Requisite Hypocrisy

The city is charged with tension and a sense of urgency. After years of oppression, people’s frustration has reached its boiling point. The streets are flooded with bodies, united in their demand for equality. As you navigate through the crowd, you are just one among the countless anonymous faces. Only those next to you can see you and hear you.

The air is thick with determination and rhythmic chants. Every step brings you closer to the center square, where a stage stands as a symbol of hope and a platform for change.

You ascend the stage. A hush falls over the crowd. All eyes are fixed on the figure that has emerged from their midst. Now everybody can see you. You are given a mike. Now everybody can hear you. You are no longer equal, but only this way you can make the case for equality and help it happen.

Means rarely share values with goals. It can be temporary, just a learning stage, a Wittgenstanian ladder you can throw away after you climb up. Or, an ostensibly necessary compromise, like the oikonomia (same word as economy) in the Orthodox church, where you can deviate from the letter of the law to adhere to the spirit of the law. But in many cases, it is a necessity. A requisite hypocrisy.

You need a platform from which to talk against platforms.

Requisite hypocrisy is a phenomenon in the broader not-walking-the-talk family where we have all good, bad and ugly folk, from the proverbial “The cobbler always wears the worst shoes” and “the end justifies the means” through the common backtracking of politicians to the Brunssonian organizational hypocrisy which is “a way of handling conflicts by reflecting them in inconsistencies among talk, decisions, and actions.” In that landscape, requisite hypocrisy looks like a narrow peak where, if you move a bit forward or backward, you can easily roll down to the valley of common hypocrisy or other variants.

This risk is present from the moment you first step up on the platform.

Requisite hypocrisy is another manifestation of the law of requisite variety, just like requisite inefficiency. But while requisite inefficiency is justified by the uncertainty of the future, requisite hypocrisy is determined by the affordances of the present.

Examples time.

While I’m advocating protocols over platforms, I can’t help noticing that decentralized protocols like Authenticated Transfer Protocol (Bluesky), ActivityPub (Mastodon), Nostr, and IPFS are all developed by collaboration on GitHub, a centralized platform controlled by Microsoft.

I’m also advocating, and with similar motives, data-centric over application-centric architecture. And yet, often, the best way to have people on board for data-centricity and make the case against application-centricity is, ironically, to deliver an excellent application. An interoperable backend that can prove itself in the future has a higher chance of being accepted if brought about with a good front end that can demonstrate its value in the present.

The fact that decentralized protocols are developed using GitHub is also a minor compromise, especially when compared with a platform at the other end of the spectrum, Facebook. While the centralized nature of GitHub alerts for minor risks in the future, Facebook is a textbook case for major damage in the present.

Facebook zucked over three billion users into its closed ecosystem, where the user’s data is the currency, and the user’s attention is the commodity. If the value of the web is in its potential to ensure pluralism, Facebook is anti-web on several levels. In a noisy room, you can only hear the strongest voice and the others cancel each other out. In the same way, for many people, Facebook is the main source of information. This repeats inside Facebook, where the algorithms amplify what is engaging regardless of whether it is valuable or truthful.

Facebook has the same architecture of tight coupling between applications and data typical of all corporations but with the opposite effect. Corporations increase their technical debt, while Facebook increases their profits. That would still be fine if the same mechanisms that generate it were not used unintentionally or purposefully to spread misinformation, hate, and propaganda. And this is only going to increase in the coming years.

That’s why I’m not on Facebook. I didn’t delete my account. Never created one. There was no need to wait for Cambridge Analytica, Internet Research Agency, Trump, BrexitMyanmar’s Rohingya genocide, or the Russian propaganda on Facebook to understand what was going on there. A lot of time was gained on top of keeping personal integrity.

But there is another way to look at it. If those like me were there and gained some followers, we could have made more people aware of the algorithmic atrocities of Facebook. That could be another case of a requisite hypocrisy for a good cause.

By the same token, an obvious case of personal integrity can be seen from a certain perspective as some other kind of hypocrisy down the valley.

We have established that the necessity of requisite hypocrisy is a matter of availability, but it can also be a matter of paradox, of having a blind spot. When you don’t trust anyone, you trust a TNO-technology. Tolerant people don’t tolerate intolerant ones. Even the opening scene can be seen as a mixture of needing a platform to talk against platforms and not treating all kinds of inequality equally.

Now, let’s go back to the case of developing decentralized protocols on a centralized platform. Git is, by design, decentralized or distributed, or better still, local-first, so it can be used the way you want. The risk with GitHub comes from the way it lures centralized usage of Git, but even more from its excellent collaborative features and automated workflows. They bring huge benefits but at the price of dependency. Currently, there is no viable alternative. But things are changing. There are solutions like hypergit, which is a peer-to-peer Git, or DXOS, which is a promising local-first collaboration software. These are nascent technologies, far from having GitHub’s scalability or functionality. But if one day such an alternative is available and the decentralized protocols are still developed on GitHub, that won’t be a requisite hypocrisy anymore, but something down the valley.

First published on Link&Think

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