Noncompliance Is the Human Norm

08/23/2013 10:55
by Jeffrey Tucker

The Internet is an incredible thing. It allows disparate groups of people from all around the world to communicate and interact with one another. It broke down borders and made information and knowledge truly public goods. It created a future that existed only in science fiction novels and opened countless doors of innovation and possibilities.

But what if it never happened? Consider this scenario.

Imagine the world during the early stages of the Internet, when it was confined to the basement and laboratories of government military offices and bases. The potential for future progress existed, no doubt, but it was up to the innovation and foresight of private entrepreneurs to create the Internet that we know today.

But what if, for the briefest of moments, those government officials who created the technology caught a glimpse of the future. They saw a world where people from Iowa conversed with people from Africa. They saw a world where social circles existed outside of towns and cities. But they also saw the dangers. Both foreign and domestic.

Would these gatekeepers of the Internet have allowed the world to go down this path? Where foreign terrorist threats could use the same tools for prosperity and innovation to communicate, plan and execute heinous attacks? Would they perceive the social unrest of government as a threat and try to nip the problem in the bud before it got out of hand?

Consider now that countries like Iran are developing plans to phase out the Internet as we know it and replace it with a more controlled, government-run system. We're thinking it will resemble the system already in place in North Korea. And during the Arab Spring not so long ago, the people in power frantically tried to cut off the means of communication, hoping to end the growing insurrection before they lost control.

Something this drastic most likely won't happen in America, though there were close calls in the past. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman tried to push through legislation in 2010 that would have given President Obama, as well as anyone who followed him, the ability to take over telecommunication networks in the case of a cyberattack. But that idea quickly died out when the senator used China as an example of countries with similar controls (he forgot to mention the country's free speech problems).

Instead, the government is taking a smaller, piecemeal approach. Such as monitoring and recording all our activity. For our own safety.

But if the past creators of the network that changed the world knew what was going to happen, would they have opened the Pandora's box that was the Internet? Or would it have been filed away with all the other government projects that the public never sees? Think of the closing scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but instead of the Ten Commandments being stored away in some nondescript government warehouse, it was the first Internet servers.

Regardless, the box is open and we can't change the world we find ourselves in. And according to Jeffrey Tucker, the author of today's article, you wouldn't want to change anything. Though it was first a government invention, it was the drive of the human spirit that created the Internet that exists today. ********

How huge has it become? Well, 2.5 billion people use the Internet every day, and that's nearly 80% in North America, 67% in Europe, and 43% in Latin America. I suspect that Africa's usage of 15.6% is actually underreported, because smartphones are flooding the continent by the day.

The political implications have yet to dawn on this generation. We somehow keep pretending as if governments are in charge. They are not. Yes, they loot, menace, regulate, posture, preen, and hector. But they do not finally control. It simply is not possible. Even the strictest regulations that exist in places like China are a national joke.

Sometimes I play with an alternative history in my mind, one in which the Internet had never been opened to the private sector and there had not been any technological progress since, say, 1990. I'm pretty sure the economic environment would be dreadful beyond anything that's been experienced in hundreds of years. Despair would have swept the Earth by now. Governments -- their taxes, regulations, money manipulations, and controls -- would have killed off any hope of prosperity.

It is largely a place that government cannot control with anywhere near the ability with which they once managed the physical world. The innovation essentially gave civilization another shot at survival after humankind made such a mess of the world in the past. Digital spaces unleashed humankind's creative energy when the masters of the physical world had almost killed it off.

The state in all times and all places wants a population of despairing, dreary, hopeless, and weighted-down people. Why? Because such people don't do anything. They are predictable, categorizable, pliable, and, essentially, powerless. Such people offer no surprises, threaten no change, and destabilize nothing. This is the ideal world that the bureaucrats, the plutocrats, and the technocrats desire. It makes their lives easy and the path clear. Today is just like yesterday and tomorrow -- forever. This is the machine that the state wants to manage, a world of down-in-the-dumps and obedient citizens of the society they think they own.

In contrast, hope upsets the prevailing order. It sees things that don't yet exist. It acts on a promise of a future different from today. It plays with the uncertainty of the future and dares imagine that ideals can become reality. Those who think this way are a threat to every regime. Why? Because people who think this way eventually come to act this way. They resist. They rebel. They overthrow.

Yet look around: We see progress everywhere. What does this imply? It implies that noncompliance is the human norm. People cannot be forever pressed into a mold of the state's making. The future will happen, and it will be shaped by those who dare to break bad, dare to disagree, and dare to take the risk to overthrow in favor of what can be.

I realized all this some years ago, and when you begin to look around and see how the power elites do not and cannot rule, you discover the whole secret to social order. It turns out that they are not really in control, not finally. Then it all becomes fun.

It is a blast to see the powerful topple from the thrones they want to sit in so badly. It is a thrill to use and hold technologies, as we know them, that no one among the elite ever gave permission to exist. It is a kick to see how the market -- meaning human beings acting with vision toward the future -- is so constantly outwitting the arrogant planners who want to freeze history, control our minds, and wreck our world.

To defy them is so simple: Just imagine a future better than the present. You become an enemy of the state, and you begin to love every minute of it. You become part of the solution and see that your life and energies are worthwhile and making a difference. How fortunate we all are to be living in these times.