Anarchism as Creative Destruction

The F-16 Fighting Falcon: John Boyd played the key role in designing this aircraft.

Anarchism is a political philosophy that gets a bad rap. When most people hear the word “anarchism”, the first thing that comes to mind is a bomb exploding in a crowded square, or a bullet in the chest of a US president. Revolutionary anarchism was and is a thing, but I think the portrayal of anarchist thought as being centered around destruction and chaos is naive. Anarchism at its core shifts political discussion from being anchored on the left vs. right divide to being predicated on the dichotomy between centralization and decentralization of power. It is in this polarity between centralization and decentralization that I find anarchism to be an effective lens to view the world through. 

I recently read Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, a wonderful biography of John Boyd, a US fighter pilot and possibly the most influential military strategist since Sun Tzu. One of Boyd’s few writings is Destruction and Creation, a 1976 paper outlining Boyd’s views on how humans create models of the world and how these models in turn change our perception the world. As I read and reflected on it, I sensed many connections between his theory and my thoughts on anarchism. With this in mind, I will try to explain those connections. I highly recommend reading this paper at least once before starting this blog post, it is extremely thought provoking and will give you context for my thoughts. 

Two key components in Boyd’s theory are those of destructive deduction and creative induction. Destructive deduction involves the breaking of concepts, or models of the world, into their empirical constituents, the observations, intuitions, and perceptions that we see everyday. Creative induction is the assembly of these now separate empirical constituents into new concepts, or models of the world, that better explain our ever changing environment. The driving force behind this cycle of destruction and creation is the constant feedback provided by our environment, which lets us know how well or how poorly our model of the world matches the world as it actually. This feedback leads to the modification of our models, which in turn leads to different observations shaped by the model. These new observations then lead to the creation of new models, which in turn shape new perception and so on. This process of creation and destruction never stops, and forms the core of Boyd’s thesis. 

In my mind, I see the modern state as the model in need of destruction and a stateless society being the empirical constituents that formed that model. As the state ages its model of society grows faulty as a result of over the top centralization. Centralization abstracts governance structures from the reality on the ground, and leads to an increasingly large disconnect between it’s model of society and how society is actually evolving. The mere presence of a state leads to changes in the society it is attempting to control, creating novel, unaccounted-for problems that it cannot solve. As these problems continue to compound and reach a critical, destructive deduction leads to the break up of the state and radical decentralization. With the state out of the way, novel governance structures are formed through constructive induction as people form new social groups and power structures that actually solve problems. These structures then compete and most likely centralize, starting the cycle over again. 

I think this formulation is present in all of history prior to the rise of the modern state, and will eventually prove true in the current global order. These are just some preliminary thoughts the intersection between anarchism and Boyd’s thesis, let me know what you think. The connection between his work and Feyeraband’s and Kuhn’s philosophy of science is also interesting and something I will continue to think about.

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