Starfish, Spider

Reading Notes: The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations
Ori Brafman Rod A. Beckstrom, 2011

Good on open systems, decentralization: one coercive society sometimes losing to another coercive society, but then one coercive society may lose to a decentralized society: or fail to conquer and rule it.
Great example: Cortes and his conquistadores took Montesuma’s gold, killed him, destroyed and enslaved Aztec society: converting the survivors ha ha to Christianity. But when the same conquistadores tried to do the same thing to the Apaches they got a very different result: The Apaches had lived in villages: they gave that up, resisted via nomadism: no fixed address, no one temple of power.

Brafman and Beckstrom are good on the internet of 1995 making copyrighting difficult, but silent on how the world was offered an open, non-coercive, decentralizing internet in 1970, designed in part by Ivan Illich, in part by me, me doing the offering. Shows how kids can pirate music, movies: which is not what my internet had in mind at all! This one is plagiarized by that one (by thieves so bred to stealing that they don’t even know the extent to which they’re doing it.
Anyway, this material enriches everything I’ve been saying for forty-two years and more on Deschooling: DeGating, DeProfessionalizing, DeRegulating …


One of the most famous Nant’ans in history was Geronimo, who defended his people against the American forces for decades. Geronimo never commanded an army. Rather, he himself started fighting, and everyone around him joined in. The idea was, “If Geronimo is taking arms, maybe it’s a good idea. Geronimo’s been right in the past, so it makes sense to fight alongside him.” You wanted to follow Geronimo? You followed Geronimo. You didn’t want to follow him? Then you didn’t. The power lay with each individual. You were free to do what you wanted. The phrase “you should” doesn’t even exist in the Apache language. Coercion is a foreign concept.

Notice please my own dedication to open systems, to decentralization: all my life, publicly since founding the Free Learning Exchange in 1970. The irony there was deschooling was designed by Ivan Illich, who, as a monseigneur in the Roman Catholic Church, was himself high up in a centralized hierarchy: an inept centralized hierarchy, but a centralized hierarchy. Yet he was prescribing open, decentralized resistance to the Third World! Recommending that Peruvians become “Apaches” rather than accept conversion at the hands of Roman allied with American missionaries!

For decades, forever, I’ve been blabbing about Illich being a disciple of Christ. Yes, me too. But with equal truth I could say that we were offering to be Nant’ans, like Geronimo! We fought: a free people would have fought with us. We needed resources, in order to help you! A survivable people would have shared resources with us, seen that we had the where-with-all with which to help! But it didn’t happen that way. Oh, no. We got creamed. Illich, bless him, is dead, after a painful death. I’m still plugging away, trying to tell people which train they missed, appealing to senses that people don’t have. Oh, well. You can’t judge how we’ll be judged from here, just wait and see: do we live? or are we already dead men walking?

I would have been using these open, decentralized, medicine man metaphors in the 1960s if that vocabulary had been then available. But see, everything I wrote and said still has that meaning. Illich was a priest trying to appeal to the Church’s conscience. Lots of luck. I was already run over, but tried to help him anyway.
To go back to the hierarchical, coercive, metaphor: realize: simple Christianity is already anti-hierarchical. Jesus is a Nant’an, not the same as his coercive father. Jesus tried to open our society: he told the Good Semaritan story.
Nazis though, fascists, give everything to the illusionists, the liars, the cheats: stand up for the white Christians lynching the n-s and stealing the Jews’ gold teeth.
[Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 02 To me a syncopated word is even more offensive than the straight vulgar term.]

Open vs. Centralized
When I was a kid I’d see swarms of insects hovering. It didn’t take me long to discover that if you tried to grab a couple, you wouldn’t get a handful of insects, you’d get none! The swarm looked solid; but it wasn’t. Any individual insect had more than enough room to fly away and escape your grasp without leaving the swarm. Or, the swarm itself could relocated by an inch or two. The did their business, you could grasp all you wanted.
If they were packed like sardines in a can the result would be very different, but it wouldn’t be a swarm; not one could fly. Note also what my child mind didn’t yet conceive: your hand moving toward the swarm helps push the insects aside: you push the air, the air pushes the insect, the insect sees you coming, feels the air push, helps by flying …
If the fly holds still, you can swat it. But in the height of its life, it sees you coming, sees the swatter coming, in plenty of time to jump out of the way and fly off. Civilization tries to pack us like sardines, tries to tell us where to stand so we can be swatted: by the tax collector, the monopoly trying to sell us another car, another cell phone. It doesn’t matter whether it Chevy or Ford, it’s still a monopoly if you can’t walk from here to there, but must drive. That‘s what Illich was trying to protect Peru from!

This book is also very good on changing economies in the arts: how much money finds the celebrated artists before recording companies, after recording companies, with the internet …

And that reminds me: you rent a DVD, you rent it because you want to see a movie. Once you reach the menu you can start the movie, choose a scene, start extra features, choose languages, subtitles … What you cannot control is the three minutes of FBI warnings, scoldings about piracy, threats from this and that federal bureaucracy …
I was clearing invasive vines from a wetlands once and along came some state bureaucrat. He didn’t thank me, he didn’t strip off his shirt and help; no: he threatened to fine me $200,000 a day! He was so taken aback when I laughed in his face: boy, do I wish, they had tried to fine me $200,000 a day! They would get not one penny and it would cost them $200,000 a day to try it!
When the fed arrested me, it destroyed me, but I was already destroyed! It cost the fed, the state, the locals a bundle to railroad me. If only I had been able to bankrupt them.

Understand: the spider has a brain, the starfish does not. I am not saying that brains are bad. If our intelligence lacks wisdom, I’m not suggesting that ignorance would be wiser. I am saying that society might function best if a member didn’t need the king’s instruction or permission to move his foot, to walk, to jump out of the way of the tiger.

Reading Notes


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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