Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bitcoin, Wikileaks, and the Rise of In-Spite-of-Archy

To vote, or not to vote. That is the question.

Well, it is if you're an anarchist.

The syndicates in revolutionary Spain forbade it. Voting was the tool by which the majority oppressed the minority. No real revolution could come of ballots. Real revolution would come from smashing the ballot box, and setting up an opt-in government. Pay your dues to the union, and they shall be your chosen government. Don't pay, and get out of the way. That was how it was supposed to work. You know, before the whole priest-killing thing got started. Oh, and Hitler's opposition. Well, and that final decision to start voting anyways . . .

I wish for the sake of Holy Knowledge Herself that anarchism would have had a longer go in Catalonia before Franco put it down. The experiment of parallel organization--not revolution, but evolution; a new abiogenesis of social order--deserves to have its results known, whatever they would have been.

I used to tell my wife I was born in the wrong century. I would have totally gone all Orwell and fought to see that one through.

But I'm starting to think this century's not half bad.

Kickstarter started it. Well, at least it started me thinking. Here, it seems, is a solution to the age-old problem of justly pooling resources. Not taxation, but an all-or-nothing drive for free-will financial commitments.

Nowadays, I see the black flag everywhere.

But let's rewind.

Some anthropology, first.

The reason that government is everywhere is that government wins. It's a Darwin thing. The reason that government wins is that a bigger ship is more seaworthy, and a big enough ship needs a thousand builders, and a thousand builders need an organizer to deal out paychecks, and sooner or later the organizer's paychecks become more important than the ship. The ship is still made, of course, and it crosses the world conquering savages for loot. But in the end, the organizer is a king, and we all swear the pledge of allegiance. The original reason for building the ship? Shit, no one remembers. Anyways, here we go. (Ever watch Cube?)

(Ok, that was a sloppy seven-sentence caricature of the pull factors leading to the universal adoption of government, but anthropologically it's right in its essence.)

The take-home: oppression exists because we need organization. No way out of it. I sure accepted it. Then came Megatrends. Its punchline made me stagger.
“The Computer will smash the pyramid. We created the hierarchical, pyramidal managerial system because we needed it to keep track of people and things people did; with the computer to keep track, we can restructure our institutions horizontally.”
In '88 that sounded like an awesome plot for a novel. Now I think it sounds like an awesome plot for a newspaper.

In my own lifetime, the anarchic ferment of the internet has at least delivered one hell of an encyclopedia. It also gave me a great place to stay in Puerto Rico (via airbnb), sans the exorbitant fees that normally accompany travel so that the organizers can be well paid.

But even these promising endeavors are still centralized, and still nipping at the heels of big business and not Big Brother.

Enter Bitcoin.

Some people don't like that the world's monetary policy is controlled by unelected elites. Other people think that these unelected mandarins are our best, safest bet.

Under the paradigm that's governed civilization thus far, this would ultimately culminate in a vote fight. If you want to abolish the Fed, you vote for Ron Paul, and if you win, the supporters of the old way lose.

Bitcoin changes everything.

If you want an alternate currency, you buy in. If you don't, you don't.

Still history suggests that if Bitcoin ever got to be a big enough challenge to the Powers That Be, they'd undo it. But in these brave new days of non-hierarchically organized networks, that looks to be impossible.

"The Computer will smash the pyramid . . . "

Bitcoin doesn't need to be legal to operate. And it's encroaching on the sort of grand scale project space that first gave governments their legitimacy. I think this is significant.

"Where to? What next?"

I don't know.

But the black flags don't stop there.

Wikileaks has made a forward assault on the governments of the world, and as of yet seems immune to their prosecutions, in part because of their "insurance" file, distributed on non-hierarchical networks, and encrypted using methods that the government once sought to make illegal, eventually giving up in the face of unenforceability.

Perhaps in our days, we will see our cyber-syndicates rise. Perhaps we will have nations without coercion of compromise.

Perhaps Romer's charter cities will take off, or the seasteading movement will swell, and offer us our first physical buy-in cities.

Whatever the case, the question of voting will again be asked.

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  (Or, you know, a house. If you're just like a bored billionaire or something.)

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