…two months after resigning as a CS volunteer, in the form of responses to two calls for an egalitarian CS community in the CS Brainstorm group.
I appreciate your efforts to bring this issue to the attention of the community again. You obviously put a lot of thought into your post and recognize the critical importance of this to a community which shares the values that we do. I hope I’m proven wrong, but I feel certain that the kind of movement you are proposing would end up going nowhere in CS.
Just over a year ago, there was an excellent opportunity to redirect the course of the CS community away from being under the control of a small elite group, unaccountable and unanswerable to the community at large. This opportunity coincided with a major crash of the servers followed by Casey‘s termination of the CouchSurfing Project. For most of the last year since the community-led rebuilding effort, some volunteers worked towards an egalitarian community, which they thought was consistent with the stated CS 2.0 goal of decentralized participation, while the former administrators of the website redefined themselves in secret. A few months ago, the elite group re-emerged in the form of the “Leadership Team”. These self-appointed leaders are really rulers (if you consider CS as a community) or managers (if you consider CS as a corporation). Leaders generally lead by consent of the led. Rulers need no consent.
Since the Leadership Team members were each chosen (or at least endorsed) by Casey, the owner of the Corporation, and by extension felt entitled to govern the community that has formed around the web site as they saw fit, some of us who hoped for a different CS realized that our cause was lost and moved on, in some cases to alternative hospitality organizations which do have an egalitarian community.
The Leadership Team has clearly taken a stand against democracy. They have taken upon themselves the role of guardians of the CS mission, as they define it. Their “constitution” is as much about protecting their power as it is about protecting the mission. They don’t seem to be aware of the hazards of this stance. It is an easy mistake to make, since they are generally good people with good intentions and a noble mission. But the structure itself is inherently flawed and prone to abuse and corruption. This has happened countless times throughout human history whenever too much power is concentrated in the hands of too few people, even in organizations started by the best people with the best intentions.
As one example of how easy it is for a self-reinforcing group with no accountability to the people they claim to serve, consider the mission of intercultural understanding that they purport to promote and protect. The very essence of intercultural understanding is respect for diversity. Yet, the structure of the leadership team requires unanimous agreement among themselves to make important changes. The implication is that, knowing that one person could bring the effectiveness of the Leadership Team to a complete halt, extreme care will be used to select only those people that will not disrupt the consensus; in other words, people who will not create “divisiveness” or “conflict”, but conform to the established groupthink. This is perhaps the worst possible environment for promoting diversity of values, opinions and ideas, cultural or otherwise. Yet it seems they consider themselves to have a special insight and virtue which entitles them to be the guardians of the CS mission.
I have already seen cases where extremely valuable volunteers have been blacklisted because of what seems to me are mostly cultural or gender differences, or because they had an ideology not in sufficient conformity with the elite’s ideology.
Besides being inconsistent with the CS mission, the LT policies are inherently non-viable according to the lessons of nature, where diversity is the primary guarantee of adaptability and survivability in the face of changing environmental conditions and random events.
Another inconsistency: in a community which is as much about freely giving as anything, truly built upon the generosity of people willing to give without expecting a financial return, how is it that the owner, who should be exemplifying the spirit of the community, is the only one getting financial benefit for his contributions? If someone is to be granted an exception to the otherwise universal policy (so far) of voluntary work, voluntary donations and voluntary hosting, shouldn’t the community, who provides the money used to operate the infrastructure, have a say in this? I’ve heard all the counterarguments to this, but nevertheless I’m certain that CS could be run entirely by volunteers. The fact that it isn’t has not been a community decision.
Without going into details now, there is now doubt in my mind that the lack of participation and responsiveness of many of the so-called leaders in many areas at many times is a symptom of the structural problem (lack of accountability to the community) and the attitude it fosters. (For example: over a year and counting and still no acceptable NDA, something of such grave importance to several volunteers that they stopped volunteering because of this fiasco). Likewise, the chronic server problems and the slow response to member requests for bug fixes and feature enhancements are also traceable to the same problem.
The only possibility I see for CS to become an egalitarian community is for the community to obtain ownership of the Corporation. In other words, buy out Casey. But I don’t think this is realistic considering that perhaps 99% of the users of the CS website are reasonably happy with the free service that it provides. The number of members actively involved in the community (beyond hosting and surfing) are a small percentage of the total membership and of those, only small percentage of us are really concerned with such philosophical and political matters as we’re discussing. There are some other hospitality communities where self-government is considered as important an objective as intercultural understanding, and inextricably linked to it. For me, it is more efficient to start over with one of those communities. Indeed, I was given no choice. Casey himself stated that if we don’t like the way CS is run, then leave and come back later [after all the structural changes now being implemented are locked in - he has veto power over any proposed structural change in the future]. Don’t get me wrong, I like a strong, assertive leader, and even encouraged Casey that way, but any leader without accountability to those led is a dictator, even if a benevolent dictator.
I recommend you think of CS in terms of the Western culture notion of “corporate entity” and all the concepts of ownership and entitlement that go with that, rather than a diverse community of equals with shared values. That may save you a lot of heartache. For me, it is best to think of the new CS as a social website like Myspace combined with a travel website like Expedia. Then, Casey is just a dot.com entrepreneur carefully protecting his investment and his personal vision and getting his just reward financially. No problem with that if you’re a fan of Western corporate culture! (Just be clear about it to potential volunteers: your free work and ideas are welcome, but Casey is the only one who financially benefits from them, and you have no say in that.) We are all free to use what the CS Corporation offers and to go elsewhere if we object to the way it is managed. Thankfully. Just the mere fact that this post will not be censored is a credit to the LT — they ARE doing some things well!
Responding to David Lee Frazer’s commentary on the “Wolf Pack Psychology” of the LT in another thread:
The following is meant to be taken partly in jest.
I don’t think “Wolfpack” is the best analogy to descibe the LT, although it’s imaginative. I just don’t see Casey as the alpha male of the pack. Brute force is not his means of holding power.
“Monarchy” is a better analogy: King Casey and the Lords and Ladies of CouchSurfing. But most monarchies do not justify their entitlement to power as virtuous protectors of a noble mission. It is enough for them to claim hereditary entitlement, or royal blood, in many cases, or else “might makes right”.
“Religion” is an even better analogy. Pope Casey the First and the College of Cardinals. The Global Ambassadors would be the Bishops, from whom the Cardinals are chosen. The other ambassadors complete the priesthood, and the rest of us are the bleating flock, who are shepherded by the wise and learned Bishops. Very good description, actually. Can you imagine an election for the Pope by the flock ever happening?
Those of use who resigned as volunteers could be thought of as the Protestants and have gone on to find a more tolerant and open cultural milieu. Among other things, we didn’t like the idea of the CS Corporation claiming custody of our creative ideas like a Church claiming custody of our souls. We even had a heretic among us, who was shunned after enormous contributions (Kasper).
The Roman Church began with a noble mission but which over time, due to the inherent structure it shares with CS, erred in many ways. The leaders acquired an attitude of condescension and hubris, thinking themselves infallible, not needing checks and balances. They became enamored of their wealth and power, drifting far astray from the example of Jesus, who wanted neither. Protecting their power became more important than the original mission. Anyone who is ignorant of this danger of concentrated power, or thinks themselves immune to it, is surely vulnerable.
All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree. — James Madison
If I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know. — Kansas
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. — Mark 10:42-43