I should probably be posting about Christmas, but instead, I shall give you a gift: another essay on the decentralization of our world, and the coming conflict between central authorities (not just governments, but corporations, professional associations, and universities as well) and decentralized individuals.
I wrote in my last piece that the hackivist war against those going after WikiLeaks was a first step, the opening salvo, in this decentralization vs. centralization conflict. Many pooh-poohed the idea, thinking that DDoS "attacks" were nothing, that these hackers were a flash in the pan.
But the struggle between centralization and decentralization continues, and only in the past week, I have seen several articles to back up my assertion. So that's what I'm going to show you, the wave of decentralization continuing to break upon my shores.
Exhibit A is a snippet from the New York Times on 2010 in ideas. The idea in question is "D.I.Y. Macroeconomics," and I'm posting it first because it mentions one of my all-time favorite econopolitical blogs, Mish Shedlock's "Global Economic Trend Analysis." The basic gist of this article is that economic analysis is no longer bound up in a monopoly by Harvard- and U. of Chicago-trained academics, which the public must end up taking. Now, with information about the economy flowing freely across the web (the article mentions FRED in particular), bloggers, financial industry insiders, and average people--basically anyone who isn't an ivory tower economist--can take the information and parse it on their own, coming to their own conclusions.
It's related to the media being the gatekeepers of knowledge, only in this case, its academic economists being the gatekeepers. The effects are also similar. Trust in mainstream economists has eroded significantly since this depression began in late 2007 (although mostly from 2008), partly because their medication has not cured the economy's ills, but also because the people can now see the information for themselves and have deduced that the emperor has no clothes. (See Paul Krugman furiously flailing around in his futile attempt to regain validity as a prime example.) While much of the information is put out by major central institutions, such as the Fed, NBER, or credit reporting agencies, the new analysis is done by a great many more people. No longer is sincere economic analysis confined to a (relatively) small and cloistered group, whose reasoning and logic is not at all transparent. Now is it open (even, you could say, "open-source,") and people are free to question the findings of said economists without having to quiver in fear that they are way out of their league.
The implications of this are profound. First, I believe it will expose many of our current leaders in the economic world as either jokers, frauds, fools, or some combination of the above. The public will no longer just follow their prescriptions blindly, which leads to the second implication: individual empowerment. Granted, this one will likely be restricted to those "economics geeks" out there, but it will empower those who have always doubted what the talking heads on TV were really saying, or the nonsense they felt their textbooks were offering them. Now they can see for themselves, and they'll be able to effectively challenge the old dogma. Hopefully, this will also lead to a third implication, namely, massive public involvement and interest in how our economy works. We've been plagued for decades by an electorate that never took the time--nor, really, the ability--to educate itself on the economy. Instead, they listened to talking heads on TV, to their professors (who were so embedded in the system they couldn't see it for themselves), to the politicians and business leaders, and just took it. Thus, we ended up with a gradually stupefying electorate who were unable to see past the lies and obfuscation, and helped send our country towards financial oblivion. But with this DIY process going on, more and more will realize that they can understand, and will take better steps towards understanding it. And hopefully, this will lead to a fourth implication, namely, that the public will wake up, realize what is going on, and push for a drastic cutback in government spending. This might not happen, but I'll be crossing my fingers. In any case, it will lead to the entire system being turned upside down. And that will be a good thing.
Exhibit B is law enforcement and public security. Law enforcement in the US is notably corrupt, incompetent, self-serving, and none too concerned with civil rights. It would be natural, then, for private citizens to turn to other means to keep their streets safe.
Perhaps the only thing surprising about this is the way they're doing it. Of course, with everyone nowadays being something of a sci-fi/comic book geek, maybe it isn't so surprising. But it's happening, with the central police authorities, perhaps just too befuddled with what's going on, trying to work with them.
I'm not really sure what more I can say about this. I feel the implications are pretty obvious. People take the law into their own hands, gradually working from assisting current law enforcement authorities to ultimately supplanting them. Central authorities gradually lose credibility and influence, and through this process, will undoubtedly try to regain influence by attempting to rein in officers, improve standards, and actually give a damn about civil rights, but I fear for them the damage is already done. There are going to be problems with this, namely differing ideas of what is and isn't illegal (drugs and abortion are two big ones), but in any case, law enforcement and security won't be the exclusive domain of central authorities any longer.
Exhibit C is a bit harder to place. I don't have, at the time of writing, any one article to cite or link to that best explains it. What I do have is a person--Kevin Carson, a member of the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS), a economist of the mutualist school, a market anarchist, and a proponent of DIY micromanufacturing. This is his response to another writer which mentions and brings up the concept, while on his own blog one reader gives him a first-hand account of an attempt at it.
Here we have manufacturing moving away from large factories that require the capital and support of a large company or government in order to run, and towards individuals making objects cheaply and without anyone above them dictating how to do it (other than the customer, natch.) If this nascent movement expands, it would directly lead to the economic system being overturned, with major corporations losing business to these scattered manufacturers. While it would take a great deal of time to move towards, say, micromanufacturing cars, its not impossible, and many electronics can easily be made by DIYers. Imagine Apple and Microsoft when people start making their own iPads and Zunes. I would expect a lot more "regulation" being intended "for the children's sake" on this front, as conglomerates move to prevent the public from cutting them up. I'm not sure they'll be victorious, however, since they no longer control the flow of information, and there is a growing dislike of corporations that would make the hippie writers of the 1960s envious. They'll succeed in the short term, probably, but the long term? More doubtful.
People making their own things, rather than centralized corporations and factories. That's what you need to keep in mind.
Exhibit D is, well, Google. Or rather, what Google has been telling the UN. Apparently, the UN's chief committee on the Internet--I know, like they have anything better to do--is working on reforming itself and the whole manner of discussing the Internet, but is only allowing governments to sit on it. Google is arguing that it should be open to far more than just governments, including universities, non-profits, and yes, corporations.
Now let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Google is pushing for this because obviously, Google would like a seat at the table, because that would translate into an excellent lobbying position. It's self-interest here, and we can't ignore that, or really blame Google for that.
But the author's rhetoric still holds true. The Internet is the prime example of decentralization; no matter how hard central authorities struggle to impose some sort of top-down standard, it never works. People continue to innovate and do utterly new things at a breakneck speed that central authorities simply cannot plan for. Video still got out of Burma when they tried to close down the Net there, and even China doesn't have a handle on the information flow from their country. About the closest thing to a central authority for the web is the W3C, which sets coding standards, but even they aren't followed all the time, leading ut.to deprecated code never being entirely phased out.
Expect more from your Internet in the coming decades ahead.
And now, finally, Exhibit E, leading back to my first post, the Wikileaks war. This is actually an older article, from the bygone age of 2006, on a concept called open source war. I think it relates very well to what's going on with Wikileaks and conflicts raging today in general. In essence, there is no one central, coordinating force for the combatants, making it impossible for centralized leaders on the other end to decapitate and push for an end to their opponents.
That's one reason why I see what is going on with Wikileaks now to really just be a prologue. It's the beginning before the beginning, because they don't really have a plan or objective other than "harm those harming Wikileaks." But I feel something of this nature could gain steam really soon. Taking Robb's points, let's see how they would work in an open source war in the near future:
- Plausible Promise: The idea that could gain wide acceptance here would be, in my opinion, going after those in power, destroying said power structures, etc. It would find acceptance from both the left and the right (remember, they do fear world governments) as well as those just pissed off with the banks. The alpha release would likely come after Wikileaks lets its BofA data fly, more hackers go after the corporate institutions and deal lasting damage to their networks, and people start getting with the program. If the hackers could bring down a company for only a few days, and by that I mean damage their accounts, wipe out their profits, etc., we would have a credible "alpha attack" that would tell the public that something really is happening.
- Crossing the Chasm: We already saw the left and right align briefly to oppose the first round of bailouts in late 2008. We've also seen many disparate groups opposing Obamacare, further bank bailouts, the Fed's QE2, and various other top-down instruments. I feel that the chasm, while big, is not insurmountable, and that these groups will put aside their ideologies in order to focus on wrecking the current power structure and enabling the people. Sharing data and collaborating is really not all that difficult, especially to the tech-savvy people of the 21st century.
- Critical Mass: This is the most difficult part, in my opinion. There are too many people out there who are ready to dismiss any amount of change as being negligible and unimportant. There would also be far too many who, being scared and unable to think for themselves, would just follow the government announcements and march against the rebels. We're already seeing it with the idiotic defenses of the TSA's sexual molestation policy. Robb points out, and I agree, that infrastructure disruption is really the best solution. If the fighters can prove that the government and its corporate lackeys are incompetent and unable to serve the people, support will erode rapidly, no matter how blind the people are. That might be difficult in an established first world country like the United States, unless they are able to hack and take over vital infrastructure IT nodes. And if that happens...well, good luck to you. I'll be heading to my bunker.
Note that I am not advocating violence or warfare--I support violence only in self-defense--but this is just what I see happening in the next few years. People are fed up with what is going on with their governments, and they are fed up with the power that the big banks have over them. They're also deeply disturbed at the double standard going on in this country, where companies get away with ruining lives while ordinary citizens go to jail for years just for stealing a loaf of bread. Moreover, now, more than ever, they are in a position to do something about it. This is quite dangerous, and could lead to a great deal of social upheaval if it gets any headway. But it could also lead to the quintessential decentralization vs. centralization conflict that may be the hallmark of this century, just as the Cold War was the hallmark of the last one.
Corporations compete with one another to get the most profits. Microsoft and Apple are a great example, fighting over computers and operating systems. Meanwhile, governments fight to have the best economies and resources, such as the struggles between China and the US. But it may be that the real competitor that these entities are going to have to fight against will be the people themselves. I feel that the next decade will herald a radical decentralization of the Western world, as the emperor is revealed to have no clothes, trust in traditional institutions shatters, and people take matters into their own hands. This could be a very dangerous and bumpy ride, but it also could be an exciting one. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.