My Intentions for Blockchain Governance

“Blockchain Governance 101” was my attempt to set the scene, as I see it, of what blockchain governance is, what outcomes are at stake, and how the public can participate at this stage of the game to determine blockchain governance outcomes. This blog won’t make as much sense if you don’t read that. So do that first!

I was challenged by CleanApp to show my hand in an absolutely excellent response to my blog, and although I have to say that the compliments are a bit much, you have to read it all the way through!:

When you ask people to open up their politics and signal their preferences, when you encourage others to press their peers to “clarify their positions,” you can’t hide your own preferences.
You can’t expect others to clarify their positions if you’ve spent 3–4 years thinking about and participating in blockchain governance and you can’t clarify your own.
Here are ours; what are your preferences? Please clarify.
Don’t blame us if it makes you feel uncomfortable; Vlad Zamfir told us to do this.

I happen to disagree with the idea that I have to disclose anything, I have no problem being a hypocrite, but I can’t pass up this excellent opportunity to disclose my preferences — and my intentions — for blockchain governance.

CleanApp speculates and tries to decrypt “Blockchain Governance 101” and gets really remarkably close to the way I would explain it:

Blockchain Governance 101” sets the stage for you to understand what I am about to do, to give you an opportunity to tell me directly what you think about my worldview, and to give myself an opportunity to hear from people more qualified than I am that I’m wrong about blockchain governance. And I do think it’s possible that I have some of this very wrong, or that I’m missing something super important, and I’m counting on you to correct me.

So what am I going to do? I am going to put political pressure on my political opponents. I am going to put pressure on them to give up their pursuit of blockchain governance outcomes that I want to avoid. I will start by trying to convince them with words (English) in person and online.

If they don’t it give up, I will double down. If they relent, then I will reward them with praise, as much public praise as I can afford. If they don’t, then I’ll do my best to make them regret it. And I won’t stop pressuring them to change course.

And let me be more clear:
I intend to avoid autonomous blockchains
I intend to avoid capture of blockchain governance
I intend to avoid internet censorship as blockchain governance

I consider each of these outcomes to be dystopian (and you should, too).

Against Autonomous Blockchains:

I believe that ethics and decentralization are independent. This means that we need to treat blockchain governance as having exactly the same social obligations as the governance of centralized software platforms. I’m actually certain about this. I’m certain that autonomous blockchains will be inevitably be weaponized, and I’m also sure that it is our responsibility to do what we can to prevent people from attacking innocent bystanders using our software as a weapon. At an absolute minimum.

I’m sure that dealing with harm caused on/by public blockchains will in some cases require intervention via blockchain governance to reverse, mitigate and/or prevent. As a result, I cannot in good conscience allow us to continue to progress towards the autonomous blockchain outcome without putting up a hell of a fight. I am not going to go willingly into a future where sociopathic code is law.

Against Blockchain Governance Capture:

If the blockchain is captured, then its governance will serve the interests of a narrow group of stakeholders who are served by the governance of the capturing entity. There is no clear reason why it would serve the public interest, and the public are ultimately the intended users of public blockchains (imo). I really think that only a governance system that is open to public participation has a reasonable chance of representing the public interest. And I think it’s obviously contrary to the public interest to allow the blockchain (imo a true public utility) to be owned by anyone (or any cartel). I will fight to prevent the blockchain from being owned, and you should, too.

Against Internet Censorship as Blockchain Governance:

Why was the censorship outcome in “Blockchain Governance 101”? Isn’t it obviously bad? Yes, and I am determined to do my reasonable best to prevent this outcome, too!

But I have to say that in my opinion this is where we are headed if we continue on our current course towards autonomous blockchains. Maybe I’m legitimizing the outcome by saying this, but the internet censorship outcome is what we deserve if we allow blockchains to be autonomous, and I think we would all deeply regret it.


CleanApp’s summary is fun:

I don’t know almost anything about the law, but I replace “legal” with “political” and I think it’s not a bad summary.

I know some of you will have major concerns about all of this. And I’ll write a lot more about all this later. Hang tight. Stay well.


So what about outcomes I am not trying to avoid?

Well, I think the blockchain should be governed on a basis of global cooperation between self-selecting members and entities from the global public, and I intend to help bring this outcome about. If it turns out to be infeasible for us to govern the blockchain voluntarily using a system that is open to global public participation, then I hope that international law will govern the blockchain.

I actually cannot give almost any kinds of details, but I can tell you what is clear to me: I intend to have blockchains serve as global, public utilities with no owners, and I intend for them to be governed ethically and in a way that puts the interests of the public before the interests of other participants in blockchain governance.

I don’t think it’s an unreasonable ask! I think it’s a minimum ask. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s an easy ask. I actually have almost no relevant expertise in anything relevant so I don’t know what to expect, but I am fully committed to this goal. But I might be making a mistake, so try to stop me if you think so.

I’m only guessing, but I think it’s going to be a challenge to prevent the autonomous blockchains outcome. I think it’s going to be a challenge to avoid the censorship outcome. I think it’s going to be a challenge to govern the blockchain to deal with the worst abuses of the platform, and more challenging for it to be responsive to the global public interest. It’s going to be a challenge to establish globally legitimate decision-making processes that have the power to govern major global blockchains. I bet it’s going to be a challenge to do all this without our processes getting captured.

It might seem ambitious, but as far as I can tell it is only what is necessary to avoid dystopian outcomes while giving public blockchains a chance of being the globally-accessible unowned public utilities that they promise to be. It’s a good thing we’re in this together, because no one could do this alone!

I recognize that I hold a minority position in blockchain governance when it comes to the autonomous software outcome. See for example results (at time of writing) from the poll linked at the end of the “Blockchain Governance 101” blog post:

Or Vitalik’s perspective on the majority perspective:

I intend to help change that. I don’t think immutability maximalism is an ethically or socially tenable position given the power of (and especially the potential future power of) major public blockchains.

The global nature of the technology is actually a huge global governance opportunity that we really shouldn’t miss. (Please) don’t take it as an opportunity to ignore your independent-of-decentralization ethical obligations! Don’t let the multi-jurisdictional nature of blockchain governance lure you into thinking that what happens on the blockchain is not your responsibility.

But even if the majority agreed with me, we would still need to establish new decision-making protocols. Blockchain developers don’t want to directly take responsibility for governing the blockchain. They are the back-end developers of the decentralized server. They are engineers, not arbitrators, they don’t want the responsibility and they shouldn’t have it.

Developers can implement changes, but they (generally) do not want to have the authority to alter balances or to interfere with the execution of smart contracts. I think we need to figure out how we are going to come up with (at least) a process for dealing with malicious users and applications that has the legitimacy required for developers to implement its decisions without having to exercise too much power, but which also cannot be captured. We need this so that we can govern the blockchain without having blockchain governance take 90% of the communication bandwidth every time there’s coordination around whether to make a decision — blockchain governance can’t scale without legitimate decision making processes.

I don’t know about details, but I’m pretty sure we can do it, and I’m pretty sure we have to.

Please leave me feedback in this form! Tell me why I’m wrong!