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Moving protological control to words

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302 posts/2012-08-13-protological-control--an-introduction.md
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----
-title: "Protological Control: an Introduction"
-date: 2012-08-13 11:54
----
-
-If you [follow me on Twitter](http://twitter.com/steveklabnik), you've noticed
-that in the past few weeks I've been on a bit of a tear about several startups.
-After one particular tweet, I recieved almost 100 @replies in next 8 hours.
-Many people didn't really understand the points that I was making, or why I
-(or they) should care. Unfortunately, Twitter is not the best medium for
-communicating whole, carefully considered prose, and so here we are.
-
-This will be a three part series. In the first, we will define and explore
-"protological control" and its broad effects. In the second, we will tackle
-[App.net](http://app.net). In the third, [GitHub](https://github.com/)
-
-I plan on getting into some fairly complicated thoughts, so please read what I
-have to say thoroughly. As always, feedback is appreciated by sending me an
-email at [steve@steveklabnik.com](mailto:steve@steveklabnik.com).
-
-Let's begin.
-
-<hr />
-
-> "I finished by pointing out that, like scientists, people in the web
-> development community had to be ethically and morally aware of what they were
-> doing. I thought this might be construed as a bit out of line by the geek
-> side, but the people present were the ones now creating the Web, and
-> therefore were the only ones who could be sure that what the systems produced
-> would be appropriate to a reasonable and fair society."
->
-> - Tim Berners-Lee, "Weaving the Web," p86.
-
-Humans are social creatures. Regardless of your position on how human society
-should be, we all acknowledge that it does exist. While there may be some who
-live a lonely life in the wilderness, they still live within the larger social
-organization of a state. And even though those few people do exist, they are
-a tiny, tiny portion of the overall population. For the vast majority of
-humanity, society is a reality.
-
-What do I mean when I say 'society?' For this, I turn to Marx:
-
-> "Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of
-> interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand."
->
-> - Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie
-
-Regardless of your opinions of Marx, I also don't think this is a particularly
-controversial opinion: society is made up of our relationships with each other.
-A single person does not a society make, but our connections to each other.
-These connections are the foundational aspect of society; they are atomic.
-
-Society is a fractal, rhizomatic object: there is not only the broader
-'society,' but many smaller, overlapping, societies. These societies are a set
-of these relations within a given context. These contexts provide us with
-guidelines of what sorts of qualities these relations possess. For example,
-when amongst friends at home, a person will act differently than when around
-those same set of friends in a public place. Often, "social awkwardness" is a
-transgression of one of these boundaries; someone assumes that they exist in
-a different social space than those they're interacting with.
-
-> In an extreme view, the world can be seen as only connections, nothing else.
-> We think of a dictionary as the repository of meaning, but it defines words
-> only in terms of other words. I liked the idea that a piece of information is
-> really defined only by what it's related to, and how it's related. There
-> really is little else to meaning. The structure is everything. There are
-> billions of neurons in our brains, but what are neurons? Just cells. The
-> brain has no knowledge until connections are made between neurons. All that
-> we know, all that we are, comes from the way our neurons are connected.
->
-> Tim Berners-Lee, "Weaving the Web," p12
-
-As it turns out, Tim isn't the only person to find this line of thinking
-interesting. Ferdinand de Saussure was a linguist in the early 1900s who
-developed the idea of "structural linguistics," and in the 1950's and 1960's, a
-French anthropologist named Claude Lévi-Strauss took his concepts and applied
-them to anthropology, birthing Structuralism. Others followed his lead and
-used this mode to develop an analysis of psychology, sociology, and more.
-
-Societies exist naturally, but can also be man-made. Any opening of a new
-avenue for interpersonal relationships creates a new society amongst the
-multitude. The web is an example of this, and websites are a second, inner
-socius. The major difference between artificial and natural societies is not
-one of effect, but of cause. The end result is the same, but the initial
-conditions for the formation of the society determine the acceptable rules for
-the given relations that exist within it. Therefore, potential creators of said
-social enclosures should understand the power that they wield, and use said
-power to create the exact form of society they wish it make, with deliberate
-strokes.
-
-## Society has a very clean mirror
-
-When people create, they end up creating something that reflects themselves
-and the societies that they live in. Linguistic relativity in even its weak
-form implies that language shapes who we are, and it is such with our
-creations. Many _ex_ _nihilo_ creation myths touch upon this property, like
-Adam's receipt of God's breath, or Atum from ancient Egypt, who not only
-created himself (?!?) but then other gods (first from his own shadow) and then
-man from his tears.
-
-Here's a fun, terrible example of this happening:
-
-<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/t4DT3tQqgRM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
-
-Amusingly, even though the tone is wrong, this YouTube user nails it:
-
-![hp computers are racist](https://img.skitch.com/20120814-k1x5rqhdr2pcreir94srat4gda.png)
-
-Exactly. They didn't test it on darker skinned folks. Of course, it may not be
-malicious, but this certainly meant that no dark-skinned people were involved
-in the production of this device, the whole way up to shipping it. If they
-were, it would have been caught early on before it was even beginning
-manufacture.
-
-Because we grow up in a society, and we create new societies through
-technology, it stands to reason that society and our own biases influence the
-societies that we create. Even beyond that, if we create societies, we should
-be able to use the same tools that we use to analyze naturally occurring
-ones on artificial ones.
-
-So how do we analyze societies?
-
-## It's all about power and control
-
-Remember Structuralism? Well, it has some issues, and not just the opposition
-that Saussure faced from Chomsky. Along comes a bunch of French philosophers,
-and they have beef. I won't get into it, except to mention the name of one:
-Michel Foucault. He wrote this book titled "Surveiller et punir: Naissance de
-la Prison," which has some awkward title translation issues, and so ends up as
-"Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison" in English. Long time readers
-of my blog will remember [my
-notes](http://blog.steveklabnik.com/posts/2011-01-22-a-few-notes-on-foucault)
-on this book, but the basics are as such:
-
-### Foucault
-
-Feudal society was predicated on divine right. The body of a sovereign is
-literally the body of God, and since God also created everything, the sovereign
-is everything. Therefore, if you commit a crime, you commit it against the
-body of the sovereign, and therefore, he must exact punishment against your
-body in kind. Hence torture.
-
-Eventually, though, torture became socially inconvenient, and people started
-challenging the very idea of divine right, and wanted democracy in some form.
-Therefore, the power to punish would need to take on a new form to survive
-in this new society. That mechanism is called "discipline." Discipline
-(specifically of the body) is how control manifests itself in society. One of
-the great advances of Taylorism, for example, was studying how the bodies of
-assembly line workers operated and streamlining their motions.
-
-Foucault also illustrates that control and power in modern society mirror
-Jeremy Bentham's concept of the 'Panopticon,' which is a prison in a circular
-shape by which the rooms can all observe each other. The observation would help
-to keep them all in line, since the all-seeing tower in the middle would be able
-to observe everyone at all times.
-
-![panopticon](http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/11/Panopticon.jpg/250px-Panopticon.jpg)
-
-I found this concept amusing,
-[here](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litchfield_Towers) are the dorms I stayed
-in during my time at the University of Pittsburgh.
-
-### Those in charge get to make the rules?
-
-Anyway, all of that implies this: the people who are 'in charge' are so because
-they get to define the rules. Most people would say this the other way around,
-but that's wrong: You don't get to make the rules because you're in charge,
-you're in charge because you get to make the rules. Regardless, what does it
-mean to make the rules?
-
-In a simple sense, discipline is pretty easy to grasp: there's a king (or
-boss). He makes the rules. Done. And it's the same with our 'creation of
-societies' from above. When you make a society, you make it, so you get to make
-the rules! This 'rule-making' property is everywhere in software: operating
-systems are absolutely about creating a society of software programs on your
-computer. APIs are all about the connections between various systems, and
-the web, with its hyperlinks, even more explicitly so.
-
-That's why this stuff matters to programmers. We create societies all the time,
-and need to be careful of the kinds of societies that we create. We also
-participate in many, and need to be sure that we participate in the kinds of
-societies that we agree with.
-
-One problem: we've already moved beyond discipline society, twice.
-
-## Deleuze and Guattari
-
-Oh these two! What a pair! If you picked up a random copy of either volume
-of "Capitalism and Schizophrenia" without knowing what it was, you would be
-oh so confused. I mean, I vaguely knew what I was getting into, and I was
-still confused.
-
-Deleuze specifically wrote an essay called "Postscript on the Societies of
-Control". You can find it online
-[here](http://www.n5m.org/n5m2/media/texts/deleuze.htm).
-
-> These are the societies of control, which are in the process of replacing
-> disciplinary societies. "Control" is the name Burroughs proposes as a term
-> for the new monster, one that Foucault recognizes as our immediate future.
-
-He also discusses it in [Negotiations](http://www.amazon.com/Negotiations-1972-1990-Gilles-Deleuze/dp/0231075812).
-
-Control societies are different from disciplinary societies because discipline
-is all about confinement. Control is a slippery beast compared to discipline:
-
-> Enclosures are molds, distinct castings, but controls are a modulation, like
-> a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the
-> other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point.
-
-Discipline is direct, while control is indirect. I won't get into control too
-much more here, because we're past that too; control's time on this earth was
-fleeting. Now we live in the era of protocol.
-
-## Galloway
-
-Alexander Galloway is an Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and
-Communication at NYU, and every programmer should read him. Specifically, his
-book [Protocol: How control exists after
-decentralization](http://www.amazon.com/Protocol-Control-Exists-Decentralization-Leonardo/dp/0262072475).
-Galloway takes Deleuze's work and applies it to our modern computer systems,
-and terms that 'protocol.'
-
-> * Protocol is a system of distributed management.
-> * Protocol facilitates peer-to-peer relationships between autonomous entities.
-> * Protocol is anti-hierarchy and anti-authority.
-> * Protocol engenders localized decision making, not centralized.
-> * Protocol is robust, flexible, and universal.
-> * Protocol can accommodate massive contingency.
-> * Protocol is the outcome (not the antecedent) of distributed power.
->
-> Galloway, "Protocol", p82
-
-Sounds awesome, right? Sounds like the web.
-
-> I saw one [advocate of informational organization systems] after the next
-> shot down because the developers were forcing them to reorganize their work
-> to fit the system. I would have to create a system with common rules that
-> would be acceptable to everyone. This meant as close as possible to no rules
-> at all.
->
-> This notion seemed impossible until I realized that the diversity of
-> different computer systems could be a rich resource-- something to be
-> represented, not a problem to be eradicated. The model I chose for my
-> minimalist system was hypertext.
->
-> Tim Berners-Lee, "Weaving the Web," p15.
-
-Tim recognized that centralization was the root of exploitation:
-
-> It also shows how a technical decision to make a single point of reliance can
-> be exploited politically for power and commercially for profit, breaking the
-> technology's independence from those things, and weakening the web as a
-> universal space.
->
-> Tim Berners-Lee, "Weaving the Web," p129.
-
-Tim saw that control was an issue:
-
-> Whether inspired by free-market desires or humanistic ideals, we all felt
-> that control was the wrong perspective. ... Technically, if there was any
-> centralized point of control, it would rapidly become a bottleneck that
-> restricted the web's growth, and the web would never scale up. Its being 'out
-> of control' was very important.
->
-> Tim Berners-Lee, "Weaving the Web," p99
-
-Galloway, however, contends something else, and this is the crux of it:
-
-> Thus it is an oversight for theorists like Lawrence Lessig (despite his
-> strengths) to suggest that the origin of Internet communication was one of
-> total freedom and lack of control. Instead, it is clear to me that the exact
-> opposite of freedom -- that is, control -- has been the outcome of the last
-> forty years of developments in networked communications. The founding
-> principle of the Net is control, not freedom. _Control has existed from the
-> beginning._
->
-> Perhaps it is a different type of control than we are used to seeing. It is
-> control borne from high degrees of technical organization (protocol) not this
-> or that limitation on individual freedom or decision making (fascism).
->
-> To put it another way, in order for protocol to enable radically distributed
-> communications between autonomous entities, it must employ a strategy of
-> universalization, and of homogeneity. It must be anti-diversity. It must
-> promote standardization in order to enable openness. It must organize peer
-> groups into bureaucracies like the IETF in order to create free technologies.
->
-> In short, control in distributed networks is not monolithic. It proceeds in
-> multiple, parallel, contradictory, and often unpredictable ways. It is a
-> complex of interrelated currents and counter-currents.
->
-> Galloway, "Protocol", p141-143.
-
-This is the kind of control that startups exert on the rest of the world. This
-is the kind of control that's hard to see coming, because it's inexact. This is
-the kind of control that lets you _feel_ like you have freedom, even when you
-don't. This is the kind of control that _likes_ open standards, and uses them
-against you.
-
-Discipline is Microsoft. Protocol is Google. Protocol is Facebook. Protocol is
-Twitter.
-
-It's in this tradition that I critique App.net and GitHub.
View
1  redirects.rb
@@ -29,5 +29,6 @@
{ :from => "/about-crows", :to => "/2009/12/02/about-crows.html" },
{ :from => "/2011/09/23/more-rstat-dot-us-refatoring.html", :to => "/2011/09/23/more-rstat-dot-us-refactoring.html" },
{ :from => "/posts/2012-1-23-introducing-metadown.markdown", :to => "/posts/2012-01-23-introducing-metadown.markdown" },
+ { :from => "/posts/2012-08-13-protological-control--an-introduction", :to => "http://words.steveklabnik.com/protological-control-an-introduction" },
]
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