How Digits Are Reinventing the World OrderJeffrey Tucker
Feb. 05, 2013
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Most people today use technologies without a clue to the larger picture of what is really happening to the structure of the world because of them. People are staring at the trees and not noticing the gigantic, growing, and ever expanding forest, much less considering the meaning of it all.
This is an attempt to provide a larger look, starting with one of the most beautiful images on the entire Web. It comes from Tweetping.net. This site lights up a tiny pixel for every public communication sent through Twitter.
What you see serves as a proxy for the growth of global communication networks far more complex and voluminous than most people imagine. The reach extends far beyond that of any regime in the world. By comparison, the control that government has over the planet, as egregious and ghastly as it is, is miniscule.
This puts into perspective the $3 million that the Eurocrats are spending to skew upcoming elections in favor of centralized solutions and put down Euroskeptics. It cannot be done. Governments think they can control this, but they can’t.
Twitter was born in 2006, but its present form was built by users themselves. The developers made the infrastructure and let it happen. It is not only about just telling your friends what you had for lunch. It serves its users — each of whom has exactly as much power as any other — as a portal to the entire digital universe.
Tweets can be petty (“bathroom on the 2nd floor clogged: see this image”) to very serious (“army mobilized for killing in NE district: map”), from the tiniest network (a household) to the largest (a famous pop star or global corporation). Most importantly, they all overlap in ways that surpass human comprehension.
Communications are organized by users themselves. No two users have the same network, any more than any two people in real life have identical relationships with others. That’s why the complexity is essentially unfathomable. What’s more, it is scalable: It can grow and deepen and widen without a known limit. It has 500 million users (and growing) and sends some 340 million tweets daily (and growing). It handles 1.6 billion search queries per day.
When you load the site, it begins from zero and then begins to light up and fill in. Here is what you see after two hours:
The lighted portions show engaged, online, sophisticated, and prospering populations. Most all populated portions of the world are involved. A surprising world center comes from East Asia: Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam. But South America, Russia, the Middle East, and well-populated portions of Africa are all lit up. Again, this is just two hours of use.
What we see here is a new form of global order, one not organized by regimes, but by people. It is the closest existing picture of the capacity of people to organize their own lives in a setting that no regime has approved, much less implemented. It is undirected, undesigned, and far larger than the individual intentions of any single user or any institution. It is delightfully “out of control,” a picture of a beautiful anarchy.
Twitter Nation is only one piece of the overall digital puzzle, one sector of overlapping and cascading sources of communication and global exchange. If you can imagine the entire picture, what you see is precisely the world that states have worked for generations to prevent from emerging. They took over communications in the early part of the 20th century as a way of maintaining their status as gatekeepers. The people would know only what states would want them to know, and no more. That’s the purpose of the censors, the controls, the official organs of opinion, the propaganda.
That’s all over. It’s a major defeat for the coercive model of social and economic organization.
Now consider another chart: the use of Bitcoin in transactions. Bitcoin is a digital currency created by someone whose identity remains unknown. It became public only in 2009. Today, it is the most widely used alternative currency. It works without central banks, governments, or even user identities.
As with all technology, it is used at the margins of society before it becomes mainstream. Watch what the “weirdos” and “wackos” are saying and doing and you see the future.
In the last few years, it has gained notoriety for becoming the black-market currency of choice. But I knew something had changed when a good friend of mine who works for a very mainstream news source in New York tossed me an instant message: “I’m now a proud Bitcoin owner! These are so cool!!” This was about the time that WordPress started accepting them and reports began to abound about all the mainstream things you can buy with them.
At this site, you can watch a live record of new transactions, which occur about one per second from around the world, depending on the time of day. For the bigger picture, see this interactive Bitcoin node world map. Here is a snapshot:
Here again, we see the emergence of a new form of order that no one planned, no one fully anticipated, no one controls. It is built by the choices of individuals, one trade at a time. The self-interests of the traders coincide with the great good of humanity in building structures outside the regime.
This is only a small sampling. When you consider the sheer size and scale of the global economic order — all its trades, its financial networks, its capital markets, its institutions, its complexities — it now far surpasses anything that be comprehended by those assigned to control them. It is, in fact, outside the control of states. It is beyond geography and being politics.
This emergent reality contracts everything that was assumed at the start of the 20th century. States were supposed to plan. Societies were to be managed. The global order was to be organized by nation-states that would negotiate as if they were homogeneous units with interests and goals. The only planning, communication, and substantial action was to be regime planning, communication, and action.
A century later, this whole system is blown up. And the situation is even worse for all prevailing regimes. Fiscal policy as conceived by Keynesian theory is proven worse than useless. It has saddled the world with unpayable debt and trapped governments in an impossible situation of having made ridiculous promises that can’t be kept.
Similarly, its monetary policies are ineffective and dangerous. Central banks of the world are devoting all their efforts to saving their client banks from market pressures, rather than conducting the “scientific” monetary policy envisioned by technocrats a century ago.
Textbook theory and real-world practice diverged in the extreme.
In fact, the technocrats of all stripes stand demoralized and largely out of ideas. Their communication systems are irrelevant. Their social welfare systems are abused to the point of absurdity. Their schools function only thanks to the infusion of private resources and energy. Their transportation is strained because of lack of money. Their security systems are a laughingstock.
Their wars have been so ineffective that even the politicians who still wage them sense that they gain more propagandistic advantage from proclaiming their devotion to peace, rather than pretending that imperialism is doing anyone any good. Plus, armies are an expense that not even governments want to pay for as they once did.
The people are taxed out. The true nature of political systems — all designed with the idea of serving the people — is so famously corrupt and ridiculed in endless streams of movies, shows, comedy routines, jokes, songs, memes, and novels. The reality is increasingly obvious: While many people seek temporary gain from the system, most people are seeking permanent escape. We no longer believe.
What about political parties? They are the archetype of public-private partnerships. They exist to serve the regime primarily, but also to launder money from interest groups in the private sector to the political class and back again to those groups in the form of protection and favors. That’s their whole purpose. People who take their stated purpose of somehow “representing the people” seriously misunderstand their raison d’Ãªtre. Those who attempt to crash them and force them to achieve some imagined democratic ideal will always and forever be shut out and punished.
Experience is revealing all these things, season by season.
Think of the regime as a huge and glorious mansion with beautiful pillars. But inside those pillars and under that foundation are tiny termites that have eaten away at everything that keeps it standing. It still stands. It still looks pretty. But it is shaky and strained and weak.
A century ago, regimes jumped at the chance to run the world, but they overreached and now face certain failure.
Even as this takes place, a new order is being built by people every day. We are discovering in the 21st century that we the people have more in common than any people has in common with their own government.
[Note: The best single book on this overriding theme, written at the depths but seeing the light at the end, is Frank Chodorov's The Rise & Fall of Society. We made it a Club selection for a reason: It is an epic contribution that reveals the dynamics of history. Our new special edition is free to Club members.]
The story of the next 10 years will be thrilling to tell in retrospect. It will be a story about the failure of one way of living — one dominated by rulers and their plans — and the rebirth of another way of living entirely built by human volition. We are at only the beginning stages of this new era. More of the new edifice is being built by the day.
The Twitter and Bitcoin maps are keys to understanding where history is headed. In the big picture, the old regime is dying, and we all need to accustom ourselves to living without it.
That means reducing dependence on the physical structures that the regime controls (including its promises to care for you in old age), learning more about the dynamics of the spontaneous order of voluntary associations (this is the purpose of the Laissez Faire Club), and increasing attachments to authentic human associations rooted in liberty.
To get to the end result will not be without friction and difficulty, and the attempt to sustain the old model will create many victims along the way. But the end result will be a wonderful thing to behold.
Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, the Primus inter pares of the Laissez Faire Club, and the author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo, It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes, and A Beautiful Anarchy: How to Build Your Own Civilization in the Digital Age, among thousands of articles. Click to sign up for his free daily letter. Email him: [email protected] | Facebook | Twitter | Google