National Security in the Blockchain Era

in #anarchy6 years ago (edited)

Security can and must change as society evolves. This truth has never been more apparent than the present day: Trump’s ascendancy has brought old alliances into question, and the unraveling of the European Union seems more possible than ever. The trend towards centralization -- of kingdoms becoming states, and states aggregating into superpowers, seems to finally be reversing. Decentralization seems to be on the rise. We can see this in the refocus on national and local interests, but also in technology that empowers the smaller players on the geopolitical stage.

Blockchain technology can be understood as the next iteration of the radical force of decentralization we know as the internet. Blockchains allow us to share, process, and control information in a way that is distributed. There is no single point of failure in a blockchain network because it resides in thousands of computers across the globe, providing some measure of invulnerability against traditional forces of power. Blockchains are not just a permanent record, but their data is secured through encryption.

With this radical technology in mind, we can re-evaluate one of the fundamental assumptions political science is built upon. Namely:

Internal and external threats will always best be minimized by a state’s monopoly on violence

The United States’ behavior undermines this assumption even if does not fully refute it. Violent forces, even if they are sworn to protect and serve, are always capable of being misdirected; of creating the same violence they are suppose to prevent. We can see this principle at work in the epidemic of police violence, in which the centralization of power has prevented justice from being served to the offending officers, creating a feedback loop in which police feel invulnerable to prosecution.

Similarly, the Department of Defense has been engaged in offensive operations. While the U.S. military has certainly deterred invaders, their actions have also generated a horde of enemies. Such repercussions are the inevitable consequences of bombing any city; of propping up any unjust leader; of siphoning off any region’s natural resources.

So while it can be argued that police and military forces minimize harm from would-be negative or criminal actors and elements in societies both at home and abroad, this argument overlooks how these forces create harm in their own ways.

What is the underlying motivation for criminals and terrorists? Is humanity simply incapable of living in peace? Or is this just a passing phase in humanity’s evolution?

Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard, goes against the doomsaying trend by pointing out that human-on-human violence seems to be declining. Both murders and war-time casualties are at the present time trending downwards. Despite the media’s focus on violence, the reality is that the planet is increasingly safer. This is an uncomfortable truth when we consider how U.S. military spending continues to rise while police forces are becoming increasingly militarized.

What is at the root of this trend? Why would a species seemingly constantly embroiled in conflict be moving away from a pattern of behavior that has been present for millenia? Perhaps one reason is that the threat of force has become increasingly powerful. We saw this in the Cold War, in which the threat of nuclear violence minimized direct conflict, placing it into proxy battles rather than direct confrontation. On the micro-level, the perceived threat of crime scene investigation teams may be deterring people's violent tendencies, but the danger of slipping toward a Stasi-era secret police power structure corruption remains a hazard.

Just as essential to this trend towards peace is an uplifting trend spanning the globe. Humanity’s existence has historically been accompanied by scarcity - a physical condition ranging from minor discomfort all the way up to starvation. As technological improvements have brought about huge surpluses of food, we have seen the start of an era of abundance. This abundance has reduced humanity’s violent motivations. Without the very real possibility of going hungry, there is much less motivation to steal or join an army. Phrased another way: Would there be so many middle-Eastern terrorists if the USA had fully converted to renewable power in the 20th century?

The transition from scarcity to abundance has not been seamless. Elite entities lose their power when the resources they maintain a monopoly over become widely accessible. We have witnessed this in the concerted effort of fossil fuel companies to inhibit the development and adoption of renewable energy sources. With this power dynamic in mind, we can start to understand why police have become increasingly militarized while violence has declined: to maintain power relations by enforcing scarcity.

Artificial Scarcity

In the U.S.: There are six vacant homes for each homeless person. 40% of food goes uneaten while nearly a sixth of the population struggle with hunger at some point each year. Would these inequalities be so problematic without a police force coupled to unjust laws?

The shift from scarcity to abundance is inseparable from the trend of decentralization. With a scarcity of resources, centralized powers develop naturally as self-interested actors battle to maintain control. With an abundance of resources, individuals become more powerful, capable of determining their own fate and choosing their associations.

Blockchain technology is upsetting the balances of power. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin enable people to exchange value outside of the banking system. If both the employer and employee are open to using cryptocurrency as payment, then there’s no need to use fiat currency. In other words, banking corporations may soon be obsolete and income tax is becoming increasingly voluntary.

Blockchain’s assault on the power of traditional states is manifesting in other ways. Self-styled digital states, such as BitNation, are providing some of the same services as governments in a decentralized, global manner. BitNation has already started providing identification and notarization services, with dispute resolution services in development. As blockchains are a permanent record, secured by cryptography, the same level of security one could expect from a government transaction can be replicated digitally.

It may seem unlikely that these digital states could ever provide the same sort of security that traditional states provide. But decentralization is a powerful force: already a handful of apps such as Cell411 are seeking to provide alternatives to police force. Users can choose to issue an alert to their friends or even nearby strangers if they face an unsafe situation. In neighborhoods where violence is likely to come from the police, these tools may provide the most effective way of minimizing harm.

Similar solutions may eventually stitch together militias in a way that prevents opportunistic bandit kings or invasions, without the need for a central authority to monopolize all violence. Decentralized Autonomous Organizations - computer code running on an immutable and permanent blockchain - may eventually be used to orchestrate and fund militia and guerrilla forces in a way that is nearly invulnerable to state actors. Dictators should take heed.

Traditional states are facing a dilemma: do they take a reduction in their income in stride by reducing or eliminating their services? Or will they struggle to maintain their grip on power, by trying to outlaw these new technologies? We have already seen mixed reactions in how countries handle Bitcoin. Some such as Vietnam and Estonia have embraced the technology while others such as Bangladesh and Ecuador have made cryptocurrency ownership illegal. As digital nations grow in prominence, traditional states will either integrate these new technologies or risk becoming obsolete.

The geographical monopoly on violence afforded to states is toxic to humans, creating situations so dire that people are compelled to become refugees or terrorists. As power is distributed to many groups - at local, state, and global levels - human security will increase. Global groups can exert pressure on unjust state actors, and local communities can shield residents from abusive states. While many established powers may not relinquish control peacefully, the decentralizing force of the internet and blockchains is permitting humanity to pull itself up by its own bootstraps; to create a truly global society based on abundance and trust rather than the threat of force.


Excellent post. Out of all the issues we face, this has probably been the biggest one on my mind the past couple years because I think the police and the military are two of the last institutions left that will hold the state together, they are the two institutions that people will be the least likely to want to give up - especially conservatives who claim to be about small government, but in reality worship state power in the form of police/military. It's a complicated issue, I hope we can get thousands or millions of people participating to figure out a solution. My other concern is that if the United States for example led the way in creating decentralized national security... what would happen with other superpowers like Russia and China. It seems as though they all need to be decentralizing on parallel timelines otherwise that could be dangerous as well... Are you aware of anarchist movements in countries like Russia or China and if so, what kind of growth they're having?

I don't really know about the anarchist movements in Russia or China but I would be fascinating to hear about what's happening on the inside. In many ways the need for this revolutionary technology is more needed in these oppressive regimes where dissent is punishable so DIRECTLY (here in the US it is more subtle). With blockchain technology, a decentralized, autonomous organization (DAO) could provide resistance to the State, making it so that there is no "head" to chop off: no bank accounts to freeze; no leader to imprison. I'll be exploring this idea more soon in the future!

Minor Correction
Estonia does not welcome Bitcoin at all. I fought a whole court case against the Estonian state - which was trying to ban it for all practical purposes. The case went all the way to their Supreme Court, which rubber stamped the state's actions against Bitcoin. Bitcoin remains heavily restricted in Estonia.

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