The Network Union

Review Of Balaji's "Network Union"

What is a network union? A network union is a cross between a social network and a traditional union, "a social graph organized in a tree-like structure with a leader, a purpose, a crypto-based financial and messaging system, and a daily call-to-action." The network union has the community building features of a social network but the operability and leadership of a startup.

The last few decades illustrate the power of social networks. Robert Putnams observed 20 years ago that people now "bowl alone", as an atomized society of strangers. Traditional communal activities such as churches, clubs, and fraternities were no longer the center of American life. For a variety of reasons, community has gradually moved online with apps like Reddit, Facebook, and TikTok. These communities have flourished, with Facebook alone boasting 3 billion users worldwide. Social networks show the promise of new tech in building vast and powerful communities, but their current uses fall short of achieving their potential.

What would it look like to level-up the social network? While the majority of social network usage lacks substance, a network union could embrace a shared purpose. Instead of a horizontal social network, it would utilize a hierarchical leadership structure similar to a startup. It could facilitate cooperation with a governance system, messaging system and ledger. To maintain sovereignty of the union, it would use encryption and its own currency. What you are left with is an organization with a top-down structure, a shared purpose, an enthusiastic member base, clear directives, and the communication and funding apparatus to pursue that purpose.

This may seem far-fetched, but the tech to create the network union exists today. With blockchain technology, a community could build on the ethereum network to offer every feature discussed. Ethereum utilizes a public and private key for each user, which enables its own currency. The same tech enables crowdfunding, encrypted messaging, and smart contract based governance. With new ethereum applications constantly in development, the technical abilities of such a community will only grow.

The blockchain provides the capability, but the union also needs legitimate leadership. To achieve this, Balaji suggests utilizing backlinks. Backlinks offer a way to verify leadership quality and quantity. Think of it as a root system, where each root connects to other roots to form networks of support. By looking at an individual's quality and quantity of followers, you can verify their leadership ability. Much like a startup founder, the leader is selected based on their ability to persuade others to follow them. This is opposed to the traditional East Coast inheritance based systems of leadership, where a legacy heir inherits their backlinks. Since every member of the network union chooses to stake their support to the most capable leader, the backlink system selects for competency above all else.

Balaji's 'Network Union' looks at the incredibly powerful social networks that exist today and their ability to create huge communities, crowdfund, organize mass migrations, and engage in mob politics. The network union improves upon the social network, harnessing that power with a hierarchical leadership structure, a shared purpose, blockchain technology, and backlinks. Once the union achieves sufficient power, it will be able to operate similar to a traditional union, negotiating on behalf of its members with large companies and even states. Eventually, it may be able to crowdfund land and establish its own sovereignty. Perhaps it starts with the daily call-to-actions we see on 1729.

Reflection

Even in this early stage, we need to prepare to defend the idea of the network state. To defend the idea effectively, we need to rigorously test its criticisms. There are two layers to the debate: the substantive layer, adjudicated by truth and evidence, and the narrative layer, which is connected to but separate from the substance. It is possible for 'false' arguments to become dominant narratives if one loses the narrative layer, as perhaps has happened with environmental criticisms of Bitcoin and nuclear power. The narrative layer is often distilled from the substantive layer, thus by rigorously excavating the substance of the idea, we can hope to control the narrative. That requires getting in front of the argument early.

There are many criticisms of the network state worth exploring, including questions of governance, membership, land acquisition, and income inequality. When discussing the network state with others, the sentiment of "capitalist tech bro bad" is the dominant thread. We already see this narrative forming in response to Prospera, which while not a network union per se is a charter city based on similar ideals.

There are legitimate questions underlying these arguments;

  • How does one limit membership to a network union, without that limitation being a form of inequality?
  • Even if some of the actors behind this movement are well-intentioned, how does one design a system that does not depend on the good intentions of its leaders?
  • How does one avoid it being coopted?
  • What determines a 'quality backlink'?

Critics will not investigate these questions rigorously - they'll be mostly shallow journalism pieces written by East-coast media, riding (and propelling) the wave of anti-tech sentiment. These already have a huge reach, so preparing for the counter-narrative is critical to the network union's success.

Answering these questions is the justificatory work that precedes the tangible work of building the community. The idea needs to be tested and packaged in narratives that can spread. We think we know some of the threads of the answer; growth is good, unions are democratizing, it's preferable to the status quo, etc. We are also aware these too are appeals to arguments we haven't produced from first principles.

In order to confidently support the creation of the network union, we need to be able to defend it against criticism. Our 'call-to-action' is to utilize the early network union to crowdsource the best responses. Once we fully excavate the argument space, the counter-narrative will emerge. We think "Win and help win" is a strong candidate as a narrative to advance the network union: compete and achieve success, then use that success to lift up others. These words are persuasive, but they can only communicate deep justification if the argumentative groundwork has been laid and spread.

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