"The great trouble with religion – any religion – is that a religionist, having accepted certain propositions by faith, cannot thereafter judge those propositions by evidence. One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak uncertainty of reason – but one cannot have both." ~ Robert Heinlein
Beware the Swarm
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
It has been said that government is merely an intangible set of ideas that influence how people interact with one another. It has also been called a belief system analogous to a religion in that it generally has its own creation mythos, a pantheon of idealized superheroes, and a set of superstitions grounded in faith instead of logic.
While I don’t disagree with these assessments, I am going to consider here that these characterizations alone may lead to an underestimation of the actual government entity. Is it possible that the set of ideas that comprises “government” is so complex and pervasively interwoven into the fabric of human thought and perception that it has become an independent, intelligent entity that—like all other intelligent entities—is interested in preserving itself and continuously bettering its own condition?
Now before you think I’ve gone completely off the rails here, allow me to throw two words at you: Compass termites. I trust that clears things up, but just in case it doesn’t . . . .
[Compass termites] build tall wedge-shaped mounds with the long axis oriented approximately north–south . . . . This orientation has been experimentally shown to assist thermoregulation. The thin end of the nest faces towards the sun at its peak intensity hence taking up the least possible heat, this allows these termites to stay above ground where other species are forced to move into deeper below ground areas. This allows the compass termites to live in poorly drained areas where other species would be caught between a choice of baking or drowning. The column of hot air rising in the aboveground mounds helps drive air circulation currents inside the subterranean network. The structure of these mounds can be quite complex. The temperature control is essential for those species that cultivate fungal gardens and even for those that don't, much effort and energy is spent maintaining the brood within a narrow temperature range, often only plus or minus 1 degree Celsius over a day. ~ from Wikipedia
What I get out of this information is that termite colonies (the abstraction, not the collection of tangible components) are quite intelligent. They can engineer housing that takes advantage of the sun's movement and utilizes air movements due to temperature gradients to hold internal mound temperatures steady over the entire day. If a human engineer were to be presented with this problem to solve, I would think that he would have to break some serious intellectual sweat in order to come up with such an elegant solution.
And yet the termites themselves are as dumb as, well, termites. There is no engineering caste that pores over sets of blueprints and directs the activity. Each termite is an independent and relatively "dumb" (not to be taken as a pejorative adjective here) agent with a limited set of abilities and behaviors. Each does its own thing, but when enough of them network together, another level of intelligence arises.
Each termite is alive and is a tangible entity and all these tangible, living entities combine to create an intangible entity that possesses a level of intelligence significantly higher than any of its individual “dumb” agents. The colony is an intelligent, unseen entity that is interested in preserving itself and bettering its condition. Even though it is invisible, it exists. It receives feedback through its agents and adjusts its behavior. It reacts. It learns. It survives. It . . . lives?
Well, dear reader, you are also an intangible, intelligent entity comprised of a network of tangible “dumb” agent brain cells enclosed within an organic life-support system. Are you alive? Or are merely the organic parts of your body alive? Your body may reproduce reasonable facsimilies of itself, but you will not. Do you actually . . . live?
Interesting to ponder, but whether alive or not, let's refer to termite colonies (not the insect parts) and human beings (not the meat-machine parts) as intelligent entities. Both begin with large collections of relatively “dumb” agents that have combined into a “swarm” from which an intangible entity with a higher level of intelligence emerges.
[Swarm intelligence] systems are typically made up of a population of simple agents or boids interacting locally with one another and with their environment. The inspiration often comes from nature, especially biological systems. The agents follow very simple rules, and although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual agents should behave, local, and to a certain degree random, interactions between such agents lead to the emergence of "intelligent" global behavior, unknown to the individual agents. Natural examples of SI include ant colonies, bird flocking, animal herding, bacterial growth, and fish schooling. ~ from Wikipedia
And so I am proposing here that the government entity may also be an example of emergent intelligence that is the result of a swarm, but in this case the swarm is not made up of tangible entities, but rather is comprised of intangible “memes.”
At some point, the government memes infiltrated human thought enough so that the government entity emerged. At this point, a particular optimization problem became the priority on which its natural ability became focused: How to best make government coercion and confiscation invisible or acceptable so that the coerced still believe they are free and produce at a high level.
The solution seems to include inserting the government memes into all things so that freedom is associated with government and not with the individual, or anything else. The parasitical entity must convince the host that its presence is necessary for the host’s freedom and survival.
And the malevolent intelligence continues to optimize the solution, continuously monitoring feedback and implementing new strategies that tend to either render itself invisible or, when seen by the masses through their government meme-colored glasses, to be seen as invaluable. It relentlessly grinds away towards the optimal solution wherein everyone is happily producing as much as possible while at the same time happily surrendering as much as possible.
Government is the assumption that certain human beings possess external authority and have more rights—thus more power—than other human beings, and that this is a good and necessary thing. This system has been in place for quite a long time, and the memes have become multi-layered and complex and have subtly infused themselves into how human beings perceive every single facet of civilized human existence.
The structural advantage of such a network is that it generally does not have a single point of failure, but if enough meme nodes do go out, rerouting can eventually become impossible and the entire network will fail. Then the termites just wander off in random directions and the colony vanishes.
But bringing down the servers is not the solution, as the network merely reconfigures existing nodes to replace any servers that go down. But by becoming a dark node and not allowing the government meme traffic to flow through you, the flow is disrupted just a tiny bit. And by infecting as many other nodes as you can—persuading them to join you offline—the freedom virus can begin to significantly weaken the government meme network. Eventually the servers will become obsolete when they can no longer connect across the broken network. Even the nodes that wish to remain online will come to realize that the paradigm has shifted and that the network is permanently down.
And if the holdouts can come to see that the replacement freedom memes lead to a better existence for everyone, then a new network can be built and a new intelligent entity can emerge—one that is dedicated to helping humanity shed its ancient shackles and finally live free.