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The problem of the stranger

In small societies, holding promises is enforced automatically

A small society - like a village, with a few hundred people - does not need any special method to enforce that promises will be hold. All people know each other. And, in particular, they know if they can rely on the promises of the other people. If somebody does not hold his promises, everybody immediately learns about this, and nobody believes him anymore. This makes it almost impossible to break promises.

The best penalty against a broken promise in such a small society is to tell everybody about it: All those who learn about it will not become victims of the promise breaker. And, once the society is so small that everybody learns about it, the promise breaker appears unable to repeat his violation.

In small societies, different people can follow different rules

There is another important difference between a small society and a large one: Different people behave differently, have different habits, follow different rules, have different opinions about justice. Some of the differences are visible (age, gender, dress codes, behaviour), others not (beliefs about justice, rules, haibits). In a small society, we can learn these invisible differences between the people, and behave accordingly.

The problem in large societies

But if society becomes larger, these ways to solve problems of cooperation become unsatisfactory. If the town is large enough, we will meet lot's of people in our everyday life which we don't know - strangers. We would like to cooperate with them - to exchange something, to give them a job, to play together. But we don't know anything about them, and this is problematic for cooperation.

First of all, we don't know the rules and habits of the stranger. They may differ from our own rules and habits, which can lead to lot's of problems, misunderstandings, conflicts. Already playing games becomes problematic if different players follow different rules. But what if what we want is not simply a harmless game? Then, the conflicts may easily become serious. Thus, we have a problem of unknown rules of the stranger:

The rules and habits of the stranger are unknown

As well, we don't know if the stranger is holding his promises. We can tell everybody in a small village that somebody has broken his promise. But this becomes impossible (except for a few exceptional cases) in a large town.

The resulting problem is even more serious than in the first case, because it leads to a modification of the behaviour of the stranger himself: In a small village, he simply cannot break his promises. In a large town, he can. He can cheat one person only once, but there will always be lot's of other people, potential victims of his future cheatings. The natural penalty for promise breaking - telling everybody about this - which makes repetition impossible in a small village, is unable to prevent repetition in a large town.

Thus, we have a problem of promise holding by strangers, which consists of two parts: The problem is not only that:

We don't know if the stranger holds his promises

But even worse, because, as a consequence, the stranger is much less forced to hold his promises:

The stranger is likely to break his promises

If unsolved, these problems would make a cooperation with strangers almost impossible. Cooperation usually requires to rely on promises of the others. If we cannot believe a stranger, the cooperation with him is heavily restricted.

In part, these problems are solved by a general law, a common set of rules, enforced by some police forces:

General laws and police as a solution of the problem of the stranger

General laws, as well as a police enforcing them, have historically appeared almost everywhere once the towns have become large enough, with about ten thousands of inhabitants.

A general law for everybody clearly solves the first part of the problem - that we don't know the rules of the stranger. In a society with a general law, knowing this general law replaces the knowledge of the particular rules of the stranger: We can assume that he knows the general law and rely on the assumption that he follows this law.

If it is part of this general law that promises have to be kept, this solves, as well, the problem of believing the promises of strangers: Once we rely that he follows the general law, and the general law requires to keep promises, we can as well rely on his promises.

But to rely on the assumption that the stranger follows the general law we need something more - an enforcement of the law, in form of some police and court system. Once we cannot rely on the promise of the stranger, we rely on the ability of police and courts to enforce the general law. Thus, while the general law allows us to cooperate with strangers in a much better way than without it, it is only a replacement:

Non-optimality of this solution

This replacement is not an ideal solution - we would certainly prefer the information about the past of the stranger, and we would also prefer that it would be impossible for him to break his promise, instead of breaking the law. Indeed, if we have this additional information, we prefer to use it: We do not cooperate with known cheaters. We hear with interest personal recommendations of other people and often follow them. One reason to prefer to work with people who have similar rules and habits - people of the same class, race, culture, profession - is that we know their customs and habits much better.

Nonetheless, even if the general law is only a surrogate, it has a function for everybody: If the law is sufficiently just, and the police works sufficiently well, we are able to cooperate with strangers in all questions which are legal according to the general law. And, once most of the things we have to do with strangers - selling most of our products, cooperating in most jobs, and buying of most of the things we need - are legal, even those who don't like some of the general laws are in general better of with these general laws.

The network gives a better solution

What has been not possible in the past - an optimal solution of the problem of the stranger, which is as good as the solution for a small village - becomes possible today, with the informational revolution. It is easy now to make information about broken promises accessible to everyone, and it becomes as well possible to store the different rules of all the people and to compare them efficiently. This is the main job of our network proposal.

The problem of the stranger as an explanation of the failure of old anarchism

There are good reasons not to like the state, starting with the simple fact that every claim for a legal monopoly for some person or group of persons is a violation of the basic moral rule - the Golden Rule. That's why a state is always amoral. And even if anarchistic ideas are not popular, the major argument against them is that a working anarchistic society is unrealizable. Given the problem of the stranger in an anarchistic society, which could not be solved using a general law without reviving the state, an anarchistic society was indeed unreliazable in the past.

But it is quite obvious that the problem of the stranger is solvable with our network proposal. So, one of the main problems of old anarchistic theory can be solved by modern information technology.

This gives new hope for anarchism - once one of the main problems of a stateless society can now be solved without the need for a state, the state may be no more necessary.

Of course, there may be (or, more definite, there are) other problems of a stateless society. Can they be solved or not? This is an open question. But it is clear that the failure of all anarchistic experiments in the past, in the era before the informational revolution, is no longer an argument at all: This failure is explained, in a sufficiently clear way, by the problem of the stranger, which was unsolvable without a state before modern information technology was available.

So, while we cannot be sure that the problem of the stranger was the only unsolvable problem of a stateless society, the problem which made the state necessary, this is at least a possibility. In this case, the new information technology makes a stateless society possible. The old problem of freedom fighters if the state is a necessary or an unnecessary evil is open again: At least for one important problem - the problem of the stranger - the state is no longer necessary.

The problem of the stranger and minimal state theories

Even if we consider anarchism as utopical, with or without the network, with or without a solution of the problem of the stranger, the possibility of a solution of this problem is important anyway - for everybody who thinks about the state as a necessary evil, which has to be minimized.

Indeed, once the problem of the stranger can be solved now without introducing a state, the state is clearly less necessary than before. Some functions of the state - and some very important functions - can now be realized without a state. Therefore, the minimal state becomes much smaller than before.