An orderly anarchy
© Copyright 1994-2002, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Electric Dreams #53

Rising discontent with leaders, increasing awareness of identity, and a lack of strong power centres incite rebellion across the planet; all hope of a New World Order are forgotten as the world slides into disruptive anarchy, dangerously devoid of law and order. This pessimistic vision of the future that one encounters more and more in the media is not entirely false, for the information society into which we are headed does tend towards anarchy. This anarchy, though, is far from being totally chaotic. Lacking laws and rulers, this knowledge-based anarchy is quite orderly indeed.

Anarchy actually means 'no rule', referring to a leaderless society. No rule certainly does not mean no order, for the same properties of information that lead to effective anarchy also lead to order, which, being entirely voluntary, could be considered better than the enforced order of the present. This order and its accompanying anarchy both result from information's extreme form of egalitarianism.

Information is a liquid - it spills out wherever possible to settle at an equal level everywhere. It can be controlled, bottled up, but only at the cost, in the long run, of the controller. Such fluidity is the valuable difference between data and more substantial commodities. But this fluidity quite changes conventional economics and balance of power, where profit depends on control over resource or means of production.

Information's egalitarian tendencies undo this control so rapidly that governments and companies are forced into absurd and increasingly futile extremes such as the current attempts to protect 'intellectual property rights'. The very speed and flexibility of information infrastructure without which neither governments nor companies benefit also make violations of laws relating to information impossible to enforce, and often even to detect - and an information anarchy already encompasses the world though it is, by nature, unofficial. Suppressing such anarchy will be as ineffective in the next century as suppressing the free-market economy has turned out to be in this one. And suppression will not be necessary, at least if a peaceful society is what is desired, because the fluidity of information smoothens disorder as quickly as it breaches restraints.

A leaderless information anarchy has rules without rulers; but these are generally followed voluntarily, because it is obvious that otherwise society would collapse. The need for rules is of course obvious in any society, but an information anarchy is unique in quickly negating any advantages rule-breaking might provide. An information anarchy is very distributed. Each individual may eventually abide by a large number of rules, but these are formed by sub-systems within the society as a whole, to which an individual belongs by choice. These sub-systems are not necessarily arranged in a hierarchy. They are, rather, parallel systems that affect different aspects of an individual's life and interests; and two systems may even contradict each other - in which case you would presumably select just the one you prefer.

This anarchy is quite different from the frightening images of gloomy futurists. It may not be warm and fuzzy, but it is not dangerous - at least not to society at large. The lack of rulers may be dangerous to those who rely on their presence for profits and power, but it is inevitable nevertheless. There will indeed be a New World Order, vastly different from the present one. More importantly, there will be many to choose from - World Orders a la carte.

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