The Blockchain Man: a paradigm shift from Organization Man



The Blockchain Man

[...] More than just an image, you can conjure up a life for The Organization Man, a term coined by William Whyte in his 1956 book of the same name. Even though the novel predates Whyte’s book by 30 years, Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt (1922) established the archetype perfectly. Today, the successor of the Organization Man — the Blockchain Man — is starting to emerge. To understand how he might evolve, let us first look back [...]

The Organization Man

[...] William Whyte’s The Organization Man was a gonzo-sociology of the phenomenon as it was becoming fully mainstream.

Whyte saw the central values in American life shift away from the rugged individualism that had characterized the nation since its founding, towards a collectivist ethic that Whyte called the Social Ethic.

The Social Ethic, to which The Organization Man subscribed, had three tenets:

(1) a belief in the group as the source of creativity

(2) a belief in “belongingness” as the ultimate need of the individual

(3) and a belief in the application of science to achieve the belongingness.

In the view of the Organization Man:

“Man exists as a unit of society. Of himself, he is isolated, meaningless; only as he collaborates with others does he become worthwhile, for by sublimating himself in the group, he helps produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

This was a novel state of affairs [...]

The Anatomy of our Blockchain Future

[...] In Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital, Carlota Perez suggests we’ve gone through three major techno-economic paradigms since the rise of capitalism:

The Industrial Revolution — beginning in 1771

The Age of Steam and Railways—beginning in 1829

The Age of Steel, Electricity and Heavy Engineering— beginning in 1875

Each lasted around a century (with some overlap from the previous paradigm). That places the beginning of the end for The Age of Steel, Electricity and Heavy Engineering right around 1974.

1974 was the year we hit peak centralization and began transitioning towards a new techno-economic paradigm. The personal computer, the Internet, and the World Wide Web have been the major technological elements so far [...]

The Blockchain Man (Or A Speculative Sociology of Our Blockchain Future)

The Blockchain Man will be as rich a term half-century from now as the Organization Man is today.

As an exercise, I’m going to try and imagine how blockchain man culture might shape up. I am coming at it from a libertarian-ish perspective. Other perspectives are of course possible (and I hope will be written).

The group from the organization era that most closely resembled the Blockchain Man was scientists, particularly immigrant scientists. They were considered the black sheep of the organization.

The Social Ethic dictated that scientists, like all other members of The Organization, be forced to concentrate on practical problems and work in groups. [...]

The Balkanization of Everything: City States are The New Nation States

Unlike previous technologies which formed around geographic centers like Boston or Silicon Valley, blockchain entrepreneurs are relatively decentralized: London, Berlin, Zug (Switzerland), New York, San Francisco and Singapore all have a claim to being the foremost Blockchain City.

As larger nation-states attempt to regulate cryptocurrencies to maintain the political power that controlling currencies gave them in the Organization era, The Blockchain Man will move to city-state like areas. Estonia, Switzerland, and Singapore are the first examples of nation-states competing with each other to bring in high-earning citizens.

The Sovereign Individual imagines a scenario where these high-earning citizens will place all their company’s assets into a bank account domiciled simultaneously in Newfoundland, the Cayman Islands, Uruguay and Liechtenstein. Should any single jurisdiction attempt to withdraw operating authority or seize assets, the assets will be transferred to another jurisdiction. [...]

The Hollywood Model is the New Career Ladder

This decentralization will affect careers as much as national economies. Blockchains are the hard technology that will take the lifestyle business and free agent economy across the chasm, making it mainstream in the way The Organization Man was mainstream beginning in the 1950s and 60s.

The Blockchain Man’s career will look like a combination of a lifestyle business owner and free agent. [...]

The Blockchain Man Sees the Broader Calculus

Being shoved out of the corporation into a Hollywood-like free agent land, the Blockchain Man will be exposed to a broader calculus of his decisions and tradeoffs.

The Organization Man grew up with the expectation of getting a job and working for the corporation. Unless he is a top executive, he likely has little idea how the game was played or why.

To take one example, most Organization Men do not see the tradeoffs and costs of how they save for retirement. [...]

Forking, Voice and Exit

One of the ways that reckoning will play out is the increase of forking.

In The Radicalism of the American Revolution, Gordon Wood argued that a culture of mass entrepreneurship underlay the American Revolution. Small business owners — blacksmiths, printing shops, and carpenters — formed a culture incompatible with monarchy.

The blacksmiths of the late 18th century America felt a sense of agency in their own personal lives and so the lack of agency they felt in their political lives grated at them.

In much the same way, the sense of agency the Blockchain Man feels in his personal life will form a culture incompatible with The Organization as it exists today.

The result will be a society defined by forking. The balance between voice and exit will tilt towards exit. [...]

Probabilism is the New Determinism

We form our conceptual systems using our day-to-day experience as metaphor.

We understand the human brain better today in part because of the proliferation of computers in our day-to-day lives. [...] When I say “I can’t work on that project right now, I’m overloaded and don’t have enough RAM,” you understand it in a way that someone who has never used a personal computer couldn’t.

The blockchain is at least as rich a metaphorical structure as the computer. The emergence of blockchains will allow the Blockchain Man to differentiate between dry code, smart contracts, as opposed to wet code, traditional law. [...]

Protocolism is the New Nationalism

At his worst, The Organization Man descends into the tribalisms of nationalism, racism, sexism or corporatism. The Blockchain Man at his worst descends into the tribalism of Protocolism. [...]

The Selfish Coin

Where the Organization Man’s world was defined by The Organization, The Blockchain Man’s world will be defined by markets. [...]

The Protocol Ethic

The Organization Man was defined by the Social ethic which emphasized the individual as subordinate to the group, the importance of belongingness, and The Organization as the means to achieve belongingness and achieve the proper subordination of the individuals to the group.

The Blockchain Man’s world will be defined by the three tenets of the Protocol Ethic. [...]


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