How do you shut down debate? Call it anarchy!

In an old chemist’s attic, so dreary and so mean,
Oh smell the fearful odors of nitroglycerine
They’re busy building bombs, and filling cans with nails
And little starving kiddies set up this tearful wail:

Oh, it’s sister Ginny’s turn to throw the bomb
The last one it was thrown by brother John
Mother’s aim is bad and the coppers all know Dad
So it’s sister Ginny’s turn to throw the bomb

Remind you of the Internet? Not really? Well, to Sarkozy, they are one in the same!

From Bloomberg,

“Now that the Internet is an integral part of most people’s lives, it would be contradictory to exclude governments,” Sarkozy today said at a Paris forum of Internet companies. “Nobody should forget that these governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies. To forget this is to risk democratic chaos and hence anarchy.”

The Internet came to be an integral part of people’s lives because of its growth outside of the government; even though it has its origins in governmental programs, it did not take on its influence until after it was opened up to individuals and businesses. As Berin Szoka noted in his introduction to the Next Digital Decade,

While historians quibble over the Internet’s birth date, one date stands out as the day the Internet ceased being a niche for a limited number of universities, governments and military organizations, and began its transformation into a medium that would connect billions: On March 15, 1985, Symbolics, a Massachusetts computer company, registered, the Internet’s first commercial domain name.

The problems continue.

To forget this is to risk democratic chaos and hence anarchy. I am willing to forgive Sarkozy for more than his fair share of shortcomings, including his lack of knowledge of Internet structure, being misguided on the government’s historical role in the Internet, and being French (he never really had a chance), but his views on anarchy are shared by many and worth to be explored.

Anarchy is one of the few examples of Orwellian newspeak in common use. A fairly neutral term, the lack of government, has been intimately connected with a pejorative one, the lack of order, effectively narrowing the range of debate about both of the concepts. Try having a conversation about anarchy or non-governmental orders in serious political circles or among your friends and see where it gets you. The mere mention of anarchy conjures up violent protest, cajoling us to believe government is the only means of order. And this is exactly the kind of world Sarkozy wants you to think about.

Sarkozy here wants you think not just about chaos but also about the risks of chaos. Think of what you will loose if the Internet devolves into anarchy! Let us prepare then for the onslaught of this oncoming anarchy. Let us regulate. Let us mitigate our risk. [For more on this subject, check out the risk society.]

Nobody should forget that these governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies.

Legitimate. Representation. Democracy.

Perhaps Sarkozy is trying to tell himself that governments are the only legitimate will of the people, as though saying it will make it true, but people express their own will. And what the Internet had given them is both more voice and more exits. On forums and chatrooms, in blog posts and comment fields, people have expressed their legitimate will; there is no need for an intermediary.

And one more thing:

There are no truly deregulated markets, nor are there unregulated spaces. Everything is regulated, be it by the government or by custom. Every action that we take is done within a context, some context. Typically when we speak of regulation, we are talking about onerous laws like the License Raj, which I am vehemently against. That is not my gripe here. Framing the argument as many do as regulated versus deregulated, we sidestep an important feature of society, chiefly, that our actions are regulated/guided by some sense of propriety, of what is proper for a given context. On the other side of the aisle, there are those, like Sarkozy and proponents of Net Neutrality rules, who assume that for a feature of the Internet to be preserved, it must be done so in the law, but this is exactly what we are arguing against.

Custom is regulation. Anarchy does not mean the absence of custom, nor does it mean the absence of rules, it is the absence of governmental fiat.

First published Jul 21, 2011