Categories
Culture Politics

Day 644 and Status Equivalence and DAO Leadership

Capitalism has largely been a triumph of hierarchy as an organizing mechanism. As we evolved from mercantilism into corporatism, appointing and holding accountable a single point of failure in a chief executive officer has become an effective shortcut for managing complexity when deploying capital. Leadership is responsible for the outcome.

The aphorism “failure is an orphan but success has many fathers” abuts against the reality that while we love to lavish praise upon executives, monarchs and other singular nexuses of responsibility it’s often not reflected in reality. Our bias in the post-industrial revolution has been towards leadership via individual even as post Enlightenment values valorize democracy and community participation. It’s been a tension for since the Industrial Revolution. America exemplifies this as the country most committed to both participatory federalism and corporate capitalism.

I am particularly interested in this tension as I believe we may be on the crux of larger organizational needs and are seeing them begin to coalesce in crypto. As decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, make an attempt to become the new corporate governance structure in Web3, it seems worth studying the question of whether leadership is a singular or collective exercise for humans.

What does the historical and anthropological record have to say about how we organize? What are we evolved to prefer and are we capable of evolving further?

The bias we operate with now is great man theory. But what if that is not just wrong but not even the predominant form of human organization through history? Critics of cooperation might do well to explore this in particular.

I came across a Rob Henderson blog post which is an extended overview of a piece of sociology Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior by the UCLA anthropologist Christopher Boehm. According to Rob’s post, the main question of this work is whether humans are by nature hierarchical or egalitarian. And it turns out our hunter gatherer forefathers were mostly egalitarian. The bulk of our history is egalitarian.

The anthropological record along with research on extant modern hunter-gatherers suggests that for most of human history we have been egalitarian, defined as “status equivalency among the decision-makers of a group.”

Rob Henderson reviews Hierarchy in the Forest

If you extrapolate this into a modern corporate context, the C-Suite or executive team, or perhaps even the founding team, are roughly the status equivalent decision makers. Maybe there is a first among equals in the CEO or founder but they can, in theory, be replaced by a board. But what if instead of a C-corporation you are managing a cooperative like a DAO? What then?

Apparently we humans are rather good at maintaining status equivalence. Richard Wrangham’s Goodness Paradox discusses how humans have self domesticated to avoid too much resource and power aggregation.

Over time, early humans eliminated those who were overtly aggressive. They killed or ostracized upstarts hungry for power; men with aggressive political ambitions. Other men would quietly organize to commit collective murder of troublesome male

Rob Henderson on Goodness Paradox

Moral communities evolve and punish those who deviate from acceptable standards. If you are too ambitious as an individual we swoop in as a species. It seems a bit miraculous in that light that we live in an era of kleptocracy and power consolidation given our tendency to murder upstarts. Great man theory isn’t all that sustainable. Or is it? Perhaps it’s that we asset influence obliquely. I’d wager any woman would agree.

Oftentimes, headmen display “self-effacing” behavior. Headmen and informal leaders usually obtained their roles through talent in hunting or warfare, storytelling ability, or congeniality. They rarely assert direct authority.

Rob Henderson on Boehm

If indirect authority is a sustainable organizational preference in the anthropological record, perhaps corporations are more amenable to reconstruction as DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) through the principle of status equivalence.

The autonomous part seems the trickiest, but decentralized authority inside tribal organizations are at least recognizably human. If as a group we disliked a status or resource hungry “great man” we leaned on the leadership preferences of status equivalent equals and forced you out.

I see no reason we can’t write in similar parameters into a smart contract as an experiment. At the first hint of a rug pull let the burning begin! We are already seeing political battles for resource allocation inside bigger organizations like MakerDAO. Crypto may be a worthy space for experienced leadership to show that figureheads like CEOs or founders are not the crucial lynchpin for progress and stability we believe.

Which would be quite a balm to me personally as I’m deeply skeptical of authoritarianism as a solution for our technical and social problems. I’d much rather we explore the wisdom of past tribal knowledge to guide us than look to a mythical great man to save me.

Categories
Travel

Day 524 and Low Recovery

I’m on my way to Austin Texas today. Most of yesterday got eaten up by various preparations to be on the road. I’m scared for this trip as Texas hasn’t made cannabis legal so a core part of my physical stability regimen from my physician can’t be brought with me if I want to stay on the right side of the law. I’m terrified of Paxton the incredibly corrupt attorney general.

I did a bit too much yesterday in preparation for travel and unsurprisingly my Whoop and Welltory are flashing red warning signs. I struggle to sleep before travel because of the anxiety and no amount of magnesium, melatonin, quiet reading and essential oils was going to get me down. Even Ambien was like yeah girl your heart rate is crazy.

A poor set of recovery metrics from Whoop

I’m hoping the flight is easy and I get a good night sleep once I’m in Texas. I’d like to be in the green for tomorrow as I’ve got a few little things to finish in preparation. But my basics biometrics are still so bad a 45 HRV is considered good as I think I’m still in a long post viral thing from May.

The Texas heat is going to quite extreme unfortunately. I’m skeptical all go outside for any longer than it takes to get a cab. I brought a bathing suit but I am not sure frying by the pool will do me any good.

A weather forecast for Austin Texas showing a string of over 100 degree highs for a week.

I’m much more concerned about Texas’ notoriously unstable power grids. What if it goes down while I’m there? Will my Texas prepper friends take me in? Will the hotel be on a generator? Is downtown Austin likely to be restored quickly? What if it’s a cascade event and nothing can be brought up for days like their last major grid event?

I’ve done my best to set the lowest possible expectations for being able to meet up with me socially. Which is a shame as conferences are for networking. My DMs are packed with excited DAO folks trying to get my attention. Meanwhile I’m not even confident I’ll leave the hotel room for anything but my own talk and one meet up with a long time friend whom I’ve not had the chance to be with IRL.

I’d like to do more but so many factors are combining to make me extra cautious about obligations. There are too many potentials for a cascade failure and I want to give a great talk so I’ve got to save my energy for that. I’m not worried about being good for the talk.

I’ve got an incredible gift where I can muster all my focus and energy even when extremely sick. I’ll use every last drop of it to meet my obligations. No one will be able to tell I’m sick. And then it’s entirely possible I’ll crater for days. My autonomic nervous system is very sensitive. It’s a blessing and a curse.

I’d you absolutely must find a way to meet with me (and sorry pitching me IRL might not be in the cards but DM and we will chat) I may try to host some folks at my hotel suite. If you are an actual friend of mine and can respect the disability situation maybe we can make it work. But no promises. Which of course my actual friends will understand so open invitation and such.

Categories
Internet Culture Startups

Day 509 and History Lesson

I’ve been working on a talk for Coindesk’s Consensus in June. I’m doing a talk for their Big Ideas stage that Alex cleverly named the InDAOstrial Revolution. I’m pretty excited about the topic as it’s science fiction & finance history and social organization. It’s basically all my favorites. A

The invention of corporations was a transformative innovation for human organizing, driving the growth of the industrial revolution. Can DAOs drive an equally explosive innovation cycle? Decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, offer us a shift towards open and inclusionary entities for marshaling resources and energy. This session dives into their potential futures, including open web public goods, the end of doomer capitalism, techno-optimism collectives, and the possibility of a networked nation state. Come for the sci-fi vibes, stay for the boomer neoliberal skepticism and get a pleasant dose of economic history in the process.

I’ve been doing a little bit of deep diving into the history of the corporation and it’s role in American history in particular. And when I was procrastinating during my flu I watched Gilded Age. Just so you’ve got an idea of my mind set. And honestly it’s been a mind fuck.

I’m not a historian but I think you can make the case that America had corporate governance before we had a functional state or federal government. In fact, this History of the Corporate Form from Fordham Law showed me the wildest fact I’ve ever seen. In America the corporation came before the state.

Other notable “joint-stock” companies, such as the Virginia Company, helped expand British control of North America. In fact, the Virginia Company established the General Assembly, which was the first legislature in North America.

The idea that some monarchy set a corporate charter up to extract commodities and that corporate organization led to a three hundred year experiment in self governance is astonishing. You really never can tell about an event’s downstream ripples. Our entire political way of life was downstream of property rights.

Of course, the reason I point this out is that how we organize and govern our resources and at what scale is what defines history. The ability to trust your goals and your investment will be executed, even if you are not personal overseeing it, is as it turns out a key innovation catalyst for all other technologies. The more efficient we are at at marshaling and deploying resources the further we get as a civilization.

The case I would like to make is that DAOs could help us unlock more sophisticated financing that enables ever further scale and coordination. If the corporation created American, can the DAO led other new nation states?

I can imagine a network state made up of sub-DAOs that provide interlocking economies. Some DAOs are responsible for infrastructure. Others are for services. Maybe we share some key responsibilities across one oligopoly for key social services like health care. The more something needs scale to succeed the more large scale collaborative behavior gets rewarded. I don’t doubt we can create some truly dystopian shit but also maybe it finally gets us to Mars.

Categories
Emotional Work Startups

Day 505 and Deadlines

I’m trying to stave off a cortisol spike that my body simply does not need. I’ve got a talk coming up for Consensus in June and I owe an editorial with my main thesis along with any visuals I may need for the talk due next week.

I know the area I plan to speak about quite well. It is titled the InDAOstrial Revolution and I plan to cover some far future possibilities for what the new organizational structure can bring. And I do mean far as I’ll talk about some radical ideas like data collectives for rare diseases and networked nation states. I’m really excited as I think decentralized autonomous organizations offer us a new path for how we can pool different kinds of resources. I think DAOs give humans a chance to build better bigger weirder things on totally radical timelines just like the advent of the corporation did before in the industrial revolution.

I’ve been watching Gilded Age as I’m a sucker for set pieces but also because I love stories of wealth and power and cultural mores being pushed. I think DAOs have the chance to do that for society and the family in a way that is just as unsettling and ultimately wealth creating as anything we saw in the Gilded Age. And the changes we see to cultural norms will be every bit as revolutionary as the ones we see with inventions or investments. When times change, we push all of the ideas we have about how to properly organize individuals and citizens with it.

What I’m saying is I’m obviously passionate about the topic and even when I’m home with the flu I’m thinking about ways to knit together different worlds and metaphors. I might not be the best expert on DAOs nor am I remotely close to being one of the earlier people to get into them, but I’m absolutely an informed and enthusiastic professional with the training to think about this holistically. So I’d listen to me if I had the chance.

Nevertheless I’m worried I’ll botch the talk. My mind wants to worry I’ve run out of time to do a good job (I obviously haven’t) and that even if I put in a lot of hours it could have been more. I could have started sooner.

But honestly I’ve got to let that self defeating talk go. What I bring will be enough. And a deadline looming even with a sickness is no reason to worry when you know and love a topic well. So I’ll trust myself to bring you something good.

Categories
Preparedness Startups

Day 474 and Unsettled

I don’t own a home. It was never a financial reality before the pandemic. But then the world accelerated and suddenly we had options and money. But still it seemed impossible to commit to another asset with a long time horizon even recently. We were startup people so every other asset was a long hold.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I have written about how I would like to buy a home now. I feel like it’s time to find a place where we can build some stability. But of course the chaotic thesis haunts me.

The chaotic thesis is the one that undergirds all of my investing. The world is getting more complex. That breeds chaos. The biggest macro-level mega trend of the next decade will be adapting to the chaos.

And as it turns out adapting to chaos is really hard. Everything that allows you to cope with the chaos in high demand. A safe place to call your own? Sorry, it’s never been harder to become a homeowner.

I wish I could say that knowing this is our reality makes it easier to adapt. Knowing isn’t the battle as it turns out. Acting on the knowledge is the hard part. Making good decisions under pressure is what will separate out who thrives and who merely survives.

I don’t think it’s going to be pretty and I’m genuinely worried it’s either hit the singularity or a new dark age. There is a reason we think we need the metaverse and it’s not because reality is getting better. It’s because it’s getting worse. I allowed all the web3 kids working out there working on Plan B.

Categories
Internet Culture Startups

Day 461 and Remora

I saw a headline about how Trump’s social media site is failing. I’ve got no idea if that’s true but the media likes the story. This is playing out in the context of Elon Musk using corporate governance as a public relations stunt with his new Twitter board seat. Everyone wants to be an attention grabbing technology company even former presidents and aerospace billionaires. Because even the stupid stunt stuff in tech can be world changing.

I’m at the big Bitcoin conference in Miami. It’s a lot but it’s not fundamentally any gaudier than any other industry event I’ve attended in twenty years being adjacent to startups. Before my current stint as an investor I worked in fashion and beauty so I’ve seen a lot of excess. M I was raised in a boom time Web1 startup family. But also my family went bankrupt. I’ve seen the dark sides. I still work in tech. Like Trump and Elon I too just want a piece of the action.

It’s because startups change the world. Even stupid weird dopey absolutely cult adjacent shit can and does change the world. All these prestige television takes on frauds and crashes and the cult of personality nonsense miss that sometimes those freaks actually do it. Sometimes they change the world. Ok most of the time they don’t. See the current unraveling of Fast. 99% of the time shit goes bad. But to have even a little bit of the action of the 1%. It’s fucking dazzling. It’s worth being adjacent to all the bullshit.

I hold in high esteem the folks who work at the flameouts. Anyone who takes a chance and has it go bad has my admiration. I’ve been one of them. I’ve failed a lot. I’m lucky I don’t get punished for it. At least not much. I’ll never know how much shit like my gender or my ridiculous social media personality factor into that shit. Because I am always allowed to get right back into the action and make shit. Making shit is our currency.

I think this is why even the most powerful people gravitate towards startups. You actually get to make shit. At the earliest stages you get to be personally responsible for so much. Your actions have meaning. You contribute. You know how rare that feeling of community and camaraderie is in peacetime?

It’s a commodity so precious we let ourselves be led by girl bosses and fast talking celebrity thought leader venture capitalists. We tolerate a lot of assholes and psychopaths so we can be in a community of people that make things. It’s the American dream and the most basic human need all rolled up into one.

That ought to give you a sense of the cultural power and vitality of startups. That’s loyalty on par with religion. That’s move history big dick energy. And I think some people hate it I find the hate inscrutable but I’m sure it’s probably legible to those who feel left outside.

So yes boom time early energy big money hanger on remoras are part of any thriving ecosystem. And as far as I can tell Bitcoin has the manna to go the distance. Because everyone wants a piece of the action.

Categories
Internet Culture Medical Startups

Day 415 and Accessibility

I don’t think of myself as disabled or requiring special accommodations, though I have a well controlled medical condition that swells my spinal cord called ankylosing spondylitis. But for the first time since my diagnosis I really felt like I was handicapped. And I am feeling so much sadness over the idea that I might genuinely be disabled.

I’m attending ETHDenver and it’s wildly over capacity. No consideration has been given to any kind of basic accessibility. I didn’t think it would effect me though till I got here. I can walk without a mobility aid and if you met me you’d never know I have an issue. But I can’t stand in line on cold concrete for two hours. It turns out I would need a wheelchair for that kind of activity. And even if I had a wheelchair the first two days were in the cold and snow so I couldn’t have wheeled over or around the slush and water.

So I have only attended private parties and small events and group outings. This is great for me as I’m a well networked established member of the startup ecosystem. I’ve got a popular Twitter handle and can easily reach out to people. But I’m noticing just how much a bit of inaccessibility will gatekeep the crypto and web3 community. If you don’t have my heaps of privilege there is no way you could navigate this conference.

And we really need web3 to be welcoming and accessible. To build a better future with infrastructure and economies we all collectively own and benefit from we need an order of magnitude more people participating. But if no one can get in and experience things first hand than web3 will just be a repeat of the oligarchy of web2. It’s honestly my worst fear for crypto. We will accidentally exclude the people who will benefit the most from our innovations.

Categories
Finance Internet Culture Startups

Day 414 and Empire’s End

Being at a crypto convention in 2022 is something else. It’s full jubilee at the end of the world shit. You are surrounded by millennials and gen-zers who know in their gut that their future has been stolen from them. And instead of being pissed they decided to build. And they decided to gamble. And it’s not clear which one is which sometimes.

You’d be forgiven being a nihilist right now. Capitalism looks like an excuse for the oligarchs to consolidate state and private power to enrich themselves. Everyone is soaking in student debt and working shitty interchangeable jobs for corporations owned by private equity. No one can afford a house. No one is stable enough for a marriage and children. Our fucking parents won’t retire and won’t listen to reason when we say their neighborhood needs more housing density.

But if you are in crypto the future looks pretty rosy. You are discussing real estate for your second home and the tax advantages of different jurisdictions. Swapping stories about your friend who accidentally didn’t set up estate planning and his company had a big exit and now he’s got to pay full rate to some expensive Democratic run city and state. If you are at the nice cocktail parties you are building the future and the venture capital is flowing and it’s possible that this is the next big wave of innovation. It’s time to fuck around and find out.

But not everyone in crypto is part of the smart money. Not everyone has institutional backing and the professionalization of long time startup operators coming to build real value. Right right below that success is a teeming horde of brutalized and completely marginalized people who are praying they hit it big on some new coin or hot new NFT project. They saw Bitcoin and then Ethereum go to the moon. So now they are praying to the full moon and hoping they ape into the next big thing.

But what’s scarier is that the prevailing attitude is who cares if it’s risky because no one believes they are going to have a future anyway so you might as well gamble. They might get lucky and build the next Google if they join the right DAO and buidl. Yes I typed buidl. I’m a degen too. I’m a doomer that isn’t convinced the empire is going to hold for much longer. And if I’m going to watch it all crash down I want to be a part of building something better for all of us. Maybe we get lucky and innovative faster than the apocalypse. To be fair, humanity always has in the past.

Categories
Internet Culture Startups

Day 413 and Don’t Believe the Hypebeast

My early twenties were heavily influenced by streetwear and sneakerhead culture. I lived in the Lower East side and hung out with all the kids who would go on to dominate what is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

It feels weird listing out my bonafides as it’s pretty name drop-y but at the time it was like yeah my friends at Alife or High Snobiety or even god forbid Supreme meant basically nothing. I was in the absolute epicenter of hypebeast mania.

So I’ve got a gut sense of what a genuine upswell of obsession looks like. The kind of irrational social capital driven cool mania of the sneakerhead world has a specific vibe to it. Almost illegible to anyone outside. But to the in group? It’s powerful chaos magic binding geas shit.

That’s what EthDenver felt like today. A kind of disorganized overflow of true believers converging into a space about a quarter of the size required. It’s like if TechCrunch disrupt accidentally got overrun by the entire readership of HypeBeast. Honestly it kinda sucks.

You’ve got a number of accomplished teams and founders and investors all trying to figure out how to navigate long lines and complete chaos with no clear programming goal or event schedule. And then you’ve got thousands and thousands of NFT weirdos just shilling and excited and ebullient about stuff they freely admit they don’t technically understand. It’s going to be a wild ride for crypto.

Categories
Internet Culture

Day 403 and Hurt

It’s ok if someone hates me. It’s ok if someone thinks I’m bitchy, stupid, obnoxious and self serving. Hell I’m ok if people think I’m a lesser human being. Which judging by Twitter could be a multitude of reasons ranging from “I’m a woman” to “I’ve got bad taste in tv.”

I am alright with you not being alright with me. My existence is not threatened by your philosophy or personal preferences. My existence is only threatened if you literally threaten me. Call me evil if you like. I’m not offended. Until you take an action against me it’s alright that we disagree. Even if the disagreements are existential.

It’s quite possible this is wrong. I’m open to debate on what constitutes harm. In fact, my entire philosophy centers on that debate being fine. I can take it. I actually pay someone to cuss me out for being stupid and then I pay again to spend time in a group where we regularly tell each other how much the group members anger us. It’s called therapy.

So take that as context when I say I wasn’t particularly personally hurt by Brantly Milligan, aka Brantly.eth aka one of the ENS Foundation cofounders, suggesting women who use contraception are perverts. I’d probably be a lot more hurt if I was a gay trans woman who had an abortion though. But I figure that demo might be used to being called evil by Catholics at this point. Like maybe it’s more of an annoyance than existential threat if you are wealthy and privileged enough to be working in crypto. We aren’t really a population that is hurting

Brantley.eth “homosexual acts are evil. Transgenderism doesn’t exist. Abortion is murder. Contraception is a perversion. So is masturbation and porn.”

The Ethereum community is experiencing this speech with a lot of pain, hurt and anger. Brantley was voted out of his contract with True Names Limited the foundation that manages ENS Domains. But he remains one of the largest holders of tokens and will obviously have plenty of influence over the future of the platform. The debate has become one of cancel culture versus DAO governance working as intended. But the split on that is not clean and it’s not always clear where people will fall. An informal poll on my timeline is pretty evenly split.

Twitter poll asking if Brantley termination is governance working or cancel culture.

I’m tempted to assign him my tokens as a delegate to be honest. Though I won’t because I think he’s unprofessional. But I want to because I don’t love how any of it played out. Brantly doubled down on telling folks to fuck off compounding the feeling of being hurt. That’s unprofessional and not the kind of behavior I’d expect out of my management team. But I also don’t know that simply holding unpleasant or intolerant beliefs is enough. And it shouldn’t be in a decentralized system. I respect that the right voting and governance may have happened here but I’d argue we all want more control spread out over more people for exactly these scenarios.

I think Brantly basically Shrekli’d himself by doubling down on asshole antisocial shit and the DAO equivalent of the Feds coming for you happened. You can’t attract negative attention and be shocked when bad shit happens to you. But I don’t think being a retrograde weirdo is enough on it’s own to get you booted from an ecosystem.

The entire reason I’m walking you through this sensitive topic today is that I am committing my year to self love. And you might think how does self love and DAO governance overlap. But I really do feel empathy to everyone involved in ENS and the ethereum ecosystem right now. The pain of feeling like you are not seen and loved for who you are is primal shit. This is core human nature “do I belong” to my tribe stuff.

If you don’t love yourself than you are going to have a reactive stance to something that questions your morality and worth. And I’m guessing a lot of people are reactive judging by the uproar. But the thing about self love is that you just won’t be as hurt by assholes being assholes. Because you’ve taken care of yourself first. So whatever the right and just outcome of this ENS governance issue, I think it’s important we all check in on ourselves and why we reacted in the first place. Only then can we get on with the business of design the future and it’s technology.