Congress orders the CEOs of tech giants to testify before them under the threat of breaking their companies into small pieces. Tech giants respond by distributing their operations globally to avoid being controlled by any one nation state and fight back by controlling the conversation around politics on their platform, leading to claims that they can determine the course of an election. And thus their CEOs are summoned once again to testify.
But this is not the only battle for power. As the titanic tug-of-war for power between nation states and tech giants escalates, a different type of movement that rejects both big government and big tech grows. These movements fight for individual sovereignty from governments’ overreach and tech giants’ domination and they use decentralization as their primary survival and expansion strategy.
Instead of seeking power for power’s sake (as the nation state does) or power for growth’s sake (as tech giants do), personal sovereignty movements seek to free individuals, one person at a time and one solution at a time. Their participants pursue freedom from the tyranny of restrictions, regulations, terms and conditions that serve not the individual, but the behemoth organization that has stopped caring for the well-being of individuals. As examples, nation states have become more concerned with containing COVID-19 than letting individuals live freely, and tech giants actively work to maximize the addictive qualities of their services, creating psychological dependencies upon them, all of which disregard the well-being of their citizens and users.
While there have been protest movements throughout modern history, the personal sovereignty movement is different in that it is both philosophical and technological.
At its philosophical roots lies the moral case for individual rights, self determination and economic freedom in modern society which was pioneered by thinkers like Rosseau, Jefferson, Rand, Hayek, Mises, Martin Luther King Jr and many others who rejected collectivism and made the individual the focus and the purpose of morality.
But what is new is that personal sovereignty also utilizes technological tools never before used by other protest movements. These include open source software in general, but specifically Bitcoin, tor, BitTorrent, the Raspberry Pi, cheap commodity hardware (and my personal favourite so far — Start9’s EmbassyOS that makes much of this stuff as easy as any of Apple’s products at a lower price than Apple’s cheapest product).
Traditional forms of dissension and protest — think BLM 2020, anti lockdown 2020, and even WallStreetBets 2021 (which used technology, but relied on centralized tech giants) — are limited in their results and duration because they try to take the behemoth powers on head to head. They may win a skirmish or two but whatever gains they make are quickly clawed back and forgotten when their participants try to return to normal life. The participants of these movements are proud of their accomplishments while they are drawing the spotlight of the national media and become the center of discussion, but they are subsequently disillusioned when everything goes back to normal afterwards.
However, dissension supported by software and hardware running 24/7/365, unstoppably and forever, turns the tables and gives protesters the power and the stamina to go toe to toe against governments and tech giants for the long run. Consider bitcoin. It’s been snowballing nonstop for 12 years, steadily building mass, in the form of users and capital, and momentum, in the rate at which new users and capital flow in. During times of peak enthusiasm it rapidly adds users who are dissenters against the nation state’s debasement of their savings. But unlike protesters who go home after winning a concession or two, bitcoin never goes home, never concedes a single premise and continues running nonstop even after the government loses focus as its attention wanes due to other new issues it must attend to. This is the power of technology. So each time bitcoin comes into focus it comes back bigger, stronger, more valuable and, still, unstoppable.
How could the dissenters of the past year (who wanted to increase individual freedoms by ending police brutality and racism or who sought to curtail the overreach of the state’s response to Covid-19 or who wanted to avenge the unfairness Wall Street hedge funds had over individual investors) embrace decentralized, technology supported dissent?
They’d need a platform to communicate on that did not belong to big tech to avoid being censored or shut down, like Mastodon or Matrix. And they’d also need to be able to take their money out of the system, and only bitcoin provides this. The reason they need to take control of their money may not be obvious to all, but it is essential. It is because if they don’t take control of their money, the nation state can stop them in their tracks by freezing bank accounts (and other access to the financial system). Any and all of these movements can be slapped with a label like ‘terrorists’, ‘racists’ or whatever other label is required to activate financial strangulation. Bitcoin lets them move their financial resources outside of the power of government to cut them off.
The above adoption of decentralized technology by protest movements pursuing an advance of individualism is, I believe, inevitable. This is simply because, sooner or later, some dissent movements will embrace decentralized tech and will be much more successful for having done so and will continue to grow. Others will observe this success and duplicate it. And multiple of these movements will merge (or at least find common ground) together in the digital realm where combination is easy. In the end individuals will have the choice to opt out of both big tech and oppressive government. The sooner we embrace this the sooner we will see the rise of increasingly sovereign individuals and make the battle between nations and tech giants irrelevant.