Paradox of Leadership
In 2009 I wrote a letter to an old friend about a question he asked, several years earlier, during Thanksgiving dinner. It was a strange question in that it was quite simple. And at first, I didn’t think too much of it. But as it turns out, it was a life changing one, for me. This led me to the interesting field of Collective Intelligence.
Dear Mr. Perez-Batista
hope this letter finds you and your dear wife healthy and in good spirits. Barely a few minutes ago I had the pleasure of speaking with your daughter. She returned to the United States, the day before yesterday. We spoke briefly about her trip throughout Venezuela which was intended to perform a cursory survey of all the changes and achievements that have occurred during the current government’s administration. I hope to get a chance to talk some more about her trip because I will be travelling soon to Caracas to visit relatives.
Allow me go straight to the point. But first, I apologize because this letter is long. However, if we take into account that you and I have not spoken for quite a number of years then you could say that this letter seeks to regain lost ground.
If my memory serves me well, on November 23rd 2006, I had the opportunity to meet you and your beloved wife and daughters to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner at Maria Eugenia’s. I recall such day quite vividly because it was by coincidence or fate that that my life changed and this change still continues to this day. I know this may sound all too strange: I will explain.
Throughout the evening you and I had an invigorating conversation that seemed to flow effortlessly for hours on end. One in which a great number of topics were introduced ever more rapidly. We spoke about international and local politics, economics, philosophy, history, personal experiences and more. What made it all the more pleasant, is that we seemed to agree on many of the ideas discussed.
Perhaps upon seeing that we were so engrossed in conversation to the detriment of other guests, your daughters tried in vain to steer the conversation towards mundane topics but, to no avail. At the end of the evening, when Hannah and I had already remained in your company longer than that which is indicated by good protocol, we had to leave; but not without expressing our wish to meet again soon to resume our delightful conversation.
This was the moment when that idea, like a meme, jumped from your brain to mine, irreparably infecting it.
I must say that the need to satiate the thirst for an intelligent conversation is comparable to the satisfaction that Bedouins must feel upon discovering a waterhole or better yet, upon finding an oasis. I am referring to the intellectual barren land marked by the overwhelming mercantilist emphasis which permeates almost all aspects of modern life and does nothing to stimulate ones intellect. So it was surprising, that even though your family already made plans to go shopping the next day, before your imminent return trip to Venezuela; we met once more, the following evening.
But the most puzzling question you brought up, without any intent other than to share your experiences, had a bewitching effect on me. In fact, it was not until much later date that I realized that this was the moment when that idea, like a meme, jumped from your brain to mine, irreparably infecting it. I am referring to the problem of the small-sleepy-town called The Trap which is located in the state of Merida on the Venezuelan Andes.
It is uncanny that the name of such town was indicative of the problem at hand. In other words the question posed, was an intellectual trap. After more than three years of research I believed I have found an answer. This research took me from the advanced technological developments of industrialized nations to the heart of Ancient Greece.
If I remember correctly you told me that the small town of The Trap has a population of approximately three thousand people. It occupies a mountainous region of about 100 square miles at an average altitude of 7,200 feet. While there is a copper mine adjacent to the town, there are also other minerals in the surrounding areas such as limestone calcium carbonate, construction sand, clay for adobe bricks and pottery. However, it seems that the population of The Trap is mostly devoted to agriculture or activities which support agriculture and on second place, tourism, because of its cool high altitude climate.
The Trap is a small town which like a great number of other small towns in Venezuela, has limited basic services or in some cases no services at all. Common services such as: education, health, energy, transportation, waste management, security, work, entertainment, etc.
During our conversation you said that you had already started an educational, agricultural and technological project at The Trap. It was at this time that you specifically posed the following question:
How can we educate the citizens of The Trap to share a socialist vision of the 21st Century such that once they attain some level of higher education they don’t inevitably leave to the larger cities in search of a better life?
You see, many great thinkers have pondered this question throughout the centuries. The problem is that although an a priori intent could be charitable, altruistic, humane and good, the question itself is a paradox or better yet, a trap!
I understand and share your intentions of improving the lives of all human beings and more so of people for whom the lottery of life placed them in an extremely difficult and painful situation; surrounded by extraordinarily high barriers almost impossible to overcome by one’s own momentum. Similarly, I share in the humanistic legacy which reasons and compel those of us for whom fate endowed us with the possibility to improve the lives of our fellow man. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Karl Marx popularized the phrase “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
Why is this question a paradox?
The answer is long, but it is also indicative of one of the possible futures that the people of The Trap might follow. Likewise, this answer may be highly relevant to many other people around the world.
Given that I was influenced heavily by my professional, technological and corporate background, my first inclination was to suggest the creation of a town-wide Internet wireless communications infrastructure. This could truly represent quantum leap betterment with profound implications for the town. Then I realized that this could actually speed up the exodus of citizens from The Trap to the city, in search of opportunities, benefits and pleasures found on the Internet itself.
Thinking about these implications I decided to use a more pragmatic urban model as the one that is commonly used in the United States. A modern small town is planned in such a way so that from the very beginning it has all the necessary basic services like: police, fire, water, power, health, transportation, education, shopping, recreation, etc. I thought that having all the basic services and amenities of modern life could make it more attractive for citizens to stay in their hometown and not emigrate.
Not satisfied with this solution I remembered that Ancient Greece had already solved this problem with relative success. They had city-states with populations of 5,000 to 10,000 citizens. Perhaps, I thought, we could start there and try to create and instill the concept of citizenry which is a prerequisite for solving this problem. Nevertheless, this would require an almost superhuman educational effort. And even if they could somehow afford such costs, this would not guarantee that once the citizens had attained some level of training, they would stay. In other words this solution would also produce unpredictable results.
It was at this time that I began to reread some of the classics of philosophy, including Plato’s Republic. I read passages from the great philosophers such as:
- Diogenes of Sinope
- JS Mills
It was almost accidentally that I discovered that the history of mankind had been divided into two main streams of philosophical consciousness, one of which had been the dominant player over the last 2,500 years since the age of Plato.
This study culminated with one of the works of a great twentieth-century thinker, the Austrian born philosopher Karl Popper. In his two-volume book called The Open Society and its Enemies —from Plato to Marx, Popper argues that Plato’s central question to The Republic was:
Who will be the leader of the utopian Republic?
Of course, Plato answers by saying that the best leader would be the Philosopher King; being that he was a philosopher and he did not lack the desire to become king. This should not surprise us because he was born into aristocracy, was highly elitist and expressed his disdain for democracy. In fact, we could say that the model for The Republic; a totalitarian state made up of immutable social castes, emulated Sparta; a society which was anything, except, democratic.
The idea of leadership predates Plato and goes back to our ancestors of the Stone Age or perhaps much earlier when the apes decided to come down from the trees. In some cases, this has been disastrous for the development of mankind. The concept of leadership or warlord is mainly based on the law of the jungle or survival of the fittest. And in the case of human beings this does not necessarily mean strong in the physical sense but instead it refers to mental strength or rather to emotional strength. This enables a leader, who has low levels of empathy, to overcome and prevail above all others, at any cost.
Today, the consequences of this behavior can be extremely dangerous. Especially if we consider the power that can be exerted through terrible weapons, economic, military, financial, media, energy, environmental, biologic, etc. This power could very well be in the hands of this strong man or predatory-pack which is often, megalomaniac and sociopathic. What I am trying to describe is this common human archetype which simply tends to organized itself into power hierarchies, pyramids or herds with the leader-or-warlord at the very top.
However, there are pragmatic reasons as to why people tend to organize themselves into hierarchies. This behavior responds to the need to manage information overload and consequently the decision-making process. The grouping seeks to reduce and summarize the amount of data while it travels upward towards the leader, so that he or she, with all his or her wisdom, but in most cases without it, makes the final decision and not without first consulting with his or her spouse, counselor or local wizard.
Although hierarchical power organizations have the advantage of efficiency in terms of discipline and command-and-control, they also have huge intrinsic disadvantages, which are amplified in the modern world, as it rapidly becomes extremely complex. Some of these disadvantages are:
- Inflexibility of adaptation
- Discourages creativity
- Emphasizes uniformity of thought
- Over simplification
- Unity through coercion
- Battles of power
- Very low data bandwidth
We should realize that as the world becomes more complex with the information revolution, knowledge explosion, technological advances, etc., this form of organization which is used almost universally by most organizations, is in crisis and subjected to decision-making blunders: Often catastrophic.
How, we wonder, can one make intelligent decisions without considering millions of possibilities?
The somewhat elemental and reactive response of hierarchies or herds is to reduce the data to hand it over to the leader so that he makes the final decision and put the “troops” or plan in motion. So, this decision making process is no more effective than throwing dice, consulting the zodiac or the Oracle of Delphi.
Moreover, using a communications theory model we could say that this decision making process suffers from a low signal-to-noise ratio. The signal or information content is very low relative to the noise content or individual interference.
In this context, let’s not forget the ease with which leaders transmute the archetypal human belief in God and in total contrast and opposition, use it a a standard banner to justify to the masses, their wars, their conquests and their empires.
Is the age of leadership as we know it about to change?
In this future world in which we are already walking, there is no place for childish dualism, anachronistic and pathetic politics of the Left and the Right. The emerging battle that is being fought today is not that of Socialism of the XXI Century, or Marxism or the revival of capitalism as stated by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo. It is not the rich against the poor and vice versa. It is not the powerful against the weak.
We must question our blind obedience and submissiveness toward leadership and its authority!
Although today these topics have the lion’s share of the global media landscape and both, its actors and audiences swear by their universality. I see as an alternative, a huge and strong current of social change. An underground torrential river that seeks the weakest point of fracture to break free, explode and overflow, taking over mankind’s historical center stage and this could very well last the rest of 21st Century.
No! The world which we are entering is quantum, like the subatomic physics; complex and simply inexplicable. It is as incomprehensible as envisioned by the 1932 Nobel laureate German physicist Werner Karl Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle. I argue that in this Brave New World, all worlds are possible and appear simultaneously “in the here and now.”
How can our leaders react and make sound decisions at the speed of the nanosecond (0.000, 000,001) which permeates the electronic womb that surrounds us?
To paraphrase the title of a book by Nietzsche, the world we are building is, “Beyond Good and Evil.” In other words, man has discovered that he is not the center of the universe and now he is discovering that he is not even the center of this planet. Maybe now humanity can start an era of reconciliation, healing and living with Gaia, our Mother Earth.
My dear friend, do not think that my words portend a Dantesque dark future, although at this time humanity is at a crossroads on the brink of the abyss.
The battle for the New age of reason in which thinkers argue that human reason alone can combat ignorance, superstition and tyranny, to build a better world: Pounds on our door. But as with any battle, it too could be lost.
However, the advantage of the networked-collective-wisdom is the complete unawareness of hierarchies and their leaders, whose mortal enemy is not outside of them trying to oust them, but like a silent and highly lethal virus it has already penetrated their body and it is only a matter of time before the former is destined to the ash heap of history.
Although I have an optimistic view of the future, I do not want to minimize the risks. Therefore, I believe that the most effective way to combat irrationality is through ideas. We must reassess our almost blind and submissive approval to the leader or leadership and its consequent authority which even today, many argue, is of divine origin.
A portended example of a great risk is the human overpopulation which compromises the regenerative planetary carrying capacity. Already we see the machinery of global media power trying to convince the peoples of the West that the idea of genocide of several billion people is an acceptable price to pay in order safeguard the health of the planet. We see it in Hollywood catastrophe-style movies among others. And in this hypothetical scenario, such genocide would not occur in wealthy countries or at least not with the same devastating consequences.
The critical issue is to decide the real agenda; otherwise known as —The Collective and electronically mediated Will of the People.
But this line of thinking is not only despicable but it is also plain wrong. Recently I saw an enlightening documentary by Swedish professor Hans Rosling (video ) on this population issue. It turns out that people throughout the world and particularly in the Asian countries are already reducing their population growth.
These dynamic statistical models forecast a population ceiling of about 9 billion people by 2050. This model indicates a gradual decline of the population for the rest of the century. Many people sense that using better distribution systems could, in general, allow the sustainability of such population without irreparably destroying the planet.
“The concept of trying to control the population of the planet is simply racist.”
Moreover, some argue that a great fear of some industrialized nations, when competing for the planet’s resources, is that their populations are rapidly aging. In contrast, poor countries have an abundant number of young people with ample strength and energy to grow their economies; increasing their social wealth.
The concept of trying to control the population of the planet is simply racist. And this way of thinking can be traced to the legacy of philosophical thought of Plato, Aristotle and Hegel, to name a few. This is the reason why, once again, I pose a warning to the dangers of elitism, warlordism and the leadership of the pack. And I know that every time I use the word pack some people immediately think of Wolf packs, but I have intentionally left them out because wolves rarely kill each other, which is not the case among human beings.
And what would be the alternative?
Very simply, the alternative is called democracy. But I do not mean democracy or the pretense of it, such as the misrepresentation that has occurred since its inception during the time of Ancient Greece in Athens. I think that in general when we refer to Nation states or countries, mankind has never really experienced true democracy. I make the caveat that at least I know not of a historical case where true democracy has been practiced and this is probably due to my ignorance. Nevertheless, today more than ever the world needs true democracy if we are to successfully resolve the major problems which we are now facing and avoid the abyss.
What do we mean when by True Democracy?
In today’s democracies, whether Anarchist, Capitalist, Communist, Fascist, Nazism, Parliamentary, Republic, Socialist, or any other, it is a small group of “leaders” the ones who decide the agenda, beforehand. And this seemingly insignificant event poisons and removes all possibility of true democracy.
The critical issue is not whether to vote for one ideology or another, for one political party or another, for one economic policy or another. The critical issue is to decide the real “agenda”; otherwise known as: The Collective and electronically mediated Will of the People.
Unfortunately and almost universally, leaders set the agenda beforehand; from the smallest group to the largest oligopolies.
How can the will of the people prevail if right from the outset the people are not allowed to set the agenda?
This idea is so simple that it almost seems silly. The justification for the current state of world politics is based on the power of the “leader” or “leaders” or “elites” or “parties” or “committees” or “clubs” or “guilds” or “governments” which claim to have supreme knowledge and therefore know what is best for the masses, their subjects or slaves.
Furthermore, many historians try to validate the current state of affairs using a pseudoscience called historicism. Some vehemently argue that the French Revolution is a testament to the madness, tyranny, cruelty and bloodthirsty of the mob rule. But this proof is completely vacuous because even during the Reign of Terror in France, the bloody revolution was led by the psychopathic leaders who had a demonic ease of instigating aberrant behavior in the masses.
Let us not forget that power struggles between Girondins and Jacobins was a root problem. The latter ones gained the short-term upper hand, obtaining absolute dictatorial powers by which thousands of people were summarily sentenced and executed in the guillotine.
It is very likely that the supposed “majorities” have never truly controlled or ruled anything in this world: However this could soon change. I do not speak with the voice of an idealist and dreamer, which I am, but with extensive knowledge of Information Technologies and the overwhelming phenomenon called Internet.
The Internet is the pawn, the knight, the bishop, the rook, the queen and the king in the chess game on the world stage which is already demolishing the pieces of its adversaries: The intermediaries.
Needless to say, today we have all turned to the complex, exhilarating, hypnotic, multicolor sound, super fast and almost unlimited window to the world which the Internet provides us. This is the great democratizing agent which we are all helping to build. And by its very nature its growth is grassroots and organic. Lastly, it stimulates the universal growth of the individual.
In the world of commerce, the Internet is virtually eliminating the role of the middleman, which in some cases did not provide real value and yet it kept the lion’s share of the profits; an information monopolist of sorts.
The Internet has allowed citizens the world over to break the chains of artificial cultural barriers of Nation states, which have enjoyed an almost complete monopoly over their lives. Now without the permission of any authority, the inhabitants of the planet communicate and collaborate with each other.
Therefore, many people are quickly discovering that there are many things that they share in common with their fellowman in foreign lands. Collaboration on a planetary scale is now possible and a great number of self-directed projects are coming about in this manner.
The Internet does not sleep nor rests and it grows evermore rapidly. It informs, educates, entertains, coaches, encourages and makes us smarter every day. In the blogosphere, we are all reporters of the events occurring around us. We report the news instantly and without responding to the needs of special interest groups and large media conglomerates.
The irony is that even the news agencies, which are rapidly losing market share to the blogosphere, must increasingly make use of the Internet as their fastest, most accurate, up-to-date and reliable source of news.
Indeed, we see every day increasing complaints and shrieks by the elites against the freedoms that have been achieved on the Internet. These elites are trying to arrest progress by creating new laws that protect their monopolies.
It should not surprise us that newspaper, magazines and traditional publishing media are disappearing in droves while confronting what they believe is their scourge, i.e. the blogosphere. The television media will probably follow the same path while their audiences turn furiously towards new Internet-based alternative media; their days are numbered.
In this evermore complex world there does not exist a person that has one millionth of the knowledge required to govern successfully.
This universe is too vast and it is evolving extremely fast for it to be controlled. So if there is no human being who can govern effectively or at least one that does not commit major blunders…
Who would govern?
The answer is also simple but its implementation is not. In this complex world we will all rule! We will use the techniques of “Collective Intelligence” which is one of the few access points to the planetary super brain. And these techniques can be applied to smaller and large groups alike; with the consequent advantage that it adapts quickly to changing events.
Finally, the circle comes to a close and we return to our starting point. The reason the question “how can you improve the life of the people living in the village called The Trap” is a paradox, is because the moment that we propose solutions for these people, we are immediately assuming the role of leadership, emulating the Gods of the Olympus with their corresponding power struggles and problems.
In sum, after all this time I think that the question should be rephrased.
How can we help the people of The Trap reach their own bright future?
I suggest that, although not exclusively, throughout methods and techniques of Collective Intelligence we can help the people of The Trap reach their destination faster.
This new paradigm requires that the leader’s role becomes that of the educator and mentor. The new mentor will help with his knowledge, to enable the people’s will. And this new political journey, which today is totally experimental, can produce wonderful and unexpected results for both, the people of The Trap as well as the entire planet.