Cosmos Café: Democracy.Earth White Paper [2/13]


From Abstract:

In a world that has succeeded in the globalization of financial assets while keeping political rights enclosed to territories, we need to build new models of democratic governance that enable humanity to collaborate and address pressing global issues. Democracy Earth Foundation is building free, open source software for incorruptible blockchain-based decision-making (voting) within institutions of all sizes, from the most local involving two people to the most global involving all of us. Uneven distribution of opportunity around the globe due to the perpetual confrontation between national governments has led to accelerated climate change, rising inequality, terrorism and forced migrations. Democracy Earth Foundation considers that the technology stack that includes Bitcoin as programmable money without Central Banks, and Ethereum enabling smart contracts without the need of Judiciary Courts, requires a new layer that signals incorruptible votes beyond the territorial boundaries of Nation-States. This transnational network will act in accordance with the personal sovereignty of its members and protect their human rights with encryption. In our Initial Rights Offering we offer a token called vote that will grant participation rights to every human with decision-making as its main function. Our proposal introduces cryptographically induced equality: as long as any person is able to validate his or her self-sovereign identity, they will receive a corresponding share of votes that is equal to the share of every active participant in the network. We define a Proof of Identity process that avoids central authority by introducing the concept of attention mining which incentivizes participants to strengthen the trust of votes by performing simple tests aimed at detecting replicants. Finally votes get dripped to valid participants under a Universal Basic Income mechanism with a goal of finding a proper equilibrium in the historical tension between money and politics. We seek nothing less than true democratic governance for the Internet age, one of the foundational building blocks of an achievable global peace and prosperity arising from an arc of technological innovations that will change what it means to be human on Earth.


Seed Questions

  • Is the paper’s claim that the blockchain structure is so robustly incorruptible valid? Is it incorruptible by principle or is it incorruptible because a number of different security processes have been rolled into the architectural framing?

  • The authors make the following claim : “Any kind of system that requires trust from participants ultimately runs the risk of having its whole structure collapsing if any authority is fraudulent” (p.7, paragraph 2). Isn’t trust built into any social system? Does this say something profound about our socioeconomic structures?

  • How does mining serve governance in a strategic way? What are the dynamics of its value?

  • Does paper’s reliance on technology for democracy (using smartphone apps for voting, etc.) leave certain participants or demographics open to various forms of coercion and disentitlement?

  • What is the longevity of the use of certain technological methods (ex: video as a verification process) In the long term, won’t this also be “beatable” by AI systems?

  • Is the analysis too optimistic and idealistic? Is this truly a realistic system?

Context and Backstory

Supplementary Material

Andrew Yang for 2020?

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OK. There are lots of spoilers here, so if you prefer to finish reading the article before reading my take on things, I’ve put this in as a couple of explodable items. Following @Douggins 's remarks, however, I do think a forum discussion ahead of time of this challenging paper may be useful.

Summary : A radical analysis of governance processes in society today, whether these be at the level of organizations, communities, or nations, and then a proposal for new, digital-age modes of governance.

I note several interesting observations :
  1. Moving elections to digital platforms under current election modes of operation is doomed to failure! Sources of failure include a built-in tendency towards corruption of the processes and a near total lack of transparency and enablement/encitement for citizen participation
  2. The blockchain structure used by monetary schemes such as Bitcoin offers a powerful architecture for governance renewal in the digital age. According to the authors, such an architecture offers a whole suite of benefits : incorruptibility, transparency, robustness, distributed (non central) nature, security, simplicity, comprehensibility, secrecy, trustworthiness, egalitarian, universal, no single authority, censorship resistant, coercion resistant
  3. One of the more interesting aspects of the analysis is it recasts existing election practices within a transactional framework - that is, votes are viewed as a special kind of transaction. This is a fascinating “rethink” rich in new possibilities and ideas about how to re-organize the process of voting
  4. This recasting also leads to an attempt to quantize the financial costs of governance. I have some doubts about using the US economy as the primary calibration mechanism for this, but the overall approach seems useful
  5. The authors rightly place encryption at the heart of the revamped process - this is not a new idea, but the particular mechanisms they have derived to incorporate encryption in intelligent ways within the larger governance framework is original, in my opinion
  6. Some truly remarkable statements that align with my own thinking about these things. For example, “The Internet is incompatible with Nation-States.”; “Identity is foundational to personal sovereignty and the kernel of all voting systems.”; Time is the only standard of value by which to test all the labour, either manual or mental, done by men and women";
  7. A fascinating set of case studies using bitcoin-like governance structures which have involved various levels of failure - therefore the new proposal addresses these issues. Among issues addressed are the incorporation of built-in incentives designed to move the operational structure away from problem areas such as monopolies, undue fragmentation, reinforcement of fake news, and other issues. They call the resulting governance structure a “liquid democracy”
  8. They address issues such as social justice; the problem of fake news; the centralization of power and authority; issues of inequality, especially as the system evolves over time; the relationship between money and war; etc.
  9. They some really interesting comments about the role of time in such a governance system. First of all, they posit two modes of voting - tactical (one off elections), and strategic (a kind of ongoing voting). And they state : “Time is the only standard of value by which to test all the labour, either manual or mental, done by men and women. And by tokenizing time and using it as the basis for allocating votes, it liquidates a possession that every member of a global democracy possesses on equal terms.”
  10. Several details of the proposed new governance structure strike me as particularly well thought out : the role of time outlined above, and the relationship to the process of accumulating votes over time (a process they call “dripping”); the focus on singular Proof of Identity and their 3-stage verification processes; the replacement of one “big brother” by lots of “little brothers” for oversight; the use of Organizations to propagate a “reputation”, and the use of a “reputation” to control the presence of false promises and fake news; assigning an increasing cost (“inflation”) to the delegation process ; the importance of vote overriding mechanisms to battle coercion; and the definition and role of a “smart social contract”.

There is so much more in this paper than I haven’t even touched upon!

Some of my questions include the following :
  1. I don’t quite understand how the authors can claim that the blockchain structure is so robustly incorruptible. Is it incorruptible by principle or is it incorruptible because a number of different security processes have been rolled into the architectural framing?
  2. The authors make the following claim : “Any kind of system that requires trust from participants ultimately runs the risk of having its whole structure collapsing if any authority is fraudulent”. This one caused me to stop in my tracks. Isn’t trust build into any social system? Doesn’t this say something profound about our socioeconomic structures?
  3. I don’t fully understand the role of mining in the new governance scheme. In bitcoin, mining is the mechanism that creates value. How is it used here? (I read the section near the end that talks about mining as a way of attending to identity, but I view this as a tactical tool - I still don’t see how mining serves governance in a strategic way).
  4. I am a bit worried about the fact that they require a person to own a smartphone to operate the new governance modes. Doesn’t that leave participants open to various forms of coercion and disentitlement?
  5. The use of video as a verification process strikes me as more robust than existing methods (character recognition of CAPTCHAs, fingerprint recognition, etc.) but in the long term, won’t this also be “beatable” by AI systems? Any verification process will rely on pattern recognition protocols, and all pattern recognition problems are probably solvable by AI, it’s what AI does well
  6. I find the analysis to be somewhat optimistic and even idealistic. Is it too optimistic? This is a very complex system, and I worry that in actual operation it may reveal perverse behaviours the authors haven’t thought about. Is this truly a realistic system? I think it’s brilliant, but have some doubts.

I found your summary of observations, sound.

I agree that questions 2, 3, and 4 in particular need addressing. (They’re all legitimate, but I also wondered about those 3 independent of you. Perhaps we could prioritize the questions along these lines.)

Two things caught my attention in the 2.5 Security section:

  • They write: "Our main goal is to deliver a system able to guarantee the greatest amount of legitimacy while empowering the most knowledgeable voices in any community. [Emphasis mine.] What does this actually mean? How are “the most knowledgeable voices” determined? Do they get/have/end up with more votes than others?

  • They list a number of security issues (2.5.1 through 2.5.5) but I don’t see how they really intend to provide for mitigation for any of them. Fake news functions, not because facts are not transparent, but rather that they just don’t matter to participants. There’s nothing technical that you can do mitigate ignorance.

Finally, I found your question 6 especially poignant. This all sounds great in theory, and I’m sure there are kinks in the execution, but this super-enthusiasm is suspect, if you ask me. My experience in the software industry showed that when you were promised wings to fly, you mostly ended up with plastic ones you could pin on your shirt. I have also found – and this seems to resonate as an undertone throughout the paper – that there is the default belief (which we also heard with Harris/Metzinger) that technology always defaults to the ethical and just and moral, and there is not a shred of evidence that this is the case.

I don’t want to come across as a nay-sayer, but when digi-geeks start waxing profusely the hairs on the back of my neck start standing. Just a touch of realism never hurt anybody.


I also had picked out that issue, but then I thought the discussion of “reputation” partly addressed it. But I agree it remains an outstanding question.

Yup, it is like they are selling something. It reads a bit like a sales pitch. I suppose, in a way, they are. But I think they are underestimating the challenges. Just to pick one issue, the Universal Minimum Income - there are lots of scientific studies that suggest this should provide net benefits to society, but resistance is still huge. I don’t see this happening anytime soon.


This was a recurring thought while reading.

While I can see how this can work in, let us say, “organizations”, I’m having difficulty seeing how it works at the supra-organizational level. They mentioned the Pirate Party here in Germany, for example, and although I applauded what they were trying to do, they had the very real problem of reaching “consensus”, let us call it, in anything like real time. Even in the simplest (and I would say, most harmless) of interviews, the “representatives” spent as much time checking their screens for continual revisions of “votes” on positions as they did actually answering simple questions. I, for one, think the pace of decision-making needs to slow down in many instances, but that isn’t one of them. One of the reasons that the party ultimately failed is that it could not deliver on any of the promises it made, regardless of how secure and transparent they were. Granted, they were operating peripherally to the current “system”, but they never became an integrated part of it, nor was there any movement of the “system” in the direction of their modus operandi.

In other words, one critical issue for me is how do they think/can such as system establish itself at a political level that makes a, let us say, societal (for lack of a better word) difference?


Added Andrew Yang to the mix above (under Supplementary Material)…looks like the games are about to begin again here in the US :roll_eyes:


I watched this video about a month ago. It helped me understand the claims around Blockchain’s “incorruptability.” This stuff is so fascinating and there’s a ton of videos out there, I feel like I am only just barely beginning to understand!


A constellation of my various, riffing thoughts spun out during the talk:

USA’s design was founded on strongly-felt principles of human self-determination in parallel with the expectation that free & wild human people would naturally overthrow shoddy governments. Today, the USA has the most powerful military in the world and an apathetic, consumerist, isolationist, screen-obsessed culture. Trump is illustrating how anemic an illusion the collective narrative of ourselves as a democracy really is: it only exists in our minds and in the mythos of our American pride. It does not exist in practice, which means: it’s already gone. It’s a ghost, a wisp of what once was, gone from disuse. We have every reason to be very afraid.

Yet the memory of an identity, of a spirit that has been misplaced but tasted in one’s youthful years, can inspire a change in behavior, habits, action. A reclamation of a democratic identity & of patterns of behavior.

My premise as a professional cooperative developer & systems designer: Nothing is perceived except when held in sentient attention; nothing exists except in practice.

“Apps are slot machines wrapped in utilitarian packaging.” - @Geoffreyjen_Edwards Slot machine mentality is permeating everything. Feeding an addictive instant gratification of minds. Speed, intensity, distraction–loss of ability to focus.

But those apps are developed to satisfy a business model. It is the business model that is inherently toxic, it produces toxic results. @madrush

How does technology hobble human agency by creating these dependencies on the “superior intellect” of AI/data analysis, versus developing, cultivating, human beings/the human condition in its full, fleshy, own?
“I want the human presence to be primary.” “We can sponsor the technology that we need to make our aspirations happen.” - @johnnydavis54

The social should augment the technological; human initiative should direct technological prowess; the Long Now should give direction to the urgent, collectively-cohesive action.
The will of the people and how we act on our own model of reality. Technology will mirror that, “it’s the THAT not the how that matters!” - @achronon

How do we learn from the feedback of our actions? Spoiler alert: The conclusion of the Illuminatus Trilogy is…
You are free to do anything and accept the consequences.

The trick is very much whether we learn from consequences.

The problem is that people import all of their conditioned biases into their decisions - governance by referendum does not ensure quality choices of humanity automatically!

@johnnydavis54 Revolutions are anachronistic. Systems evolve on the basis of how stable they are.
Safe experiments: “sandboxing” the construction of models that reflect our theories so they don’t threaten the integrity of the whole!
The art of the conversation, the art of attention. An alternative discourse event. Attracting high quality persons.

@madrush We can make art with technology. “The Internet is Andy Warhol’s quantum tape recorder.” “You have to know what you want.” to measure outcomes against intentions. Cosmos as a small organization is able to have intention and purpose.

@Douggins I’m reprinting you without your permission… in lieu of which I suppose I should seek an apology. The love of the poem you wrote compels me!

John’s sidewalk response:
a poem
shops gone…Amazon
sweepers weep…supermarket sweep
swept under the rug
sidewalks crack…smartphone screens crack
lets mend, upend…
I see technology …a platform, each square in the sidewalk
a silent stroll will become a…
(as in the end)


This was really useful, Caroline @care_save. I understand Public Key Cryptography, but hadn’t seen the rest worked out. I will probably have to watch it several times to fully “get” it… the system is quite complex.

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Even though I’m by no means a crypto-insider—though I do believe I understand the concept of a distributed ledger and cryptographic hashing—it is interesting to look at the assumptions underlying the technology. This video makes the case (which is backed up by its own white paper) that blockchain is inherently limited by the (false) assumptions of data independence and universal time. This leads to some very different rules about how value is created on these respective systems. (E.g., Holo implies a mutual credit system, rather than relying on the artificial scarcity of the token.)

Meanwhile, here is essential the same idea as relating to data attribution and personal sovereignty, but applied to the dissemination of creative works.


I find this approach, naively, more interesting than blockchain, although I’m still feeling my way into what these different techniques do. Not so much how they function, although I am beginning to get a sense of that, but perhaps more importantly, what kinds of transaction systems they enable. One of the things that bothers me about blockchain, again naively perhaps, is the idea that the blockchains get longer over time, and so increasingly hard to calculate. I read somewhere that the total cost of generating blockchains in terms of power (electricity) already exceeds the power used by many small to moderately sized nations. Blockchain is a power hog, and over time this is going to become a serious limit to its use. Is Holochain any less a power hog? Perhaps not, but I think within a sustainable value framework, we cannot simply accept these new approaches uncritically.


VERSUS the Holochain energy use:

“2.) Energy consumption. With Holochain there is no energy waste, since “mining” is done through execution of meaningful code. There is no proof-of-work, whichTh basically executing a large amount of non-sense code just to slow down the participants in the network. You earn Holos by serving holo apps, a concept that is called proof-of-service by their inventors.”

…didn’t do much research or fact checking, but there seems to be a significant difference in energy consumption between the two. And yes @Geoffrey_Edwards… definitely needs critical eyes on the various unknowns.


This conversation has really got my mind revving—high beta brainwaves, with a faint but steady undercurrent of delta. The more I think about BitCoin, the more insane the unerderlying solution to the problem of ‘consensus’ seems—i.e., a single, immutable, universal chain of data blocks, validated by ever-increasing, non-productive computation (and thus resource consumption).

I have heard contrary arguments regarding the real electricity usage of the BitCoin blockchain, and how it’s not really all that bad. Regardless, doesn’t something seem fundamentally flawed when so much meaningless work is required to maintain data integrity in a ‘trustless’ enivornment? I can only trust YOU if I can trust the ENTIRE BLOCKCHAIN. That worries me—especially when we consider that only a few SUPER-nodes on the chain actually get to mint new coins, and must be in constant (purely profit-seeking) competition with one another to apply superior computing power. What could go wrong?

I worry about Democracy.Earth building its whole platform on this foundation, and I must say, perhaps naively, too, that on the face of it the Holochain approach makes much more sense to me, since its premise is that I can trust YOU without having to trust all the data ever written to the system. I can trust you because of the integrity of YOUR OWN data chain, and vice versa. The system lets me know that you’re in integrity with yourself. Thus we can establish trust locally rather than relying on absolute consensus, which is an enormous computational task.

There is a profund difference in approach here that seems important, and I wonder how it relates to Democracy.Earth’s plans for “proof of identity.” The whole notion of recording a video of yourself, which your friends or sponsoring organizations need to verify is REALLY YOU for you to receive your drip of votes, strikes me as improbable.

Instaed of presupposing a’ permissionless’ environment of maximum distrust, forcing us to put our faith in the absolute decentralized network (which in a weird way becomes its own kind of mega-central authority, no?), what if we could inherently trust each other as integral agents in trusted local contexts, which can still be linked to the greater network? This, to my novice mind, seems the approach of Holochain.

Would anyone be interested in following up on this talk with another one (maybe 4-6 weeks out, to leave breathing room?) on the Holochain ‘green paper’, or the Holo project in general? I would love to compare and contrast with Democracy.Earth. And I would also like to try to be more explicit about what we ourselves would envision as desirable technology for the selves we are, and the work we care about.

Perhaps we need to more deeply explore what it means to be “networked individuals,” who can exist (co-create, socialize, exchange) in trust-full, decentralized (non-absolute), yet holistic relationships…

And what does (deep) time have to do with it? And money? Should we all be conceived as having equal time, whose value is pegged to the minimum wage on a linear (block on top of block) monophasic construct, which becomes the basis for our participation rights?

What conceptions will allow us to make music, write poetry, walk on the sidewalk again, meet our neighbors’ eyes and smile?


A holo-up sounds like fun. Sign me up.

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Is the video of this cafe coming out soon? I had hoped to take a meta-perspective on that event, before the next cafe happens. I feel that the slow mind is not nourished and I am rushed between cafes before the themes in the old cafe was fully developed, it is already over. My memory is evaporating.Ugh.

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Sorry for the delay, John. Busy week! But the video has been uploaded and is processing. It’s posted above now, and should be available for viewing in a few minutes.


I’m watching your video. Very good. I think you basically talked about the main ideas of Tocqueville, William James, Byung Chul Han, Lipovetsky and Sloterdijk.
Every time I come to post something I think, “I have to write at most 10 lines” and now I was going to post the text, it was going to be giant.


A year ago or so I connected with the MiVote folks, who are also connected to the Horizon State folks; both of those groups are working on “civic tech” type interventions. They have both been very successful so far. MiVote seems to be focused on reducing corruption by getting the money out of the system. They have done a lot of work on processes for developing sound policy as well. And Horizon State is working on the blockchain angle.

curious how is the same or different which I have been using for a few years.

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Thanks Eduardo for noticing meta-patterns, the organization of patterns. We need that kind of sensitivity. Please do more of that.

I picked up on Tocqueville and William James ( I am a vibrating membrane) but dont know well enough the other figures you mention. Although I have read a lot of Sloterjdik I am unaware of his influence. I am sure the group is drawing upon many references from different fields and so it is like a mosaic of references and life experiences that we bring to the topic. The movement between speech and text(s) and public and private is of great interest to me and that is why I like to reflect upon the video when it is posted. There are levels that are understood better when the video comes out that are lost when ‘in the moment’, where the fast mind is usually dominant. I am very interested in the emergence of new/old metaphors and like to collect such data.

Hopefully, the interplay of previous cafe videos could link up with future planning of discourse events and the ‘We space’ gets more self-reflexive. The I that is We. Moving from a first person to a second or third is important and this is neglected in the technocratic kinds of solutions that are most often generated in these kinds of conversations that I find creates a narrow focus. We tend to try to solve the problem at the level of the problem ( Einstein?), ‘we’ like speed and we try to make it go faster. We become enamored of the next gadget, and we forget how important it is to touch with the mind important others. This is deemed ‘magical’ and unimportant. We skate on the hyper speeds of technology, lost in the surfaces, no depths, no sustainability, no wisdom. More trash in the sea than fish is the result.

Some processes, like pregnancy or baking bread or painting a self portrait with water colors, can’t be speeded up. And that is why I invited the group to consider the metaphor of a porch and rocking chairs…slow mind…rocks and trees…good neighbors…being peaceful with what is happening…

I learned how important that value is for me, how to coordinate faster and slower tempo-rhythms in our public discourse. I find this a challenge as we are dominated by speed, innovation, and increased competition for shrinking resources which is unraveling our societies as we suppress slower and relaxed and deeper dimensions of psyche/soma.

My big research question that comes out of my review of this last cafe is, With all of this knowledge of fast and slow rhythms, what happens next?

What is the difference that makes a difference? ( Bateson)

Who are We that We can make a difference that makes a difference?

What comes to me, as I struggle with my meta-questioning, is that We would be Janus faced, we would be able to sense forwards and backwards at the same time.

Other creatures can do this. How else could a caterpillar coordinate a walk across a leaf? What can we superior humans get from observing the small and quiet co-evolving creatures of this planet?