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«NETWORK SOCIETY: STATE-OF-THE-ART AND PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE. Strategies for developing network meritocracy» 
Alexander V. Oleskin, Vladimir S. Kurdyumov

Constructive network-hierarchy, network-market, and network-network interactivity: the role of mediator structures.  As the examples cited above demonstrate, different structures interact in various political situations. Networked expert organizations can evaluate the political system’s decisions or networks within civil society can make their political demands or publicly critique the government’s policies. Obviously, the hierarchy–network interaction may not be harmonious. For example, there may be serious conflicts if the hierarchical political system fails to meet the demands or expectations of civil society. One way to mitigate or prevent such conflicts is to make good use of mediators, or meta-governors (Meulemann, 2008). Mediators/meta-governors guarantee that each of the two partners (a hierarchy and a network) has legally acknowledged rights, that they interact on an equitable basis, and that they aim to jointly make consensus-based decisions.

A mediator structure facilitating network–hierarchy interactions can consist of three components: a subnetwork of the network, a special department of the hierarchical structure, and an intermediate component sandwiched between them. All the three components can form part of one political body that is exemplified by the NGOs–Government Interaction–Coordinating Committee (Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Although established by the city government’s initiative, the Committee, which consists of 24 members, includes only 4 government representatives. The other Committee members represent NGOs. The intermediate third component is a mixed dynamic network structure that forms whenever a decision is to be made. Decision making is based on reaching a consensus, even though the Vice-Governor of Saint-Petersburg is considered the formal leader of the structure (Rimsky & Sungurov, 2002).

The potential role of mediators (meta-governors) is not confined to hierarchy–network interactions. Of considerable importance could also be mediators that promote network-market interaction. They could help reasonably distribute functional roles between these two types of structures, while securing the dominance of non-market cooperative relationships inside the network component per se.

Mediators can also facilitate and regulate networknetwork interactivity. For instance, the networks of civil society can contact various transnational and global network structures. Civil society networks dealing with human rights can interact with similar international structures, e.g., Amnesty International. Promoting creative interactivity between networks, including the establishment of combined networks such as transnational think tanks, could be another important mission of mediator structures.

Internetwork mediator structures could protect the rights of each of the networks involved and they could prevent one of the networks from suppressing, exploiting, or engulfing other networks. This protective function assumes particular importance if a network–network conflict reflects a more general political conflict. By suppressing a country’s own networks and replacing them with foreign structures, the foundation can be set to put the country under a foreign aggressor’s control.

Strategies of promoting network structures and  building up reticulism. The final section of this work is concerned with practical strategies aimed at making good use of the developing network society and establishing optimal relationships between its networks and non-network social structures (hierarchies, markets, and their analogs), which requires the development of relevant mediator structures. In the authors’ opinion, decisions on these highly complex issues should not be monopolistically made by the political hierarchy. The “top-down” strategy of dealing with networks  should be supplemented with the “bottom-up” strategy involving NGOs, civil society, and the people at large. Similar to a nuclear fission process, the process of network structure development in society requires the accumulation of a “critical mass” of creative enthusiasts that should promote “networkization” and overcome bureaucratic hurdles that slow down the development of network structures in the scientific community, the educational system, the world of business, and the political sphere.

The top-down strategy involves legal means that can help attract the political hierachy’s attention to the potential benefits associated with a reasonable employment of network structures and their constructive interaction with other structure types. The body politique’s attention should also be drawn to the costs it will incur if it ignores the existence networks, which could result in a lack of network structures in the spheres of society where they are desirable and their uncontrollable “weed-like” growth in those spheres where they can be harmful[4]. The currently active network enthusiasts should try to make contact with government regulators in order to familiarize them with the prospects and problems associated with the advent of reticulism.  The ultimate ambitious goal could be  to persuade them to take an unprecedented step—to establish an interdisciplinary Network Structure Research Institute. Its internal organization could follow the decentralized network principle, and its intellectual production would enrich the treasure trove of our knowledge in various fields of science, because network structures are interdisciplinary phenomena that, apart from human society, can form in living nature, technical systems, and a human individual’s mind; they are even of relevance to religion (see Oleskin, 2014a for details). However, it is the social and political sphere where the Institute is likely to produce the most important effect. Naturally, due to its interdisciplinary focus, the Institute could creatively extrapolate organizational patterns and scenarios from one field of science to another field.

In particular, biology provides the developers and promoters of network structures with a whole set of organizational models. There are a large number of variants of network structures that are used by biological systems, including genetic and metabolic regulatory networks, microbial biofilms, cnidarian colonies, leaderless fish shoals, neural networks, ant families, and the groups of apes (chimpanzees and especially bonobos) with mitigated hierarchies and egalitarian behavioral norms. Within the framework of the Network Structure Research Institute, enthusiasts are free to creatively modify and combine these biological scenarios, supplementing them with uniquely human organizational patterns. Setting up mediator structures could also be within the competence of the Institute.

To reiterate, of paramount importance is the promotion of adequate knowledge concerning network structures and their potential advantages as well as limitations. Network structures should be widely used in the educational system.  Networks should be considered as an important concept to be included in the secondary and tertiary level curricula in various subjects ranging from mathematics to philosophy, from sociology to psychology, from biology to religious studies. In addition, networks could be used as organizational patterns: students can be instructed to form network teams in the classroom; teachers can establish their own networked associations to further their professional interests. The government should be persuaded to make relevant additions to the currently implemented educational programs at the national, regional, and local levels.

As we mentioned above, the successful development and harmonious functioning of networks  and their productive interaction with hierarchical and (quasi-)market structures can be stimulated by  adopting relevant legal documents.  Ideally, the principles of dealing with network (and non-network) structures should be set out in a country’s Constitution, which would guarantee the official status of networks and their inalienable rights.  To government regulators, the term “network structure” should sound as official and legal  as, e.g., “open joint-stock company” or “limited liability company”. Taking account of the specific organizational form of network structures, these regulators should expect them to submit special reporting forms thast should also acquire an official status.

“Bottom-up” strategy. To re-emphasize, the process of network structure development in society requires the accumulation of a “critical mass” of creative enthusiasts, i.e. of a sufficient number of active supporters of network structures in various spheres of society.

As we mentioned above, the notion of network structures has religious (mystical) connotations. Network structures in human society are made up of human individuals; nevertheless, they are superindividual entities characterized by their own collective will, knowledge, and spirit that cannot be reduced to those of any of their members. In many networks, a paradoxical situation often arises in which no single network member possesses the whole information used by the network. The information concerning the problem to be solved is stored “everywhere and nowhere” in the network, in an analogy to the sensory integration system (SIS) that functions in many biological systems at the level of the whole network structure, e.g., a shoal of fish.

In terms of social psychology, human groups tend to develop a collective identity — the “we” feeling. This trend is particularly prominent in structures that foster cooperation and are not dominated by a single boss.  In this respect, networks as superindividual bodies are to a extent comparable to immaterial mystical agents (spirits, deities, elements) whose existence is acknowledged by many religions. A network structure that is set up in order to attain humanitarian, charitable, democratic, environmental, or other noble goals, is analogous to the Rose of the World described by the Russian mystical thinker Daniel Andreev. According to the book entitled The Rose of the World, the new social structure suggested by him is to be a positive suprastate-level cultural and political movement. In order to establish it in human society, it is necessary “to fuse the most committed, creative, energetic, and gifted of its members into a nucleus a nucleus characterized by an atmosphere of unflagging spiritual creativity, active love, and purity“ (Andreev, 1959, _eng.htm).  Modern network structures that pursue noble goals also evoke the concept of the “City of God” (Civitas Dei) suggested in by Saint Augustine, one of the Farthers of the Church, who contrasted it with Civitas Terrestris, the terrestrial city that is dominated by the political system.

Analogies are of limited value in terms of scientific research. The analogies between network structures and religious projects are drawn only to emphasize the necessity of creating the nucleus (core) of an incipient network. The nucleus should represent a group of active enthusiasts that aims to set up network structures and propagate them in society.  An example is provided by a spontaneous network in the Russian microbiological community. Its core was formed by enthusiastic researchers that were ready to work day and night in their labs just for the sake of it, without getting any material reward (see Oleskin & Kirovskaya, 2007; Oleskin, 2014a). At this point, we re-emphasize the capacity of networks to promote the development of a novel kind of meritocracy that is based upon the increasing political and social influence of competent enthusiastic intellectuals.

Once the core (the initial hub) has been created, a network structure starts functioning and generating intellectual production that is exemplified by know-how in the field of political technology, new drug recipes, or strategies for protecting the environment from pollution. Any success achieved by a network creates a positive feedback loop: it serves to further promote network organizational principles, to invite new people to be involved in the network’s activities, and to introduce network structures into new spheres of social and political life. The features of network structures that set them apart from both hierarchies and (quasi-)markets actually promote their successful development. One of such network-specific features is the tendency towards the domination of altruism over selfishness. This enables network members to establish long-term relationships based on loyalty and trust (the social capital as denoted by Putnam, 2000). Such social capital may develop in both secular and religious networks; in the latter, it is in conformity with the moral principles of most believers. Many believers are ready to do good to people without the influence of any hierarchy. A religious person does need any mundane hierarchy: there is only one boss (the Allmighty), so that any other hierarchy is secondary and temporary.

Nonetheless, secular factors can also stimulate the development of network structures. Network structures dealing with humanitarian or democracy-promoting projects can establish situational alliances—actually higher-order networks—involving representatives of socialist and communist movements, even if these movements are structured as hierarchical political parties. In particular, the age-related features of young members of such parties (e.g., the Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt) or the Communist Pary of the Russian Federation) predispose them to take an interest in innovative political and social strategies and techniques if they are compatible with their views. It is likely, therefore, that network structures that implement quasi-socialist and meritocratic principles will receive sufficiently much attention not only among believers but also among young activists that hold pro-socialist or pro-communist views.

The new possibilities for network structures opened by modern information technology include various options ranging from online questionnaires to flash mob techniques. Obviously, distributed, decentralized structural  patterns are especially prominent in many virtual networks. Online network users increasingly implement the principle of sharing their intellectual property with other users, who can freely access them. This promotes the development of a collectivist outlook among online network members and, ultimately, the establishment of a quasi-socialist, communal social system in the  online world.   “Who would have believed that poor farmers could secure $100 loans from perfect strangers on the other side of the planet—and pay them back? That is what Kiva does with peer-to-peer lending. Every public health care expert declared confidently that sharing was fine for photos, but no one would share their medical records. But PatientsLikeMe, where patients pool results of treatments to better their own care, prove that collective action can trump both doctors and privacy scares. The increasingly common habit of sharing what you’re thinking (Twitter), what you’re reading (StumbleUpon), your finances (Wesabe), your everything (the Web) is becoming a foundation of our culture. Doing it while collaboratively building encyclopedias, news agencies, video archives, and software in groups that span continents, with people you don’t know and whose class is irrelevant—that makes political socialism seem like the logical next step”  (Kelly, 2006) . Since an involvement in the  activities of many online networks, including Wikipedia, implies sufficient competence in the relevant field(s) of science, the IT-promoted network socialism is based upon meritocratic principles.

Ideally, networks, hierarchies, and (quasi-)markets should harmoniously interact—and that is why mediator structures are of paramount importance. However, in reality, competition and even conflicts between network and non-network structures cannot be excluded. In particular, political hierarchies may suppress the development of network structures or try to exercise control over them. In such a situation, networks are forced to accept the challenge and to make efforts to protect their organizational integrity and defend their specific interests. In a network—hierarchy conflict, networks can use the advantages that they enjoy due to their organizational pattern. For example, their distributed, decentralized structure enables them to use specific techniques including:

  • Infiltration. Network members penetrate into the competing hierarchy and occupy as many intrahierarchical positions as possible.
  • Percolation. The network makes efforts to secure at least a passive support of a maximal number of citizens, so that they are not expected to help the hierarchy of the government during its conflict with the network.

We re-emphasize the comparison between networks and mycorhiza. The roots of hierarchical structures are gradually overgrown by networks that cannot be controlled by them.

At the beginning of this work, we mentioned scale-free networks that were described in Barabasi’s work (2002). They contain influential nodes (hubs) linked with a large number of other nodes. Such hubs are called partial leaders in some network structures exemplified by hiramas that were described in our recent publications (see Oleskin, 2014a, b). In contrast to a hierarchical structure, there is no single central hub in such a network.

In terms of the bottom-up strategy considered in this subsection, it is possible that such partial leaders create temporary hierarchical substructures within decentralized networks. Such hierarchical substructures can establish links between the network and other organizations (function as external leaders) and promote the general image of the network in society. The substructure can familiarize the network’s partners and the people at large with decisions made by the whole network structure. These decisions, e.g., concerning charitable projects or environmental problems, can be verbalized in a language that is understandable to representatives of hierarchical structures such as bureaucracies.  Actually, the hierarchical substructure inside an otherwise flat network that is set up to facilitate the network’s interaction with other social structures is a variation on the theme of mediator structures  that was considered above.

Importantly, both the top-down and the bottom-up strategy concern not only the promotion of network structures per se but also the establishment of mediator structures that should acquire a legal status (that could be stipulated in the Constitution). Mediator structures should be also supported by a “critical mass” of enthusiasts that realize that a prerequisite for the successful development of all parts of the modern-day world, including East Europe, is harmonious interactivity between different kinds of structures, i.e., hierarchies, (quasi-)markets, and networks (which can be based on a large number of different scenarios that incorporate elements of the network paradigms used in biological systems).  It should be re-emphasized that the spreading of network structures in human society actually promotes the implementation of the basic principles of network socialism.


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[1] The term “substate-” in the sense “related to network structures formed inside political parties and other officially hierarchical political bodies” is the authors’ neologism.

[2] The broad term “slave-owning system” used by Struve and other Russian scholars included the Asian and the Antique system that were distinguished by Marx.

[3] In political terms, glocalism is a current trend that weakens state- (nation-) level political structures by activating two mutually complementary processes: (1) the strengthening of local-level social and political structures; (2) the establishment of international structures including politically influential global organizations.

[4]  For instance., only hierarchical structures, and not decentralized networks, can be used, in most cases, by the defense and  law-enforcement agencies