I don’t think this framing of blockchains vs law as some kind of Great Battle To Determine the Future of How Society Does Dispute Resolution is productive (and yes, I am aware that I myself used to promote such framing ~5 years ago). “The status quo” is not blockchains, it is not law, it is a complex mishmash where consequences of actions are ultimately dictated by (truly immutable) laws of physics but people successfully influence each other’s behavior often for the better via economic incentive, social shaming, law and many other means, law has a huge impact on our behavior but each of us at times knowingly breaks it with impunity, and other security technologies (like Nick Szabo’s original example of vending machines) get deployed and used daily. Blockchains are “write your own law” in the same way the ability to manufacture vending machines or create locks with arbitrary structures is the ability to “write your own law”; it’s the ability to write your own incentive mechanism, sure, but law continues to exist and influence our behavior alongside it. That’s the present, and that’s every realistic future up until the Singularity.

Within the context of the blockchain space itself, blockchains being moderately immutabilist is at present the norm, and it’s a norm that has kept them relatively stable; departures from it have tended to be chaotic. Outside the blockchain space, blockchains existing in any form is a significant departure from what existed before, immutabilist or not. Are they a larger departure if more immutabilist? Honestly not sure. Non-blockchain cypherpunk tech is “immutabilist” in spirit, because it doesn’t need (much) governance since it’s not (as much of) a logically centralized singleton (eg. encryption, torrent networks, Tor), centralized tech is not, and here we are complaining about Facebook much more than we are about decentralized immutabilist technologies.

So I grant that it’s more complicated than what Szabo would say (honestly I agree with the Reddit critics that say we’ve been putting words in Nick’s mouth a little too much today) but it’s also more complicated than the opposite position.

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Author: Vitalik Buterin