ENTER THE DOUGHNUT
on developing a socio-economic construct in which values become the commodity for opportunity, instead of visibility
In a liberal society, publicity is important. If you want your ideas to matter, you need to make name for yourself. Because in a free market, publicity is what creates opportunity. Even if you don’t like to participate in the race for attention, there’s really no way to escape it, because the ones who do participate have a big advantage over the ones that don’t. With the prevalence of social media, this is not only true anymore for companies, but also for individuals. We are all under constant pressure to narrate our own lives. In order to get a sense that our lives have purpose and meaning, we feel obliged to constantly let others know that we exist. Individuality has become a rat-race.
I long for a way of engaging with the world, that is able to undermine this need for constant visibility, and the information overkill that it is causing.
TECHNO OPTIMISTIC ECOLOGICAL CONNECTEDNESSCould technological progress be the fix? Let’s explore:
One particular alternative for the neo-liberalist economy that we have right now includes blockchain technology. This technology could be used to develop a socio-economic construct in which values become the commodity for opportunity, instead of visibility. This may seem hard to grasp at first, but please bear with me as I explain how it works along the way:
Let’s say that I am a textile designer that wants to help build a ‘Doughnut Economy’ after the idea of Kate Raworth. That is an economy that keeps within the ecological boundaries of the earth and within the ethical boundaries of humanity. By using blockchain technology, I could design a new economic logic to do that: I could make a smart contract that says my textile designs can be used by companies that work according to concepts of the Doughnut Economy. Since every step of the production process could be monitored in the blockchain, my smart contract would be able to check if the people that want to use my designs qualify for this. I could be able to selectively allow people to use my designs. You could call this ‘conditional commoning’. The people using the designs I created, could pay micro-taxes to me, and to other members of the value chain that we would be collaboratively creating. The end product could be made by a whole bunch people and companies who agreed upon the same values. This would offer a way for people who don’t know each other, to cooperate on the basis of their values and beliefs, and to form non-hierarchical, distributed organizations. It would be a very flexible way of getting things done. All with the help of a globally distributed ledger. Cooperation could happen completely anonymous, but there would still be proof that everyone in the value chain would have followed the rules we collaboratively agreed on. I could make a deal with someone without meeting, and by doing so we would be able to not only exchange money, but also values. (This could help build a Doughnut Economy, but unfortunately it could also help build a nepotist or fascist regime. More on these potentially dangerous side effects later.)
REGULATION WITHOUT LOSS OF PROCESSING SPEED
Blockchain might also be a very good solution for solving some persevering problems that come with a free market economy, namely the fact that exploitation is very profitable. What is making it hard to counter this dynamic, is the fact that regulation decreases economical processing power. If a market is free, more purchases can be made, money can roll quicker and the market will be quicker to adapt to crisis. In an economy where there is much regulation and taxes, the processing speed goes down, because big amounts of money are reserved by the government and cannot immediately be allowed to roll freely. And this is potentially harmful for the economy. If regulation slows down the machine and competition is the defining factor, countries that don’t have much regulations, could have an economical advantage and might become more powerful later on. The blockchain will have the potential to change this. It will be able to regulate without losing economical processing power. In a distributed ledger operating at a personal scale, artificial intelligence would be able to quickly calculate the ultimate routes for cashflow that would cause overall growth without depletion of resources, and without loss of speed. Values could even become a commodity of trade, and could become the metrics that define the metabolism of our society. Needless to say, such a system would need very good FLOSS (free libre open source software) tools to make sure that opportunities will be equally distributed throughout society. Which might become a problem later on. You can just look at the internet to figure out why. As it has turned out with the internet, distributed not necessarily equals non-hierarchical, and this is also true for the blockchain. Eventually, whoever owns the intelligence, will have the most influence.
STOP WORRYING YOURSELF AND LET THE SYSTEM DO THE JUDGING
Large scale implementation of blockchain technology would be able to make a Doughnut Economy work at a personal level. For everything that happens in the economy, an algorithm could act as a judge whether something would be good for the Doughnutness of the economy. We wouldn’t have to worry ourselves. We wouldn’t have all that Protestant Christian guilt hanging over our heads all the time obliging us to feel guilty, because the system would take care of it. But here is where I get to tell you about my concerns. There might be some serious side effects: A thoroughly implemented distributed ledger would also be a perfect environment for behavioral engineering. Imagine that a company would become very good in measuring values and connecting you to the people and processes that have the same values as yourself. And what if it’s AI could become so good at this, that it would actually be able to shape its own deterministic logic out of our values and beliefs. This is really giving AI the power to make an executable out of our values and behaviours. This could be what saves us from the environmental crisis, but it’s also the perfect infrastructure for a police state. The thing is, altogether: The better the systems, the bigger the problems.
CREATING A CULTURE OF RESPONSIBILITY
By designing a system that is complex and advanced, a side effect could be that it would diminish our own need to think and take responsibilities ourselves. That would be an alienating tendency at the least. Just as our neo-liberal, consumerist culture is alienating us from a lot of things. And I’m afraid we are not going to solve that by adding more metrics to the system. We also need to address the problem as is. If technology is amplifying our capabilities and if egotism and selfishness are what is trending in our society, than that is what technology will amplify.
So we shouldn't be focussing too much on creating technology, but more about creating a culture around technology. This culture should be about taking care of each other. Not in a distributed reputation system or social engineering kind of way, but in positive and hopeful kind of way. What would it take to design an economy that thrives on altruism, that would give us a sense of purpose, and would open us up for each others suffering, but also for each others joys?
The architecture of the blockchain is very beautiful, and offers interesting opportunities for explaining the history of a product. It could offer a framework for independent craftspeople and designers to work together on projects bigger than only their own identity or studio brand. That is why I have designed a paper mockup for a blockchain based collaboration system, but it doesn’t have the digital and it does’t have the encryption part. In fact, It only has the chain structure. It’s very simple: It has beads and paper and good old fashioned trust among people is used as a guarantee. It consist out of a ‘wise’ contract*, which is the doughnut pledge: And a ‘wise’-chain, which is the doughnut chain. I will be explaining in a video how this works.
This paper blockchain is way more personal than a digital blockchain, but still you can do a lot of the same things with it as with a normal blockchain. The most important thing that is different is the way that trust is organized is in the system. Which is, in this paper blockchain, just a matter of personal trust. What I hope this paper version of a blockchain will achieve is that it will help value the interconnectedness of people, ideas, and objects.
Marleen Andela - May 2018
* I know the term 'wise' is a bit presumptuous, but so is the term ‘smart’ in smart contract.