Collective Intelligence and Swarms in the Red Insurgency
I’ve been thinking about some of the features of the insurgent Red Religion’s Collective Intelligence (CI) that made it cohere independently of the ideologies, values and feelings of its congregation. This was written in response to Jordan Greenhall’s excellent Situational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition, accepting his characterisation of the Blue Church CI and the Red Religion CI for the sake of discussion. Specifically, this is about Front One: Communications Infrastructure.
What is collective intelligence?
Process by which a group/network generates options and decides on a course of action.
In the context of the Communications Infrastructure, the goal of the insurgent Red Religion CI was to achieve the election of Donald Trump by amplifying supportive messages, memes and signal while running interference and amplifying noise on Hillary messaging. The incentive for participation was the glory of receiving attention. Different tasks had different structures: creation and idea generation was distributed with distant edges; not even demonstrated allegiance was necessary; deciding which messages were amplified was carried out in a decentralised way, working through a hierarchy of those who command more attention.
Blue Church collective intelligence for both creation and amplification was centralised, carried out by directly remunerated entities.
How does a CI cohere?: I am he as you are he as you are me as we are all together
One reading of the insurgent Red CI (decentralised/distributed) vs Blue CI (centralised) is that the coherence of the New CI is not determined by an external factor at all, but rather around the information infrastructure itself. The network is not united by a feeling, like anger, or ideology, such as white nationalism. Instead, what unifies the disparate membership (including some traditional Blues) is the fact that the CI swarm is structured in such a way that the idea that attains memetic critical mass is rewarded by attention amplification by the “leadership” regardless of which sect initiated it.
The route to leadership amplification is visible. It does not take place in editorial board rooms but on open-access messaging boards, social media, and in real-time on Periscope, Facebook Live, and streaming Youtube shows.
As an example of the dynamics of the CI swarm, Trump appeared responsive to those ideas that seemed to gain the most credence. Hillary’s health was something that lots of sects of Red Religion’s CI coalesced on and so it found its way into his performance (he questioned Hillary’s “stamina” at debates — the highest stage of the time). His ability to incorporate those points that the CI coalesced around vitalised a network and created a cohesion even where there were differences with his positions; for example, his public show of support for gays. Even though some Red CI sects express deeply homophobic views, being a part of a swarm that reflected those coalesced ideas was a worthwhile tradeoff. Libertarians supported him despite his promise to impose trade barriers.
Central to all of the dynamics and elements of the insurgent Red Religion’s CI is the currency of attention. Bringing attention to someone’s creation is a fairly egalitarian way of rewarding their contribution. Each participant can grant their own attention and in so doing bring an idea to the attention of others. Lending their attention comes at no financial cost and requires no production infrastructure. Everybody has attention to give.
This egalitarian approach contrasts with paywalls, subscriptions, and other transactions of fiat currency for access to information. In this world, Donald Trump is a central bank that is happy to mint money. A meme that rises onto his podium achieves the ultimate payoff.
This may have implications for some of the new distributed social media projects like Steemit or Akasha, where there is an actual currency or token transaction coupled to attention.
Group decisions: I am bee as you are bee as we are bee
When bees need to decide which of various potential new homes to move to, some bees take up a new role — scout. These bees fly out in search of suitable dry, warm spaces about the size of a couple of footballs. Each bee returns with an account of the place it has found. Each bee carries out a dance which, through the strength of its enthusiasm for the site, recruits new bees to visit the site. The next wave of bees head out to the site nominated by the initial scout that recruited them. Then the next wave returns and performs its own recruitment dances. At some point, enough bees are convinced by the overall enthusiasm that one nominee becomes the chosen one. At that stage, one-third of the bees swarm to a new home, while the scouts fly back and forth between the new site and the cloud of bees, ensuring that their sisters don’t stray.
The Red Religion had plenty of scouts who were originators, amplifiers, and guides to the final place. These were figures who were “always on” — the bulk of their messaging was pertinent to the task at hand. It is worth noting that many of these scouts had a way of monetising attention. They sold books, hats, radio shows, apps, or male vitality pills.
These scouts were two-way amplifiers, picking up on ideas from the rest of their swarm to amplify and offer up the chain, and echoing the pronouncements of their lead @realdonaldtrump — specially when those pronouncements seemed to acknowledge the ideas that had risen through the swarm. They also amplified actions by Trump that they had “called” or “predicted” and reinforced the idea that actions or pronouncements had started within the swarm congregation.
There were institutional scouts: Breitbart was rewarded with the ultimate attention, a seat in the Oval office; Infowars was rewarded with the attention of a White House press accreditation.
The Blue Church had no equivalents, certainly no equivalents of sufficient traction — in part because the Blue CI leadership was not responsive in the same way. Hillary’s “common touch” was not her picking up and amplifying memes from the Blue swarm, it was tapping into cultural artifacts of the high Blue Church — “Whats in your bag?” or “hot sauce.” Celebrities are not scouts; they do not amplify up, they broadcast down. Part of their value is the perception that they are originators of their IP. Red Religion CI scouts take pleasure in their role as amplifiers and are known as much for that as for creating their own memes.
Image from @vmishRRa Vishal Mishra at Right Relevance http://www.rightrelevance.com/insights#us-presidential-election-2016-final-twitter-analysis
This is a representation of “high voice users” (or scouts) on both sides: on the left, Hillary; on the right, Donald. Hillary has far fewer scouts, represented here as thick lines. Trump, on the other hand, has a throng of scouts, all focused on him, driving their followers to him with their back and forth interactions. There was a clear hierarchy of decision-making and amplification, even while there was a distributed meme creation.
Let a million followers bloom
Red Religion membership was not prescriptive; its CI cast its net far and wide in search of memes that would rise through its chain of people deciding on whether to amplify or not.
Even non-Church jokers could get in on the act. Pepe the Frog started as a joke on messaging boards, where its rise in that edge of the network was determined partly by the roll of the digital (post-numbering) dice.
In the end, it rose all the way to the top, with @realdonaldtrump amplifying it, and then even Hillary gave it air time. In fact, the Blue Church seemed to give more airtime to the Red Religion’s congregation than to its own, even while Trump openly shunned the centralised press. What came out of the Red Relgion’s congregation had such innate replicability that even its opponents couldn’t help but be vectors for it.
You don’t even have to pin your colors to the flag (anonymity)
Much of the creation work was carried out by unidentifiable participants. Serious amplifiers and scouts were identifiable, but the network was open to “non-verified” sources.
Thick skin/ no safe space
Within the Red Religion’s hive and all its different sects, there is an attitude of relentless mockery. There is no “safe space” and anybody calling out a particular “negative” behaviour receives abuse in return. There is a staunch “free speech at all costs” ethos that extended the catchment area for Red CI meme creation; and this in turn pushed Trump deep into the long tail.
A related element of this Red Religion’s CI was that it didn’t need to bring everyone along. An idea just needed enough amplification — enough commits — and opposition to it did not matter. Compare with the Blue Church, which at times felt like it wanted to achieve unanimity rather than consensus; meaning every sect effectively had veto power that it could exercise if its set of interests was not adequately reflected in the broadcast message.
No Church can be only online and the Red CI was backed up by the mass rallies. One of the most interesting phenomena was also a meme that crossed from a digital one into real-life action for followers. MAGA3x was a campaign to get followers to convince 3 of their real life acquaintances to join the Church and vote Trump — evangelise. Scouts involved in this campaign even created scripts and “how to” guides.
Red Insurgency Combat:
Shifting point of attack
Trying to anticipate which line or lie from the broad Red Religion CI to rebut exhausted the Blue machinery and served to amplify ideas that Trump was never going to amplify himself. Pizzagate didn’t get into the public eye via Trump, but via Blue Church responses to scouts.
The coherence around process instead of around ideology/sentiment makes it difficult to pin down and criticise. “Pence is a homophobe” — but “Milo is a standard bearer”….”Spencer is an anti-Semite” — well, “Cernovich is vociferously not.” Red CI has been able to use this to its advantage in a way Blue hasn’t (centralisation makes single points of failure).
What next for the children of Blue
As the Church falls away, the “children of Blue” will explode out in a Cambrian explosion and reach out to engage in all out culture war with the still nascent Red Religion.
In Indivisible.org, there is an example of a Blue Church succession. It still bears the hallmarks of the Blue Church, but is ceding its Latin and opening its knowledge to the flock. It may be enough to stall action by the Red Religion CI while children of the Blue regroup.
The new Blue will have to listen to its own edges, to Blues that, denied access to the pulpits and printing presses, found and mastered their own information infrastructures. But at the same time it may need to relax its need to bring everyone in on every decision and develop a hard skin during discourse.
It must not be a regressive attempt to reestablish Church. It probably can not simply ape the Red CI either. This is an exciting time to be around. Blue has been forced to shed its skin and now it is all up for redefinition just at a time when technologies and global circumstances look primed to force a new world upon us as well.