In 2017, the cryptocurrency ecosystem catapulted further than ever into the mainstream. A mixture of curiosity, admiration, and fear has forced the elites in the finance and technology world to recognize the vast potential of decentralized technology like Bitcoin and Ethereum to reshape our world.
And yet, even amid a media frenzy and torrent of capital inflow, the decentralized technology movement has yet to penetrate another crucial group of power players: those in politics.
While organizations like the Coin Center are doing great work in education and advocacy, and some tech-savvy lawmakers are beginning to organize, crypto-politics is still seen by many as a niche area.
This will not be a permanent state. Like the rise of the internet and mobile technology, the proliferation of decentralized software will continue to supplant old products, businesses, and communities until one day we find ourselves in a new world entirely. Anticipating and accepting that these advancements are inevitable is a prerequisite for formulating a believable vision for the future of society.
Some of this thinking is already being done — but because the philosophical underpinnings of the cryptocurrency movement lie with libertarian-minded cyber-punks, it has largely been a collection of techno-utopians, anarcho-capitalists, and Republicans who have been articulating their vision.
This leaves an enormous vacuum in crypto-political thought on the Left. While many in the anarcho-capitalism camp believe that the development of non-state currencies and “unstoppable” decentralized applications represent an existential threat not only to the efficacy but the entire existence of governance, I disagree. I believe we can accept the inevitability of decentralized technology without giving up on the fundamental liberal belief: we are bound to one another not only by smart contracts, but by a social contract. As such, I believe that this technology was not meant to just destroy our legacy economic, social, and political institutions, but rather to give us a framework from which we can build these institutions anew.
While I am optimistic about the future, I also take issue with some aspects of the techno-utopian crowd. There is a view among some that governance is, essentially, just another system to be engineered — and thus the creation of new digital governance models is better left in the hands of a software engineer than a political scientist. What they fail to see is that even a decentralized, digital society will require both social and computer engineering. And I think we will need both. After all, one of the most brilliant innovations in decentralized governance came from a group of lawyers, farmers, and businessmen 200 years before the computer even existed. Why should it only be developers and the technically-literate who should participate in debates around digital constitutions? Governance stems from values and human judgements — these choices are not a fixed problem to be solved, but a philosophical one.
In the days to come, I look forward to exploring these issues from a fresh perspective. I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do hope to start the debate. After all, what is the future, if not what we create of it?