Making Ourselves Ungovernable, Part II: Governing Ourselves
But decentralized networks of affinity groups are not only good for bringing down existing centralized hierarchies; they're also good for replacing them as tools for self-governance. Over thirty years ago, Ivan Illich wrote about the potential of decentralized learning networks for replacing the state's top-down schooling machinery. And he envisioned these networks at a time when the only technologies he had to work with were community-owned computer mainframes, telephone trees, and tape-recorded lectures. Karl Hess, in roughly the same period, coauthored the outstanding Neighborhood Power with David Morris. So imagine how the cyber-revolution of the subsequent three decades boosts the potential for such self-managed networks.
Via Dave Pollard, an excellent article by Beth Simone Noveck of the Democracy Design Workshop: "A Democracy of Groups"
With networks and new computer–based tools now ordinary people can become a group even without the benefit of a corporation or organization. They can make decisions, own and sell assets, accomplish tasks by exploiting the technology available. They no longer need to rely on a politician to make decisions. They can exercise meaningful power themselves about national, state and local — indeed global — issues...
This technology is enabling people to engage in complex, socially contextualized activities in ways not possible before. While it used to be that geography determined the boundaries of a group and the possibilities for collective action — I had to be near you to join you — now technology is revolutionizing our capacity for purposive collective action with geographically remote actors.
In light of this, Noveck wants to
structure the law to defer political and legal decision–making downward to decentralized group–based decision–making.
Now, as an individualist anarchist, I view the ultimate goal of this process as decentralizing decision-making power downward to the smallest possible unit: the individual.
Unlike many free market anarchists, I don't consider "democracy" a dirty word. Majority rule is only an accidental feature of democracy. If you look at the thought of Jefferson and other anglo-republicans (or oppositionists, or "eighteenth century commonwealthmen," or whatever) of his day, the central principle of democracy was consent. Government by majority rule was a second-best, a way of approximating as closely as possible to the universal, several consent of individuals when the latter was impossible. And representative democracy was a far-distant third, making meaningful self-government almost impossible (something that for the Hamiltonians was a feature, not a bug). But the principle the radical democrats pursued, as closely as they thought practicable, was always government by the consent of the governed. And there have always been, as Voltairine De Cleyre called them, "unterrified Jeffersonians," willing to push the principle of consent to its logical conclusion. Even in the time of Jefferson and Paine, William Godwin denied the need for any agency with a presumed right to initiate force on behalf of the "general welfare."
All decision-making groups, ultimately, should be voluntary associations govered on the principle of unanimous consent.
The last step, of course, will be to fund all public services on the cost principle, with fees from voluntary associates. When membership and payment become voluntary, the last step will be taken toward what Proudhon called the dissolution of the state in the social body. This last will probably be impossible until we've removed the state-backed monopoly privileges of landlords and usurers, and all the sundry subsidies and protections enjoyed by our present feudal lords the corporations, and allowed the free market some time to iron out the present maldistribution of wealth. Only when the state's barriers to occupancy of vacant land, and the state's barriers to worker self-organization of credit through mutual banks, have been removed, and labor receives its full product, will the producing classes finally have the resources to pay for all the services they consume at cost and contribute to mutual aid associations for the benefit of those unable to work.
In the meantime, the smaller the group, the closer we approach to this ideal. And direct democracy, with neighborhoods, schools, utilities, etc., run by boards of selectmen directly responsible to their clientele, is a huge step toward the ideal of democracy as unanimous consent.
Addendum. Via Ecodema. An excellent article on the devolution of government policy-making to local and neighborhood assemblies in Venezuela.
decentralization , democracy , direct democracy , smart mobs