The Cybernetics of Occupy

In 1963, in the British journal Anarchy, a short debate took place on the relationship between anarchist forms of organization and organizational cybernetics. Organizational cybernetics, for those unfamiliar with the term, is often defined as the science of communication and control in organic, mechanical and social systems. While the term might suggest images of high technology and even cyborgs, etymologically it is derived from the Ancient Greek word κυβερνήτης (kyvernítis, or kybernetes), which means ‘steersman’ or ‘pilot’, and referred to the steering of a ship.

The contemporary usage draws on this analogy in the sense that cybernetics is involved in identifying and studying the ways in which systems and organizations regulate (or steer) themselves through mechanisms of feedback and emphasizes the importance of lines of communication through which this feedback is received and actions are taken as a result. The element of control that cybernetics attempts to explain in systems is one of self-organization: a system regulates and manages itself and doesn’t require external influence in doing so.

The debate in Anarchy, between British cyberneticians William Grey Walter and John McEwan, focused on the application of early developments in this science to explain how self-organization works in the context of social systems. In other words, can the study of feedback, communication and self-regulation in biological and mechanical systems by applied to human social systems?

Read the full article at ROAR Magazine

Bonus: John Duda's article on the history of cybernetics and anarchism from Anarchist Studies