Attendees of the Network State Conference in Amsterdam believe that a new tomorrow is possible with decentralized technologies.
The Dutch city of Amsterdam — no stranger to international conferences dedicated to cryptocurrencies, blockchain and decentralization — was recently host to the Network State Conference, which explored decentralization at an entirely different level.
Conference speakers and attendees gathered to discuss and debate whether a new form of decentralized country is possible.
The conference kicked off with an energetic host directing the crowd to chant and shout the title before Balaji Srinivasan, an entrepreneur, investor and former chief technology officer of Coinbase, entered to make his opening speech. During his initial remarks, Srinivasan asks, “Are new countries even possible?”
In his book The Network State, Srinivasan proposes that new countries are possible via a new type of digital community, where its members utilize blockchain and cryptocurrencies to host their social and economic institutions, and its borders lie at the extremes of the crowdfunded land owned by community nodes.
A node might begin with just a small group of friends, the idea being that this small community self-organizes to raise funds, expand and eventually form a viable network node. When you have several well-aligned community nodes, regardless of their geographical distribution, you have the foundations of a network state.
There are many goals among network state proponents, who mainly wish to construct a parallel social infrastructure as a “competing product” to what they see as the flawed systems of state-level social, political and economic institutions, thereby granting citizens of such nation-states the ability to opt-out should incumbent social structures prove insufficient for their needs and desires.
Ivy Astrix, a member of vibecamp and long-time supporter of Srinivasan, told Cointelegraph that disillusionment with the establishment was a common theme among attendees. “Can society, the U.S.A., these very coherent societies — still function? I think they can’t,” she said.
Amid this growing disenchantment with existing societal structures, Astrix said that network states “can improve ‘normal’ people’s lives […] because they encourage a co-creation approach to life, instead of just slotting yourself into something that’s already here, just because its the ‘best’ or ‘least sucky’ option.”
The connection between network states and blockchain technology is undeniable, as both rely on autonomous nodes that come together to form a network with an agreed set of rules. For the network state concept, crypto rails are the gold standard of their ethos, especially concerning finance.
Frederik Zwilling of Galactica Network told Cointelegraph about the practicality of this union:
“The users won’t go to the network state for itself unless there are a lot of benefits or things they want to do in this network state that attracts them.”
Zwilling added that crypto-based, decentralized solutions are necessary for the governance of community groups — especially for those requiring analogs of nation-state-level social infrastructure.
The physical implementation of a network state
The infrastructure development underpinning the network state concept is moving in multi-decade timeframes, with projects such as Prospera, Cabin and Praxis focusing on community-building, fundraising efforts and building physical locations (nodes) that might eventually form a real-world network state.
Many of the speakers have opened exploratory dialogues with various governments of existing nation-states regarding land ownership, borders and the formation of special economic zones.
Still, no single community has achieved the level of autonomy from legacy systems espoused by proponents of the network state concept.
Prospera’s flagship startup city, St. John’s Bay, comes close to meeting these criteria but still falls mainly under the jurisdiction of traditional institutions, in this case, the Honduran government.
Establishing parallel societies is a task that will take decades to complete, and to reach the network effects required for a minimum-viable society, the process must begin with the kind of community building witnessed at the conference.
Given the early stage of network states, the quality of physical infrastructure is impressive, and the concept itself appears sound, but to scale beyond wealthy futurists taking over holiday resorts, a great deal more time, money and human infrastructure is required for opting out to become a viable choice.
The democratization of governance through technology, particularly that of blockchain, is a principal pillar of the network state concept and is critical to the real-world infrastructure presented at the conference.
Dom Ryder, founder of Vemp Studios, told Cointelegraph, “It’s about bringing ways to facilitate democracy and democratic values on an immutable and trustless blockchain; that is the obvious use case [of network states] to me.”
The challenge, as Ryder continued, is making the value of blockchain palpable to “normies” while divesting from the technology of its poor public perception and ensuring that its benefits are seamlessly integrated into the lives of regular people.
One could be excused for thinking that many of the speakers at the Network State Conference were simply presenting novel methods of what essentially falls under the umbrella of “virtual community building,” but this line of thinking perhaps underrepresents the coherent yet flexible nature of their shared goals.
Network state proponents do not suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to social cohesion but rather an open system from which you get out what you put in, with as few intermediaries as possible between action and effect.
Community is the basic building block of all aspects of society, and it has been proven throughout history that a critical mass of community that holds a shared goal will, at the very least, arrive at the implementation stage of that goal. Success is never a given, but the power of network effects can not be denied.
The virtual communities present at the conference, from the X-based vibecamp, the decentralized autonomous organization infrastructure of Coordinape, and the full-blown digital nation-states of Plumia and the Galactica Network, all have in common a community-first approach to implementing their vision of a network state.
Those present are attempting to achieve the critical mass of humanity required for a parallel society to take shape and provide the necessary digital infrastructure to host some or all of humanity’s basic needs, be they financial, political or social.
The Network State Conference was a crucible for people and ideas that challenge the status quo and a small pitstop on the journey of human development.
A pragmatic mind might drift to the inescapable truth that a network state paradigm is contingent upon acceptance from or even the abject failure of current social infrastructures.
However, the sheer will and monumental human effort on show here gave reason enough to suspend disbelief — even if only temporarily.