On Autonomy—As Language & Law

This second part of a 3-part series explores the semiotics of “autonomy” & how autonomy gets formalized, normalized & legalized. Part 1 is here.

Anuj Das Gupta
Sep 8 · 18 min read

1. A Language of Autonomy

1.1. Framing Autonomy

In terms of linguistic style, there is a general style used throughout our arguments here, where we have been privileging one type of framing over another even though it might seem both forms mean the same: “removing obstructions to freedom” over “freeing”, or “unfreeing the free to not be able to use it’s freedom to unfree another” over “freeing the unfree” .

A thing and its double negation are not the same things when they are part of a non-binary-spectrum.

Such as:

  1. The sun does not rise in the west
  1. This is red
Double Negations

1.2. Expressing Autonomy

Consider the two framings (positive and double negation) on something that is held pivotal to the life and societal necessity of public blockchains:

  • Exp 2. “No one can prevent anyone from expressing themselves freely”
  • Exp 2 is framed as a double negation: Our inability (1st negation) to prevent (2nd negation) someone from doing something — As a wrong.
The expressions do not mean the same thing

Censorship resistance is not so much about speaking as it is about the act of listening, unlike freedom of expression which is focused primarily about speaking.

In any dispute around free speech, the discussions to resolve will be colored by the framing we used for the injunction:

  • Exp 2: “Did someone prevent free speech of another?”, “Can we call that act of choosing to stay silent as out of fear of getting censored?”

2. A Law of Autonomy

2.1. The Experience of Law

As a system of rules, not all systems constitute as Law. It does so if it is enforceable.

  • by the rules: complaint stance
  • with the rules: legislative stance
  • of the rules: exploitative stance
  • against the rules: antagonistic stance
  • without the rules: nihilistic stance
  • for the rules: lobbying stance

The #ExperienceOfLaw is borne at the moment the possibility of resistance occurs for the first time but is given the name of “Law” only retroactively when enforcement comes in.

Before The Fall, God’s universe was alegal, or to frame it in its theological terms, God’s universe was not His, for God had to send that serpent to be able to claim His own creation after the fall when he legitimized His judgement by banishing Adam and Eve out of Heaven.

2.2. Rechtsstaat: Blockchain State of Law

How the law related to us as citizens of a jurisdiction shaped if and how we experience the law for what is mechanistic observation living in under a rule of law, can be made to count as a legitimate experience of law if the action in question is cast in light of a higher law, such that it that endows her with the possibility of choice, whether to follow the rule or not.

2.3. Interpretive Autonomy under The Rule of Law

Living under the rule of law obliges all of us to act in reciprocal resistance towards each other’s unlawful advances as it constitutes our social duty of holding no one above the law.

2.4. The Legitimization of Our Reciprocal Autonomies

Eve’s initial thought of and the eventual desire for resistance legitimized her autonomy from G-d even before she acted on it because in that movement in her mental space lies dormant the possibility of a future punishment from G-d, something that she felt creeping under her skin without being able to articulate it as so.

  • made to pay for it (penalties, bribes, boycotts, embargos)
  • invited upon to deliberate on the rule (citizen’s advice, public referendums)
  • intentionally forgiven (Presidential pardon, clemency, sentence commutation, Truth & Reconciliation Commissions, loan forgiveness, peace & reparation treaties)
  • ignored (go unnoticed, look away)
There be Law -> To Which, I May Resist -> But It Can Always Enforce Back-> So I Chose to Resist My Temptation to Resist -> ∴ Enforcement Not Needed to be Called Upon -> Prima Facie, No Signs of Resistance

Every time we cross the street, whenever we use our bank card, the moment we are called by your name, we are experiencing the law.

On the other hand, framing the law targeting these non-human entities (such as software), makes us ascribe a sense of autonomy to these, bringing in the chicken-n-egg problem of “autonomy, hence need for law” or “being bestowed upon law, provokes one to consider resistance, thereby framing and acknowledging one as autonomous.

2.5. Crypto Law: Vive La Résistance

Crypto Law = Born-again Fiat Law

To manifest itself as an experience of law, Nakamoto’s resistance could not afford to be a chaotic one, something that set it apart from most forms of resistance. Instead, it was a rule-based reasoned out resistance, which separated the lawgic of crypto from that of the fiat world.

  1. Transactions must have signed approval from the owner of the coin, which goes in the input of the next transaction that is then signed by the new owner, thus, forming a chain of approved outputs. This ensures only the owners of a coin get to spend it.
  2. Each transaction output can only be spent by only one subsequent transaction. This ensures that the same coin is not spent in parallel in multiple copies.
  1. Censorship Resistance: Deep in the ethos of blockchains, there is the social enforcement of censorship resistance. This brings in both sides of the force of law — enforcement &/of (censorship) resistance — both of which are possible because of the politics of the ecosystem. Being able to support Wikileaks via XBT is an experience of crypto law. (Note. Crypto lawgic leverages censorship resistance, not to be confused with freedom of expression, as we argued in §1.2.)
  2. Hack Resistance: All actions (e.g., hard forks) that are taken to recover from a hack as per crypto’s moving-forward mechanisms
  3. Bailout Resistance: What started it all, the original experience of crypto law — resisting the Chancellors of the fiat world.

2.6. Crypto Law: Back to The Future

The origin of the usage of the word, “fiat” is from the Latin Vulgar Bible, “fiat lux” [Genesis i.3] meaning “let there be light”, where “fiat” translates to “let there be”. The act of letting comes one who has the power to let, the source of authority, G-d.


Crypto Law Review

A journal pushing the bounds of our legal imaginaries, on-chain, off-chain, and against the chain.

Anuj Das Gupta

Written by

Crypto Law Review

A journal pushing the bounds of our legal imaginaries, on-chain, off-chain, and against the chain.

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