I am making my way to the Network State Conference in Amsterdam at times of war. Coming from Israel or Palestine these days is much less obvious. It’s very hard to even get a flight ticket. But still, I wanted to come, and convinced two other friends to join me there as well. This is probably just another normal week for most of the conference attendees. They all look to me like the typical crypto bros. “There are barely any women in the room.”, my friend whispers to me when we enter the Discord-purple-like neon lit conference hall. I did not miss this kind of audience at all. For most of these people, I think to myself, this conference is probably just a nice contemplation of the libertarian future they imagine for themselves and their kids. A cool speculation game to enjoy. Despite that, I feel this is urgent.
“We’re okay.” I keep getting notifications from my family WhatsApp group every time missiles are thrown at Tel Aviv. At the same time, a friend texts me. She is volunteering at the headquarters to release the Israeli hostages held in Gaza. ”It feels like everybody gave up on them,” she tells me. She’s broken. So is everyone else. So am I. It is wartime.
I haven’t texted my friends in Gaza for two weeks. I fear the worst. I try to get updates through others instead: one of our friends broke her hand when a bomb hit next to her home; another lost his house, and is on the street with his daughter looking for shelter. What kind of update could come next? And what the hell am I doing here at a time like this?
I decided to leave Israel three years ago and move to Europe, but this conflict is chasing me wherever I go. The main reason I left was the political climate and its impact on my life and the lives of others. I grew up in the nineties, watching the moral decay of Israel, how it was quickly turning into an apartheid-like state, and how its culture became more and more corrupted. I could clearly see where things are heading with the conflict, and so I tried to engage in activism as much as I could. But every activity I was engaged in seemed hopeless. I couldn’t think of any viable solution, or even a good path forward: The two-state solution seemed extremely unreasonable to me for quite some time now, as I have been writing about it before. Other more important people have also spoken on this matter, and I recommend reading Foreign Affairs’ article “Israel’s One-State Reality, It’s Time to Give Up on the Two-State Solution”; On the other hand, a one-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians share the same land in one form or another, with equal rights, was delusional, completely disconnected from reality. Now, after October 7th and the events that followed -- it’s clearly unimaginable.
An ex once told me, I was in my early twenties at the time, that he hates the fact we are forced to choose between two bad ideas, and that we should strive to come up with something better then either the one-state or two-state ideas. We then laughed that we should ask the Vatican to take over the land. But this insight about the limitations of our imagination, and the irrelevant patterns in which we were forcing ourselves to think -- really did hit me. Since then, I have been looking for the third option. Both the one-state solution and the two-state solution seemed unrealistic and undesirable to me. Unrealistic, because I could not see any political strategy that would lead to a lasting two-state solution, nor could I imagine Israel ending the Israeli apartheid, and forming together with the Palestinians a new shared nation. Undesirable, because I always regarded our current nation states, as a somewhat new and crooked idea that is not meant to last and is leading humanity astray. As I was reading Balaji’s book, The Network State, something that I had been looking for for a long time happened—I was seeing this third option slowly unfolding in front of my eyes. I was able to imagine for the first time in my life, a different option to solve the biggest conflict of my life.
The book, generally speaking, has three parts. It begins with a definition of the Network State, explains what it is, and helps one to imagine it. It then jumps to a political analysis of current world affairs, which tries to explain why the author predicts a future where a political resistance to both the United States (and everything it stands for) and the Chinese Communist Party (and everything it stands for) lies on the Internet. He refers to this moment in history as “the tripolar moment.” Lastly, it offers some kind of practical guide to forming new Network States. It tries to convey the process of building new countries on the Internet.
Balaji describes the process of forming new countries as four major steps. You start by launching a new Startup Society. A Startup Society is like a community that gathers online (and can also meet offline), with a unifying purpose or goal, which is its moral premise. Balaji speaks of the One Commandment, but I don’t see why we should limit the forming of new startup societies into one commandment only (after all, if the ancient people of Israel had ten commandments a few thousand years ago, and are still alive, we can safely assume that ten commandments should be also fine, if not more.) This new innovative society starts building its institutions, culture and identity, on the internet (like many Decentralized Autonomous Organizations do already) and is slowly solving more and more of it’s members’ issues. In other words, this community is taking responsibility of its members’ life, and builds parallel solutions to the current ones offered (or not) by the Nation States we live in and their institutions. The more a startup society evolves, it is turning into a Network Union, which is the phase in which this new society is actively promoting a political agenda that is in the best interest of its people. According to Balaji, this union should have its own cryptocurrency to accumulate financial power, and should probably have some of its social contracts written as smart contracts. It can also start accumulating land. Balaji thinks of the strategy as “cloud first, land last,” but certainly regards land as an important component. Finally, after this Network Union scales and demonstrates enough power, it can seek diplomatic recognition and become an official state.
It’s been a while since I was reading some political analysis that’s not completely dated, and is dealing with what I regard as the big issues of our times (especially not neglecting dealing with the rising power of technology companies, and how the latest innovation in tech affects our now hackable Nation States and, generally, us as human beings.) I was intrigued. It might sound crazy to you. It is definitely novel, which means it will sound unimaginable to most people. But being exposed to this book, I couldn’t stop thinking: can this work? Can this be the tool I was looking for to promote my political agenda? Is this the kind of society I want to live in? Do I imagine myself living in a network state?
Can this be the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?