RE: POL: Extropianism and Politics

Billy Brown (
Mon, 22 Mar 1999 16:49:34 -0600

Randall Randall wrote:
> The problem with this statement is that technology seems to be
> moving in direction of more power for the individual. That is, a
> large group of well-tained people is not significantly more capable
> than a single person, when sufficiently high technology is had by
> both sides. One hidden person with a fiber-guided missile is
> approximately equal to a tank with three crew.

This is an important issue, since the answer determines a lot about what we can expect to happen in the event of rebellion, oppression, and other unpleasant circumstances. It is also pretty important to the question of whether PPAs are even possible, and whether they are prone to becoming governments.

Let us start with the historical perspective, before we start worrying about the effects of future technology:

In ancient times few people could afford weapons. However, the difference in fighting power between an armed an unarmed man was not insurmountable. Ten men with improvised weapons can generally beat one man with a sword and armor. This problem, coupled with the limited supply of arms, meant that an angry mob could actually be intimidating to a government.

With the invention of gunpowder, this began to change. Now a group of well-trained soldiers could easily defeat a much larger mob of civilians. Armed civilians were still a threat, but only to a limited degree - they might be able to afford guns, but cannons were to expensive for all but the richest citizens.

With industrialization the trend really picked up steam. More and better technology was applied to warfare, resulting in a proliferation of expensive, specialized equipment. An military force equipped with heavy weapons, tanks, artillery and aircraft can easily defeat any imaginable unarmed mob. Armed civilians, who are limited to relatively inexpensive weapons, are at a severe disadvantage. It is true that man-portable weapons can sometimes defeat more expensive hardware (as in the case of a man with an anti-tank rocket), but these weapons are themselves rather expensive (think thousands to tens of thousands of dollars).

At the same time, the complexity of military operations has increased enormously. Where once it was possible for a militia to grab their weapons and march straight to the battlefield, it now takes months of training to form a group of reservists into an effective unit. Civilians, even armed ones, would likely need a year or two of preparation to learn the intricacies of modern logistics, fire support, air operations, etc.

Today it is virtually impossible to defeat a modern army in conventional warfare unless you have one yourself. Getting a modern army requires much larger investments than any private effort is likely to be capable of - the minimum size would seem to call for several hundred thousand full-time personnel and an investment of hundreds of billions of dollars. If you have two different forces that both fall below that scale, the bigger one will have a dramatic advantage in combat.

Guerilla warfare has been shown to be fairly effective so long as the insurgents have access to safe havens and outside funding. However, where both of these conditions are not met they generally fail. Lack of safe havens means they have nowhere to train recruits, stockpile supplies, and plan strategy. Lack of outside funding means they rapidly run out of money, and will never be able to afford the weapons they need to win a battle. It is also worth mentioning that most insurgents in the 20th century have been fighting third-world governments which themselves were too poor to afford a modern military.

In the future, we should reasonably expect these trends to continue. There are far more things a military might want to buy than they are ever likely to be able to afford. The near future will see the introduction of autonomous recon drones, robotic weapons, cheap precision munitions, automated surveillance systems, and many other expensive, specialized sorts of hardware. An organization that can afford to buy such equipment, and that trains enough to learn to use it effectively, will have a decisive advantage over anyone who does not do likewise. In the industrial age, warfare of any kind favors the deepest pockets.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I