Submission, Sympathy, Sovereignty

Each pole legitimizes themselves by appealing to a societally useful concept, and takes it to an extreme as part of denouncing its opposite extreme.

The CCP is the most obvious: you must submit. They’re the Chinese Communist Party, and they’re powerful, so you must bow your head. This is very simple and straightforward and easy to understand, though it only really works for them within China and the Chinese internet.

The NYT pole is slightly more subtle: they demand you must sympathize. After all aren’t you white, or male, or straight, or cis, or abled, or wealthy, or a member of one of an ever-multiplying number of privileged categories — and therefore an oppressor on some dimension? Because you’re powerful, you must sympathize, and bow your head to those you have ostensibly oppressed. It’s a left-handed version of the submission ideology. It can get anyone to bow their head in the name of empowering them, because 99.99% of the world is an “oppressor” on at least some dimension. This pole is strongest on the English-speaking126 internet, weakest on the Chinese internet, and of intermediate strength outside that.

The BTC pole is the opposite of both of these. It demands you must be sovereign. That means rather than bending to the CCP, or slitting your wrists as NYT demands, you hold your head up high. You hold your private keys locally, you don’t trust centralized corporations or governments, you’re self-sufficient and autarkic, you’re living off the grid. This pole is strong on the global internet, though it’s facing pushback from both CCP and NYT.

Extremes and Counter-Extremes Are Undesirable 

The subtlety here is that each of these poles has an element of truth to it. You don’t want a CCP society where everyone has no recourse but to submit, because that can easily become a now-digital totalitarianism. On the other hand, you also don’t want a society where no one submits to anyone, because that looks like San Francisco, where people can run into Walgreens and steal everything.

You don’t want the NYT-run society where everyone has no recourse but to sympathize with the current thing, because that results in what Matt Yglesias has called the Great Awokening: the emotive and irrational breakdowns that set America on fire and continue to roil US society. Yet you also don’t want the society where no one sympathizes, because that looks like the Grand Theft Auto environment of 1990s Russia, the low-trust post-communist society where any cooperative endeavor is regarded as a scam.

Finally, and perhaps least obviously, you don’t want the society where everyone must be sovereign, because taken to its irrational127 limit that means pumping your own water from out of the ground, growing your own food, not trusting any vendor or person other than yourself, and generally ending the division of labor that makes capitalism run. Extreme autarky might sound romantic, but in the absence of robotic breakthroughs going truly off-grid is a recipe for dramatic regression in the standard of living. Conversely, of course you don’t want a society where no one has the possibility of being sovereign at all, as this leaves us all subject to the not-so-incipient digital totalitarianism that CCP has already rolled out and NYT wishes it could.

A Recentralized Center 

One might argue — and I would agree — that while these three poles and their opposite three extremes are bad, they are not all equally bad, and you don’t necessarily need to be dead center. For example, I’d personally err much closer to the sovereignty pole than our current culture, and try to develop the technologies to enable this.

However, we should recognize that different strokes will suit different folks. And rather than trying to impose preferences on everyone, what we really want are a variety of points in between these three undesirable poles: different fusions for different groups.

The construction we outline in this book — the startup society that ultimately becomes a network state – ideally combines aspects of all three. For example, it does have a clear founder to provide direction, but it ensures every citizen has the right to freely leave should they choose, that coinholders also have a say, and a number of other digital checks and balances. This concept is the basis of the recentralized center, an idea we discuss in depth later.