Mohamed Boudra

The Human Tendency Towards Centralization

19 Mar, 2024

I have been working as part of a DAO for a year now and have been closely observing the push for decentralization in the web space. One thing that has become apparent to me is that we humans, if left unchecked, tend to lean towards centralization.

The relationship between centralization and decentralization has always fascinated me. I've been wondering why we, as humans, gravitate towards centralization in our societal structures.

If you look at nature, it is mostly decentralized, there's no single entity making decisions or having authority over a system.

Although you could argue that living beings join forces to improve their chance of survival, I don't consider that centralization. Ant colonies are a great example: ants take care of the queen for the common good, but individual ants still make their own decisions and are not ruled by the queen. These individual decisions lead to emergent behavior, giving the impression that the ant colony itself is making decisions as a whole, but there's actually no centralized entity in charge. This pattern repeats itself in other places, such as forests, or even your own human body.

Humans, similarly to ants, move to cities because we have a better chance of thriving as a community, but over time, we introduce central governments that make decisions for us, and centralized services like law enforcement or health care.

The same happens with the internet, we have mostly centralized into a handful of services. It's more convenient to use Amazon than to find a local website that might not have your credit card or address details. Plus, the fact that so many people use the same service means economies of scale apply, and centralized services can offer the same products but at a much lower cost than services with less usage.

Even in web3, which is rooted in decentralization, a similar pattern emerges. Nowadays, all Ethereum transactions seem to go through a handful of gateway companies, small communities or normal users don't really run their own nodes, but instead use centralized ones.

Ethereum is still a step in the right direction, because it is a tool that gives us the power to decentralize systems and encode the rules of decentralization within the system itself, preventing censorship or fraud, and our little human brains from messing things up, which is great.

Back to my original point, I don't think that we have a fundamental human tendency towards centralization, but rather that it's derived from the universal tendency to choose the path of least resistance, and centralization does seem easier in the short term.

That is why I think it's important that we take a step back, and rethink traditionally centralized systems that would be more beneficial to us if they were decentralized, because those systems might not have emerged because they were the best solution, but because they were the path of least resistance at the time.

Another conclusion to take from this, is that because of the tendency to choose the path of least resistance, an intentional and considerable amount of effort has to be put into moving towards decentralization, especially into building systems that are as easy to use as centralized ones.