Much to my dismay, I haven’t had constant and reliable Internet access lately. It’s a temporary state that shouldn’t last more than another week. But for the past two months, I’ve found myself in the curious position of being on what I’ve come to call “Bittorrent welfare.”

I’ll explain: Bittorrent is a file-sharing protocol in which users either “seed” a file (share their complete copy) or “leech” a file (take from the complete copies of others). In case it isn’t readily apparent, yes: Bittorrent is a wholly anarchistic system of money-less information transfer. But more amazing is that it flies directly in the face of state-lovers everywhere who insist that absent coercion, people can’t be counted on to share their wealth voluntarily.

With Bittorrent, no one has to share back completed files they’ve taken. You can take and take and take all day long, never giving a thing in return. But here’s the key: most people just don’t. On the whole, there is much more sharing than taking going on. And no one enforces this. It is regulated partly by a reputation market: it’s cool to share. People will honor you with the lauded “pirate patch” if you share a lot, for Satoshi’s sake. But there’s more than reputation. Many users (like me) never create pirate profiles, and so can’t be publicly lauded for our efforts. But we usually share back anyway.

And it is this ecosystem in which — for the first time — I am more of a taker than a giver. In the past I’ve always sought a 1:1 ratio. I shared back just as much as I took, leaving a zero-footprint. But I’ve had spotty Internet access the past few weeks. It’s either slow, or I’ll only have access for a limited time. And this has effectively put me on Bittorrent welfare — I don’t have the time or bandwidth to completely share back the files that I take. The system has a perfectly descriptive word for me: leecher.

Surely such a system would collapse? Surely everyone would leech like me, and the whole thing would come to a grinding halt? But it doesn’t. It hasn’t. And it won’t. Because I’m already keeping mental note of the sharing time that I owe. Once I return to full Internet accessibility in the near future, I am going to share back extra. More than my former 1:1 ratio. Because I want to give back to the system which has given so much to me.

Call it self interest. Or call it altruism. Call it a feeling of personal pride. I don’t really know what it is. All I know is that I feel compelled to give back to the complete strangers who have given so freely to me.

If you every hear any blackheart speak the words that people can’t be counted on to share — that they must be forced — you need only point them to the darkest corners of anarchy. Because it’s in the darkest corners of anarchy that the most sharing is taking place.