Designing Anarchist Institutions– Security oriented thinking

So my post yesterday on the grand fall of the term libertarian in the US and my own political views got me thinking… in my work, I’ve been designing and writing billing software that handles and stores credit card information.  As such, everything I write, every rewrite, always has to be done with an eye toward security in the back of my mind.  “How could an attacker use this function I’ve written to exploit some other part of the system?” That kind of thing.

Now for lack of a better term, I’m going to use the term anarchist to describe my goals.  What I mean by this is simply the distrust of concentrations of power wherever they may form, in government, in business, in social structures.  The idea that abuse of power comes hand in hand with power itself and as such it’s in our best interests to limit the amount of power we give.

What I got thinking on was how do you design a strong anarchist institution.  And I realized that it requires the same kind of thinking that goes into trying to write secure software.  In both cases you have people within and without who may try to subvert your system.  And so the system has to be designed to be difficult to subvert. In the case of an anarchist institutions, you need to look at how social dynamics work and information flows and see where power tends to pool up and concentrate, and then change the structure of the organization in order to diffuse that.  When you find power pooling up, it’s important to step back and see if there’s a more general problem you can be looking for everywhere in your organization.  It’s like when you find a new class of security vulnerability, it’s useful to go back and audit everything you’ve done so far with an eye to that class– often, perhaps even usually, you will find other cases that had not yet been discovered.

Ultimately, unanticipated concentration of power has been at the root of the collapse of many anarchist organizations*.  Overall I think that these institutional design issues should be approached with a security mindset.  Of course, the problems are the same as with security– humans aren’t very good at thinking that way.  Like rational thinking, it’s something you have to learn– gut checks don’t work as what seems intuitive to our simian brains is often wrong.

* And yes totally uncited there, and anecdotally I can think of a few cases off the top of my head… some actual research would be interesting, and surely called for first.

“Real” Libertarians

Over at Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte has a post complaining about playing the “no true Scotsman” game with the word Libertarian:

I’m somewhat sick of the “genuine libertarians” thing, by the way.  It’s about as meaningful as saying, “There are genuine communists out there.”  Technically true, pragmatically meaningless.  “Genuine libertarians” are, in my experience, like “whole cloth pro-lifers”, the ones who supposedly are in it because they really are pro-life and also oppose war, the death penalty, eating meat, etc., and that it’s not about sex and gender for them.  You hear about them—occasionally someone says they’ve met one—but they are so few on the ground that you can reasonably say that people who consider their number one issue to be the government concealing space aliens from us constitute a more substantial voting bloc.  Most people who identify as libertarian are golf pants–wearing Republican weenies who want you to think they’re cooler than the average golf pants-wearing Republican weenie because they like Pearl Jam.

And she’s right, Libertarian in US politics is basically just an isolationist right winger, imperial ambitions being the only thing to separate them from other’s in the right wing of american politics.  They’ve co-opted the language of anarcho-capitalism, but betray it every time they stomp on personal liberty, while still holding to the “corporations can do no wrong” mantra they’ve long had.

Personally, I’ve long called myself a socialist libertarian, from even before learning that it was another word for anarchist. Anarchist is forever tainted by both the term “anarchy” which is absolutely not the goal of an anarchist and the actual anarchist terrorists of the turn of the century a hundred years ago.  Socialist libertarian, especially in the US, at least gives people pause to ask, “wait, what?” But now… libertarians in the US are so far away from anything I value… that I would hesitate to use the term.

And so I’m not sure what I would call myself now… Simply put, I think we need to distrust both public and private concentrations of power, be that government or business.  And the powerful tend to become powerful by hoarding power and seeking more– we must recognize this in order to diffuse it.  The powerful will always try to subvert any institution that seeks to counterbalance them.  I do not believe that our government is a lost cause– I am not so nihilistic as others who share my world view.  I do believe that political change is slow and painful, and so the modern non-violent direct action is equally important.  In particular, I think that shadow institutions/organizations/movements that are built on our ideals is an excellent use of our time.  (For instance, free schooling, unschooling, cooperatives of various kinds, employee owned and managed businesses, etc.) But that said, I see nothing wrong with engaging politically, as it is also useful and that we’re a big enough country to do both.  What’s more, engaging at the local level is extremely important.  If anything the right wing should have taught us, it is that.

WordPress Themes