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Cathedral Bazaar



Politicians rely on secrets. Since they lie for a living and as such any leaked secret is a threat to their jobs. Politicians have two ways to keep secretes: technological or procedural. The technological solution typically involves some sort of encryption for which most politicians are completely useless. Furthermore, many secrets are transmitted by face-to-face meetings only, which makes encryption impractical. This leaves us with the second option. This second option implies the enforcement of "silence" rules and regulations as with the famous Italian Omerta mob law. But the only manner in which this can be guaranteed is through an enforcement system, which works the best in a hierarchical structure.

People, on the other hand, will use all kinds of secret-guarding methods, devices and assumptions. As a matter of fact, people in general are not that concerned with their secrets. This is so because people rely on trust and trust builds networks not hierarchies. This is also the reason why peoples' privacy is gone, because while people trust their network while hierarchical systems are following orders to capture and analyze peoples' data.

Specify to generalize

Politicians operate on the premise that all tiny problems can be traced to a larger general one. As such they propose general so-called solutions simply because those solutions must come in the form of laws, which must be as unspecific as possible. In engineering and software terms, this is called a top-down design. You start with the big picture and then fill-in the details. The problem with this approach is that "imagining" the big picture is not the same as understanding or knowing it. This process is inherently flawed because it does not drill down into the real problems thus producing a "solution" that not only solves nothing but produces vast unexpected (and usually negative) effects. However, there is an upside… for politicians that is. They get to implement yet another law which increases their control and power over people. Of course, most people are not that stupid and eventually they find the massive flaw in the regulation. And so and in order not to lose their jobs and to maintain their power, politicians must make use of an enforcement system that will not backfire. This system is hierarchical.

People on the other hand, think in terms of bottom-up design. They start with small problems that are important to them. They find solutions. These solution spread out and reach other people with similar (but not exactly the same) solution. Eventually, as the number of related solutions grow they reach a point at which they solve that class of problems. Contrary to what politicians' law accomplish (which is to create real problems), peoples' solution solve problems for real. But this process needs a communication mechanism and this mechanism is primarily networked because it is driven by self-interest and not orders from a supreme authority.

Group versus Individual decisions

As by definition politicians lie, they cannot trust anybody with the truth. As such only critical information is dispersed to aids and on a need-to-know basis. The problem is that even this information is a lie. And so politicians end up with a small group of people working on half-truths at best. This is how laws are created. In a sense this group is nothing but the extension of the politician's mind who already made the most critical decisions as to the contents of the new law. In essence, politicians operate in silo modes making personal and individual decisions. There is no discussion; however, formal matters must still be taken into consideration. For that, all politicians need minions which will operate strictly within the parameters that are given. In order to ensure this discipline, a hierarchical structure is the most suitable one.

People on the other hand are pack animals. We seek safety in numbers and in the case of decisions, safety in multiple recommendations. We want to belong to a group and let the group work out the decision whenever possible. Whenever possible we seek not to lead (see The Leadership Barrier). When it comes to decisions, we naturally want to belong to a network. But this is not just a personal or instinctive decision; it is also an efficient one. Since in general terms we don't have the need to lie, we can disseminate the truth and expose other people to this information. As a consequence of this, other people will operate more-or-less as a team (not a committee) hence polling their knowledge, skills and resources and developing a superior solution.


The book ends up with many observations, three of which we have hijacked and transformed for our political use. They are:

It is worth noting that in the community of people, the network is everything and everywhere: not just the Internet, but the people doing the work form a distributed, loosely coupled, peer-to-peer network that provides multiple redundancy and degrades very gracefully. Each person is important only to the extent that other people want to cooperate with them.

The peer-to-peer part is essential to the community’s astonishing productivity. Hierarchical systems are governed by the ‘SNAFU Principle’: “True communication is possible only between equals, because inferiors are more consistently rewarded for telling their superiors pleasant lies than for telling the truth.” Creative teamwork utterly depends on true communication and is thus very seriously hindered by the presence of power relationships (i.e. hierarchies). Voluntary government-free organizations are effectively free of such power relationships and teach us by contrast how dreadfully much government-hierarchies cost in errors, in lowered productivity, and in lost opportunities.

Further, the SNAFU principle predicts in authoritarian organizations a progressive disconnect between decision-makers and reality, as more and more of the input to those who decide tends to become pleasant lies. The way this plays out in conventional politics is easy to see; there are strong incentives for the inferiors to hide, ignore, and minimize problems. When this process becomes laws, the result is a disaster.

We could not have said it better. No, seriously. That's why we transformed it from the original.


We hope this article wasn't too lengthy. Our goal was to describe in terms of processes why politicians prefer hierarchies and why people prefer networks. We also pointed out why hierarchical structures in political situations tend to produce really bad outcomes. It is not that hierarchical systems are inherently evil (far from it) but because they are used as tools to further politicians' job security and privileges. It is the intent that delivers the unintended consequences (i.e. debacles), not the tool.

Furthermore, we must also point out that in terms of true free markets (as in government-free markets), hierarchies, networks and hierarchical networks have their place. The difference is that as we mentioned before, in a free market the market itself exercises the "principle of authority" which keeps all structures in it true to serving the needs of their customers. In a free market there cannot be an ulterior motive because any other motive disserves customers and this invariably leads to the disintegration of the disserving company.

But as usual, this is just our opinion and you may have your own. This being the case, we strongly suggest you may seek government employment. You will feel right at home in there… until the final collapse.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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