RBPEA: The other Bolshevism

Okay, I admit it: I’m passionate. I care. To many people, though, it seems that those are considered to be major faults…

Yesterday we had what’s called a General Election in Britain – the once-every-few-years opportunity for the populace to take part in something that has a very thin resemblance to ‘democracy’ (whatever that might be). As I mentioned in the previous post, in essence all we were offered was a choice between poor, bad, worse, even worse, and suicidally-atrocious – all of them merely variations on a theme of ‘squabbling over a single deckchair sliding off the deck of the Titanic’, so it wasn’t really much of a choice. I’ll admit I tend to agree more than a little with the old anarchist slogans of “Whoever you voted for, the government got in”, and perhaps even more, “Don’t vote, it only encourages them”…

From the election-results published this morning, seems that we’ve ended up with – my opinion only – something well over towards the ‘even worse’ end of that spectrum: the party in question has long had an only-thinly-veiled commitment to ever-more-rampant kleptocracy, and that’s not likely to change. But in practice it wouldn’t all that much difference anyway: all of the parties are advocating even further extensions of the current paediarchy – ‘rule by, for and on behalf of the childish’. And all of them represent mere variations on what we might describe as ‘the other Bolshevism‘, in which an arbitrarily-selected ‘something-centrism‘ is allowed to run rampant, destroying any awareness of the whole-as-whole.

Why ‘Bolshevism’? Well, for that, we need a brief detour into history. The Bolsheviks were, in reality, a tiny splinter group of the Communist Party in pre-revolutionary Russia. Not only extremist, even by the Communist Party standards of the time, but, even more, obsessed with their own self-importance, that their ideology alone was ‘The Truth’, and that all other views were false, heresy or worse. (Yeah, we’ve heard this one before…) So far so predictable, in terms of inane self-centrism. But the one real skill that they did have was in rigging the game of so-called ‘majority rule’: tricks such as changing the time or location of a meeting, for example, so that, when other people didn’t turn up, they alone could claim a ‘majority’. And that’s what ‘bolshevik’ literally means: ‘those of the majority’. Courtesy of those game-plays, the vast real majority became shut out of the game, dismissed as the ‘mensheviks’ – literally, ‘those of the minority’. The rest, as they say, is history – often very bleak history at that…

The ideology may be different, but ‘majority-rule’ systems always create similarly skewed results. And that’s even more true in an electoral system such as that in Britain, with multiple parties, non-compulsory voting, and a first-past-the-post system for determining ‘the winner’ of any election. In this specific case, the ‘winning’ party gains absolute control of government on the basis of the votes of perhaps 30% of a voter-turnout of around 70% at most. Do the math: what that means is that around four-fifths of the electorate did not vote for the ‘winning’ party. And yet, despite that blunt fact, a ‘winning’ party can claim an absolute ‘mandate’ to do whatever they wish: and, in the ‘majority-rule’ context of government, there’s almost no means to stop them doing so. Bolshevism indeed…

(And yet politicians wonder why, in Britain, trust in government has slumped over the past half-century from near 80% to a current all-time low of less than 20%. Hmm…)

Note, though, that this would have been the same whichever party was the supposed ‘winner’: each party has its own highly-selective ‘something-centrism’, and it’s the ‘something-centrism’ that is the real problem, even more than what that specific ‘something-centrism’ focusses on. (Perhaps especially so since there’s so little actual difference between the parties.) The only real hope we would have had for a better overall outcome would have been what’s called a ‘hung parliament’, in which no party can claim unquestioned majority, and therefore all are forced to negotiate with each other, for a somewhat more balanced view overall. But in this case it looks likely that we won’t even have that. Oh well.

Yet this isn’t about politics.

(Not much, anyway.)

That’s because ‘the other Bolshevism’ is an inherent risk in every ‘majority-rule’ context – whatever the context for that form of ‘majority-rule’.

Whenever anyone has an agenda of some kind; whenever anyone indulges in self-referential circular-proofs and ‘policy-based evidence‘; whenever anyone falls for any form of ‘term-hijack‘; that’s when the alarm-bells should go off, because it means they’re already well on the way to full-blown ‘something-centrism’. If the respective person or group is in a majority-rule context – or even a context in which some equivalent ‘absolute-priority’ can be set up and maintained in some way – then we’re looking at an almost certain breakdown of systemic-awareness, from dynamic fractal balance:

…to everything other than the chosen themes becoming ‘hidden in plain sight’:

…to a full-blown term-hijack, which everything other than the selected themes being fully-hidden, and describable only in terms of those selected themes:

By which stage, as we saw in that post on the dangers of ‘anything-centrism’, the only viable option is a very large crowbar – sometimes not so metaphorical, either…

In current British politics, for example, it’s become almost impossible to describe even human themes such as healthcare in any terms other than money. When dealing with IT-centrism in enterprise-architecture, every discussion of information-needs (or just about anything else, in fact) is immediately dragged back to computer-based IT. When dealing with executive-level clients, it’s often almost impossible to describe value in any terms other than money and/or the largely mythical notion of ‘shareholder-value’. All of these systems-perception failures arise because someone has assigned themselves some usually-spurious form of ‘majority-rule’.

To counter this – perhaps especially in ourselves – we need to remember the fundamental precepts of all systems-thinking:

  • everywhere and nowhere is ‘the centre’ of the system, all at the same time
  • every element of the system depends on every other element of the system
  • every element is necessary for the system in its current form
  • every element in the current form of the system is exactly as important as every other element

The key point to remember here is that, within any socioeconomic or sociotechnical system, any form of ‘something-centrism’ – perhaps particularly that which is imposed by ‘the Other Bolshevism’ – will cause dysfunction within that system. In short, Not A Good Idea… – You Have Been Warned, perhaps?

Implications for enterprise-architecture

The real challenge of this, for enterprise-architects, is that in most business contexts, the Other Bolshevism will seem so, well, normal – “just the way things are” and all that. It’s certainly a common experience that all too many managers hold to the view of Terry Pratchett’s Patrician, the ruler of the fictional city of Ankk-Morpork:

He too believed in the principle of ‘one man, one vote’: he was The Man, and he had The Vote.

We perhaps need to train ourselves to be a bit less easily accepting of this, because it is inherently dysfunctional, causing all manner of ineffectivenesses, inefficiencies, imbalances and hidden risks throughout the enterprise as a system.

For some practical guidance on this, perhaps take a look at some of the following posts:

Or, from a more service-oriented perspective:

We also need to take real care around the risks of ‘anything-centrism’, as discussed in previous posts in this series.

Yes, a lot of this could well look ‘political‘: but too bad, bluntly, because the work does need to be done, whether people like it or not. It may perhaps be wise, though, to keep discussion of much of this with the architecture-community alone – much as for key-stakeholders’ ‘gold-platedvanity-requirements, for example – and only take action to embed it within an architecture somewhat ‘by stealth‘.

And yes, it could be a bit risky: but we do what we can, anyway. Just take care not to make it too much of a career-killer risk, that’s all.

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