Who Is Building Ethereum's Public Goods?

The aim of Web3 isn’t exploitation, but "regeneration" of nonstate and noncorporate infrastructure.

AccessTimeIconJul 20, 2022 at 3:02 p.m. UTC
Updated Jul 20, 2022 at 4:44 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJul 20, 2022 at 3:02 p.m. UTCUpdated Jul 20, 2022 at 4:44 p.m. UTCLayer 2
AccessTimeIconJul 20, 2022 at 3:02 p.m. UTCUpdated Jul 20, 2022 at 4:44 p.m. UTCLayer 2
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Dr. Paul Dylan-Ennis is a lecturer/assistant professor in the College of Business, University College Dublin.

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Join the most important conversation in crypto and Web3 taking place in Austin, Texas, April 26-28.

I dislike conferences. I’m awkward, almost comically introverted and pathologically incapable of striking up a conversation with strangers (sober). It’s an ordeal. My recent decision to attend ETHBarcelona overrode these factors because my intuition told me this was a statement conference about what I recently termed “hyperregen.

I had to attend. I needed to confirm whether I was imagining this trend or whether it was really there, something you could recognize in the faces of the attendees, raw and uncensored. Not just part of the memetics of Crypto Twitter.

Paul Dylan-Ennis is a lecturer/assistant professor in the College of Business, University College Dublin.

Hyperregen is my term for an emerging and overarching metanarrative of contemporary Ethereum culture. It names the trend, evident in the past year or two, where Ethereum-based projects and influencers more and more present themselves as advancing a regeneration of culture, art and economics.

In many ways, hyperregen is a response to the market nihilism of “DeFi degens,” but also a response to a broader existential crisis that can afflict people operating in crypto, asking is it really just about the money?

If the answer to “what is Ethereum?” is profit, then we have engaged in an elaborate reproduction of late-stage neoliberal capitalism but with fewer safeguards for retail investors. You might say, crypto degens have been speedrunning the history of finance – finding they’re Lehman Brothers circa 2008.

See also: The One Word That Defines Ethereum's Goals | Paul Dylan-Ennis

ETHBarcelona challenged this and felt like a claim that the real purpose of Ethereum is to act as a laboratory for a broader political project and site of economic experimentation. Although pro-markets, the aim of Web3 isn’t exploitation, but regeneration.

That may explain why so many people who were there were “solarpunks.” What started as a literary genre has been adopted by the hyperregen culture and transformed into an implicative aesthetic. Solarpunks dream of a future that has seamlessly integrated highly advanced technology with lush greenery, a Heaven on Earth.

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(Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash, modified by CoinDesk)

Presenters discussed Ethereum as a type of shared commons. It’s a space where people can coordinate activities to build large, open systems. You could describe this vision as a type of experimental solarpunk “minarchism,” or a variation of libertarianism that wants most things run by communities and outside control of the state.

In Ethereum hyperregen culture, minarchism comes in the form of an alternative, decentralized mechanism of public goods funding, so that we don’t have to be reliant on governments or corporations.

Griff Green, founder of decentralized charity platform Giveth, argued the state justifies its negatives (surveillance, overtaxation, etc.) with its positives (roads, parks, etc.). Crypto’s hyperregen tactic is to wither away the state’s stranglehold on the positives until all that is left is the negative, undercutting any justification for the existence of the state at all.

This is a deeply agorist position in the style of Samuel Konkin III, who advocated for the parallel creation of left libertarian enclaves that compete with the state, eroding its contiguous territory until the state evaporates.

Like Konkin, hyperregen is acutely aware that a post-state world cannot be achieved with a right libertarian mindset because the free-rider problem ensures necessary public goods go unprovided or neglected. In Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin’s words:

“Given that a purist ‘private property rights only’ libertarianism inevitably runs into large problems like its inability to fund public goods, any successful pro-freedom program in the 21st century has to be a hybrid containing at least one Big Compromise Idea that solves at least 80% of the problems, so that independent individual initiative can take care of the rest.”

My impression at ETHBarcelona is that the Big Compromise Idea is the climate crisis. The solution, as I took it, is that skeptics of collective solutions, like those required for climate change, could be swayed by the effectiveness of decentralized solarpunk coordination.

This is what Konkin suggested as an agorist tactic: You don’t wait for permission, but permissionlessly build the alternative in parallel and through your constructions reveal the attraction of the post-state alternative.

Easily the most advanced thinking on solarpunk coordination comes from Scott Moore, the founder of Web3 funding vehicle Gitcoin. Moore argues not necessarily against traditional states or corporations but the idea that they represent the only coordination mechanisms for shared social problems.

See also: Ethereum's Political Philosophy Explained | Paul Dylan-Ennis

Instead, we should recognize our already-existing coordination tooling (quadratic funding, retroactive public goods funding, multisigs, etc.) and incentivization mechanisms (currencies, tokens, soulbound tokens, airdrops, etc.) are examples of successful economic, social and political organization at local scale that can be scaled up.

In both Green and Moore, the meta-argument is agorist: to not just generate positive externalities beyond Ethereum but begin organizing beyond Ethereum itself.

Finally, the “lunarpunk” tendency, represented (all-too) briefly at ETHBarcelona by Amir Taaki, argues that whatever direction we are heading, anonymity must be embedded into our practices.

Right after Taaki’s talk, a panel of EU regulators closed out the event, but I couldn’t help but feel the order here was wrong, giving second billing to a more radical vision.

All in all, it appears the hyperregens are on the ascendent in Ethereum culture.

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Dr. Paul Dylan-Ennis is a lecturer/assistant professor in the College of Business, University College Dublin.