Agency, Security and Trust

In any process there exists a fundamental tension between the flexibility, trust and security. The complexity of reality means that flexibility - that is to say some sort of intelligence - is necessary to handle not only the complexity that reality throws at us, both in terms of the diversity of possibility in any one single moment, but also in terms of emergent processes that are extremely difficult to predict. Because of this intelligence is necessary and as such you require some degree of trust in order for the process to operate. Even an artificial intelligence does not solve the problem of trust as the outcome may not necessarily be what you want. The problem of solving complexity means the introduction of trust as formalized rules are not sufficient to handle the vastness of possible use cases and as such you need to introduce intelligence to have any hope of handling environmental complexity.

However this creates a fundamental tension between whatever sets the process off and the intelligence guiding it. The classic example is of the worker under capitalism who has significantly more knowledge of the process then those above. Furthermore in interacting with the system every day they have significant leverage over it as through working with the machinery they understand how to exploit it.

This tension can be resolved through two ways. The first is the introduction of security. Through coercion or the threat of coercion the problem of misalignment can be partially solved. If individuals can't do certain things or are strongly incentivized against doing them through the threat of force then you can both solve complexity while also stopping them from doing things you don't like.
However this is not a complete solution. First of all security of any sort limits flexibility and as such constrains individuals from acting in particular ways. While the consequences of such limitations may not be immediately obvious any system in a sufficiently complex environment will eventually run into a problem that nobody predicted and may require the individual in question to go against the security system imposed on them. Furthermore there exists a fundamental tension as a result of the power imbalance. When one individual has all the power in a relationship communication between them and the person beneath them is fundamentally imbalanced.

This is why the other solution to the tension is to balance the relation of power between those in control of the process and those who direct it. When incentives are aligned the problem of trust can be minimized (although it still exists). The result is that less security is required and as such those making decisions have considerably more agency which means they can better adapt to the environment. The empirical evidence for this is staggering - the success of cooperatives, of guerrilla armies and horizontal working groups within hierarchical institutions over conventional hierarchical approaches.

However enabling such freedom, especially for those who've lived in such a static environment can be terrifying. The perceived potential loss of power, wealth or status that comes from removing force over another makes it difficult to give up. Furthermore the degree to which power and not consent rules our society means that alternatives that might disrupt such hierarchies have the additional cost of overcoming enforcement mechanisms designed to prevent exactly that from happening. The zero-sum nature of power means that imagining alternatives is difficult. Those in charge who believe they can easily overcome such agency problems find their power slipping away when they encounter even a remotely fair fight - for example the utter failure of the invasion of Iraq once the guerrillas adopted an asymmetric approach to resisting American invaders. Despite it's seeming supremacy in terms of material advantage they utterly failed to subdue the rebels because of basic organizational and bureaucratic realities.

However in an age in which more and more individuals can do more with less and networking technologies enable individuals across the world to collaborate the threshold at which new entrants can get involved is constantly decreasing. Such a process means the infrastructure designed to maintain power relations is constantly being corroded by forces aligned against it that are emerging both outside and inside it.

Such a system cannot stand forever.