Hierarchy, the Environment, IT and Community. #44 #cong17


There is a great risk of permanent damage to our environment. Our hierarchic system of society is a major factor in causing the environmental damage. IT needs to adapt to supporting communities, not hierarchies.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Our environment is under threat and our hierarchic social structure is a major cause.
  2. Patriarchy is a feature of our hierarchic society, not a separate system.
  3. Hierarchy cannot  tolerate dissent, and so cannot easily change.  Physical communities need toleration to survive, and so have the means to more easily  change.
  4. Ireland is uniquely placed to adapt IT for this because of our strong  voluntary community structures.

About Conor O’Brien:

Conor comes from a tradition of cooperative and local involvement; he has been involved in community and farming organisations all his life. He is now a director of Mitchelstown Credit Union and also involved in guiding on the Galtee and Knockmealdown mountains with a focus on how the people here lived and managed their places rather than on the challenge of the peaks.

Contacting Conor O'Brien

You can contact Conor by email.

“Before you’ll change, something important must be at risk.” Richard Bach.

The greatest risk facing us is environmental damage caused by our own activities and the decisions of  those at top of our social hierarchy. They are not going to act to reduce that risk; instead, they actively undermine actions that reduce it.  It is unrealistic to  expect them to change their nature. IT must develop tools that enable us to organise for change.

“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.” Stanley Milgram.

Sally Hacker posed the question, what kind of society is it where men consider it normal to  deprive their own sisters and mothers of resources and power? These were the people who bore them, and  reared them, and grew up with them. And why do the women consider it normal to accept this?

Hierarchy is a good explanation of the structure of our society. Patriarchy is integral within hierarchy, not an independent feature of our society.  Most men are subservient, just not as much as almost all women.

The present hierarchy uses  theories of capitalism and free markets as merely useful tools in maintaining the position of those at its top. Ultimately that control is physical force.

“Violence administered for the sake of power “turns into a destructive principle that will not stop until there is nothing left to violate” Hannah Arendt.

“A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Edmund Burke,

Hierarchies are very slow to adapt, and  intolerant of fundamental change,  because that would mean accepting  that the benefits of those on top should be reduced.  Hierarchies strength is it’s rigidity; it’s weakness is it’s rigidity.

Societies and communities attached to a place have learned to tolerate diverse views and ideas in order to survive as their environment changes.  Their members are dependent for their acceptance on the tolerance of their neighbours.  Real communities have  an interlocking network of bonds that are elastic, not rigid.

“Facebook helps kettle activists in their arm chair. The police state can gather far more data about them, while their impact is even more muted than if they ventured out of their home.” Daniel Pocock

Current Information Technology matches the rigidity of  hierarchies, rather than  the diversity and toleration found in real communities. It has increased people’s alienation from each other and encouraged monocultures of values and interests.

“First we shape the building, then the building shapes us.” Winston Churchill.

If we want to change how our environment is treated,  we must adapt  our IT tools to the  communication and decision needs of our communities, rather than force the communities  into shapes that destroy them.  We need   IT solutions that  augment the elasticity and toleration that supports the individual, not isolates them.

“The highest form of art is the creation of community.” Rocky Rodriguez Jr.

The structure of Irish state and local government  is extremely centralized and hierarchic. In spite of this, and also because of this, Irish real communities are uniquely suited places to produce IT tools that are not hierarchic.

Like Polanyi’s double movement of society reacting against marketization by pushing for social protection, so also has Irish society reacted to a hierarchic state by producing a network of voluntary community organisations that is one of the densest in any developed economy.

“Give us the future, we’ve had enough of your past. Give us back our country, to live in, to grow in, to love.” Michael Collins.

Love is  for real people and places. Michael Collins did not organise a new state with speeches and words, but with people and actions that grew together.  Innovation that supports hierarchy is like offering bling jewelry to a victim of hierarchy.  Real innovation is us supporting ourselves in new ways.

It is not a question of destroying hierarchy but of developing the tools that enable us to build a society that is suited to our needs. One that is not dependent on ‘empowerment’ by a hierarchy, but is controlled by ourselves.

It will  need tools like Loomio (from which the image is taken), that was developed by the software cooperative Enspiral out of it’s own need to better organise itself. It is now used by Podemas in Spain to organise their movement.

“Next time, Harry, we won’t play by their rules. We’ll invent our own!” Liam Neeson, in film, Michael Collins.

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