The collision of two mega-trends is creating a new level of freedom unprecedented in history. The decline of state-centric social order—particularly in the global West—and the exponential proliferation of digital technologies means that boundaries and limits are rapidly disappearing. This has extraordinary implications for all of us, but most of all for those engaged in activism and/or entrepreneurship.
Our state-centric, government-based form of social order—of collective action—is facing imminent decline. While new, networked forms of collective action will replace governments and their bureaucracies—avoiding social collapse—there will be periods of extreme discomfort marked by social upheaval and occasional (and hopefully isolated) violence. The rise of Tea Party anger on the one hand, and emerging social networks like Facebook on the other, are harbingers of this transformation. The proliferation of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) is another. This is not an ideological-driven transformation, although battle lines will be conjured along ideological lines by political aspirants; it is the result of an overburdened and dysfunctional system; an induced failure. Government simply cannot and will not be able to continue to perform all the duties it has accepted via constitution and assumption.
In the United States, government’s structure, processes, and institutionalized corruption are rendering it obsolete. It won’t go away completely by any means, but the scope of its duties will narrow, and functionally it will offer little more than resources and authority. It can play a valuable, albeit limited, role. In the future it will rarely design or implement policy. It has lost those capacities. It will more closely resemble what the Founding Fathers intended. The most important thing for each of us is to be on the right side of the transformation. Those who scream at government, stoke hatred, or choose violence will lose. Those who embrace government’s new limited and redefined role—who view it as a precursor to hyper-freedom—will prevail. Freedom always has. Freedom always will.
Meanwhile, the promises of digital technologies are just beginning to be realized. The principal benefit: cheap and reliable connectivity that enables the communication of ideas from ‘alternate spaces,’ will produce previously unimagined alliances and solutions, operating at the margins of traditional or conventional institutions. In short, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The world that columnist Thomas Friedman calls (simplistically) “flat” is in reality a complex of layered and vertically integrated networks; neither hierarchical nor unordered. Advances in new forms of energy are just one area where hyper-freedom will be expressed. The advancement of economies, security, healthcare, and education in developing countries is another likely category. Intelligence-based security systems are a third. The dominant ‘natural’ resource in all of this is intelligence, created out of a velocity of idea convergence that will create metrics of productivity one can only dream about today.
The decline of government and the rise of technology do not change the nature of our issues or objectives, it simply allows us greater freedom through which to design and execute solutions. At the door of this new reality of hyper-freedom lay two fundamental commitments. We must first realize it is an opportunity, not a threat. Then, we must take the leap of faith and put ourselves out there in this new connected world and share our ideas, resources, and talents. We don’t have to become digitized technocrats, but we must commit ourselves to new avenues of work. Social activism and commercial opportunities must be pursued through professionally managed objective-specific networks, open to any worthy participant regardless of archaic qualifiers. Those who feel threatened will most likely characterize this as socialism—many already have. They will advocate policies of isolation. But this is not socialism; it is transcendent. It is a higher form of democracy, which echoes Abraham Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Those who see it as an opportunity—as hyper-freedom—will achieve great things for themselves and for society. They will be the new stewards of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Which side will you choose?