Can emerging technologies (like Blockchain) enable the creation of genuinely free alternatives to national governments?
At the Voice and Exit Festival in Austin Texas, optimists will tell you it’s only a matter of time. For many practicing or aspirational digital nomads the idea of genuinely transnational forms of social and political organization are viscerally appealing. To a certain extent they reflect the way many people already live – bound not by local loyalties but by friendship, economic and kinship networks that span the globe.
Of everyone who spoke at Voice and Exit about their visions of the future and how new systems might be laid out, four incredible pioneers behind these new ventures stood out:
- Blockchain pioneer Elizabeth Hunker
- Space Visionary Rick Tumlinson
- Ocean-faring Seasteader Joe Quirk
- Cultu.re founder Toni Lane Casserly
Their talks, and the discussion by the attendees afterwards, set forward convincing visions for how a new world might look.
But before you switch your life savings into crypto, sell any assets and buy a boat, are these dreams really practical? Lunacy Now breaks down four potential issues with stateless, transnational, post-state and micro-nation socio-political frameworks, as well as some of the proposed solutions to those problems. After each one we’ve proposed a few possibilities for steps a person might take in their daily lives in response to these problems. Of course they are suggestions, not hard and fast rules, meant to encourage reflection.
Problem One: Uncle Sam’s Kaboom-Boom Button
If the American Revolution happened today, the headline would read “Terrorist Leader George Washington and Associates Killed in Philadelphia Drone Strike.”
As opponents of the second amendment continually note, even if every American had an AR-15 they would still be totally unable to violently overthrow the US government. In the 18th century guns were powerful enough to kill, as well as so cheap and easy to manufacture and use that one could equip and train a large and effective army mostly just from quickly conscripted infantry, briefly democratizing access to lethal force. Once expensive tanks and planes became essential military equipment in the 20th century, the cost of waging war tipped the balance of power back in favor of entrenched elites.
Despite the best efforts of the Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases, the star spangled banner flies over an estimated 800 military bases spread across 80 countries housing 138,000 active duty soldiers. This is not to mention the US navy’s 11 aircraft carriers. America can drone strike people anywhere in the world and has already set the precedent for killing its own citizens in this manner when they are deemed a terrorist threat.
If any floating city became bothersome, America could just walk right in.
The Proposed Solution: Subtlety
Rather than declaring independence and just going into a gung-ho opposition to the existing framework of nation states, the proposed models emphasize building alternatives gradually and incrementally. The goal is reach a situation where the new model is so effective at meeting the needs of individual citizens that current forms of government are simply rendered obsolete. The exact forms those models might take are still being explored and negotiated.
What blockchain provides is a way to securely record data in a way that only specific groups of people can access it. This supposedly will empower politically transnational groups of people to organize social welfare funds, shared custody of assets, offshore banking, healthcare records and other social and political services traditionally carried out by the state. Proponents argue this will be similar to how nationalist ideologies outcompeted traditional local and religiously based kinship networks in the dawn of the modern era. States, like any interpersonal structural organization, are social constructs. Get enough people to make the mental switch, and the preceding paradigm simply melts away, guns or no guns.
The most obvious example of this in recent history is the collapse of the Soviet Union: caused by millions of people simply refusing to participate in communism anymore.
How This Impacts You: Collaborate
Are there ways in which you want to collaborate with your network across national boundaries? Are you already working together with people across borders, but a more organized approach would streamline things? Consider putting together some concrete infrastructure that will enable you to collaborate more effectively in small ways, even if it’s just a Telegram group. One example could be to set up a family emergency fund in a digital currency like Dash, stashed on the cloud, easily transferable into different currencies and accessible to members of your clan who may be spread around the world. Incremental change can succeed in building effective networks.
You should also not worry too much about Sudden-High-Intensity-Tyranny (S.H.I.T.). There’s not very much you could do about it so there’s no sense in worrying.
Problem Two: The Great Eye
Social media is how people communicate today. These innovations have empowered people to connect peer-to-peer in ways never previously possible. But the state wants to know what people are saying. So do political activists, who spend inordinate amounts of time trawling through social media, finding disagreeable things people have said and then punishing them personally for it. To take just one example, a model was fired from L’Oreal for calling all white people racist. Student activists have suffered doxxing, firings from positions and threats of violence for comments they’ve made. Making a wrong move could result in a firestorm of controversy and potentially significant financial, legal and political difficulties.
The state can already access all your communications and internet history anyway, as the Wikileaks scandal revealed. A recent proposal demands five years of social media history from all prospective immigrants to the United States. This means you should assume the US government knows everything that’s going on in whatever future-city or anarchistic enclave you are constructing. Apart from monitoring your communications, they can also watch you with a good old fashioned satellite.
The Proposed Solution: Data Cuts Both Ways
The benefits of the open web, social media and big data are too alluring to be thrown away out of privacy concerns.The proposed response is to turn the cameras back the other way. Data gathering can help you connect with like-minded others, compare and contrast existing successful models of governance, or research perfect sites for your new floating city or rural commune. Scrutinizing government action for wrongdoing can give prospective trans-nationalists an opportunity to put governments on the back-foot and force them to respond to public pressure. A prime example of this is the protests against mass surveillance triggered by the Wikileaks revelations, or the use of smartphone video recordings by citizen journalists to raise awareness of police brutality and kickstart the Black Lives Matter movement. In a representative democracy, even an oligarchic one like the United States, the government is still at least partially accountable to the citizenry.
Furthermore, the sheer volume of data means it’s easy to get lost in the crush. As Edward Snowden said: “We’re monitoring everybody’s communications, instead of suspects’ communications. That lack of focus has caused us to miss leads that we should’ve had.”
Blockchain proponents also argue that their technology cannot be hacked or seized by the state, due to the way its constructed.
How This Impacts You: Discretion
Firstly stop posting stuff you don’t want the government to see online. If you must have a conversation like that, use an app like Signal or Telegram which is encrypted, and use the settings which delete your messages after a time limit. It’s better to get into the habit of communicating like that regularly, so it doesn’t look suspicious if and when you actually do want to hide something. If you’re trying to set up an independent society of any kind, make sure everything you do is legally covered. Then use the internet to research.
Find out what’s possible and what isn’t, and what opportunities are available for people seeking to create and participate in viable alternatives.
Problem Three: Taxes
Efforts to eradicate cash are in the works. Proponents argue it will make targeting fraud, money laundering and terror financing a lot easier. Opponents object to the state controlling all transactions and slam the move as fundamentally illiberal. It is nearly impossible to operate without a bank account. And the state can freeze your bank account at any time, even if it is merely for the suspicion of wrongdoing. You may have felt the frustration of trying to withdraw your own money from your own account in some foreign city, only to be told that the bank has temporarily frozen your account “on suspicion of fraud” because you didn’t tell them you were going on holiday. In Cyprus in 2013 the government seized 60% of any savings over 100,000 euros to meet the terms of an IMF mandated bailout.
Any attempt to set up a framework genuinely independent of the global financial system pegged to the US dollar runs the risk of being dragged over the coals by the IRS. Nor will the new set-up be insulated from currency fluctuations or global market trends.
The Proposed Solution: Footloose and Creative Legal Frameworks
Those involved in setting up floating cities or building transnational digital networks are fully aware of the long arm of the IRS. So they’re working on side-stepping it by looking around the world for places with more flexible regulatory structures. French Polynesia, parts of the Caribbean and other remote island zones are signaling willingness to work with innovative city builders to create special economic zones with lower taxes for those looking to invest. While those building crypto-infrastructures are looking to places like Malta, which has just passed favorable legislation. The idea is to shop around for countries in need of investment and then lobby their governments to create the desired regulatory framework.
If you’re an American citizen, of course, you still have to file taxes with the IRS. But some organizations are investigating ways to use alternative currencies to circumvent trading in dollars. It remains to be seen how the US will respond to those tactics.
How This Impacts You: Diligence
Even if you’re a digital nomad, you’ll get hit if you don’t stay up to date with your taxes. The American government are notoriously litigious and will not hesitate to crush you if they think you’ve been messing them around. But apart from that, see what you can diversify into. There are lots of ways of exchanging value without exchanging money, from growing your own food, to arranging housing swaps with friends in foreign countries instead of paying for a hotel when on vacation. The less you use the global financial system, the less you will run into problems. If you’re really worried, buy some gold bullion and stash it somewhere.
Problem Four: Identity
When societies are amorphous and communities constantly move, where are loyalties going to lie? What is going to bind communities together? Humans have an innate longing for tribe, connection and togetherness. Stripping that away in favor of a rootless cosmopolitan globalism is going to increase the already rising sense of alienation. Loneliness has already been described as an “epidemic” by top-tier publications like the Harvard Business Review and study after study reveals the negative health impacts of chronic loneliness. Massive demographic changes also destabilize political systems, especially when different groups of people have competing values systems and little reason to engage with one another. Europe’s experiment in multiculturalism is now largely regarded as a failure.
An international backlash against immigration and the rise of far-right groups and Islamist extremists alike are symptoms of a broader uncertainty of what it means to belong to a community or a nation and an increasingly connected world.
The Proposed Solution: Tribe-Friendly-Tech
Alter the way we use tech so it enhances rather than assaults community. Currently smartphones, laptops and televisions reduce interpersonal connection by competing with your friends and family for your limited attention. An alternative is mindful use of technology to build those meaningful connections and cut out the noise. Part of this involves consumer education and deliberate choice to take ownership of the way in which one uses technology. Part of it is designers building platforms that enhance the human experience and bring people together. Consumers who value genuine connectivity over the cheap dopamine hit of a notification will increasingly move away from alienating platforms and towards technology which enhances their lives.
This also means encouraging a culture shift that emphasizes the important role of community organizations. Organized religion provides this already, but groups like the International Humanist and Ethical Union are plugging that gap for the irreligious.
How This Impacts You: Connect
Find your tribe. Know who your people are and make sure you stay connected to them and support each other. Also start thinking more critically about your technology use. What platforms do you waste too much time on that don’t help you connect with others? Could you use them less or cut them out entirely? What alternatives are there which could increase your connectivity to the people you really care about?
The tech you use or don’t use can help you dump negative patterns and open up to more positive alternatives.
As more projects are launched attempting to create alternative structures to the prevailing Westphalian Nation-State paradigm, more options will become available for those seeking to escape it. There is a lot to be excited about, if these hurdles can be overcome.
Did you disagree with our breakdown of the problems inherent in post-nation state community organizing? Think our solutions are impractical? Let us know: Contact Lunacy Now’s Creative Director Elliot Friedland at firstname.lastname@example.org.