Independence, Sovereignty, and Networks

Nick Land’s latest musings on independence, dependence, and connectivity got me thinking about networks.

Briefly, Land recasts the Left/Right dichotomy not in terms of individualism and collectivism but in terms of independence and dependence. While the Left, he writes, is “enthused” by interdependency while merely “accepting” a degree of comparative independence, the Right, in reverse, is enthused by independence but accepts a comparative degree of inter-dependency.

Independence, Land continues, is a rough synonym for sovereignty. I would add that independence is a rough synonym for power. Independence means I can do or get what I want. Of course, power is always constrained (by the laws of physics if not by other humans), so a degree of interdependency is always there to constrain independence. However, ideologies emphasize one constraint over the other. Do we emphasize inter-dependence and admit a degree of independence here and there? Or do we emphasize independence and admit a degree of inter-dependence here and there?

Wendy Chun, a media professor at Brown, provides the ultimate Left emphasis on inter-dependence in her book Programmed Visions. In the book’s conclusion, Chun attempts to define freedom as an immersion in larger human collectives, arguing that true (political) freedom may in fact rightly curtail “economic and civil freedom” by undoing the “autonomous subject.” She illustrates her point with a story from an individual who, taking part in a mass protest in the Philippines, was at first frightened by but eventually at one with the throngs of humanity surrounding her:

I was caught in the thick waves of people far from the center of the rally. I could barely breathe from the weight of the bodies pressing on my back and sides . . . After what seemed like an eternity of extremely small movements, slowly, slowly, there appeared a clearing before me. I was grateful not because I survived but because I experienced the discipline and respect of one for the other of the people—there was no pushing, no insulting, everyone even helped each other, and a collective patience and giving way ruled.

. . . The night deepened . . . While resting on the sidewalk, I felt such immense pleasure, safe from danger, free, happy in the middle of thousands and thousands of anonymous buddies.

Thus the individual found safety and happiness amidst an anonymous mass of humanity that operated upon a principle of “giving way.”

Taken in a moral direction, the story might illustrate a pseudo-Buddhist parable on the importance of abandoning one’s ego so that others might live and that all might live together in peace. However, taken in a political direction—which is where Chun takes it—the story illustrates an ideological emphasis on inter-dependence that only allows a small degree of independence to exist within the confines of (and only when subordinated to) that larger system of dependence.

Being immersed in a massive crowd—whether or not it’s orderly—is for me a vision of hell, but for Chun, it becomes a metaphor for the philosophical ground of political freedom at the expense of independence. Someone like me, who would be darting for the nearest exit, the nearest way out of that crowd, is, in Chun’s estimation, subverting larger political freedoms through my insistent obsession with independence.

. . . However, let’s reorient the story and its object lesson a little and totally undermine what Chun is trying to do with it.

The individual in the crowd, we read, feels safe and at peace with the crowd only once it has given her a way through or made room for her . . . that is, she finds freedom in the crowd only once she has been given space and granted a place of independence. Presumably, what she does in that space is up to her, so as long as what she’s doing doesn’t invade other spaces, she is also granted a place of sovereignty. Maybe she wants to invite some other people into her space; she’s not a rugged individualist, after all. (She will probably not invite everyone into her space, though, because then it’s not her space anymore; she’s not an idiot, either.)

The mass of humanity is a given. How we divide that humanity in space—and I’m thinking here both in literal geographic terms as well as more abstract political terms—determines our ideology.

Network theory gives us some basic terms:


Given the mass of humanity, we have three ways to divide it: one node rules and subordinates all the other nodes—a centralized network; all nodes are clustered discriminately into autonomous communities—a decentralized network (or, more commonly, a scale-free network); or all nodes are in equal connection—an ordered network.

In the centralized network, independence and sovereignty are granted only to one node, be it a person (i.e., monarchy) or a small elite (i.e., oligarchy). In a decentralized network, local clusters are granted independence from other local clusters, and sovereignty exists only locally; it does not expand outward (i.e., patchwork governance). In an ordered, lattice-like network, sovereignty is nonexistent—a function of the fact that hierarchy is nonexistent—and every node is equally not subordinated. Chun would have us believe that every node in this network would therefore be free, but by that same token, every node is equally positioned to control every other node (i.e., the world is just as easily its own tyranny as its own utopia).

Chun, I imagine, wants a political system that embodies an ordered, lattice-like network. No hierarchy, no clustering, no radical differences in node connection (or degree). The ordered network is the Leftist, inter-dependency ideology personified.

Given the networks above, we might also posit that differences among Right-wing political ideologies are partially reducible to a preference for centralized or decentralized sovereignty networks. Is there one ring to rule them all? Or does each ring only work among its own people? Is true independence granted to a privileged elite? Or does independence simply mean a freedom from other communities, a freedom from other ways-of-doing-things.

I have simplified network theory quite a bit here, but it gives us a starting point by which political ideology—and, in particular, independence and sovereignty—can be explored through network visualizations. One major point I’ve left out is centrality, particularly betweenness centrality, which, in a decentralized network, denotes those nodes that control the movement from one cluster to another. I’ll save centrality measurements for another post because I’m still not quite sure how they map onto this political metaphor.


  1. frank said:

    The problem with (primary) property relationship networks that are centralized is that they require O(n) maintenance operations [assuming that a directed edge (u,v) is maintained by vertex u] be carried out by a few nodes (sovereigns). This becomes quickly impossible as n>> Dunbar Number. In a decentralized network every node takes on at most O(log n) maintenance operations. Also many network tasks–such as search, delete node, insert node– are cheaper.

    The problem with lattice-like property relationship networks is that they are not cephalized; in other words, they’re dumb. They don’t learn. You can encode so much complexity with such simple structures. They still seem to be good at capturing certain properties of acquaintance networks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It will be interesting to see how deeply one can delve into network theory proper before it loses all coherence as a metaphor for political economy.


  2. Jefferson said:

    I’m sorry if this is tautological, but I think what Land has noticed is that individualism leads automatically to centralization. Individualism as a political ideal *is* collectivism.


  3. Independence isn’t power if it can be granted. I’m inclined to think every individual, every organization of individuals, has precisely the amount of independence which an entity’s power dictates.


    • That aligns nicely with Land’s “war is god” post:

      . . . political sovereignty is ultimately conditioned by the capability to prevail upon the battlefield

      I’m undecided on the subject.


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