Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Distributed Republic

While the rotting husk of civilization is devoured by writhing maggots, many despair there is no alternative. This is untrue, as the failure of one mode of civilization often heralds the arrival of another. Does this mean that the developed world will collapse into a Mad Max-style scavenger world? Given the amount of engineers, technicians, and mechanics alive today, nothing short of a near-total extinction event would set do that. A widespread loss of technical knowledge is a rare event historically, and often is more a pressure to develop (or redevelop) technologies in new directions. Even with a catastrophic and sudden collapse of imports, a significant amount of materials can still be scavenged from landfills, wreckage, and other detritus. 
However, political and economic institutions have not kept pace with other technologies. As encrypted cyber-currencies, desktop manufacturing, home renewables, and mesh networks continue to spread, reliance on centralized infrastructure continues to decline. Laws and regulations on such technologies can only delay or hinder the inevitable. Climate change and resource depletion can easily strike at fragile global logistics changes. The status quo aims to sustain the unsustainable for as long as it can, and it will fight like a cornered animal. What could fill the void as a financial, rent-seeking kleptocracy over-expands its grip?
 The parasitic plutocrats would tell you that you need to surrender more rights, despite that approach not working. A smart “successor paradigm” would be able to navigate the laws of the “old order,” allow people to produce locally, and connect globally. It would be (at least somewhat) self-sufficient with regards to food, power, water, and manufacturing. In the event of a physical threat, it would have defenses and armed security. In the event of a legal threat, it would have access to lawyers and expert witnesses. Given the directions and trends of relevant technologies, a mostly self-contained enclave would not be out of the question.  

While the Seasteading Institute and Blue Seed projects attempt vaguely similar goals, my proposed approach retrofits existing infrastructure at a fraction of the cost rather than rely on capital-intensive construction of offshore platforms. While such an enclave could be a fortress, it could network with other enclaves like it to share policy, technical designs, and other information. Even if one enclave was under “attack,” it would be assisted by its peers. Now, how might such an organization be set up? First, you need perhaps a few dozen people around the world and the financial resources behind it (perhaps crowdfunding and clever deployment of volunteers, PR, and donations could help with that). A related concept is to sell “shares” in the community, in the spirit of co-op housing. Each shareholder in the community is a voter and offers to share within the social contract. A social contract and constitution would be composed, although it may be altered later. 

The next step would be acquiring real estate in various places around the world. Decrepit urban slums, rural land, or devalued suburbs could all be good places to start. Construction of new buildings or retrofitting of existing structures would occur, perhaps using tools like Open Source Ecology’s Global Village Construction Set or 3D printed building components.

Once the settlement is ready and population is moved in, you would need to hold elections. A security expert, legal expert, medical expert, technical expert, and the like might be selected, as well as an executive committee for leading. From here, the town could begin conducting business with its neighbors and/or its counterparts across the world. Legislative democracy could be handled in the manner of the Swiss, with a bicameral legislature consisting of direct democracy and another being a more “conventional” parliament or congress or senate (although term limits of some kind may be a prudent idea). Any citizen could propose legislation, and if it does not pass, the legislative body may propose counter-legislation as a compromise (or vice-versa). An Anglo-American styled Bill of Rights would serve as another layer of protection of civic rights. To prevent against kneejerk style legislation, legislation could be revived later after a “cool-down” period. A supreme judicial analog could assist with that. 
There could be a division between the rights that the distributed republic allows and the legal rights the “host country” allows. Say, there are differences in weapons policy. The distributed republic allows for a particular type of firearm to be held within its enclave that the host country does not. A “solution” could be for the distributed republic to “technically” own the firearm and complete whatever paperwork/permits/etc. for the person in question. (This likewise ensures the distributed republic is particular over who they hand out similar firearms to.) Likewise, this is why self-sufficiency is an admirable goal, being able to produce much of what they need in the event of an “embargo” or isolation from infrastructure.  

However, such a structure could also be used for “evil.” Imagine some of the kleptocrats jumping ship to small gated enclaves as everything else falls apart (as is common in cyberpunk literature). Or worse, imagine a mad cult (such as Aum Shinrikyo 2.0) with a similar structure spreading across the world in a similar way.

Keep in mind that less-savory nations exist today, but that does not prevent their neighbors from taking precautions. The old fashioned method of conquest becomes much harder against a distributed republic, as you must conquer or destroy every enclave around. Some historical cultures (often religious and ethnic minorities) would employ similar tactics across history. The distributed republic merely brings this concept into the present.

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