I’m about to get very gritty with this post, so I need to preface by saying that I think this is an awesome and amazing project. I’m very excited to see what happens. Okay, please buckle your seatbelt now…
Imagine a future in which circles is used in a very conservative neo-Amish community somewhere. By now cryptocurrency is such old news that even the Amish have embraced it, yet a lot of people don’t really understand how it works because it was invented decades ago.
Well, recently a member of the community called Jeb has been discovered to have purchased some buggy wheels from a previously shunned member. Gossip and outrage follow. This cannot be tolerated. After much bible study, eager consternation and brow furrowed reflection on the part of many righteous community members, Jeb suddenly finds that they and their family are suddenly shunned. All of the circles “trust” relationships they relied upon are suddenly revoked, and as a matter of survival they’re now forced to connect with other shunned people, and more generally with “outlaws” of various circles and communities.
If there’s not a more tolerant yet still high trust community of circles users out there for this person to join, and this is a matter of survival of them and their family, this person will be extremely vulnerable to manipulation and coercion by individuals and groups who don’t necessarily play the money game by the intended rules. For example, it’s not hard to imagine some terrifying and reckless person imposing on everyone a class structure where some people get 1 income, some people get 2 incomes and some people 5 incomes, etc. This could easily be enforced by coercion or physical violence.
Now, I’m tempted to think that using zero knowledge proofs to obfuscate transactions could help solve this problem, but I’m not convinced. And of course adding anonymity would make it harder for communities to catch sybil attacks. I still think anonymity could actually help strengthen economic solidarity overall, especially if there were ways to detect and out sybil attackers, along with processes of accountability that helped to educate and reintegrate them.
Otherwise, I’m concerned that people who don’t “get it” will overrun the intended game theory with their own rules that they think are better and make more sense, or that they feel serious pressure to play.
The deeper issue, to me, seems to be that trust is such a very subjective and contextual thing. For example, there are people who I would trust with my life, but who I wouldn’t necessarily trust not to sleep with my significant other. There are people who I would trust to act in a loving and compassionate way toward everyone around them on a personal level, but who I wouldn’t trust to care much about the stakes or the gravity of tolerating multiple accounts, who might see it as a victimless crime or even as fair depending on who did it. And there are people who I trust to understand the nuances of circles game theory, to understand the vision, but who are stuck in relationships with people or groups where abuse and manipulation are are common and tolerated.
So how do I factor all of that into my decision about who to “trust”? What can I do if someone with community power doesn’t “trust” my moral compass because they saw me purchase some marijuana on the blockchain, and decides they don’t “trust” my economic integrity? What would I do if someone who held power over me threatened me or someone I care about to stay hush about fact that they themselves had three additional incomes?
This seems like a challenge for some deep pedagogy and design thinking, to say the least. Is “trust” the right word here? It seems loaded, in much the same way that facebook’s “friendship” is loaded. But changing the word wouldn’t change the game theory.
When you add the messiness of money (which represents security and survival) on top of all that, I worry that a tool like this could easily point a community head on into facing all of its rifts. Maybe in the end though, I just need to let go and accept that these rifts will be faced some way or another, and that people will meet these challenges when they get there.
As Billy Joel once sang “we didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning”.