Doug Casey on Phyles


by Doug Casey, International Man:

The concept of phyles originated with the sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson, in his seminal book The Diamond Age. I’ve always been a big fan of quality science fiction. I’m not sure why it’s true, but there’s no question sci-fi has been a vastly better predictor of both social and technological trends than absolutely anything else.

The book, set mostly in China in the near-term future, posits that while states still exist, they’ve been overwhelmed in importance by the formation of phyles. Phyles are groups of people that get together with others, bound by whatever is important to them. Maybe it will be their race, religion, or culture. Maybe their occupation or hobby. Maybe their world view or what they want to accomplish in life. Maybe it’s a fairly short-term objective. There are thousands—millions—of possibilities.

The key is that a phyle might provide much more than a fraternal or beneficial organization (like Rotary or Lions) does. I take the concept quite seriously in my daily life. It’s one reason I don’t believe in organized charity. Phyles might provide insurance services very effectively, since a like-minded group—held together by peer pressure and social approbation—eliminates a lot of moral risk. It might very well offer protection services; a criminal might readily take out a citizen “protected” by a state, but they’ll think twice before attacking members of the Mafia.

People are social. They’ll inevitably organize themselves into groups for all the reasons you can imagine. In the past, technology only allowed people to organize themselves by geography—they had to be in the same area. That’s been changing, especially over the last century, with the emergence of the train, the car, and especially the airplane. The same with communication. The telephone and television were huge leaps, but the Internet is the catalytic breakthrough. It’s now possible for people to reach out all over the world to find others that are their actual countrymen, not just some moron that shares a piece of government ID with them.

As things develop, people will find out—or create places—where their loyalties lie. The nation-state has mostly been an inefficient, counterproductive, and expensive nuisance; it’s rapidly becoming completely insufferable. And dangerous; the people living off the state (which is to say acting as parasites upon their “fellow citizens”) are going to resist having their rice bowls broken. Undoubtedly they’ll use the coercive powers of the state to try to maintain the status quo. The military and the police (whose loyalties are first to their coworkers, then to their employer, and only then to those whom they’re supposed to “serve and protect”) will be out in force wearing riot gear.

If the last major change in social structure was catalyzed by the printing press, it’s pretty easy to see how the Internet serves that function today. But what will facilitate it, the way gunpowder did? My bet is on some type of nanotechnology.

I’ve long been a fan of nanotech as a world changer. Technology has always been the friend of freedom and the common man. Sure, the powers of suppression usually get first access to it and always try to monopolize it and use it to keep the “masses” under control, but in the end the cat always gets out of the bag. Even though the state is using an intimidating variety of technologies to keep its subjects under control, technology is evolving much faster and spreading much more broadly, to the benefit of people in general. The end of the state will be precipitated by the Nanotech Revolution. In the years to come, nanotech will, in many ways, be an analog of gunpowder. But thousands of times more potent.

It will do a number of things to totally overturn the current world social order. It will, among many other things, show that (at a minimum) the state no longer serves a useful purpose. And will act as the means to facilitate treason… simply because it’s logical, if nothing else.

But I’m jumping just slightly ahead of the story. Nanotech is going to become the major force in the world over the next generation. But you’re not going to have to wait nearly that long for all this stuff to start happening.

Let me draw your attention to two important things that are just starting to happen, right now, that are going to lead to a New World Order. But not at all like the one envisioned by Bush and Kissinger.

Economic Collapse

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. If you’ve been reading our publications for any length of time and don’t think we’re in for something unprecedented, then we haven’t been nearly as clear—and alarmist—as we meant to be. Economic collapse doesn’t mean the world is going to come to an end; it just means there’s going to be a major change in who owns what and how things are produced and consumed. Our main focus is to suggest investments that should not only weather the building hurricane but allow you to profit from it.

The purpose of articles like this one is to try to put all that in context. One thing that’s going to militate towards the creation of phyles is the breakdown of the ability of governments to provide the services that people expect from them. At the same time that they’re extracting hugely more in taxes, they’ll be beset by inflation, economic depression, financial chaos, and regulatory havoc. People will increasingly realize the state isn’t a cornucopia that can solve their problems but is, in fact, actually the main cause of their problems. They’ll start withdrawing loyalty from it.

People will start organizing themselves into incipient phyles (although they probably won’t call them that), using the Internet. The governments of the world will increasingly clamp down on the Net, recognizing it for the subversive medium that it is, seeing that it’s defrocking their game.

Among other things, economic distress usually leads to military action, as governments try to find an outsider to blame for their problems. The tendency is compounded by the perversely wrong-headed notion that a war can somehow cure a depression. This time around, I expect military events will play a significant part in the sea change—just as they did during the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

Military Collapse

Like any bureaucracy, the military is completely predictable and so is again fighting the last war. Spending $400 million on a single F-22, $2 billion on a single B-2, and many billions on a single aircraft carrier is simply crazy. These technically amusing toys would have been helpful for fighting the armed forces of another nation-state—like those of the USSR, but those largely disappeared decades ago. In today’s world, with a near total shift to unconventional warfare, they’re about as valuable as cavalry.

Besides, the attack won’t come from Russia, which is on its way to demographic, economic, and political collapse anyway. Or from China. It’s clear to them they don’t need a military confrontation when it’s just a matter of time before they win through economics and demographics.

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