May 162014

The United States government is broken beyond repair, corrupt beyond reform. There’s no debating that. The question is, what can we do about it?

We can move on. There’s no need to waste time repairing or tearing down our broken system. Instead, we must starve it to death by creating and transitioning to a brand new system. That new system should be leaderless, decentralized and transparent, and it should allow every individual to speak for themselves so that they will no longer have to trust representatives.

The first step in making our current system obsolete is to take away its ability to control and manipulate the money supply and the financial system. We can do that by adopting Bitcoin. Because Bitcoin is not owned, controlled or created by a single entity, but by every individual who takes part in the system, it renders both private banks and the federal reserve unnecessary, taking money out of the hands of the government and putting it in the hands of the people. Because Bitcoin is a completely transparent system, there is no need to trust representatives, board members, bankers or even other Bitcoin users.

But as I said, taking control of the money system is only step one. What about everything else? What about transit, telecommunications, food production and all of the other systems upon which we build our daily lives? These, too, must be transferred back into the hands of the people. Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency ecosystem in general have provided us with the technological foundation for implementing a peer-to-peer governance model organized through stigmergy.

Bitcoin was created, and has evolved, in a stigmergic fashion, and its protocol can be used to apply this organizational structure to everyday life.

What is Stigmergy?

Wikipedia says, “stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, seemingly intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even direct communication between the agents.”

Essentially, stigmergy is anarchy. There are no governments and no leaders. Every individual takes responsibility for him- or herself.

Stigmergy1-300x225Stigmergy begins with a seed, a single idea or proposal which is presented freely to the general populace. If the idea is interesting or necessary, others will begin to build upon it and modify it. As more people join the project, those with the most enthusiasm and expertise will form a core team which will provide the project with direction. They will begin to focus more narrowly on the aspects of the idea which interest them most, leaving other aspects undone. Others with an interest in the idea will then see that attention is needed in neglected areas and take up the unfinished work (if the undone tasks are never taken up, they’re unnecessary and therefore irrelevant). In this way, the original seed idea evolves into a decentralized system comprised of many connected nodes, each one focused on developing whichever aspect of the system interests them most.

Satoshi Nakamoto made Bitcoin’s open source code available to the general populace and anyone interested was allowed to build upon and modify it. As the project expanded, different groups of people began working on different aspects of the idea. While coders focused on code, other people built exchanges, mining hardware and news and information sources. Satoshi Nakamoto’s seed idea has now evolved into a functional decentralized worldwide financial system.

A stigmergic system organizes itself into concentric user circles which represent levels of expertise. The outer circle is comprised of Users. A User is anyone who is affected by the system. They participate in it by using it, spreading awareness about it, providing moral and financial support, and offering feedback. All information about the system and all actions taken within it are transparent, so Users can educate themselves and gain the knowledge needed to contribute to the system, thus moving into the next circle, which is comprised of Contributors. When a Contributor gains sufficient experience and expertise, they become a Member. After consistently contributing useful, high quality, peer-reviewed work for a significant period of time, that Member gains more influence within the system and may become part of the Core Team, which is comprised of those who have enough knowledge, expertise and experience to give the system direction.

In a Meritocracy (a system in which one moves toward the center and gains influence through peer reviewed contributions) accreditation, resumes, interviews and bosses are unnecessary. There is no need to seek approval or permission from an authority figure in order to begin work. You simply start contributing and your work is either accepted by those working within the system or it is not. There’s also no need to assign job titles with set duties. Everyone chooses their work because they find it fascinating or necessary or both.

This is how Bitcoin functions as well. All information is transparent. A person can educate themselves about bitcoin as much or as little as they please and contribute or not contribute to its evolution in whatever way they choose.

Stigmergy for Governance

Stigmergy, as a system of governance, is far superior to both representative and direct democracies.

In a representative democracy, officials are elected based on popularity, which could be a result of charisma and advertising rather than expertise. They then make decisions affecting all systems functioning in their geographical area regardless of how much or how little they know about those systems, and regardless of whether or not those systems actually affect them personally. They can hire experts who are willing to reveal or withhold certain types of information in exchange for bribes. None of this leads to high quality service for those who actually use a given system.

Also, elected officials do not represent every individual in their geographical area. They claim to represent the values and ideals of political parties. When a citizen subscribes to a political party, they no longer have to think for themselves or take responsibility for any decisions made. Flawed initiatives may pass because a voter’s fear of disagreeing with a group, or their desire to retain membership within it, outweigh their concern for the issue at hand. Group affiliation allows a person to reject an idea before hearing or understanding it, simply because it was proposed by an opposing group.

A direct democracy gives equal weight to all citizens, whether or not they are affected by the system in question, and regardless of their level of knowledge and expertise on the subject. Giving equal weight to the voice of the expert and the novice, the dependent and the unaffected, means that those who could do the most good within a system, and those who are most in need of their contributions, are both overshadowed by a large volume of empty votes. And because every individual cannot be expected to have the time or energy to educate and represent themselves on every issue, most people will simply vote for the most popular or the most advertised solutions.

A stigmergic government would naturally organize itself according to system, not land mass. Experts would be created within the system and promoted by reputation earned through consistent high quality peer-approved contributions, not by certification or authority figures. In a stigmergic system, no one would be able to fake, buy or schmooze their way into power, and there would be no gap between what a person promises and what they actually do. Only those who were affected by a system would choose to work within it, so meeting the user’s needs would always be the objective, and the weight of each participant’s input would match their level of expertise. All information would be transparent and the different levels of expertise would create a bridge between laymen and the core team, which anyone could cross by educating themselves and contributing work. Control and responsibility would always rest with a system’s users, so systems would always function according to the highest standard.

Stigmergy for Business

Stigmergy is also far superior to both competitive and collaborative business models, which is important in the case of public services provided by private organizations.

Progress and innovation are slow within companies that compete with one another to create the same product or provide the same service. First, time is wasted persuading the person in charge to take on a project. If they do, time and money are then consumed in advertising, patents, copyrights, and the search for contributors and investors. Collaborative organizations waste as much time and money on such things as competitive ones. On top of that, the proposer of an idea must persuade an entire group to take it on, then every member must agree on every stage of the idea’s development. And just like in a direct democracy, all voices carry equal weight so that expertise is drowned out by less knowledgeable opinions. A lot of time and energy are wasted on power struggles and the resolution of arguments. Collaboration can quickly dissolve into an exercise in personality management.

If an idea is bound to an owner, whether it be a single person or a group, there is the chance that investors and contributors are working for a person rather than an idea, and that they have no interest in the success or failure of the project itself. So if the owner of the project changes, investors and contributors may be lost and the project or idea may be delayed or die entirely. And since secrecy is paramount, only those hired by the idea’s owner(s) are allowed to work on the project, making collaboration between the best minds on the subject impossible unless they are all hired by the same organization.

Stigmergy solves all of the above problems. Let’s use Bitcoin as an example. First, no time was wasted persuading a person or group to take on the project of developing bitcoin. Satoshi Nakamoto made the idea and all the necessary information for development available to everyone for free. No one can own it, so contributors don’t need to be hired. Anyone who wants to work to develop bitcoin can do so without permission. This means collaboration between the best minds on the subject is much more likely and a far superior product can be created. Non-ownership also means that both contributors and investors come to Bitcoin of their own volition, because it is a good idea, not because they want to make an advantageous connection with a powerful person. Since everyone is working for Bitcoin, not for Bitcoin’s non-existent owner(s), the removal of a single personality cannot kill the idea. Because no group or owner must agree upon every stage of Bitcoin’s development, less time is wasted on conflict resolution and personality management. Any contributor can veer off in any direction, which is why so many alt coins exist. Finally, no money need be spent copyrighting, patenting or advertising Bitcoin because the idea is open-source and its contributors are enthusiastic enough to promote it for free.

The Future

Human civilization is in desperate need of a system of governance and a structure for business which does not allow ownership to detract from innovation. That system must be driven by ideas, not personalities, and those ideas must be accepted or rejected based on the ideas themselves, not their owners or proposers. All voices must be heard and the weight of those voices must be determined by expertise rather than bribes and charisma. Systems must be built to best serve those who use and are affected by them.

All of the above can be accomplished through stigmergy. It created Bitcoin and Bitcoin is moving us into an open-source world in which there will be no governments, no leaders and no owners. Instead, there will be individuals recognizing human needs and taking action to fulfill those needs. We will no longer elect others to represent us. We will no longer seek permission, instruction, assignment or aid from those who would use them to manipulate us. We will no longer look outside ourselves for solutions to our problems.

For too long, people have chosen to follow blindly and without question, refusing to think, make decisions or take responsibility. Thus we have placed ourselves under the rule of those who do not have our best interests in mind.

Remember: Power is not taken by leaders, it is given to them by those who choose to follow.

We must refuse to follow.

Technology has given us the power, as autonomous individuals, to plan and carry out our own solutions. We must trust ourselves to be strong, intelligent and humane enough to govern our own communities. When we believe ourselves to be as capable as we think others are, we begin to direct the courses of our own lives and cease to submit to the will of a broken government.

Our future is stigmergy. Stigmergy is anarchy. Anarchy is not chaos. It is people using the tools they’ve been given to take responsibility for their own lives rather than waiting for others to do everything for them.

Once we have control of our own financial system, we can use the Bitcoin protocol to take control of all our other systems. That’s where things like Decentralized Autonomous Corporations and Smart Contracts come into play. But this article is already long enough, so I’ll have to discuss those elsewhere.

A special thanks to Heather Marsh for the P2P governance inspiration that she gave us in her writings and our time together at the 2012 Berlin Biennale.

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