I came up with the idea to launch CLLBRTV a few months ago. For about 8 years, I had been working to redesign internet architecture in ways that could assist communities in self-regulating, even at massive scale.
My work was geeky. Like really geeky.
It involved deep philosophical explorations of the nature of meaning, language, identity, privacy, security, trust, collaboration, value creation, value judgments, corporate governance, capital markets, the use of force and more. And that was just the political philosophy side of my “life’s work.”
The technical side (which I am, admittedly, less strong at) included deep dives into the inner workings of modern computer systems, the protocols that currently undergird our internet communications and topics such as distributed data storage, cryptography, open-source software licenses, blockchains, distributed hash tables, semantic trees, content-centric networking and other details that the general public would find about as interesting as watching paint dry.
At the same time, I was convinced that what my friends and I were building was going to change the world.
I thought to myself “my work is so dense — and detailed — and inherently not sexy. How can I make it more understandable and attractive to regular folks. How can I make it attractive to the mainstream of society?”
Then it hit me:
“Wait a second. I’m trying to foment a revolution. Not in the ‘our taco will revolutionize your concept of what a taco taste’s like’ sense. But a real revolution in the ‘everything about how our world is organized is about to change in very radical ways, and for the better’ — sense. Non-violent revolution, but substantive, transformational revolution. And that is sexy.”
I realized that if I want to help other people understand what this is all about and why they will want to support it, I need to start by calling it what it is:
the revolution they’ve been waiting for.
So here’s my pitch:
OUR WORLD IS BROKEN
At global scale, we don’t have (and never had) a functional regulatory system. The result is a world that isn’t working well for people, communities or the planet. Global (and national) income inequality, frequent war between nations, and changes to our climate that are killing off massive numbers of species are direct results of the fact that our institutions aren’t serving us adequately.
Violence, administered through law, courts, police and prisons — and all of the adjacent institutions of national state regulation — might be necessary, but are certainly not sufficient, to balance communities at the large scales at which we operate today.
The problem gets even worse when we examine the international context, where crippling layers of process and a lack of enforcement power limits the effectiveness of institutions such as the United Nations.
At the same time, a stronger international governing body — with superior military might — would likely prove disastrous. The risk of creating a global tyranny is far too great.
All of those forms of government are undergirded by the use of force. In other words, for those who violate the law, a government will threaten to either:
1) attack their body or
2) restrain their body.
That is the whole role of police and prisons etc., and it is the currency that “backs” everything from parking tickets to environmental regulation to contract enforcement.
As populations have grown, because of the efficiency of violence — it only takes “one enforcer” to punish “bad behavior” — we’ve come to rely upon violence as our primary regulatory tool.
However, there is also a different set of regulatory mechanisms that small communities have made use of since the beginning of history:
It consists of
- informal social norms and
- enforcement through the decisions of individuals about whether they will turn toward or away from any particular actor — and to what extent.
TWO FORMS OF INFLUENCE
Communities have two tools for influencing behavior:
- A violence-based enforcement action involves
- restraint of a body or
- an attack on that body or
- the threat of either of those
- On the other hand, what I term discretion is this alternate, distributed form of influence where individual decisions about what behavior is desired allows each of us to determine who we will buy goods from, sell services to, invite over to dinner or go on a date with.
Discretion is the “regulatory” system that operates within intimate relationships as well as communal relationships. It is the system of distributed decision making that makes markets seem so miraculous (whatever their limitations).
Discretion works exceedingly well within small groups. It is the built-in regulatory system that humans evolved alongside. It is efficient, effective and adaptable.
And it has one huge advantage over violence-based regulatory systems.
THE BIG ADVANTAGE OF DISCRETION
With violence, because the enforcement action locates on the body of the “offender,” the community is able to take only a single action — express only a single preference.
This fact forces the community into a consensus for practical purposes and is what results in such bitter battles over control of government. You can’t both throw someone in jail, and not throw them in jail. Only one action can be taken against the body of “the perpetrator” and so the community is only able to express a single view point regarding appropriateness, desirability and relative importance of a behavior. In your country, it is either legal or illegal to engage in homosexual conduct. If it is illegal, the fact that some citizens disagree with that law does nothing to change the fact that there are men sitting in jail — or worse, dead.
On the other hand, discretion operates differently.
With discretion, the enforcement action locates on the body of the individual or resource that is being granted or withdrawn, not on the body of the “perpetrator.”
The girlfriend who dumped you. The customer that doesn’t come back again. The neighbor who decides not to invite you to dinner.
Each of these is an example of discretion’s punitive side — the withdrawal of support — but the real power in an discretion system comes primarily from its supportive side — the bestowal of support for behaviors that are valued or favored.
The restaurant that you keep returning to because the quality of the food is only topped by that of the service. The second date that she accepts after he proves to be thoughtful and funny. The market that you keep buying from because of their commitment to stocking seasonal local organic produce.
Because the enforcement action locates not on the body of the actor, but instead on the resource — and one person can turn towards an actor while another turns away from them — the community is able to express a diversity of preferences on both:
1) What behavior/attributes are desired and
2) the relative importance of different values.
The result is a regulatory system that can both express — and act upon — a diversity of preferences.
That ability to express diverse preferences results in a diversity of lived experience — and a community with a richer and more diverse set of ideas and ways of living is the natural consequence. When circumstances change — and they are always changing — it is this diversity that enables discretion based communities to thrive.
DISCRETION’S PROBLEM: SCALE
There is one problem, however:
Historically, discretion hasn’t scaled well.
In larger communities, reputation systems break down as a result of the limits of human mental faculties.
When living within a group of 50 people, or 100 people or even 150 people (see Dunbar’s limit) reputation information gets communicated remarkably well — in part due to things like “gossip” that we don’t usually consider to be “regulatory tools,” but that certainly influence behavior within groups.
As a result, in groups of up to 150, it is relatively easy to keep track of who is a good hunter, and who should not be allowed to cook dinner.
However, our brains are simply not up to the task of keeping track of the huge volumes of reputation information present in a million person city, let alone a 7 billion person planet.
TOO MUCH INFO
As group sizes have scaled, the complexity of certain types of information has increased exponentially.
Unfortunately, the primary mechanism that powers discretion at a global scale — markets — and more critically, the price mechanism — conveys only limited information well.
Price compiles value judgments made across a supply chain — and enables each of us to distinguish between options without knowing anything more than the price. If the price of aluminum goes up, eventually, everything that contains aluminum will go up (or their producers margins will decrease). This “composable” nature of price enables individuals to “sense” changes across supply chains and make decisions on that basis — without having to know the details.
However, it also fails to communicate any information about “why” the price for one option is lower than another. Is it because one of them stopped using aluminum, or because they invented some more efficient process? To the end purchaser, there is usually no way to know — at least not without an intolerably huge amount of research.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
In a global marketplace, companies on the other end of a supply chain that “push the boundaries” of acceptable behavior by externalizing costs are rarely, if ever held to account for it by the market itself. For instance companies often gain a “price advantage”:
- by paying their employees barely enough to live on,
- by taking short cuts on worker safety, or
- dumping waste rather than treating it —
Such “bad behavior” often gets rewarded because it externalizes some costs and customers are only able see a lower price (and not that the price drop was achieved via exploitation, pollution etc).
Consequently, bad behavior “attracts” the support of customers far removed in a supply chain. When “bad behavior” is “rewarded” like that, it multiplies and a race to the bottom ensues.
In larger groups, where our reputation-fueled informal regulatory system breaks down, we have supplemented that system with formal governance structures, and the enforcement tools of state violence.
Institutions like the SEC, the EPA and minimum wage laws are all attempts to counter that “race to the bottom” that is a natural side effect of the limits of the price system.
However, these institutions all suffer from the limits of violence based systems mentioned earlier. Beyond those shortcomings, they also suffer from the fact that they are national regulatory bodies operating in an international world.
Thus they are stuck in a “prisoner’s dilemma” style race to the bottom with every other country on the planet with regard to setting policies about wages, safety, pollution and other values that can lead to a competitive disadvantage should any of the other 100+ nations “defect.” Any examination of the long and arduous road to get international cooperation on issues such as climate change highlight the dilemma.
At CLLBRTV, we believe that internet communications systems can be redesigned in ways that augment human faculties by custom filtering and synthesizing the insights of our fellow community members.
We believe that the “leverage” that can be gained from digital collaboration can empower individuals by simplifying information while leaving them in control, and will enable societies to self-regulate at scales previously unimaginable.
The goal is not to make these communities perfect or free from trouble, we don’t believe that is feasible. After all, pain can be thought of as simply the ability to sense. Pain may, in fact, be humanity’s most important prioritization tool.
Rather the goal is to improve these communities abilities to “self-heal” wherever pain is perceived by equipping individuals with information that they find readable, reliable and relevant, to better navigate the world.
Oddly enough, the way to create a more harmonious world, stems in part from enabling individuals to sense (i.e. feel the pain) that their actions would have — before they take them. This enables them to steer their resources to support other behaviors instead.
The consequence is simple: activities that result in pain don’t go away because they’ve been “punished.” Rather, like any business that puts out products that people don’t want, they go away because without support from the surrounding community, they get starved of resources.
We believe that digital tools cannot (and should not) replace human judgment.
However, they can reduce transaction costs, and can enable us to better sense the impacts of our actions.
Consequently, they can catalyze the kind of self-regulation that naturally occurs within small communities to become possible within larger ones.
By building these systems, we can can create a regulatory system that helps groups of all sizes regulate themselves and thrive — even at global scale.
CLLBRTV is a community — though some might choose to describe it is a movement — that works to:
- DESIGN AND BUILD INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY TOOLS, including digital, composable reputation systems — to catalyze the creation of a functional, fractal, and global regulatory system.
- BUILD UNDERSTANDING of — and support for — this effort to empower individuals and communities to regulate themselves.
We aren’t the only people working to solve these problems. There are many
competitors collaborators pursuing similar visions. If you are one of those people, we’d like to find ways to support you in your efforts.
If you are interested in supporting this effort, please join CLLBRTV today. We need your help to make this vision into a reality.
WAYS YOU CAN PARTICIPATE:
- sign up for our newsletter
- attend an in-person event
- attend one of our digital meetups
- volunteer to help on the story telling side — film making, songwriting etc
- collaborate with us on a related creative work — whether that is a white paper, a song or a short film
- introduce us to like minded people
- simply tell a friend about us
We are looking forward to working along side you.
Together, we can change the world!
October 21st, 2015