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Assembly rules for strengthening the Second Superpower

How do we strengthen the Second Superpower?  What are the next vital developments we need to make?  Are there one or two things which, if accomplished, would enable more rapid and fuller evolution of emergent democracy and the second superpower?   Are these spiritual, technical, political, or in our collective mindset?

In ecology there is a sub-field called “assembly rules” that seeks to understand the combinations of species that are required for a functioning ecosystem.  The field goes farther and looks for the sequences by which a few species can establish a foundation on which others can grow. Aspen trees stabilize nitrogen in the soil, making a place for hardwoods to follow.  Lichens break down volcanic rocks into a primitive soil, mosses and ferns follow.

I wonder, what are the assembly rules for emergent democracy?

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~ by jimmoore on .

16 Responses to “Assembly rules for strengthening the Second Superpower”

  1. Sorry for commenting all over the place, but I find your new blog thought-provoking.

    Three things possibly for assembly rules: (1)widespread high-speed connection, (2)end of pay-by-min/hr net access, (3)ending of tech phobias/taboos through widespread permeation of the net into our cultural and gov’t institutions. #3 ain’t possible without #1 & #2, but perhaps this is all just infrastructure as it doesn’t deal with actually getting people off their butts to use the technology to effect change.

  2. It disturbs me slightly that the 2nd superpower thing has such a high-tech-focus. Most of the people that could be considered prime beneficiaries are _not_ ‘net connected. We’re the smallest portion of the smallest portion of the lucky crowd – if that’s what the 2nd superpower is about, then it’s elitist from the get-go (in similar ways as the existing top-down structures are elitist, in fact in very similar patterns/groupings) – and emergent does not equate to fundamentally better (or necessarily provide better safety measures).

    Not saying don’t try, just saying don’t get caught up in believing own hype.

  3. Start owning (and paying for) our own media. Example: create a blog news network.
    More generally, get people, especially in the developing world tools to
    communicate with each other, that will move towards genuine
    democratization and workdwide dialog even more than a really free
    press. And it will enable voices of those in  need to directly
    connect to voices of NGO’s and pan-world orgs, rather than having
    conversation flowing hierarchily through the not-so-free-by-choice
    established press, and always-stealing-freedom-away governments..

  4. Kevin,
    Wiring the not connected is cheaper than we think. And it dosent even
    require more than a computer a village, if cell phones can be made
    ubiquitous. Or VOIP over land lines and wireless in villages with cell
    phones speaking this wireless. Or village-to-village line of sight

    They key I think is enabling non-local conversation. The more we all
    understand and learn about other people, the less wars and terror, etc
    we will have.

  5. Jim,

    You describe the Second Superpower (S2) as comprising “people who are attempting to take into account the needs and dreams of all 6.3 billion people in the world.”

    Implicitly, then, S2 must assign high priority — if not outright primacy — to the democratization of opportunity, starting with educational opportunity.

    Not long ago my business plan for a provider of lifelong learning and career services (LLCS) was circulated internally at Microsoft. Soon after, I received the following email from Randy Hinrichs, Manager of Microsoft Research’s Learning Sciences and Technology Group:

    “Frank, you are a good man. Have you thought about joining this team? Your only alternative, of course, is venture capital. But their usual models require getting rid of the ‘originator’ within the first eighteen months. With Netscape it took a little longer, but you get the idea.”

    Credibly sustainable LLCS providers will race to develop and fund their own student loan programs, as most customers will need financing in order to consume their initial bundle of LLCS, and will be drawn to the provider offering the best loan package. These loan programs will, in time, democratize access to LLCS — and hence, to educational opportunity.

    So the assembly rules that will give rise to the mature LLCS market comprise an important subset of the assembly rules for S2.

    Toward making plain the LLCS subset, I have posted online the updated version of my LLCS business plan, which can be seen at http://www.opportunityservices.com/businessplan.html.

    In brief, the assembly rules for a 1.0 LLCS provider culminate in four interoperating initiatives:

    1) A reality TV show

    2) An online complement

    3) A for-profit (i.e. fee-based) internship program

    4) Open source software for online matchmaking, code-named Go_Ogle.

  6. A spiritual solution: World peace already exists. You have to KNOW this in your heart before the illusion that you currently believe with your mind will disappear. Become PEACE. We are all ONE. Change within your own heart and the world will follow. Spiritual peacemaking lessons available at: http://emissaryoflight.com/

  7. In this space I have argued that the Second Superpower is akin to Tom Paine’s Common Cause, from which came those who risked a hanging to fight the British. It seems to me the first order of business is agree – at least among those who blog here – that the Second Superpower is of that intellectual magnitude? If so, then the first order of business is to ensure it gets wide distribution, particularly in the conventional print media. In that regard I have introduced Dr. Moore to one of my favorite publishers who reaches tens of thousands in the world of distance education. It would be interesting to find out how many others make introductions like that? Who can step forward to help form groups who will dedicate themselves to wide circulation of this piece.

    But of course having an intellectual base is hardly sufficient to cause a revolution. Franklin knew that and it was one reason he spent so much time in Paris…he knew that the key to winning the war was having strong allies. We should take that lesson to heart and ask ourselves – who are the allies to the idea of the Second Superpower? What can they do for us? What can we do for them?

    One such ally is the organization which Moore speaks of in the article – http://www.moveon.org. I have tossed some comments to both the Founder of MoveOn (and his wife) shared with Dr. Moore. I see MoveOn like NATO sees the United Kingdom – as the “unsinkable battleship”. Why is MoveOn unsinkable? Because it already has a following at or near a million. Those people won’t go away. And MoveOn shares the (general) ideas, so the linkage between their membership is the Second Superpower is a natural one. What makes MoveOn so unique is their wizardry in the collection and management of their membership group. Hopefully MoveOn would share that technology; but if not they and others who have large followings sympathetic to the Second Superpower should be contacted.

    But then what?

    It doesn’t do much good just to share links, or even banners, or even gather blogging comments now and then. We need to do a lot more than that, starting with agreement that we need a “Badge” that in time will be as ubiquitous as the Ban the Bomb Insignia. We we see that “Badge” on bumpershickers, t-shirts, window panes, street signs, web sites and
    conference hand outs, we will know we are making progress.

    What kind of “Badge”. As I have written to Dr. Moore, I push hard for the idea of something I call CandlePower. There is a two page pdf on my site which you can find

    The idea is to have “Light Up” campaigns..ones where membership groups will see that the campaign will raise money for their agenda as well as be part of “something bigger”. These campaigns include virtual candle lighting as well as candle shipments to those who donate. What the Second Superpower is, I think, about “lighting up” the power of the individual –. My belief is we can get agreement from hundreds – maybe thousands – of membership groups to join a “Light Up” campaign, using the mechanism of CandlePower –(which by the way was “invented” for purposes of our own – to promote our own Global Learn Day…but that’s another story.)

    Why candles? Well, that too is a long story. But if you visit these two sites, you will see the direction we will be taking…very soon.


    Should I apologize for the length of this blog? Probably. My excuse is that I am fervent about “lighting up” the Second Superpower. We have to do that in all the ways as brillant as do the gurus of Madison Avenue. And it isn’t all that hard. This isn’t David vs. Goliath. We have the better idea. We just have to be more than a debating Society. Or bloggers.
    John Hibbs

  8. I would like to see Stephen Downes, James Moore, Wes Boyd, Joan Blades either host, or be major contributors to a twice weekly (internet) radio show. Moore you now. Wes and Joan are man and wife and the founders of MoveOn. Stephen Downes you don’t.

    I asked Stephen to comment about the Second Superpower. Here is his response, which I think tells you all you need to know about him. Then, when you have a few dozen free hours, you can investigate the links he provides.

    Here is what Stephen Downes writes:

    “Stephen Downes writes:

    The hard thing is to draw out and weave together the several threads…

    – The network thing – neural networks and social networks – Francisco Varela,
    Marvin Minsky – <http://www.downes.ca/archive/02/04_12_news_OLDaily.htm&gt; –
    parallel distributed processing – grid computing –
    SETI @ home – autonomy –

    – The semantic thing – Tim Berners-Lee and the semantic web – <http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/&gt; –
    structured communication, a new grammar – http://www.downes.ca/files/one_standard.ppt
    RSS – <http://www.downes.ca/files/RSS_Educ.htm&gt; –
    semantucally based reasoning systems
    and smart websites –

    – The communication thing – then end of broadcasting and the rise of many-to-many communication – Marshall McLuhan – instant messaging – blogs – new media and new languages – <http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/website/view.cgi?dbs=Article&key=1033756665&gt; –
    visual representation and concept maps – games and simulations – Seymour Papert

    – The community thing – communities of practice as described by Wenger,
    not as repurposed by Hegel and Armstrong – <http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml&gt; –
    the roles of thought leaders and lurkers – the concept of the meritocracy – the
    gift economy – cyberculture – Douglas Rushkoff, Howard Rheingold – Second Superpower –
    <http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/jmoore/secondsuperpower.html&gt; – trust, reputation, reification

    – The open thing – open source – Richard Stallman, Eric Raymond –
    open archives – http://www.openarchives.org/&gt; – Peter Suber – freedom of scholarship – Creative Commons – SourceForce, CPAN, Slashdot, Kuro5hin –

    – The deschooling thing – Ivan Illich – <http://www.ecotopia.com/webpress/deschooling.htm&gt; –
    learner centered and learner designed – <http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/website/view.cgi?dbs=Article&key=1012279256&gt; –
    eduBlogs – learning objects – David Wiley, David Merrill – just-in-time just-in-case –
    ubiquitous learning – education as infrastructure – the learning object economy –
    <http://www.downes.ca/files/milan.doc&gt; –
    learning as freedom – <http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/website/view.cgi?dbs=Article&key=1049115691&gt;


    The dominant paradigm of the future will be the network, not the institution, where a network is defined as a connected collection of autonomous entities – people – each pursuing their own good in their own way. Entities in the network will communicate with each other and with intelligent systems using a richly layered language of words, images, concepts and metaphors, supported by semantic interfaces and meaningful representations. Each person will be a creator and distributor as well as a reader and a learner; learning will be one aspect of communication in a content-rich environment.

    Communities of learners will rise, reform, fall, rise again in a decentralized and informal manner, communities where one’s contributions create reputation and value, where learning, work and play combine into a single activity, and will over time challenge and supplant traditional institutions of learning. Content will be freely available and widely shared, the basic materials for an education accessible without charge to anyone in the world.

    In a global learning economy people will learn what they need as they need in an environment where the freedom to learn is seen as fundamental as, and as an inseparable part of, the freedoms of speech, the press, conscience, and assembly.


    In the future we will be free to learn what we want, where we want, and how we want, and this freedom will be seen as part of and inseparable from our freedoms to form thoughts, express them, and to be a part of a community.

    Post-script: in such a future we will be impossible to govern, because we will be engaged in the process of governing ourselves.


    Stephen Downes
    E-Learning Research Group
    National Research Council

    55 Crowley Farm Road,
    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    E1A 7R1


    John Hibbs

  9. Wow, amazing set of comments! Thanks, all–and all in one afternoon!

  10. i think we need to be armed… to the teeth. with pies! MAKE MORE PIES 😀

    seriously tho! don’t forget the money thing 😀 http://www.futureofmoneysummit.com/ http://www.thememorybank.co.uk/ http://transaction.net/

    or like the information goods thing! http://www.dankohn.com/archives/000276.html#000276 http://j-bradford-delong.net/OpEd/virtual/technet/spmicro.html http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/Econ_Articles/Summers_New_Economy_2001.html http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~scotch/syllabus.htm http://federalreserve.gov/BoardDocs/speeches/2003/20030404/default.htm

    IOW the nation state can be reconstituted as something [

  11. John and Stephen,

    As it happens, the biz plan I referenced in my above post does, over time, cohesively integrate the semantic thing, the open thing, the deschooling thing, etc. (in total, all of the things you listed.)

    Again, it can be seen at http://www.opportunityservices.com/businessplan.html

  12. There is already a working model of the “second superpower” at http://www.freerepublic.com. For example, when online polls go up, they alert each other to “freep” them with multiple right-wing votes. For example, they organized mass call-ins to radio stations, with freepers claiming to be local fans of country music demanding a boycott of the Dixie Chicks for their disrespect of Bush. (Radio stations were fooled for about a week by this.) The Free Republic example is encouraging in its success with little money–and our distaste for some of their tactics should help keep us honest about our own.

  13. Good comment, Betsy. The Second Superpower mythology has been constructed by the fuzzy-minded, old-left Bush haters who oppose the war of liberation in Iraq and naturally want to believe that they’re in the majority. But alas for them, anti-war sentiment in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia is dwindling, and will soon be in the single digits, so the claim to numerical superiority these folks make is untenable. Given that, they have to claim a moral superiority based on this notion that they are the exclusive spokesmodels for the aspirations of all the people world-wide who aren’t part of the Anglosphere’s hegemony. But is there any evidence that the typical anti-war Frenchie or Syrian Arab holding up a Saddam poster at a government-sponsored rally is any less concerned about his own self-interest than is Dick Cheney? Actually, I’d have to go with Cheney on the globalism perspective by any reasonable measure.

    The Second Superpower myth is basically an incoherent mish-mash just as the Emergent Anthill Democracy is: an attempt by a bunch of barely technical Bush-haters to get some legitimacy for their minority concerns.

    These are not serious people.

  14. Excellent post and discussion. Its interesting how useful thinking about “assembly rules” is to thinking about potential structural flaws with potential implementations of an emergent democracy.

    An even playing field is the key first issue. Without it an emergent democracy is going to be seriously flawed. It goes beyond just internet access. Any group that has superior programmers, designers and the like is going to be able to outweigh other groups online. Computer geeks come in many flavors, but they also have certain common interests and odds are they are going to wield a disproportionate amount of power online for quite some time.

    Language is the other issue I’m thinking about. The internet allows people the world over to communicate, provided they speak the same language. This great in a lot of ways, but its also is problematic. The potential exists to actually enhance the divide between people who speak different languages.

    A universal language would solve that issue, but create its own. Languages have structure, and those structures effect the way people think. The adaptation of a universal language would result in a serious restriction of the range of thought in the world. Not something most of us would want, and luckily (in some ways) the emergence of a universal language doesn’t look very probable.

    Translation technology has the potential to break down a lot of the language barrier, but its progressing pretty slowly. And I doubt we’ll ever really be able to translate certain thought structures between languages.

    Another issue that concerns me is the potential for the internet to segregate people. Like minded thinkers tend to cluster. And as they cluster they often can create segregated thought areas. This is useful at times of course as it provides a good space for new ideas to develop, but it also pushes against the ideas of emergent democracy. The internet facilitates communication over distance, breaking down certain boundaries. But it also facilitates the strengthening of other idealogical boundaries, at least at the moment.

    An emergent democracy is going to need to take into account the fundamental structure of the internet, and then build a structure that counterbalances the inherent bias of the various support structures. Not an easy task and filled with risks too. But a highly worthy expedition none the less.

  15. I think that how we choose to think is an important factor going forward. Personally, I’m tired of much of the same old debate, blame, finger-pointing and name-calling that appears over and over. I believe we need to intentionally create communities that emphasize design over debate, that understand and respect the nature of systems, and that look for leverage in solutions.

  16. HTML is its own “language,” communities that adopt HTML have more in common than what separates them i think 😀 or more basically, who nourishes and nurtures the machines? it’s the rise of the machines!

    other idealogical boundaries

    oh yeah, me forgetses! OS zealots 😀

    we need to intentionally create communities that emphasize design over debate

    yeah, people who can distinguish without dividing, as dee hock would say! not ideological, but utilitarian; where the rule of law gives you the best ‘traffic’ flow, not necessarily what is ‘right’ — simplex chaorder 😀