Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

On “command and control structures”

Published on 20 March 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

I’ve made snide remarks about “command and control structures” often enough. And “principal-agent” models give me irrepressible and just about irreversible laughing fits. I scorn such ideas (which risk permeating diplomatic services): as a consequentialist (but only in the here and now) I think they only provide the illusion of effectiveness. For two reasons:

  • Context is everything. Information about the context never percolates upward easily, or fully; an in any case it is never neutral. Some of it is lost as it is compressed (as Robert FROST said: “poetry is what’s lost in translation”). At other times agents, as they pass on along the chain information (or commands downward), may manipulate either or both for their own benefit. Consequently, the higher the pole, the poorer the fit between ensuing “command” and likely outcome.
  • The “principal” is just human – even though he may think otherwise. It is unlikely that he might have the farsightedness repeatedly and consistently to choose the right path (success may simply be confirmation bias).
Fate has now played into my hands a visual representation of how it feels to be part of a “command and control” structure. The labels are in German, but the meaning is easily decoded:


The ensuing caption comments this tree as follows: “From above, one only sees s**t below, and from below, one only sees a***s above.

Have a nice day, wherever you are on the totem pole

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