Because it was There
The success of statist/hierarchical capitalism over all other models is due to its effectiveness at defeating problems of scale in a low-bandwidth, low-tech civilisation. It is, if you want to look at it from the opposite end of the process, the most effective way of inventing the internet as quickly as possible. The ability to support, use and above all disseminate technological advances at a large scale in a low-bandwidth environment is why this model of organisation has always won. And it has now created the answer to its own success. Let’s look back at why Britain got the industrial revolution first.
A combination of factors including but not limited to the Norman Conquest and subsequent rationalisation of our memory-based law system into one based on writing; immensely plentiful and remarkably balanced mix of naturally occuring raw materials; their geographical proximity on a surprisingly small island which could also farm enough to support an unexpectedly large population; and the four great rivers. That last is utterly crucial, because it allowed us to move resources from rural primary industry to urban secondary industry more effectively, and faster, than any competitor around.
It’s all about communication infrastructures. And now, the Western World as a whole is rapidly turning into a single, light-speed communications infrastructure. The ability to get the word out; to link up demand with supply without gatekeepers, to circumvent the anti-competitive grip of vast conglomerates by direct communication from producer to purchaser; the ability to organise dissent against foolish governments, the ability to counter government- and plutocrat-sponsored propaganda in the mainstream media: all of these things are out of CERN’s box and at large in our society. As the Climate Camp have proved, it is now possible to organise on a consensus basis and still effectively mobilise thousands people from the whole of Britain, all at once for a single co-ordinated action in a single place. In about a month. This has been quite literally impossible for any civilisation before now.
So the unique selling point of hierarchical market capitalism is gone. Other models which have been tried before failed because they could not scale in a low-bandwidth environment, but we’re in a high-bandwidth world now. That means that virtually everything we’ve tried and a whole lot of things we haven’t can be taken out and given a good going-over to see if they’ll work, once modified for the modern world.
Iceland operated a semi-consensus, semi-democratic social organisation, without central leadership, for over a century from 950 onwards. They had arbitrarily evolved a communications infrastructure (horses and really good boats) balanced with a scale of operations (a fairly small island with quite a small, regionally concentrated population) which permitted them to do so. Once they got into direct competition with a larger-scale economy though (Denmark) they lost because they couldn’t scale. Roll forward to 1688 and the information infrastructure is good enough for the British to put actual governance in the hands of geographically-elected representatives across the whole island, who all meet centrally. A bit further on and we see the USA develop a successful federalist state with distributed local government controlled in a strict plutocratic hierarchy. And it just keeps on going.
Humans have, in almost every sphere of endeavour, climbed their mountains just because they were there. Yet for some reason we are disinclined to re-assess our institutions in the same spirit. “Because it’s already there” becomes the last refuge of conservatism; the past for the past’s sake. Even though the West is clearly failing in their own ‘free-market’ competition against the developing economies, no-one who matters is talking seriously about post-industrialism and its effect on social politics or economic planning or education architectures.
Hierarchies create order and protect the people ruling the hierarchy. They concentrate power, usually in the modern era expressed as capital accumulations, towards the centre of the network. But the rules have changed now. The reasons hierarchies win in competition have been removed: other options could now work which in the past just couldn’t scale. Yet we do not try them: why not?
Because those to whom the Great Machine funnels money and power are full of passionate intensity. Also they own most of the media, the governments, the multi-national conglomerates and the schools. Those who want to build a future rather than touching up the paint on a crumbling past, lack all conviction. No other system has ever worked; but that is no reason to believe they can’t work now.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Not only do we now have access to all of those old ideas, re-examined and if necessary hacked up for spare parts in new ideas for the future; we also have access to a higher mindshare as a percentage of our species than ever before. Communication drives innovation much more directly than capital does. The lower the cost of entry to your information bazaar, the faster your society moves. The past is no longer an adequate ambition for a species which could kill itself by accident.
Like Sparky in the earlier years of underclass solidarity, we have access to the basic truth that when less than 5% sit at the centre of the Great Machine, the other 95% of you can exert more pressure than they can sustain. The centre cannot hold against the edge if the edge can get organised. We can now operate direct person-to-person networks for information and trade which step around the assumptions of the past. We can do this fast enough and effectively enough to re-write the rules of societal economics, as a Finnish student did by choosing to release his operating system for others to use, for free.
As a species we have grown out of the age of machines, but our attitudes were born in it and cling to its blinkers. Globalisation is going to happen; nothing one can do to stop that now. But we do have an opportunity not seen since the start of the Common Era to redefine the nature of the next great leap for humankind.