Macropathy vs. The Swarm

Opinion

The current fight between the old and the new -- characterized by file sharing, the Arabian Spring, the Occupy swarm, the success of the Pirate Parties, etc -- goes way beyond a few laws on the surface. It goes right down to the heart of our views on what kind of society we desire.

We have seen this phenomenon many times: an organization that has been set up to accomplish a specific purpose or drive a certain development, once it becomes big enough, gains a sense of self-preservation. Once it has reached this stage, given the choice between fulfilling its ultimate goals or sabotaging that development to survive as a power factor in society, it will choose the latter.

A concrete example is that the companies who sell quit-smoking aids don’t have any incentive for tobacco use to stop altogether. If it did, they wouldn’t sell any more quit-smoking aids. There are many more subtle examples of this happening as we speak.

The Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Lobaczewski talked of macropathy, the sickness of being too large:

“…governing such a country creates its own unavoidable problems; giants suffer from what could be called permanent macropathy (giant sickness), since the principal authorities are far away from any individual or local matters. … The main symptom is the proliferation of regulations required for administration; they may appear proper in the capital but are often meaningless in outlying districts or when applied to individual matters. Officials are forced to follow regulations blindly; the scope of using their human reason and differentiating real problems becomes very narrow indeed.”

This strikes a chord in every activist’s heart. We have seen rules being applied blindly in everything from forced sterilization to torture and segregation; for a bureaucrat, the question is is it the law?, but for an activist, the question is is it the right thing to do? Is it good?

I write a lot more on this specific topic in my article Lawful Good, Lawful Evil where I elaborate on the fact that the book of laws and the act of good do not coincide, and that it is crucial to understand that there is a difference between Law and Good.

But it is bigger than that, still, that which is going on right now. We are looking at a complete questioning of the very concept of top-down authority. What I see right now is that people are finally, after centuries, starting to re-examine the legacy of the old monarchies, the assumption that governments have a right to rule over the citizens as were they monarchial subjects.

I challenge this notion. And so do hundreds of thousands of activists in this very moment.

We, the People, employ politicians as our civil servants to govern the chores of administering the details of society. In this, it is no different from hiring a housekeeper to take care of things you don’t want to do yourself. But the employed do not have a right to set the conditions of their bosses — and in particular, they do not have the right to keep secrets from their employers that relates to how they do their work.

United States President Obama is an employee of the United States citizens. So is European Commission President Barroso of the European people.

You note that this is a complete turning of tables on the view — yes, the perspective — on who gets to decide what. And it is the final shedding of the legacy of the feudality and monarchies. Monarchs could keep secrets from their subjects and rule them at their whim; you could say that we have been in a birth-century of democracy where we elected our monarchs. But this is changing. We are starting to think in terms of employing administrators who are our employees, not our monarchs.

Now, the ramifications of this shift in perspective are enormous. But the shift is already underway, well underway.

We see this in how the swarms are overtaking the old, centralized, rule bound structures. People cooperate in the tens of thousands, volunteering, helping, making and taking a stand on changing the world. Every piece of activism, every piece of action right now is a statement that the decentralized, resilient movements are winning over the old centralized, stale bureaucracies.

In the Middle East and North Africa, people have been swarming to do good, rather than accept the lawful evil on account of being “the law”. This has spread to the West, and will continue to grow in waves.

For the first time since 1968, I see that people feel empowered. And we are. Nobody is asking permission anymore to help their fellow human being, to speak their mind, or to express their art. And, truly, why should anyone?

What could be observed as a movement of bits using BitTorrent, being a decentralized, resilient reaction against a corporate stranglehold on culture, has grown to become a movement of people in all of society, rejecting the notion that centralized structures have any power to stop people who decide to do good. The insight that there are no limits but those within you is causing mental handcuffs to drop in slow motion all over the West.

And new swarms are forming daily, all while the old politicians try to create new rules to quench people’s realization that they are free to reject the imposed limits. The politicians haven’t understood that the very notion that they can make those rules, monarching the people, is being questioned.

Thanks to Bengt Jonsson for inspiration to this article.

About The Author

Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at falkvinge.net focuses on information policy.

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