Social Trees and Network Unions
A network union is a global, mobile social network capable of collective bargaining with companies and states alike.
• 4 min read
We know how to start new communities, new companies, and new currencies. But the process of founding new cities or countries requires more explicit thinking about the base of political support from the beginning. A useful way to think about political support is in terms of backlinks, a concept popularized by search engines. A backlink is an incoming link to a webpage. For a popular URL, like https://google.com, the number of incoming links is far in excess of the number of outbound links. But the quantity of backlinks is by no means the only thing that matters; the quality does as well.
Backlinks allow us to quantify a leader's support base. Every leader has individuals that support them. Some of those individuals in turn have other individuals supporting them. If we treat each expression of support as a backlink, we can summon an immediate mental visual of a leader's support base. And without a base of support a leader cannot lead, as their pronouncements will fall on deaf ears.
The political heir typically gets their backlinks all at once. One day they do not have control of the fortune, or the position, or the institution. The next day they do. Now, to be fair, there is some incrementality, as there is still a residual culture of paying one's dues and working your way up. But those dues are typically not paid to the customer, but to internal parties to gain political capital for the promotion. Once promoted, the jump in backlinks is fairly discontinuous. One day you are a private citizen, and the next you are governor of a state of millions of people.
By contrast, the technology founder gets their backlinks over time. Mark Zuckerberg did not get elected to run a three billion person social network with no prior executive experience. He started it in his dorm room, and convinced every single person in his support base to join him over a period of 15+ years. Some of them he recruited directly, but 99%+ of them joined him indirectly through the user interfaces and services his recruits designed. At every step of the way, if anyone questioned why this person was the CEO of Facebook the answer was clear: because he was the founder of Facebook.
Importantly, both of these paths to building political support are considered legitimate. You can win an election, inherit an institution, and get all the backlinks at once. Or you can found something, build it up from scratch, and get the backlinks over time. Both are considered legitimate paths to becoming a leader. However, the second path has the crucial additional quality of selecting for competence. Remember: when COVID came the political heirs failed, but the technological founders succeeded.
There's one catch, though. The current quality of backlinks that founders generate when founding new companies, communities, and currencies is not sufficient for starting new cities and countries. One way to think about it is to note that it is considered legitimate for Mark Zuckerberg to give explicit direction to all 50,000 Facebook employees, but not to all three billion Facebook users, even if he is in a sense the ultimate system administrator of the platform. The reason it's not considered legitimate is that users didn't sign that social (network) contract. They signed up for sharing photos with family members – they didn't sign up to start a new city or a new country.
But what if they did? What if we developed a new kind of social network, organized not as a social graph but a social tree, organized like a company hierarchy but at the scale of a city or state? Don't say that isn't possible, because founder-run Amazon has 1.1 million employees, which already makes them bigger than dozens of UN member countries.
All of the people under Jeff Bezos are organized in a functional hierarchy under a single CEO, and all of them have explicitly opted into being there. This combines both the competency of the startup and the legitimacy of the state, and gives us a taste of what's possible. But you want to be able to do something like that without having to first create a trillion dollar company and become the world's richest man! Where it gets interesting is to build something of that structure and scale, but organized as a social tree – so you have a million people organized in a tree for a common purpose outside of work.
But what common purpose are people organizing for at that scale, if not work? The answer is that they are organizing to defend their interests as a sovereign collective, as a network union.
A network union is a global, mobile social network capable of collective bargaining with giant corporations and states alike. It is a check on the power of both concentrated capital and political capitols.
If we think about crowdfunding, mass migrations, and social media mobs, these are examples of people collectively voting with their wallet, feet, and voice respectively. Today that’s all disorganized. What a network union does is organize people directly, recruiting them peer-to-peer, slotting them into the social tree, and organizing them with messaging apps.
While network unions may participate in politics if laws permit, they prioritize daily action over the occasional election. Like a traditional union, they employ a series of escalating tactics to negotiate with entities of similar size and scale, like businesses and governments. But unlike a traditional union, their point of view on any given issue can be from the consumer, user, producer, or labor side rather than labor alone, depending on the role of their constituency.
One day the network union may bargain on behalf of the collective for cheaper bulk purchases of a high volume staple like masks. The next day it could negotiate with a payments platform to reinstate a deplatformed member. And the next day it might find a job for a union member down on his luck. In general, if a corporation demonetizes you, unbanks you, deplatforms you, censors you, or otherwise harms you, a network union has your back. If a politician doesn’t respect your group’s interests, a network union has your back too.
The network union is a much more purposeful and organized online community than a social network, but it can also be founded and scaled to millions of people from a laptop. It is this kind of structure that will let us move from simply inheriting cities and countries to founding them from scratch.1 You can always start solo with a codebase. But if it becomes a company you need to think about management, if it becomes a community you need to think about moderation, and if it becomes a cryptocurrency you need to think about economics. In the same way, turning a codebase into a city or country requires new ideas about politics.
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