Meet the Techintern

December 05, 2013

Multiple Pages
Meet the Techintern

I heard the word “Techintern” for the first time the other day. It’s not exactly current. A Google search for the word brought up 17,000 results, all of which, for as long as I could be bothered to browse, related to interns at tech firms.

Some finer tuning on the search arguments turned up a family in Indiana with the surname Techintern, a recruitment firm in California with the name registered, and some random bloggers using it as a handle.

Those weren’t the ways my conversation partner was using it. He was making a play on “Comintern,” the Soviet-directed international organization set up by Lenin in 1919 to subvert bourgeois civilization.

(My interlocutor wasn’t the first person to make such a play. The word “Homintern,” generally credited to W. H. Auden, was once in general usage to identify an international conspiracy of shirt-lifters. It seems now to have fallen into desuetude.)

So, the Techintern: an international conspiracy of hackers? More than that. We were actually discussing Balaji Srinivasan’s November 22nd article on “Software is Reorganizing the World.” Srinivasan’s argument:

• Unlike the European emigrants of yore who populated the Americas and antipodes, libertarian techie types of today who chafe under the restraints and absurdities of an increasingly bureaucratic, over-regulated society run by idiots, have no physical place to go. So…

“It’s obvious that civilization is seizing up, choking on its own fumes.”

• They have migrated to virtual communities in cyberspace—in the cloud. But…

• People still want to live physically among people like themselves. And the newest technologies—zipcars, online purchasing, autonomous construction—increase our mobility. So…

• The virtual communities will inevitably become physical communities in a “reverse diaspora.”

As one of Srinivasan’s commentators pointed out, he hasn’t really solved the problem of where to go. The Earth’s entire surface is claimed by some nation or other, and all the really nice parts are overpopulated. Space colonies and seasteading are fun to think about, but thinking about them is all anyone’s likely to be doing for the foreseeable future, given the technological obstacles and sheer cost involved.

Srinivasan cites Silicon Valley as a present-day concentration of the reverse diaspora, noting that “an incredible 64 percent of the Valley’s scientists and engineers hail from outside the US.” That’s great, but Silicon Valley is in the jurisdictions of the USA and the State of California, neither of which is likely to surrender sovereignty.

The genetic-testing company 23andMe, for example, is right there in Silicon Valley. Their location has done nothing to protect them from the control-freak FDA.

Srinivasan acknowledges the problem but insists that:

Something important is happening. People are meeting like minds in the cloud and traveling to meet each other offline, in the process building community—and tools for community—where none existed before.

I hope he’s right, but the problem of sovereignty is critical and has many dimensions. There is that tricky matter of getting some territory. Then there are issues of finance and defense.

For territory, I think Hans-Hermann Hoppe has it right: If the reverse diaspora ever finds a home, it will be via secession. Leviathan won’t like that but may not have the will or energy to resist it.

Scotland is having a referendum on independence from the UK next September. Polls show only minority support for independence, but that could reverse in a year. In any case, nobody thinks British Prime Minister David Cameron will call for volunteers. If secession comes, it will be peaceful.

The Techintern seems to have pinned its hopes for a sound system of finance on virtual currencies such as Bitcoin. Certainly the Silicon Valley set is enthusiastic.

I’ll confess I have a modest investment in Bitcoin myself. This was in the teeth of advice from the chap who manages the Derb family’s little nest egg. He, when I asked him about Bitcoin: “It smacks of the tulip boom/bust of centuries ago, but without there being any tulips! There’s no object to which the value is assigned….”

Fair enough; but some people made money from those tulips. I’m letting my investment stand and watching with interest to see what happens over the long term.

Defense might be the least of the problems. The military is already considerably geek-ified. True story: I was recently visiting the US Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The school has barracks, of course, and jump towers, an airstrip, and an After Hours Community Activity Center. If you wander into that center, what you see is a lot of very fit young guys playing video games.

I’m instinctively skeptical of Popular Mechanics-type predictions of awesome future gadgetry—flying cars! Undersea houses! But robot wars? We’re already doing it. Here, at least, the geeks have an edge.

I don’t know, any more than anyone else does, whether Srinivasan’s geekocracy will come to pass. There are many futures. I once worked up a typography of predictions:

No-brainers: war in the air, moon landings.

Premature by a few decades: videophones, the paperless office (er, stick around).

Forever just over the horizon: fusion power, quantum computing.

Fuhgeddaboutit: starships, time travel.

I’d put Srinivasan’s reverse diasporas of the Techintern in the “premature” category, with an asterisk for “possible, but not certain.” That’s just guesswork, though. Prediction is a mug’s game.

It’s obvious that civilization is seizing up, choking on its own fumes. First World governments will become more corrupt and dysfunctional as more and more useless mouths pile up in their territories, and that might well drive smart elites to secede with their robot factories and drone nukes.

That could take a while, though, and a lot of things could get in the way. As the Dissident Right’s standard-bearer for pessimism, let me remind you of what Robbie Burns told the mouse:

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.

On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!


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