the end of control

Did print enable democracy, and is that why the founders of the USA put freedom of the press into their Constitution?

“ … just invent the printing press. Wait a couple of hundred years while literacy spreads, and presto! We can all talk to one another again, after a fashion, and the democratic revolutions begin.” —Gwynne Dyer

If print enabled democracy, will the emerging digital medium destroy it?

“The main handicap of authoritarian regimes in the 20th century — the desire to concentrate all information and power in one place — may become their decisive advantage in the 21st century.” —Yuval Noah Harari

But perhaps Harari did not factor in that a connected world is more than digital and that our transportation technologies enable the rapid spread of disease vectors as well. Too much control leads to filtered information, making it more difficult to deal with complex problems. Authoritarian regimes then are less able to address complex challenges — like an epidemic.

These regimes then lose the trust of the people, and when trust is lost, knowledge fails to flow, hampering the regime’s ability to react even more. Will these regimes be forced to become more open because a complex world demands it? I believe that leadership through cooperation is the best model to guide our connected civilization. We have evolved to cooperate because that is the best way to deal with a complex environment. Perhaps this is authoritarianism’s “fatal flaw”?

“The misguided agricultural policies of the Great Leap Forward had caused a collapse in food production [1958]. Yet instead of reporting the massive failures, the apparatchiks in various provinces had engaged in competitive exaggeration, reporting ever-increasing surpluses both because they were afraid of reporting bad news and because they wanted to please their superiors.

[Chairman] Mao didn’t know famine was at hand, because he had set up a system that ensured he would hear lies … Just as Mao didn’t know about the massive crop failures, [Chairman] Xi may not have known that a novel coronavirus [2019] with sustained human-to-human transmission was brewing into a global pandemic until too late.” —The Atlantic 2020-02-22

Hierarchies and control measures that limit the flow of knowledge ensure that those at the top do not understand what is really going on, as Tim Harford noted in — Adapt: Why success always starts with failure.

“There is a limit to how much honest feedback most leaders really want to hear; and because we know this, most of us sugar-coat our opinions whenever we speak to a powerful person. In a deep hierarchy, that process is repeated many times, until the truth is utterly concealed inside a thick layer of sweet-talk.”

Mao was wrapped in a thick layer of sweet-talk, and so it seems is Xi. How many other leaders are wrapped in these knowledge blockers? The best future for humankind is to weave complex networks of trust that go beyond any single institution or nation state in order to deal with The Entanglement“As we are becoming more entangled with our technologies, we are also becoming more entangled with each other. The power (physical, political, and social) has shifted from comprehensible hierarchies to less-intelligible networks.” (The Long Now Foundation, 2019).

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