Michel Bauwens: At the P2P Foundation, we do not favour technological determinism (technology determines societal outcomes), nor the ‘technology is neutral, it depends what you do with it’, but rather, we believe that technological infrastructures are in fact socio-technical systems, whose design and deployment, and potentially subversive use, are the reflection of the values and material interests of the social groups and individuals involved. Our most famous quadrant outines four such competing systems, which are all in phase of deployment today. Our position is that all these technologies serve sometimes useful functions, but that their often ‘extractive’ design, intended to favour the private owners, must be tweaked and transformed. Thus, we want to change ‘netarchical platforms’ into ‘platform coops’ and blockchain ledgers into ledger coops. This means that the design of ledgers is not just an expression of its austrian economics / anarcho-capitalist early designers, but can also be used, after transformation, by and for commons-based projects. This is one of the first articles that highlights this tension in the ledger design community itself.
The following abstract is republished from academia.edu.
BA Dissertation: In blockchain they trust. Now, power to the people or to the invisible hand? An analysis of the ideological tensions and affinities between crypto-libertarian and crypto-commonist visions, projects and aspirations for the blockchain revolution.
By Mateo Peyrouzet Garc’a-Si–eriz BA Dissertation University of Exeter Department of Social Sciences and International Studies, May 2018
This dissertation provides an analysis of the ideological component behind the crypto-anarchist enthusiasm for the highly topical emerging technology of distributed ledger technology, commonly known as blockchain. Philosophy of technology scholars have drawn attention to the fact that technologies can possess political properties and serve to reinforce or challenge power structures. Public blockchains have an unquestionable social and political character due to their capacity to facilitate the emergence of cryptographic, decentralized and reliable peer-to-peer networks. The exponential adoption of this disruptive technology, which is poised to cause transformational changes across socio-technical systems and organizational structures, means that both its political properties and the ideological forces behind its development as a political technology must be recognized. Accordingly, this dissertation engages with some of the most ideologically-driven projects aiming to tap into blockchainÕs political and economic potential, namely those of Bitcoin, FairCoin, Democracy Earth and Bitnation. These projects exemplify what is posited as the main ideological cleavage within crypto-anarchism, which revolves around the privileged agent and vision that should be empowered and trusted to capture the decentralizing potential offered by blockchain technology. The paper offers an original contribution by conceptualizing the cleavage as separating; crypto-libertarians, whose neo-Hobbesian individualistic vision sees the invisible hand of the free market as the privileged agent driving a trustless technology; and crypto-commonists, whose collectivist vision regards blockchain as a trust-enabling technology that should be used to facilitate collaborative economic paradigms and participatory forms of e-democracy. The dissertation concludes that while both strands of blockchain enthusiasts have a shared interest in promoting personal privacy, radical transparency, and eroding the authority of nation-states, their diametrically opposed views on human nature and socio-economic organization seem presently irreconcilable. The research undertaken for this paper has covered a substantial breadth of the existing academic material concerning the philosophy and politics of blockchain technology, consulting books, journals, white papers and online articles. This dissertation contributes with an ideological conceptualization to the fields of techno-politics and blockchain studies, an academic intersection still in its infancy, but which will undoubtedly attract increasing academic attention.
Given the dissertation’s focus on ideological features, the first chapter is dedicated to framing a proper framework to understand the ideologies of crypto-libertarianism, which has been commented by several scholars, and crypto-commonism, a neologism proposed by this paper. The former is characterized by its individualist approach to human interaction, its capitalist approach to economic organization, and its market-based approach to governance. The latter is characterized by its collectivist view of social interaction, its commonist approach to economic organization, and its democratic approach to governance. Decades after the emergence of crypto-anarchism, these differences remain largely under-conceptualized in academic and informal circles, creating an epistemic void that requires attention given the relevance of these ideological forces in the digital era.
Having constructed the ideological profiles that configure the crypto-anarchist divide concerning blockchain technology’s political and economic potential, Chapter 2 will present the technical specifics of the technology and its ontological properties, situating it within the debate regarding the political nature of technologies that was mentioned earlier. Then, the philosophical and political values embodied and advanced by blockchain will be examined. This will make it easier to understand how crypto-libertarian and crypto-commonist ideas fit within the technical properties of blockchain technology and its potential applications.
Chapter 3 will evaluate the radically different socio-economic visions held by crypto-libertarians and crypto-commonists. By analysing Bitcoin and FairCoin it will be shown that a crypto-commonist approach prioritizes blockchainÕs potential to enhance collaborative models of economic organization and commons-based peer production, while the crypto-libertarian perspective revolves around blockchainÕs facilitation of a trustworthy platform for unfettered markets to emerge. Following this, a consideration of how blockchain can affect data ownership and privacy from governments and tech giants will bring to light several affinities within the crypto-anarchists, as well as other points of contention.
Finally, Chapter 4 will focus on several approaches to governance that have either been proposed or, indeed, been made possible by the decentralized and transparent qualities of blockchain technology. This chapter will look at how blockchain enthusiasts are aiming to transform voting, democracy and governance, focusing on Democracy Earth’s application of ‘liquid democracy’ through blockchain technology and Bitnation’s project of ‘decentralized borderless voluntary nations’ Pinpointing the differences between these approaches will provide a comprehensible image of the way in which positioning along the libertarian-commonist axis influences visions of governance in an ideal blockchain future. The dissertation finishes by answering the second question, concluding that although crypto-libertarians and crypto-commonists may share an interest in eroding the power of states and grounding socio-economic organization on voluntary interactions facilitated by blockchain technology, their ideological aspirations are ultimately incompatible. While crypto-anarchists may be seen as a single ideological force, their differing visions on whether blockchain projects should facilitate unfettered capitalism or a commonist and democratic system seem currently irreconcilable.
- Scott, Brett. Visions of a Techno-Leviathan: The Politics of the Bitcoin Blockchain. E- International Relations, 1 June 2014, www.e-ir.info/2014/06/01/visions-of-a-techno-leviathan-the-politics-of-the-bitcoin-blockchain/.
- De Filippi, Primavera, and Benjamin Loveluck. The Invisible Politics of Bitcoin: Governance Crisis of a Decentralised Infrastructure. Internet Policy Review, vol. 5, no. 3, 30 Sept. 2016
- Dyer-Witheford, Nick. Species-Being and the New Commonism: Notes on an Interrupted Cycle of Struggles. The Commoner , no. 11, 2006, pp. 15Ð32. (p. 30)
- Gielen, Pascal, and Nico Dockx. Exploring Commonism – A New Aesthetics Of The Real. Valiz, 2018
- Velasco, Pablo R. Computing Ledgers and the Political Ontology of the Blockchain. Metaphilosophy, vol. 48, no. 5, 2017, pp. 712Ð726. (p. 721)
- Scott, Brett. How Can Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Technology Play a Role in Building Social and Solidarity Finance? United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Feb. 2016. (p. 19)