I’ve been reading Balaji’s new book The Network State and Vitalik’s review of it. They are both extremely smart people and it’s always interesting to read or listen to their ideas.
Balaji in his book wrote about new types of communities.
Next, let's do an example which requires a network archipelago (with a physical footprint) but not a full network state (with diplomatic recognition). This is Keto Kosher, the sugar-free society.
Start with a history of the horrible USDA Food Pyramid, the grain-heavy monstrosity that gave cover to the corporate sugarification of the globe and the obesity epidemic. ... Organize a community online that crowdfunds properties around the world, like apartment buildings and gyms, and perhaps eventually even culdesacs and small towns. You might take an extreme sugar teeotaler approach, literally banning processed foods and sugar at the border, thereby implementing a kind of "Keto Kosher".
You can imagine variants of this startup society that are like "Carnivory Communities" or "Paleo People". These would be competing startup societies in the same broad area, iterations on a theme. If successful, such a society might not stop at sugar. It could get into setting cultural defaults for fitness and exercise. Or perhaps it could bulk purchase continuous glucose meters for all members, or orders of metformin.
Vitalik in his post wrote following:
One can think up of many more examples for both categories. One could have a zone where it's okay to walk around naked, both securing your legal right to do so and helping you feel comfortable by creating an environment where many other people are naked too. Alternatively, you could have a zone where everyone can only wear basic plain-colored clothing, to discourage what's perceived as a zero-sum status competition of expending huge effort to look better than everyone else. One could have an intentional community zone for cryptocurrency users, requiring every store to accept it and demanding an NFT to get in the zone at all. Or one could build an enclave that legalizes radical experiments in transit and drone delivery, accepting higher risks to personal safety in exchange for the privilege of participating in a technological frontier that will hopefully set examples for the world as a whole.
What is common about all of these examples is the value of having a physical region, at least of a few hectares, where the network state's unique rules are enforced. Sure, you could individually insist on only eating at healthy restaurants, and research each restaurant carefully before you go there. But it's just so much easier to have a defined plot of land where you have an assurance that anywhere you go within that plot of land will meet your standards. Of course, you could lobby your local government to tighten health and safety regulations. But if you do that, you risk friction with people who have radically different preferences on tradeoffs, and you risk shutting poor people out of the economy. A network state offers a moderate approach.
Both of those descriptions for future communities are very similar and sound dystopian to me personally. They resemble my personal hell rather than my personal paradise. Which is an interesting in itself! Meaning there are people living and working now towards opposite models of the future. Which in itself is a beautiful idea. It shows that people are diverse and our ideas and desires are diverse too.
Why do I personally not like ideas about future promoted by Balaji and Vitalik?
My first issue is the meaning of the word “community” used by both Balaji and Vitalik. They think of online communities - the ones that are created around one idea or interest - and their materialization into the physical world.
Neil Postman many years ago in his book “Building a Bridge to the 18th Century” wrote following
Think, for example, of how words “community” and “conversation” are now employed by those who use the Internet. I have the impression that “community” is now used to mean, simply, people with similar interests, a considerable change from an older meaning: A community is made up if people which may not have similar interests but who must negotiate and resolve their differences for the sake of social harmony… As to “conversation”, two (or more) people typing messages to each other are engaged in activity quite different from what is usually called a conversation.
This idea of community stuck with me since then. This is why I consider New York City to be the greatest city we currently have. New York City has people of most of the ethnicities in the world, it also has people of all economical backgrounds, it has people from all the religions and also atheist. It’s the city of diversity. The city that tries to include different people. Online communities and ideas proposed by Balaji and Vitalik have different goal. Theirs are the communities for exclusion and not inclusion. Ideas of burning bridges instead of building them. They are about “we vs them” mentality.
And I cannot subscribe to those ideas. I grew up in extremely homogenous society - Ukraine of 1990s: when everyone was of the same economic status, looked the same and believed in the same things(25 years later it is not the case anymore). Later in life I lived for 6.5 years in San Francisco. While SF was way more diverse than Ukraine in 1990s, it was too easy to get stuck in the homogeneous tech bubble.
Both Balaji and Vitalik are talking about Keto or Paleo “societies”. And this is the part that I don’t understand at all. I love to have one latte with a pastry every day. Does it mean I want to live in the physical community in which everyone does the same? Do I want to live in the city where everyone drinks latte and eats pastries every day with me on the same schedule? Do I want this town to be optimized for latte drinkers and pastry eaters? Hell, no. It’s absurd.
Such shallow “communities” scare me. I wrote a bit about it here. “Communities” that build around one common trait and idea are not desirable to me personally. It’s kind of like attending meetups. You go and see people who share one interest with you. But it doesn’t make you true friends. You know nothing else about each other. You see one side and usually it’s one side of compartmentalizes individuals.
Another interesting part form Vitalik is in this paragraph:
What is common about all of these examples is the value of having a physical region, at least of a few hectares, where the network state's unique rules are enforced. Sure, you could individually insist on only eating at healthy restaurants, and research each restaurant carefully before you go there. But it's just so much easier to have a defined plot of land where you have an assurance that anywhere you go within that plot of land will meet your standards.
Basically explanation why such online communities should be manifested into the physical world is just “because it’s just so much easier”. I think this is the key message. One month ago I tweeted:
Blockchain and NFT tech are so popular because developers are lazy. Instead of going out and protesting and asking governments to update laws (to democratize access to financial tools and so on) engineers prefer to write code from the comfort of their homes. Most of the things that crypto promises are possible in our current frameworks. It just those things require different type of work.
I think it applies here. Laziness creates desire to come up with new ideas - which is great. The problem is not all the ideas are equal and not all the ideas are good. Somehow I didn’t see Balaji and Vitalik writing about of all the side effects of their ideas. And what those new “communities” not only would bring but also would destroy.
At the end of the day, I like that Balaji and Vitalik proposed some new models how humans can live. All I have to say is that I am glad I have freedom and option of not participating in those models. And I have freedom to stop reading books I don’t like.