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Self-Governance as a Human Right

Author Marik Hazan / @marikio

(Kamaria’s name has been changed for her safety)

She was astounded no one noticed her.

White skin, dressed in all black. Rash guard, board shorts, and a burn bag with a first aid kit, water shoes, and fins. Sweating from the anxiety, Kamaria knew that the trip she’d make in several hours could end in her throat being cut by smugglers, or police kidnapping her again.

They were in a tourist district, not too far from the hotels. Moms held kids and rucksacks, while dads pointed cameras out the bus windows taking shots of Seljuk buildings and mustached Dondurma vendors tricking tourists into reaching for their waffle cones.

A few months earlier a former Turkish military man had shown her the site where she was headed. He had done so as a joke, not thinking that she would ever end up coming back. At the time, Kamaria didn’t either. It was only a while later that she realized it was the perfect spot to stand watch.

Several hours after the bus had dropped her off, she headed towards the long pier, about a kilometer away from the closest hotel. She had to wait another 6 to 7 hours before the boats would start leaving port. Watching with binoculars pressed tightly to her eyes, she would count the number of boats to undock and later warn her contacts on the Greece coastline of how many refugees they should expect.

The Failure of Government

Political and economic collapse in Venezuela, the flood of refugees from Syria, China’s transformation into a police state, and the US’s failed democracy are awakening the world to the instability of government, the corruption of wealth and corporations, and the lack of freedom for societies all around the world.

For thousands of years we’ve been attempting to iterate on a model of governance that has failed to scale to accommodate a globalized world focused on the individual liberties of humankind. And now we’re coming to terms with the consequences. Globally, people are beginning to flee in search of freedoms, peace, and resources that are not available within their homelands. We need a new model to accommodate these shifts.

In a world of borders and nation states, displaced peoples are unable to find a home neither here nor there, trusting their life to armed smugglers, floating on boats across long water highways from one coastline to another.

The Social Contract

In the 16th century, the idea of a Social Contract between government and citizens was introduced.

Individuals would give up certain liberties to the state. In exchange, the government would provide order, protection, security, and other benefits that citizens would not be able to attain on their own.

In principle this model has immense potential. A central body can establish large distribution networks, construct borders to protect citizens from outside invaders, and invest in infrastructure that small groups of citizens would not be able to build themselves.

And unlike corporations or organizations that are capable of similar feats, governments or nation states work in the interest of the voting citizen. There is, theoretically, an inherent responsibility to work in the public’s interest.

But recently there have been several important shifts. Advancements in technology have made distribution networks and infrastructure easier to build. Refugees and migrants are increasing for a variety of reasons, including global warming. And thirdly war and violence are decreasing.

These conditions create an ecosystem ripe for individuals to begin experimenting with creating their own “mini societies”.

And at first this seems like a nice little experiment, a luxury for alternative lifestyles to prosper outside of the formal state. But when we look closer at how oppressive governments and regimes have become relative to our expectations, we realize that governments are not fulfilling their part of the social contract. They are failing their citizens and non-registered residents in monumental ways.

People with disabilities are legally allowed to be paid subminimum wage. Sex workers are constantly threatened through predatory legislation. All while a host of indecipherable political jargon threatens the internet as we know it.

In countries like the United States, Australia, and South Africa, prison systems continue to disproportionally incarcerate black communities for the same crimes committed by whites. It seems that the only tool that government continues to institute is the use of force to maintain order.

Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers - Rousseau

But where are the fruits that we were promised for our liberties?

We can not experiment unregulated medicines, but are also not provided adequate affordable healthcare.

Our government doesn’t provide living necessities and then incarcerates anyone who tries to feed themselves, their families, or find shelter in abandoned buildings.

And after we have made our peace with the fact that the government is not able to provide us with what we need, we are not able to leave the country unless we go through extensive background checks and invasions of privacy.

Governments have failed in providing their end of the social contract, and if we can’t hold our governments accountable, what do we do?

Self-Governance as Human Right

Our safety, individual liberties, and freedoms are all defined by the state.

We have specific inalienable rights. And yet we are not provided a path towards pursuing these liberties on our own. In fact, they are often controlled by the state from which we are unable to escape. And the more our rights are violated by the state, the less opportunity we have to pursue them.

If we consider things such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to be inalienable, shouldn’t we be able to pursue them outside the context of a state? And if the state is the main culprit of oppression, shouldn’t our right to self-govern supersede all other rights?

Self-governance is not a luxury, it is a human right.

The movement to reframe self-governance as an inalienable human right is in its nascency. Organizations like Amnesty International and the United Nations still function on the premise of nation states, and most activists, political change makers, and human rights advocates still see the governments as not only central to their work, but the key component of change making. Identify a human rights crisis, investigate, work with lawmakers to craft legislation, and then lobby.

In the coming decades we need to start considering alternative paths. Circumventing corrupt governments to provide opportunity for communities to self organize, self-govern, and start their own societies is one approach.

There are, of course, caveats. We need to make freedom of migration a priority. Ties to land, resources, and geographically placed social connections keep us in societies that are not beneficial to our wellbeing.

And like anything, this won’t be a final solution, but the principle still holds: allow for citizens to take their inalienable rights into their own hands. Provide people with a way to circumvent the government since our governments have not been able to complete their half of the social contract.

The first step to this future is to begin to see self-governance as an inalienable right of the people. If we are dissatisfied with our governing body we should be able to break away and make attempts at our own society.

Building the Future

In the world of distributed governance there is work being done to create the political, economic, and societal systems of tomorrow.

The blockchain community is frustrated by centralization. We hate the repercussions of large corporations having control over our data, digital assets, and our bodies. And so, as engineers and entrepreneurs we want to contribute to a movement that diminishes the power of these oppressive institutions.

But governments play just as much, if not a greater, role in centralization of power. Instead of controlling servers, governments control land, borders, and behavior through the mask of nation states.

So the question becomes what can the blockchain community do to contribute to the human rights struggle for self-governance?

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country. -Franklin D. Roosevelt

Dozens of organizations are working to bring individual sovereignty to the world’s citizens. But you can’t just take one approach. You need to come at this problem from several angles.

There are essentially three types of governing bodies.

  1. Corporations and Organizations dictate how we interact with our economic systems.
  2. Governments provide the rules and regulations through which we receive basic necessities: housing, healthcare, education, protection.
  3. And, finally, societies provide us with rules on how to interact with one another through social norms, societal taboos, culture, and identity.

These three bodies together form the foundations of our socio-political-economic world.

But the influence of these spheres fluctuate which leads to immense complexity.

Take the U.S. for example. We are drifting away from our societal sphere to become more dependent on corporations. The individualism that capitalism fosters brings financial opportunity, but often skirts community building. From the government perspective we see a hyperinflation of fear, which leads to the placement of taxpayer funds into only one aspect of our public programs: defense. As a result we don’t provide healthcare or proper education and our homeless are pushed into the streets. Tent cities have become a facet of American infrastructure.

We won’t be able to implement an effective system of distributed governance unless we take a three-pronged approach, focusing on each sphere.

And fortunately, that’s how governance on the blockchain is evolving.

Corporations and Organizations When we look at corporations and organizations we see many new blockchain startups building the infrastructure to tackle this institution. Companies like Aragon lead the way, embracing the culture and language of DAOs or Decentralized Autonomous Organizations.

DAOs are entities that rely on smart contracts, pre-programmed rules that define the behavior and allowed actions within a system.

For example, you can program smart contracts to carry out tasks such as releasing funds on a certain date or when a percentage of voters agree to fund a project. Essentially, DAOs are a way to cryptographically guarantee democracy. Participants are able to vote on new rules, change rules, remove members, and come to consensus on issues which can then trigger system action.

No centralized control. No corrupt intermediaries.

While Aragon has embraced the language of DAOs, the other organizations in the decentralized governance space are essentially building variations of this same system.

Government On the government front, we see Agora working with nation states like Sierra Leone to implement blockchain based elections.

Providing an electoral blockchain solution is one thing, but convincing a government that they should use this technology is another. Authoritarian regimes, technologically outdated institutions, and highly bureaucratic offices, create resistance, fear, and distrust.

Sierra Leone was eager to provide “an environment of trust with voters in a contentious election”. As the reach of the technology grows we’ll see if other governments feel the same eagerness in creating freer, more transparent elections.

Society Both governments and corporations already have understood structures. Both are consumers of technology and though some move more slowly then others, they understand the need to “survive” by staying up-to-date.

On the societal front things get a bit trickier.

We’re not at a point where we truly understand how collections of people work or operate.

How do you deal with Tyranny of the Majority, or minority communities being shut out of the electoral process? How do you provide egalitarian meritocracy in a world that is inherently unequal and will remain so due to immense disparities in power, wealth, and stability? Do we provide more voting power to children because they will be affected by the policies we choose, or more power to experts who have a deep understanding of how social policy affects our day to day lives?

These are the types of questions that surround societal governance.

Organizations like Democracy Earth are working on providing governance solutions for individuals and communities to be able to break off and make attempts at building their own societies.

When political or economic collapse strikes a region, citizens are affected by immense instability. Delivering food and other forms of aid is not enough. Providing the opportunity to self-govern and solutions for a “government in a box” can help societies regain stability in the face of corrupt leadership, natural disasters, and collapsing nation states.

Adapting to a Different World

We’re changing. Our society, our infrastructure, our understanding of our place in the universe. And with that change comes a renewed understanding of the inalienable freedoms of every living being.

The constitutions of nation states have gone through countless revisions, opening up space in society for people of color, the queer community, migrants, and other members of minority groups. But a major problem still remains. Even the best examples of nation states and governments have failed to implement their utopian legislation. In addition, individual and societal prejudices, economic disparities, and unequal control over resources have left some populations with overabundance and others with a guaranteed death sentence.

We need to start looking past a world organized by the ownership of land, or the ownership of server power. Past borders, centralized governments, and monopolistic corporations.

At first it might seem terrifying. Allowing individuals to break off on their own, starting societies that are not under the control of a central state. But isn’t the idea of a centralized authority that controls citizens through violence and force also uncomfortable? At the end of the day it comes down to implementation. Nation states need caveats, and so does self-governance. But a restriction on our inherent right to choose our own society is unproductive, and I would argue, harmful.

Our world is moving towards a state of increased fluidity and flexibility. We need to embrace the human right to self-governance. Without an ability for communities to experiment, explore, and iterate on their dream societies, we won’t be able to adapt to the rapidly changing state of humankind.