The mainstream financial ecosystem is broken. Banks are not trusted at all. Although Bitcoin enthusiasts are running around with their own speculative digital currency, will we emerge with an ecosystem that is truly peer to peer or simply a new version of the same system we have today, with the same financial elite at the top and everyone else regulated out of existence?
With Swarm, I under took the task of building a truly distributed version of the p2p ecosystem. Some of this went well. Others went less well. People I relied on overpromised and under delivered. They drew designs but grew tired during the implementation. They stole things that belonged to the commons. They painted rainbows but delivered coal.
This irritated me, because what I came here to do was not sing Kumbayah and tell stories of a world that could be. I came here to build it.
These are some of the key things I think the p2p ecosystem needs to truly thrive:
(1) Leaders. The way I define a leader is someone who is willing to do something that no one else is. It means picking up trash and it also means taking on some risks that other people aren’t willing to take on. We need more people like this. We used to call these people heroes, but somehow that word has been debauched to mean someone who kills other people. Gandhi and Mother Teresa are in many ways the truest of heroes, not only because they lived radical lives dedicated to truth, but because they illustrated it in beautiful and simple ways that everyone could understand.
(2) Test environments. Burning man is a great example of people dropping out and taking their values (i.e. radical inclusion) and prototyping them in a safe space. Ecovillages and other folks who are dedicated to living a better reality can be a great test bed for radical new thinking and new technologies, but they need to be globally engaged. Most likely, there needs to be a hub of people who are dedicated to living the most forward-thinking version of these things intentionally and experimentally.
(3) Deep ecology. We have to re-build the world tree. If you don’t know what that means, read some Norse mythology or go dig your hand into the dirt. Ecology means recognizing that we are connected to everything and that we need to respect that connection. Scarcity dynamics simply don’t belong in a world of radical connection. We have to honor nature and build system that show her at her greatest and best.
(4) Fresh image. There are lots of people who have been writing about very valuable things about collaborative dynamics and “Brockian” wealth and all sorts of generally correct and good concepts. However, an outline of the idea often needs a the younger generation to bring it things to fruition .This requires things like a fresh appealing image, accessibility, and leveraging existing technology. It means outreach in the Instagram way, with fresh images that convey the state of mind we want to cultivate.
(5) Simple message. There are different types of leaders. We need to deliberately cultivate thought leaders that can reach into the mainstream and give them the message that doesn’t confuse them. p2p, ecosystems, distributed networks, swarm intelligence, network topology, all of these are things that are correct to emphasize and explain to those who can understand them — but this is not everyone and we need the sorts of simple messages that can be distributed broadly as well.
Also, I’ve often realized that I’ve been acting out of an anti-scarcity message instead of an abundance message. Or an anti-hegemony message instead of a personal autonomy message. Or an anti-VC message instead of a positive community capital message. In all of these things we should stay positive.
(6) Ecosystem wide planning. There are many pieces that need to be built in what I’ve called the “True sharing economy” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wsv6Z29jyM). Although there are some funds out there with a social mission (i.e. Union Square Ventures), I’m not at all confident that these venture capitalists can really do anything that is focused on maximizing social or public goods within the context of their existing infrastructure. Consequently, their efforts to maximize their own piece of pie may not lead to the best status for the rest of us.
What we need is to be strategic, building alliances across p2p channels and figuring out what are the places to maximize our return today. Sometimes this requires compromises too. Swarm saw another standard VC-backed company arise to help out the DCO networks, and that is beautiful, because it brings in old world money into the new ecosystem. Of course, I’m still personally dedicated to the more radical and purist version of the same, because old world ways will always bring old world compromises and pressures with them, but as some of these things grow, we all grow.
(7) Anger. Anger is a very powerful tool if it can be channeled into something productive. So many people live in a stage of inertia and simply put whatever sort of manufactured food is served up in front of them. That’s a herd mentality. Sometimes it takes real force to say, “We will not take this oppression any longer.” If you want a good example of that, consider the nursing home scene in Cloud Atlas. What we are trying to plan our escape.
(8) Quality Control. One of the core needs I see in this space is accountability. During our own buildout phase for Swarm one of our developers flat out disappeared, of course after he was paid. I’ve also seen countless examples of do-gooder hippies who promise the world and deliver on nothing. If we are going to build something that can exist and thrive outside of the current market system, we need ways to highlight people who are doing awesome things that don’t involve money and screen out these people who are talk only or who have other significant moral failings (like disappearing before the work is done).
Even beyond that, there is a vast gap between people who like to talk and those who like to deliver and even when someone is actually building things, that doesn’t mean that those things are any good.
(9) Solving problems that people have today. I remember chatting with Tom Greco not so long ago about transitioning to a better economic model. That’s a really tricky problem. The easiest way to solve it is to identify core areas where people have a sufficiently large problem today where you have a credible way to solve it. Sometimes that’s less sexy than simply sowing the seeds of a new age. And if I were doing that at this moment I probably couldn’t write this to you. But that’s what many of us have to do to make these seeds turn into vibrant systems.
(10) Capital. Need I tell you all that we can’t do very much without resources? We should really be looking at every old world system we are associated with and looking for ways to lead it into the new. Individually, I’m spending a lot of time advising old world monetary, energy, and governance systems how to leverage blockchain technology and to embrace part of this p2p trend as something that can be a competitive advantage. If you have creative ways of how to do the same, please let me know.
The principles of connection mean that we are all in this together, whether we know it or not. Love is the glue that allows us to realize this and leverage interpersonal strength into building a common future. It is what takes us beyond being atomized individuals and into a beautiful future in which both male and female are respected and thrive, instead of commodified and abused.
Maybe if we realize these things we can work strategically to build a global system in which the people really have the power.