Great Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union has sparked a vigorous debate in the global business community about the consequences of this move. No doubt you’ve heard a lot of opinions about this, and have a few of your own.
Here’s ours: the greatest consequences of Brexit aren’t political. Or economic. They are epidemiological – and will have a much greater impact on your personal interactions, and professional relationships than you may think.
At first glance, the Brexit vote appears to share a lot in common with many populist uprisings in history, ranging from the Proposition 13 tax revolt to the Revolutionary War that founded our country. But to us, it is about much more than immigration or jobs – it is part of an evolutionary trend towards the decentralization of society. Which, in turn, will dramatically change the status quo for how we use technology.
This is a change that has actually been going on for a long time. You have fueled it yourself every time you click for a ride on Uber or rent a room on AirBnb. Or bought something on Amazon.com. Instead of depending on centralized authorities and institutions, we leverage the resources of a global mesh of people. When Britons rejected the E.U., they bought into the idea that they could govern themselves better than distant authorities in Brussels. For the same reason, your next funding source may no longer be a bank.
When our species was in its chronological infancy, we lived in small groups because that was all our foodways and reproductive habits would support. As we evolved through that period, our genome would equip the homo sapiens brain with enough storage and processing capacity to remember and trust about 150 people—a little bit of excess capacity compared to the size of most groups in that time period. This worked well for the vast majority of humans’ time on earth, close to 175,000 years or so.
But with agriculture and growing social structures, later humans needed to solve the problem of a society that had grown larger than our brains could keep track of. The solution they found was central authorities – churches, governments, and industries) – which made larger societies more manageable, even in violation of our evolved preferences.
But in a return to form, technology is now driving the forces of human evolution to be greater than the strengths of central authority. We lived decentralized for a much longer time, and we’re still wired to prefer that. Life under central authority has its benefits (such as not getting mashed into paste by mammoths) but it also creates deep psychic wounds . And whether they consciously considered it or not, Britons who pulled the “Leave” lever voted for a ratcheting back of central authority.
And every single one of the billions of people on Earth who have downloaded WhatsApp … or used Facebook to inform relationship decisions … or traded bitcoin … or partaken of many other technological advances … All of them are part of the movement to “Leave” the strictures of central authority.
We’re not arguing that Europe will fall. OmniMesh is not forecasting that Britons will go back to hunting and gathering in the bush. However, we see the Brexit vote as yet another very clear signal that our society and technology are becoming far less centralized than they were 30 or even five years ago.
Johann Gevers describes it beautifully. Today’s events bear out his point. Just a few weeks ago, a “Leave” vote in Great Britain was unthinkable to most commentators—then one morning, we woke to learn that voters’ desire for devolution of power has caused them to reject one of the most ambitious authority experiments in history. Each “Leaver” believes that her or his prospects, supported by existing human capacity and advances in technology, will be brighter in a less centralized world.
The implications are enormous. In decentralized systems, contracts and laws function differently from what we are used to. Capital flows among partners, rather than up and down hierarchies. Instead of the weight of your industry pushing down on your results, your business may gain the capacity to disrupt its entire vertical and potentially the whole economy.
It won’t happen overnight, in Great Britain or anywhere else. But if you’re not already thinking about it, it’s past time to start.