internet,location fiber-optic cables mass revolt popular uprisings

Can Cyberspace Liberate Us from Earthly Space?
arab/muslim world distribution of land public land borders sovereignty

A Middle East without borders?

Location, land ownership, and open country are still driving good and bad behavior. We trim, blend, and append three 2011 articles from: (1) Econamici, Feb 16, on internet locations by Polly Cleveland; (2) New York Times, Mar 1, on land in the Arab unrest by Thomas L. Friedman; and (3) Al Jazeera, Mar 5, on no borders by Mohammed Khan.

by Polly Cleveland, by Thomas Friedman, and by Mohammed Khan

The internet, it has long seemed, frees us from the bounds of location. We can work from home. We can shop in London or Tokyo. On Skype, we can chat with friends in Sydney, Australia as if they were next door. Meanwhile, backs up our computers to a bank of servers in Texas.

Yet when the Mubarak government shut down the Egyptian internet for five days, they shut most of it down from one specific location, “an imposing building at 26 Ramses Street in Cairo, just two and a half miles from the epicenter of the protests, Tahrir Square.” In this spot, engineers turned off the main fiber-optic cables connecting Egypt to the rest of the world.

Despotic governments in the Middle East and Africa can shut down the internet at will because they control the key fiber-optic cables. Likewise, by controlling the cables, China can impose its “Great Firewall” to block politically-sensitive information.

Despite talk about a space-free world, control of key real estate matters as much as ever.

To see the whole essay, click here

JJS: It's not only location (above for internet switches) that's important, so is good old fashion surface land in general.

What are the “not-so-obvious forces” that fed mass revolt, the popular uprisings across the Arab/Muslim world?

A big issue in Bahrain, particularly among Shiite men who want to get married and build homes, is the unequal distribution of land. “Mahmood, who lives in a house with his parents, four siblings and their children, said he became even more frustrated when he looked up Bahrain on Google Earth and saw vast tracts of empty land, while tens of thousands of mainly poor Shiites were squashed together in small, dense areas. ‘You see on Google how many palaces there are and how the al-Khalifas [the Sunni ruling family] have the rest of the country to themselves.’”

Just a few weeks ago, Israel rescinded the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the army’s new chief of staff after Israeli environmentalists spurred a government investigation that concluded General Galant had seized public land near his home. This surely got a few laughs in Egypt where land sales to fat cats and cronies of the regime that have resulted in huge overnight profits have been the talk of Cairo this past year. When you live right next to a country that is bringing to justice its top leaders for corruption and you live in a country where many of the top leaders are corrupt, well, you notice.

To see the whole essay, click here .

JJS: As people regain awareness of the importance of land and locations and how to justly call some Earth “mine”, people also regain awareness of the importance of entire regions and how to justly call some Earth “ours”.

Take a look at any map of the Middle East prior to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France (when the division of the region was finalised with no consideration for the thoughts of the people that lived in it) and you will not find many physical boundaries between Syria to the northeast and Morocco to the west.

What you may find free-flowing train routes spanning the region. A relic of the old Hejaz Railway, which connected Damascus to Medina, still stands in the centre of the Syrian capital. It once transported pilgrims to the Muslim holy city in modern-day Saudi Arabia without the need for cumbersome visas and frustrating bureaucrats.

Is the idea of a borderless Middle East viable? The pent-up frustrations of the Arab youth, the economic inequalities, the demands for better representation extend across the entire region. The youth who’re taking the lead in battling corruption and autocracy are communicating, encouraging, and helping others across borders. A single voice is emerging in search of a single value: Freedom.

An appropriate governance model for the Arab world be to emulate would be that of the European Union (EU). The 27-nation political and economic union is borderless in the sense that its people can live, work and travel in member countries without much hindrance. Sovereignty is still paramount in the EU but the federalization of political and economic power is to the benefit of hundreds of millions of Europeans.

In the Arab world, borders are increasingly irrelevant. The means of mass communication, interdependency, pan-regional media, ease of access through improved infrastructure, the identification with a cause rather than a country, all suggest that the unleashing of people power has now opened up new possibilities for mapping the Arab world's future.

To see the whole essay, click here .

JJS: If people can learn to see broad regions as open to everyone, can they also learn to see the whole planet as something everyone has an equal right to? Once people realize that the right to land is universal, then they must figure out the just way to own, to exclude everyone else from one's own parcel. For common spaces -- such as beaches, parks, sidewalks, streets -- we can just take turns occupying the same space, but for private space -- for private property -- that requires a more involved solution.

The solution is Mutual Compensation. Each of us compensates the other members of our society for excluding them, as they would compensate each member for respecting their claim and keeping off their parcel. In practice, we'd pay land dues into the public treasury, equal to the value of our location, and get back "rent" dividends in equal amounts to everyone.

Society could replace counterproductive taxes with land dues and replace addictive subsidies with a Citizens Dividend paid from all the recovered rents, a la Alaska's oil dividend. The reform of public revenue could be called geonomics, or Earth-focused economic policy. With a moral basis of Mutual Compensation, wherever tried it has let everyone prosper in freedom.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

Geo-location apps to star at South by Southwest

Malawi villagers move for new school, gift from pop star

Foreign firms create jobs on American soil

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