People think governance is hard. Which is correct - it's the most complex topic in Web 3. This is because, by virtue of complementary opposites, it is also the most simple. It is so obvious that everyone misses it. Lao Tzu explains it best:
To give no trust
is to get no trust.
When the work’s done right,
with no fuss or boasting,
ordinary people say,
Oh, we did it.
The Cypherpunks were almost all anarchists. They believed that, if you build tools which give people the means to help themselves, then good governance at higher levels is the inevitable result. What are the means to help ourselves, though? Graeber and Wengrow provide an illuminating answer in their book, The Dawn of Everything:
💡 mutual aid is the basis for individual autonomy.
Better tools are those which help us help each other more effectively: be it in education (mnemonic media and seeing spaces), in any kind of care or service (for people, for the more-than-human world, for the planet itself), or in politics and finance. In aiming to create tools that help us help each other, we can better strike the kind of balance spoken of by thinkers such as Ivan Illich:
Institutions are functional when they promote a delicate balance between what people can do for themselves and what tools at the service of anonymous institutions can do for them. - Tools for Conviviality
Again, for emphasis, the aim is not to build better tools for governing the people; it is to build tools that help people help each other. As soon as you set out to help another person, that action always implies a patronising power dynamic: "I have, you lack." However, when we mutually help each other—when we can admit honestly that we all need help, always—then the environment is shifted towards reciprocity.
💡 The complementary opposite of scarcity is not abundance, it is reciprocity.
Abundance can be co-opted to dismiss material reality. Reciprocity acknowledges limitation, yet uses that self-same limitation as the ground for true generosity. In this sense, reciprocity is opposed to scarcity as container to contained, or field to players. Reciprocating does not deny scarcity; it simultaneously acknowledges and transcends it. The most generous of actions is to give what you need, and if you give what you need and find that you can still survive, you are closer to that which is beyond need or satiation.
Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things, though limited, are inexhaustible. - Wendell Berry
We have the technological means to eradicate most social ills; what we need now is dedicated human beings capable of programming diverse, reciprocal incentive structures at scale. Importantly, this is not about pulling down fences—something anarchists are often accused of wanting to do. “Don't fight the system. Just abandon it,” is more to the point. This has been occurring on increasingly larger scales since at least the 1960's; it's just that we now have the technological means of making it economically sustainable.
Prompt: The aim is not to build better tools for governing, but to build tools that help people do what?
Help each other.
Anarchy does not mean the tyranny of structurelessness. To us, it means individuals collaborating of their own volition on projects they choose to undertake. It means emergent forms of organisation that need not be permanent, because they arise as a response to the needs of a group in a particular moment. Being able to program incentives and the flow of value through society means we don't have to hold static popularity contests every four years, premised on partisan debates: we can govern dynamically by continuously modelling, assessing and updating our understanding of legitimacy.
The best example of this kind of internet age governance is, unsurprisingly, the IETF:
We reject: kings, presidents and voting.
We believe in: rough consensus and running code.
Prompt: Don't fight the system. Just ...?
Alegal systems are those which cannot be regulated after-the-fact. You can sue neither a storm nor a blockchain. Think back to what is valuable in this shared dream - the legal fiction of the firm having a kind of personhood allowed for huge improvement in our organisational efficiency as a species. Alegal fictions are the next evolution. For the first time in history, we need not revolt against a system of violent legal enforcement. We can abandon it in favour of openly verifiable mathematics, which we subscribe to by acts of our own volition.
💡 This is because, in the world wide web, the act of running code is more powerful than holding elections.
In exactly the same way that we obviate the need to trust protocols by defining and encoding what it means to cheat; we can build systems that obviate the need to govern communities by incentivizing the collaborative care required for individual autonomy. We mean this literally: rather than formal freedom of movement, might we encode a substantive culture of hospitality which can actually set everyone free to go where they please?
This is what it really means to explore new kinds of interpersonal trust enabled by trustless protocols: if we engineer money to be a measure of care, do we trust ourselves to be respons-able? Lao Tzu did.
What fifth feature of money might tools which help us help each other create?
Money as a measure of care.
To follow the way yourself is real power.
To follow it in the family is abundant power.
To follow it in the community is steady power.
To follow it in the whole country is lasting power.
To follow it in the world is universal power.
So in myself I see what self is,
in my household I see what family is,
in my town I see what community is
in my nation I see what a country is,
in the world I see what is under heaven.
How do I know the world is so?
-- Lao Tzu