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Anarchy in the Fediverse: when bureaucrats creeps in

I stumbled upon the following discussion What would a fediverse “governance” body look like?

#Bluesky thinking of a “governance” body of the fediverse - If it does not have elephants running around throwing paper planes its likely the wrong structure

I find this sad but fascinating.

If you find yourself in a space without rulers it's just a matter of time before, more or less well meaning, bureaucrats start creeping in. "We" are suddenly in need of a "structure", "system" or "governance" as a goal necessary in itself, not to solve a particular problem. I'm guessing the reasoning goes something along the lines of that it's a good thing to have this structure in place for when problems arise.

It's of course important to keep in mind the possibility of ending up with The Tyranny of Structurelessness if you don't consider the question of how you make decisions but every situation is unique and when the "we" is so vague in this case it doesn't make much sense to even consider forming a governing body.

ActivityPub is an open, decentralized social networking protocol and The Fediverse currently consists of ~6000 servers taking to each other. These servers are governed in all sort of ways, coops, one-person shows, orgs, groups of friends, benign dictatorships, you name it. The Fediverse itself could perhaps somewhat accurately be described as an example of anarchy in action. Entities voluntarily interacting without any hierarchy. The development of the software, e.g. the flagship Mastodon, might be another story, I haven't looked into it but only the actual network is of interest here. I don't see the point of imposing a governing body on ourselves, that in the best case will be ineffective and useless.

When highly questionable mastodon instances started popping up, people spontaneously started sharing block lists to cut these instances off from the rest of the network. No governance body dusted off the people's stick and told the admins to do so. Given the opportunity, people are generally pretty OK at solving problems together.

Among anarchists the creeping bureaucrats is a well known phenomena and it almost seems like an inevitable fact of activism and political organizing in general that any social movement will be ruined by these people.

When you have an interesting project with liberatory potential or just practical value, you can be sure as hell that the bureaucrats will show up and practice their entryism and in the process most likely suck out all of the energy and momentum of the project.

You can't win against these people because they are excellent at hogging up space and time with endless discussions where any attempt at keeping them at bay will slowly but surely completely drain you of all of your energy. They are often well-spoken and seem to lack any hobbies and interests besides from activism. Because of this they tend to end up in these "democratically" elected positions since other people enthusiastic for whatever project probably didn't join up for the organizational politics. If you ever attended a political meeting you probably can relate to this.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of anarcho-bureaucrats as well. While anarchism can be an effective cure to this problem anarchists are just people.

There is some truth in that Anarchism in Practice Is Often Radically Boring Democracy but it doesn't have to be like that. Some times it makes sense to have long meetings on how to do things but often it's enough to just do things together in a non-hierarchical way with somewhat like-minded people. This makes anarchy something fun and spontaneous.

I've been in this game enough to come to the conclusion that the only way to win is not to play their game. Get out, take the good people and split off to form a new group. Another option is to forcefully resist the bureaucrats and push them out or limit their opportunities to impose their agenda while making it clear that this is behavior is unacceptable. This is challenging in practice since you want to be inviting and make people feel welcome. Non-anarchists might also welcome the bureaucrats with open arms making you the bad guy.

I have nothing against rigid organizations per se, sometimes a very formal organization is the least worst option to go forward but I don't think it's a good idea to have it as a default.

I would like to end this post with some recommendations for further reading on this subject. CrimethInc's From Democracy to Freedom: The Difference Between Government and Self-Determination and Anarchist Critique of Radical Democracy: The Impossible Argument by Markus Lundström. Cathy Levine's The Tyranny of Tyranny is also worth reading.

Let the bureaucrats rot away in their meetings.