A New Chapter for RadicalxChange

April 13, 2022

Hannah Arendt concludes her otherwise dark book, Origins of Totalitarianism, with the hopeful message that humanity’s greatest capacity is renewal–the capacity to begin again, to imagine and bring about new, better, common futures.

In other words, when we hear the end is near, let’s remember: renewal is here.

Many are starting to think about and plan for what comes after (traditional) democracy. It’s quite clear technology will be at the center, but it’s not at all clear that it will be democratic renewal and digital democracy. That will take a concerted, generational effort; renewal at every level of social organization.

It is in this spirit that we lay out our plans to renew our ideas, Foundation, and community.

Building on Our Work

With the release of Radical Markets came an exhilarating first wave of basic building blocks for renewing democracy. Quadratic Voting! Self-Assessed Licenses Sold by Auction! Data Unions! Amazingly, diverse communities actually started applying the ideas. We started seeing some of the potential realized.

But we also saw sociotechnical limitations. The basic premises were often too individualistic. Research progress, even in organized working groups like the one for the Data Freedom Act, depended on a handful of people. We amplified important experiments (in Colorado and Taiwan, in Web 3, in our own community, etc.), but the groups and their learnings remained largely siloed.

Plural Technology

Moreover, we’ve come to realize these were not endpoints, but first steps into a new academic field and technological paradigm we’re calling Plurality. It’s an ambitious agenda for technology and digital democracy, offering fellow travelers a coherent vision and roadmap to coordinate and give common purpose to their efforts.

Looking ahead, we will reflect this in how we refer to our basic building blocks, now as plural technology for diverse cooperation:

Plural Voting better communicates how the mechanism helps groups locate common ground amidst their competing preferences, expressing the core Plurality principle of fostering cooperation across diversity.

Plural Funding better describes how the mechanism fosters emergent democratic communities and encourages a plurality of stakeholders to contribute to network goods. It also improves upon the simple version of Quadratic Funding by formally recognizing community structure through “soulbound” or non-transferrable community tokens (more on this below).

Plural Ownership conveys how in this system the nature of property is neither public or private, but more fluidly shared between current possessors of an asset and society at large.

Plural Identity points toward a paradigm in which our digital identities can support increased digital agency, while also better reflecting the rich and multi-dimensional social characteristics that make us who we are (instead of the current status quo of rigid, universal credentials provided by large networks).

We hope these changes in name clarify and elevate the social philosophy behind these systems. Plural technology expands democratic citizen engagement, empowers cooperation to tackle the many existential risks facing us, and expands meaningful freedom to choose and shape the communities who give our lives meaning.

Open Source Organizing

We are also continually renewing RadicalxChange – rethinking and reorganizing the Foundation and community to push this vision forward in ways that include and empower more people and make our work more integrative and collaborative.

Plurality is a budding common context connecting many communities. Fellow travelers might come from: groups focused on defending traditional democracy who are starting to look to the future; those focused on the future who are starting to imagine digital democracy; those in academic disciplines like Artificial Intelligence, Cryptography, and Economics; communities of practice in civil society, technology, business, and politics; inclusive design, community organizing, and the arts; religious communities; and so many others.

RadicalxChange can play a key role in bridging these groups, shepherding more cross-sectoral and cross-perspectival collaboration, and making the space more legible for fellow travelers to engage. Our work here is just beginning, but we already see a highly generative community of pioneers researching and experimenting with plural technology. And importantly, there’s an even wider community eager to test them in different settings: governments, the private sector, non-profit organizations, as well as blockchain networks.

To this end, we aim to make RadicalxChange as open and transparent as possible, working more like an open source project than a traditional non-profit foundation. As such, we want to provide tools like RxC Voice, but we also want to enable the community to collaborate more closely with us–to adapt the tools to their contexts and even build their own tools. We want to cultivate a strong social fabric among our community, but we also hope to see local and thematic subgroups self-organize and build their own social fabrics. We want to provide thought leadership and trailblazing experiments with new Plural concepts, but we know answers to important questions may come from unexpected places.

New Puzzle Pieces

Thus we offer below some of our latest thinking on new, key puzzle pieces like soulbound tokens, cooperative ownership, and community currencies, as well as pointers on how to join us in continuing to develop them. Each has many open questions, and combining them with our basic building blocks is an incredibly rich design space.

But the directions they point in are extremely compelling. Compelling to us, obviously, as democratic mechanisms people. But also much more broadly, to all those who wish to see each other better; to honor and empower ways in which we are different and to foster cooperation across them; to respect each other’s participation in power; to facilitate grassroots economics and improve our social ability to form shared goals; to see mutualist, regenerative communities outcompete capitalism at managing capital…

To help get us there, we plan to support a few interoperable working groups where new puzzle pieces will be shaped and tested. We encourage our community to join and help lead these working groups, in cooperation with the Foundation; emergent leaders will take responsibility for setting goals, running meetings, onboarding new members, and so forth. Currently our Discord is the place to join the conversation (and over time we’ll be developing more channels to further support the emergence, spread and coherence of more working groups and chapters). Importantly, this is also only one thread of development, among the many different possibilities our community could take on.

That said, here’s roughly how they might fit together:

First, with “soulbound” or non-transferable community tokens, our mechanisms can now formally recognize community structure. We envision a shared proof-of-personhood identity system in which each person’s account holds a unique journal of soulbound tokens representing their unique attachments to different social groups.

Credit: “Soulbound” by Vitalik Buterin

This transforms Plural Funding (and Plural Voting), which previously could only see atomized and purely self-interested individuals and provided incentives to help them coordinate. In reality, there are all kinds of groups and institutions who partially coordinate their members: those in the same company, same blockchain community, same ethnic group, etc. This problem is generally fine at small scales, where groups share richer context and can manually and not very transparently check for “collusion”, but using soulbound tokens, Plural Funding can improve coordination within and across groups in a more formal, transparent, and neutral way that scales. Members must hold the relevant community token to participate in the group’s internal governance and funding decisions. But for broader decisions that include more people and other groups, those who are already coordinating and holding the same token see reduced matching. The incentives offset and the system is able to subsidize and support bridging ties and unlikely consensus across previously uncooperative social groups.

Overlapping Communities

Overlapping Networks

Credit: “Plurality” by Glen Weyl

It also transforms Plural Ownership. In an individualistic setup, buying an asset is like giving up global influence (global money) for local influence (individual property). With soulbound tokens, which can gate access to not just governance but a community’s resources, the right to purchase need not be universal–instead, it can sit within the relevant level of community. Now buying an asset is giving up some amount of influence in the broader communities in which it sits.

Harberger tax

The next and perhaps most ambitious puzzle piece is community currencies, which introduces the idea of Plural Money. The insight here is that we don’t simply “exchange” with our friends and communities; it is much richer than that. We can’t do this with strangers, so we use money. But money, and universal currencies like Bitcoin, actually undermine community by making it easy to uproot value/power accrued in one community, and transplant it to another. Community currencies, properly designed, have a higher exit cost: transactions are biased toward purchasing community assets via SALSA licenses and services that can’t be directly removed from the community, while transfers to non-community members (measured by the social distance captured through soulbound tokens) are taxed.

A Model for Plural Money

Governance of Plural Money

Finally, members can steer their communities democratically using RxC Voice or some other thoughtful democratic system.

RxC Voice

The horizon might be hazy, but we believe plural technology leads to better, more surprising places. As J.C.R. Licklider once said, “On the frontier, we must often chart our course by stars we have never seen.”