Monday, October 12, 2009

READING: The Argument

Reading Matt Bai's book, The Argument, I couldn't help but think of how many times political campaigns or advocacy movements struggle under the collective weight of the egos of those 'in charge'.

Reading about the behind the scenes back and forth and power struggles in Bai's book, you get a visceral sense for the painful dialectic between vision and execution that haunts human activities across the board.

While the circulated powerpoint laid out a compelling and coherent vision of what needed to happen and rallied economic and social capital, the constellation of people that embarked on executing (e.g. managing) that vision fell short.

Their egos and personal interests quickly mired them in the type of political game which they arguably were trying to transcend.


Reading this book, I couldn't help but think of a Shirky quote in the last reading from the IDPI.
Instead of unlimited growth, membership, and freedom, many of the communities that have one well have bounded size or strong limits to growth, non-trivial barriers to joining or becoming a member in good standing, and enforceable community norms that constrain individual freedoms. Forums that lack any mechanism for ejecting or controlling hostile users, especially those convened around contentious topics, have often broken down under the weight of users hostile to the conversation. Thoughtful regulations can actually help, not hinder the growth of your community.
In online communities, regulations can be imposed externally through platform architecture.


I think there is a lesson to be learned from online communities that reach a point of self-sustainability: they are hard-coded w/ the logic of self restraint.

The behavior that leads to tragedy-of-the-commons type of outcomes is avoided by making sure individual egos are kept in check through technical architecture.

I think we are still trying to figure out how to soft-code self restraint when it comes to off-line systems to avoid tragedy of the commons (shared bike programs still don't work).

But as we move into a period of effective cybernetic human organizing - like the Obama Campaign - I think we will be able to intelligently apply technical systems to impose limitations on the activities in ways to promote the public good...and potentially give the dems a better chance at executing their vision.


I did really enjoy Bai's thorough job explaining the rise of internet-based political activists and how they transformed the party. In terms of speaking to the potential for the internet to change politics, I thought this book was very interesting.

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