World-building the real world part 2b: The … other … why: Changing the default civilisation.

I am so tired of being powerless. Of having my agency crumpled up and thrown back in my face. Of having this futile fight against badly run countries and corporates.

I feel that the whole notion of “a country” with physical borders is outdated. Why get screwed over just because of where or what colour you were born? We have the internet. Surely we can do better. So if we don’t need countries, and we don’t want corporates, what other sort of grouping would work? Can we go live in the metaverse?

2.b) Changing the default civilisation.

Firstly, this is a thing, I’m not the first to wonder about this. “Technology already changed the global order, but it is also changing the nature of both companies and states themselves.” proclaims an article in While that article leans a bit too heavily on blockchain as the solution, I think the points raised about how the world is changing and that we can respond differently through the use of digital tools deserves merit.

Network proximity is now on par with physical geography, and basic geopolitical assumptions about citizenship, migration, power projection, and the use of force need to be rethought for the digital world.

– Parag Khanna and Balaji S. Srinivasan

Looking into this context of create-a-country, the initial findings are not promising. There are a few micronations, and there are a few libertarian attempts. This is not what I want. I do not want to radicalise. I want to be more efficient at causing positive friction, of provoking change.

For me, it’s not about dodging taxes. It’s about forcing those in power to send those taxes where they are supposed to go, and to force the 1% to pay their fair share.

Personally, I love paying taxes. I love being able to take a train or make use of any other community good and know that a) it works and b) it works because I contribute to it in my own way. But I also need those taxes to make it to the things they’re supposed to go to, and not corruption or the 1%’s scheming. And I want a way to make that 1% pay their fair share.

After mulling this over (documented in a limited usefulness twitter thread), the general consensus is a nation can’t force that. A powerful nation can’t do that, and needs to spend a lot of resources on holding on to its power. A new nation with limited influence definitely can’t do that. But a union could.

What would this look like? How could this work?

I don’t see this as a hacker collective with arbitrary rules and customs, “organic” or “bottom-up” because that is, let’s be honest, also a clusterfuck. Instead I see a bunch of people and organisations professionally experienced in laws and regulations and all this stuff, to take best practice from across the world and create any number of digital unions, with the structure and discipline that has the potential to be taken seriously by, and perhaps surpass, existing bodies like the UN. The main difference is that instead of everyday people being represented by their country leaders, they get to join whichever unions they agree with, as individuals.

“The rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but so is privacy. The rule of law works well, but it fails badly. When the state decides to ignore its own laws, we need a private place where we can organize to force the state to seek the consent of the governed.” –

I don’t see this digital union as a replacement to any of the functional tools of democracy we have in the world right now. I see it as a complement for everyday people to join forces with those tools, from the bottom up and at every level higher. I also don’t think this needs to spread across the whole world to start working. While more is better, it can work at any scale, with any group of people. And as groups grow and merge, it could help with how those groups integrate without losing their own identities.

This idea of a digital … collective is also about ecommerce. As a South African, I had the rather absurd experience of being gifted a voucher from a US company, to use to purchase a digital good (an ebook) from an affiliated US company. This was all happening in the internet, but I couldn’t because I was physically based in South Africa. WTAF. This (in)ability of global seamless ecommerce comes down to trust. A digital union needs to inspire trust with existing nations to enable global ecommerce. And that then opens up a rabbithole of identity and privacy, and this is, in short, where blockchain may become useful (if this intrigues you, good conversations without the hype are happening in the Linux Open Metaverse Foundation).

Trust. And power.

Cory Doctorow‘s blog (always a great read) recently shined a light on Bruce Schneier’s new book “A Hacker’s Mind”. His books generally deal with security, and trust, but basically, it’s about civilisation (mentioned as such in his book Liars and Outliers). The latest book adds the element of power, with the subtitle being “How the Powerful Bend Society’s Rules, and How to Bend them Back”.

OK, this isn’t done yet but I need the link for something. This is in draft, and the following even more so.

composable local control.

We believe decentralization’s value is in genuinely empowering people to act decisively within their social contexts, while providing mechanisms of necessary coordination across contexts. 

Wired article –

  1. Keeping data as close as possible to the social context of creation.
  2. A plurality of solutions linked and integrated through coordinated mechanisms of federation and interoperability.
  3. Leveraging and extending relationships of online and offline trust and institutions.

Can the metaverse be a functional Commons?

via To qualify as a commons, a canonical list to check off is provided by Elinor Ostrom. In Governing the Commons (Cambridge, 1990), she outlined eight “design principles” for stable local common pool resource (CPR) management:

  1. Clearly defining the group boundaries (and effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties) and the contents of the common pool resource. 
  2. The appropriation and provision of common resources that are adapted to local conditions. 
  3. Collective-choice arrangements that allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process.
  4. Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators.
  5. A scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules.
  6. Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access.
  7. Self-determination of the community recognised by higher-level authorities.
  8. In the case of larger common-pool resources, organisation in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local CPRs (common pool resources) at the base level.

The metaverse could be a commons but I think that is a level too big to be useful for my purposes. But it should be built in way to facilitate these points, to support smaller worlds, that are commons in themselves.

Collective-choice arrangements

A big challenge is how to get all the voices heard in a sensible way. Second is what mechanisms are reasonable to reach consensus on those voices. Thirdly is how to empower those voices to take the relevant actions on those in power.

Obviously the details of how this could work is super challenging. Hopefully I get to flesh it out a bit in a later post, but for now I want to highlight the Condorcet method as a facilitation tool – not the outcome! A tool as part of the process! – for reflecting the will of the people: Talk, vote, talk some more. “an incubator for new governance models for transformative technology.”

Neither traditional voting systems nor speculative markets are up to the task of steering our emerging, transformative technologies – neither machine learning, nor bioengineering, nor labor automation. Hence the mission of CIP: “Humans created our current CI systems to help achieve collective goals. We can remake them.”

The plan to do this is in two phases:

I. Value elicitation: “ways to develop scalable processes for surfacing and combining group beliefs, goals, values, and preferences.” Think of tools like, which Taiwan uses to identify ideas that have the broadest consensus, not just the most active engagement:

Input Crowd, Output Meaning

Polis is a real-time system for gathering, analyzing and understanding what large groups of people think in their own words, enabled by advanced statistics and machine learning., The Computational Democracy Project

II. Remake technology institutions: “technology development beyond the existing options of non-profit, VC-funded startup, or academic project.” Practically, that’s developing tools and models for “decentralized governance and metagovernance, internet standards-setting,” and consortia.

Cory Doctorow talks about the “The Transformative Technology Trilemma” – that is, the supposed need to trade off between participation, progress and safety.

deliberative democracy tools like sortition and assemblies, backed by transparent machine learning tools that help surface broadly held views from within a community, not just the views held by the loudest participants.

This is the way Debian votes – see GR page. I think the Debian community is a good example of a proto-civilisation because it’s like herding cats high on catnip. It’s an anarchic (in the original sense of the word) community, fully volunteer-driven, responsible for a successful and active 30-year old project. That takes some doing.

Concordet favors some compromize to win, even if none of the electors actually really would have wanted that, just somewhat “can live with it”.

trust (and
community, and democracy … ) needs work, that convenience breeds
trouble. You have to put in the work, and that is part of what makes a
community, that is what makes us human. And asking technology to
replace this is fundamentally in error. It cannot do this, and asking
it to do it is dangerous.

For a start, I highly recommend getting to know the rest of the world better, and the RestOfWorld newsletter is great for that.

recommendations from the Guardian about understanding the world in 2020.

I just watched a documentary on flags. Maybe this digital “union state” could have a flag that is transparent, with a “cut here” border with a little scissor in the corner, a little flowery embellishment that shows the tinkerish work-in-progress. Then people can put their own thing, whatever they want, in the middle, and it is the embellishment that ties the members of the union together.

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