. The interest attracted will be from people actively involved in the system and willing to put effort into carrying the project further, not empty votes from people with little interest or involvement. Since the project is supported or rejected based on contributed effort, not empty votes, input from people with more commitment to the idea will have greater weight. Stigmergy also puts individuals in control over their own work, they do not need group permission to tell them what system to work on or what part to contribute.

The person with the initial idea may or may not carry the task further. Evangelizing the idea is voluntary, by a group that is excited by the idea; they may or may not be the ones to carry it out. It is unnecessary to seek start up funding and supporters; if an idea is good it will receive the support required. (In practice, that is not true yet, as few people have the free time to put into volunteer projects because most are tied to compulsory work under the existing financial system. Additionally, we still live in a personality driven system where only powerful personalities are heard.) Secrecy and competition is unnecessary because once an idea is given, it and all new development belongs to anyone who chooses to work on it. Anyone can submit work for approval, the idea cannot die or be put on hold by personalities; acceptance or rejection is for the work contributed, not the person contributing it. All ideas are accepted or rejected based on the needs of the system.

Responsibility and rights for the system rest with the entire user group, not just the creators. There is no need for people to leave the system based on personality conflicts as there is no need for communication outside of task completion and there are usually plenty of jobs with complete autonomy. As no one owns the system, there is no need for a competing group to be started to change ownership to a different group.

Stigmergy provides little scope for agent provocateurs as only the needs of the system are considered. Anyone working against the system’s functionality is much easier to see and prevent than someone blocking progress with endless discussion and creation of personality conflicts. Because the system is owned by all, there is also no one leader to target.


As work progresses and core team and members grow, more interested and dedicated personalities emerge which begin to steer direction. Specialties are formed around the core team’s interests as the core team produces the most work and the work most valued by the rest of the user group. Systems beyond a certain level of complexity begin to lack coherence as the group’s energy and focus moves from broad to narrow, following the interests of the core team and the availability of resources; parts of the original system may be left undone.

As more members are added, more will experience frustration at limited usefulness or autonomy. Some of these members will have an interest in the work left undone and they will create a new node of like minded members and new people to take care of the undone work. Alternatively, casual users and observers of the system, who lack the desire or expertise to be a more active part of the original system, will see a different need created and start a new node. Rather than the traditional corporate model of endless acquisition and expansion, stigmergy encourages splintering into different nodes. Because each individual is responsible only for their own work, and no one can direct a group of workers, expansion means more work for the individual, a self limiting prospect. As a system grows, the additional work requires either additional resources or splintering; as communication is easier and there is more autonomy in smaller groups, splintering is the more likely outcome of growth.

Communication between nodes of a system is on an as needed basis. Transparency allows information to travel freely between the various nodes, but a formal relationship or communication method is neither necessary nor desirable. Information sharing is driven by the information, not personal relationships. If data is relevant to several nodes it will be immediately transmitted to all, no formal meetings between official personalities are necessary.

Any node can disappear without affecting the network, and the remaining necessary functionality of that node can be taken up by others. Nodes which find they are performing the same tasks will likely join, or one will be rendered obsolete by lack of use. New nodes are only created to fulfill a new need or provide greater functionality; it is inefficient to have the same task performed twice, and that only occurs if a second group discovers an alternative method that the first group is unwilling to adopt. In that case, the best system will win the most support from the user group, the other will die or remain as a valued alternative. Any user can contribute to the node which best matches their interests and abilities, or contribute to multiple nodes.

The future

A new system of governance or collaboration that does not follow a competitive hierarchical model will need to employ stigmergy in most of its action based systems. It is neither reasonable nor desirable for individual thought and action to be subjugated to group consensus in matters which do not affect the group, and it is frankly impossible to accomplish complex tasks if every decision must be presented for approval; that is the biggest weakness of the hierarchical model. The incredible success of so many internet projects are the result of stigmergy, not cooperation, and it is stigmergy that will help us build quickly, efficiently and produce results far better than any of us can foresee at the outset.

Idea and action driven systems

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.

The problems with democracy

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

Around the world, people lamenting the demise of democracy, or fighting for the birth of ‘true’ democracy need to take a closer look. Democracy is a universally failed concept, not because we have not implemented it properly but because the ideas were flawed to begin with. Advocates of democracy as a system of governance usually hold that it will produce the greatest satisfaction among the governed by allowing the voices of all to be heard. If democracy was implemented in the way it is intended by any common definition to be implemented, the resulting society would not allow all voices to be heard and it could not be considered either fair or enlightened. ‘True’ democracy is at best only one step removed from ochlocracy or mob rule; in a society where the majority create the laws, the laws can always be changed to allow for the Salem witch trials, the current Guantanamo military commissions, or many other examples where mass panic allowed the revocation of years of law in order to persecute a minority.

There are two options commonly held to be our democratic choices; direct or representative democracy.

Direct democracy

A pure direct democracy is a pure tyranny of the majority. When a majority rules, there is no need for compromise and a minority will have their needs unrepresented, resulting in governance by the majority, not governance by the people. As in all systems where groups hold the highest power, individual rights are always at risk.

A direct democracy is impossible in actuality as no one can have the time to participate in every decision concerning them, and certainly not to educate themselves to provide meaningful input in every decision. To make the best decisions, expertise is required on each topic. Direct democracy does not always provide the best solutions, it provides the most popular, the most expedient, or even the most advertised solutions, more frequently as the decision becomes more complex.

Direct democracy gives equal weight to all votes, the expert and the novice, the completely dependent and the unaffected. Expert opinion is overshadowed by volume, which negatively impacts the resulting decisions. Allowing votes by people unaffected by the issue at hand results in not just uninformed decisions but also persecution of minorities.

Direct democracy is very susceptible to a hidden oligarchy, as those at the bottom of the social classes have no time available to represent themselves or to study the issues being debated. Secret clubs, and block voting are difficult to combat and also do not lead to decisions of the most benefit to all.

At its most pure, direct democracy is mob rule, or governance by decree. This system will allow the mob to override the decisions of constitutions and law, and does not allow for a reliable and consistent social contract for all members of society. In this form it is hard to argue that direct democracy is even a system of governance at all. Governance by decree is governance by whim, and not just or fair governance under most definitions of the words. If an individual is to enter a binding social contract with a society, it is essential that they see and can rely on the constitution of the society they are contracting with.

Direct democracy is very popular currently as an alternative to the more widely attempted and therefore more obviously failed representative democracy. The Pirate Party uses liquid democracy as an idea to tie votes to expertise and incorporate some aspects of direct democracy within a representative system, but this is a recycled idea from historical democracy that was replaced for a reason. Before secret ballots and one vote per person became the norm, people were regularly intimidated out of their votes by tyrannical spouses, employers, or others in a position of power. Liquid democracy is not a new system, it is a return to a previously failed system. It allows both an accepted rule by demagogues and a fertile ground for corruption, vote buying, and intimidation. These are things that were fought and exorcised in earlier times, there is no logical reason to expect a different result from a system that has been tried. Women and minorities fought far too hard to overcome this system to allow it to return.

Representative democracy

Representative democracy evolved as a means to overcome some of the obvious flaws of direct democracy. Representative democracy has become a cripplingly paradoxical system which celebrates nouns over verbs and is far more concerned with representation of every conceivable group than the governing actions being taken, resulting in a system where individual rights are negotiable, bigotry is integral and action is carried forth with no debate. Representative democracy is designed not to care about individual rights but to care about what noun each person can identify with and how strong is the lobby group associated with that noun. Representative democracy is divisive, ineffectual and based on impossible principles.

There are two underlying concepts which must be universally accepted for representative democracy to function: groups may act as individuals and individuals may act as groups. These two ideas are fundamentally unsound. While these contradictions were required in earlier attempts at representative governance, the idea was always flawed and recognized as being flawed. As we have progressed to the point where we can eliminate these weaknesses, we have instead greatly increased their use and stopped questioning their appropriateness. Presently these two concepts contribute to fundamental paradoxes throughout the current system which can only be remedied by rejection of the underlying concepts.

A group is a collection of individuals united for a certain time and space by a specific idea, experience or other common bond. Individuals have the ability to associate, to exchange ideas, to agree, to cooperate, cohabit and in any other way to collaborate, but the group they form does not become an individual. It cannot logically be granted a voice, a vote, or political or legal power. It is only in a system governed by groups and one which does not respect individual rights that such power seems essential.

Any group of affiliated people is an organization dedicated to promoting the interests of its group members. Unlike individuals, who have the power to change their minds and allegiances at will, or to act outside their own best interests, an organization has a mandate to promote a specific idea and represent a specific group. If a group were to fail to promote its mandate and population above all others, the group would be acting contrary to its reason for existence. Systems of ‘checks and balances’ implemented to counteract power of representatives presupposes that none of the representatives are to be trusted and therefore how can they be trusted to check each other? The first goal of nation states is to defend their citizens against the ‘other’, an idea which has led, and will continue to lead, to divisive politics and human rights violations.

In a system where groups representing individuals is the norm, as in the current representative political systems, there is a chronic problem of ensuring representation of all minority groups and hearing their rights alongside other larger groups. The issue is not solved by having more and louder minority groups, in every conceivable combination, making futile attempts to ensure that every group has a seat at every table and designing amplification algorithms for their voices, it is solved by ridding ourselves of all groups speaking as individuals and letting every individual speak for themselves. If individual rights for everyone are put above any group consensus, are a given in every assembly, if they are applied equally without distinction of any kind, there is no need for any group to have further representation. The completely incongruous situation we have found ourselves in under the current system, where groups demand and sometimes obtain special ‘individual’ rights, would be unnecessary. No group can properly represent the diversity of its members, only the individuals can.

People in systems of corporatist groups are proud to identify themselves as members of various groups instead of by their own actions. Anyone proud to self identify as a member of a group is at best a bore, at worst group affiliation allows them to circumvent personal responsibility and demonize ‘outsiders’. A corporatist group has no place in a consensus based system which respects all of its individual participants equally and a group does not have the flexibility to accurately represent individuals. Group representation of individuals contributes to the infantilization of the individuals and allows them to relax and not educate themselves or take part in their own governance. They are frequently less interested in the topic than in the social aspect of being in solidarity with their peers. Groupthink is not only a waste of potentially valuable contributions, it can allow flawed initiatives to pass simply because no one wishes to raise an objection, either the people who wish to maintain their membership in a group or the people who are too intimidated to disagree with the group.

There is no occasion for group endorsements or condemnations of anything when the individuals have their own voices. Both condemnations and endorsements encourage what ought to be assemblies of individuals with equal voices to place undue importance on pleasing the individuals belonging to the opposing or endorsing group. Dissenting voices from the group are not represented, and individual nuance is lost.

Group affiliation behind individual voices allows listeners to reject ideas before hearing them. Labeling an idea as coming from The Left or The Right is enough for many people to refuse to listen to it at all; other equally irrelevant group affiliations result in equally damaging bigotry which prevents communication on any topic. In a system which is built on communication and consensus, such barriers are insupportable.

Corporatist groups are fundamental to all centralized and totalitarian government systems, and antithetical to all open and consensual governance. Corporatist groups produce the same effect locally as they do nationally and globally; the cells create the whole and it is a fundamental contradiction to expect corporatist groups to create a consensual system. It is impossible to reconcile corporatist thinking at any level with an open system of communication and governance.

A group may take an action together, may communicate, may assemble, may agree on points, but a group never has one mind, one personality, one set of values. A group is not an individual and must not be used to represent individual thought.

Conversely, there is never a need for an individual to act as a group. We no longer live in a world where one individual has to make a long arduous journey to appear in person to represent their town or region, we need to work to ensure there is no reason why individuals cannot represent themselves in any circumstance. If the members not speaking are not interested then they should not participate instead of lending excess weight to another voice. If they are interested but do not understand, the system needs to be changed to allow for ease of understanding, probably by use of concentric user groups. If individual voices cause too much noise, the system needs to be modified to provide a solution. Individual voices are to be treasured, not lost for expedience.

If an individual represents a group we must ask who will have the right to represent the group? What will they be allowed to say? What will the wording be? If any member of the group disagrees, if any word is not approved, then the person speaking for the group is no longer representing the group. That person is now speaking as an individual with words unfairly weighted by group affiliation and the individuals in the represented group who allowed this are equally guilty of misrepresenting themselves as being part of a voice they failed to approve. An individual speaking for a group is a dishonest mask for an unfairly weighted individual voice in almost every circumstance.

When individuals speak as groups we frequently do not even know who the individuals behind the groups are or what their individual opinions are. In many cases the group is just the voice of one individual, sometimes an individual who speaks, votes, exercises political and legal power and obtains money or other rewards through many different groups. The group names encourage the public to attach undue authority to an individual voice, to think they are donating time, money or effort to a cause for many which benefits only one individual, to fail to question the background or connections of an individual they do not see.

Corporatist groups tend to be very personality driven systems, where a charismatic leader is given authority not commensurate with any expertise or experience. Where the representative falls short in knowledge or experience, they then have the authority to hire the needed expertise; a perfectly fertile ground for corruption and cronyism as well as incompetence. The representatives are assumed to carry all of the attributes and values associated with the group and given trust and blame not earned by themselves. The task of representing others is impossible and perilous in actuality, so the job is rarely taken up by anyone except as an opportunity to further a personal agenda.

It is understood by all that groups and individuals are different entity types with different attributes. The idea that the two may have their attributes exchanged for expedience is no longer expedient. Corporatist groups contribute to an extraordinary degree to the most problematic aspects of the current system, starting with the ones illustrated here and escalating into legal corporate personhood and democratic dictatorships. In order to create a system without the same failings, these two concepts must be rejected as part of the design. Individuals must begin to communicate as ideas and actions, not nouns. Groups must be given only those attributes which are logical to them, such as the ability to assemble.

Voices, votes, legal and political power are natural rights of individuals not groups.

Hidden oligarchies

In the iron law of oligarchy, Robert Michels holds that any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy and his logic tests well against any system that has been tried so far.

Representative democracy is the most dishonest oligarchy of all as it insists on the falsehood that the voice of its oligarchs are the voice of the people and the subsequent falsehood that their rule is rule by the people. Democracies have not eradicated oligarchy, they have driven it to secrecy, a state of affairs ironically most abhorrent in a democracy. Instead of confronting the problems inherent in an oligarchy, democracy denies it exists while practicing it openly. Oligarchy is not necessary, but it can only be overcome in a completely open and transparent system which allows the most widespread participation by all and knowledge for all and recognizes and accommodates expertise and greater levels of knowledge (see Concentric groups, knowledge bridges and epistemic communities). Communism has failed for the same reasons, by denying and pretending to eradicate elitism instead of acknowledging it and using it to the advantage of society. Many advocates of both democracy and communism hold that their ideas have never been properly tried, but the refusal to recognize and control the causes of oligarchies is the reason the concepts behind both will never be implemented despite widespread attempts. These ideologies fail at the gate because of a fatal flaw; when a round peg does not fit in a square hole despite numerous attempts we do not say it has not been tried, we say it doesn’t work.

Representative democracies do not provide for expertise in governance as representatives are elected by land mass and time span, not system, and are usually elected for charisma, not expertise. Athenian sortition likewise made no attempt at combining expertise with authority. Subjects that the majority is unqualified to speak on are delegated to similarly unqualified political representatives, segregated from other representatives by land mass. These representatives appoint experts who obtain their positions by cronyism with the politician instead of expertise acknowledged by the entire interested population. The politicians and experts in the current system then provide for no meaningful feedback from users of the system, outside of occasional polls; these polls are conducted on test populations which another group have decided shall be considered representative of the population as a whole and used to provide input on only the questions the experts decide. There is no transparency of any meaningful kind that would allow users of the system to audit what the experts were doing.

We can do better than this. We can govern by user groups, respect individual rights and global commons, and collaborate using stigmergy and concentric groups. Where necessary, elite expertise can be contained and used through transparent epistemic communities and knowledge bridges while control remains with the user group.

Privacy and Anonymity

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

In the past, most of the world acknowledged in both cultural norms and the law that privacy was a basic individual right. It could be argued that this right was ours in a state of nature; mammals in general do keep personal matters private to varying degrees, and privacy can in many cases be equated with personal security. Culturally, it was an accepted practice in most regions of the world that personal business and family business were to be kept private, too much disclosure was frowned upon, and ‘snooping’ was met with ‘mind your own business’. Even names were in many cultures not to be handed out in full to people outside intimate circles, and even within families personal names were not always used. That is actually the last vestige of that privacy to be found in western society; children still frequently do not call their parents by their first names but the rest of the world now does.

In our surveillance culture of today, privacy is again quite literally illegal as it was in previous totalitarian states. ‘If you see something say something’ and the FBI’s all encompassing ‘Suspicious Activity’ list have made any attempt at privacy over even the most innocuous activity grounds to suspect you of ‘terrorism’. The prying of other members of your society is supported by government and corporate surveillance of everything from your conversations and your constantly tracked images to the amount of body heat you are giving off at a ‘checkpoint’.

The agenda of the states has been transferred to the wider culture; now all forms of privacy and even introversion have come to be viewed as negative traits. Anyone who is uncomfortable with sustained eye contact is labeled as hostile or untrustworthy, anyone who works more easily in solitary is ‘having trouble integrating’ and even the new protest movements embrace all new forms of thinking except solitary. The mainstreaming of privacy invasion makes it almost impossible to avoid having your personal data made available to all, but even if that is managed, your features are available to face recognition (gait recognition, etc.) software through surveillance cameras around the world and are easily matched to all of the rest of your data by the ‘two pieces of picture id’ required to function in any easy way in our society.


The normalizing of privacy invasion has spilled over into societies around the world. It is commonplace now for introductions to be followed by what amounts to an interrogation, with all personal and professional background demanded before acquaintance begins. It is even perfectly normal to approach complete strangers with demands to know all of their personal data. This new custom, encouraged by law enforcement in the United States, is endorsed by mainstream society. Any attempt to refuse personal information at first contact is met with indignation. The interrogator, who once would be labeled a ‘snoop’ is now characterized as ‘open’, ‘honest’, and having ‘nothing to hide’, while the victim is held to be a deviant of some sort or other and regarded with suspicion. The surveillance state has done its job when any request for privacy is met with shock, hurt, accusations of paranoia, and group shunning.

Invasion of the personal lives of individuals has been an accepted feature in the news media for decades. The public’s ‘right to know’, which once applied to the right to know all news required to participate in their own governance, essential in a democracy, became a right to know personal information. All individuals are private individuals, only their actions which affect public life are of public interest. Private individuals were labeled public individuals based on a very arbitrary assignment of all professions ‘in the public eye’ (such as entertainment) as public; the relabeling of these professions was then used to strip basic privacy rights from the professionals. While this was probably started to deflect attention from the matters those in power did not wish attention to be directed towards, and encouraged by ‘celebrities’ who were profiting from it, the custom has since expanded to include an ever increasing amount of private individuals whose personal lives are in the news for no explicable reason.

As the general population has taken over media gathering and dissemination, the media’s predatory nature has also become dispersed throughout the population. As the old media feels it has the right to use advanced surveillance attacks, stalking and sexual harassment in the form of creepshots, physical mobbing and verbal abuse to any woman who begins to have a voice in society, the internet is now also full of people who feel they are entitled to use the same tactics on any woman or girl who dares to enter the internet public forum. Any woman who attempted to work in news or politics would be met with relentless attacks on her personal life and physical appearance by old media; any woman who speaks or posts a picture on the internet now is subjected to the same treatment.

A society that has grown up with sexual harassment of women labelled as ‘free speech’ does not understand this harassment for what it is, mass censorship of female voices. The old media, instead of acknowledging their own behaviour staring back at them from the internet, lobbies against ‘cyber-bullying’, as if what they do is somehow different if it is done online, and claim the solution is for those bullied to lose all possibility of the protection of anonymity.

In order to have a society in which individual needs are respected, a balance must be struck between the right to speak and freedom of information versus the right to participate equally in society and own the truth about ourselves. Our presentation of ourselves is directly tied to our right to privacy; over exposure of even truths we are not ready to share can result in extreme mortification and trauma. We tend to overlook and belittle the impact of privacy violation, primarily as it so often is directed towards those with marginalized voices, but a look at the amount of suicides, as well as mental health problems caused by these violations is enough to show its importance.

The lack of importance placed on privacy may also be directly related to the rule by extroverts we have been subjected to since the beginnings of society. Until we had the internet, the leaders of large crowds were almost always charismatic people with a gift for public speaking and a natural resistance to personal attack, belonging to powerful demographic groups. As the internet has gained in power to the point where it is a direct threat to those currently holding power, as liquid feedback replaces public shouting matches, the powerful in the molecular world have sought to expose and control those in the online world. Any involuntary exposure has been met by violent reaction from the internet as it is the first place for many that has ever felt like a safe place to speak. One reason Anonymous and the internet in general has had a low opinion of those who seek personal fame may be that the internet is populated by those who have been persecuted and had their voices repressed by others with loud voices.

The voices of the 50% of the population who are naturally more introverted or the almost everyone eliminated from mainstream forums for one reason or another, are at least as important as those currently heard. This however, completely changes the society we are accustomed to, if the voiceless suddenly gain voices, if the creators no longer need the marketers, women do not need to speak through men, and children, the elderly, discriminated minorities, the ostracized of all societies can suddenly speak and have their messages amplified as well as anyone else. This would eliminate huge swathes of industry from communication and representative types of roles, everything from politicians, to media, to marketing companies. Not at all coincidentally, all of the lobby groups attempting to control the internet, strip privacy and anonymity, and manage access are from the groups who would no longer be required if everyone had a voice.

Personal information is power. Anyone who can obtain personal information on another has increased their power over the other; and that power ought not to be given lightly without established trust. What seems perfectly innocuous until it surfaces as e-book, revenge porn, or what ought to be irrelevant attacks on a message by character assassination of the messenger, ought to be kept private by default. Personal information is still every bit as valuable as our grandparents knew it to be. Until and unless our societies mature to the point where we are governed by data driven instead of personality driven systems, we need to recognize that freedom of speech which is actually simply a mask for suppression of the speech of others. And when we see private information being used to violate someone’s well being, it is no more appropriate to blame the victim for the existence of the information than it is for police in India to assume that if a woman has consensual sex with one man, then she can’t complain if his friends join in.

This is not to argue that we need laws inhibiting privacy violations, we have such laws and they only protect the powerful from exposure of secrets the public needs to know. We need a change in societal attitude, where we no longer applaud or tolerate assaults on privacy, personal attacks on public figures and, most of all, those public invasions of privacy that amount to sexual assault, whether committed by the media or the internet.


Even more than privacy, anonymity is viewed as a hostile act by those in power. A culture in which fame is the ultimate achievement cannot understand the value of ownerless ideas and shapeshifting personas. Anonymity has been equated almost exclusively with criminal activity by politicians and lawmakers.

Online anonymity is cherished by internet dwellers as the only means to pure thought exchange, where ideas can be judged on their own merits, unclouded by preconceived judgements based on unrelated data. Anonymity can be a revelation, as new personas can be tried on and provoke new reactions, revealing our stereotypes and inability to separate messages from messengers.

Anonymity is also simply practical safety. It has been proven enough times that authorities do not need to see any transactions or have evidence of any criminal activity to destroy your life; it is enough that you pull attention, that they are aware of your existence. The fact that you are doing nothing wrong or illegal is no protection if you have attracted the attention of someone with power or mental instability. Governments are not the only people on the internet; if you start expressing opinions you will find far more interesting opposition as well. Anonymity, once lost, can never be regained; even if you have no intention of ever expressing a controversial opinion, privacy should become a habit, like brushing your teeth.

In many cases, anonymity is the only way for a messenger to ensure their message will be heard. Either from their own association with the topic or from their association with other ideas or groups, very often the story of the messenger will override the story of the message. That is in fact the way media has been increasingly covering the news until we are at this point left with only messengers, rarely any message at all, and it is what audiences are trained to look for. Even when choosing political representation, “I don’t like him” is a perfectly accepted argument. In other cases, the message will be drowned out by the idea that the messenger is an inappropriate source, either because of association or because of who they are, such as when der Speigel and others lectured Pussy Riot on speaking at all when they had young children (and the Putin government used their identities to threaten to remove their children).

Pseudonymity is the best of both worlds for many, an identity which allows relationships but also provides control over personal information. This can be essential to create a personality which allows your voice to be heard in the way that you wish it to be. In the future, perhaps we will see everyone with at least three identities; one, to carry the two pieces of ID required by the military industrial complex, two, for family and friends in molecular life, and three, for online idea exchange.