We are conditioned today to regard civilization as a very fragile and precarious thing. We presume that with any significant disruption (and by ‘disruption’ we include any significant change to the status quo) there must necessarily come some disastrous breakdown of society, law, and order. Political conservatives in particular tend to see human civility as a very thin veneer on a highly animalistic society (lower classes and ethnic minorities especially) and that without a top-down imposed system of rigid order—without the straight-jackets of religious morality and government authority—the average person would rapidly devolve to a violent savage state. (rather like the old TV comedy sketch about news anchors rapidly reverting to cannibalistic savages when their teleprompter breaks) Thus to most people the suggestion of a functional stateless society would seem laughably implausible on the face of it and impossible to realize without some kind of horrific violent revolution or catastrophe.
But in practice mob violence most commonly occurs in the full presence and display of state authority at its most grandiose and powerful. Indeed, that display is quite often the chief trigger for such violence by virtue of the mass outrage it induces. And in recent years there have been so many exposures of police or other government agency use of violent agent provocateurs in such situations that it’s pretty much a given that outbreaks of violent protest are just as likely to have the authorities themselves as their ultimate cause, seeking to exploit this as a means of de-legitimatizing protest movements and justifying extreme institutional violence to suppress them.
In cases of natural disaster there is often some display of increased criminality as those predisposed to this take advantage of the situation. But very rarely do we see the sort of mass breakdown of civility we are so inclined to expect after even the largest and most horrific of catastrophes. People are not naturally inclined toward animalistic objectivist behavior. Quite the opposite. Science increasingly finds that human beings are inclined toward altruism and cooperation. On our own, we self-organize in the absence of any outside authority. We are social creatures and these tendencies have always been critical to our evolutionary survival. Thus in the event of such disruptions, people are inclined to spontaneously create new social structures and ad hoc infrastructure to secure their mutual needs with some degree of egalitarianism. With the possible exception of the executive class, we are not just savages in suits.
True civil order is peer-to-peer in nature. The chronic sociopathy so endemic in contemporary culture is a product of the anonymity and social discontinuity the Industrial Age has imposed on our society with the objective of creating mobile easily controlled worker units with a dependency on companies and the state rather than interdependency within community. The Industrial Age seemed to bring with it a very systematic destruction of traditional communities with an intent to replace them with various forms of homogenous mass housing devoid of any sense of place or cultural identity. Like everything else, it sought to massify society to make its ‘management’ more industrial, and in the process damaged our social cohesion.
==The Quiet Revolution==
We are rather inclined today to imagine the future in apocalyptic and dystopian contexts—and all too much science fiction seems ready to feed that. Let’s try to imagine a very different sort of scenario of future change. Imagine if, one day, governments all started to run out of money, not due to some disaster or dramatic violent revolution but rather simply because people just stopped using it because, little-by-little, they found other more convenient, more social, ways to meet their day-to-day needs. This is a future once imagined by anonymous Swiss activist author P.M. in his Post-Industrial futurist book Bolo’Bolo. And this is, in fact, a situation many trends in technology and culture are pointing toward. What might happen to society in this sort of situation? As we’ve suggested previously, the essential purpose of government is to be a service provider; to collectivize some portion of society’s productivity through taxation and apply it to a set of services and public projects that are of no interest to (or not effectively served by) private business and are otherwise beyond the means of individuals. That’s its whole job. Everything else we attribute to it is just quasi-religious nationalistic decoration. And because there is a lot of confusion about this basic purpose coupled to a lot of self-interest—especially in the higher (in the US ‘federal’) levels of government—it has performed increasingly poorly at this basic job and compelled society to cope with its increasing failures by other more local means.
Governments today (with the exception of remaining Communist states) have little to no independent means of production. More socialist nations have more vested interest in various industries, but generally government owns no means of production for anything. (beyond the minting and printing of money—though even that is commonly privatized) The things they do are done simply by spending taxpayer money on the open market. Most laws are about what sort of public services are or aren’t government responsibility and how and where to spend tax money on them. This is the primary activity of government. Government’s only mechanism today for extracting and collectivizing any portion of society’s net productivity is taxes paid in cash. It has no use for conscripted labor or some share of resources processed or goods produced. And, as we’ve previously discussed, all money a nation produces today is, in fact, debt.
Generally, contemporary governments have been slowly paring down the spectrum of services they provide in response to the persistent influence of conservative political philosophy and what they do continue to provide they are becoming increasingly inefficient and poor in performance at. Inadvertently, they have been whittling away at their very reason for existence. Government is now generally perceived publicly, throughout the western world, as just plain incompetent at just about everything and it is assumed that ‘free market’ alternatives are inherently better because, by that same old Industrial Age presumption, they do things in a more business-like fashion. Of course, in practice that very rarely proves to be the case. The logic of the market simply is illogical for a lot of the basic things a modern civilization needs to do, the abject failure of things like health care in the US has become the most globally glaring—and nationally embarrassing—example of this. Nevertheless, the public is increasingly forced to cope with a long-term trend of progressive inadequacy, if not outright failure, of the infrastructure they rely on to maintain a nominally comfortable way of life, regardless of whether it’s corporations or government running things.
People are adaptable. When systems stop working, they find their own ways to meet their day-to-day needs. One institution’s failure is another’s potential opportunity. As we’ve previously discussed in the section on Post-Industrial Economics, the long-term trend in production technology is not just progressive automation but also a physical shrinking and smartening of systems. This is producing an increasing dynamic flexibility of production capability, and thus a progressive localization of increasingly on-demand production with an expanding public and personal ownership of the means of production and an expanding individual access to a global market. The global market is one increasingly dealing in commodities very transparent to quantitative analysis and thus inclined to global price uniformity and a long-term factoring-out of profit. It is evolving toward a moneyless resource exchange network. The market for finished goods is increasingly a local one, and in that context potentially mediated more by social than market concerns when there is a functional community setting.
P.M. observed that in most of the industrialized world—with the glaring exception of the US—leisure time was slowly and steadily increasing. (though the Great Recession may have disrupted this trend to some degree) Increasingly, the middle-class has been valuing their personal time over cash and the consumer junk bought with it, and what they’ve been doing with that time is investing it in family, self-improvement, the pursuit of skills of independent production, the pursuit of ‘career’ interests independent of their ‘jobs’, and in community activity. They have been rediscovering community, re-learning basic social skills, re-establishing social cohesion, and re-establishing local peer-oriented infrastructures that can provide a certain back-up to the increasingly unreliable and irresponsible infrastructure of the state and corporate-dominated marketplace. And so P.M. anticipated a cultural evolution toward communities with an increasing capability to meet their daily needs through independent local production based on a social rather than market economy. This, he suggested, would lead to planned communities that very deliberately cultivate this capability, institute planned systems of open reciprocal production, to incrementally free their residents from the need for salary jobs to support a comfortable living, thus bleeding the corporate industrial system of workers and consumers and, subsequently, bleeding states of the cash their existence is ultimately dependent on. Of course, in practice this would not be quite so simple, but this is the general idea. There would certainly be resistance by various means from authorities as they realize their power slipping away, but violent suppression is a rather labor-intensive activity. As gleeful and enthusiastic about it as they tend to be, even brownshirts don’t work for free…
P.M. did not imagine this trend as particularly dependent on technology. However, many other futurists—and recently some science fiction writers—have foreseen this same trend but see it more technologically driven, particularly in the context of key ‘Singularity’ technologies such as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence that facilitate some state of Total Automation distributed to the household level. The suggestion is that technologies such as nanotechnology afford us the means to exploit free resources toward independence that are commonly overlooked by the market system. One can potentially live very well on the detritus of the Industrial Age—especially if you have the back-pocket-scale means of recovering the waste carbon it’s been dumping into the air for hundreds of years and turning it into diamond-durable goods.
==A P2P World==
So, if governments are simply going to die-off like starving mastodons and the Westfalian nation-states become just abstract lines on old maps, what then is going to replace them? Where does ‘law and order’ come from? What’s to keep things from turning into a Mad Max movie? Well, we’re not talking about something that happens very suddenly. We’re talking about a very incremental shift where old infrastructures don’t just disappear but rather become progressively more obsolete. We are conditioned to think that order must come from from the top-down. From some hierarchy involving some ruling elite ordained by god. But as we explained, true civil order is peer-oriented. The reason these old systems will fade away is that we will create new, more fundamentally convenient and humanistic, systems replacing them. So we’re not talking about an orderless free-for-all. We’re talking about a transition to a different set of paradigms and a different system of order built bottom-up. And in this system a lot of the old structures simply become redundant because they are related to ways of doing things that have become obsolete. Meanwhile, there will develop new structures based on a new basic social architecture, new ways of doing things, and a new economics. We can’t predict all the details but we can consider some likely pictures of how and why they might develop.
So to answer this question of what’s going to ‘replace’ governments and states we need to first consider what the new basic units of human organization and activity may be. Just as the logistics of energy, transportation, and resource utilization have largely dictated the physical architecture of the human habitat, so too have these, along with production logistics and economics, dictated the architecture of our states and governments. And when we transitioned from primarily cultures, through nomadic herding cultures, to agrarian civilizations culture became very property-centric, inducing complex hierarchies revolving around the ownership of land and the management of geography. With the Industrial Age and its central paradigm of massification came a compulsion to cultivate progressively larger and more powerful states leveraging communications and transportation technology on the hierarchically distributed management of progressively larger collective masses of people, supplanting their allegiance and cultural identity with progressively large institutions. In the US, the federal government didn’t really realize the tremendous power it has today until quite late in American history—well into the 20th century.
But as we’ve noted, the key cultural paradigm emerging in Post-Industrial trends is de-massification. This will result in a logistical decentralization of infrastructures resulting in a progressive flattening of hierarchies, which in turn will be mirrored in a de-massification of economic power and thus a de-massification of political power. Already one of the chief problems of contemporary politics is a de-massification of culture resulting in the political equivalent of a Long Tail phenomenon. Contemporary politicians no longer represent any cultural majority in the society. They just represent some large unit demographic at the head of a long cultural and social interest spectrum. Most are so alien to the actual mainstream culture they might as well come from another planet. Day-by-day, their speech, appearance, mannerisms, and apparent psychology seem increasingly weird.
Thus many futurists anticipate a kind of progressive cultural Balkanization in the future which will see social identity defined in the context of increasingly small or increasingly ‘virtual’ social groups. P.M. imagined a new basic unit of society based on physical communities called the ‘bolo’. A commune-like unit of hundreds to a few thousand people who cohabitate in a largely self-sufficient village-like setting very much akin to the medieval walled or hill towns of the past. Other futurists anticipate a somewhat more complex and dynamic structure. This author foresees a very dynamic model of social identity based on variously overlapping associations among a hierarchy of social groups ranging from the small and very physical to the large and very virtual/digitally networked. The breakdown could be something like this;
Monkeyspheres: a group of about 150 people that parallel the basic maximum intimate social group suggested by psychologists, include direct family members, and function sort of like an extended family unit. In the past this would have been largely based on the extended family, but since the Industrial Age destroyed traditional family cohesion by eliminating reliance on family support and replacing certain family life-cycle responsibilities with state and private institutions a contemporary person’s monkeysphere is now largely composed of circles of non-related close friends we may very often regard, and rely on, as an extended family or ‘tribe’ of sorts. Reinforced by routine shared activities, these circles are often formed in school or through special interest group participation and function as small collectives, sometimes compelling people to plan their life activity in group consultation, share homes in co-habitation, or live in close regional proximity (to support routing group activity) life-long.
Communities and Neighborhoods: In this future context we define ‘communities’ as largely intentional communities and ‘neighborhoods’ as more unintentional communities. With the advent of Total Automation, we foresee our habitat becoming a largely self-fabricating self-aware construct that will involve varying degrees of active human participation. Intentional communities would be created by intentional social groups—adhocracies—that are deliberately seeking to realize some kind of specific design for a specific purpose; be it to facilitate some group activity or realize a certain aesthetic vision. Other communities would be the product of the global production infrastructure itself, created with the demand for space by procedural and associative design software producing pleasant yet more-or-less generic architecture adapted to function as sustainably as possible within the surrounding natural environment. Residents, moving in and out at random rather than as a group, would customize their space to suit their personal needs in peer negotiation with the habitat maintenance systems (following their environmental protocols) and the pre-established neighbors. Communities and neighborhoods would vary in size from hundreds to thousands with a few potentially being much smaller and remote, though sustainability requirements would make this unusual.
This author likes to use Paulo Soleri’s vision of an arcology-based civilization to visualize what this habitat of the future may be like. Soleri’s imagined future world was composed of a global network of nodal arcologies of very specific design and strategic location linked by linear city arcologies of much simpler, less dense, more generic, and more homogenous design. Housing most of the population, the linear cities enclosed primary infrastructure and transportation conduits and relied more on the individual activities and design intervention of inhabitants to give impart architectural diversity while the nodal arcologies were more ‘master planned’, expressing the vision or statement of a dominant designer or team. Or incorporating some very specific function. These nodal arcologies would represent the more intentional communities described above, the linear cities the less intentional habitat designed, at the macroscale, by the software and machine intelligence of the habitat infrastructure itself. Being a classic Modernist, Soleri’s vision of the linear city is very overt and repetitive in design. Imagine Disney’s Contemporary Hotel stretching in straight lines for hundreds and thousands of kilometers. We imagine the procedural/associative design systems taking a more organic approach by virtue of a very deep comprehension of social and environmental parameters, and thus seeking to coexist and complement the natural landscape with a more aesthetically pleasant variation of comfortable forms that still afford much individual self-expression at the human scale. Earlier Post-Industrial communities would tend toward the intentional community by virtue of a need to deliberately engineer a self-supporting local infrastructure. Later, that would be so fully integrated into the general habitat infrastructure that it wouldn’t matter whether a community was intentional or not and the application of deliberate community design would pursue other rationales.
Adhocracies: these are ‘ad hoc’ social groups spontaneously and voluntarily formed to pursue specific activities, projects, or objectives; sometimes temporary and sometimes persistent. In the future, they may be the primary creative force of civilization and the initiators of its most visible and large-scale activity.
Economists today tend to assume that nothing would happen in the world without an economic incentive. Without the need for cash to meet day-to-day needs no one would have a reason to get out of bed in the morning or ever do any work. Without the desire to accumulate wealth—either out of a fear for survival in an uncertain future, a desire to spend their old age years in come comfort, and/or the personal fantasy of living the increasingly bizarre lifestyles of the rich & famous—no one would perform well or seek to advance through the ranks of business or bureaucracy. Of course, for anyone with any nominal experience of the real world and basic understanding of people this should seem ridiculous. Certainly, there are a whole lot of really crappy jobs in the world that no one would do if they weren’t being paid to. But people’s real motivations are generally much more complex and when they have actual freedom of choice in the matter, the decisions involve far more than just what pays the most. The actual science of human motivation has been telling us that, non-intuitively, for jobs that require any sort of complex intellectual activity and creativity, monetary incentives work against performance and once you pay people enough that their concerns for day-to-day hand-to-mouth survival are out of the way, performance depends on how you engage these many other emotional and intellectual motivational factors. People do their best work not when there’s a giant carrot on a stick dangling in front of them but when their _passions_ are engaged.
One of the reasons human civilization shifted from hunter-gatherer and nomadic hunting/herding cultures to agrarian cultures is that it was a fundamentally easier way of life that allowed for a lot of free time. In fact, the average medieval serf worked fewer net hours out of a year than the average middle-class American today. Agrarian life is governed by a seasonal cycle and for long stretches of time out of the year one really has little they need to do to live. Do you just sleep or lay around? Of course not! These were the times of the year people engaged in social activity, pursued creative activities, developed their craft skills, built things, produced art, got married, and so on. It was in these periods of time, when there was no ‘work’ to be done, that the great advances in culture and technology attributed to the rise of agrarian culture were made. For this regular period of time every year, people were free to do what pleased them. And what did they do? They rapidly advanced civilization!
We anticipate that, in time, most of the brute work of day-to-day life will be fully automated. Most ‘jobs’ will simply no longer exist and a universal basic income, increasingly integrated into the automated infrastructure of our habitat and the resource based economics underlying it, will support a comfortable baseline standard of living for all without work. What then will people do all day? Mid-20th century, many intellectuals feared an impending Leisure Crisis. The idea of the Arcology was born of this; the product of a brief Megastructure movement in Modernist architecture that was premised on the idea of re-designing the city to become the cultural and intellectual equivalent of a nuclear reactor and thereby provide enough mental stimulation and creative social activity to preclude a mass psychological breakdown. We were still ardent believers back then in economics’ silly notion of necessary economic incentives. It’s likely that there will, in fact, be some sort of manifestation of a Leisure Crisis simply because the Industrial Age has done such a good job of cultivating generations of people with no intellectual independence and no ability to cultivate long-term personal goals because they are so conditioned to living hand-to-mouth. We may need public psychological health programs that focus on this issue. But, most certainly, society will have little difficulty finding plenty of things to fill their newly freed lives with, just as their ancient ancestors readily found plenty to do with their newfound free time with the shift to agrarian culture. In fact, TMP is counting on this.
Adhocracies will be one of the key ways by which the more skilled and talented members of society fill their time, pursuing their passions. Most of the infrastructure of civilization will run on its own and maintain itself. But improving it, restoring it after catastrophic failures or natural disasters, and creating new facilities and systems will require active human participation. Similarly, creating and operating facilities for the pursuit of sciences and the arts, mass entertainment and recreation, and so on will require a certain dedicated ‘professional’ community. Today all these things tend to be initiated and managed top-down. They started by government edict or rich philanthropists. Elaborate bureaucracies are developed to operate them. In the future things won’t work top-down. There won’t be a ‘top’. So such activities will be initiated bottom-up, by people with a personal interest, passion, for this sort of thing stepping-up with an idea, forming teams around those ideas, and then seeking the ‘social credit’ necessary to acquire the resources to do them.
One of the best examples of this idea comes from science fiction writer Cory Doctorow’s novel Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom. In this novel Doctorow envisions a post-Singularity civilization where total automation has brought Industrial Age economics to its logical conclusion, a universal basic income has eliminated the need for paying jobs, and a digitally-media social credit system has supplanted the accumulation of monetary wealth as a way of administering access to above-normal resources. All the institutions and facilities that relied on cash for their existence now require a new rationale for their continuation. One of these is the Disneyworld theme park. With no money to support it and the Disney Corp. long dead, this world famous cultural institution is slated to become another ruin of the Industrial Age until a community of skilled fans decide to save it. They form an adhocracy for this task, take over the park, move into it to live (ultimately, for generations), and restore and operate it as a public good, earning social credit in the process that affords the resources from the now automated resource system needed to maintain it.
In this age, many things have followed this same pattern; universities, research institutes, museums, space programs… They are all established/restored and maintained by adhocracies of passionate supporters whose individual productivity is vastly leveraged by the technology of the time. Likewise, when new public works are needed, such as new mass transportation links, new planned cities, new industrial facilities, new large scale infrastructure systems like power facilities, adhocracies form temporarily to design, develop, and create them—then automated systems can take over to maintain them. What do people get out of this? The satisfaction of participating in something they enjoy, the recognition and appreciation of society, and the social credit that empowers them to keep on doing these kinds of things.
Professional and Special Interest Communities: These are large sub-cultural groups, largely bound by global communications but often supported by special physical facilities, that are keyed to specific career or recreational interests. Technically, they are both special interest communities but ‘professional’ communities would tend to be more structured and associated with things we regard as career interests that benefit society at large—science, engineering, arts, medicine, law—as opposed to things that are more recreational in nature—fandoms, sports, games, religion. (yes, religion is ultimately a recreational activity. It does not contribute to the advance of society or civilization in anything but an abstract way) It is from these groups that most adhocracies would form, as well as some physical communities that host the special facilities they may use. Almost everyone in society would be part of a number of such communities and move between many of them over the course of their lives and as nexuses of social attention they would be large generators of social credit.
Ethnic Groups: These are large cultural groups associated with major geographic regions that, today and increasingly in the future, also rely on communication for cohesion much as special interest communities. Ethnic groups are a product of geographical isolation. This no longer exists in any practical sense in the world today and thus these groups persist largely as relics. But we value, more today than ever before, the diversity represented by ethnic culture and many people find ethnic identity important to personal identity, and, resisting the Industrial Age’s compulsion to seek to homogenize society supplanting ethnic identity with state identity, ethnic communities have sought a preservation of their uniqueness. Ultimately, though, race does not exist as anything but a social convention. Science tells us there are no races, only ‘clines’. (spectrums of minor physical variation of a common species) In the future, every physical characteristic of the human body will become freely editable for the sake of fashion and personal aesthetic taste. At the same time, what’s left of any geographical and political/state barriers to people’s mobility will be completely eliminated and even the barriers of language will be under assault by technology. So the long-term future of ethnic groups and ethnic identity seems uncertain. Indeed, we’re already in the process of inventing sub-cultural groups that may well evolve into very persistent cultural communities very much akin to an ethnic group but supra-geographical and very deliberately engineered.
National Groups: These are large cultural groups associated with the Westfalian nation-states, cultivated in the isolation created by artificial political boundaries and state-restricted news, communication, and education. They will become very similar in character to ethnic groups—were technically invented to supplant ethnic identity—but because their origins are, in fact, much more recent, much more artificial, and much more superficial their long-term persistence beyond the nation-states that essentially engineered them and used continuous domestic propaganda to maintain them is unlikely. They will, however, persist for some time as a relic of the Industrial Age (and frequently a dangerous nuisance), much as there are many persistent relics of the Agrarian Age culture that haunt us today.
So there we have a snapshot of the major types of social units likely in the future. Some may be wondering where the conventional political parties and groups are in this spectrum. Well, you have to ask yourself what, exactly, a political party is and why it exists today. The US has a very rigidly imposed two-party political system that has cultivated opposing sub-cultures within the national cultural identity. It’s almost a conflict for dominant national culture. Most futurists seem to think this will not last. Much of the rest of the industrialized world has much less rigid political parties that persist more by tradition than some imposed political structure and thus the true nature of the political party is a bit clearer. Essentially, political parties are adhocracies created for the purpose of cultivating public attention and support around some package of ideology and policy in a bid to win seats for their internally chosen representatives on the bridge of the Ship Of State. (ideally, the captain’s chair) In the future there will be no ships of state! So if such organizations persist, they can only persist as special interest groups for a certain political philosophy—sort of the way that Libertarian, Communist, and Anarchist groups persist in US culture as, more-or-less, ‘fandoms’ of a certain philosophy and ideology with no hope of ever attaining any sort of mainstream recognition or functional political power. This does not mean these philosophies and ideologies may have no social and cultural influence. They just won’t have a mass centralized bureaucracy to compete with each other for control of.
==Property and Order==
If order in this future society is to derive from these basic units of social organization and the architecture of a resource-based economic system, what will it be like? How will it work? What is the basis of ‘authority’? How is that power distributed? The short answer is ‘bottom-up’, but to explain this we must look at some new emerging concepts of social activity and how they relate to law and our ideas of property. We’re getting into an area here that is, frankly, far beyond the scope of this document and project. So this part of the discussion should be taken somewhat lightly. But let’s give this a shot anyway.
Like so much else in the Industrial Age, authority and political power in contemporary culture have been systematically massified, centralized, and ‘professionalized’ with government evolving toward a corporate character. In fact, the rise of Fascism in the early 20th century relates to its being perceived as a more ‘progressive’ corporate-like political model more closely aligned to corporate interests and thus—before WWII—gaining great support from many industrialists, economists, and financial industry leaders even in America.
But this compulsion to centralize and hierarchically redistribute power actually has its origins in a meme propagating since the Agrarian Age; the idea that all authority, rights, and property originate with a god or gods to be distributed hierarchically through a nobility somehow associated with, or ordained by, the divine in an earthly re-creation of a presumed heavenly or cosmic order. Even contemporary religions still characterize divine cosmology and their mythological visions of an afterlife in the context of ‘kingdoms’ rather than ‘republics’. Not every aspect of one age of civilization is simply obsolesced in the next and this is one of many aspects of Agrarian age culture and paradigms that persist in the present. Modern history can, in some ways, be characterized as the evolution of the Westfalian nation-state and the transition of such states away from monarchies and toward progressively more democratic republics with egalitarian ideals. (of Greek and Roman inspiration via the Enlightenment) But, try as we might, we seem to have been unable to overcome the compulsion to concentrate power at the top along with the continued perpetuation of ruling and professional classes whose status and authority, even if ostensibly defined as originating in public consent, still seem to function in the culture as if based on noble entitlement.
To some extent this relates to some of the logistical problems of communication with large republics which are, by nature, chronically unstable and difficult when administered over large territories. There has been a historic tendency to employ systems of hierarchical representation (such as the US’s electoral collage and redundant state and federal bicameral legislatures and the parliamentary systems common elsewhere) originally intended to cope with extremely long and slow lines of communication across a vast territory. Though technically obsolete given modern communications, they persist because they have facilitated the ‘gaming’ of these political systems for certain interests and have led to a ‘professionalization’ of law and politics leading to the cultivation of a special legal and political elite whose practice is rhetoric, not a pursuit of logic, truth, or functional management.
Given the nature of contemporary digital communication, it is becoming increasingly difficult to rationalize the lack of public transparency in government and the failure to implement very direct democracy. The excuses become weaker and the attempts at maintaining status quo more blatantly despotic. We anticipate that as contemporary trends produce a de-massification of economic power, with that must come a de-massification of political power along with a weakening of government ability to engineer consent by illicit means and enforce its will top-down. We thus anticipate the emergence of new systems of organization and authority originating from the bottom and local community level in the form of adhocracies operating with social peer-to-peer processes and responding to progressive failures of bureaucracy, government, and state-run infrastructure. Increasingly supra-national and globally networked in nature, these adhocracies will cultivate progressively more refined and standardized peer-to-peer organizational processes eventually resulting in the ad-hoc emergence, then collective cultivation, of a kind of Open Source Law distinct from our contemporary dominant Common and Civil law paradigms by virtue of a transparent and open process of development akin to that of open source software. In effect a Civil Software platform. This would, of course, have no functional authority or power on its own, seeking merely adoptive use within the confines and limits of adhocracies and intentional communities—being a convenient ‘boilerplate’ for local use dealing with concerns of relatively light importance. But it may seek to set examples of a more rational system by virtue of foundation in plain language and—perhaps—the modern science of linguistics rather than the traditional practice of competitive rhetoric.
In effect we are suggesting the possible—and we must emphasize this is but a possibility—of the evolution of a kind of supra-national Civil Law code refined through peer-to-peer organizational activity implemented through communities and adhocracies without a need for overarching state authority but ultimately accountable to the total global human community through the mechanisms of social credit. We must take into account here that with such evolution is also coming, as a result of technological impacts, an evolution in society itself, its manner of communication, and the paradigms by which our culture defines property and thus criminality.
Much about how our civilization and culture function relates to the essential definition of property in the culture. Originally, this was a very loose concept within primary cultures and small groups with no particular ability to impose control over territories of large scale. There were few durable goods of any sort and people didn’t settle and lay claim to fixed pieces of land for long periods of time. The development of animal husbandry, evolving from nomadic hunting culture, brought with it a notion of communal property supported by communal investment of labor, and incidentally the development of raiding cultures seeking to supplement or support themselves on the organized theft of this property. But Agrarian Age culture became very focused on the exclusive control of resources and territory since the productivity of society was keyed to agricultural output. This led to increasing tribal conflict over the rights to resources and the development of increasingly autocratic social systems keyed to the means of organized labor and fighting, for defense, raiding, and conquest. Early agrarian communities repeatedly arose and failed, in part due to their susceptibility to exploitation by raiding cultures that had mastered superior technology for mobility and combat even while failing to master agrarian technologies themselves. Some of the largest and most violent of societies of ancient times were raiding cultures, such as the infamous Mongol Empire, and, as more-or-less historic documents, the Torah and Christian Old Testament are essentially the account of a quite similar raiding culture’s rise from a herding culture through the vehicle of a particularly violent warrior religion, exploitation and subjugation of surrounding agrarian communities, and eventual evolution itself into an agrarian culture with the adoption of those agrarian technologies and a very autocratic political system evolved from that original religion.
With the advent of monetary systems came a valuable, durable, commodity of universal fungibility rather conveniently suited to the needs of thieves and so compelling the need for banks to provide safer storage for it. With advancing industrialization and consumerism came increasing volumes of personal property, though it was not until quite recent times that personal ownership of land became commonplace, long being subject to pre-industrial feudalistic systems of entitlement replaced or adjusted by later republics to suit a more commodified real estate market and an emerging ‘every man on his lot’ vision of egalitarian society.
In our contemporary culture, with its very prominent consumerism and capital finance based economics, a very absolute notion of property and rights associated with it has become the convention, and endlessly elaborated in law. Political conservatives, Liberarians, and anarcho-capitalists in particular are very much insistent on an inalienable right to property superseding even the will of a democratic society, which, of course, reinforces the power associated with a now predominately economic-based upper-class. But, of course, the idea that there is any such thing as an inalienable right is logical fallacy. Rights don’t exist in nature nor are they passed down by some divine bureaucracy. They are all social/cultural conventions, existing only insofar as a society democratically chooses to recognize and enforce them, with violent force if necessary. Today we have seen an increasing conflict over the rights of property between corporations and consumers as companies seek to control market share by controlling the behavior of consumers and their rights of use over products they buy. Once unthinkable challenges to very fundamental principles of free market practice, such as the First Sale Doctrine, have become common among corporations seeking to exploit ambiguity in law to manipulate consumers and whittle-away at their individual property rights—something those conservatives have little difficulty with as long as corporations are careful not to inconvenience their particular demographic support base.
However, technology is altering the perceptions of value in our culture, shifting it away from the end-product, virtualizing it. Today the value of ‘stuff’ is in a slow decline. An increasing fraction of the stuff upon which our standard of living is quantified is now digital information, endlessly copyable and instantaneously distributable. New construction technology and housing trends are decoupling the value of architecture from the value of land, short-circuiting the basis of real estate speculation. Most of the value of real estate is now, in fact, keyed to the labor cost of building construction conserved as protracted mortgage debt—and like everything else technology is inexorably factoring that labor cost out. Automated on-demand production and increasing recyclability is reducing the cost of goods to their commodities materials value while enabling them to be increasing;y bespoke or custom in nature. The effective value of products is no longer intrinsic to the end-product but to its digitally-embodied design; iteratively evolutionary and defined in terms of ‘spimes’. Corporations increasingly treat ownership as a ‘limited use license’. Culturally, we are coming to embrace a transitory perspective toward the physical artifacts in our habitat. Access to things on-demand is more important than their ownership in any perpetual sense.
In Peer-To-Peer theory there is emerging a concept of peer or universal property; things deliberately created to be collectively owned by society at large and freely accessible by virtue of origins in peer-production systems. Valueless in a market sense, yet exponentially valuable in a social use sense by virtue of the empowerment they catalyze. Things like open source software.
As we evolve a global automated demand-driven production web incorporating principles of open reciprocal production we will be establishing what is essentially global peer production utility that performs processes of production as a public service irrespective of the intrinsic commodity value of those goods’ materials. Products themselves will have no value beyond their use-demand and the social credit associated with aiding their production and producing quality design. This is an ‘anti-market’; a market that generates value and (social) currency by giving things away, cultivating/engineering abundance rather than scarcity.
==Star Trek Economics and the Purpose of Wealth==
Several times in this article we’ve mentioned the idea of ‘social credit’ as an element in this future economics and how it serves as a kind of alternative to currency. What, exactly, is it? How would it work? Well, a good way to explain it is to look at one of our culture’s first mainstream illustrations of Post-Industrial economics; Star Trek. The essence of economics in the future culture illustrated in Star Trek revolves around the fanciful technology of the ‘replicator’; a variation of ‘transporter’ technology that converts energy into matter and that matter into food and goods. As the more dedicated Trekkies know, originally there was no ‘replicator’ as it was introduced in the ST:The Next Generation canon. In the original series that production ability was simply provided by a ‘behind the wall’ automated infrastructure that was, for obvious reasons, hidden from sight but presumably consisted of the classic Total Automation production system envisioned by so many futurists of the time. The transporter was a contrivance; a concession to limited special effects capability that made filming spacecraft landing sequences too difficult and expensive for TV production at the time.
Be that as it may, the replicator has become the ultimate symbol of a Total Automation production system. The ideal Santa Claus Machine. As such, it reduces the resource economy of the Earth and all its settlements and vessels around the galaxy to an energy-based one with the culture also possessing the ultimate clean energy sources. As is often described in the series, with these technologies human civilization has transcended the need for market economies, money, and competing nation-states (these expectations for the future really do go back quite a long way in western culture) and everyone is afforded access to whatever they want from replicators in their home for free within reason. Thus mankind has been freed from the drudgery and economic, political, and class struggles of the Industrial Age and is now free to explore and expand into space. Not everyone in the galaxy has achieved their same sophisticated state even if gaining access to the technology of space travel and encounters with these ‘throwback’ cultures offered a means to creating allegories to various problems of contemporary life.
But what does ‘free within reason’ mean? On Earth, there’s no poverty in the future culture of Star Trek and there are also no ostentatious displays of extreme wealth. Everyone seems to enjoy a very comfortable base-line standard of living we would today regard as a high upper-middle-class living but with a lot less clutter than we seem to have today and the infrastructure has been tailored to anticipate and meet the energy demand for maintaining that. But clearly some people have greater authority than others even outside the militaristic ranking system of Star Fleet and greater personal access to resources than normal. There are civilian careers of all sorts and in many stories we see people who have more-or-less personally acquired starships to travel space alone or settled entire planets by themselves—which, given the technology at hand, would not be that difficult but is still a bit precarious. (one of this author’s favorite among these characters being Harry Mudd, the gleefully avaricious space trader for whom ‘free within reason’ just wasn’t enough and who was set loose to wreak havoc across the galaxy because he just couldn’t abide the good life on Earth)
What keeps people from abusing their access to the replicator and using unreasonable amounts of energy making ridiculous amounts of stuff? Rationing of replicator use is only mentioned in Star Trek as an emergency measure. So the controls on human behavior for conventional use are more cultural and social. The system has been crafted to very well anticipate the maximum day-to-day usage and extreme or ridiculous individual usage is regarded as simply vulgar, bizarre, or indicative of mental illness. So there might be nothing to stop you from using the replicator to make a collection of solid gold Swarovski crystal covered Pokemon figurines but such usage would get automatically flagged as abnormal and you’d probably get a call from a local community ’counselor’ about it.
But what about the often legitimate need for exceptional amounts of resources? How is this need determined and access allowed? It’s not very clearly described, but in Star Trek culture there is definitely a series of bureaucracies that manage various activities and resources; Star Fleet itself, various science and engineering research agencies, various environmental, resource, and utility management agencies. And within the confines of these agencies there are systems of meritocratic social ranking, different levels of social status achieved by experience and performance and bringing with them different levels of responsibility and different degrees of personal control of resources. So, in Star Trek, access exceptional resources is career/profession-oriented and meritocratic. Your access to these resources is commensurate with your demonstrated ability use them responsibly for the larger benefit of society and your professional community. And here we arrive at the kernel of a notion of social credit.
Social credit is essentially a metric of social worth which can be used in the manner of a currency mediating certain rights; a means by which we quantify the significance of an individual within society and then afford them additional freedoms on merit. In the Star Trek future this is nebulously defined as intrinsic to the social systems. Today, futurists and science fiction writers explore more specific methods, usually relating to our highly ‘wired’ culture and technologies of social networking. The Internet has cultured, for better or worse, a kind of networked reputation tracking ability that many have imagined will evolve into a kind of numerical quantification of social status as a metric of social attention. And it has been suggested that this would become a kind of dynamic currency generated by our social activity and invested, passively, by the attention we pay to others and, intentionally, as a show of support for some specific activity. By this metric exceptional access to resources would be automatically granted by our production systems on the premise that exceptional social credit indicates a likelihood to use these resources for the benefit of society.
Now, this is probably a bit too simplistic to be practical. We thus anticipate the development of a more sophisticated system of quantifying social credit; Netension. We’ve mentioned this concept earlier in the context of how a future production web might seek a very deep, social, understanding of the demand that drives it production. Netention is currently an open source software development project that relates to the technology of the Semantic Web which many, including its original inventor Tim Berners-Lee, anticipate will evolve from the World Wide Web of the present. (and for which there is currently a slowly emerging development movement) The Semantic Web applies concurrently generated metadata to the pages of the Web so that its content—and associations between that content—are more comprehensible to search engines and other kinds of software, thus making the data of the Internet more inherently structured and allowing software to automate more intelligent uses of it. It attempts to transition the web from unstructured dispersed data to structures knowledge.
Netention—a portmanteau of ‘network’ and ‘attention’ or ‘intention’—is a social networking application that employs a semantic web approach to the cataloging and management of comprehensive and deep personal information in a manner that is still essentially anonymous outside the application environment beyond the modest information users wish to be public. Users of the application are guided through a profile data entry process to craft a digital representation of their life story including their abilities, personal and professional skills, needs, desires, and personal and career goals. This abstracted anonymous model of their lives is then networked to seek associations within the larger community of the social network in order to suggest possible social interactions which might be mutually beneficial. It is, in effect, a social network with a pronoia conspiracy; using semantic information systems toward the objective of engineering mutually beneficial situations and outcomes. A global digital conspiracy that’s out to help you.
Now, in creating such a system we are also creating a means to understand and both quantify and qualify social value of an individual while maintaining—more-or-less depending on how public he is—his personal anonymity. His engagement, constructive and destructive, in society is reflected in the semantic connections created by his recorded/tracked activity. The system makes no value judgements itself. Rather, it can evaluate the constructive/destructive social impact implied in the collective cloud of semantic information associated with the individual and the activities he is directly or indirectly involved with or associated with. There need no be any sort of specific numerical quantification here. No need to ‘keep score’ so-to-speak. Rather, by combining an accumulated semantic knowledge of resource requirements for various activities, the system, when integrated to the production web, could automatically free-up access to exceptional resources for the individual as they initiate the activities needing them. Some active/deliberate pooling of social credit would be performed by personal relationships, the forming of communities and adhocracies, and by crowd-sourcing campaigns that seek to communicate intended projects to the public to solicit their social support. A good idea can automatically accumulate the resources needed to pursue it as its communicated through society.
This is how we envision a possible future arbitrage of social credit, resources, and production. It is a comprehensively meritocratic system that balances personal desires against social value and responds automatically to the nature of one’s engagement with the larger society. Everyone would enjoy a comfortable baseline living, but the more constructive, creative, progressive, and socially beneficial your intentions the more you will, automatically, have access to appropriate exceptional resources to support your activity on the premise that what you do is a benefit to society.
Such a system would seem very alien and implausible today. Many people argue that our culture is already highly, justly, meritocratic—no one wants to believe that they have not earned and deserve everything they have. They regard money as a basic measure of merit—as a reward for, apparently, doing the right thing. But this is plainly delusional. Wealth has its own gravitational force and, at a certain volume, is self-perpetuating. With enough money in the hands of professional financial management, a totally unconscious person, lying in a coma for decades, would continue to accumulate wealth indefinitely. Certainly, some concerted effort may be required to reach that initial point of self-perpetuation and a persons choices do matter to outcomes. But can one really say that self-accumulating wealth is a just reward for one’s contribution to society? Isn’t merit concurrent to one’s active participation in society? Contemporary economics has created a kind of economic black hole of self-consolidating control and ownership or everything. This is making contemporary economics dysfunctional for its single-most essential purpose; social progress. Imagine how dangerous immortality would be if it existed in today’s culture. Imagine what immortal people, endlessly accumulating wealth, would do to the world—like the dead Incan nobles who still collected tribute perpetually. Oh, right. We already did invent this. It’s called corporate ‘personhood’…
Why do we allow large accumulations of wealth to exist? What is the purpose of it? And bear in mind that, ultimately, this exists by democratic consent. There are no inalienable rights of property. We choose to allow not just wealth but extreme, obscene, wealth. Some cynically suggest that we allow the rich to exist because we aspire to be them—and, certainly, everyone strives to live better and achieve a certain ideal comfort and security. But most wealthy people are, by nature, private and it’s rather hard to imagine that the increasingly bizarre and self-destructive lifestyles of the more public among them we see in the media are setting an example for anyone. Ostensibly, we allow the existence of great wealth to facilitate activity that requires great resources beyond the norm to accomplish—and this because we generally do not trust the ability of government to do this effectively or efficiently through a political/bureaucratic process. That’s the basic premise of the Capitalist system. Thus there is an assumption here that we are affording this wealth to people who can best use it in that way.
But is that what happens in practice? Have we done anything practical to assure this is the case, or is it based on a presumption that this wealth only comes by the appropriate merit? (which is obviously false as long as it self-accumulates without effort or attention) Our wealthiest people are, in fact, not unusually intelligent, skilled, or talented. There are very few Bill Gates’ among upper-class society. Most great wealth is inherited and self-accumulating. Its concentration is most definitely not meritocratic. It is blindly automatic, and mindless of social concern. Most certainly, there are talented, skilled, people who truly contribute to society as they build their wealth, exponentially leveraging it for the larger benefit of society. We should rightly celebrate such accomplishment. These are valuable people to our society. This is how it’s ‘supposed’ to work. But this has become the exception, not the norm. We need a much more socially intelligent economy that truly optimizes and leverages all human potential.
We can’t realistically impose the kind of future system we envision on the world. We can only anticipate this evolution. But we can encourage that evolution through systems and institutions that seek to counter the mindless trends of economics with more intentional, socially responsible, ones. This is yet another reason why, in TMP2, we choose to embrace principles of Kelsonian economics and the creation of institutions like the Community Investment Corporation, Capital Homesteading, Employee Stock Ownership, Consumer Stock Ownership, and so on that seeks expansion of public ownership in counter to our economy’s mindless tendency to consolidate it. Within our intentional communities and companies we can pursue peer-to-peer organization, open reciprocal exchange, and meritocratic processes in anticipation of the more sophisticated, digitally mediated, systems of the future—testing the paradigms in reduced risk contexts and without overt threat to established systems.