Solving Societal Problems 2.0

Through the joys of going down knowledge rabbit holes, I’ve discovered this recent gem by Yochai Benkler:

Yochai Benkler – Closing Remarks at OuiShare 2016

There are several thought provoking ideas in this short, 17 mins talk. I’d like to focus this post on a few key ones.

Yochai argues that the two core societal problems of our time are:

  1. Climate change the environmental degradation more broadly
  2. Increase in inequality and specifically the negative pressure that it creates on our democracies capacity for peace

Several of the most acclaimed solutions to these problems today are based on some core distributed technology. Be it: Uber, AirBnb, block-chain based applications or distributed energy generation.

In Yochai’s opinion, the use of distributed technology creates a false sense that the solutions are fully aligned with the long term solutions that they are attempting to address. While in fact, they are often time prone to one (or more) of three reactive forces that move them away from solving the problem that they’ve set out to solve in the long run:

  • The power of hierarchy, and specifically the threat of controlling positional power in the way that these organizations are structured
  • The power of property, acting as organizational force for oligarchy and the recreation of power around who owns it
  • The tyranny of the margin – the need to continuously compete and survive in the market, which end up postponing the ethical commitment (that the organization set out to address in the first place)

Yochai summs it up by saying:

“It is not enough to build a decentralized technology if you’re not making it resilient to reconcentration [of power] in the institutional, organizational or cultural level.
You have to integrate for all of them.”

Digging deeper into the structures and processes that can support such organization seems like a worthwhile endeavor. I definitely plan to keep an eye out for more evolved and flushed out articulations of such organizations.

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Solving Societal Problems 2.0

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