The End of the Cult of State?
By the end of the 14th century, thanks, in large part, to waves of Black Death reducing the population of Europe significantly, the governed found themselves on the right side of the balance of power, save for one significant aspect of power, ideational power. The governing found themselves on the wrong side of power.
The holders of power, the governing, had lost control of military advantage, market advantage, and the societal pressure was now tilted toward the governed getting more power. In my way of thinking, the governed folks had significant advantages across three of the major aspects of power, demonstrable power, social power, and even force power.
But ONE aspect of power prevented them from taking back nearly as much power as they could have, given those advantages (though some power was certainly taken back). That aspect of power, ideational power, required the holder of power (the governing), the Royal families and their allies, the Priestly class and their allies, to hold on with even more control to the flow of information, the flow of ideas.
They held sway over a people who had distinct power advantages through the use of an idea that human beings, that men, could act with the transferred authority of God, granting salvation and condemning to Hell. The Pope was the vicar of Christ and the Kings of Europe were God’s anointed.
To hold on to this notion, the Kingly class and the Priestly class worked diligently to assure that no one deviated outside of the tight boundaries that needed to be set to keep the governed contained through the use of ideational power.
But then, in the middle of the 15th Century, a new invention rose, the printing press. Even before the printing press arose, thanks to the advantages that the class of the governed had over the Priestly and Kingly classes, ideas were already being shared among this class, ideas that countered the strict adherence to the myth of the Vicar of Christ and the myth of God’s anointed Kings.
The printing press didn’t create the ideas that were already chipping away at this one advantage that the Priestly and Kingly class had over the governed class, but it allowed for a dramatic escalation of the spread of these ideas.
The Kingly and Priestly classes worked closely with one another to pass laws, pronounce Kingly declarations, produce Papal decrees, all of which were designed to severely limit the use of the devil’s tool, the printing press.
They had ONE TOOL to focus on, to crush, to control, and they failed. The schisms occurred, Papal hegemony fell, Kings fell, and, over time, the myth of the divine right of Kings had to be replaced with another myth, the myth of the necessity of the state to protect us from the evil ways of men, even if the state itself was also always going to produce a certain measure of evil (but still, it’s a necessary evil).
Out of the myth of the necessary evil also rose an even more attractive myth, the myth of the Utopian-building state, through which equality and justice would finally prevail, but which required granting considerably more power to the central authority, if they could hope to bring this Utopian dream to fruition.
Now, let’s flash forward to current year, the first couple of decades of the 21st century. In this time, we have multiple ‘printing press’ inventions on the rise. We have 3D Printing, we have the blockchain, we have Quantum computing, we have encrypted mesh networks, just to name a few of the key shifts in technology which undermine not only the ability of central authorities to control information, but also to control markets, to control associations, networks, and to track commerce, networks, people.
The emerging technologies of today are tilting the balance of power towards free associations in powerful ways, and undermining the ways in which the ‘state’ traditionally has controlled the perpetuation of state-legitimizing myths.
Now that we humans are more connected than ever before, we are all beginning to see the myriad of ways in which not only does the state fail to even meet the basic needs of the people it says it ostensibly serves (just check out the train wrecks of state action on display through Hurricanes Harvey and Irma recently), but it demonstrates abuse upon abuse on the people it ostensibly serves, WHILE raising the cost, significantly, for services that are being shown to be inefficient, often abusive, and state enriching.
We live at a time when we see emerging technologies that are enabling people to more effectively provide for their own needs at a small-scale, free association level. We live at a time when people can more easily share the reality of what it means to live in lands where coercive governance models are enforced by others willing to take potential lethal action against people that violate the ‘rules’ of those coercive governance models.
And we live at a time when it is becoming increasingly more possible to operate in secure networks, with near-anonymity, able to effectively choose to work outside of the coercive governance framework altogether.
The world that our friends are sharing with us is revealing more and more the increasing burden of coercive governance models, along with the ever-decreasing benefit of coercive governance models. The world that our friends are sharing with us is revealing more and more the increasing effectiveness and practicality of choosing free association alternatives to these coercive governance models.
The trend towards free association alternatives over coercive governance models will only continue, even as efforts by these coercive governance associations to impede, to block the spreading of these alternatives only become more and more heavy-handed and authoritarian.
European Christendom during the late Middle Ages tried desperately to contain the spreading of alternative methods of governance by applying greater and greater controls, with ever-increasing penalties for violations. At the height of their power, where they had accrued the greatest wealth and demonstrated the greatest control, they fell, and the age of European Christendom came to a decisive end.
I believe our progeny will look back at this time in a similar way that we now look back at the late Middle Ages, as the death knell for a system of human governance that has outlived its usefulness and failed to deliver benefits that are remotely commensurate with the cost of such forms of governance.
Whether it be in my lifetime, or the next, barring some unforeseen dramatic shift in technological trends, the age of the coercive governance model is over, the age of the free association governance model is already upon us.
The King is Dead. Long Live the Free Association.