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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Networks vs. Hierarchies

If you're interested in the technical plausibility of anarchism in the context of a high-tech networked society, I suggest reading this great bit of research by mutualist Kevin Carson, who also blogs for C4SS. Chapter 2 is really eye opening.

In a nutshell, Carson argues that networks have properties (such as a quick information feedback loop) that make them highly-efficient, anti-fragile and superior modes of experimentation and response, learning from problems and obstructions in a way that makes them inherently stronger. Hierarchies, in contrast, with large corporations and governments as prime examples, are inherently fragile due to the conflict-of-interest necessary to hold them together. This fragility and slow-response time makes complex hierarchies adapt poorly to rapidly changing circumstances and obstructs clear feedback channels that would make them more efficient. Given the rapid growth in networked and crowd-sourced information available on the web, governments will seemingly always be playing catch-up, and may be increasingly overwhelmed by what historian Samuel Huntington called an "excess" of democracy.

Networked "governance" may in fact be the future of human organization. Certainly technolibertarians are working hard to build alternative institutions and uncensorable channels, while of course the U.S. along with the world's finest authoritarian regimes keeps a finger on internet chokepoints and even a nationwide "kill switch" is on the table in the U.S., though it hasn't worked well in Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt. Given the inherent adaptability and resilience of networked organizations, this problem for the government may intensify.

I can't say I know what the future of humanity will look like, except that I have a hard time picturing humans in a few hundred years colonizing the outer reaches of space and engaging in economic transactions using currencies issued by central banks millions of light years away. Or, for that matter, obeying laws and regulation issued by far away bureaucrats. New models will assuredly replace what we're familiar with now... the big question is... is the Bitcoin revolution a glimpse of the future?

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