"Market diversity drives innovation" my dad always said. "The more people have the means, the more you'll see. Monopoly leads towards stagnation, competition towards ecology."
I'd lived through several technological revolutions in my lifetime. Cheap ICT, that was the first, it'd resulted in my industry (news) getting eaten alive over three decades. Then there was the microfacturing revolution. During all of that, I bailed and went back to school to get into politics, figuring that'd be the one that would never change as long as bastards existed. But to my surprise it did.
You give someone a solar panel and suddenly they become a mini power plant. You give another a 3d-printer and they can give you all the crockery the local supermarket has to offer (plus they can make the designs however you'd like!). But what does the cost of instituting a regulatory framework, creating a currency (mechanically open to the public to inspect it's functionality too!), along with dirt cheap infrastructure (courtousy of general purpose open source robots that could put down a road, dig tunnels for a sewage system, put up poles for a power line, etc) and law enforcement (cheap drones running on military scale identification software)? Not to mention a breakdown of the sociopolitical order - climate change, immigration crises, financial collapse, the collapse of states, etc.
You get a Cambrian explosion of political experimentation.
I found myself in the middle of this revolution in the second year of my postgrad experience. I was half paying attention to a lecturer on something or other while I played a simple video game on my tablet. My attention was moving towards the game when I heard the lecturer mention something about anarchists in Greece purchasing several blocks and declaring themsleves a new soveriegn state.
"Wait what?" I asked.
The lecturer, who was fairly conservative (for the university I was at anyway), laughed while he told me that it was further proof of the excesses of socialism and that this was just another sign the country was slowly degenerating into lawlessness.
I considered myself a good liberal at the time so I investigated for myself what was going on. I found that in an effort to get itself out of the second bankrupcy Greece (no longer part of the EU) was selling off soverignity over territory to pay off its debts. While some had been purchased by those seeking profit or geopolitical gain (a key Medditeraian port had been secured by China), others were being driven by ideology. The anarchist group had raised several million dollars over the course of a year in one of the largest crowdfunding events in history (in terms of numbers of participants that is). Other pieces of Greece had been secured by other idealists - you had libertarians who'd been burnt by seasteading who wanted something a little more set up, religions looking for somewhere a little less skeptical, hardcore conservatives and technoprogressives (sometimes one and the same!) looking to escape from the ills of the world.
I was flabbergasted. In all my time I'd spent studying politics I'd never seen anything like this. There were political arrangements that seemed utterly mad being enacted throughout the disintegrating state of Greece. Free markets for courts? Microstates in which each citizen was legally part of the same family? States without an official army or police force?
At the time I didn't know what to make of it so I simply tried to forget about it. In retrospect what I was doing was trying to comprehend what amounted to a truth that utterly destroyed the foundation of what I was doing. It was the equivalent of going back to an engineer working in a pre-Newtonian framework and giving them a pop-science textbook explaining quantum physics.
I lasted a month. During that time I couldn't help myself, I kept on reading small articles about Greece, the, well what seemed at the time anyway, complete clusterfuck that was the proliferation of treaties and arrangements between the various microstates. Shaking my head every time I came across something new - the acceptance of citizen currency within a bloc of libertarian microstates, the creation of a purely voluntary healthcare system by some anarchists, an article claiming that microstates could help improve air quality in Greece thanks to having stronger negotiating power with the state. While my conscious mind considered what I read absurd, something on an unconscious level was slowly shifting...
Eventually, I broke. I can't remember what did it and frankly, it doesn't matter. I woke up one morning, read some article that made me gasp for air and I contacted the university to tell them that I was dropping out. I took out a small loan for a one-way ticket and took the first zeppelin I could find to Greece.
I had little experience with the country, well Europe in general really. As an American, especially a liberal, I considered it my civic duty to complain about the country but I never really traveled. The country seemed to have a manic energy that I'd never really felt in any other place, even supposedly bustling cities like San Francisco and New York. Certainly, commerce happened there, but not in the same way. There was something more ... natural about the place. Maybe it was architecture, the hustling street vendors, the diversity of individuals and the infrastructure being built.
I traveled for about a month around the country, visiting various communities and microstates, asking open ended questions. I think it's safe to say I learned more in that month then I did in my years at university.
I found out that what was going on wasn't exactly new - before the 20th century, America had seen a proliferation of self-governed utopian communities that were wiped away by a combination of large-scale industry and government and their own contradictions. Switzerland had also something similar - it's political structure was far more decentralized and as such avoided some of the pathologies of the Westphalian state system. But this was something entirely new, modern technology plus the decay of the lumbering dinosaurs that were the states of the 20th century was resulting in a diversity of social arrangements previously unforseen.
Similarly, I learned about the negotiation process the individual units were involved in. One night I spent drinking with a Greek anarchist I found that they largely modeled relationships between themselves on international relations theory.
"Actually it was IR that turned me into becoming an anarchist. I was studying it while listening to Chompsky lectures and suddenly it just clicked..."
He didn't look the type. He was wirery - built like a lightweight fighter, and had an animated facial tattoo that made it look like a parasite was clawing it's way out of his face. I couldn't picture him in an academic setting no matter how hard I tried.
Despite us, both being drunk he noticed my shock at this. "Yeah, it was about a decade ago. I realized that states already exist in a state of anarchy. The only question was how far it could scale."
I was dumbstruck by this thought for a half a minute. "Ho-how far do you think it could go?"
"That's what we're here to find out."
It turned out you could go pretty deep. Two weeks later I found myself in another city, this one populated by hardcore propertarians. They'd been choosen by some unnamed benefactor who wanted to see if, in their words, "20,000 individual monarchs could exist side by side and function". This was an entirely different arrangement - rather then the fluid and open space of the anarchism I'd just found myself in this was instead a highly ordered space, every square meter here belonged to someone and an intricate set of laws defined who could do what with what. Before I could enter I had to sign an arrangement saying I'd respect the property rights of all 20,000 individuals. I was also pressured into buying glassware that could help me navigate the complex arrangement of property titles that held the city together.
This was a radically different experience. There were competing forms of transportation - streets and sidewalks were owned by individuals who charged walking fees that automatically adjusted throughout the day according to conditions. In response to these conditions a complex network of skybridges had sprung up between buildings, as had a network of tunnels below the surface, all offering transport. Drones constantly buzzed overhead, routing around the transportation restrictions, providing valuable necessities like food, water, and sewage. Meshnets and direct fiber optic connections competed for users - attacks on both were common as individuals fought tooth and nail for customers.
Nevertheless, the actual people were fairly pleasant. As long as there was a buck to be made people treated you amlicably. The complexity of the economic relations was multiplied by the pacts and alliances made between individuals. Hardcore Platonists who considered intellectual labor expropriation of an world of pure thought and as such subject to Lockean property rights, the same of everything else. Marxists drove mad by the events of the 21st century who'd thrown themselves into the service of Capital with the hope that they could find a way out. Hard Wahhabists disgusted by the degrading morality of the Middle East who occupied several blocks in which automated drones were programmed to automatically shoot any woman not fully covered. Between all of these groups (and a thousand more) a series of pacts, alliances, arrangements and deals that required a supercomputer to calculate (and there were such services that provided just this!) to properly navigate. The city was maddening, a place were you could have almost anything you wanted within minutes at your hotel room, yet you had to negotiate a series of complex agreements and pay a toll to cross the street.
And then I found myself basically broke, with only my ticket back to America. Going from the complexity of the sociopolitical landscape of what I later found was called a panarchy, to the slowly collapsing liberal democratic state of Greece felt like I'd entered a different century. Even a major metropolis had nothing on the bustle and complexity I'd felt there. But I was broke and needed to get back home.
While on the long trip home I decided to see if any such projects were going on in America. Not to my surprise, there were. A group of hardcore socialists had taken over a town in New Hampshire and had effectively replaced the state with individuals committed to their own ideology. Likewise in Vermont, a collation of hippies and libertarians had set up a self-sufficient community that had successfully resisted attempts by the state to police it. Occupy 2.0 was still kicking in Florida - squatters had successfully taken over several abandoned towns devestated by Hurricane Bill and were now claiming rights over the buildings according to the homestead principle. Middle America likewise had seen a proliferation of neo-Maoists (who'd merged the teachings of the Glorious Leader with the principles of Ralph Borsodi) and ethnonationalist back-to-the-landers who were resulting in a slow but steady bleed of the population to the redoubts that spotted the land. Renegade agorist entrepreneurs were selling dirt cheap renewable energy, low-cost farming robots, and basic sanitation equipment to the ballooning homeless tent cities that were beginning to emerge outside major metropolises.
Somehow (unsurprisingly in retrospect) my university-town political science education had completely missed out on this. An entirely new political space was emerging from the grassroots around this country - around every country! - and nobody was talking about it. The Democrats and the Republicans treated it like a distraction, across all the debates in the last election only half an hour had been spent on the topic (with both sides declaring that more "law and order" to rein in the experiments was necessary).
I lasted another week in at the university town before I gave it all up and took to the road. I cashed in on my inheritance, sold everything I owned except for the clothes on my back, got myself an electric motorcycle, a portable solar panel and a big ol' backup and started my new life as a gonzo political scientist. I've been a ronin of solving collective action problems ever since.
I've got a few more stories to tell, but first, tell me your problems friend.