Executive Functioning under an Anarchist Flag

Question: Noisebridge has successfully lived for 11+ years, but are we even as mature as a 5-year-old when it comes to executive functioning?

What I mean when I say “executive function” is right at the top of the Wikipedia definition:

Executive functions (collectively referred to as executive function and cognitive control ) are a set of cognitive processes that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.

HEREIN I wish to ask the question, is it possible for an Anarchist organization to wield such control over its own selectivity (i.e. ongoing choices of what to do and what not to do) as to ascend to better levels of overall health and well-being?

A frequently used business analogy about what takes to take a team of individuals and transform them into a coherent unit revolves around crew racing – you know, the 5AM training that yuppy kids do in order to get a scholarship to business school.

Well, it’s a great analogy.

Let’s start with the notion that it’s easy for one person to row a boat by themselves. Varying amounts of skill in that one person will make the boat travel quickly or slowly, but suffice it to say all of the decision-making rests in one body. One body to do the seeing and hearing, the same body to process that information and turn it into action.

One person won’t drive a boat very quickly across a lake nearly as quickly as 8 people, however. Even if 1 of those people happens not to be rowing at all.

To achieve maximum power and speed, it takes envisioning the team as one organism whose executive functioning lies mostly with the leader (coxswain) as informed by the leader’s eyes and ears as well as the split-second reaction-time adjustments made by the rowers themselves. The rowers, meanwhile, have more of their cycles to devote to being the perfect machines for turning calories into the movement of a boat across water.

(I do recommend reading this Wharton article, it’s well written.)

That’s all fine and good, you say, but aren’t you implying something distasteful about formalizing some kind of hierarchy at Noisebridge?

While I would agree that this is the usual first solution, it’s only the most common one. Perhaps we can do better.

The thought experiment I have been playing with is the concept of “FORMATIONS”.

The concept of a formation can be found in military history (armies) and tactical movement (small groups), in the movements of grouping animals like pelicans and wolves.

The idea is that each individual practices to be part of the formation so that when the time comes (and we’ll get to that in a second), one only has to name the formation in order to mount the proper team response.

Unlike animals, whose individual behaviors have been shaped by evolution – being a bad teammate is bad for you and also bad for your whole family and thus all your related DNA – in the case of military tactics and other human grouping behaviors, these skills emerge not out of “instinct”, but rather out repeated studying of situations and effects. The development of tactics requires a willingness to try new things, which in turn requires the existence of a team willing to try out the formation to see if it works.

After all that, assuming that some tactic has been developed in which a group of people at The Anarchist Hackerspace know their place in the formation and are ready to execute it, there still remains the issue of how to determine when to deploy the formation.

In order to evince Excellent Executive Functioning, an organism must:

  • be a dutiful collector of information by attuning the senses to the proper inputs.
  • be a calm organizer of information by moderating emotional reactions.
  • be a judicious sharer of information – uncareful sharing can get you in trouble (e.g. nobody needs to know about the rooftop fireworks), while some information should always be shared (e.g. other bees should know where to find more flowers).
  • be a pattern-recognition machine BUT avoid overfitting.
  • know when existing patterns aren’t sufficient and new models are needed.
  • know which responses are appropriate for which patterns.
  • know when is the right time to get into formation for efficiency.
  • recognize when the job is done and end the formation.

When all of these tasks are contained within one brain, shit’s easy. You can paddle your own canoe. Just not all that fast.

Now imagine Noisebridge is one organism, a multicellular colony with a spread-out nervous system. Are we fit to survive?

Can we take each “step” in the Excellent Executive Functioning list and have it make sense as an assigned role to a cell in the colony?

Can we teach ourselves “formations” to get into at the right times – without the usual modern baggage of who’s ruling whom?


Absolutely. But it requires a common interest and attainable goals that can be visualized by the entirety of the collective. Without a unifying interest, it’s too easy for each individual to fall back into a self concerned mind state.

Another aspect is experience. Teams train endlessly for a reason. The more familiar you are with one another the better you can work together without focusing on cohesion. Synergy forms and members can act without constant direction.

Drawing on personal experience I have worked on several crews that didn’t use an formalized hierarchy. Most crews would rely on one person being a lead, another a second/strong second, and a third rounding off the crew. But several times I have ended up on non english speaking teams and the organization was much more anarchist like. There was no lead, just someone who could speak english and communicate with people outside the crew. The rest of the crew had no hierarchy, everyone just knew what needed to be done and did whatever tasks needed to be accomplished. When there was need for an extra hand, almost without speaking they knew when to come together to help accomplish whatever needed to be done. It was just second nature to them after having worked together for so long. There was of course occasional tasks that required specialized skills, or the odd job that required delegation, but it still struck me as a remarkable experience and example of communal behavior not often experienced.


Thanks for this, @nthmost & @Boots. The last couple of days, I’ve actually been reviewing my experience with NB and wondering if it’s an organization that a fit for me.

My question was whether enough organization exists, or I can help into being, so that something is produced. Now of course, there doesn’t need to be a benefit from being part of a community, so I’m already putting boundaries on potential, here.

But, given that premise of production: for an anarchist group to produce anything, wouldn’t there have to be some sort of commitment to the creative moment that is not necessarily hierarchical? In this way, the works from what I would call the “incidentals”, might make more organizational sense for an “anarchist” organization. Folks like John Cage, and particularly, Lucinda Childs. She was a choreographer who brought a liberal (tho rather Cartesian) structure to a performance, but performances were always in situ, absorbing and transforming collaboration.

In that tradition, someone says, I have this architectural diagram, in order to execute it, does anyone want to take up lighting or the choreography or music? And for the performance, one role is standing here and spin slowly until you feel dizzy, another role is waiting until a drop falls from the faucet and then hit the drum, someone needs to bring a purple, flowing fabric. If the community likes the blueprint and has the impetus to fill those roles, you have a happening. I do believe incidental collaboration can include anarchic moments as well as moments of communitas in any or all construction planes.


If you’re making that evaluation based on what IS right now, I welcome you to instead evaluate based on how you might help us improve.

There is a structure vacuum that is being actively acknowledged by many people. Of course that’s what I’m elliptically alluding to in this little essay, too.

Well, we have a huge push towards the “creative moment” of simply sticking around and existing. I know negative motivation isn’t the best kind, but never let a crisis go to waste, that’s what I say.

The time is quite ripe for us to innovate. We have pushed pure DIY-ism to its limits.

We told everyone they can 3D print their own guns and now we are shooting ourselves in the collective feet.

The benefit this crisis/opportunity is that – IF WE DO THIS RIGHT – we can become a community capable of so much more!

And if the community FEELS capable of producing so much more, then we will give everyone permission to dream bigger.


Great thread, all; very important topic.

I agree that Noisebridge should produce things (or at least create positive outcomes, like from organizing)! I am working on a couple things I will announce soon and invite people to join, but I’m curious: what would you like to see more of from Noisebridge?

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