I’m usually pretty optimistic about the day after tomorrow — I’ve been dismissed more than once as a techno-utopian — but sometimes when I get depressed by NSA surveillance, drones, and the corporate state’s manufactured aura of inevitability, I need a story to cheer me up. Here it is: A Canadian artist copyrighted his land as a work of art to thwart construction of the Northern Gateway Pipeline across it (Stephen Keefe, “This Canadian Artist Halted Pipeline Development by Copyrighting His Land as a Work of Art,” Vice, November 6).
Think about it: “Intellectual property” is the single most important state-enforced monopoly at the core of corporate capitalism. It’s the keystone of every one of those so-called “Free Trade Agreements” that industry reps draft in secret and parliaments ratify without ever letting their members read the “classified” text. And here’s a guy using it to sabotage a pipeline, which exemplifies the other major structural component of state capitalism: Massive state subsidies and land theft to promote energy and other extractive industries. He’s using state capitalism to fight state capitalism. I’m still laughing.
Sometimes the capitalist state’s internal rules and procedures, created to serve an economic ruling class, in specific cases wind up sabotaging the very interests they were created to serve. Much like the Catholic doctrine of concupiscence (the “war within my members” St. Paul wrote about), the legal framework and administrative machinery created to maintain capitalism takes on a life and internal logic of their own. Or if you’re more familiar with Ghostbusters, when the destructor assumes a form it’s limited by all the weaknesses the laws of its own nature impose on that form.
Authoritarian hierarchies will die because they’re built on conflict of interest. They can’t trust their subordinates with discretion to use their own judgment or situational knowledge, so they create standard operating procedures, “best practices” and Weberian work rules that degrade everybody’s effectiveness. In order to limit the discretion of subordinates to harm the system, they must limit their discretion to use their own knowledge most effectively. The system doesn’t know what the system knows; the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
At the same time, as Vinay Gupta once argued (“The Authoritarian Cause Will Be Defeated By Its Own Cognitive Dissonance,” P2P Blog, January 17, 2012), the same kind of internal concupiscence, or what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance,” means that subordinates carrying out the system’s dirty work cannot be trusted with full awareness of the real nature of what they’re doing and the purposes they serve. And many of those who suspect the nature of the system suppress their knowledge for their own peace of mind, as a defense mechanism that enables them to keep doing their jobs. Aside from a handful of sociopaths who can serve the system knowing its true nature, the morale of the system’s enforcers depends on their buying in to its legitimizing myths. Noam Chomsky somewhere quoted a letter home from a Japanese field-grade officer involved in the Manchurian counter-insurgency, who saw his mission — much like his American counterparts in Vietnam 25 years later — as defending civilization and economic progress from the scourge of communism.
The networked resistance, on the other hand, is made up of people who fully understand the nature of the system they’re fighting and that of the system they’re trying to supplant it with. And a stigmergic network’s actions consist entirely of the actions of its members, based on their own situational knowledge and skills. So it gets entirely inside what strategist John Boyd called the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) of hierarchies. It reacts to situations, iterates new policies, assesses the results — lather, rinse repeat — many times faster than the enemy hierarchy can react to it.
We fight a system whose very nature is defined by exploitation, extraction and conflict of interest, which can therefore only function by deceiving its component members, threatening them with force, or impeding their use of their own full knowledge and judgement. We, on the other hand, fight to supplant it with a system based on reciprocity, solidarity and self-determination, and on the willing and fully informed participation of everyone involved. Who will win? It’s no contest.