Last month, Jack Smye and I submitted our essay to the Nesta Decentralized Future Prize Competition.
Unfortunately, our essay was not chosen for the next round of the competition, but we still wanted to illuminate others about our essay topic.
Please find below our submission to Nesta’s Decentralized Future Prize Competition on inter-linked digital organizations and institutions.
While it would seem wise to preface any conversation of digital decentralized organizations (DDOs) with a warning of techno-utopianism, it is undeniable that there is a real cause for excitement in the contemporary developments of Web 3.0 applications – particularly with how these developments could inspire an evolution in the very socio-political paradigm that underlies how we currently conceive society. Of these countless potential inspirations, we believe that perhaps the most astonishing potential of Web3.0 is not solely facilitating the adoption of the cooperative structure in large collectives of individuals working towards a common goal (i.e., platform cooperativism), but the ways in which the interlinking and networking of these very collectives will come to represent alternatives to long-standing truisms within the liberal world order.
At the ‘localized’ level, the mechanisms by which collaboration can be incentivized within a DDO (platform cooperative) have been speculated on near-endlessly – most of which are centralized around cryptoeconomic protocols that incentivize agents to work towards the collective good of the DDO (with Bitcoin being perhaps the most prominent example). These sorts of cryptoeconomic systems are then coupled with consensus-based decision-making protocols which enable the nodes of the network to make decisions without the need for traditional hierarchical structures; there are also countless examples and theorizations on this (ie., quadratic voting and liquid democracy). In sum though, platform cooperativism is essentially a discussion of collectives governing common resources with the surplus value being distributed to those who actually create it.
In a digital climate that is seemingly at an epochal crossroad that will surely have a direct impact on societal conceptions of value and work, it is hard to make the case that any discussion could be more important; we posit that we have the choice of becoming further enveloped within the logic of surveillance capitalism (data collection by centralized organizations being used to build artificial intelligence systems to solidify them as the sole proprietors of the created value), or to collectively build something more congruent to the democratic and equitable principles of cooperativism (distributing value to those who create it rather than to those who simply own the network).
And while there are many fascinating conversations to be found within this discussion (i.e., token distribution on decentralized networks serving as an alternative to the purported need for universal basic income), perhaps even more important than this localized discussion are the implications when these decentralized networks are conceived of as a decentralized system – what Ledgerback refers to as a meta-cooperative. Conceptualizing this sees the localized network as simply a node in a broader decentralized system, and we posit that the collection of localized networks governing the system under the purview of cooperativism can come to represent the formulation of unprecedented democratic institutions. And though it might seem natural to try and relegate these new institutions as constrained to the digital realm, we conclude by arguing that they are actually representative of a socio-political evolution towards a far-more equitable and democratic paradigm.