No war in an anarchy
© Copyright 1994-2002, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Electric Dreams #54

One of the Internet's more disconcerting aspects is that, with no government or police, it enforces its handful of rules through rudeness. Rudeness in both its forms - 'mail bombing' and ostracization - is usually very effective, of course, though it does lend the Net a disreputable air, particularly amidst a burst of flames - pointless, really rude messages. Strangely enough, this closest thing to a working anarchy we have has never seen anything remotely resembling a war.

The fact is that almost all so-called 'flame wars' are very short-lived, and are targetted at specific individuals with the aim of publicly shaming them into following whatever rule they have broken. There are never any prolonged, wasteful conflicts between large groups of people, mainly because there are no such large groups organized or motivated enough to sustain anything more than a short entertaining battle. There are no such groups because the distributed anarchy of cyberspace provides no way to create coherent groups, nor, by definition, to rule over their members - so there can never be nations in cyberspace.

National sentiment though, there can be a lot of, as there can be a surfeit of religions or political beliefs across the spectrum. There's room for the expression and interaction of all, but not much space for concerted efforts at creating conflicts. There never is enough momentum for a good war, because there never are enough good reasons.

Anarchies tend to spawn people jealous of their independence, who gather, if at all, in small bands. These bands draw people together out of shared interests, often resulting in the creation of what are effectively several local economies, albeit geographically widely distributed. These economies are usually closed and not in competition with one another - an economy of cryptographers trading secret codes doesn't conflict with another of poets trading blank verse. But individual code-breakers may enjoy poetry, among other things, so there is considerable interaction between members of different groups. This non- competitive co-dependence of anarchist economies is in stark contrast to the relation between nations, which lump citizens together to form a single economy because of the political convenience of their rulers. Naturally, nations end up trading in more-or-less the same things, competing with one another, and increasing the likelihood of long, 'sustainable' wars. Indeed, nations use the possibility of war as a major justification for their very existence.

That there are no wars in cyberspace in the conventional sense is hardly surprising - bytes aren't capable of the same sort of harm as bullets, despite what many governments seem to believe. That there are no wars in cyberspace even in some unconventional, cyberspatially extrapolated sense is a little more surprising. If this is due to its inability to support nations of any sort, then the increasing influence of a peaceful information anarchy on the outside world may even be of some good.

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