There are degrees of centralisation and decentralisation. They perhaps overlap a little in the middle but at one extreme is total autocratic control – dictatorship – and at the other anarchy by which I mean absence of any cohesive principle such as common standard or purpose and the lack of any ‘connection’ between individuals which puts it beyond any form of decentralisation and into simple chaos.
Decentralisation is not about a complete lack of order or organisation, more about absence of power and control over individuals by a group of people or an individual. Indeed, ‘centralisation’ on a local level such as a co-operative or communal organisation like a ‘family business’ or enterprise where the local community get together to get things done without any requirement for ‘political oversight’ from outside. This works provided it doesn’t get too ‘big’.
I once worked as a consultant of a major UK public sector organisation. My role was to appraise the senior board of directors of ‘what was going on’ at the front line – the people who ‘did the work and interfaced with the end user customers (the source of funds for the organisation). The problem the directors were facing was they had no clear idea what was happening as between them and the first supervisory level of management there were eight layers of ‘middle-managers’ producing a dense ‘fog’ of information about the reality of the front line operation. To get to talk to them I had to carry a note of authorisation signed by the CEO whereas front line staff and supervisors were only too eager to talk to me once they knew my purpose.
There was a sort of job protection/creation system going on especially around levels four and five who didn’t really need to be there at all but found ways of making themselves indispensable. Eventually the organisation was restructured with only three levels of intermediate management and now operates much more efficiently.
As this demonstrates centralised organisations often get too big to operate efficiently and lose their way. The exception being when they are run by an individual Tsar or dictator like figure who insists everything goes through them – and this doesn’t really work that well either.
Let’s get back to the nitty gritty. How do we counter this trend which has become far too embedded in our lives at all levels?
In the past it would likely have been violent revolution which some people lately are harking back to despite knowing it has little effect. You can cut the head off the King but a new ‘king’ arises. Oliver Cromwell and Napoleon come to mind, both later replaced by another monarch. The revolutionary leaders become the centralised leaders. Stalin and Mao Zedong replaced their Emperors but did just the same things.
Replacing one centralised regime with another defeats the object of the revolution.
Rather than a revolution we need an evolution. We need to find new ways of doing things, new ways of living, no longer being dependent on ‘the way things are done round here’.
Let’s join the dots: centralisation, decentralisation and freedom are all about one thing – control (and the power which goes with it) and it’s up to you and I if we want freedom – control of our own lives by and for ourselves. Not being controlled from the centre which is really about their freedom to tell you and I what to do and how to live, but the ‘decentralised’ converse.
One of the problems is it is very easy for people to fall into the central control trap. There are four key areas where those ‘in charge’ get control over us: money, food, energy and communications/information. By controlling these they control us and it’s time to assume control over our own lives.
The difference between now and the revolutionary era is we now have the means to do it and the technology to make it real without fighting. We must become ‘control freaks’, not in the sense of controlling others, but in investigating and understanding how we are being controlled by others and how we can quietly take it back.