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Freedom in the digital age


Tools of the Technocracy: #12 Network States

The Trap

Network states are pitched as a nice-sounding way to improve or sometimes outright replace governments. This is a trap disguised as an opportunity. It would seem that the goal is to diffuse people’s desire for accountability into a variety of schemes for private profit. Tragically, even if these became successful, people are to be left behind. For many, the temptation to eschew all the baggage of existing governments and ‘start fresh’ is very tempting. Especially for those who are young and beginning their careers, who understandably feel no responsibility for the tragedies of the past. In the long run, those people would be entirely disconnected from the community they fled, potentially leaving many others who aren’t so lucky to struggle with the consequences.

This is the exact opposite of what’s needed to actually secure justice for those victimized. Any ‘solution’ that leaves people disconnected and communities shattered is the worst possible outcome. Instead of turning on the public, ideal solutions need to be oriented in investigating and acting on the truth. Digital tools can help, but they themselves can’t be treated as the idol that absolves us of the responsibility to act.

To make matters worse, false saviors can betray their followers into building the very system they aim to avoid. People’s justifiable frustration with the way things are is a very powerful impulse for malevolent forces to exploit. It seems entirely predictable, that once tragedy of nearly any kind strikes, pre-packaged solutions are conveniently prepared for people to latch on to. By not allowing any crisis go to waste, people’s time, focus, and resources are redirected from maintaining things well enough to prevent or mitigate the seemingly inevitable next crisis. These non-solutions are often very attractive, in the same way fast food is addictive but unhealthy.

The Encroachment Phase

It begins with forces using the unjustifiable aspects of the status quo to bit-by-bit dismantle or eliminate the parts that people rely on. By putting on a performance of impersonating independent reform, various non-state actors can expand their own power at the expense of people. Often these displays will make use of pretty language or voice long-running concerns that have gone unresolved.

A well-known example of this model is the company Uber. Uber was not an innovation that created new opportunities for communities. In many jurisdictions, the company started out operating as an illegal taxi, with arguably worse working conditions, and added smart-city style data risks. Taking advantage of a highly regulated industry, there was opportunity to move fast and break things, and seize more central control. It should be noted, that Uber wasn’t even profitable. It ran at a loss up until 2023, making it significantly harder for competitors to participate in the space until then.

The company is a shining example of how profit-driven digital control can shape governance. As the service gained adoption, the riders themselves were leveraged to pressure governments to adopt more favorable regulation. If local governance is able to be dominated by a single large corporation, it raises serious questions about how much autonomy local residents truly have. Even federal governments, and even multi-nation structures like the EU have had to contend with large corporations and their dominance over industries or domains of life. This tug-of-war over control very often leaves the people taking the raw end of the deal. One has to wonder if governments will use network states to seize more control with vehicles like smart cities, given how much big tech was weaponized in the last decade.

Understanding the Network State

In mid 2022, Balaji Srinivasan published The Network State: How to Start a New Country, which more-or-less argues that the existing structure of nations is obsolete. Advancing the idea that “The Network” is the Next Leviathan, the book argues that digital technology can enable human beings to cooperate on a scale that entirely outmatches the ways of nation states. By citing a couple of examples, the chapter makes it clear that Network States are explicitly digital and explicitly connected, arguing that mobile is better than stationary, virtual reality is superior to physical interaction, and that smart contracts are outright better than laws. If this isn’t sufficiently staggering, those examples are expanded on with the following:

These examples can be multiplied. As mentioned before, Uber and Lyft are better regulators than the State’s paper-based taxi medallions, email is superior to the USPS, and SpaceX is out-executing NASA. If you think about borders, you now need to think about the Network’s telepresence (which defeats physical borders) and its encryption (which erects digital borders). Or if you care about, say, the US census, the Network gives a real-time survey which is far more up to date than the State’s 10 year process.

Page 53 The Network State

Ultimately, the appeal seems to be the lie that our problems with current nation states are that they are merely not efficient enough. Pretending that geography is a thing of the past now that people can be relegated to exile in cyberspace. By asserting that network states can be more powerful than nations, one is lead into the trap of believing that this is to the benefit of participants. For many people, the abuses from government and institutions come swiftly enough. The desire to make this process faster and more able to change on a whim isn’t to the benefit of the people, but rather the owners of the system. Network state advocates argue that one is able to co-own the network with other participants, but if they truly are the Next Leviathan then one has to wonder what about opposing networks and nations? Many are concerned by China’s high-tech surveillance and control model, it seems that network states merely enhance all the worst aspects.

For all the fanfare, smart contracts are not a marker for fairness or even certainty. Odds are, there are many times you’ve agreed to terms you haven’t read or didn’t truly agree with. By attempting to make governance trust-less, one is effectively placing ultimate trust on these systems. DAOs (“Decentralized” “Autonomous” “Organizations”) and smart contracts can both be hacked and rolled back, vastly increasing the challenge of system security. Jason Lowery has an excellent explanation why smart contracts backed by proof of stake are inherently malleable.

I don’t agree with Jason with all his conclusions, but it’s really important to understand his position that: System security depends on physical power (measured in watts). Meaning that the system needs a justification in the real material world, and can’t solely exist as a social construct. Nation states solve this particular problem with taxes and armies. For a network state to truly replace nation states, it would require similarly powerful means to compel compliance. This means that while some people may come together and make their own authentic democratized network state, but it will still only exist within the wider context of physical power of those outside and within the system.

This brings us the problem of using Bitcoin or another proof of work system to build a network state. While it’s inherently superior to any “proof of stake” solution, it has many drawbacks that are inherently non-starters. For example, we could not create a truly decentralized and self-sovereign network state with Bitcoin today because the costs to self-custody one’s own Bitcoin becomes very prohibitive as the network expands. Scaling this, requires more computing resources, bandwidth and storage that can also increase the costs of running the network. This is the very reason why so many Bitcoin users use so many custodial exchanges and wallets despite Bitcoin being created to eliminate that problem.

But if proof of work is superior, why are other options even attempted? To create a powerful illusion. The very reason why network states have to pretend that living in augmented reality is superior to physical reality is the same reason they have to use proof of stake, hiding where the power actually is. A great deal of the blockchain space seems devoted to not democratizing power, but competing to build a mirage of doing so. If one advocated building a network state out of Bitcoin, people would immediately realize the immense price of being self-sufficient within that kind of system, in proof-of-stake systems, those costs can be concealed.

In the name of selling decentralization, advocates of network states offer a singularity of digital intrusion into people’s lives, with a staggering acceptance of surveillance and control packaged as risk management. In addition to this hard sell, one has to take the claims of digital security at face value. Since any serious interrogation of privacy, security, and lock-in risks reveal many serious concerns. Once these concerns are raised, they are claimed to be addressed in the implementation phase of the revolution. Why worry about the details when there is a grand cyber-utopian vision to evangelize?

The Next Leviathan

Paradoxically, the very anti-human idea of network states is borne out of it’s principle contradiction: Human beings are useful and valuable. All the technocratic hype about automation, blockchain, AI, and virtual reality masks the true power underlying what Balaji calls “The Next Leviathan”. What those seeking to advance network states correctly understand is that large numbers of people cooperating can be an almost unstoppable force. This Leviathan is a cybernetics machine that competes with other mass-mind control machines. In doing so, digital systems can be leveraged to transform human beings into cyber-collectivist foot-soldiers.

To avoid mincing words, this is the declaration of a permanent, automated, real-time slave auction with every human being on the planet as fair game.

Understand that when harmonized together many of these new digital systems could be used for extreme levels of digitized tyranny. This series was primarily intended to help others consider the risks of mass-adoption and over-consolidation of various digital tools. Through the course of writing this series, it has become clear that what I suspected was possible is already highly formalized. To understand this, one only needs to read the book The Network State or watch the entire Network State Conference without being enchanted by the techno-utopianism.

Far from a voluntarist utopia, it seems that the archetypical network state is a form of digitized anarcho-feudalism. Leveraging members to undermine what remaining protections nation states do provide, in exchange for a facsimile nation over cyberspace. Just as young people today are bribed to give up privacy and security in exchange for convenience, the network state offers ways to streamline one’s submission to all the same digital intrusions into people’s lives. Blockchain tools to manage people and assets, smart technology to streamline systems to control more and more people.

The dark and twisted truth of this power is that human mind control experimentation has evolved past beyond controlling a single human being, but further into controlling people controlling other people. Artificial intelligence built on machine minds is an immense energy waste and effectively a dead end. It is immensely wasteful to use exponentially more energy to make LLMs (Large Language Models) only marginally more effective. Instead, seizing control of large amounts of human minds can do much more work with far less resources. The next level of artificial intelligence may very well be human intelligence organized into swarms for particular ends. This would necessarily require a form of total mental subjugation to ensure workers are on-task.

With this in mind, all the machines and digital systems are mere instruments for a more critical goal; wrangling control over people’s brain functions. This is an entirely new frontier, and the network state framework effectively argues that he who conquers the most minds wins. If true, it would be a devastating race-to-the bottom in terms of human liberty, as various gurus are positioned to take control over others, leaving no minds uncorrupted.

What makes our current time so dynamic is that there is an open bid for those who are willing to manipulate others into control structures of a singular design but varying flavor. If you’re ambitious enough, you’ll be given the opportunity to sell-out your fellow human beings for shamefully low prices. What makes the network state powerful is that large amounts of coerced people can be weaponized against critics and dissenters. It is naive to believe that in an era where network states rule uncontested that human rights would be any better protected than they already are, and there are quite a few reasons why things would be even worse off.

Lies of the Network State

Network states advocate for an entirely new system of power with many different illusions that mask the troubles caused by buying into the “digital > physical” prison. To successfully market the dissolution of existing nation states, to make way for a world-wide technocracy, one has to be indoctrinated into believing the following lies:

Elimination of Violent Competition

Human history has had innumerable acts of war, genocide, and slavery. Much of this is attributed to nation states and their authoritarian ideologies across time. Time again that the very same dangerous superstition can be wrapped up in different language or symbols, just to enact the same regime of terror and cruelty. Network state advocates pretend that once people assemble themselves into self-selected groups, that there will no longer be any reason for violent conflict. To go further, the dream of network states relies on ignorance of various forms of engineered dependence such as disaster capitalism, industry capture, and coercion from non-state actors. By distracting people with beautiful virtual reality, it provides only escapism from, not means to improve actual reality.


Fake decentralization is a booming industry. If Facebook or X forced users to maintain a “profile server” that was responsible for handling all requests, but maintained control over sorting and filtering posts, would that be decentralizing social media? In this case, the data is in the user’s control, but not the means in which it is used. The same can be applied to organs of government, a system can dismantle most if not all the laws and regulations, but maintain the power over others.

There is a bizarre assumption that decentralization can only happen digitally. It seems that decentralization is a post-hoc rationalization of the extreme emphasis on digitization. This is despite the fact that analog options are inherently more decentralized and private. It is the introduction of automated digital systems that placed the burden of privacy and security on the plan. It is also entirely possible that greater digitization of society can create real limits to how decentralized a system can be.

That They’re Needed

If one recognizes that large groups of cooperating people are a powerful force that can rival nations, there is no need to put so much emphasis on digital systems and surveillance technology. It seems that advocates of network states are eager to have a system that tracks everyone’s human connections, rather than simply building infrastructure that helps nurture meaningful connections between people. The adversarial focus against existing nations is also unnecessary, even the advocates themselves admit that most “network states” would have some form of cooperation (or subversion) of an existing nation state.

Fixing “Statism”

If government is the problem, don’t turbo-charge and automate it. If government isn’t the problem, then you’d fix the ones you have rather than dismantling it outright. Network states all seem to converge on the worst of both worlds. Network states are not merely an alternate form of government, but they are a model to create far more terrifying governments that are entirely unbound by what restrains existing governments. A principal focus of network states seems to be undermining or avoiding regulations or even human rights protections.


If we accept the premise that network states are inevitable because they are inherently superior to regular nation states, that doesn’t at all imply that any of the so-called benefits of network states would materialize. A lot of damage can be done while dismantling nation states without delivering on the good promises made by network state advocates. People can quite likely be very much worse off as problems not yet discovered manifest themselves after it’s too late to reverse.

If network states are such a clear and obvious upgrade over nation states, what is preventing nation states from augmenting themselves?

Living in Cyberspace

There is quite a bit of focus on the immaterial. This is a fanciful distraction from what is taking place in the physical world. Why is there such a rush to capture more and more people into virtual reality prisons? We should ask what is taking place, that people would be forced to adapt to having no control over their actual lives that they must be satiated with surrogate digital activities. “Living in cyberspace” is a contradiction in terms, hence the emphasis on tiny, cheap, modular homes for the people evicted from the physical world.


The root of the issue when it comes to network states is the frame of mind. By doubling-down on the worst aspects of digitized society, people are pointed towards awful and avoidable directions. Instead of putting time and effort making human dependency work, try to imagine ways in which a people-first approach can keep cyberspace a distinct experience from our waking lives. It’s not hard to work to forge a new path, it just takes some creativity and persistence. Take responsibility for holding public and private institutions accountable for overreach, corruption, and fraud.

Refuse and Reverse the Digitization of Society

It does not matter how trivial or benign the application is, it’s clear that mandated use of technology is a recipe for disaster. Remember that it was not so long ago that everything was run with paper forms and correspondence in the mail. Institutions that serve us should be expected to have arrangements for those who choose to go without these intrusions.

This is a situation where apathy and defeatism can do a lot of damage. We owe it to future generations not to burden them with shackles that many still do not even understand. You can start small, start with a local bank or a nearby provider. Getting together to ensure that opt-ing out of these systems is still an option, or making it an option once again is the principal way people reassert their autonomy online and in the real world.

Be Judicious about How Things are Done

There are excellent digital tools, and there are awful digital tools. In addition to this, how they’re used matters a great deal. Just because you agree with the goals of a particular initiative, that doesn’t mean that all means to achieve it are desirable or effective. Take the time to understand the impacts, and downsides of particular tactics and methods. There are many things which may seem like a fantastic idea early on, that can have insidious effects after time.

Ask questions of your allies and opponents alike. Consider alternate motivations and incentives. Raising your tolerance for those asking difficult questions goes a long way to make your mission sustainable, and accountable. Consider what your actual goals are, and if the means you’re taking are actually effective towards your ideal goal, or merely in service of someone else’s interests.

Free Minds and Save Souls

When one is alone, and justifiably fearful of what’s going on it’s very easy to fall for all kinds of self-destructive scams. Now more than ever it is crucial to recognize the assaults on people and have compassion for their struggles. Doing what we can to support each other and refuse to leave others behind is what can set us apart from those who seek to dominate and control others. Taking the time, in whatever way you can to alleviate fear and suffering can go a long way to directly undermine both analog and digital tyranny.


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Published: Mar 12 2024
Tags: Technocracy Tools of the Technocracy Series Government Smart Cities Blockchain Decentralization Network States

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