Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
Karl Hess once said that historically, technological innovations always changed societies more than voting ever did, and without doubt he remains correct. All the evidence shows this to be true. Fire gave humanity the ability to survive the elements in greater numbers, and transition from the Stone to Iron Age. The printing press enabled Lutherans to spread the ideas of the Reformation, thereby posing the first serious challenge to papal homogeneity across medieval Europe. And since the early 1990s, the Internet has fueled an electronic revolution that is unfolding still – from the accelerated pace of interpersonal communications and possibilities of social networking, to the spread of non-traditional ideas and concepts in philosophy, science, and politics.
No doubt, the voluntaryist/anarchist/libertarian movement has been and continues to be an expanding phenomenon as a direct result of this. You’re participating in it right now, in fact. And it has greatly displaced, and already challenged, the ability of governments to control and shape what information people see and hear and may share with one another. True, western “democratic” governments engage in heavy surveillance of online activity, unlike many of their counterparts who have pursued outright censorship – but encryption and various “dark-net” inventions promise to push back and mostly defuse statist attempts to halt the free flow of ideas both now and in the long term. That is nothing short of a miraculous development, one we voluntaryists must continue to utilize to the fullest of our capabilities -- and remain on the cutting edge of -- as the Internet grows and becomes more advanced still, here in the 21st Century.
But technological advances in general – including those most closely related to the demise of government – extend far beyond just computerized counter-propaganda, as important as that might be to any movement like ours that envisions a societal overhaul. So what other practices or inventions, if any, might we also turn towards, in order to both advance the cause of a voluntary versus coercive environment, and to start living more freely now (and in the very near future) as lone and widely scattered individuals (though less and less so every day) in what is still largely a statist, government-choked world?
To repair back to Karl Hess for a moment, he was famously the founder of Community Technology – a volunteer organization in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, District of Criminals, from 1973-1975. Its purpose, to quote directly from Hess in his posthumously published 1999 autobiography, Mostly On the Edge,“…was simply to demystify technology so that instead of seeming a mysterious force it could become a part of everyday life, a catalyst to community self-reliance, a way to give people greater control over their individual destinies, and a servant in direct service to human needs in a local setting.”
Hess and his crew rented out an abandoned warehouse and established a working inner city trout farm – for both food and profit – that exceeded the output of most other ventures of the day. The trout tanks were aerated with previously junked washing machine motors, and auxillary electricity was provided by rooftop solar panels. If nothing more, Community Technology proved that Adams-Morgan, were its resident population willing, could become self-sufficient in terms of food production.
But Adams-Morgan was beset by other pre-existing problems. A poor, largely minority area in the early '70s, Hess also recounted that, “We constantly worked against the ‘official magic’ of city and federal government, the propensity of central authorities to offer citizens magical solutions to local problems. They would give something to everyone. They would give some a social worker, others a pass to the hospital, money, or food stamps. The only thing they would never give is the capacity to produce wealth locally. In short, they would never end poverty; they would just alleviate it.” He also described a meeting with a ten year old boy from Adams-Morgan who came to Hess asking for a job. When Hess told the boy there was work he could do around the trout farm, the boy responded that he didn’t want to work – he just wanted a job. When Hess asked what the boy thought the difference was, he was told, “Work is something that you have to do. A job is where you just get paid.” Such was the welfare mentality that government had fostered in this impoverished neighborhood. Hess would later publish two books about the legacy of Community Technology: Neighborhood Power: The New Localism, written with David Morris (1975), and The Voluntary City (1979). In both of these, Hess dissects the various experiments in Adams-Morgan for their successes, failures, and lasting legacies.
That recalled, and a few aging hippies notwithstanding, we are no longer living in the 1970s. Times have changed, and with them, available technologies. Runaway government debt, inflation, and a collapsing economy means invariably that the welfare social-safety net is soon to be doomed. We are not only perhaps in a better position to take command of our personal sovereignty – it will become increasingly incumbent upon us to do so.
Solar power, while part of Hess’s '70s ventures, is both still relevant and more advanced than in the Watergate era. Solar generators are now available, and panels can be used to heat both home and water, as well. Windmills are yet another option for providing electric power. Energy independence and “off-the-grid” living is an increasingly viable option for freedom-seekers, even in some urban environments. Such investments can be initially expensive, but will generally pay off in the longer term once “public” utility costs have been eliminated or at least greatly reduced.
Water purification systems, now more compact, effective, and affordable than ever before (some now commonly available are otherwise mere sports bottles in size, and one that goes by the trade name of LifeStraw can process 264 gallons yet will fit in a pocket as the name implies) can turn mud puddles and even raw sewerage into clean, potable drinking water. These might prove most useful in any inner city scenario where there has been a breakdown in municipal functions, or accidental contamination of any sort. It is also one of the best ways to subvert governmental flouridation and chlorination schemes, and thereby protect one’s personal health from such bureaucratic ravages.
There are also numerous other techno-developments both current and on the near horizon that promise the possibility of greater autonomy for those who seek such. Consider the 3-D printer phenomenon and “printable guns” that could soon make many or most government firearms laws irrelevant. Video and audio capabilities commonly available now on cell and smart phones – even when denied online access – are still capable of recording police activity for subsequent review, a reality that has caused waves of unjustifiable arrests and brutality as rogue cops begin to fear the new reality. And while replete with its share of content that may stretch the bounds of credibility in some areas, a recent film by Foster and Kimberly Gamble (the former of whom was once heir to Proctor & Gamble), “Thrive: What On Earth Will It Take,” delves into the number of scientists researching and experimenting with “free energy” – sources of energy, as with the famed theories and experiments of Nikola Tesla, that do not rely upon hyrocarbons or nuclear sources, nor traditional “green” methods, such as wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal. Think what you will, but the extent to which these visionary individuals have been harassed, intimidated, brought up on preposterous government charges – and in some cases have died under questionable circumstances – should raise alarm. It is obvious the gargantuan economic and geopolitical shift such free-energy technologies would introduce overnight, as the role of all current sources of energy became either greatly diminished, or nullified entirely. Governments and their corporate cronies have every interest in perpetuating the status-quo, both technologically and politically, in spite of their hollow and cynical rhetoric to the contrary, designed to deceive the lowest common denominator into acceptance of their reign.
Perhaps in the end it is best to remember that the nascence of all scientific innovation – both that used to liberate, and that used to enslave in the ever-increasing nanny surveillance grid – is dependent upon that non-technological marvel of natural creation, the human mind. When we change that with ideas about liberty, and its nearly infinite plenitude of benefits, we reap fruit and bounty. When we fill our minds with ideas about control and intolerance, we proffer only destruction.
We can move towards autonomy and free-energy, as an example . . . or we can move towards greater collectivism, authority run amok, and the madness of hydrogen bombs. A voluntary society based on individual liberty, one which technology and the ideas that drive its creation can make possible, the only kind of society that will ultimately allow us to protect Earth’s environment, and reach out towards the stars and beyond, is within our grasp. We have only to alter our heretofore ineffective and counterproductive ideas about what constitutes true civilization. The rest will follow.
And that will be the greatest invention of all time.