Future Human got to talking about the future of mankind during a recent “interactive debate” at the Book Club in Hoxton.
A panel of speakers including BBC Radio 4 business journalist, Peter Day, BAFTA award-winning documentary maker, Amelia Hann, and Foreign Affairs magazine writer, John Rapley discussed the possibilities of a return to local pseudo-governments reminiscent of medieval times—with a digital twist.
The story of New Medievalism as a blueprint for the evolution of economic and governmental rule that began in Kingston, Jamaica, with a ruthless yet socially-minded Don, Christopher "Dudus" Coke. In the vacuum created by rising taxes and lowered public services, the strongman offered employment, crime “management” and social favors to the disenfranchised people under his protection. Shop owners could get their stolen goods recovered and women could walk the streets at night. In a dubious truce, local police thanked the Don for making their jobs easier.
Communication technologies and the Jamaican diaspora allowed for global trade routes of Colombian cocaine, firearms and people trafficking. The result being that informal revenue sources and power structures were able to grow more efficiently than ever previously imagined.
Extrapolating this line of thinking to the British Isles, and the parallel threat of government cutbacks and mass unemployment mean that something similar could happen here.
“Don of the PayPal Mafia" Peter Thiel, who it is claimed sought to create a global currency beyond the reach of taxation or central bank policy , has stated that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”
This is a basic tenet of New Medievalism–take power from the existing establishment and create new, more nimble structures that serve local communities, sidestepping the present tawdry beauracracy that barely answers to anonymous, nationwide statistics.
The audience seemed to concur. When asked what the ideal crowd-sourced microstate of their collective wildest dreams would look like, it was quickly agreed that a benevolent dictator would be the most pleasant solution. He would rule over his nationstate of an off-shore oil rig, it's main revenue stream would be private, floating data banks, he would dabble in legalised, commercialised, drug dealing and offer service station facilities to nearby pirates.
A suitably middle class, fascist-sounding name was found for the neo-country—“Battenburg”—Imagining a desirable soft fascism makes JG Ballard's Millennium People read like a convincing party political broadcast.
In reality, things aren't so simple. The long-established, independent "autonomous neighborhood" of Christiana, in Copenhagen, has survived hand grenades, murder, sanctioned drug dealing and Hell's Angels. Only to be shut down in a recent government crackdown.
Undeniably, in Kenya, a vibrant part of the economy is cellphone payment sytems that bypass the turbulence of inflation. The failed state of Somalia, has no government but three or four cellphone networks. Perhaps the future lies not in politcians but in mobile phone ownership?
Power of government
On reflection, the New Medievalism philosophy can operate, but only if it keeps a low profile whilst tickling the belly of the beast. An intriguing idea for micronations could be to exist only for half an hour. Perhaps they could expose some kind of legal loophole and then vanish with impunity?
Meanwhile, the Jamaican Don has been extradited and jailed in the US, (causing a state of emergency in Kingston and the death of more than seventy five people) and even the Brixton pound will be taxed by Her Majesty's Revenue Collection.
Will New Medievalism be the way to vote in the forthcoming elections? Probably not, according to Peter Day, "One should never underestimate the powers that be, they have amazing sticking power".
Kinglux is a Motherboard contributing writer, posting from the UK.