Crypto Enlightenment and the Social Theory of Blockchains

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  • Article: Crypto Enlightenment: A Social Theory of Blockchains. By Melanie Swan.

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"There is something new and fundamental happening in the world which could be the start of the next enlightenment period. The core of this is shifting from centralized to decentralized models in all aspects of our lives, both individual and societally.

Cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin), blockchains, and decentralization) are not just about 1) digitizing and modernizing money, payments, economics, assets, legal contracts, and governance, thereby 2) accelerating the transition to the automation and actualization economy from the labor economy, but 3) more fundamentally, these factors are allowing us to re-explore our reality, and specify it as more internally-determined than externally-determined.

The tip of the iceberg is Bitcoin – digital money. Bitcoin runs on software called blockchain technology, which is a distributed ledger, a decentralized computational memory of human interactions. As individuals, we can place our trust in the computational system, and no longer need to trust institutions, third-party intermediaries like banks and governments, to coordinate our patterns of activity. Blockchains are a more trustworthy trust: algorithmic trust, not institutional trust.

Blockchain technology is technical (cryptographic ledgers); economic and political (a flatter more-extensible mode of organization); and psychological, sociological, and philosophical (new ways of conceiving reality). The real invitation and potentiality of blockchain technology is to radically rethink reality – what is it to decentralize everything we do and reconstitute life through a frame of abundance and immanence, attending to what is possible and desirable mindfully, not merely a reaction to a reality which seems determined by scarcity.

with the advent of blockchain technology and decentralized models, there can be a new consideration of authority. There is a possibility of constructing alternatives to centralized institutional power which has become a juggernaut of extraction instead of support; a less-trustworthy diminisher of rights and social goods instead of an extender and promulgator. Decentralized models empower the individual in radical new ways and call for the rethinking of authority for both the individual and society. Per the Internet revolution, we as individuals now taking self-responsibility for many activities such as deciding what and how we consume news media, entertainment, financial services, (stock-trading, credit services, portfolio management), and health services. Next is economic and governance systems.

To rethink the place and definition of authority, a philosophy of immanence is helpful and necessary. Immanence is the idea of self-determination from within; everything comes from within in a system, world, or person; structure and content are emergent and not pre-specified. Immanence contrasts with transcendence where everything comes from outside a system, world, or person; pre-determining the system externally per fixed specifications. One way of seeing reality is as immanence and transcendence; there is one side that is focused on recouping a pre-specified baseline ideal, and the other of open-ended immanence. Human emotion is an example from the natural world of baseline-immanence, where negative emotions (fear, anger) physiologically narrow possible pathways of action to fight, flight, or flee, where as positive emotions (love, compassion) trigger general, non-directional cognitive activation, a widened range of unspecified novel, creative, and unscripted courses of thought and action."


Cryptocitizen Sensibility

"The sensibility of the cryptocitizen is being in a stance of immanence with ourselves; trusting our internal selves more. There is more self-responsibility-taking; questioning, deciding, and designing which economic systems, political systems, communities, and labor systems (productive work effort) in which we would like to participate. The distinction is between ‘selecting governance services’ and ‘being governed,’ where increasingly, there is the possibility of a much higher degree of self-determination and self-creation in selecting the communities and structures in which we participate, particularly those related to economics and politics. Per a singularity-class technology like decentralized cryptographic models, these systems for organizing multi-party activity can scale way down to backgrounded trust-invoking microlevels in ways that were not previously possible in hierarchical models."

Abundance Theory of Flourishing

"Theories of flourishing address how we might organize ourselves individually and societally towards the endeavor of the good life. Leaving aside the problematic language and valorization of the ‘good’ life, there are been three traditional types of theories of flourishing (Parfit, Reasons and Persons, 1984). Theories of flourishing have been hedonistic (seeking the greatest balance of pleasure over pain), conative (seeking desire fulfillment), and objective list theoretic (seeking to list other aspects that might constitute well-being in addition to pleasure and desire fulfillment)."

Scarcity is a Social Pathology

"An abundance theory of flourishing can be developed second through conceiving of scarcity as a social pathology. The conceptualization is that scarcity is not merely a constitutive parameter of existing economic theory, but that more pervasively, the notion of scarcity has been a psychologically harmful construct of thinking that needs to be overcome for a fuller realization of human potential. In an abundance theory of flourishing, scarcity is a social pathology to be resolved. Part of the justification for seeing scarcity as a social pathology is noticing the new and contributive social goods that are unavailable in the scarcity model and created by abundance. Some of these social goods include certainty, availability, reduced contingency, willingness, and cognitive easing and cognitive surplus.

Abundance creates a psychology of certainty and availability, a reliable ongoing feeling of certainty that material survival needs will be met, as opposed to the continuous uncertainty and attending-to required by scarcity. Much current human cognitive and physical effort (as individuals and groups; families, corporations, institutions, and nation-states) is devoted to anti-scarcity measures: hoarding, manipulation, and control for the purpose of ascertaining the future availability of resources. It is like doing for emotional and cognitive attending what just-in-time inventories did for manufacturing; it is an invoking of certainty and reliance about the real-time availability for need fulfillment. Through abundance, there could be the considerable social good of relief and certainty, where a whole class of cognitively-exertional activities drop off the reality of what has to be considered for basic living. This would be unprecedented in human history, a trustable source of having basic needs met such that we do not even have to think about this."

Peergrid Cryptosustaining Micropolises

"The cryptocitizen’s civic collaboration is through providing peergrid resources. Here in communities of 20-50, I have a solar panel on my roof, my neighbor has a City Blooms hydroponic greens unit, the next person has a Tesla power wall, the next person is an ISP and hosts a Bitcoind node; etc. Each of us provides a piece of peergrid infrastructure supporting the overall sustainability of us as a community. The kids paper route of the future is maintaining the hydroponic greens unit. Individuals are civic infrastructure providers. Peergrids then are local community mesh networks of all needed resources including physical (energy, ICT, food, infrastructure) and emotional (empathy, belonging, contribution, meaning). Peergrid cryptosustaining micropolises can then federate, so the smartcity becomes a federation of local autonomous self-sustained communities. Blockchains are the trustable unobtrusive system for managing all of this in the background, allowing communities to move beyond free rider problems and other concerns that have prohibited easeful cooperative collaborations. Blockchains facilitate the ownership of community infrastructure (financing, transferring, operating, drawing assessments) in a community-based manner." (