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  1. Sep 2021
    1. One is to assume that such remodeling rests on a theoretical fantasy about how social movements work in practice. Another is to concede that, whereas some such decentralization might be feasible, absolutely nothing guarantees that, as far as efficacy is concerned, decentralization beats centralization.The first view—that social movements will never be able to transcend hierarchies and replace them with horizontal networks—was cogently expressed by Jo Freeman in 1972 in her landmark essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” Freeman argued that hierarchies are bound to emerge anyway, and that pretending that they do not exist simply lets unacknowledged leaders escape accountability. The Internet has not fundamentally altered these dynamics. If anything, it has only complicated them, as the number of communication channels that elite factions can exploit has exploded. Consider how a participant in the Occupy protests put it in a provocative post for The Daily Kos:One of the consequences of just how difficult and time consuming participating in the movement became is that key players stopped showing up. Well not exactly; they still showed up, but mostly for side conversations, informal gatherings, and the meetings that planned what would happen at the public meetings. Using social media ... they formed an invisible guiding hand that simultaneously got shit done, avoided accountability, and engaged in factional battles with each other ... you know what's worse than regular same-old elites? An [sic] barely visible elite that denies it is an elite and can't ever be called to account.But these elites never provided the kind of efficient centralizing machinery that Occupy Wall Street needed to convert millions of people curious about its cause into card-carrying members of the movement. This failure can be partly ascribed to the absence of coherent demands, but it must also be blamed on the movement’s proud lack of organization, which is how decentralization often ends. So, while Occupy Wall Street may have had plenty of unacknowledged leaders, it had no intermediate structures for scaling up; those—unlike shadow elites—do not just emerge on their own. Another participant in the protests put it this way:Systems did emerge to engage newcomers. But those systems.... were not nearly as effective as the moment demanded ... some of the email addresses floated around as a primary point of contact were left unchecked, accumulating more than 11,000 unanswered emails.... Meetings would be announced at a particular location and then held somewhere else. Newcomers would show up for working group meetings, add their name to a list passed around for future contact, and never hear from anyone again. It's nearly four months since the occupation and there still isn't a clearly labeled sign up page. Hell, there isn't even an official public facing website that represents OWS.

      Good examples of how horizontardism impedes effectiveness and does not prevent power structures developing (it just hides them ...)

    2. But Johnson is completely blind to the virtues of centralization. In discussing 311, he lauds the fact that tipsters calling the hotline help to create a better macro-level view of city problems. But this is a trivial insight compared with the main reason why 311 works: Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to centralize—not decentralize—previous models of reporting tips. Here is how Accenture, the firm that assisted New York in its switch to the 311 system, describes the origins of that project: “[Before 311], customers looking for government assistance were confronted with more than 4,000 entries on 14 pages of the NYC telephone book, and more than 40 resource-intensive call centers were required to direct inquiries to the right city offices. The Mayor’s vision was that of a high-performance, centralized, all-purpose call facility, accessible through the simple-to-remember 3-1-1 phone number.”Johnson’s internet-centric worldview is so biased toward all things decentralized, horizontal, and emancipatory that he completely misses the highly centralized nature of 311. The same criticism applies to his treatment of the Internet. Had Johnson chosen to look closer at any of the projects he is celebrating, he would find plenty of centralization efforts at work.7 Consider Google: when it comes to user data, today Google runs a much more centralized operation than five years ago. Back in 2008, my Google searches were not in any way connected to my favorite YouTube videos or to events on my Google Calendar. Thanks to Google’s new privacy policy, today they are all connected—and Google, having centralized its previously disparate data reservoirs, can show me more precise ads as a result. But don’t count on Internet-centrists to include this trend under that mystical category of “Internet logic.”

      Great example.