Monday, 13 December 2010

Top-down v decentralised

Having seen what governments get up to when their secrecy is assured, we should all be welcoming the WikiLeaks age. (And if you're a signer of petitions, you could do worse than this one at avaaz.com -- h/t nikki)

In the wake of the cable leakages, right-wing authoritarians like Newt Gingrich and Fox News haven't been shy about using terrorism accusations, and calling for assassination. Seems like they think the only way information should move is from the top down. They hate it when anyone tries to make the information move laterally.

I mention Wikileaks and Fox because it follows something of a pattern I've noticed with right-wing authoritarians -- a very strong tendency toward hierarchy, as opposed to a more collaborative style of exchange with no centralised control -- a configuration I've seen associated more often with liberals.

This pattern shows up in the way the two groups get information. The right currently dominates the radio dial -- Limbaugh, Beck, Savage, and so forth -- where an announcer disseminates information down the channel. The liberal attempt to duplicate it was not a success. It's just not how liberals communicate. Liberals talk to each other through a loose confederation of blogs, where comments flow between participants and multiple writers are likely to work together on the front page. Righties have their blogs too, but it's not their main channel. The political discourse on the net skews leftward (at least on the xkcd map).

This pattern also feeds into stories of origin. For conservatives (much more likely to be religious), truth comes from on high, and the diversity of life was caused by a god creating it from the top down. For liberals (more often secular), the story is evolution, with no central controller. Science works by peer-review.

I think collaboration is much more likely to give good answers than a top-down hierarchy will. The success of science is evidence of this, but there's also Wikipedia, where content always has lots of eyes poring over it and is always being updated. Wikipedia's not necessarily liberal, but it is true that some conservatives felt it wasn't serving them, and their attempt to create their own is a farce. Or there's the terrible Knol, where single authors write what they want, no one has to agree, and good information is very hard to find. Give this liberal a good collaborative effort anytime.

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