Monday, February 8, 2010

Starfish Limits

"The Apaches persevered because they were decentralized...[F]lexibility, shared power, ambiguity--made the Apaches immune to attacks that would have destroyed a centralized society."

Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider

This provocative thesis helps explain everything from the fall of the music industry to Al-Qaeda. The wonderful thing about generative metaphors is that they get you thinking -- and the story of Apaches, while certainly about perseverence, is not about immunity. Their decentralized structure helped them resist for a long time -- but ultimately they lost and were removed.

How long can decentralized resistance hold out against organized and relentless force coupled with inexorable and chaotic settlement? Aren't the corrosive elements of invading cultures -- disease,liquor, and religion -- also of a starfish quality--no one person is charge.

Could a larger,more settled Aztec population thwarted the bloodthirsty Spaniards if they had been a bit more decentralized? Maybe?

I still like the starfish and spider metaphor-- just wish the book had started in another way.

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