In Merle Travis’ “16 tons” song, the protagonist of the song says he “owes his soul to the company store.” It means that the company was implementing a closed currency circuit in which the salaries of the workers could only be spent at the company store. In a sense, the company issued its own currency. Now, in our world, the power of issuing money is reserved to the state (actually to its evil minion called “The Fed”). So, in a certain sense, the company mentioned in the song was behaving as a “virtual state.” Could that be a trend for the future? Could metaverse-based virtual “metastates” replace conventional states? It is difficult to say, but it is not unthinkable that metastates could free us from the evil governments working to exterminate us.
States are the most ruthless killing machines ever created in the history of humankind. They are managed by evil entities called “governments” that claim the right to seize your property, force you to speak a specific language, bomb entire populations to smithereens, send you to die in a humid trench in the mountains, and much more. Of course, you can always tell your government that you are displeased with what they are doing and that, one day, you’ll punish them by marking a cross on a certain symbol on a piece of paper called a ballot. And that will serve them well. Sure.
Once, there was the possibility to quit. Sufficiently motivated groups of people could flee from the band of psychopathic murderers who claimed to be their masters by divine right and settle somewhere else to create a new state, with new rules, new laws, and new citizens. In the past, the Pilgrim Fathers did that, and later the Mormons. It didn’t always work so well, but at least they had a chance. But now, of course, where in the world could you run? The only places theoretically free from governments are micro-islands, abandoned oil drilling platforms, or maybe the open sea. There would seem to be no hope. And yet, and yet, there could be ways if we think out of the box.
First, what is a state, exactly? In the modern version, a state is defined by the land it controls: it has rigid boundaries called “borders,” usually involving physical barriers, things like high walls, barbed wire, armed troops, and the like. But what really keeps the state together is its control of money. The state issues money (actually, central banks do that, but it is the same). Then, the state takes back the money it has issued in the form of tax, fines, and other forms of extortion. It is this circular loop that keeps citizens bound to the state in a relationship that we can only define as a slightly softened version of slavery. You need money to survive, and the only way to get money is to obey the state. In recent times, we have seen states moving directly to seize the bank accounts of those citizens who were deemed guilty of dissent. It was a way to remark that citizens don’t really own the money they think they own. All the money belongs to the state. (*)
Because of the enormous power of money, everything inside the borders is absolutely, completely, and irreversibly under the control of the state. Outside, it is the same, but it is another state, just with a differently named money, but as absolutist, suspicious, paranoid, and ruled by the same kind of murderous psychopaths. If you are the offspring of citizens of a certain state, you are by definition a slave to the government of that state. It is called “ius sanguinis” and it traditionally defined the condition of slavery: born a slave, you are supposed to be a slave for the rest of your life. Some states apply the ius soli, which states that citizens are all those people born inside the border of the state. It changes nothing to the fact that you have no choice.
But it was not always like this. In ancient times, your place in society was not defined by physical boundaries and not even by money, but by your allegiance to a liege lord to whom you pledged fealty. A pledge of fealty was no joke. It involved a deep bond of reciprocal obligations based on personal honor. To realize how deep that bond could be, you just have to think of the story of the forty-seven Japanese ronin, who took as a mission to avenge the death of their lord, to the point of accepting to die for it. That’s not something you can buy with money.
Unlike modern citizenship in a state, fealty was, within some limits, a choice. Then, your “state” was where your lord was, independently of fixed borders. You can see a reverberation of these ancient uses in the “Dune” story when the Emperor orders the house of Atreids to leave their possession on planet Caledon and move to Arrakis. The followers of the Atreids are not bound to Caledon, they all move with their lords to Arrakis.
For some reason, most likely because of the pervasive corruption brought by money, the idea of pledging fealty to a noble house is completely out of fashion, nowadays, but things constantly change. States have become such monstrosities that many people are reasoning about the possibility of replacing them with something else or, at least, making them a little more flexible and less violent and bloodthirsty. And here comes a possibility: the Metaverse.
I know, for many of us, the term “Metaverse” is nearly the same thing as enslavement by a totalitarian state. But when a new technology appears, you never know how it may evolve and what it may lead to. On this subject, I had a flash of understanding when I read the article “Virtual Reality and the Network State
” by Ryan Matters, which just appeared on “Off Guardian.” Absolutely worth reading. Let me report here some of the points that Matters makes, citing from his post.
The term “metaverse” was first used by futurist and Science fiction writer, Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash to describe a “theoretical” 3D virtual reality that ordinary people could occupy. ….
A deeper look at Stephenson’s work reveals some interesting themes, for the list of topics explored in his books reads like the meeting agenda from a closed session at Davos; climate change, global pandemics, biological warfare, nanotechnology, geo-engineering, robotics, cryptography, virtual reality, the list goes on.In fact, not only has Stephenson written about the “metaverse” before it became a thing, but some people even credit his 1999 book Cryptonomicon with sketching the basis for the concept of cryptocurrency!
Like certain science fiction writers before him, Stephenson is clearly privy to more than he lets on. And his close relationships with billionaire technocrats like Bezos and Gates only fuel my suspicions that he’s not merely a novelist with a good imagination and an uncanny knack for predicting the future.
But alas, we must return to the topic at hand – the metaverse, a virtual world where
you can go about many of your everyday life’s day-to-day interactions and occurrences – in your avatar form. This form can be a human, animal, or something more abstract with its customizable appearance.Yes, that’s right. You can be whatever you want to be. Your avatar (a word popularised by Stephenson!) could be a boy, girl, dog, buffalo, toaster – anything you like!
You can then interact with other people’s avatars in this virtual world. In the Metaverse, you can buy and sell land, attend concerts and go to museums, build a house, and more.
As the work of Neal Stephenson shows, the “metaverse” is not a new idea. The concept has been gradually leaked into mainstream culture over the last twenty plus years. Just think of video games like Second Life and movies like The Matrix or Ready Player One.
It was only last year (2021) that Facebook rebranded as “meta”, positioning itself for a future in which it will play a leading role in developing the infrastructure to realise the metaverse.
Still not sure how this all fits together? Simple: With a virtual world like the “metaverse” comes virtual money and virtual goods, i.e., cryptocurrency and NFTs. Without cryptocurrency, the metaverse would not be possible. (…)Apart from the concerning philosophical and psychological implications of living life in a VR, web3 brings with it all kinds of new possible futures, some of which may actually be an improvement to the way society currently functions, with its reliance upon corrupt central banks and infiltrated governments.
Futurist and former CTO of Coinbase, Balaji Srinivasan, envisions a world in which the blockchain has allowed online communities to “materialise” into the real world as independent, sovereign states. He calls this concept the “network state” and he defines it as follows:
The Network State is a digital nation launched first as an online community before materialising physically on land after reaching critical mass.
In other words, the “network state”, according to Srinivasan, will be the next version of the nation state. He maintains that, due to the decentralised nature of the blockchain, network states will begin as geographically decentralised communities, connected via the internet.
This community will be made up of regular people who believe in a common cause; it will be a group that is capable of collective action. Eventually, the community will begin to build up its own, internal economy using cryptocurrency.
This will allow them to start holding in-person meet-ups in the real world and eventually crowd-fund apartments, houses and even towns to establish co-living facilities and bring digital community members into the real world.
The final step of the process is for the new community to negotiate diplomatic recognition from pre-existing governments, increasing sovereignty and becoming a true network state.
This leads us to Srinivasan’s more complex definition of the concept:
A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognized founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, a consensual government limited by a social smart contract, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition.
Srinivasan’s philosophy is an interesting one, and despite being a self-proclaimed transhumanist, he just may have outlined a realistic route to gaining independence from the centrally-controlled, ever-more-authoritarian, world state.
Is it really possible? At the very least, it is an interesting possibility. If you think about that, all states are virtual — and the same is true for money: it is a purely virtual entity. Now, the key point of a metaverse state would be an integrated cryptocurrency based on blockchain technology. There is an interesting parallel between the concept of “honor” and of “blockchain.” Your honor is determined mainly by what you did in the past: as Maximus Decimus Meridius noted, “what you do in life, echoes in eternity.” It is just like a blockchain that cannot be altered once it is established.
Of course, just like the real state, the metastate would not be just virtual: it would extend into the real world with real entities: it could have a police, laws, real-real estate, and more. It could even have a real-world army and engage in diplomatic treaties with other meta- or real states. The main difference is that virtual states would have no borders. They would co-exist in the same areas, although their citizens may tend to live in some specific regions.
It is not so farfetched as it may seem at first sight. For instance, Neil Degrassse Tyson
proposed in 2016 a virtual state that he called “#Rationalia” whose constitution would consist of a single line ” All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” The reactions were overwhelmingly negative for several good reasons. Tyson’s idea lacked the fundamental element of a metastate, the integrated cryptocurrency. But such states do already exist in an embryonic form: they are called “corporations,” more specifically “multinational corporations.” What they need to become full-fledged metastates is their own currency. That would be a small step for a corporation, but a big step for humankind. Companies are not alien from issuing their own currency, do you remember the song by Merle Travis, “16 tons
“? The protagonist of the song says he “owns his soul to the company store.” It means that the company was implementing a closed currency circuit in which the salaries of the workers could only be spent at the company store. In a sense, it issued its own currency.
If we survive the global collapse, and if traditional states keep in their evil ways, one day we might really choose to become citizens of a virtual state. Would that free us from the paranoid monsters that now rule the world? Who knows? The future always surprises you!
(*) The 2022 decision of the Canadian government to freeze the personal accounts of anyone linked with the anti-vaccine mandate protests, was special because it had rarely happened before that a government would seize citizens’ assets on purely ideological reasons. On the other hand, once you decide that the government is the law, and the law is the government, then it is the same thing as a fine. You are fined because you behave in ways the government doesn’t want you to behave. As for the state taking money directly from citizens’ bank accounts, the first case was probably in Italy in 1992.
Originally appeared on The Seneca Effect