Alexander V. Oleskin,
Full Professor, General Ecology Department, Biology School, Moscow State University
Full Professor, Philosophy, Biomedical Ethics and Humanities Department, Moscow State University for Medicine & Dentistry
Diractor, Club of Biopolitics, Moscow Society for Natural Sciences
Vladimir S. Kurdyumov
Deputy Director, Institute of Economic Strategies, Russian Academy of Social Sciences
Director General, Non-commercial Joint Stock Organization “Center for Interdisciplinary Research”
Abstract. Decentralized distributed network structures have much social and, more specifically, political potential, as emphasized in a number of previous publications of the authors. They are successfully used for carrying out important political projects, including, e.g., the development of non-governmental organizations that form a part of civil society and perform ideological and consulting functions. This work outlines social/political strategies aimed at optimizing the use of network structures in the present-day society. Inevitably, decentralized networks have to deal with non-network structures such as centralized hierarchies (including bureaucracies) and (quasi-)markets. The successful spreading of network structures in society and harmonious interactivity between different types of social/political structures are promoted by creatively combining (1) the top-down strategy implying that network structures are officially granted political rights and given a legal status (preferably articulated in the country’s Constitution) and that special mediator organizations are established to regulate network-hierarchy-market interaction and (2) the bottom-up strategy based upon setting up exemplary network structures, demonstrating their potential usefulness in various social/political spheres, and persuading socially active people into joining the networks (using online technology). It is emphasized that the spreading of decentralized distributed network structures in present-day society actually results in the transition to a new social system. This emergent network society implements the principles of self-governed socialism in the field of economics and promotes the regime of network meritocracy in the political sphere.
Key words: decentralized network structures, hierarchical structures, (quasi-)market structures, socialism, network meritocracy.
An important thread running through the whole history of humankind is the naïve dream of establishing an ideal social system where people would feel free of the coercive force of rigid authoritarian hierarchies as well as of the ruthless competition that is characteristic of an unbridled market system.
Even though we have to live in a difficult, turbulent, and dangerous historical period, a new factor has emerged in the modern-day world that can bring us much closer to the realization of humankind’s childish dream about a bright utopian future. This factor is called network structures, and it would be erroneous to believe that they only exist in the virtual world of the WorldWide web.
Network structures (or just networks) are interpreted in several different ways in the literature. Many scholars prefer their broader meaning: a network structure is any system that consists of nodes (vertices) connected by links (edges). In contrast, the authors of this work adopt a more specific definition of networks: a network is a structure that lacks a single center (unlike a hierarchy), and its behavior results from cooperative interaction among their nodes (unlike a quasi-market structure, where the nodes predominantly compete, and not cooperate, with one another).
Importantly, many conceptual mathematical tools developed in terms of the broader interpretation of the term “network”, also apply to its narrow meaning. This primarily concerns the criteria of network node centrality, including degree, betweenness, closeness, and eigenvector centrality (see Newman, 2003, 2012; Croft et al., 2008, and many other publications). Actually, these criteria help us delimitate networks (per the narrow meaning) and hierarchies, as our previous work demonstrates (Oleskin, 2014a, b), as well as classify decentralized cooperative networks into subtypes.
Applying “network science” concepts to classifying networks is exemplified by using one of the node centrality criteria termed node degree. The degree K of a node in a network (called the focal individual) is the number of its neighbors with whom it is directly linked. A quantitative property of whole networks enabling us to discriminate between different network types is p, the probability that network nodes have a given node degree K. An alternative characteristic is the integrated value P, i.e., the probability that node degree exceeds a given value.
In these terms, completely flat networks typified in biology by leaderless fish shoals can be construed as chaotic random networks. They were described for the first time in the classical work by the Hungarian researchers Erdös and Rényi (1959, 1960). They are defined as follows: “we start with n nodes and connect every pair of nodes with probability p” (Almaas et al., 2007, p.9). Random networks are characterized by a normal (Poisson) node degree distribution. Hence Erdös-Rényi (ER) networks include typical nodes whose node degrees have the maximum probability. The node degree distribution is approximately that of a Poisson (Gaussian) curve with short tails. In human society, the behaviour of an agitated leaderless crowd of people often seems to conform to the random network concept.
However, a large number of networks follow—or at least their node degree distribution is approximated by—the power law: p(K) = a × K-g, where a is a constant coefficient and g > 0. These are scale-free networks; their properties were investigated by the Hungarian scholar Barabási (2002). The growth of a scale-free network complies with the following two principles: “First, networks grow through the addition of new nodes linking to nodes already present in the system. Second, there is a higher probability to link to a node with a larger number of connections, a property called preferential attachment” (Almaas et al., 2007, p.9). Such networks are exemplified by the Internet and the World Wide Web, where new users preferentially link to the nodes that already have a larger number of ties. Similar behavior is also displayed by many regulatory networks of proteins or genes that are studied by molecular biologists (Barabasi & Oltvai, 2004).
Scale-free networks contain a small number of hubs, i.e., nodes having numerous links to other nodes plus a much larger number of nodes with few links to others. In terms of resilience, scale-free networks having few nodes with many connections and many other nodes with few connections generally perform better than random networks. Scale-free networks are, nevertheless, vulnerable to attacks targeting the hubs.
Decentralized network structures in the political sphere. According to the authors’ previous work (Oleskin, 2014 a), non-hierarchical network structures composed of human individuals or groups can be successfully used in scientific research, education, and business. It follows from the data available in the literature on decentralized networks in business that such network structures actually implement the principle of collective ownership and, therefore, promote a socialist rather than a capitalist economic system, at least within the framework of the enterprises where they are set up (Oleskin, 2014a).
In the political sphere, network structures can be used at several different levels Political networks can be subdivided into: (1) supra- and interstate networks, including global political bodies, state alliances, and international/transnational governmental and nongovernmental organizations; (2) state-level networks involved in the functioning of the state apparatus; they are exemplified by various networked consultancy organizations such as kitchen cabinets, think tanks, and more official Centers of Public Policy; (3) substate-level networks including spontaneous or deliberately established network structures (clubs, informal cliques, etc.) inside political parties and other officially hierarchical political bodies; and (4) intrastate political networks including political system-independent network structures forming part of civil society (see Oleskin, 2014a, P.225).
Networks can provide guidelines for social, political, economic, and cultural progress. They can function as generators and promoters of new values and politically important ideas in society. Such idea-generating networks are already at work at the national and global levels in various parts of the world.
Network organization is characteristic of many think tanks. They are nonprofit political organizations that can evaluate political projects and develop political guidelines (Rich, 1999). Think tanks consist of expert teams carrying out educational, evaluative, creative, communicative, and promotional projects (Rimsky & Sungurov, 2002). The networked Strategy Center (Saint-Petersburg, Russia) is an example of this type of think tank. Its main goal is “promoting the development of civil society, the rule of law, and public policy in Russia by implementing projects and programs aimed at facilitating public participation and social partnership, enhancing the government’s responsibility, and developing Centers of Public Policy” (Sungurov, 2006). Think tanks are similar to Centers of Public Policy (CPPs). They include pools of experts that analyze the current situation, make predictions, and develop new strategies and doctrines. CPPs also function as mediation structures between the hierarchical state apparatus and networked public organizations (to be revisited below). Interaction between public organizations and the business sector may also be facilitated by CPPs.
Of paramount importance are political system-independent network structures in the form of nongovernmental associations and alliances based upon the principles of self-organization, self-government and, as a rule, financial self-sustainability (Mezhuev, 2008). Such network structures are established on a voluntary basis; they comprise a variety of academic, religious and cultural associations, initiative groups, and so forth (Habermas, 1990). Taken together, these network structures lie at the core of civil society as “the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens” (Dictionary.com, 2014, http://dictionary.reference.com). They exert a democratic influence on the state apparatus and its regulators (Motroshilova, 2009, p.16) and filter the citizens’ demands vis-à-vis the political system (Easton, 1965). Interstate networks forming part of civil society may be concerned with a wide spectrum of pressing problems (human rights, constitutional law enforcement, environmental protection, health care organization, etc.) and they may develop strategies to solve them. Apart from their specific goals, they carry out an important political mission by building social capital and trust and, therefore, promoting the development of civil society. This point was emphasized by Robert Putnam (Putnam et al., 1993). If the scenario successfully works at the micro-level (within the boundaries of a single network), this encourages the application of an analogous scenario to the macro-level, i.e., to the political system of a whole state or even to the global political arena.
Interstate networks also include networked businesses and especially cooperatives. Their political mission involves promoting participatory democracy and collectivism (“communalism”). In order to become politically influential, co-ops form alliances. By providing jobs and material support to their members, they can help a large number of formerly poor people become sufficiently well-to-do and, therefore, politically active. Their increased political participation is bound to enhance the political influence of civil society and it can provide further support to the principle of political power decentralization.
In sum, civil society in a democratic country can exert a sufficiently strong influence on the political system. Its networks and their representatives acquire a significant amount of political power without anyone electing or appointing them (Zaleski, 2006). The author cited doubts that the power of these network structures is compatible with the principles of democracy. Nevertheless, despite a lack of a formal election or appointment procedure, networks and their influential members (“hubs”) are politically active because they receive sufficient support from the people at large thanks to their good reputation, i.e., to the social capital accumulated by these individuals (Putnam, 2000). Apart from their honesty, sense of responsibility, organizational skills, and other socially important features, this reputation is also based upon the professional competences of a network’s members with respect to socially/politically relevant areas. These competences are at the forefront, if politically influential networks are composed of professionals (scientists, scholars, experts) whose decisions on political issues are based on their knowledge and expertise.
Generally, network structures can increase the influence of meritorious professionals (scientists and scholars) in society, strengthen the social and political impact of their ideas and, therefore, promote the development of meritocracy in modern-day society.
In contrast to the more traditional concept of meritocracy that was considered, for instance, by Daniel Bell (1973), and which was implemented in Singapore after attaining independence in 1965 (Bell & Chanyang, 2013, http://www.singapolitics. sg/views/compassionate-meritocracy), it is not a government-appointed commission that assigns the high social status to meritorious professionals. It is the networks and civil society as a whole that make this decision; it is their trust and support that enable socially recognized experts to speak on the network’s behalf with regard to political, economic, social, cultural, humanitarian, or environmental problems and issues.
Evidently, civil society as an essential democratic institution is still underdeveloped in East Europe including Russia. Its successful development need not be based on the influence of political pressure groups and judicial institutions, as typically was the case in the West. Instead, the developing non-Western democracy might involve decentralized network structures. Their spreading in society can by promoted by the specific features of the mentality of these countries, such as the spirit of communalism and the feeling of belonging.
Social formation based on network structures (reticulism). In a number of recent works, it is emphasized that a new social system is developing in the present-day world. This new system is referred to as the network society. The network society is the main subject of the several monographs published by Manuel Castells (see, e.g., Castells, 1996, 2004). The same issue was also discussed in the book with the meaningful title “Netocracy…” (Bard & Soderqvist, 2002).
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggested in their works that history can be broken down into stages dominated by different social formations. Social formations differ with respect to the prevalent production mode as well as to the political and judicial system and the predominant ideology (which Marxists regarded as the “superstructure” formed on the top of the economic basis of the society). The social formations described by Marxists include the primitive, slave-owning, feudal, capitalist, and communist system (these five systems were described, e.g., in the works by V.V. Struve). The existence of several distinct social formations and the fact that human society changes formations during the course of history have been acknowledged by a large number of non-Marxist scholars.
The authors of this work believe, in conformity with Alexander Zinoviev’s work, that the current historical period is characterized by the transition to a new formation that was not described by Marxists.
Towards the end of the 20th century, capitalism in industrialized countries gave rise to a new social system that is called network society by Castells and should be also referred to as the network social formation (or Reticulism from reticulum, the Latin for network).
It seems that, in contrast to the predictions of classical Marxism, the capitalist formation makes the transition to reticulism and not directly to communism. Nonetheless, the reticulist (network) formation is similar to socialism (considered the initial stage of Communism by classical Marxist scholars) in many important respects, as emphasized above. In particular, establishing networked “strategic alliances” among capitalist enterprises often implies that some of their resources become accessible for all members of the alliance. The development of relationships based upon trust (of social capital, see Putnam, 2000) fosters a quasi-socialist collectivist attitude of mind and a sense of belonging.
A lack of centralized hierarchies within network structures enables each of their members to make important contributions to the decisions made by them and to significantly influence their collective image; this is exemplified by a large number of online networks where each individual involved can exert much influence on a whole network’s behavior. This conforms with the principle of participatory democracy that is characteristic of socialism, as modern structural Marxists such as Robert Resch (1992) point out. Participatory democracy is contrasted with representative democracy which is typical of capitalism and “reflects and reproduces class inequality and exploitation by separating and delimiting those spheres that permit democratic principles from those that exclude democracy” (Resch, 1992, p. 30); such undemocratic spheres obviously include the business sphere that is dominated by corporate hierarchies and competitive market relations.
Participatory democracy within networks is associated with democratic control over means of production, which also represents an important feature of socialism (Resch, 1992). Implementing the decentralized network organizational pattern enables enterprises to exercise democratic control over their resources, as is the case, e.g., with many American cooperatives where collective ownership of means of production implies collective control over the production process and the distribution of its results. For instance, according to the «Member’s Guide» of the Consumer Cooperative Society in Hanover, New Hampshire, that operates the Co-op Food Stores, Co-op Community Food Market, and Co-op Service Center: «Members of a cooperative support it with their patronage, participate in decision-making, and share in the profits generated by the organization’s activities». «. This co-op is affiliated with a higher-order Cooperative Grocer Network that operates in compliance with the principles laid down by the International Co-operative Alliance and represents “… an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” (International Co-operative Alliance Statement on the Co-operative Identity; see Cooperative Grocer Network, 2014, http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop).
As we pointed out in our previous publication (Oleskin, 2014a), the network social formation implements some important principles of self-governed socialism. Self-governed socialism is based upon (1) the operation of autonomous self-regulated economic actors, e.g., cooperatives and similar self-governed businesses and (2) a decentralized mechanism where economic and political decisions are made. Despite the wide variety of subtypes of self-governed socialism, which range from worker-owned enterprises in Yugoslavia under Tito to Israeli kibbutzim, they are all characterized by the principle of collective ownership with respect to production means at the enterprise level. Such enterprises are often small in size (or are composed of smaller-sized modules) and are devoid of a rigid centralized bureaucratic hierarchy. To an extent, they are organizationally analogous to primitive hunter–gatherer bands.
Importantly, the countries that once built up “real socialism” and, subsequently, either abandoned it in favor of capitalism (CIS and former East bloc countries), or made efforts to retain it (China, Cuba, and North Korea), are currently making the transition to the network social formation. The development of the capitalist and the “real socialist” formation seems to be convergent, which was predicted by D. Bell (1973).
It should be stressed that, in Russia and other countries in East Europe, network structures are in conformity not only with the egalitarian attitudes characteristic of intelligentsia, which traditionally dislikes rigid hierarchies as well as harsh competition typical of market relations. Networks also comport with the traditional communal life style of the Slavic peasantry that was based on specific obschina structures. Although network structures are often considered an originally Western phenomenon, similar Slavonic structures were spontaneously established several centuries ago. An obschina was a local community usually enclosed by a fence. Typically, it was a village with about 40 or 50 houses, to a maximum of 100 houses. An obschina cherished archaic values that were characteristic of the pre-state historical period, as well as ancient forms of social bonds. All issues were resolved during a meeting (skhod) involving the heads of all peasant families/households, who actually performed the functions of network-type partial leaders. Both the geographical and the social space of an obschina were limited. An obschina was based upon the autarchy (self-government) principle. It preferred decentralized decision-making procedures (Oleinik, 2003).
Interaction between network and non-network structures. Despite using the terms network social formation and reticulism, it should be noted that the currently developing social system will inevitably be based on a mixed organizational pattern. Of relevance in this context are the disadvantages of network structures (each of these serious disadvantages may limit their practical applications unless other structures such as hierarchies can provide their compensatory support):
- managing networks presents serious difficulties;
- they are slow in making decisions (by reaching a consensus);
- programming/planning their development is difficult or unfeasible.
There are data that a network is slower than a hierarchy in performing routine tasks according to a fixed plan. However, hierarchies cause their own serious problems:
- they lack flexibility and adaptability;
- they tend to routinize their activities without adequately responding to challenges posed by a dynamic, changing environment;
- they stop functioning if the central control unit is removed, whereas networks are not so vulnerable.
The author’s personal experience giving classes at high school showed that a creative task is completed more quickly by a hierarchically organized student group (with a leader reporting the results to the teacher and classmates) than by a network. However, a networked team finds a more interesting and creative solution to a problem formulated by the teacher (Oleskin, 2014a; Oleskin et al., 2001).
It is the type of the task/problem to be dealt with that determines the optimum organizational pattern of the structure to be used. Networks with decentralized leadership are more adaptive and flexible than hierarchies because of their loose coupling and openness to information. Studies on collective problem-solving by creative teams have demonstrated that “more hierarchical groups tended to perform better on simple tasks” requiring straightforward decision-making strategies. “However, flatter groups <i.e., networks – A.O.> tended to perform better on more complex, more ambiguous tasks that benefitted from the input of many members and that often required creativity” (Anderson & Brown, 2010, p.67). Since a disproportionately high amount of influence on decision-making is exerted by the leader in a hierarchy, a hierarchical group’s success often crucially depends on the leader’s skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, many groups tend to choose dogmatic, assertive, selfish, authoritarian, risk-taking individuals as leaders. The power and status enjoyed by the leader can make his personality still worse.
The potential assets of networks were acknowledged in Europe in the public policy domain in terms of the New Public Government doctrine, which has been promoted since 1995. Decentralized networks also work well in knowledge-rich environments because they have superior information-processing capabilities. “The theoretical rationale behind the prediction that decentralized leadership structures are related to superior team performance is that when there are many leaders within a group this enhances participation and information sharing among team members, which, in turn, enhances team performance” (Mehra et al., 2006, p. 234). In the same work, it is emphasized that a multileader group (a network sensu stricto) can only outperform a centralized hierarchy if the several partial leaders successfully coordinate their efforts and acknowledge one another’s leadership functions.
Despite their potential assets, networks should not be idealized because they have their own limitations. Networks are prone to fall apart if the relatively few links connecting highly clustered fragments are removed. Their tendency toward organizational openness often endangeres the atmosphere of mutual trust (“social capital”) which is a prerequisite for efficient network organization. In networked organizations, responsibility and accountability issues often pose serious challenges to the network structures involved.
In light of all the above, it seems that, despite the indisputable advantages of network structures with respect to a large number of important problems and issues of the present-day world, other types of structures still should play a sufficiently important role. Of considerable importance are centralized hierarchies including bureaucratic structures.
If network structures and civil society that is predominantly based on them are sufficiently well developed, the centralized hierarchy of the political system can perform functions that help consolidate the nation: develop a national unity-promoting ideology, represent the nation in the international arena, further its interests, and increase its defensive potential. The political hierarchy’s unifying role in a mixed society is obviously associated with spiritual values and partly with religious ideas.
Undoubtedly, important functions are to be performed by (quasi-)market structures that are based upon the autonomy of the independent agents involved, contracts between them, and equivalent exchange. Obviously, efficient interactivity among autonomous buyers and sellers is a prerequisite for a demand-supply balance with respect to goods and services.
In the authors’ opinion, it is imperative that, in the gradually developing network social formation, networks should not prevent non-network structures from carrying out their duties. Networks should not interfere with them as they perform their specific functions. Nonetheless, they should be regarded as the “third alternative” that aims to fill the remaining vacancies. Individuals and groups that form a part of political or business hierarchies or interact with one another as agents in the market, establish new links and start dealing with new functions once they become network members. Initially, such supplementary nonhierarchical and non-market links may seem comparatively weak. However, it is these weak links whose potential social influence was discussed in detail in Mark Granovetter’s classical work (Granovetter, 1973, 1985).
In our earlier publications, we described some biological analogs of network structures in human society (Oleskin, 2014a, b). For instance, the development of the network society is organizationally comparable to the formation of the mycorhiza, i.e., the growth of fungi around and inside tree roots. Social network structures grow around and inside the offices of, e.g., politicians or firm directors and behave like filaments (hyphae) that form part of the body of a fungus (i.e., of its mycelium). “The growth of hyphae proceeds at their apexes /whose analogs are partial, situation-dependent, leaders in decentralized network structures – inserted by A.O./ but branches can also form, resulting in the emergence of new apexes /of new partial leaders/ on the walls of the hyphae. By branching and fusing with one another /the fusion is analogous to the merging of social networks into larger supernetworks/ , hyphae form a network-like structure that is denoted as the mycelium” (Kück et al., 2009, S.4).
The growth of networks, particularly those belonging to civil society, is organizationally analogous to the growth of mycelium. While mycelium tends to expand in space, network structures, including those belonging to civil society, aim to spread in society and to maximize the number of their members.
Decentralized expanding network structures also evoke the concept of the rhizome suggested by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (2004 ). The rhizome is a structure that “has no beginning or end”; no center or central principle. Links among the lines of which the rhizome consists form a “plateau”, i.e., a temporary, situation-dependent stability area in the rhizome’s pulsating structure. Such a stability area in the networks of civil society forms as a result of reaching a consensus among these networks, which enables them to make collective suggestions concerning political issues and to familiarize the political hierarchy with them.
At a sufficiently advanced stage of development of the network society, a compromise between network and non-network structures is feasible, they can become complementary and interdependent; to an extent, a network and a non-network structure, e.g., a bureaucratic hierarchy, can penetrate each other. For example, some parts of the state bureaucracy, in addition to their main function (state governance), can be involved in the activities of networks that generate ideological concepts. Conversely, network structures can be incorporated in the hierarchy of the state apparatus (or of local administration bodies). Apart from serving as consuting experts, such decentralized networks can collectively fill the vacancy of a government regulator. For instance, a network structure can collectively perform the functions of the deputy mayor of a large city.
A combined system can benefit from using both its hierarchical and network components, provided they function in harmony and are not in conflict (such harmonious cooperation may require the involvement of a special mediating structure, see below). The hierarchical component of the polystructural system should be at the forefront whenever the functions to be performed demand a fixed plan and/or quick decision-making based thereupon. In contrast, roles delegated to the network component could include, in human society, developing long-term political, economic, social, scientific, technological, and cultural strategies and promoting their implementation in society. Real-life examples of hierarchy-network tandems include large companies, e.g., Mitsubishi, that use advisory or consultant-based network structures.
Within the framework of such a network-hierarchy tandem, the network can obviously focus on various kinds of creative functions in which it is particularly efficient. It can design long-term strategies of developing the political, cultural, economic, and social sphere of human society and familiarize the political system as well as the people at large with these strategic ideas.
In an analogous fashion, some biological systems make use of mixed organizational patterns. This is exemplified by some monkey species. In their social systems, partly non-hierarchical groups of young monkeys coexist with the hierarchical structures of the adults These juvenile network structures perform quasi-educational functions. While playing, young monkeys familiarize themselves with adult-specific activities such as hunting, food collecting, struggling for one’s social status, mating, and rearing infants.
The presence of a network “in the shadow” of a hierarchy increases the stability of the whole system and enables it to remain viable if the hierarchical component becomes defunct. The network takes over. Apart from prolonging the existence of the poly-structural system, the network can acquire enough power to enable the restoration of the hierarchical structure, perhaps in a changed form. The defeat of Saddam Hussein’s hierarchically organized army did not put an end to organized resistance to American troops in Iraq. Conversely, the resistance increased because of the autonomization of local and global networks (including al-Qaeda) that had been suppressed by Saddam’s hierarchy and became politically influential after its demise.
The network component of a combined system can orchestrate activities that are beyond the hierarchy’s reach. The central political apparatus is often unable to assume control over political life at the local level, especially in a large country. Local networks can provide support to the central administrative body in such situations.
Network structures at the local and global level. Potential role of networks in preventing, mitigating, or overcoming political conflicts. Political hierarchies are multilevel systems, and network structures can interact with them at several levels. This interactivity is emphasized by the concept of polycentric systems suggested by the American scholars Vincent and Elinor Ostrom. In their opinion, a decentralized structure aimed at, e.g., decreasing the emission of greenhouse gases (E. Ostrom, 2010) or protecting the coral reefs of Palau (Gruby & Basurto, 2014), is to include representatives of different levels of the political hierarchy, ranging from the local administration to the national government and international political organizations. Political decisions are made as a result of negotiations involving political bodies at different levels. Of much interest in organizational terms is the fact that the vertical political system is actually “horizontalized” in such a nested structure: agents belonging to different levels (e.g., representatives of a local organization, of a state apparatus, and a supranational body) can participate, on an equitable basis, in political decision making. Moreover, they are encouraged to jointly carry out political projects, e.g., those concerned with the environment.
The agenda of such nested network structures can include globally and locally important issues such as the Survival of the Planet Earth. Networks can interact with different levels of the political vertical from the residents’ committee of a single house to the presidential administration to the United Nations, involving their representatives in joint decision-making according to the decentralized network scenario and to the glocalism principle.
Of considerable importance are globally distributed networks that focus on seemingly minor issues that, nonetheless, concern the whole humankind. Of professional interest to one of the authors of this work could be a network structure (to be set up in the future) that would concentrate on The impact of the microbial inhabitants of the gastro-intestinal tract on the brain, psyche, and behavior of humans. Such a network of enthusiasts (microbiologists, neurologists, clinicians, psychologists, etc.) could straddle the boundaries of the countries and regions of the world. It could conduct research on this subject and apply the results obtained for the purpose of improving the physical and mental health of the Earth’s population by optimizing the microbiota of their intestines.
Network-hierarchy interactivity in the political and global context is associated with the philosophical dilemma concerning the status of humankind. Humankind can be considered from two different perspectives. On the one hand, humankind is a single coherent system that is aimed at solving global problems, irrespective of the nation, region, and religion involved. On the other hand, humankind is subdivided into self-contained national, regional, and cultural systems that often compete and even conflict with one another. Depending on the historical period, either the unity of humankind, or its separation into conflicting systems comes to the forefront.
The two aspects of humankind predominantly correspond to different types of structures. As mentioned above, hierarchies efficiently foster ideologies aimed at promoting the identification of people with their cultures/nations/regions, strengthening the state machine, and increasing its defensive potential.
As for network structures, they could concentrate on important goals that are pursued by humankind in general and that still exist, despite the confrontation between the different parts of the present-day polarized world. In this context, we emphasize the potential of networks in terms of preventing, mitigating, or overcoming political conflicts.
Establishing a higher-order network involving both conflicting parties might mitigate their diagreement by promoting cooperative rather than agonistic interactions, irrespective of the network’s agenda. For example, protecting the planet’s biodiversity (bios) could be a suitable agenda for a network, as it can bring together representatives of potentially hostile nations or religious movements. This point was emphasized by Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis (2003), the President of the Biopolitics Internatioonal Organization.
A global network structure can collectively represent an independent “third party”, a global-level judge that deals with a political conflict. The obvious problem with some of the presently existing global conflict-mitigating networks is caused by their insufficient political influence. To an extent, this problem can be allayed by strengthening the global networks’ ties to local (intrastate) networks in order to be able to influence dangerous political regimes both from above and from below, in compliance with the glocalism principle mentioned above.
Making peace in hotbeds of political conflicts could be the ultimate goal of special decentralized network structures that should incorporate authoritative representatives of all conflicting parties in their nexus (“fungal mycelium”).