This is the second essay of James Farber, from the first edition of A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, written in defense of the “free digital economy” he and his friends were building.
History books tell the stories of Rulers. Some are Kings; some, Emperors; some, Presidents or Prime Ministers; and some, potentates of more exotic name. A few of them were more or less benevolent, and others were tyrants. Most were in-between. But they all held one thing in common – they maintained a monopoly on the use of force in their territories. They maintained their right to use coercion, and to prevent all others from doing so.
Stripped of romantic rhetoric and patriotic emotion, the essence of rulership is the ability to maintain a monopoly of force. Argue if you like, but you will be arguing with the dictionary.
Every reform of government and rulership to date has kept the central mechanism of coercion in place. Did some governmental reforms lead to improvements? Certainly. They made things considerably less bad. But they left centralized coercion in place. And for every ‘good’ leader that has come along, such as a Washington or a Churchill, we’ve had several times as many Stalins or Maos.
I have friends who study such things, and they assure me that roughly two percent of all people are would-be dictators; if they had the opportunity to oppress the world, they would. Another twelve percent or so are would-be facilitators; that is, when one of the two-percenters comes to power, they are glad to fill a slot and vigorously exercise power over others. Like it or not, these people are out there, and they are drawn to the levers of power. And once every so often, they have their turns. When they do, innocent people die in large numbers. Over one hundred million died this way in the past century. Try to comprehend that… one hundred times one thousand, times one thousand people. Boys, girls, men, women, teenagers, short, tall, strong, weak, dark-skinned, and light-skinned. All of them dead because twisted people were able to take hold of centralized force.
If you have wondered why some of us are so determined to keep governments out of cyberspace, please understand that this is why. We’ve had enough of centralized force. We’re removing the whole mechanism. We think it was a mistake from the beginning. We don’t want there to be anything for the two percent to grab.
If you want coercive rulership, keep it; we won’t try to take it away from you. But we have chosen to opt out. Don’t try to reign us back in. We won’t try to make you live our way, and you don’t try to make us live your way. We are not your property.
Our arrangement has no central mechanism of coercion, and it has been working quite well for several years now. We like it. This new arrangement has, however, surprised us in several ways. One of the things we discovered was that once you remove the mechanisms of coercion, you remove something else – politics. Politics is the art and science of managing centralized coercion. This is the reason political debates are so infuriating: the final decision leads to unopposable force. Once the political process is completed, you have the choice either to obey or to be punished.
Coercion is the sine qua non of politics; the thing, without which, politics would not be politics. Indeed, if you remove coercion, politics becomes something else – economics.
Things work by economic means here. If you don’t like the way a market operates, just move to a different one. Or, if no one does it the way you think is right, start your own. There are no protected services here, and nothing mandatory. You may opt out of anything you don’t like, or offer any service you like. We couldn’t stop you if you wanted to start a communist collective. The only limitation would be that you could not force anyone to join or remain part of your collective; we have no mechanism for that. The entire system is built around the idea that persuading people to trade with you is moral, and that forcing them is not.
We think our ideas are right, but we will not impose them on you. You can hold whatever ideas you like, just don’t impose them on us.
All this being said, what really concerns your rulers, and what is driving them to demonize us, is that people are leaving their systems and joining ours. Your children are joining the private digital economy in huge numbers.
No, the young people are not joining us for historical and philosophical reasons; those things are mostly for us older people. Young people, as always, are looking for adventure and opportunity. In your regulated world, very few people ever get much real adventure or overwhelming success. They read about such things in novels and celebrity tabloids, they see them in movies, but very few of them will actually experience such things. Our world, on the other hand, has adventure and opportunity in wholesale quantities. Your children may have to work hard to get it, but a big life is waiting for them if they wish to earn it.
In our realm, intelligence, daring, and perseverance are rewarded far more directly than in your regulated world. Here, you can be a complete unknown, with no connections and no wealth – but, if you can learn to provide excellent ideas or services, you can get rich. No one here knows or cares about the color of your skin, or your sex, or who you sleep with, or anything of the sort. If you can produce, you’re a player. Want to go from rags to riches? Pick a valuable skill in our world, throw yourself into it with all your might, excel at it, and start selling it. Time and effort are all you need. You don’t need friends in the right places… only value to offer.
And there’s more: The truth is that the best rewards come to those who are first at something new. Jobs and Wozniak were the first to produce a good personal computer, but other people would have done the same thing within a year or two. They got to do all the cool stuff only because they were first. You can say the same thing for every other discovery or invention. Human knowledge is built piece-upon-piece, and new discoveries follow, more or less, in that sequence. If you want to do the really fun things, you have to get to the front of the line.
The stream of human knowledge is now firmly rooted in our world. The frontier of Alvin Toffler’s third wave is in cyberspace, and that’s where the front of the line can be found.
Now, let me tell you about the future of the third wave :
The central ideal of your old world is coercive authority. This is embodied not only in rulership, but in schools, in families, in religions, and in most every area of life. We were all born into a world that told us, “Do what you are told, or we’ll hurt you.” Our parents told us that, our teachers imposed it on us, our gods are envisioned this way, and certainly the rulers of the earth operate this way. From birth to death, continually, it confronts you all.
Having lived with these ideas for a hundred generations, humanity is used to this, and can survive it moderately well. But it is far from ideal. From birth on you are trained to sit, to obey or else, to worry that you might do something wrong without realizing. It puts you in a sort of perpetual cringe, unconsciously cowering in expectation of the next blow. Being used to it is no reason to think that it isn’t damaging.
We have eliminated this. It has no root here, no mechanism. This is having an effect on the world already, although it certainly has a long way to go. But it is here, and it is not fading away.
It may be a generation or two before we begin to see how the coercion-free mind works; longer before it becomes dominant. Nonetheless, the seedlings have been planted, and they are thriving.
We certainly didn’t start this. Its roots trace back to every free thinker, to every rebel for truth; to the true heroes, who, in a thousand areas of life, had the courage to be right, even in the face of opposition. We are simply carrying on their work at the moment when it threatens to reach critical mass.
If we were simply one more reform movement, we would seek to conquer your system and run it our way. That, however, is not what we are. We do not accept coercion as moral. We do not wish to coerce anyone, and we will not submit to being coerced. We do not want to run your system.
If all of this seems threatening to you, I’m sorry. I know how that can feel. We are not your enemies – we are your friends, and we are also your future. We will not harm you. We do not want to take your governments away from you. We do not want to control your governments. We are not asking you to change your lives. We are only withdrawing from your game. Go your own way in peace. We wish you well. We still love you, we still care about you, we’ll still spend time with you, and in the right situation we would still defend you. But we will not remain part of your coercive systems. We are pleased to share this planet with you, but we do not wish to share your social structures. We want to do a new thing – a better thing.
If you wish the best for your children, encourage them to step into the new world – a world where they can own their lives and enjoy the fruits of their labor. A perfect world? No. But a much better world than one with centralized coercion and obedience to authority as its main pillars.
We do wish you well.
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