Category:P2P Hierarchy Theory

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Items to understand hierarchical vs non-hierarchical relations, from a 'p2p' point of view.

Thesis: "If hierarchy is the power system of centralized systems, then heterarchical power is the power system of decentralized systems and Responsible Autonomy is the power system of distributed systems."


Three perspectives

To understand power and hierarchy in its historical development, there are at least the following perspectives that can be helpful:

  • the perspective of the 'mode of production' which helps to see the structural organization in society, and how class is determined by the place in that structure; this is what the French historians and later the marxist tradition brought to bear; it is still vital to look at material interests and how this influences the mode of consciousness of the participants in societal struggles
  • the perspective of the 'mode of exchange' shows that each mode of exchange, i.e. commoning, the gift economy, redistribution and market pricing, have their own peculiar logics and mentalities (even if expressed differently across time and space); this perspective can be found in the relational grammar of Alan Page Fiske, and has been shown in its historical development by the synthesis of Kojin Karatani.
  • the perspective of the 'mode of power', as expressed by Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, in their landmark, 'Capital as Power'

The Evolution of Hierarchy in the P2P Era

John Heron:


"1. There seem to be at least four degrees of cultural development, rooted in degrees of moral insight:

(1) autocratic cultures which define rights in a limited and oppressive way and there are no rights of political participation;

(2) narrow democratic cultures which practice political participation through representation, but have no or very limited participation of people in decision-making in all other realms, such as research, religion, education, industry etc.;

(3) wider democratic cultures which practice both political participation and varying degree of wider kinds of participation;

(4) commons p2p cultures in a libertarian and abundance-oriented global network with equipotential rights of participation of everyone in every field of human endeavor.”

2. These four degrees could be stated in terms of the relations between hierarchy, co-operation and autonomy.

(1) Hierarchy defines, controls and constrains co-operation and autonomy;

(2) Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere only;

(3) Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere and in varying degrees in other spheres;

(4) The sole role of hierarchy is in its spontaneous emergence in the initiation and continuous flowering of autonomy-in-co-operation in all spheres of human endeavor."


"In a participatory universe, there are five basic forms of influence

   - each and every entity, being relatively autonomous, will have self-organizing influence on itself
   - corresponding entities on the same level of being will have significant influence on each other
   - wholes we have a down-hierarchical on their parts
   - parts will have a up-hierarchical influence on their containing wholes
   - each and every entity, being potentially co-creative, can have transformative impact on the four prior forms"


3. Hierarchy, Cooperation, and Autonomy

"What kind of knowledge is valuable

.. that which contributes to human flourishing - the participatory paradigm answers the value question in terms of human flourishing as an end in itself.

Such flowering is constructed as an enabling balance, within and between, people of

      - 1) hierarchy, deciding for others
      - 2) cooperation, deciding with others
      - 3) autonomy, deciding for oneself

- HIERARCHY provides appropriate direction by those with greater vision, skill, and experience; it is authentic when it seeks the developmental emergence of autonomy and cooperation in those that are being directed. It's shadow is AUTHORITARIANISM

- COOPERATION roots the individual within a community of peers, offering basic support and the creative and corrective feedback of other views and possibilities. Its shadow is PEER PRESSURE and conformity.

- AUTONOMY expresses the creative, self-creating, and self-transfiguring potential of the person. It's shadow is NARCISSISM, willfullness and isolation."

(from the book, Sacred Science)


This idea that “everyone follows and everyone leads” is powerful because it captures the understanding that we are co-producers of our social realities. It is a reflection of the systemic nature of human relations: fluid, dynamic, reciprocal.

- Kathia Laszlo [2]

"There seems only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness. Oversimplified as this may seem, we shall find the idea more easily acceptable i£ we consider that bigness, or oversize, is really much more than just a social problem. It appears to be the one and only problem permeating all creation. Wherever something is wrong, something is too big."

- Leopold Kohr [3]

The Best Anthropological Definition of Equality Points To Peer Production

"The best anthropological definition of egalitarian societies, that proposed by Fried (1967): in egalitarian societies there are as many positions as there are qualified individuals to fill them. The respect for the abilities of different individuals creates tolerance for the variation on which cultural developments draw. ... Egalitarian and hierarchical elements co-exist in all human societies. Though both appear to have roots in our simian heritage, why were both maintained through social selection and cultural means? Institutionalized hierarchy reduces internal competition and the often-destructive race to the top, allows for efficient organization of collective action, and coordinates responses to intergroup competition which benefit many group members. Egalitarian institutions reduce the transaction costs of social and economic exchange in a number of respects. As equals, it is not necessary to work out relative social standing with every interaction. Women and men can help each other knowing that as equals they can give, ask, take and receive help when in need. With egalitarian institutions people do not fear that assistance given will be used to dominate, fostering the conditions and trust for delayed exchange. Finally, equality facilitates the mobility necessary for intergroup interaction, as hierarchies do not mesh easily."

- Polly Wiessner [4]

The Context of Inter-Being

"The new science keeps reminding us that in this participative universe, nothing lives alone. Everything comes into form because of relationship. We are constantly called into relationship — to information, people, events, ideas, and life. Even reality is created through our participation in relationships. We chose what we notice; we relate to certain things and ignore others. Through these chosen relationships we co-create our world. If we are interested in effecting change, it is crucial to remember that we are working within webs of relations, not with machines.

- Margaret J. Wheatley [5]

With the advent of the P2P Mode of Production, the community and its common is now the appropriate scale

"We’re seeing something that is historically shocking—the reduction to zero of the cost of an especially valuable part of capital, which materializes directly knowledge (free software, free designs, etc.). And above all we see, almost day by day, how the optimum size of production, sector by sector, approaches or reaches the community dimension.

The possibility for the real community, the one based on interpersonal relationships and affections, to be an efficient productive unit is something radically new, and its potential to empower is far from having been developed. This means that we are lucky enough to live in a historical moment when it would seem that the whole history of technology, with all its social and political challenges, has coalesced to put us within reach of the possibility of developing ourselves in a new way and contributing autonomy to our community.

Today we have an opportunity that previous generations did not: to transform production into something done, and enjoyed, among peers. We can make work a time that is not walled off from life itself, which capitalism revealingly calls “time off.” That’s the ultimate meaning of producing in common today. That’s the immediate course of every emancipatory action. The starting point."

- David de Ugarte [6]

Three Principles of Domination, One Principle of Emancipation

""In actuality, all principles are always in play. There is no domina­tion without exploitation and organisation. But their relative importance varies with the period under consideration. Under the principle of domination, the master denies his slaves an existence which would limit his own. Under the principle of exploitation, the boss grants his workers that degree of existence which fattens and develops his own. The principle of organisation breaks individual existences down into fractions, classifying them according to degrees in each's capacity for leadership or administration. Domination is a right, exploitation a contract, and organisation an ordering of things. The tyrant dominates according to his will to power; the capitalist exploits according to the laws of profit; the organiser programmes and is programmed. The first appeals to arbitrariness, the second to justice, the third to rationality and objectivity."

- Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life [7]

According to Thorsten Wiesmann, four principles are at play [8]:

- The Principle of Domination, Characteristic of Feudal Society - The Principle of Exploitation, Characteristic of Bourgeois Society - The Principle of Organisation, Characteristic of Technocratic Society - The Principle of Sharing, Characteristic of the Interactive Society

For-profit vs for-benefit approaches in p2p-driven economies

"Each techno-economic paradigm (TEP) is based on a constellation of innovations, both technical and organizational, which are the driving force behind economic development. (...) In this neoliberal format, which became dominant after 1980 before the emergence of civic peer networks on the eve of the 21st century, the part of labor became stagnant and most of the value was streamed toward financial capital. The credit system developed into an increasingly important means to maintain the fictitious buying power of consumers and, therefore, the primary means of surplus realization through debt dependency and servicing. We argue that this value model of traditional proprietary capitalism, dominant in the installation period of the current TEP, is approaching its terminal point. Its inherent unsustainability is manifested in a twofold problem. On the one hand, industrial capitalism considers nature to be a perpetually abundant resource; that is, it is based on a false notion of material abundance in a finite world. On the other hand, the traditional, industrial version of cognitive capitalism enforces the idea that intellectual, scientific and technical exchange should be subject to strong proprietary constraints. In that way, an artificial scarcity of knowledge is created, subjecting innovation to legal restrictions and allowing for profit maximization and, hence, capital accumulation. (...) The P2P infrastructures, such as the Internet, are those infrastructures for communication, cooperation and common value creation that allow for permission-less interlinking of human cooperators and their technological aids. We argue that such infrastructures are becoming the general conditions of work, life and society. (...) „Value regimes are more or less associated with technology regimes, since the forces at play want to protect their interests through the control of technological and media platforms, which encourage certain behaviors and logics, but discourage others. The powers over technological protocols and value-driven design decisions are used to create technological platforms that match proprietary interests. Even as P2P technologies and networks are becoming ubiquitous, ostensibly similar P2P technologies have very different characteristics which lead to different models of value creation and distribution, and thus to different social and technological behaviors. In networks, human behavior can be subtly – or not so subtly – influenced by design decisions and invisible protocols created in the interest of the owners or managers of the platforms.“

- Kostakis/Bauwens in Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy ; [9]

Leadership in Non-Hierarchical Organizations

"Enspiral is no ordinary environment to have a leadership position in. We are collaboratively prototyping a system of work designed to enable people to focus their energies on what is most meaningful to them and in line with this we have a pretty un-traditional org structure. Enspiral is strictly non-hierarchical which means that leadership positions come with no authority attached. No one in the network has a right to tell anyone else what to do, so making any organisational developments requires a lot of social manoeuvring — building credibility and collective motivation behind your initiatives. While outside the core the system looks pretty stable, the closer you get to the middle the more you see that the organisation is changing and evolving every day. You can’t take a lot for granted as being fixed in place. So contextual knowledge is something that needs to be continuously updated. An added challenge to this is much of what is evolving in the organisation isn’t documented — a lot of it happens informally. Making sense of it all enough to direct our efforts intelligently takes up a lot of cognitive real estate."

- Chloe Waretini [10]

Three Ways of Getting Things Done

“There are three ways of getting things done in organizations and the combination of the three is called triarchy, which means triple rule. The Three Ways of Getting Things Done: Hierarchy, Heterarchy and Responsible Autonomy in Organizations.When I was young I thought hierarchy was the only way to run organizations. Although in those days I'd barely heard of the great sociologist Max Weber, I unknowingly shared his belief that an organization couldn't exist without a hierarchical chain of authority. Now, after over fifty years working in organizations of many different kinds, I've come to realise there are two other, equally important, ways of getting things done and that it's vital for us to understand these other ways. We also need to understand why hierarchy always seems to trump the others.”

- Gerald Fairtlough [11]

John Boik: Engage Global, Test Local, Spread Viral

"No matter how promising the design of a new system might be, it would be unreasonable to expect that a nation would abruptly drop an existing system in favor of a new one. Nevertheless, a viable, even attractive strategy exists by which new systems could be successfully researched, developed, tested, and implemented. I call it engage global, test local, spread viral.

Engage global means to engage the global academic community and technical sector, in partnership with other segments of society, in a well-defined R&D program aimed at computer simulation and scientific field testing of new systems and benchmarking of results. In this way, the most profound insights of science can be brought into play.

Test local means to scientifically test new designs at the local (e.g., city or community) level, using volunteers (individuals, businesses, non-profits, etc.) organized as civic clubs. This approach allows testing by relatively small teams, at relatively low cost and risk, in coexistence with existing systems, and without legislative action.

Spread viral means that if a system shows clear benefits in one location (elimination of poverty, for example, more meaningful jobs, or less crime) it would likely spread horizontally, even virally, to other local areas. This approach would create a global network of communities and cities that cooperate in trade, education, the setup of new systems, and other matters. Over time, its impact on all segments of society would grow.

Cities, big and small, are the legs upon which all national systems rest. Already cities and their communities are hubs for innovation. With some further encouragement and support, and the right tools and programs, they could become more resilient and robust, and bigger heroes in the coming great transition." (

The Lean Society cannot be large-scale

"Our large-scale problems do not need large-scale solutions. Rather, they need small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework. The large-scale framework is provided by his central concept of ‘leanness’. To be ‘lean’ means to act on the smallest scale possible with maximum participation."

- David Fleming [12]

Controls on any phenomena come from the next larger scale

"In this book we recognize the way the important controls on any phenomena come from the next larger scale, determining the main cycles of growth, turndown, catastrophes, and regimes of energy and material to which society must fit. This is a type of scientific determinism. The paradox is that most scientists restrict their deterministic beliefs to the realms of their specialties. When it comes to society and politics, many [scientists] share the public’s view and deny that large-scale principles control phenomena. ... The general systems view is that the larger-scale pattern selects what is workable from the trials and errors of the smaller scale. The regime prevails because it maximizes the performance possible for those conditions (p.6)."

- The Odums (in: Prosperous Way Down) [13]

A decentralized infrastructure will not necessarily lead to a decentralized power structure

"You can have a centralized infrastructure with a decentralized governance structure, or, vice versa, you can have a decentralized infrastructure with centralized governance. Of course, the design of the infrastructure is going to influence the way in which you can implement the governance structure on top of it, but it is not because you have a decentralized infrastructure that you will always and necessarily have a decentralized governance structure. This has been shown, over and over again, with many of the existing blockchain based networks, or DAOs, which rely on a decentralized infrastructure and a (decentralized) market based governance structure; and we have seen very well how most of them have evolved into a highly centralized system, controlled by a few players with a lot of resources (tokens or hashing power)."

- Primavera De Filippi [14]

From Oscillations Between Centralization to Decentralization to Upward Sweeps in Scale

"All systems of interacting polities oscillate between relatively greater and lesser centralization as relatively large polities rise and fall. This is true of systems of chiefdoms, states, empires and the modern system of the rise and fall of hegemonic core states. But there has also been a long-term trend in which polities have increased in population and territorial size since the Stone Age and the total number of polities has decreased. These trends have been somewhat masked in recent centuries because the processes of decolonization and the emergence of nation-states out of older tributary empires have increased the number of smaller polities. But the general trend toward larger polities can be seen in the transition from smaller to larger hegemonic core states (from the Dutch to the British and to the United States), and in the emergence of international political organizations and an expanded and active global civil society that participates in contemporary world politics."

- Christopher Chase-Dunn et al. [15]


Post Leadership

Management Leadership That something else better that isn't management or leadership
Attitude Compliance Humility Service
Authority Based upon title Based upon earned trust None; offers an example which may be followed or not
Questions Questions are viewed as a threat to authority Encourages questions to develop an ethical understanding Asked frequently
The Framework Procedural Relational Engaged and connected
Rules / Boundaries Based upon conformity Based upon an ethical, philosophical concept Based on respect for others
Procedures Standardized Personalized Adapted as needed
Innovation Discouraged if it challenges the status quo Provides a vision that inspires others Secondary to creativity, freedom and exploration
Submission Forced: based upon a fear Voluntarily: submitting to another's strengths to protect one's weaknesses There is no submission; exchanges are mutual and of mutual value
Motivation Extrinsic Intrinsic Not necessary
The Results Behave externally but rebel internally (or when no one is looking) Empathetic, ethical thinkers who want to do what is right Cooperative environment populated by creative and expressive individuals who see respect for and service to others as the highest good

Key Resources

Research Summary

We Became Human By Becoming Equal

"Anthropologists and archaeologists since have now constructed an entirely serviceable account of the origins of human inequality. Key figures here are Kent Flannery, Joyce Marcus and James C. Scott. ... Over the past forty years, the scientific revolution has been remarkable, and there has been an enormous flowering of research in the field of human evolution. There are now many amazing new studies of non-human primates and primate behavior, new archaeology of early humans and new ethnographies of near contemporary hunter-gatherers. Thanks to chemical microanalyses, DNA sampling, radiocarbon dating and patient archaeology in humble homes, we have learned a great deal about the people who lived in pre-class and then early class societies. Among our heroes are the extensive publications of the readable Christopher Boehm, Frans de Waal, R. Brian Ferguson, Sarah Hrdy, Martin Jones and Laura Rival. This work is transforming the study of human evolution and human history. And the starting point may come as a surprise. It now seems that we became human by becoming equal. This is a remarkable and precious insight. But it is an insight that strikes at the very foundation of Graeber and Wengrow’s account." [16]

Key Articles

  • The Rise of Organizational Complexity, see: Y. Bar-Yam, Complexity rising: From human beings to human civilization, a complexity profile, Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS UNESCO Publishers, Oxford, UK, 2002); also NECSI Report 1997-12-01 (1997). [17]

Key Books

  • The french anthropologist Louis Dumont wrote two classic treatises which are helpful, i.e. Homo Hierarchicus, which takes the indian caste system as an examplar of a explicitely hierarchical system, and Home Aequalis, where he reviews the growth of the idea and concept of equality starting in 16th cy. Europe. A good companion is The Great Chain of Being, by Arthur Lovejoy, which is a review of how the classic Greek world and medieval Christendom saw hierarchy as the natural principle at play in the universe and society, with global comparisons.
  • Brown, D.E. Hierarchy, History, and Human Nature (Kentucky: Kentucky University Press, 1988)
  • Scale. By George West. Penguin, 2017: strongly recommended by James Quilligan, who writes: "an extraordinary book. West manages to bridge science and the social sciences and demonstrate what's possible if we simply broadened our outdated perspectives. In tracing the contours of thermodynamic principles, West reveals how social metabolism can be effectively identified and managed. Very impressive."
  • The Creation of Inequality. How Our Prehistorical Ancestors set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire. by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus (Harvard University Press, 2012): "Flannery and Marcus want to the understand the hows and whys of major evolutionary transitions in human history: from egalitarian to achievement-based societies, from those to chiefdoms with hereditary inequality, and subsequently to states and empires."

* The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange. by Kojin Karatani. Duke University Press, 2014 ; for details, see: Evolution of the Structure of World History Through Modes of Exchange

  • Systemic Corruption: Constitutional Ideas for an Anti-Oligarchic Republic. By Camila Vergara. Princeton University Press, 2020. [19]: "This provocative book reveals how the majority of modern liberal democracies have become increasingly oligarchic, suffering from a form of structural political decay first conceptualized by ancient philosophers. Systemic Corruption argues that the problem cannot be blamed on the actions of corrupt politicians but is built into the very fabric of our representative systems. Camila Vergara provides a compelling and original genealogy of political corruption from ancient to modern thought, and shows how representative democracy was designed to protect the interests of the already rich and powerful to the detriment of the majority."
  • Vilfredo Pareto, The Rise and Fall of the Elites. Intro. Hans Zetterburg. New Jersey, The Bedminster Press, 1968. Sohail Inayatullah: "Believes that political history is but the circulation of elites. Good societies are those that create conditions for rapid circulation. All revolutions lead to elitism." [20]
  • Just Hierarchy: Why Social Hierarchies Matter in China and the Rest of the World. Daniel A. Bell and Wang Pei. Princeton University Press, 2020. [21] : "A trenchant defense of hierarchy in different spheres of our lives, from the personal to the political."

Pages in category "P2P Hierarchy Theory"

The following 200 pages are in this category, out of 642 total.

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