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A 'minifesto' for the constitution of virtual, post-national states
February 26, 2003 11:13 PM   Subscribe

The minimal compact: An open-source constitution for post-national states. "What sorts of arrangements of power between humans can account for the deep variation in beliefs and assumptions among the six billion of us who share this planet, while still providing for a common jurisprudence? What measures can be taken that enhance the common security without unduly infringing on the sovereignty of the individual?

I believe that a useful model for the desired structure can be found in the open-source or "free" software movement."

Our own adamgreenfield has been thinking about emergent democracy and the widening gap between power and politics, and has written a 'minifesto,' and would like some feedback. Democracy for the rest of us : fascinating, 'deep geek' stuff, and worth your time.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken (11 comments total)

Excellent piece. Thanks stavros. It's good to see some great thinking on the state of the social contract, as it's thrown into question by issues of global trade, imperialism, and the role of military power. This opens more questions than it answers (purposefully), and I have yet to read the Albertsen and Diken, but I think it's a good time to take stock in our shared values and think about what kind of world we'd like to live in.

I want to be in the distro where you can still smoke dope, look at pornography, and kvetch on a public terminal without G-men knocking on your door. Not that i use public terminals.
posted by condour75 at 12:01 AM on February 27, 2003

I was going to FPP about the war vote in the UK parliament last night but thought better of it, as my point seems to have more relevance in this thread (feel free to ignore it if you think it is too much of a derailment or simply too long).

Along the lines of the well-known curse 'May you live in interesting times', has anyone else been enjoying the recent political events, in particular (but not solely) surrounding the arguments over the proposed military action against Saddam??

I'm not sure I agree with Adam's assertion towards the start of his document of 'the apparent inability of nation states to adequately address and provide for human goals and desires in the twenty-first century'. Despite this, I think the fact that people like him are investigating these possibilities and making a compelling case for at least considering them, is a morale-boosting sign that interest in the political process is not dead.

I for one feel that the age of parliamentary democracy, at least in the form evidenced by the UK and US governments, is coming to an end. Proposals such as those in this FPP are a sign that the boundaries are alreadybeing explored, investigated, probed by interested parties. In conjunction with this, huge numbers of people are mobilising at the most basic levels - anti-war rallies in Europe and the US, the World Social Forum and ground-roots democracy in South America - to deliver a resounding blow to the idea that 'people are no longer interested in politics'. These mass movements are evidence that 'the people' are attempting to exert their influence in the way they feel most effective.

In the UK the biggest commons rebellion in modern political history gives a measure of the turmoil that is being caused within the system - how long before they accept the need for change to a system that has somehow managed to remain virtually unchanged for the entire course of the 20th Century?

I feel that the questions asked by people like Adam, the dissatisfaction illustrated by these mass movements and the increasingly desparate and confused positions taken by the elected and unelected members of the organisations - government, UN, WTO, etc - that profess to govern 'for' us - are a symptom of this renegotiation of the social contract, or emergent democracy, that Adam and colleagues talk about. Most importantly, I am optimistic that these changes will, ultimately, deliver a better world for all - and at the moment I'm enjoying the ride immensely.
posted by barnsoir at 3:21 AM on February 27, 2003

Brilliant. Brilliant.

I'm beat.

But good lord. Genius level shit here.
posted by crasspastor at 4:08 AM on February 27, 2003

Remember never to download x.0. There's always a GulagOverFlow[] error.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:30 AM on February 27, 2003

Funny, psuedo.

This is actually a pretty persistent subject in postmodern political theory. Since democratic nations are modernist/Enlightenment creations what would postmodern nations look like?

On one end of the spectrum you have the monolithic beast, often described in books and movies as “the corporation” or “the state”. Empire is probably the single most exhaustive work in that vein. One of the authors gave an interview on New Forms of Power.

On the other end, the most notable is probably Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zones, which suffers from some pretty dated po-mo rhetoric. The subtitle is “Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism”, pretend that doesn’t sound silly. There is a lot of temporary autonomous zone rhetoric in Adam’s essay. It is an idea I feel is coming more and more into its own. Your average (illegal) file sharing service is a somewhat functional and active TAZ. The idea has yet to applicably crossover from Internet usage to actual politics in any satisfying form, though.

Adam’s proposal borders on a terrible sort of ethnocentrism, at worst it is myopically classist. He writes, “[W]hile it should be noted that the minimal compact is not an ‘Internet state’ proper, it has certain natural affinities with the logic and original underlying ethos of the Internet, and would be effectively impossible without access to the cheap, reliable, global communication it affords.”

The single largest population group on the planet can be described as those living on less than two dollars a day. Fully half the entire human population on Earth — three billion people — are in this group. Access to “cheap, reliable, global communication” is simply not in these people’s reach. However, they all live under some national mandate. That should tell you something about the true structure and applicability of political power, and the inherent weakness of any techno-constitution. I know he’s trying to outline a new form of sovereignty, but if the new form isn’t as flexible as the old or has some massive barrier to entry, why would anyone switch?
posted by raaka at 5:49 AM on February 27, 2003

Not that I'm an expert or anything but I expect future international governence to resemble the phyles in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. It's a more sophisticated vision than the balkanized USA in his previous novel, Snow Crash, but more sedate than anything in Ken Macleod's Fall Revolution. I expect/hope the real life versions will be even more sophisicated and boring.
posted by wobh at 7:03 AM on February 27, 2003

I think your caveat might be effectively countered by the argument that those living on less than $2 a day are kept from the advantages of “cheap, reliable, global communication” (and a reliable food supply) precisely by our failure to relinquish narrow nation-state-based ideas about sovereignty in favour of a system more suited to the reality of globalism, raaka.

Personally I've always thought it was a shame that America--the first modern state to institutionalise representative government--should be stuck running Democracy 1.0 while so many newer democracies (in Europe and other former colonies) have had the advantage of being able to look at the U.S., see what works (e.g., due process) and what doesn't (e.g. the campaign finance system--shudder), and iron out some of the bugs when framing their own laws. I think Adam's open-source idea is an intriguing way to potentially free us from that rut.

Great food for thought, Adam. Thanks for posting, stavros.
posted by Raya at 10:48 AM on February 27, 2003

That was interesting but I couldn't help feeling that it suffered from a kind of denial of materiality. The truth is, we are physical creatures, and everything we do happens in a geographic area. I don't know, maybe we'll eventually all live as holograms, meeting up in some silicon no-where, but for the moment, we rely on natural resources, we work and live on property of some sort, etc.

If it were all virtual, could you just change your citizenship when you felt like it? Could you, for instance, be a member of the socialist-ish democracy while unemployed or in need of medical care, and then switch to the 10% taxation capitalist libertarian one when you got rich? People cheat on taxes as it is, but if you could belong to any of various virtual nations, wouldn't all corporations belong to the one that taxed & regulated them the least? The reason a democracy works is because it forces people to be true to moral choices that are not specific to their own self-interests (think John Rawls' blind state of nature argument).

This is just a quick reaction to the basic idea as I understood it - I'll read it more carefully later but right now I gotta run...
posted by mdn at 11:16 AM on February 27, 2003

mdn, those problems could possibly be solved with contracts binding you to a chosen polity for a period of time. this is a slight violation of the rights of the individual, but one that may be required for effectiveness.

I'm worried about transactions across different groups? would that have to be mediated by the two groups, in a barter system, or would there be some form of currency? And which is better?

If there were some currency it would be unevenly distributed and that inequality would probably increase over time. Right now I'm thinking inter-polity transactions should be barter-system large-scale. Contracts for goods or services maybe. That way relationships between states could grow more organically rather than in a dominating client-state system
posted by rhyax at 7:15 PM on February 27, 2003

information-->attention-->reputation economy indeed, whuffie!
In Kingdom, "free energy" and scientific advances have rendered scarcity and poverty extinct. Near-universal computer networking has created a meritocracy which replaces money with "Whuffie," a constantly shifting measure of societal esteem. As networked people interact, their computer implants tabulate their respect or contempt for each other; well-regarded individuals receive all the privileges of old-style wealth and fame, while unpopular people become pariahs, granted only the basics in food and shelter.
re empire and the multitude i like hardt and negri's prescriptions 1. the right to global citizenship, 2. the right to a social wage, and 3. the right to reappropriation.
"The point is that open source software is not simply a non-rival good in the sense that it can tolerate free riding without reducing the stock of good for contributors. It is actually anti-rival in the sense that the system positively benefits from free riders. Some small percentage of free riders will provide something of value to the system, even if it is just reporting a bug out of frustration. The more free riders in this setting, the better. This argument holds only if there are a sufficient number of individuals who do not free ride -- in other words, a 'core' group that contributes to the creation of the good. We have already seen a set of motivations and incentives that taken together in different proportions for different individuals might inspire their active contributions."
increasing utilitiy to scale :)
posted by kliuless at 9:27 PM on February 27, 2003

Great, except I absolutely, positively, on pain of death refuse to use the term "whuffie." ; . )

Thanks for all the great comments and insights. I'll lurk for now.

Email me with any questions, etc. Thanks.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:02 PM on February 27, 2003

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