Reading DigitalMaoism (the original article) it’s hard to see what the whole thing has to do with “digital” or with “Mao” or “Maoism”. Basically it is a rant about the doubtful quality of texts and informations produced by collective online systems like WikiPedia, a rant that includes the HiveMind and the trend to be the ultimate “meta”-system.

The basic reason for the success of the article - being broadly discussed - seems to be it’s title which is unique, easy to remember, provoking associations. Although semantically the title is pretty useless. But it seems to be a perfect meme that spread’s like a virus and - again like a virus - produces more negative effects than insights.

The larger perspective is that modern media, since the invention of television, has led to a step by step simplification and reduction of semantic content that is transportable and transported. This is especially visible in politics where analysis and arguments are long gone and have given way to slogans like “new politics”, “war against terror” or “global economy” which are not backed by explanation and reasoning but sent out like a virus to infect and influence people. It’s enough that they sound good. The game is not to think or solve problems but to get attention.

The game can be called MemeHunting. The simplification behind it is much more dangerous than the lack of quality that Lanier rants about.



(feel free to contribute, prioritize, question, reorganize, answer)


“So long as you can keep disagreeing with each other violently enough and slagging each other off in the popular press, you can keep yourself on the gravy train for life. How does that sound?” – Deep Thought

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It seems to me that, as you go outwards, from the “personal creative network” of 12 people to the “social network” of 150 people to the “political network” of 1000s of people, your expressive power diminishes, diminishes, and diminishes. By the EcosystemOfNetworks model, “publishing” is an act for the scale of the political network.

I haven’t made up my mind on the “harmful” vs. “not harmful;” In some respects, it just seems to be “the way it is.” I think I could come up with some interpretations of the situation that are positive.

Its certainly irritating, though, when you see something expressed in the political arena, that you feel misrepresents you or your position: Because there’s almost no way to respond to it. You aren’t a player in the DefeasibleReasoning?, for example. And if you are, that can be problematic.

I’m not criticizing your position; I’m trying to feel out the space. I do not have conclusions yet.

I can imagine a form of “manners,” or a “code” of sort, that establishes grounds for dialog. I know that the Conversation Theorist, and I know that JurgenHabermas?; I know these people hold ideas of what a “fair conversation” is, and what a “fair conversation” is not. Or an “ideal conversation,” and so on. Analogous ideas could conceivably be constructed (or found!) for the public sphere, and the reasoning behind them made clear, easily referencable, and easily linkable.

But I won’t go further than imagining, right now.

I don’t think this situation is anything new - I believe politics was always based on simplification. It might be true that there is more and more simplification in media but this is because there is everything more and more in media - before we filtered the info that gets to media, now we filter less and less. But this simplified information was always there in the form of rumours etc.

I agree that this is nothing new, and I doubt that there is a difference in the degree of simplification.

What I suspect is relatively new, (say, to the past 150 years? and then again to the last 50 years? and then perhaps again to the last 10 years?) is the widespread interest in understanding the space.

There was an Onion article, lampooning opinion poll culture: “The opinion poll to guage the reaction to (some other) opinion poll.”

Whether it is true or not that we are more concerned about the political space now than in the past, I don’t know. But it would make sense, given the increased importance of media literacy in our day, better demographic tracking techniques, greater perceived importance of information in our lives.

“The basic reason for the success of the article - being broadly discussed - seems to be it’s title which is unique, easy to remember, provoking associations. Although semantically the title is pretty useless.”

I think that the writer, JaronLanier, is also an important part of the success of the article: JaronLanier is someone with high reputation who others rely on as a signalling point. KnowledgeIsBasedInTrust, and so on.

If just anybody had written this, nobody would care. If NicholasCarr wrote it, we’d say, “Same old, same old.”

This is great stuff, everyone. Great questions. I want to look at one in particular:

“Why was “DigitalMaoism” a popular article?”

LionKimbro links to the concept of an EcosystemOfNetworks, and speculates that as you move upwards in the scale of the EcosystemOfNetworks, that your “expressive power” diminishes. Things become oversimplified.

When I got involved with Howard Rheingold and the Cooperation Commons project, one of the things we were running into was people asking “how is this not different from the collectivism of the Soviet Union, for instance”. We were finding that people were missing a key difference, which is that the cooperation we are talking about is voluntary, whereas “Maoism” or the classic political definition of “collectivism” is state-imposed. See also Howard Rheingold’s response.

Why were people oversimplifying these concepts, and ignoring key differences? Why did Jaron Lanier write “Digital Maoism”, and why did it receive such a strong reaction? Indeed, all of the questions above tie into one big question.

So, I’d like to introduce some thinking that might be new to the CommunityWiki community. Sohail Inayatullah is the conceptualizer of “Causal Layered Analysis(CLA)”. CLA consists of four questioning “layers” (from wikipedia):

Causal layered analysis consists of four levels: the litany, social causes, discourse/world-view and myth/metaphor. The first level is the litany – the official unquestioned view of reality. The second level is the social causation level, the systemic perspective. The data of the litany is explained and questioned at this second level. The third level is the worldview/discourse. Deeper unconscious held ideological, worldview and discursive assumptions are unpacked at this level. As well, how different stakeholders construct the litany and system are explored. The fourth level is the myth-metaphor, the unconscious emotive dimensions of the issue.The challenge is to conduct research that moves up and down these layers of analysis and thus is inclusive of different ways of knowing. Doing so allows for the creation of authentic alternative futures and integrated transformation. CLA begins and ends by questioning the future.

The DigitalMaoism article may be a demonstration that the current state of our EcosystemOfNetworks in the GlobalBrain is that s/he who controls the focus litany layer controls the momentum of all of the layers. Our GlobalBrain may have become this way through an emergent system that I have called the SocioCyberneticMediaCycle?. This media cycle model acknowledges that most people receive most of their information about most the world via some non-firsthand experience medium. And, that their perception of what they receive affects they way that they react to it, and that their reaction feedsback into reality, and often becomes reality.

(note: this image is no longer “copyrighted”, I release it forever to the public domain)

The filtering of our information about the outside world, and the simplification by those filtering mechanisms of everything to the litany layer brings about the effects that we see in the DigitalMaoism example. If our GlobalBrain information filters focused on all layers, then so would “we”, possibly. (Especially, possibly, if people were taught from a very ealry age about effective ways to be more engaged with the way that they digest and process information about the world around them). Our diminishing ability to express at the 1000’s of people EcosystemOfNetworks scale may be due in part to the way that our mediums tend to be filtered and relayed. The filtering and relaying deals with complexity (with the system, world view and myth metaphor layers) by largely ignoring them, and focusing on the “litany” layer. The litany layer becomes the primary driver.

DigitalMaoism was an attempt to control the focus of the litany layer, by relying on this litany layer focus in our socio-cybernetic media cycles, and ignoring the systemic and world view and myth/metaphor differences. At least, that’s my little theory, anyway.

I don’t understand your analysis of the Global Brain - but strangely I do agree that myths/metaphors are at the centre of the issue here as they are the primary devices for simplification. And those that control that layer have the most power. It is not easy to control it - but the power of good writing is exactly that - framing the difficult and complex issues into an already absorbed models.

Zbigniew, I think that the way that the myth/metaphor layer is “controlled” is via controlling the litany of an OrganizedCulture. The litany is the oversimplified unquestioned (group) reality. So, the debate over HiveMind phenomenon and DigitalMaoism is a debate to control the litany. And yet, as you suggest, the litany layer is controlled in part through effective control of the myth/metaphor layer. It also controlled through effective routing of the system layer, and effective refocusing on the World view layer. So, control is really acheived on all four layers of Sohail Inayatullah’s CLA.

But I see what you mean about the Myths/metaphors. They become framing weapons in the battle when the object is to “control” the narrative and to “control” perceptions of reality.


Define external redirect: SocioCyberneticMediaCycle JurgenHabermas DefeasibleReasoning

EditNearLinks: NicholasCarr


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