The Sovrin Foundation

Summary: This article describes the role that the Sovrin Foundation and associated groups play in governing, operating, and using the Sovrin Network. The Sovrin Network is designed and intended to be decentralized so understanding the key influence points and community groups is important.

Freifunk Mesh

In Decentralized Governance in Sovrin, I wrote:

The Sovrin Network is a global public utility for identity that we all own, collectively, just like we all own the Internet.

When I say Sovrin is "public," I mean that it is a public good that anyone can use so long as they adhere to the proper protocols, just like the Internet. Sovrin is created through the cooperation of many people and organizations. Enabling that cooperation requires more than luck. In Coherence and Decentralized Systems, I wrote:

Public spaces require coherence. Coherence in Sovrin springs from the ledger, the protocols, the trust framework, standards, and market incentives.

Continue reading "The Sovrin Foundation"

Decentralized Governance in Sovrin

Summary: Decentralized systems require governance to function well. Ideally this governance should be clear, open, and effective without impacting the decentralized nature of the system. This post describes the governance of the Sovrin network. Our approach is a constitutional model based on an agreement we call the Sovrin Trust Framework that informs and guides everything from code development to the responsibilities of the various actors in the system. The Sovrin Trust Framework enables decentralized governance of the Sovrin network.

Marc Hulty defines governance as "the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions." From this we can conclude that everything gets governed, the question is whether governance is ad hoc or formal, explicit or implicit.

One of the ironies of decentralized systems is that they require better governance than most centralized Continue reading "Decentralized Governance in Sovrin"

Decentralized Governance

Summary: Decentralized systems require governance to function well. Ideally this governance should be clear, open, and effective without impacting the decentralized nature of the system. This post describes the governance of the Sovrin network. Our approach is a constitutional model based on an agreement we call the Sovrin Turst Framework that informs and guides everything from code development to the responsibilities of the various actors in the system.

Marc Hulty defines governance as "the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions." From this we can conclude that everything gets governed, the question is whether governance is ad hoc or formal, explicit or implicit.

One of the ironies of decentralized systems is that they require better governance than most centralized systems. Centralized systems are often governed in an ad hoc way Continue reading "Decentralized Governance"

Governance for Distributed Ledgers

Summary: Governance in permissioned distributed ledgers provides a real solution to some of the ad hoc machinations that have occurred recently with non-permissioned blockchains. Fiduciary Trust Building This article by Angela Walch from American Banker makes the (excessively snarky) case that distributed ledger developers and miners ought to be held accountable as fiduciaries. Non-permissioned distributed ledgers like Ethereum will continue to serve important needs, but organizations like banks, insurance companies, credit unions, and others who act as fiduciaries and must meet regulatory requirements, will prefer permissioned ledgers that can provide explicit governance. See Properties of Permissioned and Permissionless Blockchains for more on this. Governance models for permissioned ledgers should strike a careful balance between what’s in the code and what’s decided by humans. Having everything in code isn’t necessarily the answer. But having humans too heavily involved can open the system up to interference and meddling—both internal and external. Permissioned ledgers also need Continue reading "Governance for Distributed Ledgers"

Identity Lessons in Literature

One of my favorite sections of the OECD’s new working paper on digital identity titled “At a Crossroads: ‘Personhood’ and Digital Identity in the Information Society,” which I discovered via Paul and Kaliya, is the sidebar on page 11 titled “Identity Lessons in Literature.” It begins:

Novelists and dramatists have driven Locke’s points home over and over again: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde presented several persons in one body; Twelfth Night gave us multiple persons in multiple indistinguishable bodies; and the theme of one person in one body appearing to be different bodies goes all the way back to Odysseus in the cave of the Cyclops.

To this list I’d like to add Edgar Allan Poe’s story Morella, first published in 1835. Perhaps the ultimate identity horror story (in literature, anyway), it contains the following passage:

The wild Pantheism of Fichte; the modified Παλιγγενεσια of Pythagoreans; and, above all, the doctrines of Identity as urged by Schelling, were generally the points of discussion presenting the most of beauty to the imaginative Morella. That identity which is termed personal, Mr. Locke, I think, truly defines to consist in the saneness of a rational being. And since by person we understand an intelligent essence having reason, and since there is a consciousness which always accompanies thinking, it is this which makes us all to be that which we call ourselves — thereby distinguishing us from other beings that think, and giving us our personal identity. But the principium individuationis — the notion of that identity which at death is or is not lost for ever — was to me, at all times, a consideration of intense interest; not more from the perplexing and exciting nature of its consequences, than from the marked and agitated manner in which Morella mentioned them.

The OECD paper’s epigraph, a passage from Confucius, also has literary significance:

Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?” The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”

This story was an important element in the system of Ezra Pound, and the Chinese characters for “rectify names,” 正名, appear several times in his Cantos.

Sacred Zones

A news item that appeared on American newswires today has led me to think in a new way about identity, both digital and otherwise. The first few paragraphs:

BLANCHARD, Mich. — Some Amish farmers say a state requirement that they tag cattle with electronic chips is a violation of their religious beliefs.

Last year, the state Department of Agriculture announced that Michigan cattle leaving farms must be tagged in the ear with electronic identification as part of an effort to combat bovine tuberculosis.

That has drawn some resistance from the Amish, who typically shun technology, The Grand Rapids Press reported Sunday. In April, Glen Mast and other Amish farmers appeared before the state Senate Appropriations Committee, urging it to block the program.

“We’re never happier than when we’re just left alone,” said Mast, whose farm in Isabella County operates without electricity. “That’s all we’re asking.”

State officials say the ability to trace food sources is increasingly important in the global economy.

But more important to the smooth functioning of the “global economy”, I would argue, is the ancient legal doctrine known to the eminently practical Romans as res extra commercium, closely related to that of res sacrae: the idea that some things in life are not for sale, and that these things thus “set apart” are the substance of the sacred itself.

Recent discoveries concerning the neuroscience of identity, described by John Henry Clippinger in his recent book A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity, indicate that science is beginning to understand why any form of global governance that elides cultural identity in the name of commerce will know no peace.

The Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa bases his entire philosophy of global governance, which he calls “symbiosis”, on a concept of “sacred zones” comprised of small areas of the economy that are spared from globalization in order to preserve cultural identity:

What I mean by “symbiosis” is a relationship of mutual need — while competition, opposition, and struggle continue. How can mutually opposing, different qualities and aims exist in symbiosis? A concept of sacred zones is, I believe, the key.

[…]

Protecting the diversity of life means protecting the diversity of culture, and actively underwriting such diversity. A symbiotic order is an order in which we recognize others’ differences — and their sacred zones — and compete on that basis. Economic activity can be objectively measured, but the same standards cannot be applied to culture, religion, or lifestyle.

Communities so attuned to the sacred that they can honestly say “We’re never happier than when we’re just left alone” will never be more than a tiny minority like the Amish, nor will the “sacred zones” claimed by Kurokawa, such as the Japanese rice industry and sumo, ever amount to more than a tiny fraction of the “global economy”. The “global economy” will surely survive if it spares these few things from the “laws of the market”, but not if it tramples them.

I wish the Amish of Michigan well in their struggle to be left alone.