power structure

A power structure is any stable means of decision making that can guarantee that resources to empower those who are supposed to carry out the decision are delivered and that there are consequences for failure to deliver either the resources or the result.

In other words, a power structure carries out command and control functions, permitting many bodies to act in some circumstances as if they were one. A single command hierarchy, the simplest example, as used in police and military situations, puts a single trusted person in charge of many people, and literally gives that person, the leader, the power to order them into situations that have high risk of bodily harm and death. This model is also assumed in politics as usual though there are variant models that emerged via ethical traditions and democracy to share power among several distinct castes or "silos", each of which has specific and different expertise, and which distrusts the others in formal and well-defined ways.


The consul or co-chair model puts two people in an equal power relationship and empowers them to make a decision only where they agree. If they do not agree, no decision is taken and neither of the two individuals has any power to act or require others to act. This model was used in the Roman Republic, for many of today's academic conferences, and to solve various issues of gender in Green Party operations. See also dialectic.

Some argue that parenting may be the most basic example of consul relations but this is specific to one model of family which is not universal in all human culture.


Separating power in threes is thought to be more stable than pairs if only because there is someone to break ties, thus it is less likely to result in dangerous inaction in a crisis. A tensegrity balancing the tensions to achieve a stable structure - as in syntegration - offers a reasonable balance of forward progress and stability.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Roman Empire both relied on triumvarates briefly, but this was stable only for interim periods.

Modern theory of power structures tends to emphasize the division not into personal roles but rather into official roles, and in sharing those roles among multiple people. In doing so it seeks to gain all the advantages of the various different approaches above.

Enlightenment view

What is today considered civic best practice evolved through many good and bad examples. The first known catalogue of them was The Discourses by Niccolo Machiavelli also known for The Prince, his treatise on executive power.

The Englightenment model of so-called representative democracy as practiced in G8 nations today, follows precedents in both Europe (the separation of church and state, British parliamentary tradition) and the Americas ( Gayanshowaga ).

For instance, the balance of powers of the US Constitution is an abstracted triumvarate that separates executive/legislative/judiciary functions into the offices of the POTUS, US Congress and US Supreme Court respectively. Within each of those, very different assumptions about timing and gravity and constraints on decisions apply:

  • The US Congress was, as its name suggests, a representative and deliberative body with both popular (House) and regional (Senate) representation, intended to filter out any legislation strongly opposed by any large group in society or any one region. It could force legislation on a 2/3 vote but was otherwise subject to veto by the POTUS who was responsible to implement it:
  • The POTUS and VPOTUS were a decisive pair, elected together and originally thought to be a sort of consul model since impeachment or assassination of the POTUS would bring the VPOTUS to power. The POTUS would be checked by these potentials and would avoid actions that their VPOTUS would very violently oppose. Among the powers was the ability to veto legislation from the Congress and appoint members of the US Supreme Court:
  • The US Supreme Court was extremely deliberative and had absolute power to overturn any law incompatible with the US Constitution, but only once it had been brought to that body by a judicial process. That having been done, framing of that isssue by the Court would guide the lower courts and legislators.

Historically any such distributed power structures could be unstable without very difficult and risky vigilance and probity, including citizens risking their lives to point out abuse of power, of trust, and even just simple conflict of interest. Only over millenia did traditions such as free speech, freedom of the press, habeus corpus, no prior restraint, political privacy such as the secret ballot and anoynimity of critics, inhibitions against power figures being able to require response to hearsay, and other protections such as human rights evolve. Without these, no check on any power structure is thought to be possible. At least, there are no known examples of a power structure more complex than a single command hierarchy where these traditions are not respected. Thus they seem fundamental.

Embodiment view

An embodiment view of power structure suitable for this millenium of six or more billion humans on a finite and overstressed Earth, using ancient and modern dangerous technology for all purposes ethical and otherwise, is evolving.

of inherited traditions

Most theorists think that power structures inherited from past eras and ethical traditions have become dangerous to rely on. However, there are substantial social conservative movements that claim the opposite, that time has shown that wiser people rely more on tradition than new ideas and that conventional moral codes remain robust in the face of most modern challenges and choices. Some example such movements:

Some theories, e.g. spiral dynamics, emphasize that these views are simply different stable balances of the same tensions that secular humanism, social democracy, dialectical materialism or techno-optimism solve in different ways.

of non-body-based group entities

An embodiment view is concerned mostly to sort out the implications of relying on various group entity formations that are based on non-body-based assumptions but rather:

Each of these implies a groupthink of its own, and complex interactions between. One that most informed persons believe can only grow worse as variations proliferate, as ecological footprint of humans grows larger on average, and as technology changes to permit more energy use per capita.

of peacemaking

The inherited assumptions and borders may simply not be sustainable in any sense.

To simplify matters, an embodiment view of a power structure relies on sorting out the victims and actors in any one decision, asking merely "who benefits"?

This becomes then easier to model in a food chain metaphor where relations such as "eat or be eaten" can be explored and alternatives to that relation, e.g. Collaboration Ethic, Play Ethic, can be suggested. See also peacemaking, political virtues and Bob Black.


A power network in this view is then a group of people devoted to protecting something alive, and preventing bodily harm to each other. Alternative social institutions to replace violent ones must be created where existing inherited ones are simply too likely to fail due to overuse of violence. This resembles the view of Mohandas Gandhi. An open politics labour market develops as a prototype of an obligation economy, bringing the efficiencies of market methods to bear.

The social networks cooperate only to achieve this protection and for no other purpose. They do not, for instance, have any way to agree to invade elsewhere, though they require power to disrupt work on a weapon of mass destruction or to be sure a pandemic does not spread to their own communities. Most of the problems arise in the definition of a victim and the power to prevent an anticipated regret. To discover these, an open politics prediction market must probably develop. This identifies ingenuity gaps involved where there are problems without any known solutions that can be trusted by all victims.

To find ways out of these, creative networks must form, typically to explore new positions and visions not previously anticipated. These engage in a continuous brainstorm using formal mechanisms such as an open politics game.

A contact network of people interested in each issue must form. One of the main OP missions is to discover who is motivated and willing to work hard to find new and creative solutions to each dilemma.

The Efficient Civics Guild pioneered the living ontology for framing problems as above, and the open politics in force ruleset to put as few technical barriers and permission barriers in the way of the above as is seemed practically feasible in 2006-2010. This may soon be tested at openpolitics.ca itself.


Some experiments in power structures: