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Theory in search of application, social engineering, and decentralization

haksayngAug 21, 2018, 8:46:47 PM

One criticism brought against Blockchain-based technology by skeptics is that it is a "solution looking for a problem". Sure, the idea of Blockchains and decentralized platforms may be cool on paper, but in practice it "doesn't scale" or "can't compete with existing technologies like Visa/credit cards".

In this essay, I turn to how, firstly, criticizing Blockchain technology should be the least of our concerns for the future. If you don't like Blockchain technology, don't invest in it; Bitcoin hodlers aren't forcing you to do anything.

I then turn to the problem of how many generations of students are being raised to look for social engineering solutions to cultural problems, investing themselves in centralized solutions that smell very, very socialisty.

I contrast the "governments-fix-problems by pressing buttons and pulling levers" approach commonly taught in schools to the hands-on experimentation practiced by many entrepreneurs and developers of Blockchain technologies. Those that advocate decentralized approaches, I argue, are on the right track for creating a world where opportunities are many, failure isn't catastrophic, and transparency is encouraged.

Diversity is a strength ;)

Haters of blockchain technology seem to oscillate between two positions. On one hand, they seem concerned whether or not Blockchain technology will ever become anything mainstream or useful. On the other hand, they are scared that Blockchain will become something usable—too usable, in fact, and that it will destabilize existing ways of doing things.

For those that have doubts about whether or not blockchains will ever become something useful, you are free to not invest.  Hopefully the hard work of developers making sites like Minds will eventually put doubters at ease.  Buying (and using) cryptocurrencies, using Minds, and getting involved with other decentralized technologies remains a voluntary ordeal. In contrast, the same cannot be said for legal tender (e.g. fiat currencies), which among other functions, must be used to pay taxes.

Many call for regulation of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. The US dollar, after all, is regulated. If we don't regulate Bitcoin, what might happen?! People not paying taxes?!!!! Scams?!

Ultimately, concerns about what Blockchain technology might become strike me as concerns about decentralized power. If value can be exchanged by more free market principles, who will end up with the most shekels? Only thieves, drug traffickers, and other villains?!!!

In fear, we push our students towards studying social engineering.

Show me the buttons and levers!

The STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) fields—which your now-employed classmates likely studied—are characterized by the rigorous application of tried-and-true methods to solve a wide range of problems. STEM faces a rule-governed, indifferent world with predictive power and clever exploits to leverage the laws of nature for human benefit.

The Social Sciences (and other "soft" sciences) try to find applications of the tools and techniques of the "hard sciences" in the messier, less convincingly ordered social world. 

Engineering a car is one thing. Engineering society—in the form of law, government, education, etc. is a different matter.

Firstly, engineering—like building a motor or writing a computer program—can be often be done on a small, local level. We can try, fail, and try again to gradually improve our skills and then turn to larger projects. Social engineering, on the other hand, deals with humans—often children (e.g. in education)—and often is only tried on nationwide or global scale.

When we train students in the Social Sciences, we are more often than not training policy makers—aka experimenters on humans. Those that aspire to influence legislation rather than go into business and apply knowledge about society to create solutions (and make profits) are the new Mandarins—bureaucratic button pressers and pencil pushers.

Secondly, engineering (in the STEM sense) reliably produces working, usable products. An engineer (or an electrician or a plumber) has little explaining to do to a customer—as long as stuff works, everyone is happy. The Social Engineer, on the other hand, rarely, if ever admits fault. They cry,

If only, if only there was more funding!!!!!!!

Finally, engineers of things like software and power plants must take risk. Business people are betting on the success of engineers in their engineering endeavor. How about for Social Engineers?

One more term, I'll fix everything I promise!!!!!

Decentralized solutions

Here, I am not calling to divest all money from studying society. Many people should—and will—be involved in thinking of how to make society, culture, and the economy better [1].

What I am urging is for encouraging decentralized solutions. Let failure (and success) be local, born out by individuals, rather than impersonal monopolies of force (governments).

Technology has made great strides through the efforts of individual innovators, businesses, and other "small-scale" efforts. Massive government spending through grants and other means is not necessary for the advancement of technology. People will want to build stuff and find ways to do it. Nonetheless, as a society (speaking from where I come from, the US), we are training many young, energetic students to believe top-down planning and policy—rather than assuming risk, building, and iteratively improving—is the path forward.

A decentralized approach is to social issues—embraced by many conservatives—is to encourage people to explore morality on an individual level (e.g. through cultivating virtues) rather than develop grand schemes for dealing with the fallouts of moral failure. 

Decentralization may be scary because it involves relinquishing (illusory) control. Can world leaders step away from the control panel with buttons and levers for messing with society (or to go one step further, unplug, smash apart, and recycle that control panel)?

Time will tell if governments must always grow, or if they can be limited in size and leave-well-enough-alone—a libertarian goal.

In the mean time, each one of us has a (local) life to live to prove that individuals, not control panels operating massive human experiments, are the fuel for the engines that generate prosperous societies.


[1] "Better" can mean different things depending on who you talk to. Free market advocates, like their more lefty counterparts, would like to see poverty eliminated. Free market advocates, however, don't prioritize equality (of outcome). It is much better to have no poverty and greater inequality than greater equality but lots of poverty (rip Venezuela).