“I don’t think this framing of blockchains vs law as some kind of Great Battle To Determine the Future of How Society Does Dispute Resolution is productive (and yes, I am aware that I myself used to promote such framing ~5 years ago).”

CleanApp’s Response to Buterin re: Law & Physics

The CryptoLaw debate is heating up. That’s a very good sign for crypto.

“I don’t think this framing of blockchains vs law as some kind of Great Battle To Determine the Future of How Society Does Dispute Resolution is productive (and yes, I am aware that I myself used to promote such framing ~5 years ago).”

[Vitalik Buterin, in response to Vlad Zamfir’s repudiation of what Zamfir styles as “Szabo’s Law.”]

We completely agree, and a big part of our decision to intervene in crypto discourse was precisely to dispel the counter-productive Crypto v. Law (& Law v. Crypto) binaries. See here, and here, and here — and the sum total of the effort at Crypto Law Review, including our Crypto for Regulators series. You’re a voracious reader so you know all this. But adding this for context to preempt and defuse more of the simplistic “CleanApp is for legal control/regulation/intervention” tropes.

You’re not the only one who pushed for that framing. It suffuses the Ethereum Yellowpaper, and is traceable directly to Szabo, which is why we keep coming back to him to get him to acknowledge the theoretical dead end that he crafted for crypto (for make no mistake about it, it is a theoretical dead end, as Vlad and many others have argued).

“actions ultimately dictated by (truly immutable) laws of physics”

“Laws of physics” are human constructs, and as such are socio-legally bounded and inherently mutable. The time scales at which these “laws” mutate may be so long (from the perspective of an ordinary human observer) that they *seem* immutable. But they’re mutable. Think of the most “settled,” most “objectively true,” most “incontrovertibly fixed” physical phenomena — materials science (what is H2O?), electro-magnetism (what is electricity?), optics (what is light?), and one quickly sees that these aren’t just contested philosophical riddles; these are actually incredibly complex and evolving socio-legal constructs too.

One’s ability to build a fusion reactor, or build a world supercomputer, or … — are all bounded by human value systems, roughly translated, and imperfectly scripted into things like … law.

This isn’t just one person’s subjective view of the world: there’s a huge and growing body of rigorous literature on this, including entire fields like Science and Technology Studies (STS).

It’s not clear why crypto theorists invoke “immutable physics” unless it’s just a core premise of some crypto objectivist philosophy and/or operates as a background assumption. But as an assumption, it seems totally unnecessary to the crypto project, and often, just gets in the way.

Blockchains are “write your own law” in the same way the ability to manufacture vending machines or create locks with arbitrary structures is the ability to “write your own law”; it’s the ability to write your own incentive mechanism, sure, but law continues to exist and influence our behavior alongside it.

Blockchain “write your own law” is not just incentive design, or some refreshed version of “freedom of contract.” Since the first time Szabo invoked the vending machine as a prototypical so-called “smart contract,” CryptoLaw was conceived as a self-enforcement mechanism. From a legal perspective, the most significant part of that posture is self-en-force-ment (private remedial mechanisms).

Private en-force-ment (on-chain/off-chain) is a MAJOR departure from the status quo. Even so called “private law” enforcement regimes of today, like enforcement of choice-of-law/choice-of-forum contractual provisions, or domestic/transnational arbitration, ultimately rely on public law enforcement mechanisms (in the case of cross-border arbitration, for instance, this is the mechanism of the New York Convention for the recognition and enforceability of foreign arbitral awards, etc.).

Private “write your own law [enforcement]” means RoboCops and/or radical restriction of existing contractual rights. By RoboCops, we’re not just talking about anthropomorphic T1000s showing up at your doorstep to collect on a future Coinbase margin balance; RoboCops also means self-locking AirBnB/BookLocal apartments and one of Szabo’s first non-vending SC examples, the auto-repo-auto (self-repossessing cars). As Vlad points out in the blockchain context, and as Elon points out in the AI context, these and other forms of autonomous apps can do a lot of damage.

Meaningful governance/kill switches will not eliminate potential and eventual bad outcomes, but they give a higher probability of better outcomes than autonomous blockchains without governance/kill switches. [Governance, of course, is just another way of saying mutability.] The big point with the legal plane is that “legal” already operates as a blockchain governance/kill switch.

So, no, current attempts by Szabo and others to soften “write your own law” to just incentive design (or performance-maximization/breach-minimization) go against the core premise of supposedly “self-enforcing” “supra-jurisdictional” blockchain instruments.

moderately immutabilist is at present the norm, and it’s a norm that has kept them relatively stable; departures from it have tended to be chaotic.

Your position here, and in the original response to Vlad’s blog is worth restating and dissecting. From the earlier response:

Now I personally can see that it’s not axiomatically true that doing nothing is safest, especially in the context of a changing environment (for example I continue to believe that Bitcoin’s *failure* to raise its blocksize by a significant amount in 2016–17 was a travesty and a great violation of many people’s expectations of the protocol, and one that led to more total losses due to excess txfees than the amount lost in the MtGox hack)

[Moderate immutabilism] ≠ immutabilism. [Moderate immutabilism] = mutability.

And mutability is the safest and most natural modus operandi that humanity’s found. It’s not a bug in the system; it’s a feature in the system.

In the sage words of @anjablaj —

As for putting words in Szabo’s mouth, we stand by our record of punctilious documentation and attribution. Our whole posture vis-a-vis Szabo was precisely designed to get him to put [updated] words in his own mouth. The only thing we’ve done is read him and quote him at his word, in the context in which he’s writing.

Haven’t checked out what’s being said on Reddit in this sense, or what’s being ascribed to us on Reddit in this context, but with due time, will hopefully get around to it.

Cheers, and let’s remember, the reason People-X are so cool is precisely because they’re mutants. There’s no known superhero with the super power of “strong immutability.” The reason why should be self-evident by this point.

Crypto Law Review

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


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Small NGO with a big patent urging BigTech & Crypto to enable trash/hazard reporting & open source data. "The Wi-Fi & Bluetooth of TrashTech" - cleanapp.io.

Crypto Law Review

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

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