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Bitnation Founder on a Mission for Stateless Governance

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Oct 17, 2014, 12:09 pm
Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, CEO and founder of Bitnation, explains the paradigm shift in governance her project is proposing.
Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, CEO and founder of Bitnation, explains the paradigm shift in governance her project is proposing. (PanAm Post)

EspañolThe state might one day become obsolete. At least that’s the idea behind the peculiar Bitnation project, which refers to itself as a “collaborative platform for do-it-yourself government.” According to its official website, “Bitnation provides the same services traditional governments provide, from dispute resolutions and insurance to security and much more — but in a geographically unbound, decentralized, and voluntary way.”

This revolutionary undertaking is incorporated on the blockchain, the same decentralized database behind cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin.

Susanne T. Tempelhof is the young founder and executive director of this ambitious project that began a couple of months ago. She plans to raise US$2 million in the next 85 days to get Bitnation off the ground. “If we raise $1 million, or even only $500,000, we will still be able to continue, but it will be a lot more stressful,” she told the PanAm Post.

The journey leading up to Bitnation’s launch has not been without its share of controversy, including publicized disputes between Tempelhof and other members of the team. A few days ago, Cointelegraph published an interview claiming three core members of the team (Nathan Wosnack, Matt Mckibbin, and David Mondrus) abandoned the company.

“First of all, none of them were developers, and second, none of them were particularly core either,” said the international business woman. “Their biggest complaint is that the company is not incorporated in a government-backed jurisdiction — naturally, it isn’t, since that’s one of the things we’re offering as a service, incorporation on the blockchain.”

Templehof did not mince words when explaining that Bitnation’s primary service is to provide the same transactional security that governments traditionally provide and guarantee. “It would be very hypocritical of us to incorporate in a government-backed jurisdiction. I’m not sure why people who have a regulatory mindset would join a governance 2.0 start-up to begin with.”

At first glance, Bitnation’s services appear to be a glimpse into the future, and I decided to dig deeper to understand how exactly this would function.

How do you plan to enforce the provisions of smart contracts (incorporated on the blockchain) without recourse in state courts?

Some contracts can be automatically enforced through tying the contracts to different accounts (BTC wallets), so that funds are automatically removed or restored dependent on the contract. However, that technology is still in its very early stage, so it will take a few months, perhaps a year, to get that right.

In general terms, there is no enforcement, as in a security forces kicking in your door and putting you into a cage if you do not comply. However, there is the ID system, based on both verification and reputation — both social and so-called non-social reputation — that serves as a deterrent. That is, you need the reputation system for all business deals, and if you screw up, it will prevent you from a lot of things — like blockchain-based incorporation, marriage, land deeds, etc. While it’s far from perfect, it’s a good start when it comes to preventive actions.

How did you come up with the Bitnation idea, and why do you believe it is the right time to venture into such an ambitious project?

I have been thinking about it and writing about it from different angles for about a decade. My father was stateless for several years, and that triggered me to analyze the nation state oligopoly, and how unfair these arbitrary borders were.

For a long time I thought working inside the system — changing things from the inside — was the best way ahead. But when bitcoin emerged, I realized my initial assessment was wrong. It was actually much more efficient to do things outside of the system. And that’s when I quit my career as a government contractor, joined the bitcoin movement wholeheartedly, and started to realize that the Bitnation idea, with the help of the blockchain as a public ledger, was probably not as farfetched or difficult as I had previously assumed.

Are the so-called Autonomous Decentralized Organizations really possible in a world increasingly controlled by the state apparatus?

Yes, indeed. The world is becoming less geographical by the day, not only through cryptocurrencies, but through the fundamental paradigms of globalization, like increased ease of transportation, a growing middle class in developing countries, decentralization of communication thanks to internet, etc. When email started, nobody saw it as much more than an advanced fax system. But as it evolved, it changed the entire paradigm.

In essence, the state apparatus won’t stand any chance of survival if they don’t acknowledge the technological and social shift.

You have received praise from the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party. What other people or organizations have voiced their support?

To be honest, we haven’t looked for much support yet, as we’re a very young startup — still less than 3 months old. We’ve been heavily focused on getting the tech side right. Through our Ambassador Network, however, we have partnered with some international organizations, including the Dream Bitcoin Foundation, based in Ghana, and so forth.

Moving forward, we plan to partner with a lot more regional bitcoin promoters, as well as startup promoters.

How will Bitnation participants prevent state officials from hijacking or blocking the initiative?

It’s funny you would ask that, because I had several several people from the government asking me to sell the system to them. What I always respond is: “I won’t sell it to you, but it’s open source code, so if you want to fork it, please go ahead. Please do try to apply a voluntary, decentralized, and borderless solution to a centralized, non-voluntary, and nation state based paradigm. I wish you the best of luck!”

Other decentralization initiatives exist, such as the Net Party in Argentina, with DemocracyOS software. Were you aware of this, and was this a source of inspiration?

No, I was not aware of them until this Q&A, so they have not been used as an inspiration.

In general, I think democracy is a top-down process — mob rule — and it’s nothing I want to enable with Bitnation. We do not provide a legal code; the legal code is entirely optional. We do not provide a moral framework, nor an economic framework, and we do not provide a decision-making platform. The only thing we do provide is a collaborative platform for DIY governance tools.

What does the bitmarriage service consist of?

It’s essentially a so-called smart contract platform, where people can choose to share their various contracts — wills, child care contracts, corporate incorporation, land deeds, and more — in a cryptographically secure ledger. It’s a way to cement the engagement publicly, while also protecting private assets through the blockchain technology.

Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

Belén Marty Belén Marty

Belén Marty is the Libertarian Latina, a journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has lived in Guatemala, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States and is a former candidate for local office with Argentina's Libertarian Party. Follow @BelenMarty.