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Crypto Anarchy and the Social Body (Meta Strong Crypto)

Thanks to all for the responses to my "Black Cryptoanarchy" post (flames
and all!)  I apologize for rehashing old libertarian debates, on which I am
not well-informed, and I will focus here exclusively on the subject of
"crypto anarchy".  As I wrote the following post, it grew in size to the
point where it made sense for me to cast it into "essay" format (at the
risk of looking like just another net-kook).


Let me begin by making it clear that it is not my intent to discredit
cypherpunks or the goals of crypto anarchy.  I have embraced these notions
wholeheartedly until quite recently, when I began to question some of the
assumptions about the consequences of this technology.  I wish to raise
these concerns openly here, and if my reasoning is flawed, I hope to have
the flaws exposed.

It seems likely that the complete suite of tools for crypto anarchy *will*
become widely deployed in the next few years -- certainly by the end of the
decade.  I will argue that there are aspects of this technology which have
the potential to induce powerful changes in the structure of the "social
organism" of man, which have no counterpart in prior human history.  The
qualitatively fundamental nature of these changes makes their impact very
difficult to predict.  Therefore it is imperative that cypherpunks, who are
perhaps  best qualified to examine these issues, consider carefully what
social impact these changes may have.  We should discuss what, if anything,
may be done with respect to development and deployment of the tools of
crypto anarchy, in order to influence the final outcome for the greater
liberty and standard of living of mankind as a whole.  I will argue that
cypherpunks should examine ways to influence the deployment and patterns of
use of strong crypto tools in society, and not merely consider the
construction of the tools alone.  The study of social dynamics in the
presence of strong crypto, and of how to introduce strong crypto tools in
such a manner so as to achieve desirable patterns of deployment and social
dynamics, is what I term "meta strong crypto".


My background is in the disparate fields of biology and mathematics, so I
begin in these areas.  In biological terms, man is a social animal.  We are
evolved to survive through cooperative interactions with each other.  We
are by no means unique in this regard... cooperating societies of
individuals have evolved many times throughout nature, often arriving at
similar structures from independent origins.  Almost all primates are
social animals of one type or another, and the social structures of the
larger primates such as baboons and chimpanzees are particularly complex.
Very complex social structures also occur in distantly related (but highly
intelligent) species such as porpoises and elephants.  In all such cases,
the social interactions are complex enough to justify describing the whole
in terms of a "social body".

There are universal properties of interaction which create the social body
in these species, and in all human societies throughout history.  These
properties depend fundamentally on the publicly visible nature of most
social interactions.  Individual social animals exist in a relationship to
the social body deriving from the visibility of their actions to others.
This *defines* individuality.  Relationship to group is fundamental, and
creates the context of consequence, reprisal, negotiation, and positioning
upon which all animal or human societies are based.

Strong crypto -- the tools of crypto anarchy -- represents a break in these
primal functions upon which the social body is based.  The significance of
this break is difficult to comprehend... it is not only a first for human
societies, but a first for all of biological evolution.  Picture a visual
image for the traditional social body as a graph.  The graph consists of
numerous nodes -- individuals -- and a complex web of interrelationships
between them.  Now consider what the tools of strong crypto do to this
graph.  Nodes -- "individuals" --  may appear and disappear over extremely
short time periods, as anonymous identities come and go.  All nodes may
have any number of unknowable links, or links which are unknowable by
arbitrarily large sections of the net.  Links may have new properties, such
as asymmetry of identity.  Individual nodes may "unknowably" represent
(equate with) entire collections of other nodes.  The point is that the
social structure is altered along dimensions that have been constant since
the dawn of the evolution of social animals.

This picture implies the development of something radically different than
what we now think of as a social body.  It is far more complex, with new
types of basic components and operations.  There is no reason to expect it
to resemble any society in the history of man, or to bear any resemblance
to any social body which has evolved to date.  It is something radically
new and different.


Many people have embraced with unreserved enthusiasm the dawn of a new era
to be ushered in by strong crypto.  There is an expectation that the power
of the new tools, and the extent of the social changes, must necessarily
lead to desirable improvements.  For my purposes, desirable changes would
include an increased standard of living for all humans, increased
communications  and interactions between individuals across the whole of
human civilization, as well as increased personal liberty to pursue any
desired avenue of exploration/growth.  On the other hand, undesirable
changes would include a massive lowering in the standard of living for most
peoples, the creation of Orwellian societies, increased fragmentation and
decreased communications between the peoples of the world, or more marked
catastrophes such as the advent of massive terrorism on a global scale
(whether nuclear, biological, or merely conventional terrorist attacks are


Since the effect of strong crypto on the social body of man is so difficult
to understand or predict, it seems that a reasonable approach would be to
conduct computer simulations of the spontaneous forms of self organization
that occur in populations participating under various game-theoretic and
economic models, when these populations have access to strong crypto.  It
would be very instructive to examine what kinds of long-term stable
structures can arise under various initial conditions.  It would be
particularly relevant to attempt to model what structures can develop when
the strong-crypto tools are introduced in various ways, rather than
starting out as a ubiquitous presence in society.  Various models for the
spread of the technology could be developed.  These are the tools of meta
strong crypto.

I will here venture into the realm of blatant speculation:  I speculate
that stable patterns of organization with the highest degrees of global
liberty and prosperity would arise from scenarios in which the access to
strong crypto tools is ubiquitous and uniform.  I speculate that many of
the more disastrous scenarios and unpleasant steady-state societies would
be characterized by inhomogeneities in the deployment of strong crypto.


When reading the views of those who are most optimistic about the
potentials of crypto anarchy, there seems to be an implicit assumption that
the advent of strong crypto will be self-catalytic and rapidly spread
throughout all segments of society.  I think this assumption is natural,
given the history of the information age, wherein technological advances
have inevitably become ever more accessible to the general public.

I believe that strong crypto does indeed have the potential to be
"auto-catalytic" and to rapidly spread throughout society in an unstoppable
wave.  However, I see this auto-catalysis as susceptible to various forms
of instability that may result from immaturity in its initial deployment.

The principle weakness of this auto-catalysis is the fact that
strong-crypto relies upon technology which requires a certain standard
quality of living.  It requires computers of adequate speed and networks of
sufficient bandwidth and interconnectivity.  If the threshold standard of
living necessary to acquire this technology lies well below the average
standard of living in society, then the deployment of strong crypto may
spread rapidly and uniformly throughout society.  However, if this
threshold standard of living is very near or above the average standard of
living, then the tools of strong crypto will necessarily spread only
through certain privileged channels of society.  Any pre-existing class
divisions in the society may become greatly pronounced, and in general
inhomogeneous dynamics make predictions in the absence of simulations very


Strong crypto and crypto anarchy may well provide the mechanisms for a type
of social body never before seen in the history of biological evolution.
However, the mere existence of this technology in and of itself does not
guarantee any particular qualities for this new social body.  The new
dynamics are extremely complex and will be unlike anything previously
encountered.  Computer simulations of populations of individuals with
access to strong crypto tools under various models may give us some clues
as to the stable patterns of organization likely to emerge.  The modeling
skills of sociobiologists, economists, and game theorists could all be
applied to this problem.  The exact details of the introduction and spread
of the tools of strong crypto into the population may be expected to have
important effects on the eventual new stable patterns which emerge.

Cypherpunks should consider not just the implementation of the tools of
strong crypto, but also the dynamics of its spread throughout society and
the dynamics of its pattern of use.  Although it is tempting to focus
exclusively on the mathematical algorithms and protocols, economics and
sociobiology are critical to understanding and influencing the eventual
impact of strong crypto on the quality of human life.  History teaches that
it is a mistake to assume that a ground breaking new technology will
necessarily produce the most positive changes it is capable of.  Let us not
follow in the foosteps of those who have made this mistake in the past.