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Current Communication Technology and Existent Systems of Governance Don’t Mix

This post builds upon an idea I have casually mentioned in previous posts. The basic idea goes something like this-

The type of government and social hierarchy possible in every single society is linked to the level and ease of interpersonal communication between its median members.

Consider a hierarchy ridden totalitarian society such as N. Korea. Its continued existence is only possible because the median person in that country cannot or dare not communicate freely with another median person. In some ways the situation in that country is similar to why old kingdoms and institutions like the catholic Church were so powerful even though they were tyrannical and incompetent.

For much of human history it was hard for the median person to freely communicate with another median person- either because of technological limitations or a gap between the level of technology available to the media person versus the governing tyranny.

It is not coincidental that the spread and acceptance of printing, newspapers, radio, films and TV are linked to progressively less tyrannical societies with increasingly representative governments. The internet is in some ways the next step in the revolution, but one that is profoundly different from its predecessors.

Unlike them, it is-

1. Very Inexpensive to use.
2. Ubiquitous in accessibility (place and time).
3. Searchable and Indexed in multiple databases.
4. Transnational and now translingual.
5. Contents can be stored at will on multiple media.
6. Hard to monitor and censor to the extent of previous media.

The modus operandi of “elites”, tyrannies, religions and governments throughout human history has been to maintain status and control through information flow between people. As I have previously mentioned, this was easy through most of history because the technology was crap or the method was expensive or somewhat easy to control.

Even the so-called “democracies” and “free societies” of the west and all of their institutions- from law and order to the medical system are based on an early post-WW2 era scenario. They assume that median people have telephones, read books and newspapers, watch movie, TV and talk in person.

They are simply not built to withstand the pressures, scrutiny, feedback loops and other consequences of the median person possessing and using a smartphone AND laptop to access a ubiquitous internet, search google, forward stuff via email, FB or Twitter and start blogs on inexpensive websites.

A host of other factors including the generational technology divide, changing demographic profiles, effects of real automation on job creation and the disastrous effects of financializing economies are contributing to a ‘perfect storm’ which is exposing the incompetence and inability of our current “elites” and institutions to solve problems. There are those who think we can overcome this situation through massive institutional reforms- whether it is electing new people, changing laws, rewriting regulations or similar actions.

I, however, believe that the problem lies in the continued existence of those very institutions.

These old institutions are not malfunctioning. Indeed, they are functioning precisely as they were meant to. It is just that their mode of functioning is not viable in the era we live in for reasons stemming from both socio-economic conditions and public scrutiny.

Institutions as diverse as schools, universities, municipalities, state and national governments, law and order (aka scam and repression), corporations, hospitals, news media etc are simply unsalvageable. However, their replacements will have to be created from scratch for reasons I have mentioned in a previous post.

There are those who think we can restrict or censor communication easily. Unfortunately for them, the technology of communication is so fundamentally tied up with the ability of a society to use technology, that screwing it up causes a logistical cascade failure making the repressive society much less capable. Lets just say that there is a reason why Europeans could colonize Asian countries so easily in the 19th century. Or you can look at countries like modern China which is losing the battle to contain dissent even though the government has virtually unlimited power and resources.

Comments?

  1. Matt Strictland
    December 29, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Good post AD.

    The current happening with SOPA and that other odious bill are great examples. The feedback was fas and resistance quite unexpected.

    Still I wonder how many “civilizations” are going to try gradually cutting communications despite the costs or simply trying for maximum oppression (i.e the world as the DPRK?) I means shoot, the UK seems to think pervasive surveillance is fine and dandy and many nations, unlike the US are not well armed enough to resist either.

    The UK is two swirls away from disappearing in the drain of history. They don’t matter inspite of what they believe.

    It might be possible to use synergistic technologies to create oppression tiers and automating security takes care of military resistances.

    The increasing costs of oppression requires a growing economy, which in turn requires your median women having 3-4 kids.

    Say the wrong thing, write the wrong thing and a fully autonomous database locks you out of buying anything or working. Something like the infamous post WW2 Irish starvation orders.

    That is where cellphones with cameras come in + you require stupid “extra” people (see previous point) to enforce your orders.

    If someone gets too stroppy, well hey autonomous kill swarms will take care of any resistance.

    Its not like the powerful usually act as if they have a conscience and for the powerful a few of them and everyone else dead or enslaved is perfectly A-OK

    The problem they face is far more fundamental.. I have written about it before.

    The short version is that complex evolving systems are not controllable and attempts to do so creates proportional destabilizing feedback- the harder you try the worse it gets.

  2. Hwan Lewi
    January 1, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    I believe you are almost 180° wrong — the new communication technologies make it easier for the status quo to support itself, and at the same time suppress and inhibit effective action (cf. OWS). These technologies link, but don’t communicate. Read ‘The Net Delusion’ by Evgeniy Morozov, he knows what he’s talking about.

    Unlike you, I don’t care about what “famous” white men have to say. What occurs AND what does not occur is more important.

    and just to be clear- the status quo will die though neglect, not action

  1. February 6, 2012 at 8:08 am

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