By: Emmi Bevensee
Skin as Thick as Bark
As asinine, cultish leaders fascistically toy with the notion of nuclear warfare, we are reminded yet again of the fragility of human life. That humans have advanced as far as we have is remarkable. It reminds me of the feeling of awe I have when realizing that we limited humans drive hurtling boxes of steel around and don’t kill each more often than we do. Really, brava humanity. And yet, on a long time scale, we are less than a blink. After all, dinosaurs roamed the earth for 165 million years, and humans have only been around for about 6 million. Although dinosaurs did not reach the level of existential responsibility and consciousness that humans have, they were still wiped out by natural phenomena. Many pessimists see our extinction as an inevitability and almost usher it in, giving it a seat in their home with a misanthropic accelerationist’s glee. It’s wiser to recognize the exponentially harrowing conundrums that we do and will continue to face with an eye of hope. At the very least we should act in accordance with a path that hope might suggest. The game theoretic dilemmas of technological advancement present threats, but they also offer opportunities for freedom. The alternative can only be devastation and the void, so gambling on a future is, however unlikely to succeed, a sound bet. A longview anarchism represents both a determinism, and an infinite array of possibility.
The Fear of Knowledge
Each new existential threat to humanity increases both the rewards of coordination and the risks of defection. With the invention of firearms came the genocide of indigenous peoples the world over, but, like the boomerang of advancement, in time, those guns gave rise to fighting forces that overthrew the very same colonial despots. With nuclear weapons have come both the horrific attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as clean nuclear reactors capable of supplying unprecedented levels of more sustainable energy. The more easily we can destroy ourselves, the more meaningful becomes our responsibility not to do so.
Currently most of the largest human controlled existential threats are under the control of governments. The fate and responsibility of the human race is, in many ways, entrusted in the hands of a select few individuals. Unfortunately, two of the current lagerheads of this somber commitment are Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, mediated only by Dennis Rodman. However, as technology progresses, so too will access to the means of existential threat become more accessible to a greater number of people. Hackers could destroy the hospitals or power grids of an entire nation from a single computer if they possessed the drive and ability. Network penetration testers cringe when they go to large infrastructure facilities and see an outdated version of Microsoft controlling the lives of thousands or even millions. None of these scales of damage from an individual would have been possible a short time ago. Yet somehow we’ve made it this far despite the odds being consistently stacked against us from the moment we mutated to become multicellular organisms on a hurtling rock in the sky with water and oxygen. We must be doing something right in terms of the coordination problems we face and yet, our brittle mechanisms fray and crack before our eyes. When sociopaths and cult-leaders control our destiny alone, we’re screwed but distributing control of these threats and avenues of possibilities creates new dilemmas of ethical responsibility and coordination.
There are a seemingly infinite number of existential threats facing the human race or earth itself (ignoring for now threats facing the entire universe) and, increasingly, those threats will be available to the individual. When a 3d printer can print a genetic disease capable of constantly morphing and increasing its virality, a single person could devastate our species. However, if one person could print that so too could we remotely print antibodies to cure the epidemics facing rural Africa after centuries of structural denial and exploitation of resources on the continent. The trend is clear that, assuming technological advancement continues, humans will decentralize ways to both destroy and save ourselves. A tactical personal nuke may seem inane now, but 30 years ago so did an iPhone. We’ve already created and proliferated the ability to 3d print untraceable ghost guns. This isn’t just waxing teleological either. Technological development moves rapidly and, at times, with exponential acceleration. The bones for epochal shifts such as quantum computing and strong AI are also already underway.
Hope or Something Like It
“When many individuals use reciprocity, there is an incentive to acquire a reputation for keeping promises and performing actions with short-term costs but long-term net benefits. Thus, trustworthy individuals who trust others with a reputation for being trustworthy (and try to avoid those who have a reputation for being untrustworthy) can engage in mutually productive social exchanges, even though they are dilemmas, so long as they can limit their interactions primarily to those with a reputation for keeping promises.”
– Elinor Ostrom, A Behavioral Approach to the Rational Choice Theory of Collective Action
Those who are prone to panic dread the advancement of technology, simultaneously ignoring the countless lives that it saves and tangibly improves and carving out worry wrinkles with regards to its possibility of misuse. The nature of existential threats, though, generally follows a predictable game theoretic impasse: if you try to kill me, I will kill you. This simple stand-off of mutually assured destruction is the base reality for the cold-war model of nuclear deterrence and works in a great number of cases. But game theoretic dilemmas are generally subjected to artificial constraints in order to make sense of the decisions and dynamics at play whereas, in reality, a given dilemma may be plottable through game theoretic lenses but is far more complex than a simple prisoner’s dilemma can contain. For example, a base prisoner’s dilemma intentionally ignores the possibility that the two individuals being interrogated have a deep bond of trust in which a Nash equilibrium of refusing to snitch on one another is virtually the only conceivable outcome. Many activists during the green scare refused to snitch on their friends in just this way. The classical prisoner’s dilemma did not take history into account at all until the introduction of Axelrod’s iterated dilemma in “The Evolution of Cooperation.” Trust can transform the dynamics of artificial constraint, but the development of trust in a game theoretic landscape is complex and contingent on the rules of the game. Subjectivities are a difficulty in game theoretic thought, but it can still account for mistakes and miscommunication in a “trembling hand perfect equilibrium.” Although two guns pointing at each other might be the two-dimensional reality of many existential dilemmas we face, it can be opened to a transformative third option that changes the rules of the game entirely. Coordination and trust strategies in a non-zero sum game (a game with some benefit of cooperation, even if less than betrayal) represent this possibility in a simplified manner. The key to trust is that interactions be repeated, have a high degree of communication, and that there is a non-zero sum possibility. This creates reputation, an essential component of coordination strategies in game theory as it applies to real world scenarios.
In a game of chicken involving nuclear weapons, the possibility of deproliferation seems like a fantasy. As each side escalates, there is a clear incentive to strive to be the dominant force, despite the fact that every increase in power also increases one’s likelihood of personal devastation. And yet, it is possible to cool a cold war. The U.S. and Russia remain locked in a nuclear standoff, but the temperature is somehow vastly different than during the Cold War. The rules of the game have changed. The war games of nations and fascists concern everyone, even as we have little ultimate say in their direction. However, the more say we have in the direction of national leaders decision-making in this regard, the more the power of devastation has also been democratized. Currently the U.S. president has very little standing in their way from immediately launching a nuclear weapon, but are you positive that a national vote on whether to bomb the DPRK would really yield a more favorable result? Scary as it may be, people must share the burden of responsibility, both risk and reward.
Anarchism is nothing if not compass points for ethics and coordination strategies orbiting around the twin principles of liberty and empathy. Disagree as we may on the details, the basic premise that coercive power should be abolished and personal freedom maximized is, at its heart, an attempt to change the rules of an existential stand-off. No matter how unlikely, or even impossible, the utopian strivings of anarchism may be, they simultaneously represent the paths through the long-term existential threats facing our species and its role in the ecological universe.
The New Man [sic]
One limited vision of this ideal is a deprecated stand-off wherein everyone has the power to destroy everything else but no one will. We live in a lessened version of this now where individuals do have the ability to cause incomprehensible damage, but, for the most part, we don’t and don’t want to. There are of course exceptions to this rule. Eco-fascist groups like Individuals Tending Towards Savagery have developed an information hazard paradigm wherein their utility function includes the destruction of all of humanity —of course with them being last to die. In their earlier iterations they at least claimed to be doing it in a misguided attempt to prevent ecocide, but, as time went on, their nihilism, either perverted or distilled, crystallized into a fetish for violence, and they ironically expressed a lack of moral motivations. Niche and minute as this group may be (despite reprehensible platforming by Little Black Cart and the Anarchist Library among others), they represent a perverse point of gravity in the study of coordination strategies to existential threats. They represent the saboteur free-rider and the failure of “The New Man.”
The New Man is a palingenetic mythos that posits a utopian human, perfect according to the discursive forces of a given paradigm. The concept has found tendrils in fascism, communism, liberalism, anarchism, and transhumanism. The New Soviet Man was to be strong, intelligent, selfless, hard-working, and, most importantly, loyal to the values of Marxist-Leninist thought. Despite the anti-utopian bent of much of Marxist thought, the New Socialist Man represented the hope, teleological fate, and indeed, the necessity of Marxist-Leninist (as well as Maoist, Trotskyist, and Juche) theory in the human realm. The Übermensch of Nietzsche was one who could reject religion “and install his own set of values which are ‘Beyond Good and Evil’… who could reject the ‘God hypothesis,’ who could look the truths of pessimism in the face and still say ‘Yes’ to life.” This Übermensch would “cease to be an ordinary human; such an individual would in fact become a Superhuman.” This idea was later adopted and distorted by the Nazis to support both a policy of eugenics as well as the creation of a class known as the untermenschen that they associated with all “undesirable” races and proclivities. The Fascist New Man is traditional in outlook, hyper-masculine and “alpha” yet stripped of all individuality in its service to the übermensch leader. What these and other iterations of the New Man represent are attempts at grappling with the difficulties of imposing a utopian or universal worldview onto the limited shell of human decision-making. Such is the cry of every visionary: “Things would be perfect if they were just different!”
Faced with the dilemma of human imperfection and its tragic effect on utopian schemes, many understandably turn to a pessimistic realism which favors a wide variety of gun-facing-gun style game theoretic standoffs as methods of curtailing humanity’s savage impulses. From such views are derived things like the Hobbesian social contract in which we surrender certain freedoms to governance allegedly in exchange for public goods such as security. Hobbes, however, did not have the prescience to foresee the hyper-information era we now live in where all of our greatest threats are completely globalized beyond the frail imagined boundaries of nationalism. We can’t fault him for not predicting the possibility of strong Artificial Intelligence with a utility function at odds with human interests, but we can recognize that the social contract is worth less than the paper Leviathan was written on. Overcoming our own internal existential threats is simultaneously our best hope for being able to survive an external threat such as strong AI– or a giant meteor. Hobbesian misrepresentations of game theory would ideally be worthless, but they’re the fodder for countless cruel and patronizing policy and laws corrupting our capacity for coordination.
Anarchism says that liberty is interdependent and relies on the many forms of empathy as a vehicle towards transcending our siloed outlook while protecting our rights to individual autonomy. Since liberty is interdependent, both our threats and possibilities transcend the shallow boundaries we’ve constructed between us and our environment. The Anarchist Man is a myth and our struggle for it an infinite regress. However, that very same struggle holds the weight of our entire future on its shoulders. If we cannot learn to ethically coordinate, then we will not pass the coming tests for our species. If we can’t play nice, then we will die and destroy literally everything. Alternatively, as we transcend each level of existential dilemmas, we create a new playground of freedom and responsibility.
Longview Anarchism as Distinct and Common
“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”
– Constitution of the Iroquois Nations
The notion of planning far in advance and learning from history are, of course, not novel concepts. The notion of a longview is written into the cosmology of a great number of indigenous traditions and worldviews. In fact many more collectivist leaning societies such as China historically have much more of a longview, both past and present than the United States. The relationship of Buddhism to this view of time is noteworthy. The discussion of ancestors in many African traditions resembles a similar attempt to honor the past and prepare for the future. Longview anarchism descends from these understandings while diverging, at times dramatically, from their conclusions.
There are languages themselves which lack definitive concepts of the Western vision of now. In contrast, longview anarchism does not demand a rejection of the continued present. In fact a temporal granularity and a relevance to the moment is necessary. Anarchism as a broad and nebulous field attempts to deal with a wide variety of issues both immediate and meta in nature. These many threads are attempts, however wonky and at times misguided, to navigate towards a future in which we can adapt, survive, and perhaps even thrive.
These adaptations will take infinite forms throughout our species’ continued evolution, possibly even beyond our current Sapiens form. After all, to have a stand-off with strong AI we would have to either posses equal ability or remain a non-threat (or aid) to its internal utility function. Though we will never be The New Man, much less the Transhumanist New Man, the progress of individuals on the many planes of anarchist liberation are to become invaluable gifts to the people of the future, who will face ever greater challenges on the journey to anarchist freedom.
Technology creates complexity which presents a clear path towards decentralization of power. It is no coincidence that internet freedom radicals are hunted voraciously by authoritarian regimes while secure communication channels and access to the free internet are repressed. This is because information is valuable. The withholding of information is a strategy of domination especially when access to information clears paths of freedom— either to destroy or to create. Governments cannot repress or prohibit technology. USB drives full of western TV shows are smuggled into DPRK and the history of drug laws shows that prohibition of anything, much less knowledge, yields an opposite and magnified effect. Information is subject to the laws of entropy which hold far greater sway than any national law ever could. Tyrants continue to use advances in technology to secure greater access to hegemony, but sentience hunts for cracks and anomalies. Curiosity will kill the king.
Anarchism that takes a longview demands that we recognize these tendencies of freedom and shift our star maps accordingly. Beyond the deprecated stand-off described in the section above, another ideal emerges —a world not where everyone could kill everyone and doesn’t but a world where every sentient node has absolute power over their domain and the complete inability to coercively remove power from another. Killing another is, of course, removing one’s most basic freedom of life, and, as such, an anarchism that does not seek a transcendence to this power play is short-sighted. Although we must play the cursed game of existential prisoner’s dilemma, it should only be as a path to towards transcendence. Transcendent thinking changes the rules of the game.
But this negative freedom is only the first step in a realization of the necessary path to our collective and individual liberation. This third path of the great existential standoff is only a stepping stone. Anarchism, taken to its logical conclusions, suggests that we have the power to contribute to each other’s freedom, not just to cease to reduce it. This type of power, the power to ethically coordinate in a non-zero sum game, is the beating, raw heart of anarchist striving and the only path for our continued evolution.
Anarchism that does not have this absolute interdependent freedom as its end goal only approaches anarchism, but dares not gaze directly into its fiery soul.
It requires “skin as thick as the bark of a pine” to face the precipice of our fragility and choose flight, but we can do it. In a sense we do it every day when we ward off the ethereal existential dread that is presented by our dilemmas. Anarchism that takes a longview says not only that we have to face this, but also that, despite our monumental tragedy and failures both past and future, we have made it this far, which is a testament to our capacity to take another step forward into the universe — caminar preguntando. This is far from a demand for perfection nor is it intended to be a clear outline but rather a plea for curiosity and a recognition of the scale of importance of this project that we all hold, like a delicate yet nourishing seedling in our chests. It’s possible to both resist and to cooperate. Freedom is our only choice.
Edited for mb3-org.com