A Peer-to-Peer Culture

Our earliest ancestors roamed the expanse of an untouched Earth. As hunters, they chased down wild beasts. As gatherers, they scavenged the forests for nourishment. As explorers, they ventured beyond frozen seas and unapproachable bogs.

And they did so in small groups. Everyone knew each other from birth and trust was just there. It appears as if there were no leaders or similar social roles. Men and women played to nothing but their god-given strengths. From time to time, trade between groups came to be. Evidence of human violence in this period is the lowest on record.

When hunters became settlers and gatherers became farmers, we began building societies. The inherent quality of a society is complexity. Complexity in the interactions between individuals. Settlements became towns, towns became cities, and cities became metropolises. As populations surpassed thousands and millions of inhabitants, we needed ways to make sense of it all. When a simple stroll through city grounds will introduce you to hundreds of unknown strangers, you can't just blindly trust others anymore.

And so trust came by way of central proxies. Naturally, top-down hierarchies were formed, centered around kings, pharaohs, and popes. Armies backed by the word of their emperor brought stability. Coins inscribed with the faces of rulers ended generations of hot-tempered barter.

We found great success in doing so. Each time a new way of handling complexity was introduced, humans reached previously unfathomable highs. From the Babylonian empire, the Greeks, the Romans, China, Great Britain to ultimately the United States and the world today. Each society had solved the complexities of their times and saw centuries of progress.

But with each rise came a fall. One doesn't hear much about the Babylonians these days, the Romans aren't around anymore, Britain is no longer a global superpower and the U.S. is facing existential threats to its democracy. There comes a day when the success of flourishing societies turns into its own fiercest enemy. More complexity is introduced in those times of advancement, and a society has to reinvent itself over and over again for a fighting chance to stay alive.

Look around today and you'll see that we seem to edge ever closer to a death by complexity. Some parts of the world are combating this by embracing central authority even harder. But this is against the principles of individual sovereignty shared by most in the Western sphere of influence.

We're in a phase of unimaginable growth right this very moment. Information is distributed around the world in milliseconds. The problems half an Earth's circumference away are now yours. When information can be instantly shared, the need for central authority diminishes. A king exists to guide a civilization of strangers that have no way of ever effectively communicating with each other. When information is constrained in speed, central proxies optimize flow. When information flow is instant, central proxies present bottlenecks.

For the first time since hunters and gatherers, we can embrace a local kind of lifestyle once more. Central figures that filter, summarize or make decisions for us are products of a different world. There will always be those who inspire, who guide and teach us. But this will be the story of the 21st century: to find distributed systems that allow for emerging intelligence.