Tuesday, April 11, 2006

anarchism and decentralizaition

anarchism is a democratic form of governance that emphasizes a decentralized socialist economy, regional political autonomy, freedom of association, and the importance of a free press. anarchist society comes to resemble a federation of federations, and promotes both individual and corporate diversity, while promoting cooperation for the good of the whole.

one feature separating anarchism from communism is decentralization: this removes incentives for political leaders to amass individual power by diminishing the ability of powerful individuals to manipulate large numbers of individuals and corporations.

among the benefits of this type of decentralized organization are economic and political redundancy and efficiency. redundancy and efficiency may seem like contrary notions, but their agreement is this: by having multiple individuals and organizations working to solve the same problems, there exists an additional resiliency to catastrophe, multiple sources to supply a commodity, and an increased probability that a given problem will be solved (in virtue of a greater number of different individual or corporate sensibilities working on the same problem).

this type of distributed infrastructure is key to the longevity of many of the planet’s oldest and most successful animal species. the termite exists in a decentralized colony that, although containing a queen termite, operates without central direction from the queen. ant colonies are similar: through the arbitrary behavior of a large number of independent agents, extremely efficient and complex behaviors emerge from the collective behavior of the many ants.

for example, an ant colony seeking food will send out many ants to accomplish the task. as the ants wander around looking for food, they leave behind a trail of chemicals called pheromones. when an individual ant finds food, it follows its trail back to the nest, reinforcing the strength of that trail, and adding an additional pheromone that indicates food has been found in that direction. when another ant who is also wandering around looking for food comes across the trail of the first ant, the second ant follows the first ant’s trail, further strengthening the pheromone trail. when hundreds and thousands of individual ants are involved, their chemical trails evolve extremely efficient routes to the nearest food resource. this efficiency is not the product of the behavior of any individual ant, but is product of the collective behavior of many ants; furthermore, there emerges from this collective action a sort of goal-directed behavior, without any central direction. it is the multiplicity of individuals, each behaving individually within a structured environment (structured by the formal properties of pheromones), that is important.

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