"It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power." ~ David Brin
Civilized Society v2.0
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
As I have written many times, I don’t believe that government is an absolute necessity for creating and maintaining a civilized society. In this essay, however, I would like to throw as many bones as possible to (not at) those who would take up for the loyal opposition. In fact, I will concede here for argument's sake that all the historical and empirical evidence used to illustrate the correlation between government and civil society over the last few millennia right on up to today is all true and irrefutable. You win: The only way we humans ever got civilized (to the extent that we actually are) was through the graces of government.
Quite often, this historical inevitability and current state of the world is the entirety of the ammunition carried and used by those who support the government-is-necessary idea. That’s how it is now and that’s how it’s always been, and it works. Certainly not perfectly, but it works.
Sure, some brief forays into government-less societies occasionally have sprung up, but for the most part, it's been governments all the way back. What did those trivial few government-less societies ever accomplish? Who has even heard of them? And more importantly, where are they now?
You see, if there has indeed been a competition of systems over the centuries, it seems that the overwhelming favorite and current leader is government-run society by a score of 867-3. And so the defense rests.
And my first counter to this line of argument involves playing the Human Progress card. Human beings had probably been longing to be able to fly from the time a bird was first observed soaring through the skies overhead. For thousands of years, this dream was acknowledged to be mere fantasy, and those who believed that it could some day actually be realized were ridiculed. And why not? All the empirical evidence throughout the entirety of all of human history showed that human flight was impossible.
And this assertion was absolutely correct right up until the time that it wasn’t. This phenomenon of “achieving the impossible” is what is commonly referred to as Human Progress: Doing for the first time what has never been done before. This is actually the norm for the human species, and it is currently happening all around you as you read this.
The plan to organize a society without government is just another challenge that Human Progress will eventually focus on and overcome. The problems involved with implementing it are not unsolvable. As in the case of powered flight, a body of knowledge has been building up over time. A thousand years ago, the leap to flight from the small base of knowledge was too great to make, but eventually that base built up until the leap became merely a small step that quite naturally could be taken.
Consider the processor that powers the device that is allowing you to read these words. A century ago, the very suggestion of the idea that perhaps a machine could one day be built that would be capable of performing a few billion calculations per second would be met with a certain measure of . . . incredulity.
Perhaps, my good sir, you should like to lie down and rest yourself for a moment. You don’t sound at all well.
But for those of us who have been pecking away at computer keyboards year after year, the progression to this point from a TRS-80 appeared logical and methodical and inevitable. Lots of little imperceptible degrees strung together. Imagining the entire leap from 1976 to 2013 would have been inconceivable, but guess what? It happened. The lesson? The inconceivable often becomes inevitable, and it does so through the magic of millions of tiny steps forward. Remember kids, the theme of today’s show is Human Progress, and even when it seems that it is leaping and bounding, it is merely making the small breakthrough step based on the millions of smaller steps that preceded it.
So let’s jump back into the original discussion concerning societies and governments and consider where we might end up, considering the path we are currently on.
I have acknowledged the possibility that perhaps it has always been nigh impossible to implement non-coercive social organization methods while fledgling cooperative groups grew from small gatherings into substantial social organizations, all the while having to be on the lookout for a well-organized horde of Mongols that may have come charging over a nearby hillside to derail things. Sure, ideal voluntary societies may have existed in the past—a collection of a few hundreds or even thousands of cooperating individuals that forewent any central coercive government—but if the Khan’s boys indeed were to have come thundering over the ridge with the intent to conquer, then that. was. that.
But hold on now—I'm getting a newsflash. This just in: We are no longer in the 13th century, or for that matter, the 20th. Please adjust your calculations and expectations accordingly.
We now have extremely large numbers of cooperating human beings connected not only geographically but also networked virtually through the intertubes. Millions and millions. This is a completely unparalleled event in all of human history. Information flows as never before, without having to be strained through government-approved filters. It is the printing press raised to the power of 100.
There are no longer any threats of invaders on horseback to overpower such numbers spread out all over the planet. There are no central control structures for anyone to seize. The targets are spread out and hidden and the network is redundant, flexible, can be virtually anonymous, and has no single point of control or failure. The game has changed dramatically. No—completely.
Most people still tend to cling to many antiquated ideas about human/property rights that are in large part irrational, illogical, and coercive, as this is all that anyone has ever been exposed to. And yes, perhaps these ideas were formed and became widespread out of sheer necessity, but that is no longer the case and people are beginning to wake up to this fact. These wavicle-connected networks of cooperating human beings are realizing that the greatest threat to them is from the very organizations that purport to exist in order to protect them from threats.
This coercion is no longer necessary and is being perceived for what it truly is—a crudely conceived and implemented protection racket, one that demands payment whether you want the service or not. It is quickly losing its credibility and is becoming a stale parody of itself as the cheap veneer wears off. The old ways of splitting people up by religion, by culture, by race, by ethnicity, by geographic location—all these antiquated divisions are eventually to be ignored. This is the key to solving the puzzle.
But without a government, who will protect us? Us? What “us”? Human beings are currently networked across the globe and can interact and trade with one another without anyone's assistance (or without anyone even knowing, if so desired), thank you very much. If I am in Texas and I have an associate in Kenya and another in Melbourne, then what does the question “Who will protect us?” even mean? How shall “we” be attacked? How can “our” wealth be pillaged?
This is the paradigm shift that is slowly seeping into brains all over the world, but it will take time to brew into something useful. Even in the more technologically advanced societies with their bleeding-edge-encrypted-network-digital-currency agorists, there are still many more locked back in the age of newspapers and three-channel television.
But after these rigid fossils die off (sorry to be so blunt), those already-dead ideas will go with them. The good news is that it is nearly impossible to transfer such a static and narrow view of the world to generations that have already surpassed those limits by the time they reach the age of seven. The old guard will go out kicking and screaming, and will perhaps cause as much damage as they can during their prolonged last tantrum, but they are soon to be history.
So let us thank them (only in this particular essay, with its generous bone-tossing and all) for creating government if that was indeed a necessity for getting us to where we are now. But government, if it truly did serve a valid purpose, is becoming ever more a hindrance and is no longer of much use to anyone.
In other words, the concrete has been successfully set and we now have a solid foundation laid, and so in order to move forward with the project, the concrete forms need to be removed. They served their purpose, but now the rest of the house needs to be put up.
So while we appreciate all you’ve allegedly done, dear government, your services here are no longer required. As with the oarsmen after the age of sail, your place will soon be consigned to the history books, no longer to be seen widespread in the real world under the sun.
So I urge you to not wait any longer and to consider signing up now for Civilized Society version 2.0 (beta) and begin enjoying the benefits of this major upgrade even as the remaining bugs get worked out before the official release date.
Civilized Society v2.0! Now coercion-free! Made with 100% organic human sovereignty! Brightens teeth and reduces itching and swelling! Now available as a free download whenever you decide to take your very own steps down this particular path of Human Progress. Don’t get left behind!