“I think the fact that within the bitcoin universe an algorithm replaces the functions of [the government] … is actually pretty cool. I am a big fan of Bitcoin”
– Al Gore, 45th Vice President of the United States
Imagine a society, 40 years in the future, where blockchain has met its promises. We have a networked, cloud computer. People can maintain title to their homes, prove taxes are paid, and send transactions peer to peer. There is no bank involved in payments. Money moves around the globe effortlessly.
Now take it one step further. People are able to form communities based on interests, or based on culture. It does not matter where they live. People earn money but that money can be hidden from central government. Central governments collapse, or at least drastically shrink. Government functions are picked up by local groups and coordinated with decentralized organizations. Governments have left and with them, the burden and aggressiveness they have brought.
This, is an anarchist’s dream.
From The Guardian’s article Forget far-right populism – crypto-anarchists are the new masters, “digital technology, like bitcoin, is a disruptive force of decentralisation. It tears down settled hierarchical organisations and builds new networked ones.” The article goes further to suggest:
“A representative from something called “Bitnation” explained to Parallel Polis how an entire nation could one day be provided online via an uncontrollable, uncensorable digital network, where groups of citizens could club together to privately commission public services. Bitnation’s founder, Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, hopes Bitnation could one day replace the nation state and rid us of bureaucrats, creating “a world of a million competing digital nations”, as she later told me.
I attend a lot of meetups and events, and it seems that I meet 2 types at these gatherings. I meet those from traditional corporations including IBM, Deloitte, or a fancy law firm.
And I meet the anarchists. The people just like the ones described in the Guardian article.
It is easy to spot the anarchists. They are certainly not wearing suits.
The vision for anarchists makes reasonable sense. You can see the possibilities. From The Guardian, “Who knows where this might end. A representative from something called “Bitnation” explained to Parallel Polis how an entire nation could one day be provided online via an uncontrollable, un-censorable digital network, where groups of citizens could club together to privately commission public services.
It is important for all blockchainers to understand this, as it leads to one of the great debates in the field: what is better, permissioned, or non-permissioned blockchains? Coindesk has a good intro article that provides a quick overview. IBM, no surprise, advocates for a permissioned chain. Accenture argues (reasonably) for a world that includes both.
There are some small but enormously important differences between the way they work. A non-permissioned blockchain is distributed, with a dependence on miners, who receive incentive, keeping the system up to date. In a permissioned blockchain, a central organization maintains the integrity of the database. That means there is a central authority.
I had a fascinating conversation with an anarchist at a recent event on this subject. My (naive?) view is that society can tolerate two types of blockchains. I do understand the benefit to a traditional rule keeper. I also accept the idea that these large companies are a net good for society. I was challenged in my way of thinking by my new friend as well as his colleagues. In their view the large companies do nothing but suppress innovation, take advantage of workers, avoid taxes, and exploit foreign workers.
My initial reaction was that this type of talk was just crazy talk. This anarchist was at a meetup in NYC for heaven’s sake, and the Guardian article was talking about the population in Prague. Had to be a very different population, right? After further thought, nope. It seems, and the Guardian article addresses this, that this talk of anarchy could be a natural evolution of where we are with populism.
America just elected the most significant populist since Andrew Jackson. Populism is when the fears of the masses create a majority that elect a popular person without regard for complicated issues. In America we see a corresponding trend on the left. At some point those sides have to collide and something new and different has to come out of that collision.
Who is to say that some form of blockchain anarchy won’t be the result?
Anyway, back to my conversation with my new friend about permissioned vs. non-permissioned blockchains…. What to me was an interesting debate, was to him a fight for society as we know it. Fear the permissioning, he told me. It will start small, and like the robots in Terminator, will soon grow all powerful. Better to fight now the good fight, to protect the decentralized future. Giving The Guardian’s article the final word:
“The concept of authoritative state is gradually becoming obsolete,” read the programme. “The rise of sharing economies with reputation models, digital contracts and cryptocurrencies makes the role of central governments useless.”