According to the Book of Genesis, humans have been killing each other ever since Cain killed Abel out of jealousy. Over the centuries, we’ve gotten very good at it. Individuals kill each other over love and greed and hate and various other emotions and desires. But the most efficient and effective killers have always been governments — as one group justifies its desire to destroy another group and take what it has.
If we’re going to live in a post-statist world where the sprawling nation-state goes away, we’re looking at a future in which independent jurisdictions will be smaller and less homogeneous. It’s a perfect recipe for a continuation of the bloody conflict that’s haunted humanity from the beginning. Are we setting up a return to the feudal warfare of early nation-states?
In a discussion Monday about this possible future, a friend of mine said the following — and it echoes one of the key questions I have about the post-state world:
However, I think some underlying agreement to tolerate each other — necessarily somewhat voluntaristic unless we’re talking about states — is required for those societies to coexist.
The question is whether that’s possible. Have humans learned enough to make enlightened choices? I believe humans are inherently sinful, but whether you call it original sin or simply human nature, I’m not convinced our nature can change, so I’m not counting on it. Have we at least learned how to rig the incentives so that groups have a greater incentive to get along than they do to kill each other and steal from one another?
I don’t know. As I’ve thought a lot over the last 10 or 15 years about new cities or nations, I’ve been most interested in islands, for this very reason. The water that separates an island from its neighbors is a blessing and a curse. It makes it harder to attack, but it makes it more difficult to trade. On balance, the defense is probably worth it.
Some have argued that changes in technology are going to make it harder for large groups to have a natural advantage over a smaller group. One could argue that the history of the past 10 years provides some strong evidence for that, as a relative handful of mostly backwards people have kept the largest military on the planet tied down and unable to score a decisive long-term victory that can end a conflict for good. In fact, it would appear that one man plotted to bring the United States into conflict with the entire Muslim world — and he succeeded well before he died very recently. Would technology prove an even greater weapon in the hands of a small group of people from a developed area? That’s a question I’ll examine another time, but I’ve read arguments to that effect.
So how can incentives be rigged to prevent conflict from happening? Is it possible? Is it realistic for these small cities or nations to have defensive weapons that would protect them and make war inadvisable for groups of bullies? If we can’t answer that question acceptably, we might be right back to the point of small groups consolidating for greater protection and power. So it’s a question that has to be answered before we can hope to get people to take alternatives to the state seriously.