“Code is Love”: Justice On the Blockchain

We all know that ‘love’ is a dirty word these days. It is relentlessly abused by advertisers who always seek to exploit our earliest psychological bonds with our parents and then by sheer repetition, associate themselves with those symbols we learnt in our childhood relating to those bonds. ‘Love’ is one such, and massively overused by Hollywood to boot, in its romantic aspect.

However, as Cornel West so eloquently put it — ‘Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.’ Indeed, never forget. Because we are a forgetful society and often end up valuing symbols we think represent love more than Love itself or the Justice which is its public face.

So, perhaps we are cynical about love, having been disappointed multiple times in our own personal lives and deceived in its name by those who have used the word to manipulate us. We are embarrassed by displays of love and affection and pride ourselves on our ‘objective’, ‘non-sentimental’ view of life.

But what if it is the case that our human systems will not produce results that work for everyone unless love is consciously placed at the core? Unless love is baked in to the code from day one, as it were? If justice is what love looks like in public, then our public systems of governance must be based on justice. Another aspect of love must be mercy — we see precious little justice or mercy in the systems we have created, do we? Refugees are left to drown because it’s judged too costly or inconvenient to save them. Abstract numbers on spreadsheets are valued higher than human lives, which are themselves reduced to mere statistics. Our systems of organisation and governance are rotten to the core, as I’m sure the reader is aware. Love has left the building, ladies and gentlemen. We are left in a barren wasteland where everyone fights for themselves until there is literally nothing left to fight for. It’s every man for himself and the weakest will just be crushed under foot. When there is no love, no justice and no mercy, then what we see is the world we have today, and the worse one we will have tomorrow.

I am not a doom-monger however, at least I don’t think so. Some people are all too aware of this situation, and are fighting to create new systems which attempt not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Many technological solutions are proposed, and as we see with the internet, technological solutions can do a great deal. We have never been so connected to each other — in the sense of the speed at which information moves — in human history. The banking system is seen to be corrupt and on its last legs, so a genius or group of geniuses, creates Bitcoin. It has become apparent that Bitcoin has its own serious problems of course, but it is a mould-breaking solution from which others are now growing. We are attempting to build a new system ‘in the shell of the old’, despite the massive odds apparently stacked against us.

We must remember though that, as per Lawrence Lessig, ‘code is law’, and digital tech allows us to see this very clearly. In the old analogue model, people took actions and hoped for results. They were not able to model systems with the precision with which we are able to today in the digital world. Now we make rules and get results based on those rules, then are able to analyse the results in great detail in order to refine and update the rules. The fruit will reflect the seed much more clearly now. However, one mistake or omission can have terrible consequences, and the hyper-accelerated nature of digital means that the error will be replicated rapidly throughout the system.

If the current capitalist model had been designed by a programmer as a proposal for a system on which to run the world, we could take a look at the code and see that injustice is part of its very fabric. A system based on perpetual growth, as is the case with capitalism, obviously needs endless territory to conquer, otherwise, like a shark which stops swimming, it will sink to the bottom. Now we are running out of easily territory which can be colonised we can see this happening. There was a vague thought that we would leave this planet and conquer the stars and other worlds, but that project seems to have been put on hold for now, at least until we discover oil on one of the moons of Jupiter and it suddenly becomes profitable. Instead, we see the system cannibalising itself and the resultant disappearance of the middle class. The rules set up at the outset, albeit mostly unconsciously, determined that one day this would happen. There are indeed ‘limits to growth’ and these are being reached.

So in this way we can see how we need to be very clear from the outset when designing systems, that all rules are code, and all code is by default law. Given this great responsibility, how do we proceed? By baking in love, justice and mercy into the very structures of the systems we create. Just reading back that sentence makes a part of me cringe. But I realise it is that part which has been inculcated into me by the very capitalist paradigm in which I have grown up, where such ‘idealism’ is dismissed as ‘pie in the sky’, or some such. For me now ‘compassionate capitalism’ is the very definition of an oxymoron. There can of course be no such thing. The fundamental rules of capitalism preclude that just as the evolution of a Great White shark precludes it suddenly ‘pivoting’ into eating plankton.

Monolithic state-based systems such as the varieties of communism (more accurately totalitarian socialism) which have been tried have fared no better. We need new governance systems, this much is abundantly clear, and systems which favour cooperation over competition. They could include competition, sure, but not as a primary objective. That world view, a misinterpretation of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory has brought the planet we live on to the brink of no longer being able to support human life. I have no fear for life itself, or even for the Earth, but our race’s survival is based on a much more fragile balance than that needed by bacteria for example. No clean air or water, and we are history, and damn quickly.

It’s time to take down the corrupt systems which no longer function for the vast majority of humanity, and replace them with new ones with love at their core. Confused about what love is by all the overuse and abuse of the word by the corporate media? It’s that feeling you get when you see a boatload of refugees arriving at some foreign shore. It’s the knowledge, long buried but nevertheless still alive, that everything I do has consequences for all humanity. It’s the pain you feel when you see they’ve cut down the trees you remember from your childhood. It’s whatever stops you continuing the argument with your beloved and makes you reach out to them. It’s the smile you find yourself smiling when you see a friend you haven’t seen in ages. You can think of your own examples. Evidently it is not necessarily the same thing that it is depicted as in the television advertisements.

How do we create new systems based on love? We need less theory and more practice, less judgement and more mercy, and to see things from the perspective of those who have nothing. Then we will know how to proceed. If we ignore the warnings we will be joining those who have nothing, and will have to proceed from there. I usually think of it as a choice between the Path of Wisdom and the Path of Woe. In my opinion we are in the very last chance saloon for taking the Path of Wisdom and well on the way to the Path of Woe being our only option.

Not to tackle this problem and just leave it to chance would be a mistake — we need to face up to the problem of governance — to avoid it would lead to a rule by default of those who currently have the most power in our societies. This means those who are already rich, and those who work for them, those who literally write the code of our laws and social operating systems — the politicians, and in the corporate world, lawyers, lobbyists and programmers. The more we let corporations decide how things work, the more we will be ruled by a tech elite by default. These people are inherently specialists, and specialists are not qualified to rule as they generally have no overview of the processes at work on a large scale. Please note that I am not joining the ‘we are sick of experts’ crew; experts and specialists are certainly needed, however we also need generalists and what were traditionally known as ‘wise’ people to help us navigate our way. I notice that ‘wisdom’ has more or less been consigned to the dustbin of ‘not realistic’ along with ‘love’, ‘justice’, and ‘mercy’. However, ultimately ‘realistic’ in this context is what we decide it is.

In our organisations, at a smaller scale, to not face up to how we govern ourselves means we fall into the trap of replicating legacy hierarchical systems, or prey to the ‘tyranny of structurelessnesss’. We have to get things straight — our systems must be based on justice first then tech later, anything less will only serve to prolong the current disaster. Getting over our squeamishness about the word — and the fundamental concept of — love, whether it be in the form of justice, solidarity, or compassion, must be our priority. We need to talk about how we can structure our organisations from a seed vision of justice. Then we will create structures which not only do no harm, but actually start to regenerate our social contract and both personal and professional relationships.

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