They [feminist groups in Iraq] are very strong. Their approach is unique because they have no leaders. They do not have a head or branch offices. . . . This movement is made even stronger by not having leaders. If one or two people lead it, the organization would weaken if these leaders were arrested. Because there is no leader, it is very strong and not stoppable.
~ Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient
For a number of years, I have been writing and speaking about the decentralizing forces that are bringing about the collapse of our highly-structured, institutionalized society. Such warnings must always be listened to with skepticism, for it is the nature of any complex system to generate unpredictable outcomes.
Nonetheless, events of recent years provide confirmation of my prognostications. Alternative schooling, dispute resolution, and health-care practices; political secession and nullification movements; the decentralization of management in business organizations; news-reporting moving from the centrally-controlled, top-down model of traditional media, to the more dispersed, horizontally-networked Internet; individualized technologies such as personal computers, cell-phones, iPods, video cameras, and other innovations that enhance person-to-person communication, are just the more evident examples of how our social systems are undergoing constant centrifugation. If the successful practice, in a number of European cities, of abandoning government traffic signs in favor of a motorist-controlled system does not impress you, perhaps you will recall the collapse of the Soviet Union.
To express this phenomenon in terms of solid geometry, the pyramid is being replaced by the sphere. Plato's hierarchically-structured world directed by philosopher-kings — long the favored model of the intellectual classes who fashioned themselves fit to sit at the institutional apex — has proven unfit for ordering the affairs of human beings. It is not better ideas that are transforming how we organize with one another, but real-world pragmatism: the life system simply cannot operate on the principle of being directed by centralized authorities!
The pyramid expresses the essence of a world premised on vertical power, in which interpersonal relationships are yoked together in systems of domination and subservience. No more poignant image of a top-down world — one in which institutional violence operates as a kind of ersatz gravitational force — exists than this. Members of the institutional hierarchy — who long ago learned that they could more readily benefit by coercing their fellow humans than by trading with them — have seen to it that others be inculcated in a belief in the necessity of pyramidalism. Our entire institutionalized world — from the more violent political organizations to more temperate ideologies — is premised on the shared assumption that only in vertically-structured institutionalized authority can mankind find conditions of peace, liberty, and order. If you doubt the pervasiveness of such thinking, recall your own learning — from childhood through adulthood — and identify any voices who tolerated, much less encouraged, your questioning of this article of faith.
The life system, itself, constantly pushes the fallacy of pyramidal thinking into our unconscious and often conscious mind. How foolishly we cling to the belief that the state, for instance, exists to protect our lives, liberty, and property interests, even as it continues to slaughter millions of people, restrain their liberties, and despoils their wealth. As we look around our communities and the rest of the world and discover how much better decentralized systems perform in providing what political agencies only promise, faith in the pyramid collapses. Not willing to allow its violence-based interests to decompose due to a change in human consciousness, the state — along with the corporate interests that have long benefited as politically-created parasites — desperately reacts to shore up its crumbling foundations. To do so requires a restoration of the falsehoods and contradictions upon which its power depends. Truth — and the free flow of information against which the state is in constant war — becomes a "security risk" or an appeal to "treason." In one personage or another, the state calls upon its modern Joseph Goebbels who, as Hitler's Propaganda Minister, advised:
The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State.
The demonstrations that have been taking place in such Middle Eastern countries as Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, carry a much deeper meaning than what the institutionally-serving news media have expressed. When millions of men and women can peacefully come together in the center of major cities to protest the legitimacy of their being ruled by others, one ought to ask whether we might be witnessing what the pyramidalists would most fear: an open expression of the decentralization of our common interests, not as "citizens," but as human beings. We witnessed an earlier example of this when, on the eve of the American government's decision to wage an unprovoked war on Iraq, millions of people gathered in cities throughout the world to protest.
I long ago discovered the writings of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, and the British physiologist, Rupert Sheldrake. Jung did much of the pioneering work in the study of the "collective unconscious," wherein he posited that, in addition to the individualized content of both our conscious and unconscious minds, human beings also share an inherited — and identical — content of our unconscious minds. In an inquiry that parallels Jung's, Sheldrake has developed the study of what he calls "morphogenetic fields," in which members of given species connect up — both spatially and temporally — to determine subsequent biological forms and behavior. If there is validity to their respective conclusions, might their inquiries be expanded to explore the question: is it possible for humans to have unconscious channels of communication that might motivate us to express our common needs to resist the forces that war against life itself?
I must admit to having no conclusions in this regard, although I believe, given the destructive and dehumanizing history we humans have thus far generated, it is imperative that we begin expanding the range of our questioning. Perhaps it is reflective of mankind's capacities for tool-making that, rather than plumbing the depths of our thinking, we have created technologies that allow us to share the contents of our respective conscious and unconscious minds. Our computerized technologies are not only the products of our thinking, but the means for expanding its content to exponential levels of awareness. They have done more than anything else to dismantle the pyramid and give life to the sphere. As we are rapidly discovering, there is nothing quite so liberating and life-enhancing as the free flow of information!
Not only is the geometry of our world being transformed, so is the mathematics. Decentralizing information makes it much easier for more individuals to communicate with millions of other individuals. One source estimates that the number of Internet websites in the world rose from 100,000 in 1996 to 234,000,000 by 2009. The capacity of the millions to generate information and ideas heretofore confined to the thousands, has proven discomforting to members of the institutional order. Each one of us now enjoys the technological means to directly communicate with every person on the planet, provided (a) they have a computer linked to the Internet, and (b) desire to communicate with us. In other words, mankind enjoys what the political establishment regards as that most destabilizing influence: a genuine marketplace in ideas.
What this has done is to unravel the mindset upon which the state has depended to maintain its control over people: the belief that political change could only come about through the so-called "democratic process." "Democracy" — the illusion that my wife and I, combined, have twice the political influence of David Rockefeller! — is premised on the proposition that any meaningful political reform must secure the electoral support of tens of millions of individuals, a situation most unlikely to occur. How often have any of us given up on the prospects of "working within the [rigged] system" to bring about change, when we are reminded that we must get 51% of our neighbors to vote with us? The difficulties associated with organizing precincts, trying to get ballot-access, and as Ron Paul discovered three years ago, trying to be heard within political parties and the media bent on maintaining the status quo discourage most. We quickly discover the truth of Emma Goldman's observation that "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."
But the "law of large numbers" that keeps the powerful immune from the protestations of the subservient, loses its forcefulness in the face of the unrestrained flow of information. This is why — as Goebbels reminds us — the state has had to resort to such practices as censorship, the crushing of dissent, and the "secret" classification of documents exposing its corrupt behavior. It also explains the efforts of so many establishment politicians to control, if not destroy, the Internet; as well as their resistance to Ron Paul's proposals to audit the Federal Reserve!
The Internet has changed the mathematics from "51%" to the lone individual as the catalyst for change. Because of the herd-oriented nature of the political mind, the state has always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with an organized mass of people. In the words of Doctor Murnau, in the movie Kafka, "A crowd is easier to control than an individual. A crowd has a common purpose. The purpose of the individual is always in question." The truth of Murnau's observation was seen when Julian Assange — the founder of "Wikileaks" — used the Internet to make known to the world some of the "secrets" the state did not want revealed to its citizens. Assange was allegedly assisted in this effort by an army private, Bradley Manning, who had access to some of this information. Two individuals — not a "silent majority" or even a vocal one — not only "spoke truth to power," but to the powerless who it has always been the state's purpose to keep uninformed and subservient.
As members of the establishment do their best to destroy the liberating influences of the Internet, others remind us that technology, itself, may have its own immune system to protect this life-serving network from the statist virus. Columbia University law professor, Eben Mogle, advocates a more decentralized Internet technology, in which the mechanics for what has become known as the "social media" are dispersed into the hands of each of us. The current technological forms he tells us, "are too centralized; they are too vulnerable to state retaliation and control." In words that Shirin Ebadi would welcome, Mogle adds: "It is not hard, when everybody is just in one big database controlled by Mr. Zuckerberg [of Facebook], to decapitate a revolution by sending an order to Mr. Zuckerberg that he cannot afford to refuse."
As the math changes, so does the geometry by which we organize ourselves. What is almost humorous to consider is that the defenders of the dying order — be they the neo-Luddites trying to destroy the Internet, or those who would confine the Bradley Mannings and Julian Assanges to a modern Tower of London — don't grasp the reality of what confronts them. The statists operate on the notion that these two men are to blame for the revelations that are inherent in the new technology. For all of their supposed wisdom that they believe entitles them to sit atop Plato's pyramid, they are in truth as lost as "flat-earthers" sharing their collective ignorance in trying to calculate the sun's revolutions around the Earth!
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.