Power and Influence Structures

One might describe politics as the art of building power structures. But power structures also exist in society independently of anything people intentionally create.

Amongst the people I know are some who have little or no influence over my activities, and some who can have a great effect on what I think and do, not because of any ex-officio authority but because of the respect I feel for them. Amongst the people who know me, there are many who allow me no influence over them at all, but there is a miniscule number of sadly benighted individuals who let me influence their thoughts and actions. So, like everyone else in our society, I have a place in the informal, unwritten, but very real power structure which is inherent in the human social network.

Sometimes parts of this fundamental inherent power structure are congruent to the official power structure of a corporation or political body. During my years as a software/systems person at a medium-sized Canadian R&D company, I had one very productive period when the person I was working for, officially, was also a person whom I had great respect for. During one sad period I was supposed to report to a person whom I had almost no respect for, and that turned out to be a most unproductive time for me.

From this, and similar experiences reported by other people, I conclude that the fundamental power structure based on personal feelings of loyalty and respect is by far the more important structure, and that the hierarchies that corporate management and political operators build is something of little real consequence. Of course you may have to obey your boss, but if you don't respect him, you will do it grudgingly and even if you try hard you will probably not be very productive or very happy in that situation.

As I recall it, the software and systems we created very often reflected the views of those we really trusted to guide our work, regardless of their official position in the corporate hierarchy. This illustrates the other side of the coin: not only do you work poorly for a boss you don't respect, but you actually end up taking some guidance from those you do respect, whether or not it is their job to supervise you.

I think the best system would be one in which the natural structure formed by our feelings and attitudes was completely congruent or isomorphic with the "official" structure recorded in the organization charts of a corporation or a country.

This leads me to suggest that our political machinery of parties, meetings, ballots, nominations, and elections should be replaced or at very least supplemented by a strictly empirical political science which seeks to find out who influences whom, and thus to map out the natural power structure.

I think this could be accomplished with the aid of a bit of modern computer technology, which would help us perform an analysis something like the analysis performed by practicioners of sociometrics, who use questionaires, matrices, and graph theory to construct graphs called sociograms which indicate the social relationships which hold amongst people in some social group.

Rather than simply constructing a sociogram to see who is friends with whom, however, I think we need to investigate and map out strong personal influences. The results of this would be essentially a very large directed graph, and in a well-organized society it would be a connected graph. By analyzing this graph, we could identify "ultimate sources" of political power, i.e. people who influence many others (either directly or indirectly), but are not simply passing on the influences of others, and these sources would be our natural leaders, and may then be ranked by the number of people directly or indirectly influenced by them.

I think if we did this we would get results that are quite strikingly different from what we get with our conventional political machinery. There are (still) many people who respect Bill Clinton, (to choose an example at random), but he is far from an ultimate source, since there are many people he respects and turns to for guidance. He may be a good conduit for the ideas and judgements of others, but he is not an originator of new ideas or thoroughly researched judgements.

Graph theory and sociometry have been around for quite some time, so it is quite possible that somebody else has made similar observations. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who has thoughts along the same lines, or knows were similar ideas have appeared in print.

Copyright © 1998 Douglas P. Wilson    

Copyright © 2009   Douglas Pardoe Wilson

Other relevant content:

New: Social Technology through Diagrams

New: Social Techs novel online

New: Social Technology Blog

New: Social Technology Wiki

Please see these web pages:

The main Social Technology page.

Find Compatibles , the key page, with the real solution to all other problems explained

Technological Fantasies , a page about future technology

Social Tech a page about Social Technology, technology for social purposes.  I think I was the first person to use this phrase on the Internet, quite a long time ago.

Roughly corresponding to these web pages are the following blogs :

Social Technology the main blog, hosted on this site, with posts imported from the following blogger.com blogs, which still exist and are useable.

Find Compatibles devoted to matching people with friends, lovers, jobs, places to live and so on, but doing so in ways that will actually work, using good math, good algorithms, good analysis.

Technological Fantasies devoted to future stuff, new ideas, things that might be invented or might happen, such as what is listed above and below.

Sex-Politics-Religion is a blog about these important topics, which I have been told should never be mentioned in polite conversation.  Alright that advice does seem a bit dated, but many people are still told not to bring up these subjects around the dinner table.

I believe I was the first person on the Internet to use the phrase Social Technology -- years before the Web existed.

Those were the good old days, when the number of people using the net exceeed the amount of content on it, so that it was easy to start a discussion about such an upopular topic.  Now things are different.  There are so many web pages that the chances of anyone finding this page are low, even with good search engines like Google.   Oh, well.

By Social Technology I mean the technology for organizing and maintaining human society.  The example I had most firmly in mind is the subject of  Find Compatibles , what I consider to be the key page, the one with the real solution to all other problems explained.

As I explained on my early mailing lists and later webpages, I find that social technology has hardly improved at all over the years.   We still use representative democracy, exactly the same as it was used in the 18th century.  By contrast, horse and buggy transporation has been replaced by automobiles and airplanes, enormous changes.

In the picture below you will see some 18th century technology, such as the ox-plow in the middle of the picture.  How things have changed since then in agricultural technology.  But we still use chance encounters, engagements and marriages to organize our home life and the raising of children.  

I claim that great advances in social technology are not only possible but inevitable.  I have written three novels about this, one preposterously long, 5000 pages, another merely very very long, 1500 pages.  The third is short enough at 340 pages to be published some day.  Maybe.  The topic is still not interesting to most people.   I will excerpt small parts of these novels on the web sometime, maybe even post the raw text for the larger two.

This site includes many pages dating from 1997 to 2008 which are quite out of date.  They are included here partly to show the development of these ideas and partly to cover things the newer pages do not.  There will be broken links where these pages referenced external sites.  I've tried to fix up or maiintain all internal links, but some will probably have been missed.   One may wish to look at an earlier version of this page , rather longer, and at an overview of most parts of what can be called a bigger project.

Type in this address to e-mail me.  The image is interesting.  See Status of Social Technology

Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, Douglas Pardoe Wilson

I have used a series of e-mail address over the years, each of which eventually became out of date because of a change of Internet services or became almost useless because of spam.  Eventually I stuck with a Yahoo address, but my inbox still fills up with spam and their spam filter still removes messages I wanted to see.  So I have switched to a new e-mail service.  Web spiders should not be able to find it, since it is hidden in a jpeg picture.   I have also made it difficult to reach me.  The picture is not a clickable link.  To send me e-mail you must want to do so badly enough to type this address in.  That is a nuisance, for which I do apologize, but I just don't want a lot of mail from people who do not care about what I have to say.


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