By Mustela nivalis
In a comment under my post about how it was ‘the internet wot won it
’, meaning that it stopped some insane thugs from insanely intervening violently in that nest of vipers which is called Syria, Sean Gabb wrote:
I keep asking myself what would have happened in July 1914 if we’d had the Internet. One thing for sure is that the idiots in charge wouldn’t have had such an easy ride to Armageddon.
The interesting point I think is this: Without WWI and everything that followed there would not have been an internet. There needed to be a longish historical phase of intense worldwide centralization before a decentralizing force appeared.
Remember that whenever libertarians celebrate the ‘libertarian’ nature and effects of the internet, it doesn’t take long for some poor old statist (POS) to point out that it actually was the state that developed the internet. They are wrong in that sense that the market picked up the various state sponsored and induced inventions and gave them legs. But they are right in one sense: The internet’s precursor, Arpanet, was designed by the US government to counter the threat of a ‘decapitation’ of their military’s command structure with a nuclear strike on a few command centres.
The nuclear bomb however is a baby, maybe the most significant baby, certainly the most potent symbol, of the last 100 years of centralisation. The development of the bomb was also the result of a large centralisation of resources – the Manhattan Project. A Germany with a strongly centralized fascist command economy might have been the first, had it not been distracted by fighting with practically everyone else at the same time. Not before the US had become proto-fascist could they seriously start developing the bomb.
Here’s my point though: Intense centralization brought forth an instrument (the bomb) which, due to the nature of the damage it could inflict on the now existing centralised structure forced the centralisers to develop an instrument of decentralisation – the Arpanet. Because decentralisation is by its nature beneficial to human development (see anywhere where a little bit of market freedom is permitted), people started using it for all kinds of other purposes, starting with exchange of research results. Within state funded systems, this usage culminated in the famous CCTV image of the coffee machine
down the corridor somewhere.
Anyway, once it escaped the narrow confines of statists’ imagination, the internet exploded onto the world, and today’s rulers are only just beginning to react to what started hitting them two decades ago. The Monica Lewinski case was a first warning shot. There have been many more since. And not just sex scandals that TPTB would rather you didn’t know about. There is the (ongoing) Ron Paul Revolution, the Tea Party, and in the western world in general an initial rejection of left-wing political narratives (though not yet of the more crucial cultural propaganda).
My contention is that all this would not have happened without the bomb. And the bomb would not have happened without the long trend towards centralisation which started sometime in the 19th century. It started as a reaction against those pesky classical liberals whose policy of freeing up the economy meant that people who didn’t know their place could rise up through the ranks of society with impunity. A new stage of centralisation was fired in 1914 and pushed us through the sound barrier of reason all the way to Dresden, Auschwitz and Hiroshima. (I’m not mentioning the Gulag because I’m talking about ‘western’ deeds here.)
This is the good news: it seems humanity is endowed with some kind of negative feedback loop which protects it against too extreme centralisation. Extreme centralisation, leading to the bomb, meant that for the first time since the invention and application of gun powder, political and military leaders were forced back into the front line. No-one can escape the effects of an all-out nuclear war. Therefore, none has happened – so far. But because it could happen, the Arpanet was developed. And the rest is history.