The Network State by Balaji Srinivasan

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Network State in One Sentence
    1. A network state is a highly aligned online community with a capacity for collective action that crowdfunds territory around the world and eventually gains diplomatic recognition from pre-existing states.
  2. The Network State in One Paragraph
    1. A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognized founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, a consensual government limited by a social smart contract, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition.
  3. The key idea is to populate the land from the cloud, and do so all over the earth. Unlike an ideologically disaligned and geographically centralized legacy state, which packs millions of disputants in one place, a network state is ideologically aligned but geographically decentralized. The people are spread around the world in clusters of varying size, but their hearts are in one place.
  4. You can’t really learn something without using it. One day of immersion with a new language beats weeks of book learning. One day of trying to build something with a programming language beats weeks of theory, too.
  5. While a political consumer has to pick one of a few party platforms off the menu, a political founder can do something different: ideology construction.
  6. Start a new society with its own moral code, based on your study of history, and recruit people that agree with you to populate it.
  7. You might think these One Commandments sound either trivial or unrealistically ambitious, but in that respect they’re similar to tech; the pitch of “140 characters” sounded trivial and the pitch of “reusable rockets” seemed unrealistic, but those resulted in Twitter and SpaceX respectively. The One Commandment is also similar to tech in another respect: it focuses a startup society on a single moral innovation, just like a tech company is about a focused technoeconomic innovation.
  8. Microhistory thus has its limits, but it’s an incredibly powerful concept. If we have good enough measurements on the past, then we have a better prediction of the future in an extremely literal sense.
  9. Macrohistory is the history of a non-reproducible system, one which has too many variables to easily be reset and replayed from the beginning. It is history that is not directly amenable to controlled experiment. At small scale, that’s the unpredictable flow of a turbulent fluid; at very large scale, it’s the history of humanity.
  10. Bitcoin’s Blockchain Is a Technology for Robust Macrohistory
  11. For Navier-Stokes, for example, we can divide these trajectories up into laminar flow, turbulent flow, inviscid flow, incompressible flow, and so on, to describe different ways a velocity field can evolve over time.
  12. That’s how rich the dynamics of inanimate objects are. Now compare that to the macroscopic movements of millions of intelligent agents. You can similarly try to derive rules about how humans behave under situations of laminar good times, turbulent revolutionary times, and so on by studying the records we have of human behavior — the data exhaust that humans produce.
  13. And that’s why historical heuristics exist. They are strategies for distilling insight from all the documents, genes, languages, transactions, inventions, collapses, and successes of people over time. History is the entire record of everything humanity has done. It’s a very rich data structure that we have only begun to even think of as a data structure.
  14. So: in the 1800s you wouldn’t steal because God would smite you, in the 1900s you didn’t steal because the State would punish you, but in the 2000s you can’t steal because the Network won’t let you.
  15. The point is that sometimes Network > State (which is new), and sometimes State > Network (which is what most people expect), and the competition between these Leviathans will define our time.
  16. Synthesis: The Network/God One important synthesis that deserves special mention is the “Network/God”: a Network God, an AI God, a GPT-9 or DALL·E 10 that gives instant, superhuman answers to difficult questions using the knowledge of all of humanity. After all, people already do confide to Google as if it were God, or at least a confessions booth. In the 1980s there was a popular children’s book called Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and you can imagine an app version of this where people ask a given AI God for advice.
  17. That god need not be a general AI. It could encode a specific morality. It could be tuned and trained on particular corpora rather than the general web. What would Jesus do (WWJD), in an app? The Chinese Xuexi Qiangguo app could in fact be seen as an early version of this — “What would Xi Jinping do?” — though one could also have decentralized versions. What would Lee Kuan Yew do? What would David Ben-Gurion do? What would George Washington do? What would the people you respect advise in your situation? A language model trained on their corpora — on all the public text and audio they’ve emitted over their lives, which could amount to many millions of words — may achieve something like the sci-fi episode where people are revived by AI in an app. There’s already a v1, it just needs to be augmented with a VR simulacrum. And even though this kind of thing is painted as negative in media like Her and Black Mirror, it’s really not obvious that getting interactive advice from Lee Kuan Yew’s app is worse than getting it from Lee Kuan Yew’s books.
  18. You want to recruit producers, not consumers, and for that, you’ll need a purpose.
  19. The key concept is that much of America’s control circuitry has evolved to live outside the formal state, thereby making it resistant to displacement by democratic election. They laud “democracy” but avoid it in practice, through dual class stock, tenure for their bureaucrats and professors, tax-exempt compounding for their foundations, and ideological purification of their organizations
  20. People have talked about zombie Reaganism, but in this scenario a new coalition would be finally popping into view. And it’s a totally different carving of the political spectrum than the Reagan era. Rather than nationalists and capitalists (the right) against internationalists and socialists (the left), it’s internationalists and capitalists (left- and right-libertarians) against socialists and nationalists (left- and right-authoritarians).60 That Realignment would be the Network against the State. The authoritarians would outnumber the libertarians domestically, and have the institutions on their side. But the libertarians would have stronger individual talent, as they’d draw the iconoclasts, and they’d also draw support from the rest of the world.
  21. Because they don’t think about cycles, they don’t think about curves. They live on a kind of Flatland, except rather than being flat as in the sense of two-dimensional, it’s flat as in the sense of a curve with zero-derivative. But as Ray Dalio has noted, things may not stay flat in historical terms for long. As such, the blue and red statists may be in for a rude shock. Using the lens of the Leviathans, they really think their God, the State, can never fail.
  22. All of this is true. Nevertheless, a key realization for a tech founder should be that a significant fraction of people want moral progress. Just as much as the technologist wants to get to Mars, a large chunk of society wants to feel like the good guys fighting in some grand cause. And if you don’t give them that cause, they’ll make one up, and/or start fighting each other.
  23. In short, once we see that a tech founder builds a startup company to effect economic change, and a political activist builds a social movement to effect moral change, we can see how the startup societies we describe in this work combine aspects of both.
  24. Yellow highlight | Location: 2,495
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  26. Pendulum of history
  27. The point is that in any holy war, the left is the word, and the right is the sword. It’s the priest and the warrior; you need both.
  28. The left programs the minds. The priests and journalists, the academia and media, they imbue the warriors with a sense of righteous purpose. They also justify the conflict to the many bystanders, convincing them to either not get involved — or to get involved on the warriors’ side. In this concept of left, the priests transmit a revolutionary zeal that justifies the war against the opposing order, blesses it, consecrates it, says it is necessary and virtuous, motivates the warriors, boosts their morale, and turns them into missionaries that can defeat any mercenary. The right furnishes the resources. They bring the warriors themselves, the farmers and the miners, the engineers and the locomotives, the rugged physicality, the requisite hierarchy, the necessary frugality, the profit and the loss, the determination and the organization, the hard truths to keep a movement going that complement the moral premises that get a movement started, the point of the spear that prosecutes that holy war.
  29. A group using right tactics often has a deficit of zealous meaning, and is hanging onto a ruling class position while forgetting why they need to justify it from scratch to skeptical onlookers. Conversely, a group using left tactics often has a lack of hard-nosed practicality, attacking the ruling class without a concrete plan for what to put in its place come the revolution. Forming a left/right fusion that’s informed by these concepts is quite different from what we typically think of as a left/right hybrid, namely passive centrism.
  30. Communities are Causes First, Companies Second
  31. By focusing on just one issue, you can set up a parallel society with manageable complexity, as you are changing only one civilizational rule. Unlike a political party, you’re not offering a package deal on many issues that people only shallowly care about. With the one commandment you are instead offering a single issue community, and attracting not single-issue voters but single-issue movers.
  32. The token of the DAO would be optional – it wouldn’t be meant to be some massive new thing like Ethereum. It’s just a way to record who contributed time and/or money to the startup society, and how much they did. People would give in order to get, a bit like StackOverflow Karma. And those with more money than time may buy the token to support those in the guild with more time than money.
  33. But it’s bad if you can never disconnect from the internet. That’s why apps like “Freedom” are so popular.
  34. Why is it so important to introduce one commandment rather than zero or N? The short answer is that you don’t want to write something as complex as a social operating system from scratch, and in fact others will prevent you from doing so. But you also don’t want to avoid innovating on a broken society. So introducing one (1) tightly focused change at a time in a startup society with opt-in citizens allows testing of the new commandment.
  35. Today’s world is becoming tripolar. It is NYT vs CCP vs BTC. That’s the American Establishment vs the Communist Party of China vs the Global Internet.
  36. Bezos-style invariants
  37. Note:See link
  38. So, using the strong-form scenario as a base,
  40. The Internet Increases
  41. Michael Solana’s post JUMP is quite good on this topic.
  42. Once you see this pattern you can see it everywhere, and you can look for those spaces where we’re still stuck at the v2, at the scanned version, where we’ve taken the offline experience and put it online, but not fundamentally innovated.
  43. Repulsion within a network is a key dynamic that can lead to network defect. The idea is that two or more subgroups within a network have such conflict that it reduces the global value of the network for both, until one of them defects to another network. So it’s a network “defect” in both senses of the term: a failure and a political defection.
  44. Take the existing hukou system of internal passports, the WeChat system of red/yellow/green travel restrictions based on health status
  45. These cover the six essential parts of the state: borders, population, central government, international sovereignty, diplomatic recognition, and the domestic monopoly on violence.
  46. But for now, what is a nation? Perhaps it’s just a group that can convince enough other people that it’s a nation.
  47. The state is a political and legal entity, while a nation is a cultural, ethnic, and psychological identity. The state is bound by laws and threat of force, while a nation is bound by sentiments and linguistic/genetic/cultural alignment. The state is top-down and hierarchical, while the nation is bottom-up and peer-to-peer. And, as above, the state has a fixed territory, a government and sovereignty over a territory, while a nation typically has shared language, culture, and/or ancestry.
  48. Lee Kuan Yew: The state should provide its people with the maximum enjoyment of freedoms and respect the family unit. The state should embrace multiple nations yet demand loyalty
  49. This, again, is quite different from current “social” networks like Twitter, which give individual scores for likes and followers but no team dashboard, no way of setting and achieving tangible goals as a group.

What I got out of it

  1. A fascinating concept that was fun to learn more about. As interesting as the book was, how Balaji structured the book – allowing it to be updated continuously – was just as interesting to me. Learn more here