Society 2 (by )

Two Models

The above principles sound good to me, although I think that many would disagree. But how does one realise them in a practical society?

I've come up with two different implementations, that use very different approaches.

A libertarian anarcho-capitalistic world populated by socialist communes

I originally came up with this while imaging how a society of seasteads might work. Groups of thirty to a hundred people, living on small floating artificial islands. Groups that small would be highly inter-dependent; people would need to be assigned duties on rotas or similar, and everyone would know the people they rely on to keep them alive. Generally, such societies are effectively socialist dictatorships; if you don't piss the leader off and do your chores, you get to share in the facilities of the community. Personal property is generally rather limited to your clothes and personal effects; certainly, ownership of the place you sleep and so on is either notionally shared, or the personal property of the leader who lets everyone use it as long as they do what they're told (and the two are barely distinguishable in practice).

And yet those little socialist dictatorships would need to trade with each other, so between them, in the absence of any over-arching power structure, an anarcho-capitalistic economy would form. I suspect that, in order to band together against pirates and rogue traders, there would quickly form a loose federation of sorts, exchanging information of mutual interest such as the locations of natural resources, weather patterns, and reputation information about trading groups.

But this is open to abuse. There's plenty of history of people forming cults and abusing the people in them. So I am hoping that the loose federation would establish some principles of individual rights and collective responsiblity along the lines of current maritime conventions, enforced by the threat of excommunication from the collective information-sharing and trading community:

  • Legal property; everything has a rightful owner, who controls that thing, and it can only be taken from them against their will, or it be damaged, in emergencies or if they commit a crime. In particular, communities that do not recognise individual property and exercise collective ownership operate by members surrendering their property (if any) to the society when joining; visitors may not be compelled to surrender their property.
  • Individuals are free to leave communities, except in an emergency or if they have committed a crime. Communities must make it possible for individuals to go to other communities or other societies within reason, to prevent them from being trapped in a community they do not like. They may not place hinderances, directly or through inaction. For instance, a collective-property community must give a member who is leaving for a non-collective-property community assets that will be of use to them to continue their life in that community, ideally a representative share of the collective wealth.
  • A community will make reasonable efforts to rescue individuals who need rescuing, including things like emergency medical care, when they are in a position to do so, no matter who the individual is. Each community will publish, publicly, details of its emergency rescue capabilities and contact details for them.
  • A community need not accept an individual as a visitor if they do not wish to, and can expel them if they wish, but they are responsible for the well-being of their visitors, no matter what; they cannot expel them if to do so would endanger their physical well-being. Visitors must be given information as to what constitutes a crime as soon (within reason) as they arrive, and their non-knowledge of rules that they could not be expected to expect until they have had the chance to have them explained to them should make them exempt from those rules, within reason.
  • Causing direct physical harm to inviduals is not permitted, except in emergencies or if required to stop them from committing a crime, if no gentler means is available.
  • Each community should publish diplomatic contact details to other communities, for the formal issuing of messages pertaining to compliance with these principles, as well as for other communications. It is a community's responsibility to ensure that they can be contacted.
  • Each community should publish important information for visitors to their territory, if they have one, such as aviation/shipping hazard information, location of ports/airports, local laws for visitors, traffic control measures and contact details for aviation and shipping, etc. as appropriate.

The lack of a strong central government would make it possible for communities to get away with abusing things as long as they were careful to cover their tracks. But on the other hand, communities where everyone knows each other, when they're not taken over by charismatic personality cults, tend to work rather well, with everybody cared for and justice served informally; leaders know they can't be too despotic or their populace will leave, and they won't be able to maintain a thriving community without people. At worst they are culturally stifling, but if people can leave and find communities better suited to them, that's not so bad. And having lots of independent micro-nations would offer interesting scope for the evolution of good systems of government within them; with freedom of movement between them, they will actually have to compete for members. Frequent movement of people between communities would also make it harder for abusive cults to keep their practices secret.

The rule of law would exist in three parts; a relatively simple constitutional document of basic human rights afforded by the loose federation, plus the written rules of the community you are in, plus the informal, undocumented, rules of that community. The informality of the latter is a concern, but balancing that is the fact that said rules are interpreted informally anyway, allowing one to argue good intentions in the event of an accidental infraction.

But what's to stop communities from globbing together, taking advantage of economies of scale, and forming empires? After all, that's what has happened to form modern nation-states, in general. I think this model would only work in a situation where the communities are relatively isolated, but mobile, so the encounter each other randomly, rather than having fixed neighbours. This would be the case for nomadic groups that need to spread out to gather natural resources, such as seasteads supported by fishing, or asteroid miners in space. That would keep it as a loose federation.

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  • By Faré, Fri 8th Jan 2016 @ 8:42 am

    The big mistake many engineers make is to believe they as philosophers are somehow outside and above society and government is a magical tool that can mold society whichever way they want, for free.

    The one thing libertarians understand is that, no, nobody is either outside or above society, that government is not the tool of philosophers above, and not the tool of people below, but is a natural phenomenon with laws of its own, derived from its principle of unaccountable violence; and before to dream of what it "could" or "should" do, realize that not only its action isn't free (as in, it has a dear price), its action isn't free either (as in, it's constrained in what it WILL do — if it doesn't propagate its own survival through domination, it doesn't survive and is replaced by a conqueror that will do what it takes).

    See e.g. "The Calculus of Consent" by Buchanan & Tulloch on how democracy does work in practice (though with very favorable hypotheses), or "The Myth of the Rational Voter" by Caplan on how these favorable hypotheses do not even hold.

    Once you understand what government is, a lot of things change as to how you approach social engineering (if at all).

  • By alaric, Fri 8th Jan 2016 @ 12:27 pm

    I'm approaching the design of a government as a collective body to handle collective issues; I do agree that governments which become entities in their own right, whose interests may not align with the interests of the populace, then You Have A Problem.

    I've yet to see a convincing blueprint for how humanity can manage collective issues (dealing with emergencies, managing shared resources, dealing with disputes about stuff, etc) without forming some kind of forum to discuss it and agreeing to go along with the outcome of those agreements even if you don't like them - and making those agreements useful even if some people refuse to go along with them. Perhaps I am being too broad in labeling that as a "government" of sorts, and damning the whole concept by association with stagnant Western democracies...

    No, I'm not convinced my "second society" wouldn't also fall foul to the attractor of a power-hungry government propagating its own existence at all costs; I have merely tried to discourage it from going down paths I can think of that lead to that. It is my best stab at a model for a government in the traditional-nation-state sense; I would really like a few of those to be competing for citizens with each other, along with an ocean full of seasteads evolving their own forms of little micro-nation and competing with each other for citizens, and we get to see what wins out... As long as there's enough overall consensus that people should be very free to move to a different society, it should be hard for any despots to do a North Korea and lock their populace up without anybody noticing and doing something about it...

  • By Faré, Sat 9th Jan 2016 @ 6:16 am

    But that's the thing: the notional "government" that you're talking about has nothing to do with the institution of territorial monopoly of violence usually known as "government". If you define it as whichever "kind of forum to discuss it and agreeing to go along with the outcome of those agreements even if you don't like them" — then the closest common notion is market, not government.

    And yes, competition between "governing" entities via free association is the one and only force capable of preventing the otherwise non-competed entity from turning into tyranny.

    In any case, a lot of criticism against libertarianism boils down to confusion between these opposite notions, whichever names you use to denote them (society, government, market, etc.)

  • By alaric, Mon 11th Jan 2016 @ 10:45 am

    I do worry about how to stop "governing entities" from (a) absorbing each other, not necessarily through traditional military expansionism but maybe even just through all signing treaties with each other that make them interchangeable in the name of "standardising for the benefit of free trade", or through simple cultural hegemony; and (b) going North Korea and inhibiting flight of disaffected citizens!

  • By Faré, Tue 12th Jan 2016 @ 5:04 am

    (a) Indeed the Habsburg gained power through alliances and weddings (and ended up highly inbred for it). As long as citizens and landowners have an "exit" option, it doesn't matter how much the entities merge. If they don't then it's indeed guaranteed eventual doom as empires merge together and/or collapse.

    (b) All governments have already reserved the right to inhibit the flight of disaffected citizens: that's what border controls and passports are for. It's the other bad aspects of North Korea that they happily haven't copied (yet). "Citizen" control is precisely what government monopoly consists in.

    The idea that "governing entities" should NOT have a monopoly on either territory or citizens is what libertarianism is about.

  • By alaric, Wed 11th Oct 2017 @ 7:43 am

    Here's some more interesting insights into the problem of government:

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