A talk about Freedom and Decentralization

At Minima, we’re building the most decentralized network for the transfer of value and information. Often when people hear about the freedom such a network could facilitate, they have an array of questions. In this interview with our CMO, Jon MacDonald, we address those most commonly asked.

How would you describe freedom?

Jon: “I think freedom is a concept that is a human state. It’s a state of humanity, an individual state. It can be seen in three contexts:

- Intrapersonal freedom: the freedom within yourself to think or act in different ways

- Interpersonal freedom: how we can be free together as two people, interactively

- Extrapersonal freedom: overall society’s freedom

Those three contexts are all around the opposite of a restriction, so it would be unrestricted freedom of thoughts, speech, movement, behavior, habits, activity, insert any form of verb. I also believe that these are fundamental human rights, but to be responsible in society, that freedom still operates within the laws of the land."

Is there already a place where we get close to this?

Jon: “I feel that I get close to it in meditation. I feel that I can surpass any form of restriction.

Technologically, many of us are fortunate enough to have a level of freedom when we’re able to be on a beach and check an email. There’s a level of freedom when we’re in a traffic jam, and we’re able to call the place we’re meant to be.

There’s a level of freedom in exploring new applications, downloading them, and using them on demand.

So these are freedoms, but often there is a cost to that freedom because not all freedom is free.

Elaborating on that, in all of the examples I’ve mentioned, the cost associated ranges from the data that we have to share to use a service and the energy that we have to consume. Sometimes to use a certain app, you have to put up with watching full-screen ads — paying with your attention.”

Do you think that everything we do matters — no matter how small?

Jon: “I believe that anything that happens involving energy makes an atomic difference to everything. As atoms arrange themselves based on observation, purely by changing the way that we’re observing things, without any other action, we are impacting the way that the atomic world around us is organizing itself.”

How will that play out in a network where everyone can do whatever they want?

Jon: “There’s a choice to insert a caveat in that question about obeying the laws of the land. This becomes the guiding framework of the answer.

Do some people have a different interpretation of the law? Yes.

Does that mean that the network itself should be the lawmaker? No.

Minima’s interpretation of the laws in the 100+ countries where people are running nodes, is totally irrelevant to each individual’s version of those laws. Being a lawmaker is the role of the lawmaker.

From the more esoteric side of things: any form of centralization, including the assertion that a form of language that isn’t “allowed” or behavior that isn’t “tolerated”, is a point of centralization.

Centralization takes away from the benefits of decentralization. And, I believe, the benefits of decentralization outweigh the benefits of putting centralized components in place so that a network can legislate over what people can and can’t do. That isn’t to say that there aren’t significant risks, and those should not be ignored.”

Isn’t such a network going to be a haven for criminal activities?

Jon: “When you sell a car in a car dealership, isn’t there a risk that someone could use that car to drive into members of the public? When you sell a mobile phone to someone, isn’t there a risk that someone uses that mobile phone to plan some form of attack? The answer is always yes to both, unfortunately.

People may indeed do wrong.

If people could do wrong with our tools, should we not provide the tools because of that risk, or should we handle the risk in a way that doesn’t stop the freedom of use for people who want to do the right thing?

That’s a significant point. If we choose the second option, I believe that education is the primary way of doing so. Not just education of people who may be doing wrong, but also the education of those who may be doing right, who are potential victims of those who want to do wrong. So it’s a duality of education where people can become more aware of the risk of doing the wrong thing, and being on the receiving end of wrongdoing.

I’ve received an email from a leading crypto exchange this morning that wasn’t from the authentic exchange. It was from a different address, but it looked like a helpful email asking me to enter my credentials because my password needs to be reset.

I then told my family about fake emails going around. What I’m doing is educating my family. What I’m not doing is saying to my family, 'you can’t use that particular exchange', or 'you can't use email'. I think if you play that tape to the end, one could conclude that we should lock ourselves into a padded cell covered in tinfoil and never do anything.

We also have to look at the intention of the questioner.

Do they want us to say 'let’s shut down because there’s a risk'? Would that be good? Would it be better if nothing was ever innovated because of the risk?

Or is the reason they are asking because they are testing to see whether or not we’re truly decentralized?

My hope is for the latter.”

How do we ensure that freedom of speech doesn’t equal freedom of scrutiny?

Jon:I think a decentralized network shouldn’t scrutinize or have its own version of what the law is. I think decentralized networks should be enabling freedom through connection.

But of course, this isn’t to say that governance, legislation, and regulation shouldn’t happen if governments, legislators, and regulators do their job.

Does the network need to centralize itself to enable those actors to do their job? Only if the network has a strategic approach to be centralized.

Most networks today have a backdoor or some form of rule-setting and observation. And that’s totally fine...provided you’re not trying to create a decentralized network.

As we are creating a decentralized network, I believe we have to address the issues in different ways.”

How do we ensure that one’s freedom does not harm others?

Jon: “I believe that freedom is a status, and harm, unfortunately, is a consequence. And these two things are linked because one thing can lead to the other, but they are not so inherently linked that to reduce harm, one needs to reduce freedom.

Of course, the laws still exist, and regulations still exist. So the network itself doesn’t, by being decentralized, remove the need for police; it doesn’t remove the need for government. It isn’t claiming to replace them or invalidate them.

What Minima is doing is enabling communication and transfer value exchange. We need to do our part in reducing the risk by education because with great freedom comes great responsibility. That’s what we need to be doing to ensure that people are aware of the risks.

That includes enabling signposts so that users don’t metaphorically walk down dark alleyways by mistake. It includes very obvious opt-in to certain areas that mean that users don’t accidentally enter into something that they may find harmful or offensive.“

How do we make sure that we don’t have a situation where everyone is equal but some are more equal?

Jon: “I think that hierarchy is based on greed, and I don’t believe that the human condition can easily be resolved from our reliance on greed and fear. So, will there be apps built on the network by developers who we don’t know of yet, that enable only certain people to access certain content? Probably.

Does that mean that some people are 'more equal than others' in that context? Probably.

The apps that say that 'you can’t get through here until you’ve earned a certain amount of points' mean that if you haven’t got that amount of points, then you’re no longer as equal as everyone else.

And that’s just the way things are. Does that mean that we shouldn’t allow any application to be built that filters out people with or without something or another? I don't believe so.

To do so would mean we need to have a centralized control system. And that goes against the thesis of the entire network.”

How do we encourage people actually to do their part — a thing DAOs are struggling with?

Jon: “I think that the opposite of engagement is inertia. The first reason for inertia is that people are not aware that they could engage. The second reason for inertia is they’re aware that they could engage, they just don’t know how. And the third reason is that they are aware that they could engage. They know how they could engage. They just can’t be bothered to engage.

Those three things can be addressed in different ways:

- The first one is that people need to become aware of their permission to engage. If we can enable people to understand what’s in it for them, they can become aware of their capabilities.

- The second part of how we get people to know what to do requires signposting. Now they know that they can and why.

- If people know what’s in it for them, why they should be bothered, how they actually should do it, and they still don’t, they are not engaging with it because it doesn’t resonate with them. And if it doesn’t resonate with them, that’s a problem owned by the offering rather than the person.”

With big power comes big responsibility. What do you see as Minima’s responsibility in all this?

Jon: “I think that our responsibility is not to be tempted by any level of centralization. And due to that, I think our responsibility is to educate people to be aware of the pitfalls and the huge responsibilities inherent in enjoying freedom. Ensuring awareness of the risks, the nefarious actors, the outcomes and the consequences.”

What would you see as the worst outcome?

Jon: “The worst outcome is that users don’t care about safety, and developers don’t want to build things that are safe.

What would be the best outcome then?

Jon: "An aware, educated user base, in conjunction with a responsible and ethical developer base. This can open the doors to a world full of innovation. I believe that nothing is as powerful as the cooperation and collaboration of free people. We can have entirely new creations, companies, groups, scientific research and so much more from the free access to information and each other.

It will only be apparent after we launch how restricted the current information networks are at the moment. So if we undo that and enable people to have access to information and each other, I think we’ll find innovation and evolution in ways that would be unforeseen. And I’m honored to be part of that.”