October 4, 2022

Would You Ditch All This Chaos for a Country in the Cloud?


As he accrues hundreds of thousands more Twitter followers, Srinivasan dispenses short-term advice (work from home, cancel group events, ramp up testing capacity, stop making comparisons with the flu) and long-term gospel, painting the pandemic as a moving sidewalk to the future that he has been talking about since Startup School in 2013. “The virus breaks centralized states,” he says in a talk in the summer of 2020. The world is unbundling into “green zones” and “red zones.” This moment represents the true dawn of the internet age, civilization’s ascension to the cloud.

For Srinivasan, it is also a moment to escalate his war with the journalists of the Paper Belt. He takes to task a reporter at Recode, offering a $1,000 bitcoin bounty to anyone who can get her Covid article retracted. He offers the same bounty to anyone who can make the best meme about a scrap he recently had with Taylor Lorenz, then a reporter at The New York Times. (When I ask him about this during our Stasi interrogation, he says that against the forces of corporate journalism, “a little bit of crypto on the internet is like a gorilla against a tank.”) In early 2021, another Times reporter (and former WIRED staff writer) gets into hot water with the fans of Slate Star Codex, a rationalist blog whose audience has some overlap with Moldbug’s; Srinivasan again rushes to his tribe’s defense. When Slate Star Codex reboots under a new name, Astral Codex Ten, its author writes: “I got an email from Balaji Srinivasan, a man whose anti-corporate-media crusade straddles a previously unrecognized border between endearing and terrifying. He had some very creative suggestions for how to deal with journalists. I’m not sure any of them were especially actionable, at least not while the Geneva Convention remains in effect.”

By that spring, Srinivasan has fulfilled his own prophecy and moved part-time to Singapore.

In a recent review of Srinivasan’s new book, The Network State, his friend Michael Gibson calls it “a provocation, an assault, an outcry, a handbook, and a gospel that cannot be ignored.” Srinivasan released it in digital form only, so you can have it as either a traditional ebook ($9.99) or as a continuously updated website (free).

Besides being published on the Fourth of July, The Network State shares something else with the US Declaration of Independence. While some of the text is a high-minded defense of inalienable rights, much of it is a recitation of historic grievances. Srinivasan describes how a new trifecta of political forces—“crypto capital,” “woke capital,” and “Communist capital,” represented by the initials BTC, NYT, and CCP (for the Chinese Communist Party)—is shaping the world order. He name-checks The Sovereign Individual several times, including in a chapter titled “If the News Is Fake, Imagine History.” And he expounds on his helical theories at typical length.

But if, for a moment, you tune out the rants, you may find more to appreciate in Srinivasan’s vision of the future than many did when he first aired it. Where his “Ultimate Exit” talk was an exclusive invitation for technologists to take their toys elsewhere, and his WIRED essay was a sanitized description of a world gently reshaped by new ways of connecting, The Network State attempts to address a broad audience, and it acknowledges that the shit is, very ungently, hitting the fan.

So what does Srinivasan’s future look like now? Sort of like a world gradually re-created in the image of Reddit. You’ll start out—you probably already have—by spending more and more of your time communing with like-minded people around the planet, forming your own virtual tribe. Maybe you all want to ban guns; maybe you all want your aging parents to be able to try experimental therapies for Alzheimer’s; maybe you all want abortion to be politically off the table, one way or the other. Soon you may find that your friends on the infinite frontier matter more to you than the nameless, sometimes menacing hominids who co-occupy your meatspace. You’ll become part of what Srinivasan calls a “sovereign collective” or a “network union.” E pluribus unum, a new bundle born of the great unbundling.

Eventually, whether it’s under duress or in a state of fervor, you and your tribe may move toward founding yourselves a country—not a nation-state but a network state. You’ll code a social smart contract, the terms of which will guarantee law, order, and whatever freedoms matter to you. If you like, you can crowdfund social goods, like child care or cyberdefense. You can make it possible to interact with your fellow citizens from behind the safety of a pseudonym, maybe with your social reputation stored in the form of karma points on a blockchain. You could make firearm ownership a capital offense, or you could issue every toddler a Glock. When the collective gets strong enough, you might crowdfund a constellation of territories—a “networked archipelago.” At some point, you’ll achieve diplomatic recognition from other states.

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