Four years ago, Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof founded Bitnation, a system of voluntary online communities with their own "citizens", which function as so-called decentralized "nations". This year, Bitnation has passed more than 15 users who use systems based on blockchain and ethereum technology. Bitnation facilitates its own "constitutions", contracts for trade and marriage, global passports, deeds to property, birth certificates and identification documents for distressed refugees. They are betting on a so-called open-source governance – a type of Do-It-Yourselfstrategy – where you create your own laws and regulations within small communities. The "bit nations" are based on smart contracts, aided by artificial intelligence, which make expensive lawyers redundant. In practice, Bitnations now act as alternative governance, vis-à-vis public and other private authorities. The communities consist of small public forums that act as negotiating arenas, where you as a participant are also ranked according to your behavior, so that the system can trust you. You can now establish insurance policies, contracts and testimonials, which later cannot be falsified or disappeared. Maybe exam papers will be next?
"We want our own system that is international, without being subject to corruption."
Bitnation has previously received greater publicity in The Economist and the Wall Street Journal for their experimental use of blockchain technology, which has been used, among other things, to remedy the refugee crisis by providing refugees with virtual ID cards.
Susanne Tempelhof's husband James Fennell Tempelhof – who is also Susanne's partner and co-owner of the company – follows her on her travels around the world. In an updated "manifesto" on tse.bitnation.co, they and others declare that the purpose of bitnations is to free "humanity from oppression and sanctions from merged sovereignty, geographical apartheid, xenophobia and violence promoted by the oligopoly of the nation-states".
From Sweden to Afghanistan
I meet Tarkowski after a secret seminar she has arranged for a group of separatists in Barcelona, who want to establish a Catalan bit nation. Her values and mindset are what I'm most curious about. What personality is hiding behind this woman who has managed to gather groups of cryptoanarchists to choose alternative communities for their own nations?
Tarkowski says she has a French mother, while her Polish father was a stateless refugee for 10 years. After she was born in Sweden, the family moved from country to country:
“I've never really understood the point of a nation state. When I returned to Sweden as a 20-year-old, it was difficult for me to follow all the social rules. Why not choose between different countries' governance? Or, for example, get coupons to choose where to buy health services? ” she asks.
Tarkowski did not stay long in Sweden:
“The Swedish governing board takes on vital functions. Parents do not need to take full care of their own children, nor do their children. Neighbors ignore each other. You expect the state to do everything. "
For seven years, she worked for the US administration – including several years in Afghanistan. Here, she assisted the Afghans in their work on nation-building and the development of the Afghan regime. She has also spent one year in war-torn Benghazi in Libya and worked in Egypt, Pakistan and Washington DC.
Her skepticism about public state systems grew as a result of these experiences. Tarkowski nurtured his old visions:
“The seven years I worked for the United States, I witnessed a lot of misery. I saw people being killed, blasted in rags, kidnappings. Instead of the state apparatus, other communities took care of the people. For example, when I arrived at the rebel areas and the bombing at Benghazi in Libya: I was expecting total chaos – but it was actually one of the most civilized areas I've been to. I saw a civil society that worked without a government, ”she says.
Tarkowski goes on to say about his experiences in Afghanistan:
"I saw the same civil organization in Afghanistan, where the authorities are weak, but the country still has a well-functioning society. Although residents experience cruelty and war in this dangerous country, I truly encountered a form of human community and support that I rarely see in our western world. ”
Tarkowski had about 300 workers while working in Afghanistan. The company she led worked with statistical collection and analysis on behalf of the US Department of Defense. But the statistics could take several months to compile, and the payments had to wait.
“Suddenly, I couldn't pay wages on time, and many Taliban workers would kill me because they couldn't support their families. They occupied our office. "
Tarkowski called his French mother, with the death threat hanging over her.
“My mother is a loving person, but from another universe. When I explained that they wanted to kill me and asked her for money, she replied roughly: "My dear, I love you, but I have refurbished the bathroom so it fits bad right now."
Rather, the help came from a local team, as Tarkowski had many Afghan friends:
"I was involved in celebrating your weddings, I knew the families. They help each other. In a way, I became Afghan. ”
Her driver eventually sold her car, and her father contributed money from a house sale. This saved her.
Bitcoin and bitnation
Tarkowski discovered the bitcoin technology in 2011, which led to a revolution in life:
"What I had seen for a long time was now possible. Everything changed for me, ”she says.
Today – four years after Bitnation was founded – Tarkowski has about 20 full-time employees in London. Half of these work as programmers, while the rest work with communications and legal issues.
Bitnation, according to Tarkowski, is to be spread as a tool "for people to shape their lives as they wish."
They have also created their own cryptocurrency (PAT), for those using the system. But the employees are currently being paid wages in real "fiat money", such as English pounds. Bitnation also now has a number of volunteer "ambassadors" around the world.
“I am against the fact that a majority can push through their will towards some. My will should not be governed by a majority. "
In the previous issue of Ny Tid, we wrote about bitcoin and blockchain technology. All cryptocurrencies open up for financial speculation, which we believe is negative compared to the more social aspects of blockchain. I therefore object that Bitnation, with its own crypto (PAT), can also be speculative, where the founders themselves sit with parts of the virtual and self-created «PAT money». Tarkowski tells me that they live well, but does not elaborate. I therefore ask if she finds a side of solidarity with the cryptoanarchists and cryptocurrency.
“Crypto is an alternative that could undermine the economy that pays for the military industry, for example. Or you refuse to pay national tax to a government that acts as a monitoring body. We want our own system that is international, without being subject to corruption. There is now a whole new world of unprecedented automation that can help many people. ”
The Catalan bit nation's ambassador "Manel" showed Ny Tid the Catalan passport that some of the supporters have played with a bit at airports when they have been out and about – a small protest against the Spanish state.
Community or majority?
I turn the conversation back to her emphasis on community, or small municipalities. Can Tarkowski envision a world where states are wiped out and that is moving more toward cosmopolitan or federal communities instead?
"I think the significance of many nations will disappear with the ongoing globalization, with more transport, the internet and more commerce," she responds.
And what about the Catalan region?
“Here in Spain, they are fighting against the central Spanish government that decides how the regions should live and function. What I see for me is a world without central government. I rather want a combination of areas, city states, villages and autonomous communities. I envision a combination of virtual authorities such as our bitnations – operating geographically independently and without national borders. I hope more people follow such a vision. ”
Tarkowski is skeptical of state governments and welfare states
- but also democracy itself:
“I oppose that a majority can push through their will towards some. My will should not be governed by a majority. "
I object that democracy, through the nation's constitution, should protect minority interests.
“This is not about minority rights. The smallest minority is yourself. For example, should a carnivorous majority decide that I should not be a vegetarian? Or should a majority be able to commit violence against an individual they call a bastard just because they are in the majority? ”
Role models? I wonder who might have inspired a person like Tarkowski. She can recall an arch-liberalist like the Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand, known for books as The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957):
"Many people tell me I'm a true copy of Ayn Rand – something I don't like. I tried to read her, but she is a bad writer who writes boring. I don't really find her individualism very interesting, attractive or valid. ”
She says she would rather read Claude-Frédéric Bastiat, or globalist Thomas Friedman.
Unlike liberalists, today's anarchists promote solidarity – so I finally ask Tarkowski how to support, for example, those who fall outside:
“I am in solidarity, such as food distribution. But the point is that this should be voluntary. The same goes for the idea of paying taxes to help drug addicts, or support military warfare in other countries. ”