• Is decentralization possible? A note to a critic.

    by  • April 17, 2013 • Everything Else • 3 Comments

    Paul Hughes writes about the possibilities for radical decentralization in a high tech world. This comes up in a thread with some discussion of Hakim Bey. Let us proceed.


    Let me answer those points at a practical level, and then at a more philosophical one.

    1) As I note in the piece, Hakim Bey has never been convicted of molesting a child. However, he makes no bones about being attracted to under-age boys, and that thread is present through a lot of his work. Various sources have catalogued it, and in the absence of an explicit denial from Hakim Bey, I think I am on solid ground suggesting that he is a paedophile (attracted to legal minors), perhaps inactive (not molesting.)

    2) I do not believe that any society, no matter how perfect, is going to produce zero predators. There will likely always be people who’s wiring is messed up to the point where they exhibit violent, predatory tendencies. Probably the closest thing we have seen on any sustained basis to a functional utopian anarchy is various hunter-gatherer groups throughout history, and unfortunately many of them have absurdly high homicide rates – certainly not all of them, but it’s a common thread.

    I believe it is a pretty safe bet that, just as with homosexuality, many other kinds of complex human behavior have biological roots. Homosexuality is a pretty neutral biological fact of life, with hundreds of animal species also having a homosexual percentage of their populations. We can be fairly sure that homosexuality is a significant piece of human behavior with at least some genetic component. I don’t think the biological roots of homosexuality are significant except in fighting homophobia and persecution: skin colour is biological too, and the persecution homosexuality and skin colour is ancient, among many other forms of oppression.

    But let’s consider problematic behaviors like psychopathy, sociopathy and low-empathy disorders (autism), schizophrenia etc. very likely have at least some biological baseline reality and getting rid of them is no more plausible than the far right’s vision of getting rid of all the gays.

    That leaves a problem of managing the fraction of the population that just will not or cannot behave itself. People go nuts and do insane things. Some of those people are superficially normal, but in one or two areas, monstrous.

    Any society has to be able to deal with them, and that includes preserving their basic human rights, not just lynching them on an ad-hoc basis.

    This implies we need a theory of justice, and enforcement capability, ***however localized or decentralized it may be.***

    Moving on.


    Now, that was the pragmatics. Let me step back to the philosophical.

    3) I’m profoundly non-Utopian. This is not to say I am a pessimist. As I’ve said for years, “I’m not a pessimist, I’m an alarmist.”

    I’m not trying to create a perfect world. My goals are pretty simple: every human being on earth has a solid meal each day and somewhere to sleep. You could add a knowledge of germ theory and rudimentary medical assistance to that, but, in principle, I’ll be happy enough if we can just stop people dying of starvation and intestinal worms.

    The utter horror of life at the bottom is very real to me. I will settle for any reasonable fix for that resource distribution problem.

    Now pair this with the oncoming systemic threats – terrible problems with abuse of nanotechnology and biotechnology seem very credible (particularly bio, you can argue Monsanto and national biowar programmes count there) and we have the onrushing problem of climate devastation, biodiversity loss, topsoil depletion and all the rest.

    I believe that we are going to need law. I believe we are going to need very, very heavily enforced top-down law, to protect the world from ordinary human being’s tendency to over-consume and over-reproduce. I don’t believe, based on my understanding of human nature, that self-regulation is possible at this level.

    That is not to say that I believe in a global dictatorship or whatever, but I think we ARE going to need top down military style force to enforce climate etc. protection. I also believe that nobody should be making social policy or sexual prohibitions for their neighbours.

    What I’d like to see is an authoritarian approach to protecting the planet from the human population, and a libertarian/anarchist/syndicalist arrangement of life for everything outside of the planetary protection imperatives.

    4) Betrayal

    A lot of people would like it if I did not believe that the authoritarian component was going to be required. I am among them: it’s loathsome to come to love the Leviathan. I am not the first person to come to a conclusion of this type: better men than me have gone down this path before, notably George Monbiot.

    I am still seriously considering whether there’s a fundamental and fatal flaw in my thinking to lead me to this conclusion. I have a similar debate in my life about the role of violence in securing both Liberty and conformity to Rational Law relative to environmental protection. I have conclusions that I cannot rationally overthrow, and yet simultaneously cannot morally trust. What to do?

    Consequently, in my public communications, I try and stick pretty close to what I consider fairly solid, well-understood areas: speculation on how one might manage a city’s infrastructure systems in a crisis, or commentary on Greece’s economy, or the need for the Free Software Movement to start addressing the moral and ethical problems created by running Free Software on Chinese-manufactured hardware.

    Until I am fairly sure about the big stuff, I’m going to wait. I’m not putting any force behind these interim conclusions, I’m taking my time, reading more widely, talking to people who disagree with me, and I’m waiting. Maybe in six months I’ll figure out that, yes, we can do this bottom up using zero force. Maybe I won’t.

    But, right now, I’m biding my time and working on some new fundamental concepts: “Calculus of Competing Virtues” and some concepts around mapping which political solutions are possible given specific kinds of technology.

    Maybe I’ll have more breakthroughs, maybe I won’t.

    But that’s where I am.


    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


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