“In the world of cryptocurrencies, the word ‘governance’ typically refers to a project’s method for paying employees and contractors … In truth, the allocation of resources is only a fraction of what the word ‘governance’ entails, and governance does not exist without a governance framework.” – Demanding More From Cryptocurrency Governance
As discussed in the blog post referenced above, governance frameworks allow for business adaptability and are essential for business development. This is where Aragon comes in – the Aragon Network provides infrastructure and services, such as the Aragon Court, that enable users to create and manage organizations.
“By making it possible for everyone in the world to organize, we are enabling the borderless, permissionless creation of value.” – Aragon
Enjoy my chat with John Light of Aragon One!
Governance and sovereignty are key geopolitical issues in the world today. They will be key issues in the world of tomorrow just as they were key issues in the world of past millennia. After all, human nature is an unchanging force.
With a focus on issues close to my heart, I’m excited to introduce my community to Aragon.
Please note: John’s responses in this interview are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the view of Aragon One or other members of the Aragon community.
How did you come to Aragon?
I first met Aragon co-founder Luis Cuende at a Blockstack meetup in San Francisco, back in late 2016. I was familiar with his work at his previous startup, Stampery, and we had a good conversation about Bitcoin history. As we were parting ways at the end of the evening, I asked what he wanted to work on next. He said he was working on a project to “run companies on the blockchain with smart contracts” – a project that would be publicly announced a couple of months later with the name “Aragon”. Later that year, I was hired to join the team as Community Lead.
Aragon started with the broad goal of “fixing governance,” but this is an issue thousands of years old. What makes you think Aragon is the answer?
I don’t think we’ll ever “fix governance” in the sense that governance is a messy, iterative human process, the success of which depends a lot on how humans participating in the process behave. While I hope that the tools we build will enable and incentivize better behavior in humans, ultimately I think most of the human problems in the world will require human-based solutions.
That said, I do think that the tools we are building can help those who have a need for better governance. First, by making it easier to experiment with new governance models, such as futarchy for example. This can enable people to upgrade their governance systems in a much shorter amount of time than has historically been possible. If we can shorten the amount of time between identifying a problem in a governance system and fixing it, then that’s a win.
Second, by directly competing with existing governance systems that may be inefficient or corrupt …
Aragon can provide an alternative to people in need of a better governance system and create a competitive pressure that may force the legacy system to improve in order to survive.
In either case, I think people will be better off than if they didn’t have Aragon as an option.
What makes Aragon special, different, unique?
First and foremost, the community. The community has so many talented, passionate individuals and teams united by a strong desire to push forward innovation in how organizations are run, to harness decentralized technologies to empower people to bypass oppressive intermediaries that have historically made it difficult and expensive to start and run an organization.
I also believe the specific technology we are building is unique, in that the Aragon software is for the most part agnostic to how people run their organizations. This gives people maximum freedom to experiment with different governance models to find what works best for them in their organization’s cultural and business context.
People can also create and use specific organization templates that offer an easily replicable starting point for specific types of organizations, such as a Democracy or Multisig template. So while users have ultimate flexibility with Aragon if they want it, they can also adopt best practices or common patterns to provide a well-known structure to their organization right out of the box.
Are there any misconceptions about Aragon that should be cleared up?
I think people often look at the default templates that can be used to create an organization with the Aragon client (the Democracy and Multisig templates I mentioned) and think that’s the only way they can run their organization using Aragon. But these templates are just a starting point.
Aragon is really a platform – not just for creating organizations, but for creating new apps that give organizations new powers.
So if the existing apps or templates don’t give you some functionality that you want, then you can build a new Aragon app or template that gives you the functionality you need, without having to reinvent the core governance features as implemented in aragonOS. The best place to start if you’re a developer interested in building on Aragon is the Aragon Developer Portal.
Is there competition in the market of providing infrastructure for decentralized organizations?
There have so far been a few different approaches to building decentralized organizations, such as DAOstack, Colony, and Moloch DAO. Each have their various tradeoffs. Although these are alternatives to using Aragon to create a decentralized organization, I don’t necessarily view them as competitors. There are also other projects, such as Kleros, that are tackling different parts of the “jurisdiction stack”
Aragon will be the first to provide “full stack” jurisdiction services – everything from creating and governing an organization to resolving disputes through the Aragon Court.
The business model of the Aragon Network is providing paid services to decentralized organizations, such as dispute resolution through the Aragon Court. So, the more decentralized organizations there are, regardless of the platform used to create them, the better in my opinion because that’s more potential customers for our paid services.
What does mass adoption of Aragon look like? Is there a particular sector you see Aragon finding a high level of market penetration?
To me the “mass adoption” dream for Aragon is most organizations running using Aragon and subscribing to the Aragon Network for dispute resolution and related services. A scaled-down version of this would be at least getting enough mindshare that it will be common for people creating a new organization to consider using Aragon instead of incorporating in a legacy jurisdiction. “Ask the government for permission to start a company, or just use Aragon?” will be what people ask themselves during the transition period. But eventually it won’t even be a question, the obvious choice will be to create an organization using Aragon.
I think near term, Aragon could see the most adoption in digital-native organizations whose membership spans multiple jurisdictions, where it would be costly or even impossible to incorporate using a traditional company. The same way people can now create new communities with just a few clicks by starting a subreddit or Facebook group, they’ll also have the ability to create an Aragon organization so their community can govern itself without a central authority.
Gaming clans, open source projects, dapp developers, common-interest communities, and other online-first, digital-native groups of people could all find value in using Aragon for governance.
In five years time, people will be able to create almost any type of organization they can imagine with no coding knowledge necessary using the Aragon Network, and run the organization in a fully self-sovereign way using smart contracts. Billions of dollars worth of assets will be secured by Aragon smart contracts, with hundreds of thousands or even millions of people participating in Aragon organizations to earn a living and support causes and communities they care about.
How does Aragon’s enabling of the organization of people create value in the cryptocurrency market and for Aragon investors?
In nearly every jurisdiction I’m aware of, there is some barrier to starting a new organization, some steps where a third party can slow things down or tell you “no”. In some cases, these barriers are insurmountable for all but the most wealthy or persistent individuals. I believe this keeps a lot of people unnecessarily impoverished, by stifling economic activity and increasing the wealth gap between rich and poor (giving the rich more resources to manipulate political systems in their favor).
Giving people anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a computer the ability to create an internet-native, global organization within a few minutes, for the price of a couple of Ethereum transactions, changes the game completely.
The barrier to participation in business and civil society is drastically lower for an increasingly large part of humanity now. And that’s not to mention the benefits that existing organizations and communities can gain from having these new coordination mechanisms available.
I believe this creates a lot of value for the people using Aragon, and enables them to create a lot of value in turn for themselves and their communities. And as more people create organizations using Aragon, they will likely find a need for some dispute resolution services, which we will offer through the Aragon Court. More customers for the Aragon Court means more demand for jurors, which creates more demand for ANT, since ANT will be needed to become a juror. This creates a virtuous ecosystem of value creation and exchange. It’s a whole new economy.
According to the Aragon Manifesto – “We believe the fate of humanity will be decided at the frontier of technological innovation. We will either see technology lead to a more free, open, and fair society or reinforce a global regime of centralized control, surveillance, and oppression.” – Historically, every Industrial Revolution follows the same path : Tech innovation yields industrial disruption which leads to economic unrest and, ultimately, warfare. We are now in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and already at war on many fronts. Disruption is everywhere, as is economic unrest. Is it too late, is it never too late? What really needs to be done to fix the issue?
I think we’re at a crossroads, at least in the West. We have enough freedoms that we still have the opportunity to use technology more for good than bad, though the ruling classes are certainly trying their hardest to continue curtailing those freedoms and consolidating power for their own benefit.
That said I don’t think it’s ever “too late”, whatever that means. Things were pretty bad in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany and the people in those countries were able to turn things around. They could certainly be better but I think the conditions in those countries are much improved since those times. Even in a place like China today where the popular culture is so bent towards authoritarianism and collectivism, I think it could be possible for freedom and individualism to take root and spread.
There is a lot that needs to be done. It depends on where people live. Some places are more free than others. Some places are more prosperous than others. So it’s hard to generalize a course of action. I can say though, I think people should respect each other’s autonomy and freedom, and to not be afraid to exercise their autonomy and freedom if other people try to stop them from doing so. Use technology for good, to liberate yourself and others, and to create a healthier and more prosperous world for humanity.
“The Aragon Foundation pledges to support the Aragon Manifesto by experimenting with new governance models that comply with the Manifesto’s values.” – What new governance models have been created? What were the challenges, successes, learnings?
Our technology is still in the early stages of development so not much new has been tried yet, although the Aragon Nest program did fund the Level K team to build a Futarchy app that we may use as part of Aragon Network governance.
Our challenge right now is getting the technology to match our expectations of how governance should work. We have ideas about what to implement to improve Aragon governance, and we need the technology to catch up so we can put those ideas into practice. That said, the product team has done an amazing job with what we have so far. There’s a lot to be proud of. Our biggest successes so far I think are creating and implementing the governance process we have currently, approving proposals that have helped push the project forward, and rejecting proposals that could either hold the project back or potentially reflect badly on the project later.
“The Aragon Foundation pledges to support the Aragon Manifesto by building a community that defends the Manifesto’s values.” How is Aragon spreading the word and its manifesto?
It is evident that the Aragon community cares about the values of the Manifesto. We have already seen cases where the Manifesto is used as a benchmark by community members to judge the actions of other people in the community and governance proposals put forth for consideration.
Alignment with the Manifesto is a foundational requirement for all governance proposals as part of the Aragon Governance Proposal process.
So I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far promoting the values of the Manifesto and building a community that defends those values. That said, we can always do more! We just have to balance that against all of the other priorities of the project.
“Thanks to cryptography and economic incentives, users can now own truly sovereign assets, create fully sovereign entities, and build truly sovereign identities.” – What is sovereignty? What do you consider “truly sovereign assets?” What is a “sovereign entity?” What is a “sovereign identity?” Why is it important to have “sovereign identities?”
Sovereignty means not subject to the authority of anyone else, the ability to make decisions without interference. I think digital assets like Bitcoin, Ether, the Aragon Network Token, Dai, etc, are sovereign assets in that there is no central authority that controls them. They are forces of nature at this point. A sovereign entity is a bit vague but you could consider an Aragon organization a sovereign entity in that no one is able to interfere with its operations so long as enough of its members remain safe from physical harm.
A sovereign identity is an identity that someone creates for themselves, that is not controlled by a third party. Traditionally, our identities have been controlled by third parties such as governments (who issue driver’s licenses and passports that tell people who we are) or corporations (such as Facebook or Google, who together control billions of online identities). With self-sovereign identities we get to define ourselves to other people, store cryptographic claims other people have made about us, and share our personal data on our own terms.
Self-sovereign identity is absolutely necessary for individual freedom. Today, we are mere serfs working the digital land of feudal corporate overlords, providing attention and content in exchange for “free” services, in the process giving third parties complete control of our online identities. This has led to this huge problem of “deplatforming” or “de-personing” where people have their online accounts shut down and lose access to their publishing platform, their audience, sometimes even their income stream.
We need self-sovereign identity, self-sovereign money, self-sovereign organizations, and the decentralized web to regain our autonomy and freedom in this increasingly digital world.
“Building tools to create and manage decentralized organizations allow us to experiment with governance at the speed of software” – Then sometimes governance is considered a failure? When is this the case? What would happen in the case of failed governance?
If the goals of an organization are not being met due to a breakdown in governance, that’s a governance failure. If we take the government of the United States of America as an example, the “goal” of this organization according to the Declaration of Independence it was founded on is to secure its citizens’ right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. By that measure, I think governance is failing many people.
The U.S. government routinely invades other countries and hurts innocent people while putting its own soldiers in harm’s way (violating life); it has the highest incarceration rate in the world due to an oppressive legal system (violating liberty); and it puts red tape and barriers in the way of people doing what they want with their life (violating the pursuit of happiness). I think these failures can be directly attributed to the governance system, which enshrines the centralization of power and the dominance of some over others, setting up a system ripe for capture and abuse.
In cases of “failed governance” in an Aragon organization, members may elect to raise a dispute and take it to the Aragon Court. Or they may vote to change the governance system. Or they may elect to exit or dissolve the organization. There are many ways out of a governance problem. Sometimes the solutions are less than obvious, then it takes creativity and the will to find a way.
“The Aragon Court can be used by organizations to resolve subjective disputes with binary outcomes. When combined with the existing Aragon infrastructure, it enables an organization to create Proposal Agreements that define subjective constraints on an organization’s operation and can be enforced by minority stakeholders.” – This is an innovative approach to governance, as far as I know. Has this been attempted in the past? Do you see cryptocurrency projects, or traditional business, as the primary users of this type of governance? Will there ever be an Aragon Jail?
The projects most similar to the Aragon Court that I’m aware of are projects like the Bisq dispute resolution system, the Kleros decentralized court, or the OpenBazaar dispute resolution system. The first users of the Proposal Agreements and Aragon Court system will be crypto-native projects. Some will look more like businesses, others will look more like communities or non-profits.
The first use case of the Aragon Court will be protecting Aragon organizations from a “51% attack”, where a majority of tokenholders in an organization conspire to expropriate wealth from the minority.
I don’t think there will ever be an Aragon Jail. As the Aragon Manifesto says, “Systems should never use violence as a means to incentivize or disincentivize human behavior.” So not only will the Aragon Court not jail defendants, it is expressly designed to avoid ever even being able to, as all parties can remain pseudonymous. Disputes in the Aragon Court will be resolved by compensating injured parties with money held as collateral in a smart contract.
S.W.O.T Analysis! Please share Aragon’s STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES, and THREATS
Strengths: passion, talent, intelligence, creativity, open-mindedness, well-funded
Weaknesses: very new technology that requires adopting some new behaviors such as Gas payments and private key management – I am excited about innovative approaches to crypto UX, such as “keyless” wallets and meta-transactions
Opportunities: failures of corporate and societal governance leave people hungry for alternatives; the proliferation of decentralized applications and protocols that need crypto-native governance; more of the world’s population are buying computers and coming online, creating a larger audience for digital-native technologies like Aragon
Threats: The Aragon community could be targeted by the intermediaries that Aragon disrupts; internal disagreements could fragment the project; the technology could break in fundamental ways; people could just not care enough about the mission or the technology of Aragon outside of a passionate group that is too small to make meaningful, large-scale change in the world — we are working to prevent these threats from ever coming to pass, and if they do, that their potential for harm is limited.