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The nature of the network

I've been working on Mom's site for the last couple days. She's got a new book coming out, so the style's changing again, and while I'm doing that she's having me add a few new pages. One of the new things is a page where she talks about a number of topics she's interested in, including libertarianism. (Most of the others are safe-ish, like TV and shopping. Really, the whole page exists so she can talk about a couple of fairly controversial topics without looking preachy.)

This got me thinking about the Internet and the nature of libertarianism.

Most political stances say that the average person is incompetent to manage some portion of his life. In general, the Democrats think this is the economic portion—the poor will make choices that leave them poor and the rich will make choices that don't make others richer, so those choices should be made by third parties instead. The Republicans think this is the social portion—the immoral will make choices that make them more immoral and the moral will make choices that don't make others more moral, so those choices should be made by third parties instead. (These are gross generalizations, but they're not too far off.) Authoritarian philosophies, like communism and fascism, think people aren't competent to make either category of decision on their own.

Basically, these people think that some portion of our lives should be handed over to a President, a Congress, and a Supreme Court who are more competent to decide them than we are. (I'm using US-centric terms here, but this applies to all systems of government, really.)

If any of these positions are correct, the Internet shouldn't exist. There is no e-President. There's no Congress.net with five hundred politicians logging in to modify internet-code.txt to better reflect PayPal campaign contributions from lobbyists. There's no Internet Court with Internet Lawyers submitting Internet Motions to get Internet Judges to dismiss Internet Cases.

Instead of an e-President, we have a bunch of commercial backbone providers who all voluntarily interconnect with each other. Instead of Congress.net, we have rough consensus and running code. Instead of Internet Court, we have network administrators who will block misbehaving hosts.

In essence, instead of the hierarchical order everybody thinks we should need, we have anarchy. How could this possibly work?

Basically, the Internet works on two principles:
  1. You're on the Internet because you want to talk to other people.
  2. If you don't play nice, nobody will want to talk to you.
But how is this different from the principles of surviving in reality?
  1. You interact with other people because you want stuff that'll help you be happy.
  2. If you don't play nice, nobody will want to give you that stuff.
Of course, sometimes people try to force you to give them the stuff they want to be happy. And on the Internet, sometimes people try to force you to tell them things you don't want to tell them—like your credit card number. In the real world, we need self-defense (guns) for the short term and courts for the long term. On the Internet, we need self-defense (anti-virus) too, and we can use the real-world courts.

So if it works for the Internet, why do people think it won't work for the real world?


( Read 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 29th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
Because the Internet is not like the real world. Sure, it operates on the same principles, because the same people operate in both. But the Internet is made of data, and data is 1) volatile, and 2) easily duplicable. If a malicious computer user gets access to your computer and deletes all your files, you can always restore from backups. If a malicious human gets access to your house and kills you... well, that's the end of it.

I imagine a country run like the Internet would be like something out of a Wild West movie. It makes for a compelling story setting, but not a place I'd like to live in.
Oct. 29th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC)
I agree with Meagen. A lot of what works on the internet works because the risks are a certain amount more mitigible than similar actions in the real world. Data can be backed up in case of damage, and in fact generally is.

People and things in the real world generally can't be replaced so easily. Their social and economic roles may be taken up by others, but not with the ease or interchangeability of an electronic backup.

Now, suppose this is taken into account by corporations in an anarchic society. In my estimation, many of the larger, wealthier organizations would reach the conclusion that it is more profitable to employ some people in the business of preventing others from seizing or destroying their selves, employees, and other assets by force.

We might call this a private army. It might be a corporate department, or it might be outsourced, but in either case it is likely to be deemed necessary. I feel that there is a strong possibility that at least some military outfits formed under these conditions might not have any particular compunctions against raiding unaffiliated settlements for fun and profit.

And then there's the possibility of a sufficiently powerful private army deciding that ruling is more profitable than protecting. In my estimation, that puts us about back where we are now, except without all the checks and balances, or "by the people, for the people" crap.

When it comes to the business of protecting people's lives, I think that some types of government are definitely more reliable than anarchy.
Oct. 30th, 2006 12:19 am (UTC)
But corperations do employ security contractors private armies all the time. In the internets, the playing field is leveled somewhat, as us little folk can hit just as hard.
Oct. 30th, 2006 03:08 am (UTC)
I would argue that almost nobody hits particularly hard on the internet. Where debate, commerce, and data transfer are the approximate limits of the medium, it's hard to, say... cause physical injury.

What compares to an army on the internet? What would they do that could match what armies do in reality?

I think that the internet, anarchic though it may be, lacks to a certain extent the possibility of being caused to do something against one's will that has to be considered in arguments about real-world systems.
Oct. 29th, 2006 08:31 pm (UTC)
Actually, I think I can challenge your premises in a more simple manner.

* On the internet, nobody can be forced to talk to you if you choose not to be nice.
* In reality, it is possible to get what you want by force, even if people do not want to give it to you.
Oct. 30th, 2006 12:21 am (UTC)
  • On the internet, nobody can be forced to talk to you if you choose not to be nice.
  • In reality, you can reach over and smack someone for (thinking they're) not being nice.

Antivirus:Guns is a terrible comparison. Antivirus is purely a reactionary defensive measure with no capability to harm the other. It's more like dealing with someone breaking into your house and leaving lots of spiders there, but a little easier to clean up. "The best defence is a good offence" does not work on the internet, unless you consider DDoSing/firewalling misbevaing hosts to a degree/per that they are forced to stop being a dick.
( Read 6 comments — Leave a comment )