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Number 1,022, May 26, 2019

What does the new civilisation look like?

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An Emerging Picture
by Jim Davidson
jim@resilientways.net

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Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
― Elizabeth Edwards

What does the new civilisation look like? It is going to be very different from what you see around you.

Why is that so? Well, what you see around you is largely corrupt, centralised, and violent. Cecil Rhodes and Alfred Milner were among the late 19th Century enthusiasts for a managed society. They had the idea of cornering the markets in various war materiel and then pushing the major powers of Europe into a world war. Others had the idea of creating a commnist international to permanently deceiving working men and women into servitude. Still others felt that their ideas on managing society would work better. Pretty much none of the mainstream government, corporation, or academic leaders from 1872 to 1972 believed in individual sovereignty, freedom, nor free markets.

Of course, everything the managed society wanted, such as hiearchy, a command economy, revolutions prevented by buying off the middle and lower classes, and a ruling elite in power forever, dancing on the backs of everyone else were not only impossible, but also abominations. Chaos theory, the quantum nature of reality, Goedel’s incompleteness theorem, and the economic calculation problem described in great detail by Ludwig von Mises and colleagues, all illustrate the impossibility of a managed society. The wars, genocides, profits from suffering, cartels in finance, pharmaceuticals, arms production, and many other industries, and the extreme levels of corruption in governments illustrate the abominations. Hundreds of millions of people have been killed and the managed society is still impossible.

What’s Next?

Already starting to appear, all over the world, is a wholly new civilisation. It includes distribution in depth, anti-fragility, and resilience. Everything about it is appealing.

Where has this new civilisation come from? It traces its roots to the fundamental realisation that information which is concentrated and centralised is not available widely enough to prevent fragility. Two major elements of this realisation arose in the late 1960s.

First, the people involved in planning for what they thought of as “continuity of government” after a thermonuclear war wanted to have a way of connecting different computer networks all over the USA even if some cities were knocked out. So the Advanced Research Projects Agency built and tested what was then known as ARPAnet to connect military bases on the .mil network. Way back in 1969 the stack of information forming the Internet Protocol, or Transfer Control Protocol, was developed by Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn.

Fairly early in the 1970s it became clear that this Internet thing would be more useful if universities that had research contracts could use it to link up their networks. Since that fit with the military’s purpose in developing the system, various efforts were made to create “gateways” for universities in the .edu network so they could connect securely to the .mil network. At the same time, Compuserve got started in 1969 by Jeffrey Wilkins and John Goltz offering connections for private and commercial users. Again, gateways were developed to let university users connect to the commercial networks. All the essential elements of a distributed, decentralised networking system were in place. Information became increasingly widely deployed and available to an ever larger number of human minds.

Another, and arguably related development came from the assertion by cryptographers that keeping secret code developments secret was not the best way to develop strong encryption. The roots of this movement go all the way back to 1874 when William Stanley Jevons wrote in Principles of Science to describe the factoring of large numbers as a one-way mathematical function. By 1970 it was clear that one could develop open source cryptography using mathematical functions so that extremely robust coding systems would be examined by all the world’s best mathematicians for any weaknesses. The pioneers here were James Ellis, Clifford Cocks, and Malcolm Williamson all affiliated with the British “government communications headquarters” or GCHQ.

With the development of public key cryptography and open source or “non-secret” encryption the first elements for what became two inter-related intellectual movements arose. These were the basis for the cypherpunks, many of whom developed key elements of the crypto-currency systems of today, and the open source or “free software” movement which has built publicly available alternatives to most major desktop software applications. The open source technology movement traces its routes to the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association of 1911 and following years.

It is sort of interesting to me that at the very height of popularity for the reckless “managed society” thesis, epitomised by the work of Frederick W. Taylor in his 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management , a group of auto executives organised a cooperative to share patented technologies without licence fees, forming one of the roots of a distributed knowledge movement. Consider that managed society fools felt that if a mere employee were to enhance the efficiency of a business operation without being in management, that person should be fired. Whereas in the civilisation coming into view, knowledge, information, power, and control are as decentralised and distributed as possible, under the old system everything is in a rigid and, therefore, fragile hierarchy.

It is appropriate here to also mention that the “scientific management” and ”managed society” crowds were extremely racist, sexist, and violent. They organised the Federal Reserve system to finance wars of aggression and as a result there were genocidal massacres of civilians in many countries. These were people who not only wanted a rigid hierarchy, they wanted racial purity and strict gender roles, preferably without votes or free speech for women or the racial groups they designated as ”inferior.”

Computer Revolution

Of course, it bears mentioning that the first conceptual desktop computers were developed in the mid-1970s. Eventually these became very common. As more and more elements were put onto printed circuits, computing power escalated dramatically. We now have more computing power in the typical cell phone than was available in all the computer rooms of the early 1950s. Computing speed, memory, and advances in software have combined to make information processing very widely available.

Why is that a good thing? Consider the human race. Most of us are about as physically able and as mentally able as anyone else. By ”most” in this case I mean well above 97%. There are a small number of people who are mentally deficient in cognition or who have violent criminal tendencies. There are also a small number of people who are not fit enough physically to, say, get their own meals or do basic activities like walking. So, why should all these people be denied access to information and information processing power? Simply put, they should not. After all, the minds that are able to see information and work with it are able to use it to make the world better, advance their own business interests, and cooperate in really interesting ways.

Distributed Manufacturing

I won’t spend a lot of time in this first essay on 3D Printing of structures, tools, weapons, and gear. Rapid prototyping and computer-numerically-controlled machining in the 1980s became complex tool manufacturing in the 1990s and we’re headed toward a kind of ”replicator” technology where anything that can be designed in a 3D modelling software programme can be emitted by a 3D printer.

Although for numerous reasons, printing in metal powder, which is basically sintering, does not have the strength of materials found in forge or cast or stamped metal products, it is fairly easy to use a numerically-controlled machining system to work in nearly any metal. So there are a lot of options. Also, the 3D printing of ceramics allows for extremely effective advanced materials which may replace some kinds of metal implements.

All these trends have shaped together into a world which is completely out of control. It is now possible to make things, know things, choose for yourself directly, and share knowledge with a significant level of privacy. Communications and manufacturing are increasingly decentralised and distributed. Technologies such as solar, wind, and steam make it possible to generate power locally, and radioisotope thermo-electric generators (RTGs) make it likely that you’ll be able to have significant power density - as found on spacecraft still operational since the late 1970s such as the Voyager probes.

Finally, there are a large number of developments in what I refer to as ”community technology” for creating online and in-person communities with various levels of individual autonomy and self sovereignty built in. I’ll go over some of these ideas in my next essays in this series.

 

Jim Davidson is an entrepreneur, author, and traveller. He has visited countries on four continents, written four books, and is working on many new ventures. Find him at HoustonSpaceSociety.net Resilientways.net or EldarCapital.com

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