"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? What was holiest and most powerful of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed....What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"
Frierdrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, §125.
The town belonging to the colonized people…is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where, nor how. It is a world without spaciousness; men live there on top of each other. The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light. The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees.' In this case, sovereignty means the capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not.
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, 81.
The signs are all around us: the State has lost its grip. The divinity of nation-state sovereignty has been emptied and invalidated at every register by digital technology. Infrastructural intrusionsFor more on this see Nicole Perlroth, \"Hackers Are Targeting Nuclear Facilities, Homeland Security Dept. and F.B.I. Say,\" The New York Times, July 06, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/06/technology/nuclear-plant-hack-report.html, and \"Dragonfly: Western Energy Sector Targeted by Sophisticated Attack Group,\" Symantec, October 20, 2017, https://www.symantec.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/dragonfly-energy-sector-cyber-attacks., electoral interventionsFor an overview of the Russian intervention in the 2016 United States Presidential Election, see The Moscow Project's in-depth timeline at https://themoscowproject.org/collusion-timeline/., and a host of other digitally-mediated conflicts have consistently undermined State control. Consequently, digital networks and private actors have stolen sovereignty from nation-states, superseding and permeating the old-guard governance of physical space. The digital—and all of us, who constitute it—has slain the State by refusing to obey the arbitrary and outdated mechanics of physical governance. Cyberspace, and the networks and mechanics that form it, constitute a new materiality that traditional structures of governance are entirely unprepared for and unable to manage effectively.
But not all is lost; a new glow hangs on the horizon. We now occupy, as Wendy Brown describes, a "global interregnum," awaiting the instantiation of an alternate global order.Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (New York: Zone Books, 2010), 12. Indeed, a new global order is within reach: a governing body endemic to the material of digital space, which will re-articulate and, with luck, replace the Westphalian tradition of State sovereignty. However, the path forward into this new future is treacherous, and requires a great deal of probing before we trek any further. To begin, we must first understand why nation-states are unfit to govern the new digital world. Then we may explore a new order native to the Internet—one with an internal understanding of the material needs and implications of a digital world and a globally-networked public.
How State Sovereignty Became Empty
Nation-states everywhere are competing in the shadows for sovereignty over digital space and the identities it propagates and articulates, but none have been able to capture it. Why is this? How is it possible that have governments so terribly failed to adapt to such a critical development in geopolitical infrastructure? The answer is deceivingly simple: we as a society still have no material understanding of the Internet—we have only just begun to develop a cultural understanding of its intricacies, but beneath this lies an entirely new material structure that defies traditional models of comprehending social reality. By "material" here I do not mean its physical makeup—we of course have an understanding of the Internet's physical composition, its nodes and data centersFor example, see Quartz's Map of the Internet https://classic.qz.com/map-of-the-internet/ and The Critical Atlas of the Internet http://internet-atlas.net/.—but rather its substance, the native mechanics that dictate the digital world. Classical governments—Westphalian nation-states—will never be able to comprehend the intrinsic material qualities of the Internet. They are too embroiled in spatial conflicts dating back to the 17th century, when the Peace of Westphalia introduced sovereignty into geopolitics and altered the prevailing world order.Henry Kissinger, World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History (New York: Penguin Press, 2014), 23--31.
As the digital has proliferated, the scarcity and control of physical space has lost its weight in politics—land grabs and invasions by countries like Russia have lost a large proportion of their influence in the geopolitical landscape, having been replaced by large seizures and alterations of a nation-state's vital data and digital infrastructures. Wendy Brown tells us as much in her book Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, when she describes the world as occupying "a vanishing political imaginary in a global interregnum, a time after the era of state sovereignty, but before the articulation or instantiation of an alternate global order."Brown, 12. As Brown illuminates, physical space has lost its influence, and every attempt at controlling it has been and will continue to be futile in the face of a totally globalized world. Digital space has replaced physical space as the precedent for sovereign power. But nation-states are still blind to this development, and continue to hunger for control of physical space.
While nation-states continue to be dazed and distracted by the loss of coherence in their foundational structure (the scarcity and value of physical space), new competition vying for sovereignty over individuals has crept in beneath them. This competition consists of digital networks and the Internet companies and private actors that drive them forward and form them into infrastructures for the creation of networked publics. A critical example of these networks is the social networks that have permeated culture at a global scale, like Facebook and Twitter. Almost by accident, these networks have seized sovereignty from the State by circumventing physical boundaries to apply their own laws and rules directly to individuals on a hyper-granular basis. In this new world, the power to establish and compose networks is akin to sovereignty.
Digital networks and the interfaces that enable people to use them are able to regulate human behavior more granularly and effectively than nation-states because every element they contain is intended to influence human behavior. Every button, every server, every ounce of data collected, is a political artifact involved in a complex power relation between user and system. What's more, most users are entirely unaware that their digital ecosystems are policing and controlling them because the type of power exerted by the digital is entirely invisible—users honestly believe that they are in control of their experiences. However, the reality is that users are in control of very little: from data collection to interface design, from network architecture to the design of a computer keyboard, users are being controlled and steered at every register of their experience. Software and machines are created under the guise of liberation—they are supposed to free us from chains and enable us to do more with what we have; they are supposed to be multipliers of human intuition—but they are really created with control as their primary goal. The apparatus of control constituted by the digital is unprecedented.
This uncovers a pivotal distinction between the origin of power in the physical and digital worlds. In the physical world, as Foucault and Bentham acknowledged with their exposition of the panopticon, power is derived from visibility and the control of physical space. Material power is expressly derived from the control and ownership of material things such as land, resources, and bodies. This is the sort of power exerted by nation-states in the form of Westphalian sovereignty. In contrast, digital power negates control of the material world by signifying its authority through invisibility and the lack of cogency. Digital power, through evading the physical senses, also evades the laws of material power. Its authority comes not from its control of space but from its total transcendence of it.
In trying to compete with this new form of governance, of which they still seem relatively unaware, nation-states have relinquished a great deal of their power by exerting effort to understand and regulate the new competitors for digital sovereignty rather than competing with them on their own terms. Put another way, nation-states are trying to exert sovereignty over networks that already have sovereigns, using methods that are foreign to the material of the digital. Nation-states try to regulate the digital by imposing Westphalian-style laws on the creators and maintainers of digital networks. This includes measures like regulating data collection and usage, imposing sanctions and taxes on the Internet companies that own networks, and demanding a share in the data collected by these networks. Tellingly, all of these measures are Westphalian in nature—they involve attempting to exert control over the resources (in this case, data) that originate and pass through their physical territory. This approach will never work—the digital does not obey the laws of physical space: rather, it transcends and negates them. As a result, nation-state sovereignty is becoming increasingly empty, especially in regard to the regulation and control of digital spaces and networked publics.
The advent of a post-Westphalian world due to globalization and the proliferation of global digital networks has made the power of nation-states inert, impuissant. States are now unable to exert control over a significant portion of the world's sociopolitical structures. Conclusively, this has led to the death of the nation-state. This death will be protracted and shrouded in confusion, as it will take time for the structures of power embedded in the physical world to become superseded by the mechanics of digital power. We now know how States lost their coherence and control. But why are they so unfit to govern the digital? What is it about digital space that proves so unwieldy for even the most powerful States in the world to control? How exactly does digital space differ from physical space, and how does this impact the nature of political power? The answer to all of these questions lies in the material, or substance, of the digital.
All Talk, No Walk: Nation-States Can't Govern the Digital
This is an entirely new frontier, of which the traditional Westphalian model has no understanding. As William J. Mitchell, professor of architecture and media arts and sciences at MIT, describes: "Massive and unstoppable changes are underway," the most obvious of which are the emerging "spatial arrangements of the digital era" that, alongside the obvious new civic structures, "will profoundly affect our access to economic opportunities and public services, the character and content of public discourse, the forms of cultural activity, the enaction of power, and the experiences that give shape and texture to our daily routines."W. J. Mitchell, City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 5. In short, this pronouncement by Mitchell is a statement of total revolution in the structure of human society—the advent of the digital brought with it a new, parallel world. But as we enter further into the digital age, this new world is not simply parallel: it has leapt out of its body and into the immanent world, altering the character and structure of physical territories and their meaning in politics. The Internet, in fact, has not only altered but entirely negated traditional modes of being. Mitchell continues:
The Net does not just extend geometry: The Net negates geometry. While it does have a definite topology of computational nodes and radiating boulevards for bits, and while the locations of the nodes and links can be plotted on plans to produce surprisingly Haussmann-like diagrams, it is fundamentally and profoundly anti-spatial. [...] You cannot say where it is or describe its memorable shape and proportions or tell a stranger how to get there. [...] The Net is ambient—nowhere in particular and everywhere at once.Ibid., 8.
States based on the Westphalian model will be unable to perform in this new post-geographic political landscape. This much is crucial: the classical models nation-states use to assert their sovereignty and govern their people will always fail in digital space, because digital space operates with mechanics which differ fundamentally from those that perform well in physical space. In his 1976 lecture Society Must Be Defended at the College de France, Michel Foucault describes the mode of governance that the Westphalian model became: power, beginning in the nineteenth century, "succeeded in covering the whole surface that lies between the organic and the biological, between body and population."Michel Foucault, Lecture 11, 17 March 1976 in "Society Must Be Defended": Lectures at the College de France (New York: Picador, 2003), 252--3. After the political power of states grabbed hold of physical space in the 17th century, the next logical progression of the exertion of power was to more granularly control the populations of physical space, which led to the development of what Foucault calls biopower: the regulation and control of bodies and populations by governments. Foucault continues, "we are, then, in a power that has taken control of both the body and life or that has, if you like, taken control of life in general—with the body as one pole and the population as the other."Ibid. What this passage illustrates is that, reaching their apotheosis in the nineteenth century, nation-states managed to exert control over physical space, the occupants of that space, and the biological processes of those occupants, establishing a granular application of power never before seen in history.
However, with the development of digital technologies, a new pole has developed in the world's civic structures: the networked public. The State no longer controls the entire territory of life in general, as Foucault described of the nineteenth century; now it only controls the physical. But even that control is waning. This development has opened a significant rift between the social reality and the models used by nation-states to manage and order that reality. A networked public, according to technology researcher and social media scholar danah boyddanah prefers to spell her name in all lowercase letters—this is not an error., is a public that has been restructured by networked technologies. A networked public is both a space constructed by networked technologies (the networks that consume and regurgitate data for a cohort of users), and the "imagined collective that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice."danah boyd, \"Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications," in Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites, ed. Zizi Papacharissi (New York: Routledge, 2011), 39-58. As boyd describes them, networked publics share similarities with material publics in that they allow people to gather, act, and relate to one another, but they also differ fundamentally from material publics because the digital introduces "distinct affordances that shape how people engage" with their environments. As a result, writes boyd, "new dynamics emerge that shape participation." In other words, networked technologies extend the traditional dynamics of a material public—a collection, real or imagined, of people in close proximity—with new affordances that alter the way individuals interact with others and with space and power.
These new affordances—outlined by boyd as persistence, replicability, scalability, and searchability—are fundamentally different from the affordances of material publics in that they introduce new, persistent, global sites of control and discourse. The persistence of online expression negates the ephemerality of material expression (that is, expression in the real world), thereby creating an artifact of persistent discursive value. The replicability of digital content negates the sui generis nature of physical objects and actions, enabling the rhizomatic replication and dissemination of discursive content into an entire global network of political individuals. The scalability of digital communications negates the boundaries of physical communication—which is limited by physical borders and land formations—, introducing the potential for political discourse at massive scales. And the searchability of networked content amplifies all three of the aforementioned affordances, creating an infinitely and ambiently discoverable record of action and expression that creates new sites of sociopolitical discourse every time a piece of content is discovered by a user.Cf. Mitchell, 8, on the ambience of the Net — "...you can find things in it without knowing where they are." These four affordances can be extended with a fifth, which I call globality. The globality of digital content makes every bit of data on the internet an object of discursive value for people of every walk of life, every culture, every nation, and every opinion—anyone with access to the Internet is able to join a discursive conflict as soon as they uncover a piece of content. In short, the globality of the digital makes every piece of content within a networked public a discursive and politically contestable object.
Fundamentally, the affordances of networked publics introduce agonism—enduring, conflictual contestation of political settlements—as an inherent quality of digital space. Physical space is intrinsically antagonistic—comprised of unmediated conflict between enemies—because bodies and spaces are always in competition for hegemony and control of scarce space and resources. However, the digital introduces the possibility of an inherently agonistic space because digital space is infinite, replicable, discoverable, and globally contestable. The affordances described above give rise to artifacts and spaces like timelines, searchable archives and records of action, profiles, sites, and behavioral modifiers, which ultimately become discursive sites of conflict because each operates by its own mechanics, defined by the code and design of the network itself. At bottom, this means every person on the internet has their own "space," formed and moderated not only by the person in question but also by the rules and mechanics of the platforms they use to communicate. The network itself, now, is a state, and its maintainers and mechanics are sovereign over the network's space (the network itself) and resources (the network's data). These mechanics form an intrinsic agonism in which political conflict is doubled: contestation exists both within an individual network and between the multitude of sovereign networks on the Internet, as well as between physical sovereignty and digitally sovereignty.
This brings us to a critical point: networks themselves are vying for control of networked populations, creating a new agonistic space of governmental competition. Now, not only does conflictual contestation exist between individuals in a public, but also between different levels and intensities of governance and types of space. Nation-states, for the first time, have an outside governing entity to compete with: one that is far more effective than Westphalian power.
The Need for Endemic Governance of the Digital
As I have established, material power—power like Westphalian sovereignty—is articulated through mechanics that are native to physical space. Articulations of Westphalian or material power may include land grabs, resource control, foreclosures, the exercise of eminent domain, kinetic warfare (that is, physical warfare fought with weapons and troops), and so on. But, as I have also established, digital power, or network power—the power that networks and digital actors exert over networked publics—is articulated through very different means, which are endemic and specific to the digital. These include hacking and its related activities, data logging, interface design, network architecture, and a whole host of other high-level, invisible techniques of control.
Because of this rift between material and network power, we cannot expect—and should not want—nation-states to govern digital spaces and networked publics. Time and time again, nation-states have proven ineffective at exerting even the smallest regulatory control over the digital, and this trend does not appear to be changing. In fact, as networked publics and algorithmic sovereignty grow more pervasive, I expect the trend of nation-state regulatory failure to accelerate exponentially. What we need now is a governing body whose power and mechanics are endemic to the digital, with a deep internal understanding of the substantive mechanics of digital networks.
Code is law.Henry Modisett, \"Code Is Law,\" https://medium.com/quora-design/code-is-law-1ed6f20b40f2 (December 17, 2016). And every law needs to be sanctioned—preferably, in democratic fashion. Laws drawn up and enforced by nation-states rarely involve material changes to the social reality—they merely discourage existing behaviors through threat of penalty or violence. As such, they can typically be sanctioned without much fuss aside from that of typical, antagonistic partisan conflicts. However, due to the nature of digital interactions, changes in the code that mediates a network invoke substantive changes in the network itself, thus materially altering the fundamental experience of existing within the network. Changes like these are not sanctioned by any governing body that is democratically accessible to the population of a networked public—they are arbitrary and, more often than not, entirely invisible. This makes network power much more effective and precise than nation-state power because it alters the elemental properties of networked reality. However, the private actors that enact these laws—Internet companies, for the most part—are themselves ungoverned and cloaked in mystery. They need to be democratized, opened to the realities of political agonism. And because code is law, as soon as these private actors are opened to political agonism, they become the digital equivalent of modern States.
Therefore, every network is now a State. And every State needs a government. Currently, the sovereignty over networked publics and the digital technologies that mediate them is contested in duplicate—there are two States simultaneously exerting sovereign control over each network. These sovereign actors, as I have described previously, include nation-states and networks themselves. Networks have established sovereignty within their own borders—exclusive control over the population (users), resources (data), and laws (rules and platform design) using network power.
Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, describes network power as "the extent to which one entity in a network can effect the behavior, configurations, or outcomes of another entity, as well as the modality through which it can do so."Yochai Benkler, "Networks of Power, Degrees of Freedom," International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 721--755. This means that power within a network is the extent to which one object of a network's ontology—a node, in computer science terms—can influence other objects and their behaviors, outcomes, and configurations. Because network owners and maintainers—people like Facebook executives and software developers, who define the rules and mechanics of a network with code—are in fact making substantive changes to the social reality of the digital, their network power is disproportionately greater than that of nation-states. This means that, for the time being, the only entity able to regulate a digital network is the creator and maintainer of that network—the network's sovereign. This has led to a tyranny unlike any the world has seen before: networks are able to materially alter the reality of their populations with little to no regulation or oversight. This must change; and for it to change, we need to envision new forms of governance for the digital age. The time has come to imagine a new political order—one that is endemic to the fundamentally new material substance of the digital.
Vignettes of Future Political Realities
Instantiating a new global political order that is native to the material of the digital is no small task. The implications of this future are far-reaching and murky, and I suspect it will be years before any significant progress toward it is made. However, it is worthwhile to map some of the possible solution spaces that may contain the ideal digital sovereign. Carl Schmitt defined the sovereign as he who decides the exception.Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. G. Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 5. This implies that there will always be an unchecked sovereign; there will always be someone who answers to no one. In the case of the digital, where unchecked power undeniably and inevitably gives way to unfettered tyranny and tyrannical drives, we will want this sovereign to as inherently failsafe as possible. This sovereign body will need to order and manage each network-state, which will of course retain its own limited sovereignty within the borders of its network. Additionally, this governing body will need to monitor and regulate the sovereignty of each network, ensuring the network is not abused or used by private actors to unlawfully or unethically manipulate their populations. In order to create a body like this, we will need to examine solution at three different levels:
The substantive level, which deals with the programming, architecture, and nature of networks themselves.
The public level, which implicates networked publics and/or atomized individuals as self-governing bodies.
The physical level, which draws nation-states into the equation once more, since they are most experienced at lawmaking and ruling.
We can derive from these levels of governance four viable solution spaces for digital sovereignty:
The personal — In which an individual possesses self-sovereignty over their individualized digital space;
The communal — Shared democratic control over digital space by an entire networked public;
The mechanical — A self-sovereign Internet with laws dictated by mechanics and substantive alterations to the digital reality written in iron-clad code; and
The supranational — A supranational governing body similar to the UN.
Within these solution spaces there are a plethora of options, a small number of which I will cover as vignettes below.
"Freedom in a network is the extent to which individuals or entities can determine their own behavior," writes Taylor Owen in Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age.Taylor Owen, Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age (New York: NY Oxford University Press, 2016), 32. To that end, a potential structure of governance for the future of digital space is to allow each individual to govern their own digital reality through substantive changes to the mechanics of that reality. Each user in a network, then, will own a personal instance of the network in which the network's mechanics are different from the mechanics of everyone else's instance.
Every user should be able to substantively alter the mechanics of their experience within this network. This means a user should be able to granularly alter the settings of a network to fit their needs and concerns, bringing about a sort of instantaneous, individual demos. This approach carries with it several implications that may prove problematic, but that I believe still warrant exploration. The most glaring implication is that if every individual is sovereign over their own experience, every individual necessarily creates their own "fork," or version, of the network, in which their lived experience is fundamentally different from the lived experience of everyone else in the network. This poses problems for the notion of sovereignty in that the central body of governance over an entire networked public still must be located—someone still needs to control the network itself and program the options that allow users to alter their experience. This implication is troublesome, but existing models of this system are already being explored despite the rocky terrain: for example, the Urbit network,https://urbit.org/ a peer-to-peer network of personal servers, each of which stores an individual user's data, runs the infrastructure for their applications, and manages their digital identities.
While this approach offers abundant problems, it remains worth pursuing in the future as an alternate model of governance in digital space—as the late Mark Fisher wrote, "even glimmers of alternative political...possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect."Fisher, 81.
The communal model of sovereign governance in digital networks is not far off from the personal model. This model offers a wide variety of possibilities: from instant democracy by digital vote, which can immediately alter the code and mechanics of a platform, to networked peer-to-peer or many-to-many governing bodies in which many groups and individuals vie for hegemony and control.
Like the personal model, approaches to a communal model of digital governance are already being pursued. The Dat Projecthttps://datproject.org/, a \"nonprofit-backed data sharing protocol for applications of the future," imagines a future in which network power is decentralized and distributed among every user of the Internet, while the data that constitutes that network remains private and encrypted by default. This vision puts the control of a networked experience back in the hands of individual users, and ties them together in a community of interconnected servers. Crucially, this model also introduces agonism as a core mechanic of the Internet, because websites and apps created with the Dat protocol store their files and data (for the most part) on personal computers, the way the Internet originally worked. This means that to connect to a website, a user must enter into a directly conflictual relationship with another user, who grants other users permission to use their website or application. While this model poses problems like exclusion and persistence of data, it does provide an alternate vision where the Internet becomes a sort of socialist utopia, abolishing traditional struggles of power and domination.
This model of governance is by far the most robust, as well as the most problematic. The mechanical model of governance would introduce ironclad laws, applied granularly to each individual user of the Internet via code that draws borders around the experience of each user. In this model, the sovereign is the platform itself, which becomes self-sovereign and self-regulating. The potential of machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate this model is promising, yet the technology is far from being resilient and objective enough to apply a digital rule of law uniformly and effectively in every case. Mechanical governance does in fact exist already, practiced by every Internet company, every hardware manufacturer, every software designer and engineer. However, this form of management currently lacks an overseer, which is what has allowed it to be articulated as uncontrollable tyranny by major networks like Facebook, Twitter, telephone companies, and Internet service providers.
This model is the most promising and imminent, and is actively being developed within existing governing bodies such as the United Nations. In supranational digital governance, a body of nation-states would convene to dictate sensible mechanics for the Internet and its constitutive network protocols, act as the judiciary arm of the digital in cases abuse or misuse of network power, and impose regulations on network owners. This approach is currently being explored by the UN under the title Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance, in which nation-states convene with experts in the digital landscape like engineers, executives, lawmakers, and other private sector stakeholders, in order to effectively manage and control the digital landscape using post-Westphalian tactics.John E. Savage and Bruce W. McConnell, "Exploring Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance", https://www.eastwest.ngo/idea/exploring-multi-stakeholder-internet-governance (New York: EastWest Institute, 2015).
The Ideal Landscape of Digital Sovereignty
While the models above are individually quite fascinating, I would like to conclude the present essay by speculating about a truly effective, ideal system of governance for the digital future. Concretely, the ideal structure of digital governance would look like a collapsing system of checks and balances comprised of all four of the previously described models of sovereign control. Similar to the invisible political apparatus Plato developed in the Republic, in which an array of sociopolitical entities and forces correct and guard against transcendental and immanent disorder in the polis, the ideal management of networks and networked publics would resemble of a series of locks in a canal. This managing system would be a self-contained, self-regulating apparatus composed of strongly linked technological and social structures, organized against the decay and disintegration of political order in digital space. Crucially, this system would also be easily distinguishable and separate from the Westphalian system of nation-state governance, operating by unique mechanics that are native to the digital's unique requirements and issues.
Painting a brief picture of this system, we would see different levels of granular control in the personal, public (communal), mechanical, and supranational registers. Network power in this model would be decentralized at every register, preventing any individual level of control from becoming tyrannical or overly verbose—control would be distributed among a number of managing entities in each register, who will reach consensus through voting. From the top down, the system would look like this:
A supranational governing body, similar to the UN, whose sole purpose is to govern digital networks at global scales. This body would serve two functions: to establish universal rights and laws for networked publics and digital technologies, and to act as the judiciary arm for crimes and other matters of global digital importance. This body will follow the existing multi-stakeholder model, acting based on input from public- and private-sector experts on matters involving digital governance and technology. The mission of this organization would be not to control the Internet and the instantiation of networks and networked publics, but rather to articulate and defend the rights of all nodes and individuals in a networked public, on behalf of the entire digital world. Additionally, this governing body would be stateless, considering input from nation-states when acting and ruling, but never submitting to the control or sway of State influence.
Self-sovereign networks that may freely establish their own mechanics and rules, so long as they abide by those established by the supranational governing body. However, there would need to be significant considerations by the supranational governing body in regard to what types of network power these networks are able to exert over users. Some recommended requirements are liquidity of data, meaning a user's data should be owned entirely by that user and able to be entirely deleted or relocated as the user wishes; persistence of versions, meaning pieces of content will be version-controlled to ensure longevity of the agonistic discourse and prevent falsification of data; and decentralization or liquidity of mechanics, meaning a product like Facebook's timeline should be treated as public infrastructure rather than private intellectual property, and should be accessible and alterable by individual users based on their privacy and consumption needs.
A mediating layer of mechanics/substance. This is constituted by the architecture and behavior of networks and software themselves, and is governed by both supranational law and the laws of each self-sovereign network. This layer is what mediates the conflict of sovereignty between the above high-level control and the low-level control described in the two points below. Additionally, this layer is specific to each network, defined by the governing body of that network (in most cases, this is the executives, designers, and engineers who build a network). Finally, this is less an explicitly sovereign entity than the means through which power is articulated by a network-sovereign.
A model of agonistic peer-to-peer management in which the network relations between nodes (users) are established and maintained by users themselves. This is similar to the way in which the Dat network and the Urbit personal server allow users to manage the way data leaves, enters, and behaves in their digital lives. More concretely, this layer of sovereignty consists of individual power mediated by a networked public. Because the sovereignty of network creators is limited and involves decentralization of infrastructure, the peer-to-peer model allows users to share and own all of their data on their own terms, and on their own servers or computers. This layer is another mediator between self and sovereign, allowing individual users to dictate both their relationship with their networked community and with their network-sovereign.
A layer of self-sovereignty for users, which allows each individual user to own, move, and structure their data in any way they please. Additionally, because of the mechanics of the other four levels of governance, users will be able to freely move between networks and platforms without borders or barriers, ensuring a global community of empowered users.
While the above proposal does not include details of implementation or coordination, I believe a collapsing structure of power will best allow users to retain their self-sovereignty and retain control over their data and digital space in a way that is not possible under the current system.
Conclusion: The Way Forward
In the post-spatial world, nation-states have entirely failed to adapt to the new paradigms of governance enabled by the digital realm. As a result, there is a rupture in the fabric of political control. Foucault could not have seen this coming: a new realm of control beyond the biological-organic and well beyond the spatial. Fierce competition among stateless private actors has filled this void with networks created and maintained by tyrants like Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook), Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter), Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon), and Peter Thiel (prolific tech investor). These networks exercise unmonitored and invisible power over their populations, who are unaware that with every click of a mouse, and every tap of a screen, they are being controlled and ordered at magnitudes both so small and so large that they become incomprehensible—from influencing a user to tap a button to influencing the way a user votes in a national election.
In the face of this new level of control, nation-states are done for—they can no longer compete. Soon they will realize that this world is not for them. The entire globe is in a state of political crisis. Now, surely, you hear it: requiem aeternam rei publicae, the funeral hymn of the State's receding digital imaginary. Rumors of the State's death will echo through the world's darkness for some time before the news solidifies and the effects of this loss are seen in broad daylight. Despite the bleakness of our political reality, there is still hope. In the shadows of the crumbling neoliberal monolith standing at our feet, a new opportunity has arisen: the opportunity to establish a new political order for the digital world. One that is more human, more effective at restraining tyrannies and monopolies, more understanding of the material qualities of the Internet. The movement is already afoot: people everywhere are beginning to build their own self-sovereign networks that stand independent from the global network powers that tyrannize publics on unfathomable scales. This should give us hope that the digital can still be redeemed. "The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity....From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again."Fisher, 81.
- ↑ 1
For more on this see Nicole Perlroth, \"Hackers Are Targeting Nuclear Facilities, Homeland Security Dept. and F.B.I. Say,\" The New York Times, July 06, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/06/technology/nuclear-plant-hack-report.html, and \"Dragonfly: Western Energy Sector Targeted by Sophisticated Attack Group,\" Symantec, October 20, 2017, https://www.symantec.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/dragonfly-energy-sector-cyber-attacks.
- ↑ 2
For an overview of the Russian intervention in the 2016 United States Presidential Election, see The Moscow Project's in-depth timeline at https://themoscowproject.org/collusion-timeline/.
- ↑ 4
Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (New York: Zone Books, 2010), 12.
- ↑ 6
- ↑ 8
Henry Kissinger, World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History (New York: Penguin Press, 2014), 23--31.
- ↑ 10
- ↑ 11
W. J. Mitchell, City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 5.
- ↑ 12
- ↑ 13
Michel Foucault, Lecture 11, 17 March 1976 in "Society Must Be Defended": Lectures at the College de France (New York: Picador, 2003), 252--3.
- ↑ 14
- ↑ 15
danah prefers to spell her name in all lowercase letters—this is not an error.
- ↑ 16
danah boyd, \"Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications," in Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites, ed. Zizi Papacharissi (New York: Routledge, 2011), 39-58.
- ↑ 17
Cf. Mitchell, 8, on the ambience of the Net — "...you can find things in it without knowing where they are."
- ↑ 18
Henry Modisett, \"Code Is Law,\" https://medium.com/quora-design/code-is-law-1ed6f20b40f2 (December 17, 2016).
- ↑ 19
Yochai Benkler, "Networks of Power, Degrees of Freedom," International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 721--755.
- ↑ 20
Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. G. Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 5.
- ↑ 21
Taylor Owen, Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age (New York: NY Oxford University Press, 2016), 32.
- ↑ 22
- ↑ 23
- ↑ 24
- ↑ 25
John E. Savage and Bruce W. McConnell, "Exploring Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance", https://www.eastwest.ngo/idea/exploring-multi-stakeholder-internet-governance (New York: EastWest Institute, 2015).
- ↑ 26