Future State: Exploring Emerging Democratic Practices on Public Blockchains

Emerging societies are often the quickest to adopt innovations, as seen with the rapid uptake of crypto in Ukraine, Turkey, and Nigeria. Blockchain technology—with programmable economies, zk proofs, DAOs, and more—has the potential to leapfrog the development of communities, nations, and entire regions, accelerating mass adoption.

Emerging societies are often the quickest to adopt innovations, as seen with the rapid uptake of crypto in Ukraine, Turkey, and Nigeria. Blockchain technology—with programmable economies, zk proofs, DAOs, and more—has the potential to leapfrog the development of communities, nations, and entire regions, accelerating mass adoption.

Published on May 28, 2024

May 28, 2024

The Future State event during Berlin Blockchain Week was a phenomenal gathering of minds. Located off the beaten track in Rixdorf, the event venue offered a refreshing change to the more conformist design aesthetics of modern event spaces.

The bar is named similarly to anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard. Coincidence?

With only few signups leading up to the event, it promised to become an intimate moment for those interested in network states and emerging practices around it. Turns out, that group included Vitalik, Dyma (Hacken), Pawel (Distributed Labs) and other OGs. Overall, the participants seemed super tuned into the topic and passionate about their desire to impact the world for the better.

Possibly the most Berlin-esque moment at BBW.

Emerging Practices in Russia and Belarus

Host, Ray Svitla, kicked off the event with a powerful talk about the persecution in Belarus. He then described how they use existing tech solutions to provide a way for Belarusians to cast a "shadow vote" for the national elections.

As of today, 6723 Belarusians cast their free vote, using zero knowledge identities and onchain voting 🤯

For voting they use an app called vocdoni:

What's more concerning to me is that they use a traditional KYC provider, veriff, to create sybil-resistant ballots. This creates an attack vector for nation-state-level attacks, which can be extremely sophisticated, as we've learned over the past decade (from Snowden to Stuxnet). Some audience members raised the same question.

Since these shadow elections don't have any official recognition in Belarus, they work towards recognition of "New Belarus" - a network state without physical territory. They issue their own passport, which might get recognized as a travel document by 2 European nation states soon.

More info here

One reason for getting recognition, is the fact that the Belarusian government refuses to prolong expired passports of citizens living outside of Belarus. They require people living abroad to return to the country to get a new passport issued. When they return, however, many are sent to prison for political reasons, where they are tortured and raped. For years, the number of political prisoners has been on the rise:

How Rarimo Protocol & Freedom Tools run shadow elections in Russia

Kitty from Rarimo Protocol followed with a presentation on her work with Freedom Tools to run an alternative election in Russia 2024.

More info here

Rarimo Protocol has built Freedom Tools to offer zero-knowledge (zk) voting solutions in Russia. After launching their app, it saw 15,000 downloads, but faced significant pushback from the Kremlin. In a bid to undermine the referendum on Putin, government agents left low ratings on app stores. The app was temporarily removed by Apple before being reinstated, while Android displayed a stronger stance against censorship.

Read the whitepaper here

To create a sybil-resistant ballot, they leverage NFC chips in modern passports held by 34.6 million Russians in total. While the zero knowledge proof system rarimo implemented perfectly severs the link between a ballot and the voter's true identity, governments retain certain sybil-attack vectors, as they possess a copy of all the NFC chips. While Freedom Tools does its best to thwart these attacks, an entirely new identity system might ultimately be needed at some point.

How Common Ground builds for higher-order social institutions like courts

I had the honor to give the final presentation, talking about onchain court systems run by communities. I'll share my key talking points here.

Decentralized arbitration and voting systems have been part of the original vision of blockchain. Some people might remember projects like the "Decentralized Arbitration and Mediation Network" by Pamela Morgan and Andreas Antonopoulus from 2016.

Still available here

Now, the topic is becoming increasingly relevant. DAOs, foundation treasuries, fair launches, onchain economies, stablecoin adoption, web3 social, network states, account abstraction, sybil resistance, crypto regulation, and more are acting as a forcing function towards the evolution of onchain court systems.

But that's why we have Kleros you might say, which is the leading onchain arbitration protocol in the EVM ecosystem today.

A screenshot taken from the Kleros court system, cf. https://court.kleros.io/

While Kleros is a tremendous success that plays a critical role for certain arbitration tasks, the design of & social practices around the protocol have not produced a social institution that enjoys legitimacy comparable to a constitutional court, whose decisions are respected by hundreds of millions of people in cases like the U.S.

Beyond the question of social legitimacy, another interesting question about onchain courts is the question at which layer of the stack courts should be able to arbitrate. A daring proposal on that came relatively recently from respected devs and legal researchers, called Backstop Layer 2.

Find the paper on SSRN

The core idea is that any transaction on a blockchain should be arbitrable. The power of the "onchain constitutional court" is constrained by merely proposing a fork choice for users, who can decide whether to follow the court's decision or not. Whether the fork that represents the courts preferred outcome serves as a schelling point for a majority of relevant nodes & block producers is a direct measure of its social legitimacy. This approach to consensus-finding is termed "subjectivocracy", a topic discussed already back in 2015 by Vitalik.

"The power behind subjectivity lies in the fact that concepts like manipulation, takeovers and deceit, not detectable or in some cases even definable in pure cryptography, can be understood by the human community surrounding the protocol just fine."

At Common Ground we want to build the coordination layer that stitches together the various decentralized protocols, to become something greater than their sum, such as e.g. an onchain court system run by communities, that's available across ecosystems and which enjoys significant social legitimacy across the crypto space and beyond.

Sharing resources across ecosystems, to the benefit of all the communities embedded therein.

The way we conceptualize it is as a community hyperstructure, i.e. an interconnected network of diverse communities based on cross-collaboration, shared governance, and a fluid exchange of information and resources. A super-organism that transcends traditional boundaries and power structures, and which fosters a more open, participatory, and democratized online landscape.

Gratitude and Future Vision

The event was a resounding success thanks to the contributions of all participants.

Special thanks to everyone who attended, asked brilliant questions, and contributed to the vibrant atmosphere. Rumor has it that this was the best side event at ETHBerlin, and I couldn’t agree more.

The Future State is indeed bright, and our collective efforts are making significant strides in evolving democratic practices on public blockchains.

Stay evolving! 🐌