Jeff Vail’s Theory of Power

June 1st, 2012 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Jeff Vail’s Theory of Power)

by Dave Pollard

Jeff Vail’s short, free online book A Theory of Power begins with a series of provocative theses:

  • The best representation of our world, of what ‘is’, is not matter, but the connections between matter.
  • These connections define ‘power-relationships’ — the ability of one entity to influence the action of another.
  • The ‘law’ of evolution can therefore be restated as: if new patterns of forces can survive their impacts with one another, if they tend to hold together rather than tear apart, they then represent a stable collection of power-relationships which survive, self-replicate, and mutate into further new patterns which are in turn subject to the same law.
  • This law applies to physical (matter), biological (gene) and cultural (meme) patterns; all matter and life and consciousness, and their evolution, are ‘creatures’ of their/our material, genetic and cultural constituents, created for the perpetuation of these patterns and sustained through their stable power-relationships.
  • Because of the evolutionary success of memes (due to their ability to adapt and change much more quickly and successfully than genes), culture has come to play an increasingly dominant role in our planet’s power-relationships.
  • Most significantly, the advent of agriculture, which was provoked by climate change (the ice ages) brought about a necessary power shift from the individual to the group in the interest of memes’ survival, to the point the individual became largely enslaved to the culture, and the survival of the civilization culture now outweighs in importance the survival of any of its members or communities.
  • A consequence of that has been the advent of the codependent cultural constructs of market and state, and, as agriculture has enabled exponential growth in population and created new scarcities, egalitarian societies of abundance have given way to hierarchical societies of managed scarcity.
  • This hierarchy has been further entrenched with the cultural evolution of technologies that enable even greater self-perpetuation of the memes that gave rise to it, and have led to the ‘efficient’ subjugation of the human individual to technology — that’s the power-relationship that most supports the survival and stasis of the culture, and under it even those at the top of the hierarchy become slave-hosts to the memes and culture.
  • These memes and culture can now self-perpetuate and thrive more effectively with technology and the artificial constructs of market and globalizations than they could with inefficient and unreliable human hosts, so technology growth is now even outstripping human growth, to the point that humans are becoming commodities and could even become redundant.
  • So: if we are now becoming slaves to the machine-powered perpetuation of memes that are outgrowing their need for us (to the point that although catastrophic global warming and human extinction now seem inevitable, this is not something our meme-culture ‘cares’ about) can we, the human slaves, thanks to the genetic and memetic evolution of self-awareness, ‘liberate’ ourselves and defeat the meme-culture before it destroys us? In other words, can we consciously, collectively take control for the first time over power-relationships, and establish new power-relationships that put the genetic survival of the human race (and, hopefully, the survival of all other life on Earth on which that genetic survival depends) ahead of the reckless survival of the Frankenstein ‘civilization’ culture we have created?

Vail’s answer to this final question is a qualified ‘yes’. He argues that the way to establish power-relationships that put our genes’ interest ahead of memes’ is to “confront hierarchy with its opposite — rhizome — a web-like structure of connected but independent nodes”, borrowing from successful models in nature of such structures. The working units (nodes) of this ‘revolutionary’ structure are self-sufficient, egalitarian communities, and the concept of ‘ownership’ in such communities is eliminated to prevent the reemergence of hierarchy.

Rhizome-based structures need to be developed and then institutionalized from the bottom up to replace hierarchical ones, Vail argues, in all areas of our society — social, political, economic, educational etc. to entrench the power and sustainability of self-sufficient communities and render them invulnerable to re-expropriation of that power by hierarchies. In practical terms, he says:

Power remains distributed to the level of the individual rhizome node through local, functional self-sufficiency—a modern equivalent to the Domestic Mode of Production. In other words, functional self-sufficiency means the ability to produce at the household level at least the minimum necessities for day-to-day existence without relying on outside agents or resources. Self-sufficiency removes the individual rhizome node from dependence on the standard set of outside suppliers. It does not eliminate exchange, but creates a situation where any exchange exists as a voluntary activity. The commodities that each node must provide for itself include staple foodstuffs, energy for heating, basic habitat and small group interaction.

Self-sufficient energy coops, and local permaculture-based food movements are examples of rhizome structures. Such networks are also the most effective means for the dissemination of information on how to make rhizome activities even more effective — they have much less signal loss than hierarchical methods that require information to flow up and then down controlled and constricted paths. Rhizomes are also, while less ‘efficient’, more effective and more resilient than hierarchies.

Next, Vail argues that, once established, to defend against attacks from vestiges of hierarchical systems, rhizome networks need to adopt asymmetrical methods — by reducing the desire of hierarchy to re-achieve power (e.g. by making it difficult or unrewarding to do so on its own terms) and by becoming ‘invisible’ to the hierarchy (e.g. dropping out quietly and not taking part in the hierarchy’s social, political and economic activities). Vail concludes:

A new vision, with individual freedom to pursue arts and spirituality, above the pettiness of bickering for power, may prove possible if we learn to control the powers that have dominated us throughout history. In the spirit of this vision, the message will ultimately fail if forced upon others. Only through personal example, by showing that a realistic and preferable alternative exists, will these concepts succeed on a large scale. We will act as pioneers, who will begin to create diverse rhizome nodes, each one representing an individual’s struggle to solve the problems of hierarchy and human ontogeny. The more we learn and break free from the control of genes and memes, the more success these pioneers will have. Effective tools and practices will spread, and the rhizome network will grow and strengthen. As this network evolves, it will provide a realistic, implementable alternative to hierarchy—an alternative that fulfills our genetic ontogeny and empowers us as individuals. Nature has shown us that the structure of the rhizome can compete with hierarchy and stratification. When combined with an understanding of reality and humanity that makes us our own masters, we may finally learn from the events of the past…and gain control of our future.

This is entirely consistent with the approach I have been arguing for — the bottom-up creation of a combination of working models of (a) self-sufficient, sustainable (probably polyamory) egalitarian intentional communities operating under Gift Economy principles, (b) natural enterprises and (c) peer-to-peer information and organization networks.

The concern many have expressed about models like Vail’s and mine is how to scale them up — how to get them to the ‘tipping point’ at which, like viruses, they start spreading quickly and supplant the old hierarchical ones. One approach Vail mentions is Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZs, or ‘pirate utopias’). Bey’s zones are based on the principles of (a) 30-50 person ‘bands’ replacing families (Bey quotes Gide: “Families, how I hate them! The misers of love!”), (b) a continuous ‘festival’ culture of conviviality, abundance, sharing, celebration, and joy and (c) no private ownership.

I really like the idea of a festival culture. Bey sees the zones as temporary (nomadic, to prevent their being attacked by the prevailing hierarchical culture). Vail says they will only be needed “until the size of the rhizome network provides enough power” to sustain them.

But that’s not how viral models work in nature. They get a foothold and then replicate. Assuming we can create some successful working models without having them destroyed by fearful or envious corporatists (and though I’m perhaps naive, I don’t think the establishment would be bothered to try to destroy them when they’re below the radar screen, and after that it’s too late), how might they replicate virally?

Suppose we were to invite people to just begin. We could use Open Space invitations to find the people who are ready to create some working models of TAZs. We could facilitate Open Space sessions to let invitees form TAZ ‘tribes’, each tribe consisting of about fifteen contiguous intentional community ‘clans’ of about 100 people, with each clan having 2-3 natural enterprise ‘bands’ operating within them. Then, any clan that was so popular that it attracted new members to grow beyond the magic number of 150 people would ‘split’ into two new intentional communities (members would self-select which of the two clans to belong to), and any tribe that exceeded about 2000 people would ‘split’ into two new tribes the same way. This is the way viruses replicate, and the way that some groups of animals instinctively hive off when their membership exceeds a certain threshold. As our rhizome-culture working models became more and more popular, and the hierarchical civilization culture collapses, we would simply and organically take over. Bottom-up, a model that has evolved to work replacing one that has ceased to function. That’s life.

These sustainable, natural bands, clans and tribes would support each other through network connections, physical and technological. Each would be autonomous and self-sufficient, and evolve in its own self-determined, wonderfully diverse way.

The great challenge, of course, is finding arable land that can sustain these extraordinary experiments. One solution would be simply to wait until climate change, pandemic, economic collapse or other disasters depopulate an area to the point its land becomes free or nearly so. Another approach I’ve mentioned before is to find philanthropists willing to donate the land on a successful-efforts basis. Or, we they could start in Russia and other countries where serious depopulation has already begun.

Are you ready for this? Is the world?


Editorial Notes

Thanks to Dave Pollard for an excellent summary, as well as his thoughts on the book. We’ve run several of Jeff Vail’s articles and are interested in his theories. Although they are abstract and not easy to digest, the theories make explicit ideas that seem to be on the minds of many people.

Vail’s theory about “rhizome” structures has a lot of applications today: the permaculture movement, guerrilla warfare, the Web, the peak oil blogosphere…

The idea of rhizome social structures as an alternative to hierarchy has historical roots:

  • Communitarian anarchism, as in the works of Peter Kropotkin
  • Utopian socialism
  • A strain within libertarianism, voiced by Karl Hess.
  • Jeffersonian democracy and agrarianism (as in the works of Wendell Berry).
  • The self-sufficiency and commune movements of 60s and 70s, as well as the back-to-the-land movements of the 30s and 40s, and communal movements in the 19th century (e.g., Shakers).
  • Many traditional and peasant cultures have similar elements.

Jeff Vail’s blog is A Theory of Power.


Original Article: Energy Bulletin.


Bye Bye Apocalypse: 5 Hopeful Trends

February 16th, 2009 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Bye Bye Apocalypse: 5 Hopeful Trends)

Ok, the future of doom and gloom is getting old fast. At this point, nobody can predict the future, not even Bruce Sterling, Dmitri Orlov or Warren Buffett. Even the billionaires are getting hosed by the economic downturn.  But what this really proves is we have entered a new era where the old rules no longer apply.  That prospect scares a lot of people, especially the ones who’ve gained the most money and power by maintaining the status quo.  The elite have become naive enough to think they can continue getting away with theft and cronyism without any consequences (i.e. mob revolt), but this time they’re wrong. Asynchronous power is getting stronger all the time, which is why the worlds most powerful military is loosing to a small number of decentralized insurgents. I predicted the current economic crisis back in 2002, in my post Capital, Power and Ecology, simply because business as usual is not sustainable.  It was destined to collapse, and my best guess at the time was that it would happen sometime within the next decade or so.

There is nothing like a crisis to spur rapid evolutionary growth. We are witnessing a level of creative destruction that is unprecedented both globally and historically. Yet solutions for every problem we face are already available right now. We have all the information we need. In fact we are drowning in it.

The current economic collapse, rather than being a indicator of worse things to come, is instead a wake-up call to re-engineer our society from the bottom-up to become more resilient, capable of withstanding unexpected change and upheaval. A resilient economy is also one that is more sustainable and integrated with the planetary ecology, and more responsive to the needs of all of its citizens. Economic growth can and will accelerate, but not by converting precious resources into cheap disposable products, but by making more intelligent use of the materials we already have! There is no reason why this intelligent growth (getting more from less) can’t increase indefinitely, or at least until we’re ready to leave the planet. This is what is called a regenerative economy, or what Bucky Fuller called, ephermalization, which is the idea of progressively doing more with less.

What most doomsayers like Dmitri Orlov don’t get is the process of ephermalization.  His prediction is that our only solution is to accept that we’re all going to be a lot poorer, and we should just get used to it. This is just nonsense, and he’s not helping the situation any. I suppose if wealth is defined as having tons of disposable material goods, then yes our wealth will diminish.  But is that what we really want?  Having an economy that depends on cheap imported products from China, using up more non-renewable resources powered by coal-fired plants polluting the atmosphere while inducing severe climate change, is just plain stupid.  So yes Dmitri is right, we are going to become a lot poorer in terms of Stupid Wealth, but a lot richer in terms of Smart Wealth (Please read the Smart Growth Manifesto for a great explanation of this idea).

The answers to future growth and wealth production are decentralization via localization, regeneration, remediation, renewables, and cybernation all of which results in greaterresiliency.  If we can achieve both local and global resiliency we can grow out of our technological adolescence and become a type 1 civilization.  This means the odds of our species surviving this century increases dramatically, and we can go on to become a space faring immortal civilization should that be our wish.

Here are details for the five trends I listed, and how each can change the world for the better:


This applies across the board.  Anytime critical needs are centralized the resources for those needs are subject to attack and failure.  If one power plant fails a domino effect can take place, knocking more power plants offline. The solution to creating a resilient energy supply that is resistant to overloads or sabotage is to localize power production through locally available renewable resources like solar, wind, and geothermal.  If every community had at least one power generator for every thousand people in combination with more renewable energy being generated on local rooftops, there is nothing short of a nuclear blast that could shut it all down. The more decentralized, localized and miniaturized the power generation, the more resilient and reliable it becomes.  In an ideal world all the power would be generated by the house or building itself.  This applies equally to food production, means of exchange (localized currency), manufacturing and defense. For an interesting read on localized defense, read John Barr’s Power To The People. The topics John covers are both frightening and reassuring. But here is a good excerpt:

A newly vigilant and networked public will push for much greater levels of transparency in government and corporate operations, using the Internet to expose, publish, and patch potential security flaws. Over time, this new transparency, and the wider participation it entails, will lead to radical improvements in government and corporate efficiency.

On the national level, we’ll see a withering of the security apparatus, but quite possibly a flowering in other areas. Energy independence and the obsolescence of conventional war with other countries will reduce tensions between the United States and the rest of the world. The end of oil will also force corrupt states, now propped up by energy income, to make the reforms they need to be accepted internationally, improving life for their people.

Perhaps the most important global shift will be the rise of grassroots action and cross-connected communities. Like the Internet, these new networks will develop slowly at first. After a period of exponential growth, however, they will quickly become all but ubiquitous–and astonishingly powerful, perhaps as powerful as the networks arrayed against us.


This is really the same thing as decentralization.  The localization movement is definitely picking up steam, as more people are beginning to realize that governments don’t work very well, and needs are best met locally.  The aftermath of Katrina is a classic case of government gone wrong. There is a great book called The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, which is a users manual for transitioning your community from one dependent on centralized sources of food, energy, and currency to a localized one.  A localized resilient community would be one that generates all of its own food, energy and many or most of its products. Desktop manufacturing will do a lot to bring the power of production down to the local level, reducing the current expensive and polluting means of transporting products from one corner of the globe to another. A product designed in Malaysia can then be sent online to you in Kansas, where it can be manufactured locally. A resilient community would also have a robust locally issued currency that is immune from government issued fiat currency that is fixed and manipulated by the most powerful for their benefit at the expense of everyone else.(See the video Money is Debt, for a fantastic explanation of the evils of corporate banking and government issued fiat currency). Localized currency is the way to go, and their many thriving examples, including the Totnes Pound in the UK, and the Berkshares in Western Massachusetts.  At last count there are over 1200 local currencies in the US alone. The Totnes Pound was the brainchild of the author who wrote The Transition Handbook.  He’s created a network of towns in the UK that are all making the transition to local resilience.

Another great idea is a Time Bank, where you deposit time by doing tasks for other members, who in turn get paid for your services with time they deposited. Time Banks are now operating in 22 countries and growing.  Here’s a good quote from a guy who has combined the two concepts of local currency and time into what he calls Ithaca hours, in Ithaca New York.

We printed our own money because we watched Federal dollars come to town, shake a few hands, then leave to buy rainforest lumber and fight wars. Ithaca’s HOURS, by contrast, stay in our region to help us hire each other. While dollars make us increasingly dependent on transnational corporations and bankers, HOURS reinforce community trading and expand commerce which is more accountable to our concerns for ecology and social justice.”


Regeneration is the ultimate endpoint of comprehensive recycling.  To accomplish this will require two primary fronts of advancement.  The first is new, efficient and cost-effective means to recycle materials we’ve already created, and the second is transitioning more of our products to using materials that can be recycled.  Advances on both fronts will result in a middle ground combination of materials that are biodegradable, low or negative carbon footprint specific, and/or easily recycled non-biodegradable stock.  Advances are happening on all these fronts, and those companies willing to spend money on research and development stand to reap huge financial rewards from innovation in recyclable materials and processes.

In the meantime, there are huge tracts of land that have been destroyed by pollution or non-sustainable agricultural processes.  The solution is to engage in aggressive bioremediation efforts to regenerate the soil, clean up the toxic waste and polluted water stores.  Solutions for this are already here, including nanofilters for cleaning water, microbes for cleaning and rendering harmless toxic waste, and advanced permaculture methods for bringing dead land back to life. John Todd developed what are called Living Machines, that can turn waste water back into drinkable water.  With Todd’s help the Tennessee Valley Authority has already done this with their water supply, and has cleaned up their polluted river in the process. There are many good sources for information on how to  do this for yourself. Some good starter books include Introduction to PermacultureFrom Eco-Cities To Living Machines,  Edible Forest Gardens, and Mycelium Runnng (which shows how to remediate dead soil using mushrooms).


This is a no-brainer.  If your energy supply is produced locally from readily available sources such as wind, solar and geothermal, there is no dependence on outsiders, whether it be large energy corporations or foreign states for supple of your energy needs.  The added bonus is the energy is clean, green and non-polluting, which in turn eliminates the expenses added by pollution, including health costs and remediation of polluted lands.


This involves both the continuing transformation of more of our world into bits, which can be transported and replicated at next to no cost, and the increasing intelligent automation of more of what makes our world run.  If more of our services and products are conducted and generated online, it reduces the need for material and energy costs of doing the same thing in the analog world.  Just imagine how much energy costs will be reduced by reducing dramatically the need for transportation of goods, when they can be made locally by the advancement of desktop manufacturing technologies.

Then there is the continuing network effect ov more people get online, more high quality information becoming available, and connections to people and resources becoming more relevant through semantic intelligence, peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and better social networking services.  And with Moore’s Law of accelerating returns we’ll continue to get computer power for less and less money.  Advances in all the areas mentioned above will become accelerated too, as everyone can connect with the right people at the right time, spreading knowledge, know-how and creative solutions more rapidly than ever before.

Resiliency & Anti-Fragility and Thrivability

So what’s the result of all this?  Our quality of life will improve dramatically because we’ll all be wealthier, healthier, and safer from smart growth.  This will produce cost savings in the trillions per year, reductions in pollution and far greater resiliency for our world.  Imagine the incredible reduction in cost when all of the materials that are currently being chewed up by mining, the cutting down of rain forests, and the pollution of lands and waters, are no longer needed.  Imagine if you can get almost everything you need within 5 miles of your home.  Imagine the cost reductions when food, energy and materials are all available locally through permaculture, biointensive gardening, local aquaculture, living machines, abundant clean energy and desktop manufacturing.  It’s a future worth working on, and we can start building it today.


Digital Lockdown: A Way Out

December 11th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Digital Imprimatur by John Walker is what the original internet could end up looking like if cooler heads do not prevail. As Stephen Levy describes it:

Picture, if you will, an information infrastructure that encourages censorship, surveillance and suppression of the creative impulse. Where anonymity is outlawed and every penny spent is accounted for. Where the powers that be can smother subversive (or economically competitive) ideas in the cradle, and no one can publish even a laundry list without the imprimatur of Big Brother. Some prognosticators are saying that such a construct is nearly inevitable. And this infrastructure is none other than the former paradise of rebels and free-speechers: the Internet.

However, I see a way out, which I will do my best to describe below. If anyone can see a weakness in my network (or how to enhance it!), please don’t hesitate to comment below or email me. All ideas will be considered and posted with your permission. This issue is too important not to be solved.


An internet by the people for the people.

Currently the internet is very centralized. People say it isn’t, but all the main functions, the DNS servers, and the main pipes all go through major carriers and companies pipelines. The protocols for this network are governed by ICANN and soon possibly the UN itself. More and more people are getting online through large cable and telco carriers, making access all the more centralized and controlled by the biggest players. All this is adequately described in the Digital Imprimatur above. There are good and bad reasons for the lockdown, but it still will be that – a lockdown. And there is probably little any one of us can do to stop it’s inevitable occurrence.

However, what is to stop you, me or anyone else from setting up our own seperate but parallel adhoc local network in our neighborhoods?


Using very cheap off-the shelf hardware available at radio shack anyone will soon be able to build a GNU Radio that will be able to communicate with anyone else’s GNU Radio. These radios will be general purpose wireless computing devices that communicate over the open airwaves. Regulated or not, these devices will flourish underground rapidly as there power to connect and network become apparent. It’s only a matter of time before a general purpose GNU Radio ends up in the hands of anyone who wants to get one. While the internet gets more locked down, Microsoft implements strong DRM, and even more ominous lockdowns are put in place along the network itself, more and more hobbiest will be computing and communicating with these handheld units and modified laptops and other devices. The chips running from them will also be modified, cheap and out of control. Certainly they will not be as powerful as the latest Intel or AMD processors with all the DRM built into them, but they will function as general purpose devices without any of those restrictions. Their range could easily extend beyond a mile, and I also suspect you’ll start seeing people add rogue (maybe at some point illegal) solar powered repeaters and routers on mountains tops to help one community of GNU users communicate with another community.

The beauty of this idea, is it will become very popular as people quickly realize they can enjoy the benefits of the old internet once again. People will still use the old internet to do boring business transactions and access information allowed by government censors, but when people want to do what they have always done on the internet before commercial and government interests took over, they’ll switch over to the new internet.

This new internet will not be limited to GNU radios, only that the GNU radio concept will form the kernal of the infrastructure of how it will switch and route traffic from one mesh-network to another. Premium prices will be fetched for older non-DRM motherboards and processors, and a black market of non-DRM chips and motherboards will make their way into the country like the smuggling of drugs once were. It will be big business for smaller, economically disadvantaged countries and/or underground fab plants to make these devices. And while I can see that the governments will go to war against this free internet, as incredulous as that sounds, it will be unstoppable, just as drugs have been. And as the drug war is an unwinnable proposition, so will this new war against free information. It may take many years, but the old guard  the old business models are doomed to failure. This coming dark age and death of the internet as we’ve come to love it, is these behemoths making a last ditch effort to save themselves from extinction.

Another possibility is someone could create a general purpose computing emulator that would run on top of existing locked down hardware and software. This emulator would be a general purpose computer, and as such could emulate all the old programs and OS’s. Using strong encryption and other clever stealth p2p methods, a general purpose totally free internet could emerge anyway. The argument is would such a program be difficult to everyone but the hardest core nerds, and the answer is no, because the demand for its use would be too high to keep it complex for long. This demand met by eager “shit disturbing” programmers will endeavor to bring such an easy to use program to people as quickly as possible.

Another possibility is some clever combination of these two strategies. GNU radio devices connect to DRM computers accessing the internet via general purpose emulators, which in turn route their encrypted data disguised as other more harmless data, transferring it overseas to other peoples ad-hoc mesh-networks of GNU radios in their country. If this can be pulled off, then we’d have the internet back as we once knew it.

The end result is whether we go the hardware route using GNU radios, the software route using general computing emulators, or the clever combination fo the two, it’s merely an escalation between the power of control the spirit of freedom. My guess is this freedom will continue to be sustained long enough that the old models will no longer be able to maintain their existence in the face of it. Those that are left will have to accept that some of us desire to communicate freely and there is little or nothing you can do to stop us. Sure, we’ll use your internet, which I think should be called the real darknet, to do so-called “legitimate” transactions, and will use the free “lightnet” for the rest of our fun.


Media Monopoly

June 4th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

For those of you who are following, the FCC granted the right of the media giants to further consolidate their monopoly on media broadcasting – TV, Radio, Newspapers, and even possibly the net itself.

I agree this is bad, but it might actually be a good thing too. As Kevin over at Cryptogon says:

I find this entire discussion ridiculous. Let them merge into a single corporation for all I care. What difference does it make? The media has been usless in this country for longer than I’ve been alive (31 years), so why not just let it fester into a larger pustule of lies and deceit?

At some point, people will need to realize that trying to fix something that is hopelessly broken is a waste of time. Stop consuming their nonsense. Turn off your television. Cancel your newspaper subscription. Grow some vegetables. Make some nice tasting tea. And just let the system collapse. It’s near to the end. There’s no sense in getting upset about it.

I agree. At least now, the illusion of a free press will be gone. Not only does everything appear through their transmissions to be awful – insincere, condescending, STUPID – its construct comes off as laughably ‘inhuman’ and monotonous. At the moment, the majority of Americans still tune into this crap, but for how much longer? I’m seeing the average person on the street starting to rebel against it. More people, especially the younger generation are turning to the internet for the news and communications. You can only fill people up with so much crap before their brains automatically revert to something closer to the reality they experience.

And believe it or not, I”m still optimistic that the “freenet” will continue to grow, despite any amount of consolidation, control and censorship the giants place on the existing net. Out on the edges, people and clever “hackers” will find ways to keep information flowing. Additionally, the net is not the US anymore, it’s global, decentralized and ultimately out of control.


Augmented/Participatory Freed Markets

April 23rd, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Augmented/Participatory Freed Markets)

Augmented Markets

A new post over at Headmap makes some interesting insights:

the internet is doing some disturbing things it is creating currencies and ecoonomies with no money intermediary

link economies, peer two peer file sharing economies and software development and exchange economies
this seems to suggest that in the absence of friction money makes less and less sense

in fact in the current climate many things are starting to make less and less sense

and these network economic anomalies will soon slip into the real world

destroying huge industries based on friction difficulty seperateness and centralisation

as exchange without money becomes more efficient and reliable

money won’t disappear but will have to start living in parallel with vibrant, aggressive efficient parallel economic forces

the moves towards hardware level copyright controls and crippling copyright legislation

seem more and more like attempts to artificially introduce friction into a system that by its nature is able to remove it entirely

there seems to be the fear that money itself may be on the verge of collapse and that only a radical lockdown can save a civilisation with money at its heart

capitalism is being augmented at a frightening speed.

Indeed. It is my  strong feeling that the real war afoot has nothing to do with Iraq, Oil, WMD, etc. but is instead the beginning moves of a new war between the old guard and the new, powerful, democratic and participatory freed market forces emerging in the trenches of cyberspace. What is perhaps frightening and disturbing about it, is its immediate threat to the power elite, and more specifically the drastic and scary measures they may resort to maintain their power in the face of ever decentralizing forces. Things like the DMCA, the PATRIOT Act, etc are just the first salvos in this war of the ultra-rich against everyone else. Interesting that Alvin Toffler predicted just such a war in 1991 in his book Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century.

Perhaps I’m just having one of my paranoid moments, but I suspect the ultra-rich’s real agenda is the creation of a slave-society where people are more easily controlled, subverted and eliminated as needed. I think our best chances lie in the emergence of wide-spread decentralized democracy and total transparency, rather than top-down surveillance and centralized state backed corporatism. As long as governments/corporations hold the upper hand on surveillance, secrecy and control, I’m not optimistic about humanities chances. Besides, if they’re truly serious about fighting terrorism, then decentralization and transparency are vastly more effective in dealing with it. No, all this secrecy and draconian legislation serves only to make the rich and powerful more so at the expense of everyone else.


Decentralizing Identity

March 9th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Decentralizing Identity)

I’m attempting to follow this important issue carefully. Andre Durand says the time is ripe for developers to hijack the Liberty Alliance and create the tools necessary for individuals to have control over their digital identities:

Imagine if someone hijacked the Liberty Alliance protocol (I say ‘hijack’ because Liberty was designed by corporations for corporate federation of Tier 2 identities) and embedded it in a client of some sort. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s say the client was a Jabber IM client, and imagine if we extended the personal information in the Jabber client to include things which Bryan describes in his ‘Digital Estate‘ article posted last year (which by the way was the original Ping vision). Now let’s take this concept two steps further — imagine if this new breed of Jabber client did more than just allow you make buddy-lists and chat in real-time, but actually allowed you to build your own Personal Area Networks (similar to a project we did at Durand back in 1995 called CommunityWare). To truly understand this notion, check out Ryze — a business and social networking community (website) which actually achieves much of the original thinking behind (now out of business). And lastly, what if, as Eric Norlin has suggested, we hijack email while we’re at it, putting an ’email like’ interface (many Jabber clients already have this) into the IM interface, but do so in such a way that only ‘certified’ individuals (people who have been added to your Personal Area Network or Roster) can actually send you email (thereby eliminating spam) — now we might have something both unique, new and interesting.


Cultural Decline or Rebirth?

March 7th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Over at they are having their Friday night topic on whether we are witnessing the decline of western civilization or not. Here is my response:

I think we are witnessing both the decline of the old culture and the birth of a new one. We are seeing the old structures – the old art, literature, behaviors, all of these things succumbing to rapid social and technological change. We had modernism, post-modernism, and now the death of post-modernism. We’ve had music, re-mixed music, and now re-mixed re-mixes. We have people like Eminem who embody this creative deconstructionism. We are also seeing the western (corrupted) politic going thru its last, desperate moves for total world domination. In part, this is simply nature taking its course with the old power elite holding onto that power as long as possible. That’s why they are reacting with draconian legislation like the DMCA, PATRIOT 1 and possibly II, Total Information Awareness, etc. But they won’t be able to keep up in the end with the decentralized, ad-hoc network of “everyone else”. We are witnessing the birth of global network culture that will simultaneously be both highly unified and highly diverse.

This new emergent decentralized global brain is more cohesive, more intelligent than anything before it. Assuming the old structures don’t collapse catastrophically, we will live to see the birth of a full-fledged networked culture ushering in a new renaissance of creativity and innovation beyond everything that’s happened before it, combined.


Nation States are Obsolete

March 4th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

I have felt for a long time now that the optimal functioning of nation states has passed. However, unlike globalists I do not believe in a one-world government as that would be the least common denominator of everything that is wrong with any concentration of power. Adam Greenfield has come up with what he calls The minimal compact: An open-source constitution for post-national states. Those who caught on to the potential of networks early on saw their disruptive potential to the existing power base. Networks are inherently decentralized and hierarchy flattening. They tend to level the playing field and enhance the democratic process. So far though, this promise has yet to be realized to its full potential, but I believe it is inevitable and ultimately necessary if we are to survive the accelerating rate of technological and societal change we are experiencing.

From Adams introduction:

In recognition of the apparent inability of nation states to adequately address and provide for human goals and desires in the twenty-first century, and anticipating that if anything this situation will only worsen, it is desirable to begin thinking about alternatives to this obsolescing structure.

Of interest are alternatives that are designed from the beginning to:

  • Ensure the greatest freedom for the greatest number, without simultaneously abridging the freedoms of others.
  • Permit individuals with common goals and beliefs to act in their own interest at the global level and with all the privileges afforded nation states, even when those individuals are separated by distance.
  • Provide robust resistance to attempts to concentrate power, and other abuses of same.

This paper is intended to sketch, however schematically, just such an alternative.


Next Generation of P2P

January 28th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Next Generation of P2P)

Here is some information I dug up about whree I think P2P is going. Now with the spectre of going to the federal pen, it’s only going to push the evolution of p2p to new heights.

The next generation of P2P is going to keep copyright lawyers up at night. Imagine a network that is not only immune from technological and legal attack because it’s decentralized, but one in which even the people uploading files are also immune. Additionally this network will be immune from so-called junk files, fake, damaged, or even dangerous files put on the network, by implementing a highly sophisticated and decentralized web-of-trust reputation system.

Each file is checksummed, producing a unique ID that is practicality impossible to forge. Then the peers “rate” the file. The weight of any peer’s rating is determined by his agreement with other peers. Thus you have a system which is nearly impossible to sabotage.

The first part of this solution is to break up the content into separate blocks. Each block has its own hash. As you are downloading the content, each block can be checked. As soon as you encounter a corrupted block, you blacklist that node. This can be extended such that you download different blocks of a file from different nodes at the same time, thus getting the file sooner.

In fact, what would happen if no single node had a complete file? This alone might not absolve you from copyright infringement. But suppose that in order to form each block of the file, you actually had to download multiple blocks by their hash number, and XOR them together. Yes, it might take 3 times the bandwidth to download a file, but not necessarily 3 times as long in real time on a broadband connection. So if Joe offers block 0x2857389298371987578392 of bytes that must be XOR’ed with two other blocks in order to produce the first block of the file, is Joe guilty of copyright infringement? But that same block might also be needed to reconstruct The Constitution of the United States, or the Bible or Moby Dick.

The process of obtaining a file would be to first obtain a trusted list of the block numbers you need to obtain. Then you download those many blocks over the P2P system. The blocks you obtain may come from many different nodes. You just recombine them by mixing and adding water.

So if the lawyers try to sue, whom are they going to sue? They can’t sue the individual, because they aren’t sharing or uploading copyrighted works, only a small uncopyrighted section. They can’t sue the network, because no one owns the network, as it is totally decentralized and completely impersonal.

As Br00tus said on Slashdot:

Face it, we’re always going to be one step ahead of these people. I have been working on a Gnutella client, and am familiar with what it has implemented, and plans to implement. The idea of file CRC’s was thought of almost immediately after Gnutella hit the net, but it has been implemented in a preliminary form a few months ago in Gnutella, and tigertree hashes will improve on this when they are soon implemented. Plus we have web sites like Bitzi [] (which have an open database) so that one can verify files with their hashes. Of course, they can keep coming on and spewing junk out, trying to fake out Bitzi and whatnot, but I’m confident we’ll always keep one step ahead of them. And I think this kind of dialectic back-and-forth will eventually result in a p2p network very resistant to authority, and very dependent upon free association, which I think will be most awesome.


Sovereign Identity

December 27th, 2002 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Sovereign Identity)

There has been an ongoing discussion about Digital Identities between Doc Searl, Eric Norlin and David Weinberger. And this months CIO has a great survey of which #8: Identity Crisis talks about the necessity of decentralizing our identities. It makes the very important point that if we rely on increasingly unique biometric identifiers it would only make the problem of identity theft worse. If someone is able to spoof your fingerprint or other biometric identifier, then how would you be able to prove you were you? The answer lies in giving you back control of your identity. Afterall, as long you have control over your identity, does Amazon really need to know who you are, as long as you can secure payment?

John Gilmore is also challenging identity by refusing to give his ID to board an airplane.

Freedom of Travel. I’m suing Attorney General John Ashcroft and various federal agencies, to make them stop demanding that citizens identify themselves in order to travel. Not only airports, but trains, buses, and cruise ships are now imposing ID requirements. This violates several constitutional rights. Stop showing ID whenever someone asks (or demands) it, and you will start to discover just what your rights are.

From this months CIO:

“As long as security relies on identity, then ID theft becomes an effective way of committing fraud,” Schneier adds. “And creating stronger IDs [through biometrics] only makes the problem worse.” Likewise, putting all of your customer information in one central database only heightens the chance that identifying information will be stolen. After all, it’s much easier to break into a large centralized database than small separate databases. And resourceful thieves will always find a way around the toughest security, as Ford and Experian have learned to their chagrin.

To avoid a similar disaster on their turf, CIOs should insist their company’s customer data be kept in separate databases protected by a number of different security measures. And they should push their company to adopt safer business practices that require customers and employees to use a number of different identifiers to gain access to personal data. For retailers, that might mean implementing other business safeguards, such as matching the shipping address with the home address on customers’ credit reports. In the meantime, legislation that bans the use of Social Security numbers and other personal identifiers in instant credit e-mails or letters has already been passed in California and is being considered in other states.

“If you had a dozen IDs and they weren’t linked together, now that would be difficult to steal,” Schneier says. “Decentralize, distribute. There is never one answer to security.