Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Paradigm of Disobedience

The emergence of the internet has seen an acceleration in the shift from the old paradigm -where people were obedient to either the law, religion, public policy, ethics, morality, science, elders, peers, information or truth- towards a new paradigm where there are growing numbers of people and groups that are disobedient to the old constraints. We could call it the paradigm of disobedience.

The role of the internet has been critical, because it has allowed isolated individuals to connect with clusters of like-minded people that share similar beliefs. Religions used to be the predominant social cohesion based on belief systems, but today in any human activity there is room for a new belief system to be created and offer cohesion to its followers.

Networks have proliferated, both in number of groups and in number of members, followers, believers. A few decades ago, people would devout some time every day or every week to follow a religion. Today, they invest that time into following their networks, their groups. We could call it a tribe, as it is a group of people that has one common thread that bonds them together: their beliefs on a particular topic.

It is no wonder why non-governmental organizations have multiplied tenfold in the last two decades (the internet lifespan), and the number of members has increased exponentially. These organizations are composed of people that no longer expect or obey the way governments run societies, so they take matters into their own hands and try to execute solutions for socioeconomic problems, sometimes even appealing to violence. NGOs are the institutional symbol of the paradigm of disobedience.

When paradigms are broken not by individuals but by larger groups of people that get together to go their own way, it represents an opportunity to enrich the interaction among people, which, today, does not necessarily happen in physical spaces only, but takes place more and more by virtual means. They become magnets for others and are open for admitting new members in most cases, as long as they follow an internal code, whether written or not.

So, we see a proliferation of protestant churches, different sects, more NGOs, growing cells of terrorist organizations, clusters of scientists and researchers, political movements, or simple groups of social network followers, some of which count their members in the hundreds of thousands already.

This new paradigm of disobedience poses additional threats, risks, challenges and opportunities for local and global governance. In the old paradigm, governments had the authority and the power to conduct societies, nations, even the international community, in a particular direction through international public policy and the corresponding laws. Today, that authority is being questioned, the power is diminishing, and the compliance of individuals and networks to such policies and laws is more and more difficult to enforce.

The mandatory question is how will societies be organized during and after this surge of disobedience. Perhaps all governments should be openly discussing this. Otherwise, they will realize, a couple more decades down the road, that they are no longer the ones in charge.