Here’s an interesting thought experiment put forth by Cory Doctorow in a Jacobin interview conducted by Simon Willmetts: What if the anti-hierarchal modus operandi of Wikipedia was applied to projects like building developments, space programs or even state governance? Crowdsourcing would be employed on an epic scale in the non-virtual realm.
Well, I would say Wikipedia hasn’t been absolutely free of hierarchy for a long time, but what was put in place was organic and certainly less heavy-handed. I do doubt a state run that way would be more democratic since the online encyclopedia itself has drawn avid contributors but not anything near truly representative. Such a system might need be limited to project-specific problems.
So you wouldn’t describe yourself as a “libertarian” — you don’t think state intervention is always necessarily a bad thing?
No. I believe in civil liberties, and I think that states are the least-worst option right now for solving some difficult collective action problems. But I also think that we’re learning every day how much hierarchy we can remove from complex endeavors.
Imagine something futuristic, like something on the scale of an operating system or an encyclopedia, with the same degree of complexity, the number of human hours and the amount of knowledge that goes into it, and something else on that scale, like a Canary Wharf tower, and imagine it being built the way that we built Wikipedia.
I have a plot of dirt, and I’m going to invite any stranger who has structural steel, trunking, rebar, cement, gravel, diggers, architectural drawings, or ideas to come and just muck around for a while. We’ll shout at each other a lot, and we’ll have some false starts. Some bits will come down, some bits will go up, and at the end, we will have not just an office tower, but the greatest office tower ever built, and it will be infinitely reproducible at zero cost.
Imagine a space program run like that. Imagine an aviation system run like that. Imagine a state run like that. That’s a futuristic thing, right? That’s a futuristic parable that uses Wikipedia and any Linux project to think about the scale at which we can operate in the absence of hierarchy. It challenges our imaginations to think about the coordination of that much labor without hierarchy.•