Cooling centralizes systems, while warming decentralizes them. The modern Little Ice Age centralized social systems, but contemporary global warming decentralizes them. In this chapter, I will divide social systems into informational, political, and economic systems according to three exchange media and examine modern centralization and contemporary decentralization.
1. Information Systems
The Information Systems are social systems whose entropy is reduced by its medium, language. Modern philosophy centralized the Information Systems, while the post-modern philosophers have decentralized them. The Internet embodies such decentralized information systems.
1.1. The Modern ‘’ego cogitans’’
The Greek philosophers sought ‘’arche’’, the first principle of the world, in the Ancient Cool Period. The monotheism religion, Christianity, took the place of Roman polytheism in the Medieval Cool Period. The modern Little Ice Age caused another centralization, philosophy of ‘’ego cogitans’’. This idea originated in the philosophy of René Descartes, a philosopher at the Spörer Minimum.
Descartes employed methodological skepticism, that is to say, he rejected any idea that he can doubt to achieve the absolute truth. He doubted every notion derived from his senses. He even doubted the existence of God.
But immediately upon it, I noticed that, while I thus wished to think that all was false, it was required necessarily that I, who thus thought, should be something; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so certain and so assured that no supposition by the skeptics, however extravagant it might be, could be alleged capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy that I searched for.
The only thing he could not doubt was himself as the ‘’res cogitans’’ (thinking substance) because he as thinking substance must exist to be deceived.
After I as the ‘’res cogitans’’ was proved, he inferred the existence of God from the first principle. He thought that, if such imperfect ‘’res cogitans’’ as I existed, something more perfect than myself, namely, God should exist. He further inferred the existence of the ‘’res extensa’’ (external things) from the benevolence of God.
What is noteworthy in Descartes’ inference is that the ‘’ego cogitans’’ is more fundamental and evident than God. This means the ‘’ego cogitans’’ in Descartes’ philosophy took the place of God in Medieval Theology. Just as God is the sole existence, ‘’ego cogitans’’ must be the sole existence, because the existence of an alter ego is not evident as that of ego. In fact, Descartes had difficulty proving the existence of an alter ego.
I wrote before at Conscious Systems,
Modern philosophers tried to prove the existence of alter ego, but this trial was comical. To prove something is to show that it is necessary and has no other possibility, namely to delete otherness.
Though Descartes admitted the room for freedom in mind, he regarded the body as a mere machine that followed the law of physics. Descartes’ philosophy reflected the mechanical determinism that governed natural sciences in the age of Galileo and Newton. It is not a coincidence, because solipsism and determinism have their root in the deletion of otherness. Indeterminacy is the state that can or will be otherwise than actually is or will be, while determinism does not admit this otherness. Alter ego is a conscious system that selects otherwise than the ego does, while solipsism does not admit this otherness.
The modern philosophers from Descartes to Husserl tried to found the system of knowledge on the transcendental subject. Kant assumed the existence of ‘’Ding an sich’’ (the thing-in-itself) outside the transcendental subject, but Hegel sublated this alienated state up to the ‘’Absolute Geist’’ (the absolute spirit) so that his Dialektik (dialectic) ends up as a monologue. He thought that freedom consisted in necessity while history had been completed in his age. After his death, however, various philosophers rebelled against his philosophy so that history of thought continued groping for a new paradigm.
1.2. From Hierarchy to Rhizome
The rise of quantum physics since 1900 limited the validity of classical physics, the paradigm for the mainstream modern philosophers. Indeterminacy turned out to be the nature of the object rather than the result of an epistemological defect of the subject. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics offered a new paradigm that should take the place of the previous solipsistic philosophy.
While determinism and solipsism characterize modern thought, indeterminism and intersubjectivity characterize postmodern thought. French postmodern philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari contrasted the decentralized rhizome with the centralized hierarchy in their book, “Mille Plateaux (A Thousand Plateaus).”
Let’s summarize the principal characters of a rhizome: different from trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point with any other point, with each of its traits not necessarily referring to those of the same nature, and it sets the systems of very different signs and even the states of non-signs into action. […] Against the centered systems (even polycentric systems), to hierarchic communication and pre-established liaisons, the rhizome is a decentered system, non-hierarchic and non-signifier, without General, without organizing memory or central automaton, only defined by circulation of states.
The postmodern philosophers abandoned the trial to subject all the information to the Subject as the center of Information Systems. Postmodernism announces the death of modern solipsism and determinism.
When ‘’A Thousand Plateaus’’ was published in 1980, the Internet had not come into wide use yet, but their concept of the rhizome against that of the tree proved to be a preceding model of the Internet against the mass media.
1.3. The Internet as Rhizome
Since Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type printing, the mass media has grown into the dominant Information System. Compared to the previous viral word-of-mouth communication, the mass media are the centralized system, where the center gathers information from the periphery, edits it, and delivers it to the periphery. The professional information producers are sharply distinguished from the nonprofessional.
The mass media have contributed to enlighten the masses. It might be regarded as a sort of decentralization of information because more and more people have shared information that was hardly available before the era of mass media. Still, power is not fully decentralized in societies where mass media are dominant. The central suppliers can decide what information to select and how to edit, while consumers passively accept the censored information.
Since the 1970s, the Information Revolution has taken place. Above all the Internet is now changing this monopoly of information by the mass media. Nowadays the term “Web 2.0” is in fashion and I would like to extend this usage, naming the information networking in the 1970s Web the alpha version, that in the 1980s Web the beta version, that in the 1990s Web 1.0 and that in the 2000s Web 2.0. Let me examine these stages of decentralization respectively.
The 1970s are the stage of Web alpha. The ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which led to the Internet, started in 1972. The US Department of Defense developed ARPANET and implemented packet switching to diversify the risk of the central host computer. It was an Alpha testing of the Internet, conducted by insiders.
The 1980s are the stage of Web beta. Though mainframe computers were prevalent in the 1970s, personal computers prevailed in the 1980s. The International Telecommunication Union developed packet switching network standards in the form of X.25, which was used for the dial-in public access networks. In the 1980s, commercial online services such as email, real-time chat, and BBS started for personal computer users. It was the beta testing of the decentralized informational network conducted by the general public.
The 1990s are the stage of Web 1.0. In 1991 Tim Berners-Lee at CERN publicly released the World-Wide Web and in 1993 CERN announced the World Wide Web would be free of charge to anyone. Since then the Internet has grown rapidly. The Internet enables anybody to publicize information at a low cost and without the censorship of central editors.
The 2000s are the stage of Web 2.0. Blogs enabled readers to aggregate posts in favorite keywords through RSS/Atom aggregators or social media. The editing platform is no longer client computers but the network. Before web 2.0, users could edit software and content. In the age of web 2.0, users share the edited software and content with others. Wikipedia, whose editing is decentralized, has now surpassed Encyclopedia Britannica, whose editing is centralized.
To sum up, personal computers in the 1980s brought about the decentralization of information processing, the Internet in the 1990s brought about the decentralization of information publication, and web 2.0 in the 2000s brought about the decentralization of information editing.
2. Political Systems
The political systems are social systems whose entropy is reduced by the punishment as a medium. The modern absolute monarchy centralized the political systems, while the contemporary democratization has decentralized them. Let’s consider how the Internet can promote political decentralization.
2.1. Absolute Monarchy
The political systems in Medieval Europe adopted feudalism, a decentralized system, where the lords entrusted their vassals with the governance of the granted fiefs. During the era of feudalism, the European monarchs were merely the first among equals and had relatively weak power.
In the modern Little Ice Age, the power of the monarch gradually increased with the creation of centralized administrations and standing armies. Niccolò Machiavelli wrote ‘’Il Principe (The Prince)’’ in 1513 and recommended his monarch to centralize domestic power by all possible means. Then the doctrine of absolute monarchy with divine right appeared to justify this centralization. It stated that King or Queen did not owe his or her rule to the will of his or her subjects, but to that of God, hence there could be no constitutions or laws above what a monarch decreed.
The doctrine of the royal God-given right resembles the inference by Descartes, with the ‘’ego cogitans’’ responding to the monarch and ‘’res extensa’’ to nobles. The ‘’ego cogitans’’ and the monarch, who used to be merely the first among equals, became the first principle of everything including God. Just as God intermediated between ‘’ego cogitans’’ and ‘’res extensa’’, God intermediated between the monarch and the others.
Descartes (1596-1650) was contemporary with Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642). Richelieu crushed the powers of local nobles and consolidated the royal power of France. Richelieu did for the establishment of the French absolute monarchy what Descartes did for the establishment of modern philosophy. Descartes who made much of reason regard animals as mere machines without minds and sense. Therefore, he did not hesitate at the vivisection of animals. Richelieu also did not hesitate to smash domestic nobles in the name of ‘’Raison d’État’’, literally “reason of the State” or “national interest”. Descartes used mathematics as the universal language to describe the physical laws that governed ‘’res extensa’’. Richelieu founded the ‘’Académie française’’ (French Academy) and standardized/normalized the French language to transform France into a centralized state.
The absolute monarchy of France culminated in the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), which coincided with the Maunder Minimum, the deepest trough in the Little Ice Age when sunspots became exceedingly rare. Louis XIV was known as ‘’le roi soleil’’ (the sun king). The sun king had to appear to compensate for the decline of the sun proper.
The absolute monarchy has become less and less popular after the French Revolution and American Revolution in the late 18th century. The Modern Warm Period and the Industrial Revolution have increased wealth available to individuals, who began to claim their happiness rather than the prosperity of the state and their uniqueness rather than their national unity. It is just as if a poor man who lives in an apartment house to reduce living costs would like to live in a detached house to be independent if he had enough money.
The reaction to the democratization has occasionally happened, especially, after the Great Depression in 1929. The figure below shows the number of democratic countries defined by the Polity IV project.
The centrally planned economy of the Soviet Union became the paradigm in those days. Franklin Roosevelt, president of the US, fulfilled the New Deal to overcome the Great Depression and adopted the centralized blended economy. Fascism rose to power in Germany, Italy, and Japan. These industrialized nations escaped from the serious deflation by public spending for the Second World War.
Despite such reactions often seen in the reflation phase, the long-term trend of political systems after the Little Ice Age is decentralization and democratization of power. The survey by Freedom House endorses this tendency.
By 1950, the defeat of Nazi totalitarianism, the post-war momentum toward de-colonization, and the post-war reconstruction of Europe and Japan resulted in an increase in the number of democratic states. At mid-century, there were 22 democracies accounting for 31 percent of the world population and a further 21 states with restricted democratic practices, accounting for 11.9 percent of the globe’s population.
By the close of our century liberal and electoral democracies clearly predominate, and have expanded significantly in the Third Wave, which has brought democracy to much of the post-Communist world and to Latin America and parts of Asia and Africa. Electoral democracies now represent 120 of the 192 existing countries and constitute 62.5 percent of the world’s population.
Democratization and decentralization were accelerated after the 1970s when the information revolution started. Now that representative democracy prevails, the next phase is direct democracy through information technologies. Representatives have played the role of mass media in political systems. It has contributed to decentralization to some degree, but their structure is still centralized and therefore individuals must bypass it to achieve true decentralization.
2.3. Internet Democracy
The Internet has at least technologically made direct democracy easy. Internet democracy or e-democracy can have two phases, e-democracy 1.0 and e-democracy 2.0 according to web 1.0 and web 2.0, although the development of e-democracy lags behind that of the Internet. The alpha testing of e-democracy was over and the advancing countries now stay at e-democracy beta corresponding to web beta. How can we advance further?
As I wrote before, web beta is the decentralization of information processing, web 1.0 is the decentralization of information publication and web 2.0 is the decentralization of information editing. Parallel to this development, e-democracy beta is e-voting for representatives, e-democracy 1.0 is e-voting on a bill and e-democracy is the composition of a bill through the Internet.
Law and policy-making will come near editing open-source software or contents. The application of the open-source movement to politics is called open source governance. Unlike Wikipedia, however, the proposed edition must be selected through e-voting. Wikipedia can show the history of the edition, but it has no voting system to decide which version of a title is the best. Instead, edit wars often occurred. That’s why Wikipedia does not offer an ideal model for web 2.0 content editing.
3. Economic Systems
Economic systems are social systems whose entropy is reduced by the medium, money. The Modern Industrial Revolution centralized the economic systems, while the post-modern Information Revolution has decentralized them. Let’s consider how the Internet can promote economic decentralization.
3.1. Enclosure and Capitalism
The three troughs of the Little Ice Age, namely, Spörer Minimum (1450-1550), Maunder Minimum (1645-1715), and Dalton Minimum (1790-1820) were contemporary respectively with the first enclosure, the second parliamentary enclosure (the Agricultural Revolution) and the Industrial Revolution in Britain. We can characterize these three major economic events as centralization of economic production.
The Spörer Minimum brought about a cold climate, increased the demand for wool, and made sheep farming profitable. Open fields in Britain were being enclosed into the individually owned pastureland for sheep during the 15th and 16th centuries. This was the first process of enclosure. It contributed to the effective mass production of wool. Since many farmers lost their land and became unemployed, Saint Thomas More condemned it, saying, “sheep, which are naturally mild, and easily kept in order, may be said now to devour men and unpeople, not only villages, but towns.“
The Maunder Minimum brought about a shortage of food. The need for mass production of food encouraged the Agricultural Revolution that accompanied technological innovation such as mechanization, four-field crop rotation, and selective breeding. Mechanized and centralized agriculture required large, enclosed fields. A series of government acts to promote enclosure were passed. The farmers who lost their lands were employed to work for this capital-intensive agriculture.
The Dalton Minimum increased the demand for clothing again. Since the Agricultural Revolution increased population and Britain had many colonies as her market, Britain had to produce clothing on a large scale, which led to the Industrial Revolution of textile manufacture. Workers became proletarian and worked at the centralized and capital-intensive factories. The process and the structure of the Industrial Revolution are the same as those of the precedent Agricultural Revolution.
After the crisis of the Little Ice Age, the capital-intensive economy with the proletariat continued. The capital-intensive economy improved productivity, but it also caused a population explosion and did not lead to the improvement of labor conditions, which became an urgent question in the 19th century.
While workers were subjected to capital, the capital was subjected to nation-states. The nation-states centralized isolated feudal estates. The economic policy of absolute monarchy was mercantilism, where nation-states played a zero-sum game: a state’s gain is another’s loss. Each state regulated its nation’s economy, trying to increase the inflow of wealth and decrease its outflow. The Industrial Revolution enabled “the wealth of nations” to grow as a whole and some economists came to advocate ‘’laissez-faire’’ to promote international trade.
3.2. Totalitarian Solutions
As it got warm, the economic systems were decentralized. Workers have been more and more independent and the regulated national economies have dissolved into the global market economy. But, like the decentralization of political systems, that of economic systems experienced some reactions.
In 1844, Britain passed the Bank Charter Act and introduced the gold standard. Thereafter many modern states adopted the gold standard in the 19th century. The restriction of the money supply resulted in long-term deflation. To prevent prices from falling, capitalism tends to be monopolistic or oligopolistic, forming cartels and trusts. Workers also formed trade unions, especially from the 1870s onwards, to prevent their wages from falling.
This was the reaction to the ‘’laissez-faire’’ during the mid-19th century. European countries took up economic protectionism and interventionism again. France canceled its free trade agreements with other European countries in 1890 and Germany restarted protectionism with a December 1878 letter from Bismarck and set the iron and rye tariff of 1879.
To improve labor conditions, protectionism was introduced. In the 1880s, Bismarck developed social insurance in Germany. In 1914, Henry Ford developed the assembly line, improved mass-production methods of automobiles, distributed the increased profits to workers, and increased the demand for automobiles enough for mass production. Thus Fordism improved labor conditions in the USA.
In 1917, the Russian Revolution occurred and the Soviet Union, the first communist state, was created in 1922. After the Black Thursday in 1929, the Great Depression frustrated Fordism and Franklin Roosevelt started the New Deal, a government-driven Fordism, to recover from the depression.
Adolf Hitler adopted Fordism, but it was the military Keynesianism that completely overcame the depression. From an economic point of view, there is only a little difference between fascism, socialism, and welfare capitalism, which were prevalent from the Second World War to the Cold War.
The centrally controlled totalitarian economic policies played a similar role in the decentralization of economic systems to mass media in the decentralization of information systems and representative democracy in the decentralization of political systems. It has contributed to decentralization, but their structure is still centralized. Some workers became rich enough to purchase a stock of a corporation, but the cooperative governance by general workers was not realized.
3.3. Global Individualism
The stagflation in the 1970s made economic systems aim at quality improvement rather than quantitative enlargement. Thus the Information Revolution took place. Lester Thurow named the Information Revolution “the third industrial revolution” and made much of a “knowledge-based economy”.
In the third industrial revolution intellectual property rights are becoming more important as other sources of competitive advantage become less important.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, earnings differences between higher and lower educational attainment have grown since the 1970s.
Workers with an advanced degree, who earned 1.8 times the earnings of high school graduates in 1975, averaged 2.6 times the earnings of workers with a high school diploma in 1999.
Mechanization and automation have made human physical forces valueless but the Information Revolution has made human intellectual work valuable. Workers were important in the pre-modern labor-intensive economy, became less important in the modern capital-intensive economy, but became important again in the post-modern knowledge-intensive economy. Economic systems were centralized from the pre-modern to the modern period but decentralized from the modern to the post-modern period.
Since the 1970s, communism and welfare capitalism have lost their validity. First World countries, which performed libertarian reformation such as deregulation, privatization of the public sector, reduction of subsidy, tax cut, and free trade, have flourished, while Second World countries, which continued socialistic economy, have declined. The national economy controlled by the Government became obsolete and previously domestic corporations started to do their business globally, decentralized from the nation-state’s control. Instead of international trade, the borderless global economy has percolated throughout the world.
The small-government policy reflects the structural transformation of the industry from the knowledge-intensive economy to the capital-intensive economy. The large-scale planned economy by the government was effective in the capital-intensive economy thanks to economies of scale but failed in the knowledge-intensive economy because government officials lack innovative ideas.
Innovative ideas should derive from the competition of individual managers, workers, and investors. To promote such competition, it would be better for managers to pay workers, not for working hours but achievement, and consult investors about improving the achievement. This is today’s trend among advanced countries.
The first modern joint-stock company was the Dutch East India Company that issued shares on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in 1602. The joint-stock companies in the early ages, established to raise large amounts of capital and lower risk by diversifying investors, had hardly democratic corporate governance. Nowadays shareholder activism redefines the role of shareholders played in the corporate governance of joint-stock companies.
The relation between the shareholders and the board of directors of a joint-stock company is similar to that between the electors and the representatives of a nation. So, shareholder activism is a kind of direct democracy and might be called “corporate governance 2.0”.
Energy systems, as well as economic systems, will be decentralized. Decentralization of energy production has many merits in this stage of economic development. I will take up this theme later.
- Rene Descartes. Discourse on Method.
- Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
- Tim O’Reilly. What is Web 2.0.
- “Mais aussitôt après je pris garde que, pendant que je voulais ainsi penser que tout était faux, il fallait nécessairement que moi qui le pensais fusse quelque chose; et remarquant que cette vérité, je pense, donc je suis, était si ferme et si assurée, que toutes les plus extravagantes suppositions des sceptiques n’étaient pas capables de l’ébranler, je jugeai que je pouvais la recevoir sans scrupule pour le premier principe de la philosophie que je cherchais.” René Descartes (1837) Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la vérité dans les sciences, partie IV.
- Entropy and Sustainability (01) Entropy and Systems. 2. The Definition of Systems. 2.2. Conscious Systems
- Hugh Everett (1957) Relative State Formulation of Quantum Mechanics, Reviews of Modern Physics, vol 29, p 454-462.
- “Résumons les caractères principaux d’un rhizome: à la différence des arbres ou de leurs racines, le rhizome connecte un point quelconque avec un autre point quelconque, et chacun de ses traits ne renvoie pas nécessairement à des traits de même nature, il met en jeu des régimes de signes très différents et même des états de non-signés. […] Contre les systèmes centrés (même polycentrés), à communication hiérarchique et liaisons préétablies, le rhizome est un système acentré, non hiérarchique et non signifiant, sans Général, sans mémoire organisatrice ou automate central, uniquement défini par une circulation d’états.” Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari (1980) Mille Plateaux, Capitalisme et schizophrénie 2, Éditions de Minuit. P.30-31.
- The Polity IV project (2006) Number of nations 1800-2003 scoring 8 or higher on Polity IV scale. Wikipedia.
- Freedom House (1999) Democracy’s Century: A Survey of Global Political Change in the 20th Century. Press Release. December 7, 1999.
- Thomas More (1516) De Optimo Reipublicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia.
- Lester C. Thurow (2003) Fortune Favors the Bold: What We Must Do to Build a New and Lasting Global Prosperity, Collins. p.170.
- U.S. Census Bureau (2002) The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings. p.3.
- Here I use the word “capital” in a narrow sense that implies fixed equipment and does not include the so-called “human capital” or “knowledge capital”.