“Even if the absence of government really did mean anarchy in a negative, disorderly sense - which is far from being the case - even then, no anarchical disorder could be worse than the position to which government has led humanity”.
(Lev Nikolàevič Tolstòj, 1828-1910, Russian writer and philosopher)
What would Tolstòj have said about the blockchain technology?
There’s a common thread that links the modern anarchic ideology to the creation of the Bitcoin and the many altcoins. This article aims to give food for thoughts, providing a philosophical and social perspective to what should be seen, more than as an innovative technology, as a global movement deeply reshaping our society.
What really is anarchy?
There is nothing chaotic, aggressive or negative in the concept of anarchy, as instead the common sense or the media try to suggest and even inculcate in the general perception.
A small note of colour: it happened that my father gave accidentally a peek to the monitor when I was creating the logo which you can see above. I’m letting you to imagine the following conversation, with me trying to explain the blockchain to a 76 years old man that sees the smartphone mostly as a sort of witchcraft (keep trying dad!).
“Anarchy is order without power”, wrote the philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) who first used the term anarchy in his essays dated in the first middle of the XIX. Maybe not everyone knows that the circle forming the anarchy’s symbol, is in reality an “O” which stands for the word “order”.
As a matter of fact, anarchy (from ancient greek: ἀναρχία, ἀν, absence + ἀρχός, government or principle) conceives a society in which the individuals organise themselves freely and independently from the power of a central authority. This concept doesn’t reject but, instead, embraces the idea of a peaceful development of society through an organised system and thanks to a constant research of agreement between all the members. In this perspective, the anarchic theories approve the idea of a social agreement as the fundament of society (see Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), even though this agreement should never lead to the legitimation of a pyramidal structure of power, being government and hierarchy considered as the wellsprings of degradation.
Anarchy and blockchain follow the same principle of freedom.
There are interesting historical analogies between the birth of the anarchic ideology and the rise of the cryptocurrency era. The anarchic movement finds its roots in the French Enlightenment (1715-1789): an intellectual, scientific and philosophical response to the darkness of the previous French monarchic period, a fight through the power of rationality and science. Anarchism itself was inspired by the “People’s Spring” in 1848, a reaction spread between several European countries to the so called “Restoration”, the return of many monarchies after Napoleon's French were defeated.
On the other hand, Satoshi Nakamoto gave birth to the Bitcoin in 2009, right after Lehman Brothers’ tragic events and the American financial crisis that ignited an economical depression, from which the whole world is still trying to recover.
Satoshi’s paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” was able to synthetize a mix of previous experiments and existing tendencies around the theme of cryptocurrency and privacy (“A Cypherpunk's Manifesto” by Eric Hughes, Davis Chaum’s Digicash, Wei Dai’s B-Money, between the many). Although Satoshi’s essays and words have been always very concrete and focused on the coding, it’s undeniable that the collapse of the financial and economical establishment in 2008 worked as a powerful catalyst in order to focus the community on one target and channel its energy and ideas.
As much as for the anarchic movement, the inequality of the corporatocracy, combined with its evident inefficiency and the desire for freedom fuelled the brain of Satoshi and of the cypherpunk activists.
Another important correlation between the traditional anarchic vision and the blockchain technology may be found in the idea of how interactions between people should develop and how society should organise itself in a horizontal non-hierarchic setup.
It’s amazing how the message of Proudhon (but even Bakunin and others exponent of this movement) is applicable and still so valid in consideration of what is happening in the world nowadays. It surprises me even more how his ideas are matching with those at the fundament of the crypto-revolution we are witnessing.
According to Proudhon, an anarchic society is not a society based on simple “one-time” consensus, but one continuously regenerated by a constant agreement between all its members. When you take a decision according to the anarchic thinking, a synthesis has always to be reached between the many discordant opinions. A majority vote is possible in case of the non-spontaneous formation of the agreement but, at the same time, an anarchic society is bound to always provide the maximum respect for the minority, which will never be obliged to follow the decisions of the majority but can simply join another assembly or organisation, or create its own. The similarities with the PoS algorithm, the creation of forks in the blockchain and, also, with the way Steemit chooses its witnesses are many and could be further deepened.
Decentralisation: a utopia becoming real?
The blockchain is part of an unstoppable decentralisation process that started with the internet and continued with the sharing economy and the progressive awareness that people gained about the power of the crowd.
Time will tell how amazing and emerging technologies, such as the internet of things and the many applications of artificial intelligence, will interact with the blockchain and between themselves.
An interesting essay by Sterlin Lujan, “Toward Techno-Anarchy: Blockchain Tech Will Thwart Government, Transform Society”, defines this new revolution as “techno-anarchism”.
The power of the crowd have been demonstrated by companies like Uber, AirBnB and all those platforms that distributed the economy in a horizontal and efficient way, exploiting the unused energies of each one of us. Now, the power of the Ethereum network will lead us to a further step.
When you talk about decentralization you talk about Ethereum, a crypto-protocol so sophisticate and advanced that its true meaning is charming and partly elusive at the same time: Ethereum is not just a digital currency but a decentralised worldwide computer. Ethereum can be also defined as a platform that runs smart contracts. The following infographic synthetises better than words the enormous potential that this network will disclose in the future:
Ethereum will enhance a steep evolution in the sharing economy, eliminating the control of super-partes central authorities and, most probably, at the same time amending many of the faults that are becoming more and more evident in the contemporary technocracy, ruled by molochs like Apple and Amazon. Ethereum is the post-Apple, post-Amazon, post-Microsoft, it represents the real freedom, against those corporates that, in a way, still try to close us in the cage of their technological eco-system, dragging us from a type of enslavement to another. This trade-off, their technology for a piece of our privacy (our identity, our freedom), will never happen again with Ethereum and similar project in development like Neo and Iota.
We all are in the here and now. We are those that felt the whistle of a train from a distance, run and jumped on it with no hesitation, beginning an amazing journey. We may be here for investing, for the beauty of this technology, to follow a new trend or for our idealistic reasons, seeking for a change. No matter why we are on this train, I believe that we should try to understand the deep roots of what we are witnessing, and that all of this belongs to a long way that humanity have already walked in its history, looking strenuously for pursuing happiness and freedom.
Proudhon, Tolstòj, Bakunin and all the free beings who joined the anarchic movement would be amazed and proud of the point where we find ourselves nowadays: let’s not waste the enormous technological potential that they couldn’t dispose of and make their dream of an equal society come true.
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