Single-idea books with cute titles are supposed to be one path to big profits. So consider “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman, Rod Beckstrom (Author)” or “Brainticklers : Beyond Y2K : Questions for the New Millennium and the Year 3000,” by Elizabeth Arnold and Rod Beckstrom (which is the same as what I call a “slap pack” of questions) or even “An Introduction to VAR” (1995) by Rod Beckstrom. (VAR turns out to be variable, a scientific concept, and also a program for sorting or creating algorithms.) What is being sold with this starfish/spider metaphor is an organizational design concept contrasting the centralized hierarchical model and the small local decentralized pattern.
This morning on NPR the author was interviewed on All Things Considered and professed to be surprised that the Teaparty movement had picked up the book. I don’t know why he should be surprised. In fact, the original movement that started this country pitted the decentralized colonies against king-headed England. And then the more-or-less “united” States spent the next century fighting the even-more-decentralized native American tribes on the rest of the continent.
What’s being talked about here is basic guerrilla strategy, the same discussion that goes on all the time about whether modern terrorists have one leader who can be conveniently assassinated or many small local leaders, hard to find and hit.
Unitarian Universalist people are also used to struggling with the dilemma of whether their denomination is a free-association (many small independent units — some call it “disorganized religion”) or should be unified (a third “U”) under a strong leader. They often use as their point of focus the idea of “values” that Beckstrom talks about, calling them “principles.”
Having been struggling with Deleuzeguattarian thought, I see the contrast in patterns in a slightly different way. Their “rhizome versus tree” is the same contrast, but what they discuss is how forces in society can and will self-assemble a kind of “machine” for specific purposes.
That is, affinity-needs interact with the ongoing forces we might call “history-in-the-making” and the purposes of government (acknowledged and unacknowledged) and commerce to produce groups.
Deleuze and Guattari also consider that rhizomes are in communication with each other, like cells in a resistance. Therefore one seeking to understand this phenomenon would need to know a lot more than what values the individuals share.
If we look at the Tea Party movement, we see that forces might include onerous taxation and regulation (the putative focus), the vacuum left by dysfunctional and deadlocked political parties, the schism between those who are educated to understand science and those who prefer to use authority figures, modes of media (decentralized blogs versus cable), overpopulation, distressing economic patterns often attributed to corrupt and greedy big shots, and so on.
The NPR host, possibly because the example offered was the Tea Party movement, seen as right-wing, then went to a bit of bad reasoning known in the trade as mis-placed concreteness.
The author had proposed the advantage of the starfish is that if you cut off its arms, it can regenerate and continue functioning. But a spider cannot grow a new leg and, when its head is cut off, is dead. So the host pointed out that a spider doesn’t have a head: the “head” is part of the body — to have a head, you need a neck. And technically neither animal has a brain. And besides that, sponges can be put through a sieve and resume function as a lot of little sponges. So do you want to be a sponge? Very funny. (I would consider the function of prison as a sponge sieve.)
We have not yet really looked at the forces that shattered lucrative arts organizations into hundreds of local groups and individuals. The switch to electronic communication was only part of the change. Publishing, for instance, is not being replaced by ebooks simply because it’s possible. The quality of the books offered; the over-hyping of them; the economic piling up of profit in the hands of a few (both within the publishing house where faithful editors were thrown out to live as independent agents, and outside the publishers when they were acquired by conglomerates who knew nothing about books and only wanted profit); the failure of schools to teach people how to read; the rise of fancy critical theory resistant to understanding; the failure of marketers to reach out to thin and specialized populations; the movement of populations both displaced and immigrant which require different languages and information; the new consciousness of the hidden costs of paper which were no longer so hidden; the diminishment of the status of “famous writers” (Partly because everyone forgets the renaissance of books after WWII when GI’s learned to read paperbacks and writers had plenty of raw material); the new private habits of passively watching television or actively playing electronic games; the necessity of working hours that don’t leave time for reading; the demand for living in big houses that need a lot of maintenance and earning enough profit to pay for it — not a little used bookstore at the beach that supports one old singleton and a cat. You get the picture. One could devise an algorithm.
One of the most powerful forces is the proportion of the world population that is young versus those who are old. The young are not “into” preservation and history. The world, so far as they are concerned, begins with them and they see themselves as creators as much as consumers.
Connection comes naturally to them, but not hierarchy. All the authority figures have proven themselves inadequate if not outright wrong. Families no longer exist in the sense that they did. International corporations are plainly and defiantly trumping nations by imposing their lines of supply across borders and evading any kind of accountability: kids know that.
So, will a persuasive leader arise to unite us again? Maybe not. The central unifying force that CAN pull the population of the world into cooperation is probably a threat to human life en masse. But so far no one has vividly enough explained AIDS or global weather change or starvation in terms that can be more compelling than the Tea Party movement.
And NPR, which is vulnerable to all the forces I listed above, needs to check their algorithm.