The Ledger is Already Distributed

The ledger is already distributed. All that is left to do is connect it.

Much of our thinking around distributed ledger technology (DLT) is backward. Personal information should be stored locally on personal hardware devices, and served to those who request it, not stored in centralized databases under an associated, yet disparate, user id.

Public blockchains, like one for land or car registry, for instance, or any other transaction for that matter, should be the repository for the associations and outcomes of said transaction. For example, a hash on a public blockchain may reflect that KEY XYZ transferred TOKEN 123 to KEY ABC. How much about KEY XYZ, TOKEN 123, and KEY ABC is made available is up to those who have a stake in the transaction choose to reveal.

All this not only already exists but also occurs in both our digital and real life. The missing link is connecting the distributed ledger of our personal information with the public ledger of our social interactions with other entities.

We’re Living in Someone Else’s Movie Set

To a child, this world of toys and cartoons, every artificial meme and construct, all the things that influence them and create their world view, is theirs. It belongs to them. What is strange about this is that, although they assume it, they had no hand in its creation— it was imparted to them by a bunch of 35 year olds in a design studio somewhere.

When I was a kid, the world as I knew it was made up of Sesame Street, Lincoln Logs, and Fisher-Price Little People. Later that became Lego, Star Wars, and Dungeons & Dragons. Those things made me the person that I am today. What I didn’t know, couldn’t have grasped, was that there was some 30-something somewhere imagining all these things for me. If I had, I would have thought it was a little weird. Why is this old guy making kids’ toys?

Of course, who else is going to make them? The kids themselves can’t, obviously, so somebody has to. Thing is, the vast majority of companies aren’t out to craft some grand milieu. They wanted to derive profit Z, saw need X, devised solution Y, and took it to market. What the sum total of this activity meant in terms of mise en scene, let alone the effect that living in such an environment has on the human psyche, rarely enters into the equation.

But couldn’t it? And, more importantly, shouldn’t it?

When profit is the only motive, so many other things just get left by the wayside. There just isn’t room for them. Wouldn’t it make more sense, rather than externalizing all these costs and their associated unintended consequences in order to make a profit, to turn the model on its head?

A better way might be to ask the question — if we can accomplish this thing exactly the way we want to, the way that we think is best for everyone, achieves the most ideal outcome, minimizes the downside i.e. external costs/unintended consequences, and maximizes the return on resource/energy investment, will it still turn a profit, or at least be sustainable?

If life is a movie, then the built environment is its stage and the artifacts of daily life the props, and we the directors, production designers, and cinematographers framing and creating it. Now imagine your favorite film, its carefully calculated construction, the attention to detail, and compare that with what you yourself are creating in the world. Hopefully there is as much thoughtful consideration given to your work as there was to theirs.

Jobs and People Talking About Them Should Be Avoided

Be very wary of anyone talking about jobs or the need to create them. Jobs are vestigial organs of the capitalist era and are no longer a relevant concern for any reasonable person. Anyone speaking of them should be considered suspect. Real leaders speak only of livelihood and the work that needs to be done. A job means that someone is using you to accomplish their ends; the livelihood you derive from accomplishing those ends is a consequence, an unnecessary byproduct, a cost that the corporatist would prefer to eliminate – in fact, has a fiduciary duty to minimize. Yes, there are jobs, in the sense of a specific project that a construction company might bid on, an encapsulated endeavor to accomplish, having finite specifications and a beginning and an end. But the notion of jobs, as a requisite interface between human beings and their livelihood, is archaic.

Extinction Rebellion Isn’t About Climate Change

It is funny how the universe delivers us all the right things. Or perhaps it is just our penchant for recognizing patterns that makes it seem so. In either case, it is remarkable how often the signals come through the noise exactly when we need them to.

Only recently I began thinking how the outcries around climate change and mass extinction were actually manifestations of a greater longing, that of a need to transcend our previous modes of social organization — tribes and kingdoms, empires and nation-states — to create a new, planetary entente, one that treated the rest of life on earth, not as competitors, but as fellow stakeholders in a common enterprise.

Then I came across this:

“Such problems both require and provide opportunities for learning new ways of problem solving as a global society.”

It was in a paper titled “Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels” by Kan Chen, Richard C. Winter, and Michael K. Bergman, published December 1980 in the journal Energy Policy. I would never have known anything about it were it not for the fact that Google served a Scientific American article that referenced it up to me. The first two sentences of the abstract alone are enough to make one place their head in their hands and weep.

If present scientific information is reasonable, the world is likely to experience noticeable global warming by the beginning of the next century if high annual growth rates of fossil fuel energy use continue. Only with optimistic assumptions and low growth rates will carbon-dioxide-induced temperature increases be held below 2°C or so over the next century.

I first heard the term ‘global warming’ in January 1990. We were just pulling into the small town in northwestern Montana where I grew up, having spent the holidays visiting my father’s family in southern California. My brother Jeb, an avid skier, was looking out the window of the ragged Ford van my dad’s band used to haul their equipment around, his profile silhouetted by the reddish glow of high pressure sodium lights. There was hardly any snow.

“God damn global warming,” he said. I was stunned. I had never heard him swear.

Global warming. I didn’t know what it was, precisely, but I had heard it mentioned enough times, had collected enough data somewhere in the back of my mind, that I understood what he was referring to. But I was 17, and much more concerned with getting together with my girlfriend after being gone for ten days than how much snow was on the ground, or why. I believed in peak oil and thought that would be the first catastrophe that our petroleum fueled economy would visit upon us. Cars were woven into the very fabric of American society, especially for a teenage boy growing up in rural Montana in the latter part of the 20th Century, and there was no reason to expect we would abandon them.

But still. My brother’s words haunted me. Global warming. He seemed so sure of it.

My brother Jeb is a scientist, and he doesn’t talk much. When he does, he is usually correct, at least in the sense that he has his facts straight. Unlike me, he doesn’t draw many conclusions. Once, I asked him to make a judgement on a matter of ecology, one that he had been studying for the previous five or so years. His response: “Need more data.”

As it turned out, he was correct in attributing the lack of snow to global warming. Not only that, he was referencing a scientific theory that was already a decade old, at the very least, a well-documented one that had very little need for ‘more data’. This wasn’t knowledge I should have had some vague recollection of. It was a fundamental law of physics underlying the current, past, and future existence of life on earth.

And yet I still don’t think that global warming is what this is really all about.

(By the way, I don’t call it climate change, and I don’t think it was a good idea to pivot away from the original term. Climates change. The issue at hand is that the earth is warming, beyond that narrow (Overton, for those buzzwordy among us) window for which the current crop (yes, I did that deliberately) of life forms on earth is adapted, which will likely cause another ice age following a brutal period of excessive heat. I don’t know if changing it was a PR play on the part of the science community or a psyop on the part of the sequestered energy industry, but, in either case, we should go back to global warming. And we should repurpose Nancy Reagan’s infamous ‘Brain on Drugs’ ad in doing so. “This is the Earth. This is the Earth on sequestered energy.”)

There was a time, when we lived as tribes, that, should you range too far from the group alone, you stood a high likelihood of encountering another tribe and being either captured or killed. Later, that fear expanded to include assault by army or boat, culminating in the threat of a thermonuclear weapon (or precision drone strike) incinerating you without your ever even knowing it was there.

Somewhere in the middle of all that (right around that atomic bomb point, in fact), that fear went from being a valid one, to being absurd.

There is never going to be another global conflagration. I have said this elsewhere, and you may tire of hearing it, but I will never tire of saying it. They aren’t my words, I borrow them from Dwight D. Eisenhower, who presided over the last great war to end all wars. A cliche, except this time, it really was.

“The only way to win the next world war is to prevent it.”

— Dwight D. Eisenhower at a rally in the Civic Auditorium, Seattle, Washington, October 17, 1956

During World War Two, and certainly throughout every single conflict we engaged in since, we traded with our enemy. What this means, in an economic sense, is that this wasn’t a war that needed fighting.

Fast forward to today, and we are so entangled in a web of global supply chains and overseas markets that a world war would not only be unthinkable, but infeasible. Who would ally with and supply whom, and to what end? And who would fight it?

In times past, we were limited in our knowledge of the world outside our own by a singular limiting factor, the horizon. We had notions about what was on the other side of the mountains or the sea, but the only way to test their validity was to physically move beyond that horizon. Today, we not only know what is on the other side of the Pacific Ocean (it’s Asia, in case you were wondering. I just looked on Google Earth), we can observe it remotely in real time, or at least get eyewitnesses accounts (the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming — they should be there in 18 hours or so).

“What we do not understand, we fear. What we fear, we judge as evil. What we judge as evil, we attempt to control. What we cannot control … we attack.”

— Author unknown

The thing is, we understand just about everything, at least about what’s lurking over the hill. Thus, we have nothing to fear, nothing to control, nothing to attack. The Chinese or Russians have no more need to fear our attacking them than we do their attacking us. Again, the preeminent Dwight D. Eisenhower:

I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.

Which brings us back to global warming. Our concerns about global warming are as much about the potential for it to shake this final and tenable peace as they are about its very real physical dangers. That existential threat — of crop failures or an outbreak of some virulent pandemic — posed by climate change is real, but the potential for violent conflict brought on by fears arising from that threat, aroused or otherwise, even more so.

But does that mean we should arm ourselves and prepare to defend our shrinking coastlines, flooded crop lands, and drying wells from hordes of climate refugees fleeing even worse off places? Or better yet, launch a preemptive strike and rid the world 3 billion CO2 spewing East Asians? I realize there are voices in the crowd, loud ones, crazy ones even, that say ‘yes, that, exactly’. But the answer is no.

What we need to do, have to do — what I would argue we truly long to do — is reach out, despite our fear of the unknown (because we can never really know what is going on in the minds of people halfway around the world, even with the technological wizardry of CNN and the International Space Station at our fingertips), and extend the olive branch of peace to say, “we understand that we share this world with you and we want to figure out how we can best do that”.

This, more than anything, is what is driving movements such as Sunrise and Extinction Rebellion and whatever similar such movements in Russia and cloistered China and the Muslim world call themselves. The concern isn’t with global warming. It can’t be; we’ve had 40 years to do something about that and have done nothing but make it worse. The concern is with missing the opportunity to finally free ourselves from the fear and distrust and competition that have so long shackled us and to begin crafting a collaborative commonwealth that does justice to the magnificent gift that is planet earth and the existence of life upon it.

The rebellion isn’t about stopping climate change, even though that has become the latest in its rallying cries. The rebellion is much older than that, easily dating back to the times of Christ and Buddha, probably to the very dawn of civilization itself. It is an expression of our collective desire to move beyond these governments, these oligarchs, these nationalists, these fascists, these cultural norms and primeval instincts, to realize our true nature and answer the call for love and kinship that resounds within us.

Power Is the Problem, Not Privacy

Originally, this piece began as a response to Tobias Stone’s article Your Privacy is Over, but apparently, in addition to dark places to hide, Mr. Stone also enjoys exercising the power to squash dissenting opinions. And since responding to articles on Medium is really just a vain attempt to get noticed anyway, it’s probably best that I simply post it here.

If you haven’t read Stone’s article, please, give it a read (and some claps, if you’re into that shit). It’s super paranoid, defeatist, and great. For some context, I’ll summarize.

Soon quantum computers will be able to access and analyze everything about you, whether you posted it voluntarily or it was scraped from the giant Data Warehouse of Pervasive Surveillance in the sky. To quote,

“Not only will you have no privacy in the future — any privacy you thought you had in the past will vanish as well.”

While I agree that our current society is unfamiliar with such a paradigm, I struggle with the idea now circulating that privacy is the default, that we are somehow losing something that was previously inherent to the human condition.

In actuality, the reverse is true. Early societies lived almost wholly without privacy. And they were better off for it. In terms of a well functioning society, utter transparency is preferable to total privacy.

Now I grant that the situation to which the esteemed Mr. Stone alludes is a somewhat different dynamic than that of a small tribe of nomads. Still it seems that what he is really saying is that a tiny cohort of elite will be able to know everything about all of us, and that they will use that knowledge to their advantage. Which is an entirely different issue than whether or not complete transparency is a good thing.

The question then, in my mind, is not how we might conceal our imprudence, but who are these individuals and entities we’ve enabled to weaponize our own actions against us? And why are we allowing them this power?

Again, to quote Stone,

“Ultimately, everything will be tracked by the state, connected by ever more sophisticated algorithms, run on ever more powerful computers, until dissent becomes impossible and there is no escape. How do you oppose a system like that?”

By refusing to accept its legitimacy, for starters.

As Mr. Stone points out, this is the new reality, and it’s not going away. But it should be noted that these are our actions we’re talking about, and we should be accountable for them. In this sense, pure transparency is a benefit to society. The literal eye of God, motivating us to be the person we know we should be. It’s a mental construct humans have utilized for millennia, only made material. I’m not convinced I need to be afraid of it. And I certainly don’t believe that the solution lies in creating ways for people to avoid it.

In a Motherboard piece, Jason Koebler makes the case that we should, if not actively safeguard it, at least not naively cede our genetic code to large, centralized data stores. While this is generally wise advice, what it does more than anything is illustrate the real cause for concern. From a biological standpoint, our DNA is an immutable fact. It cannot be meditatively altered or changed, post conception, even if I wanted to. It is who I am. So why should I fear its being common knowledge?

Because someone might use it against me.

This is the issue we ought be focused on, not privacy. Why do we condone, if not actively substantiate, a society where such behavior is tolerated? A society in which these types of activities are not only allowed, but requisite and rewarded?

This is what concerns me, not the likely disturbing abstract of my personality that could be created from my Google search history. Surely any true friends of mine will grant me that minor indiscretion, and, in fact, already do.

Getting Back to Normal is the Last Thing We Need

When I think about the coronavirus pandemic, my mind often wanders to what I would be doing did it not exist. Going about my business. Continuing to be a cog in the machine. Perpetuating the status quo.

Is that what we want?

In our rush to get back to “normal”, are we perhaps overlooking the possibility that normal is precisely the problem?

Personally, I don’t want normal. I never have. And I certainly don’t want to get back to it.

Have you ever considered the impetus behind the massive appeal of the troves of aspirational media on the internet – photo blogs, Tumblr, Instagram? These microcosms of alternative reality – cosplay, virtual reality, van life, nostalgia. Could the source of their allure be because we find the real world, the one we have literally constructed around us, completely unfulfilling?

Ever since we ceased having to constantly struggle to merely survive, there has existed the opportunity to create, with intention, a built environment that doesn’t only meet our basest needs, but actually serves to evoke within us positive emotions – inspiration, creativity, courage, joy.

I have long considered what might result from the following experiment: ask everyone to render, in whatever medium they chose, their ideal landscape. The image they see when they look out their window, gaze upon their home or neighborhood, walk out their front door.

I suspect the vast majority of them would appear strikingly similar.

In my mind, there exists an image of a perfect world. I often think about what keeps me from realizing it.

When I watch scenes on the news or video clips captured on smartphones on the internet, I am struck by how unnatural and uninspiring the settings I see featured in them appear to me. Gray. Monochrome. Uniform. Concrete.

Contrast this with the image that we imagined above. Or any image from your favorite influencer or visual artist on Instagram. 

Do the two images evoke similar emotions in you? I doubt it. 

So why not? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?

The coronavirus has brought the “all stop” to the economic juggernaut that my wife and climate scientist Dr. Steven Running told me was utterly impossible and potentially disastrous. With that achieved, getting “back to normal” is the very last thing I want to do.

We All Want to Change the World

There is no love lost between the boomers and me. I couldn’t explain it better than this, so I recommend the read if you care to understand my reasons. But I have to give them credit for one thing. When it came right down to it and the game was on the line, they put their money where their mouth is and changed the fucking world.

It might be why they did little to impress afterward. Maybe they figured they had triumphed, that the revolution was complete. Maybe they felt they had done their part and deserved the rest. It must have been incredibly taxing, altering the human narrative as they did. Perhaps it took it all out of them.

1968 was the single most pivotal year in modern history, comparable only to 1945, the year when the boom began. For the boomers, at least the cohort I’m referring to, although many of the principal actors in ’68 were actually born years before, it was their Midway, their Stalingrad, their Ardennes, literally their Khe Sahn. It was a turning point in the war.

The list of achievements that year is too long to do it justice here — 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apollo 8, ASC II, hypertext, The Beatles’ White Album — a litany of innovations that defined the next 50 years. But none of them hold a candle to what was truly accomplished. For all of its subtext, Planet of the Apes doesn’t fully capture the political and social upheaval that marked 1968.

It’s telling that current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was sworn into that same office in 1968. The corollaries between that year and this — a conservative political climate committed to the restoration of “law and order”, black athletes protesting entrenched racism, a long standing American military occupation of foreign soil, nationalist politicians speaking out against immigration — are numerous enough to give pause. There is one marked difference, however. When the powers seeking to maintain the cultural and economic establishment they aimed to dismantle came out to crush them, rather than sit around and complain about the status quo, the boomers actually took to the streets and did something about it.

And they had every reason not to. One by one, the leaders of their movement, beginning with JFK in 1963, had been assassinated, often right before their eyes. Their government, society at large, even their parents, were all aligned against them. They were literally attacked, jailed, beaten, shot. And still they struggled on.

Compare that to today, when, faced with levels of inequality and injustice that rival the days of serfs and emperors, the best we can muster is a hashtag campaign on social media. It’s sad really. Every attempt at moving forward, at creating the level of fundamental shift such as the boomers achieved in 1968, is consumed from within, sold out before it can even begin to assume its true potential. Sure, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates went corporate, but only as a means for achieving their greater goal, that of enabling others. The money just followed. Gen X spent no time at all devolving the internet into a commodified caricature of its original intent. Those attending the current analogue, cryptocurrency and blockchain, with their arguably greater capacity for moving humanity into the next epoch of prosperity and enlightenment, didn’t even wait that long.

Could it be that we are incapable of such conviction? That this is one of those things, like so many others, that the boomers neglected to impart to us? Can we hope to regain the fortitude necessary to persist in the face of seemingly insurmountable social, economic and cultural forces, to endure suffering, almost certain failure, maybe death? Is it possible that, as they did in ’68, we need the boomers to take it to the streets, that we might actually need Joe Biden to show us the way?

The problem is, I don’t think they have it in them. And it’s not just my personal “hang-up” with the boomers, to borrow a term they popularized, that leads me to say this. They have told me so themselves.

“We really need the college students of today, and the Gen Xers of today, to take over the world, sooner rather than later,” climate scientist Dr. Steven Running informed me during a recent podcast interview. “Because I have to admit, my generation doesn’t have enough guts to make the changes, they’re too wed to the fossil fuel life, and I think we’re more of the problem then we’ll ever be the solution.”

Still, I wonder if we have the courage, or the skill set. Because, on this golden anniversary of the Year of Protests, the very same war rages on, and we’re not in the streets, and least not like the boomers were. We’re still wed to the same systems — political, social, economic — the majority of which are completely incongruous with our new global civilization, to say nothing of the ecosphere, and I see no indication that we’ll change. It’s clear that, as demonstrated by the successful memes of Brexit and MAGA, all we really want is for things to return to some romanticized vision of the past.

So now we’re putting it on the next generation to save us. But the trouble is, even if the college students of today were to heed Dr. Running’s exhortation, we’re asking them to do so while bound by a straitjacket. We make up the system, the framework, the infrastructure in which the millennials and their younger counterparts are forced to operate. Their generating the impulse necessary to change its momentum would be challenge enough even with our cooperation, let alone when half the available energy is either at rest or actively opposing it.

In other words, this is hard fucking work. No disrespect to Dr. Running, who is still in the trenches, but we’re going to need all hands on deck. Because, unlike the boomers, we’re not merely upending a prevailing culture. What we’re dealing with isn’t just a change in mindset, although that is still an important part of the equation. We literally have the entire apparatus supporting our existence to remake.

Prior to 1968, it was okay to treat people like second-class citizens. It was okay to exploit developing countries through imperialist policies and military action. Those practices were de rigueur. Post 1968, it’s no longer okay, but we continue doing so because our system requires it. And that system is what we have to change.

For all my personal animosity toward the boomers, I readily admit we’re indebted to them, and not just because they gave me life. They spawned an entirely new breed of idealism, one that advanced the notion of equality beyond de facto to make it a priori and then extended it to the rest of the living and non-living systems as well. They altered our very expectation of how the world should be. Quite unlike the virtual nihilism we practice today, the boomers actually believed they could make a difference, and, in 1968, did everything in their power to see that occur.

But this is 2018, not 1968, and it’s high time we manifest that expectation in reality and make incarnate the ideals that the boomers fought to enshrine. Arguments that these things take time or that we must work within the constraints of the current system are worse than denial or outright refusal, only serving to highlight the fact that, while we recognize the need for action, we intend to do nothing about it. Largely because doing something quite likely means enduring the personal discomfort, hardship, and pain that we are currently externalizing to someone else.

Our predicament only becomes all the more vexatious with the realization that there is no one to turn our anger on, no establishment to rail against, no others. In 1968, the battle lines were clear — a new and progressive counterculture united against the forces of an old guard overtly and conspicuously intent upon ensuring the continuation of its ways. Today, we are the establishment, begrudgingly upholding the status quo through a mix of fatalism, apathy, and the understanding that the only confrontation we can expect to have is with ourselves.

That is not to say there is not an established order, a prevailing modality that shouldn’t be assailed and dismantled with the same ardent fervor and resolve as the boomers afforded segregation. There is. It just isn’t going to present itself in the form of us against them. This time around, it is us against ourselves.

Still, we shouldn’t fear the fight, if only to prove to the boomers that we are as capable of driving change in 2018 as they were in 1968. That the generation who tore down the Berlin Wall isn’t about to let another go up. That our policy of non-participation really was a calculated strategy, not a mere attempt at avoidance.

So what does the fight of 2018 look like in real terms? At its core, it revolves around our putting outcome and purpose back in the driver seat and relegating the pursuit of profit to an impetus, rather than an end unto itself. More concretely, it’s about devising solutions to fundamental problems rather than those created by our failure to do so or our desire for distraction. And it means coming to terms with the fact that we really are one unified global community, no matter if we want to be or not.

There is absolutely no chance that we are not moving beyond this present state. It is inevitable and, at the current rate of change, will happen sooner than we think. The only matter up for debate is whether we want that future to resemble a scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation or one from Soylent Green. It’s a catechism we cannot avoid, and, it fact, the question has already been posed. About that, there is nothing we can do. Determining the answer, however, is entirely up to us.