A Paradigm Shift — Feedback on The Network State: Founding vs. Inheriting

This review attempts to build on Balaji Srinivasan’s post "The Network State: Founding vs Inheriting". Balaji has proposed an intriguing concept around applying startup mentalities and decentralised concepts to “found” new countries or cities. This follow up piece is a not a regurgitation of Balaji’s wonderful points, as you may directly find them succinctly outlined here: https://1729.com/founding-vs-inheriting/. It does not try to offer a step by step manual on how to implement a startup nation, as this topic often requires experimentation, open dialogue, and a collaborative community effort. What I will attempt to do first is hopefully offer a constructive follow-up perspective on how to potentially frame the “founding” that Balaji pointed to.

First, a bit of background story. As someone whose extended diaspora family members hold multiple different nationalities from nation states around the volatile Pacific Rim, I’ve found nation state interests and rivalries to strongly impact down to the community and individual levels, and cause arguably existential barriers to economic, social, and political prospects. Personally, I was born in Country A, immigrated with parents as a minor to grow up in Country B and become a citizen there, but then during working age I moved to Country C and then I eventually settled in Country D to build a family there. Now, Country D has a love-hate relationship with both Country A and Country B; it relies on Country A economically but also has major territorial disputes with it, while it relies on Country B militarily but also has a post-colonial “hang over” about it. Oh, did I mention that Country B and Country A are now taking shots at each other on global proportions that probably would shake up entire generations around the world?

What a mess, right? (You probably guessed it: A = China, B = USA, and D = The Philippines. C was Brazil, by the way.)

The pandemic and subsequent nationalism as well as racism had made the situation worse. My son was born during the pandemic, and almost every day, as I look into his eyes, I wonder what kind of world awaits him as he grows up: a country of ethnic origin that has become increasingly ethno-nationalist; a country of citizenship that has become increasingly hostile to people who look like him; and a host country that may risk getting pulled into proxy conflicts for being situated in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The mess gets messier.

I’ve previously looked into “new ideas” to try to mentally dissociate from this “mess”. Some of these areas mirror those raised by Balaji in his “How to Start a New Country” post (https://1729.com/how-to-start-a-new-country/).

I registered to become an Estonian e-resident. Estonia is a nation state that has re-invented itself to embrace digitalisation, e-global residency, and online support for businesses run by anyone around the world. It shows us what a digitalised government of a nation state could do. Those interested in joining a global community of e-resident business owners and digital nomads can apply for Estonian e-residency here: https://e-resident.gov.ee/.

I spoke with Vit Jedicka, founder and president of Liberland, a micronation claiming a strip of land between Croatia and Serbia that embraces many crypto-libertarian concepts. Vit had just come back to Liberland via a gruelling experience at the customs and he talked to me about launching an e-learning series called Liberland University. The Free Republic of Liberland continues to fight for recognition and had established formal relations with Somaliland. Those interested in obtaining residency in Liberland or contributing to its cause can do so by visiting its website: https://liberland.org/en/

I became a member of Asgardia, a space micronation launched a few years back by Igor Ashurbeyli, a Russian-Azerbaijani businessman that claims a satellite in Earth orbit. Asgardia's goal is to be a space nation for humanity and lobbied unsuccessfully for recognition by the United Nations (legal conflicts with UN General Assembly Resolution 1962 and the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 remain), while declaring that citizenship in space does not conflict with citizenship on Earth. Asgardia does not claim to be a fully functioning democracy (the Head of Nation for example seems quite permanent), but it allows any member above a certain age (so I didn’t qualify due to age limits) to run for its 150-strong Parliament. Those interested in joining Asgardia can learn more through its website: https://asgardia.space/en/.

I think these are great, inspiring experiments. A forward-looking nation state looks to create a digital community; a new micronation embraces crypto-libertarianism; a new “nation” above the skies looks to cast Earthly conflicts aside and focus on humanity’s future among the stars.

Yet, the common frame of reference, whether an e-nation, a crypto nation on Earth, or a nation in space, is the "nation state". The Estonia e-residency program still cannot confer full rights to digital nomads like it would to full Estonian citizens. Liberland remains at the mercy of Croatia and/or Serbia, whenever one of them decides to take sovereignty back. And Asgardia sounds really cool, but it is unlikely to ever claw its way into the United Nations. To a big extent, the nation state frame of reference rather limits all three from achieving their fullest potential. We need a new frame of reference.

Why found a nation bound by the rules of nation states, or worse, become a target in the power games of nation states? We need a cleaner and more out-of-the-box paradigm shift.

Ironically, the founding of nation states not many centuries ago was in itself a paradigm shift — from the age-old loyalties and organisational frameworks structured around religion and the Church. Before nation states, sacred holy texts as well as religious authorities from Rome to Constantinople to Baghdad dictated the highest order of laws that humans needed to obey. If you were Christian, then you couldn’t associate with Muslims on the other side, and vice versa. Wars were fought for centuries over the correct interpretation of divine concepts. Taxes were levied based on whether or not you belonged to the right faith. And if you wanted to found your own religious sect, you could be ex-communicated, or worse, be burned at the stake for being a heretic.

Modern nation states changed all that through a paradigm shift. The American Constitution and Bill of Rights came around, decreeing that people of all religions could co-exist and that there is a separation between the church and the government. People fleeing from religious persecution could flee to a new nation and settle in that new nation by becoming new citizens. Everywhere from France to Russia to Turkey to China, people toppled “divine” ruling dynasties that claimed legitimacy from religion or from a heavenly mandate. The amazing thing with the paradigm shift was that it didn’t directly fight the old order, as no major new religions swept into being; instead, the old religions peacefully co-existed with the new nation states, and simply gave way to the latter in the pecking order of importance to people as well as communities.

Nowadays, aside from certain exception cases (e.g. in certain Middle Eastern areas, etc), it is the national constitution that dictates what laws humans and communities obey. People of different religious faiths could be united under the same national banner and anthem. Wars are fought over national sovereignty and national self determination. Taxes are raised by national governments on their citizens and residents. And if you wanted to drive an independence movement to found a new nation, you may be labeled a separatist, exiled, or worse, be imprisoned for treason.

Going forward, instead of competing in the existing dominant paradigm or inheriting from it, I think we need new paradigm shifts that are on a different plane, and that don’t necessarily intersect with or conflict with existing nation state frameworks of sovereignty, national determination, and rule of law. It would involve founding a new dimension instead of inheriting the old dimensions and extending along those old dimensions.

And we need a new name for this new paradigm. Maybe “matrix”, or “zone” or “universe”, or "multi-verse". Just not “nation” or "country".

This may sound trivial, but I believe that it is an important conceptual step to truly begin with a clean slate. From the ground up. From zero to one. A different game. A new universe.

Perhaps, over time, more and more people as well as communities would come to value the new paradigm more importantly than existing ones. Religion and the nation state may still exist in the long term future, but their relative importance could decline.

So, what would this new paradigm beyond the framework of nation states actually begin to look like? There would need to be a lot of open dialogue and brainstorming by like-minded folks globally around the specifics. As one example, Futurist Thomas Frey had earlier proposed the concept of fractal governance, which he defined as a spectrum of global governance that operates outside any one or combination of countries or nation states. Fractals could be organized around a particular interest or theme, and entail a more global governance transcending national interests and boundaries. In a way, many of the global crypto communities, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, EOS, Cardano, arguably constitute fractals with their own global governance, rules, and ecosystems. The rise and developments in more DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) could also pave the way for founding more evolved fractals that go beyond the original definition.

Ok, that's enough for the time being. Back to the drawing board. I would love to continue to engage in discussions with like-minded folks to continue the dialogue and crowd-source new ideas around this “founding”.

Global citizen and digital nomad