A Generational Imperative: Democracy, Technology & a new Social Contract
Contributed by Adam Jacoby, Founder of MiVote
The western world is enraptured by its own inventiveness. Everywhere you turn, people are talking about blockchain, cryptocurrency, and the digital revolution. The assumption is that these tech advancements must change the world for the better. After all, this is a revolution that promises to decentralise life as we know it and disintermediate the existing power structures like government, capital, and information. That’s got to be good, right?
The question I repeatedly find myself asking is whether the tech activists throwing around terms like ‘social good’ and ‘social impact’ really understand them? Technology certainly has a significant role to play in the development of the social and civic infrastructure of the future, but technology alone cannot solve the greatest challenges facing humanity.
Change is both inevitable and vital for our survival. Our world is changing and the rate of change is increasing. Major systems like government and finance have yet to be massively disrupted, but rest assured their disruption is inevitable, and they know it.
The old and the new world
For one week in January, the epicentre of the ‘social good’ delusion was the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Davos was symbolic of the world we live in today. Most noticeable was the close proximity and coexistence of two worlds, the old and the new. Both are suspicious of each other, and both are convinced that ultimately they will prevail to shape the future for billions of people who are oblivious to the methods and visions of those pulling the levers of power.
The old world protagonists rely on controllable, incremental change that does not disrupt their earnings and authority. The new world upstarts are banking on a swift global uptake of tech-driven systemic disruption underpinned by new technologies that even they may or may not fully understand yet (depending on who you speak to).
I suspect both sides will be disappointed by what unfolds.
Given that I am neither a technologist nor a power broker, I was able to watch Davos up close but at arms-length to the main players. Every speech, panel, conversation, and presentation just reinforced a sense that everyone is talking about how to use technology for ‘good’, but no one was looking at the problem from an ecosystem perspective, from a systems architecture perspective.
To my horror, no one was even asking what ‘good’ looks like, who determines what is ‘good’ and what is not, and how we can deliver it with equality, sustainability and proportion.
A New Social Contract
One thing is certain, if the new decentralised revolution is to deliver meaningful social impact, it cannot have the same embedded frailties and dependencies of the systems that preceded it.
If we are to address this digital innovation through a system architecture lens, we must consider two key contextual realities.
1) The relationships between and within our systems
The first is that our financial, political and information systems are intertwined and interdependent. Each plays a role in protecting and prolonging the power of others. It should come as no surprise that banks, and as a result, the media, and as a consequence, governments, are lining up to sell the story that cryptocurrencies and the blockchain are the sanctuaries of global criminals and scammers. These same institutions use this narrative to justify cryptocurrencies being banned, blocked and attacked.
Recent slumps in the crypto market were not the catalyst for the government’s concern about them. They were the result of the government’s interference and propaganda.
Trusting the opinion of finance titans and beneficiaries of the existing financial system about the value and potential of blockchain and currency is akin to asking taxi companies advice about Uber. The only real difference is that the banking and finance industry are better placed than the taxi companies to influence governments and mass media to sell a protectionist narrative.
Of course there are unscrupulous people using cryptocurrency, just as there are unscrupulous people using cash, sitting at trading desks on Wall Street and in Parliaments. However, to accept that the whole ecosystem is a dangerous, digital Wild West until governments (at the behest of banks) are able to regulate it, is to overlook two critical factors:
- The dark web already accommodates the same shady characters that the government and the banks are warning us about. Why have the authorities not tried to regulate that? After all, the dark web is currently far larger than the crypto and blockchain communities.
- The entire purpose of blockchain is to decentralise and restrict the existing power structures from controlling the future, in the same way they have controlled the past.
I put to you that the current position of the ‘Establishment’ is not about the safety of the community, the risks associated with trading, the volatility of the market, or the lack of regulation. I put to you that this is ONLY about who controls the capital of the future.
2) Blockchain reaches far beyond finance
The second contextual reality is that the long-term societal value of blockchain is so much greater than fiat currency, cryptocurrency or financial trading. Blockchain has the potential to disrupt every element of our existence, anywhere a transaction exists (financial or not). The tokenisation of transactions will allow each transactional platform to form its own ecosystem for value creation, value measurement, and user incentivisation, which has the potential to dramatically modify community behaviour.
So how do we ensure that this immensely disruptive force is used to improve our world rather than just shift the wealth and power from one small group of people to a different small group of people? How do we make sure that more of the world is emancipated from human-created entrenched disadvantage and dislocation? How do humans ensure that our humanity is evident in the fabric of our operating systems?
For some time, Democracy (as it was defined and applied at the time) served society well. It has underpinned technological breakthrough, social enlightenment, commercial expansion and cultural tolerance. It has served as the oscillating lever between ideologies that at various times have inspired, energised, enraged, divided and united.
However, as societies have risen and vanished, economies have boomed and contracted, people have evolved and changed, our tools of democracy have not kept pace and evolved with us. There have been some superficial tweaks to our system of leadership and governance over the years but nothing that has been able to suppress the pervasive malignance that is changing the very nature of one of the purest notions of mankind; an idea that people should enjoy self-determination and that their views should be undistorted by powerful interests.
Ironically, to save democracy from itself, one must step back rather than forward. We must accept that we have been part of a multi-century failed beta test. We must embrace the original ideals of democracy and then enhance them with a renewed spirit, the benefit of hindsight and our technological capability.
We know that democracy is about enacting the will of the people, that every voice and every vote is supposed to be equal. We resolved that policy should be dictated by the greatest good, not ideological politicking or who has donated the most money. As a result of the societal construct of democracy, we know that politics should be a responsive civic duty, not an adversarial career profession. We know that people should be informed on the matters that affect their lives free from distortion, lies, misrepresentation or partisan spin. We know that we are complex beings whose views cannot be consolidated into big brand, pre-fabricated political party boxes on every issue. We know that a solutions oriented, fact based approach is the best way of solving complex issues.
The current system of governing has endured beyond its usefulness. We live in a completely different world than the one the system was designed to serve. A society that perpetually celebrates the velocity of its evolution cannot continue to govern itself under a model designed for a world that no longer exists.
Despite the obvious frailties and flaws of the governing system, the erosion of our democracy has reached a critical point. We can no longer count on the system to correct itself. The idea that benevolent people in power will come to our rescue is as naïve as is it disempowering. Our economic and political instruments have been tinkered with, recalibrated, corrupted, to ensure that those with power maintain it and those without power find it ever more difficult to exert control over their own lives.
Recent social movements including Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Women’s March and #NeverAgain are being painted as partisan issues. Accepting this narrative is to succumb to an intellectually lazy conflation. All of these movements are the result of a populace feeling unheard and powerless. These movements are borne from a governing model which allows elected officials to place ideology before the will of the people and does not require governments to know, or care, what really matters to their constituents.
So What Comes Next?
The good news is that there are practical and inspiring solutions emerging in the social contract and democracy space. Brilliant minds across the globe are dedicating their lives to these problems and they are making real headway. More than a passionate chorus or an intellectual amusement, there are groups around the world building the solutions to these challenges and implementing them into communities that are searching for a better way. Rather than extolling the virtues and sophistications of the projects I am involved with at MiVote and the work of the Social Contract Protocol, I urge you to explore the salons and chat rooms where the shapers of the new world congregate.
Although disruption of the financial and government systems is inevitable, we will get one chance in our lifetime to construct societal systems built on more generous, civil and decent terms, with these principles entrenched in the very DNA of the systems. If we do not consider the type of world we want, rather than just the type of world we are capable of building, we perpetuate the current behaviours that are doing future generations an unimaginable disservice.
The first steps in a fairer, smarter and more connected world are being taken now. Change is being driven from New York to New Delhi and everywhere in between. Be part of those first steps. Be part of the conversations that will make these spaces evolve. Be a contributor in your inevitable future. This is a revolution.
Adam Jacoby is a serial innovator with a twenty-year global history of starting fast growth businesses. Outspoken and opinionated with a revolutionary bent, he has a Masters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and studied at the Judge Business School, Cambridge University. He is the Founder, Chief Steward & Council Member of democratic movement MiVote which was a finalist in the 2016 Singularity University Grand Global Challenge Awards, a Codex 2017 world’s top 50 Innovator and was featured in the book Democracy Squared.
MiVote is a leading global democratic movement that gives you an informed an equal voice, issue by issue, on what matters to you via unique policy framing methodology and a blockchain enabled app. MiVote is not a party, anyone can choose to run on the MiVote platform to represent their community.