The new Alchemists
We have reached a long awaited point in the unfolding evolution of the Bitcoin/blockchain/crypto/Web3 (“Web3”) ecosystem: the DAO moment.
In its simplest form, the DAO moment is the point at which the Web3 ecosystem turns its full attention on the problem space sometimes known as “governance” or “coordination.” More esoterically, it is the moment when the evolution of Web3 shifts from an unconscious, game theoretic, causal, “biological” process to a conscious evolutionary process.
The timing of this moment is fortunate as we (humanity as a whole) are currently beset by a pantheon of “wicked problems.” Problems like ecosystem collapse, the accelerating breakdown of social and political coherence, and the event horizon of exponential technology. These are “wicked” both because they represent world-historical risk (i.e., they are very important) and because they are strictly insoluble using our current “problem solving” toolkit (i.e., are very bad news).
Historically, humanity has made use of three different tools (and their various admixtures) to solve problems. The first, oldest and primary, is our indigenous form of collaboration. We might call it the group, tribal or “team” mode. It involves a relatively small group of people working together closely, combining their different perspectives, knowledge and capacities to become capable of solving problems much greater than any could have individually. This tool is powerful and forms the foundation of all human problem solving. However, thus far it has been limited in its ability to scale. As anyone who has built a team knows, as you add more people, things get more and more complex. Keeping five people coherent is much harder than keeping two in real collaboration. And even world class teams tend to break down somewhere between forty and one hundred and fifty people.
The other two tools more or less emerge to help us scale coordination: institutions and markets. Institutions are formal, hierarchical and bureaucratic. They can (usefully) scale to tens of thousands of people and have tremendous capacities for solving and managing many different kinds of “complicated” problems like sending a man to the moon and back and extracting, refining and distributing gasoline around the world. They also have a set of known limitations, most notably that they become bloated and corrupt as they age and that they cannot perceive or address “complexity” (and, therefore, invariably produce many “externalities” in their operation). [Samo Burja has been thinking and writing lucidly about institutions.]
Markets make use of simple signaling mechanisms (i.e., money) to scale enormously (perhaps without limit) and unlock the vast “computational” capacity of whole populations. This allows them to solve problems far beyond the scope of institutions, most famously steering the economic activities of national populations. They are equally subject to a number of known failure conditions, some of which have been very well tagged by ‘Slatestarcodex’ as “Moloch.”
These three tools have been combined and refined over the centuries to help humans address our problems (and, of course, to create entirely new ones). But we are now reaching the limit of their possibility. Try as we might, we cannot take responsibility for ourselves, come into right relationship with our technology and occupy our proper position as “custodial species” of the whole of the natural world using teams/tribes, institutions or markets. If we are to navigate the 21st Century in any orderly fashion, we need to find a new tool. It is possible that DAOs are the solution.
Possible, but by no means certain. Despite the enormous success of primordial DAOs like Bitcoin and Ethereum (yes, these are DAOs), we are still in the stone knives and bearskin phase. Hence the “DAO Moment.”
Now is the time to become Promethean. To refine the essence of all that we have learned and hoped for and combine this in a crucible of conscious intent. In a word, to become DAO Alchemists. As the chill of “crypto winter” begins to descend upon us, the season for “going inward” comes again. As winter kills off the parasites and quiets the frenzy, we begin what might be the final and most important phase of this evolutionary journey. The moment when Web3 becomes consciously self-governing in service of the whole.
For the critics: a rebuke. We are not designing an Nth generation messaging app or yet another new way to separate humanity from its soul (I’m looking at you Web2), we are endeavoring something extraordinary. We are trying to innovate an entirely new form of human coordination. And we are doing so in the degeneracy and tyranny of a dying civilization. We need all of the help we can get. If you can help, by all means do so. Otherwise, get the fuck out of the way.
By my read of the stars, we have, perhaps, two years before the rumble and shake of the larger context raises yet another octave. There is much to do and little time. I’m hard at work with my eyes on the Hunter’s Moon. More on that in due course. As for the rest of the “Invisible College,” good luck! I look forward to seeing what emerges.